William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

About "The Beauties of Boston"

by William Carson

From time to time in church history, there is a deadness in the accepted state
of religion, and God causes His Biblical light to break through in new power.
This is how He used Thomas Boston, one of the "Marrow Men."

Thomas Boston (1676-1732) was pastor of Simprin, a village in Berwickshire.
Although his charge was small, he felt it was "rather superior" to his "small
talents," by which he meant his burning desire to evangelise the people of his
parish. His discouragement was made all the worse by the accepted theological
position of his time, which forbade the indiscriminate preaching of the Gospel
to all men. It was felt that the doctrine of God's Decree in Election was
incompatible with the practice of offering Christ to all. Indeed, it was
believed that the promises of salvation by Christ should be preached only to
those who gave evidence of being elect.

While he was in the pastorate, he came across a copy of Edward Fisher's Marrow
of Modern Divinity. This old book opened his eyes to the truth that "Jesus
Christ is the Father's deed of gift to all mankind lost" and Boston began to
preach with new power and freedom. Of course, the Church often has a real knack
for resisting the Biblical light, and Boston and the few others like him,
branded as "Marrow Men," had to weather controversy, opposition, and
ecclesiastical persecution in addition to their pastoral labours.

Boston studied with his pen, and wrote out all his sermons in full. Although
little of his writings were published in his lifetime, they were collected
posthumously into 12 volumes, quite rare and valuable today. The editor of these
volumes, Samuel M'Millan, desired to make the writings of Boston more available
to people unable to obtain the entire set, and so made up a volume of extracts
entitled The Beauties of Boston. The selections here in Fire and Ice are taken
from that book.

I think there are two morals to be drawn from the story of Thomas Boston. The
first is that even Reformed and Calvinistic Christians can keep to the form and
lose the spirit of what we believe. Perhaps we have avoided the hyper-Calvinism
of Boston's day, but do we allow our culture to tell us what to preach and how
to preach it? Or perhaps we allow programmes and image to set our agenda,
instead of the Bible? Let us have the courage of Thomas Boston to set forth
Christ before men, and let the chips fall as they may.

Secondly, even though Boston was caught up in controversy, his writings speak
only of Christ. Notice, for example, his writings on the decrees are full of
sweetness, of comfort, and evangelistic warmth. He writes to glorify his
Saviour, not to promote his position. Let us take a similar view and entrust our
course to God; as Ralph Erskine said of Boston:

"Whose golden pen to future times will bear

His fame, till in the clouds his Lord appear."


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