Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings
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About "The Beauties of Boston"

by William Carson

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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."

(I suppose that includes the WWW. By the way, M'Millan also edited a Beauties of Ralph Erskine.)

The Beauties of Boston a list of extracts from Thomas Boston here at Fire and Ice.


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