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Thomas Boston

Thomas Boston (1676–1732) was born at Dunse, Scotland. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh. He served many years at the church in Ettrick.

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Extended Biography of Thomas Boston

THOMAS BOSTON, Late Minister of the Gospel at Ettrick.

Mr. THOMAS BOSTON was descended from a family in the shire of Ayr; but his father having removed to the Merse, in the south of Scotland, settled at Dunse, famous for a castle anciently built there; and in that town his son Thomas was born, March 17, 1676. Mr. Boston made great progress in learning; and he soon discovered so much sweetness of temper, such fluency of speech, delivered with so much gravity mixed with seriousness, that many persons of considerable rank used to love his company before he was ten years of age. At that time the established religion in Scotland was the episcopal; but the worship in general that of the Presbyterians. The father of Mr. Boston was in sentiment a Presbyterian, but did not approve of some things done by those people, especially their taking up arms in 1679, after the murder of the Archbishop of St. Andrew's. It was therefore his practice to go to the established church, and take his son along with him; which he did till 1687, when King James published his declaration for liberty of conscience, and then they went to the Presbyterian meetings. Mr. Boston, though no more than eleven years of age at that time, had nevertheless made such progress in Latin, that he had read over several of the classics; and in 1688, the memorable year of the Revolution, his father sent him to the grammar-school at Roxburgh. In 1690, the Presbyterian profession having been established by law in Scotland, several things pointed out the utility of Mr. Boston's dedicating himself to the service of Christ in the work of the ministry. There were but few ministers of the Presbyterian persuasion, they having been persecuted near twenty-eight years; and such of the Episcopalians as remained in their churches were not much esteemed by their people, except in the northern counties, where that persuasion for the most part prevailed. To this may be added, that Mr. Boston, though at that time no more than fourteen years of age, had acquired a great knowledge of Latin and Greek, and was beginning logic, He says in his Diary, that he remembered every material passage in the Roman historians; which was of great service to him afterwards. In 1693, he was sent to the University of Edinburgh, where he studied divinity under Mr. Campbell, a gentleman who had suffered much during the troubles of the Presbyterians, and who, after the revolution, educated more young ministers than any one man in Scotland had ever done before. Under this instructor, Mr. Boston made such progress, that, before he was twenty years of age, he was advised to put himself on trial for the ministry. The consideration of this sunk deep into his mind, and induced him to ask strength of that God who alone can give it.

It is a maxim in the church of Scotland, that there should not be a shepherd without a flock; and therefore a person cannot be ordained to the ministry until a living is provided for him. Therefore, when a young man has completed his studies, he is examined by the presbytery to which he belongs, and receives a license to preach; but cannot administer the sacraments till he procures a church. In this manner Mr. Boston was licensed to preach, by the presbytery of Roxburgh, 1697, and for some time assisted in vacant churches. Having contracted a friendship with several worthy persons in the counties of Perth and Stirling, he went thither, and preached upwards of a whole year to crowded congregations, who had not yet procured ministers. In that part of Scotland, he might have had his choice of several parishes; but as many of the principal gentry were Episcopalians, and their ministers alive, he did not choose to settle where there was likely to be contention. Accordingly he returned to his place of nativity, and was ordained minister of Shrimpton, a small village near the borders of England. In 1700 he married a young gentlewoman whom he had courted while he was in Perthshire; and, being thus settled, he thought of nothing so much as the precious souls committed to his charge. In preaching, administering the sacraments, catechizing the children, and visiting his people from house to house, he became, like the apostle, all things to all men, that he might save some. In 1705 he was removed to the parish church of Ettrick, where he continued in the course of his ministry till May 20, 1732, when he left this world for a better, in the 57th year of his age.

His Works are numerous; but two pieces only were published in his life-time, viz. Human Nature in its Four-fold State, one of the best systems of practical divinity ever yet written: For, as Mr. Hervey says, it contains what man was when he came from the hands of his Maker, what he hath made himself by sin, what he may be by sovereign grace, and then what he will be in glory. The other piece is a learned treatise on the Hebrew Punctuation, written in Latin, and much esteemed both at homeland abroad for its ingenuity. His posthumous works are also numerous, but some of them did not receive his last corrections. The Reverend Mr. Davidson of Braintree, whose age and faithfulness in the work of the ministry command the respect of those who have the happiness to know him, has given some exemplary instances of Mr. Boston's piety, with whom he was personally acquainted, in a preface to his posthumous sermons. He says, that “the acquaintance I had with him, and the frequent opportunities I had of hearing him preach, I look upon as one of the greatest privileges I was favored with in my early days, and which still reflect. on with great pleasure. He was indeed one of the most powerful preachers of the gospel I ever heard open a mouth. It is true he was no Boanerges as to his voice, his delivery being grave and deliberate, yet there was a majestic energy in it, which, together with his venerable and comely aspect, made no small impression to his advantage on the minds of them who had the pleasure of hearing him. There were few men (if any) in his day who courted popularity less than he did, nay he rather shunned it; but like his shadow it followed him wherever he went: For his ministrations were savory and acceptable to all who had a relish for the truth as it is in Jesus, and a love to that holiness of heart and life, which the belief of it never fails to influence in the minds of all the children of God. Though he usually wrote his sermons as full as he intended to preach them, yet this was not always the case: For some of his sermons printed a good many years ago from his notes, which I myself heard him preach, and took him a full hour to deliver, yet may be read, even deliberately, in near the half of that time. One reason of which is this: the Scriptures, which he brought as proofs of the points he was handling, are only cited chapter and verse in his notes, and he left several enlargements on them to delivery: For he had a talent peculiar to himself in pointing out the propriety of such proofs; and his more than ordinary critical knowledge of the original languages in which the Scriptures were written, enabled him, in a brief but comprehensive way, to glance at the meaning of the Spirit of God in them, that was both surprising and edifying to the hearers. Could this have been recovered, it would have added greatly to the beauty of these discourses; but neither this, nor the lively spiritual manner in which they were delivered, can be put in print, and set before the reader. But where the Scripture-proofs are not inserted at full length, and only chapter and verse cited, if the reader will be at the pains to turn to his Bible, as he goes along in reading, he will find himself amply repaid for his pains, by the satisfaction it will give him; and it will convince him of the justness of what I have now suggested. It is more than probable, that besides the gradual decay of nature he felt the last two or three years of his life, that he had some secret notice impressed on his mind of his approaching dissolution, which made death and the Other world a subject suitable and pleasant to himself, while at the same time it is never unseasonable to any audience whatever. All natural motions are accelerated and quickest, the nearer they come to their center; and to renewed souls, born from above, who are breathing after the perfection of holiness, and groaning under the burden of a body of sin and death, it is no wonder that they have a peculiar pleasure in looking forward, and hasting to the happy hour that shall complete their salvation, saying with the church, Song 2: 17. Until the day break, and the shadows flee away: Turn, my Beloved, and be thou like a roe, or a young hart upon the mountains of separation.”

I have been favored with a list of the Works of Mr. Boston by the indulgence of Mr. Davidson; which are these: "I. A Sermon preached Aug. 21, 1714, on Hos. 2:19. reprinted in 1732. II. Human Nature in its Four-fold State, which is universally known, and has passed through many editions. III. Several Volumes of Sermons. IV. His Book on the Hebrew Punctuation, published in Latin. This last Work, and his Four-fold State, were the only volumes (as was observed before) printed in Mr. Boston's lifetime."

Source: Middleton, Erasmus. Evangelical Biography; or, an Historical Account of the Lives and Deaths of the Most Eminent and Evangelical Authors and Preachers, Vol. 4. London: W. Banes, 1816.