Thomas Boston, the Marrow and the Gospel

Like Jonathan Edwards, I consider Thomas Boston "a truly great divine."

Like most prolific writers, Thomas Boston was also a prodigious reader. As a man of limited means, his personal library was small–little more than a single shelf of books. Yet he read whatever he could find, and in his Memoirs he lovingly describes new theological books arriving by post.

 

Thomas Boston is one of my favorite authors. Through his sermons, memoirs, and other writings, the prolific theologian and humble pastor of a small rural church in the Scottish border country has become one of the pastors of my soul.

I admire Boston for his spiritual devotion–what Boston himself would have termed “a heart exercised unto godliness.” I admire him for his dedication to his calling as a good shepherd. Riding on horseback, he ranged the more than one hundred square miles of his parish to visit each family or individually twice annually for spiritual conference and catechetical instruction. I also admire Thomas Boston for his perseverance. Despite struggling with depression and suffering from chronic physical weakness, he never missed a single Sunday in the pulpit during the course of more than three decades of pastoral ministry. True to form, his final sermons were preached from his deathbed, with the members of his congregation gathered outside the window of the manse. And so, like Jonathan Edwards, I consider Thomas Boston “a truly great divine.”

Yet when Edwards said this, he was not thinking of Boston’s work as a pastor, primarily, but of his international influence as a biblical and systematic theologian. Though he served his whole ministry in an obscure parish, Thomas Boston became the most frequently published Scottish author of the eighteenth-century. His books were widely recommended during the Great Awakening in England and America. We know from contemporary accounts that in addition to helping people grow in the Christian faith, these books were instrumental in leading people to Christ–everyone from slaveholders to their slaves.

Like most prolific writers, Thomas Boston was also a prodigious reader. As a man of limited means, his personal library was small–little more than a single shelf of books. Yet he read whatever he could find, and in his Memoirs he lovingly describes new theological books arriving by post.

Boston’s favorite book was The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which he discovered early on in his ministry. He spied the book one day in the cottage of a parishioner, who was only too happy to share it with the book-starved pastor. Much later Boston produced his own edition, complete with detailed theological notes. Publishing this edition was a labor of love, because the dialogues he read in The Marrow of Modern Divinity saved Boston’s ministry by teaching him “the gospel of free grace.”

The story of The Marrow of Modern Divinity-of its original publication and later influence on the Church of Scotland – is more thoroughly told in the essay that follows, by the church historian William VanDoodewaard. My purpose in this introduction is to answer to a simple question: Why is this old theological book still good and useful to read today?

Read More

×

2019 Matching Funds Campaign: Goal is $7000 ... Donate now!