This article show how the understanding of Christ and his work shaped the preaching of Thomas Boston.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2013. 3 pages.

Thomas Boston, Preacher of Christ

The gracious work of God in and through Thomas Boston (1676-1732) was perhaps most evident in his preaching. Boston’s weekly pulpit ministry reflected a theologically rich and personally applied knowledge of the person and work of Christ. Of the sermons we still have, his first published sermon referring to Christ’s atoning work was The Everlasting Espousals (1715).1 In it Boston explains the atonement as the means by which “the lawful impediments of this match (the union between Christ and His elect) are all removed, at the Bridegroom’s expenses and pains.”2 Boston declares:

Justice says, The bride is my debtor, and I will not forgive her; and forasmuch as she hath not to pay, she must be sold into the hand of vengeance to satisfy the debt, Matth. xviii. 25. She is my criminal, saith the law, and I will not pardon her; sentence of death is passed upon her, Gal. iii. 10 ... there must be an execution day before there can be a marriage day. She is my lawful prisoner, says the devil, and I will not give her up ... These were lawful impediments indeed, which, un-re­moved, would have put an effectual stop for ever to the match betwixt Christ and sinners; but his heart was intent upon the match, and therefore he sought to remove them out of the way.3

In his conclusion, Boston calls his hearers to faith in Christ as the means of removing “these lawful impediments”: “Ye must be espoused to Christ ... there is no other way for sin­ners to be re-instated in the favour of God ... The covenant is drawn with blood, the precious blood of the royal Bridegroom: it is the New Testament in his blood. Behold how he loved his bride, in whom there was nothing lovely!”4

One of Boston’s early sermon series, initially preached at Simprin and then for a second time in Ettrick, was revised and collated to create the Fourfold State.5 In these sermons, much like The Everlasting Espousals, Boston calls hearers to:

Consider how God dealt with his own Son, whom he spared not, Rom. viii. 32. The wrath of God seized on his soul and body both, and brought him into the dust of death. That his sufferings were not eternal, flowed from the quality of the Sufferer, who was infinite; and therefore able to bear, at once, the whole load of wrath; and upon that account his sufferings were of infinite value.6

In his notes on The Marrow of Modern Divinity Boston reflects further on Christ’s work:

Our Lord Jesus Christ became surety for the elect in the second covenant, Heb. viii. 22; and in virtue of that suretyship, whereby he put himself in the room of the principal debtors, he came under the same covenant of works as Adam did ... Thus Christ put his neck under the yoke of the law as the covenant of works, to redeem them who were under it as such. (Christ) made ... sat­isfaction of God’s justice, by payment of the double debt ... namely, the debt of punishment, and the debt of perfect obedience...7

Particularly through study for preaching Boston gained increasing clarity not only on the atoning work of Christ, but also on the proclamation of this gospel in Christ. In his Memoirs, Boston recounts that, during the early period of his ministry at Simprin, “I wanted to be satisfied in ... the doctrine of the grace of God in Christ ... (T)he Lord was pleased to give my heart a set toward the preaching of Christ ... I had several convictions of legality in my own practice.”8 He went on:

...after I was let into the knowledge of the doctrine of grace, as to the state and case of believers in Christ, I was still confused, indistinct, and hampered in it, as to the free, open, and unhampered access of sinners unto him.9

Boston’s reading of The Marrow of Modern Divinity in 1700 was also profoundly influential in bringing him clar­ity in understanding the offer of the gospel. The Everlast­ing Espousals describes the covenant of grace as a marriage contract “drawn up already and signed by the Bridegroom, bearing his consent to match with the captive daughter of Zion.” Boston exhorted his hearers, (T)he Royal Bride­groom has signed this, and it is incumbent upon you to sign it likewise, consenting to take Christ as he is offered to you in the gospel; and so the espousals are made, Isa. xliv. 5.”10 Preaching from this passage, Boston pastorally encouraged hearers to come to the Christ whom he himself had increasingly come to know, telling them that the offer of salvation in Christ: indorsed and directed to you, and every one of you: therefore ye have a sufficiency warrant to sign it for yourselves. What is your name? Wilt thou answer to the name of thirsty sinners? Then read your name, and see how it is directed to you, Isaiah lv. 1. ‘Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat, yea come, buy wine and milk without money, without price.’ Wilt thou answer to the name of willing sinner? Then it is directed to you, Rev. xxii. 17, ‘Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.’ Art thou called heavy-laden sinner? Arise then, the Master calleth thee, Matth. xi. 28, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Is thy name whorish backslider? ‘Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again unto me, saith the Lord,’ Jer. iii. 1. Art thou a lost sin­ner? ‘The Son of man is come to seek, and to save that which was lost,’ Luke xix. 10. Nay, art thou the chief of sinners? Even to thee is the word of this salvation sent; ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,’ I Tim. i. 15. But, whatsoever artifice ye may use to disown these, or any of these to be your name; surely ye are men, sons of men; ye cannot deny that to be your name: therefore it is directed to you, and every one of you; ‘Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men,’ Prov. viii. 4.11

Boston also emphasized the free nature of this universal gospel offer, calling hearers to realize that,

(F)or those whom he takes up, there is nothing to be got by them; it is of mere grace, absolutely free grace, that he takes notice of them to help them. They have not so much as to cover their nakedness. Observe, that the first covering the Lord casts upon the naked found­ling, is the marriage-robe (Ezek. xvi. 8), the robe of his own righteousness. He does not delay the espousals till the bride be brought into a better and more honour­able condition than he found her in, but takes her as she is in her miserable condition, and, espousing her, covers her nakedness; ‘I spread my skirt over thee, (betrothed thee unto me), and so covered thy naked­ness.’ O the riches and freedom of grace! ... this offer is made unto you all without exception. Christ is willing to be yours...12

In pointing his congregation to Christ, Boston emphasized the complete sufficiency of Christ for them. Compelled by the very Word of God, Boston could do no less than “tell every man...a Saviour is provided for him.”13 David Lachman states, (His) offers of Christ ... were presented in terms as full and free, as earnest and pressing, as he could make them.”14 Not surprisingly, the more Boston was trans­formed by the gospel, the more his life was characterized by this “relentless emphasis on the free offer of the gospel” – a characteristic that marked him to his last preaching opportunity in 1732: physically ill, frail and weary, yet still preaching Christ from his bedroom window prior to his death.15 Boston ends his memoir with these words:

Upon the whole, I bless my God in Jesus Christ, that ever He made me a Christian, and took an early dealing with my soul; that ever He made me a minister of the gospel, and gave me some insight into the doctrine of His grace; and that ever He gave me the blessed Bible ... I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord.16


  1. ^ Thomas Boston, The Everlasting Espousals in The Complete Works of the late Reverend Thomas Boston, ed. Samuel M’Millan, Vol. VII (London: William Tegg and Co., 1854), 491-519.
  2. ^ Boston, Everlasting Espousals, 496.
  3. ^ Boston, Everlasting Espousals, 496.
  4. ^ Boston, Everlasting Espousals, 518.
  5. ^ For a detailed history of the Fourfold State see Philip Graham Ryken, Thomas Boston as Preacher of the Fourfold State (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1999), 57–85.
  6. ^ Boston, Fourfold State, 111.
  7. ^ Boston, The Marrow, 184-85.
  8. ^ Boston, Memoirs of Mr. Thomas Boston, 154–55.
  9. ^ Boston, Memoirs of Mr. Thomas Boston, 155-56.
  10. ^ Boston, Everlasting Espousals, 498.
  11. ^ Boston, Everlasting Espousals, 499.
  12. ^ Boston, Everlasting Espousals, 516-17.
  13. ^ Boston, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 264.
  14. ^ Lachman, The Marrow Controversy, 136.
  15. ^ Ryken, Thomas Boston as Preacher of the Fourfold State, 306; Boston, Memoirs, 512.
  16. ^ Boston, Memoirs, 512; Gen. 49:18.

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