theological writer, author of the ‘Fourfold State,’ the youngest of seven
sons of a small landed proprietor in the neighbourhood of Dunse, was born in
that town March 17, 1676. His father being confined in the prison of Dunse
for nonconformity, when he was a little boy, took him with him into the
prison to keep him company, an incident which left a deep impression on his
mind. He received the usual elements of education at the grammar school of
his native place, and in 1692 went to the university of Edinburgh, where he
attended the usual course for three years, and entered on the study of
divinity. In 1696 he taught a school at Glencairn; and was then appointed
tutor to Andrew Fletcher of Aberlady, a boy nine years of age, but was
enabled to attend the divinity class at the university of Edinburgh. He
afterwards accompanied his pupil to the house of Colonel Bruce of Kennet in
Clackmannanshire, who had married the boy’s mother, where he remained for
about a year. In June 1697 he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of
Dunse and Chirnside; and in September 1699 he was ordained to the living of
Simprin, one of the smallest charges in Scotland, not containing in his time
above ninety examinable persons. It is now united to the parish of Swinton.
In 1700 he married Catherine Brown of Culross, whom, in his memoirs of
himself, he describes as “a woman of great worth; a stately, beautiful, and
comely personage; of bright natural parts; an uncommon stock of prudence,
and of a quick and lively apprehension, and remarkably useful to the country
side, through her skill in surgery.” About this time he first became
acquainted with a book which proved of much service to him, and afterwards
occasioned a long and important controversy in the Church of Scotland,
entitled ‘The Marrow of Modern Divinity,’ written by Edward Fisher, M.A.,
Oxford, 1627. It had been brought into his parish from England by one of his
parishioners, who had been a soldier in the civil wars. He was a member of
the first General Assembly held under Queen Anne in March 1703, which was
suddenly dissolved by the commissioner, the earl of Seafield, while
discussing an overture for preventing the marriage of protestants with
papists. In May 1707 he was translated to Ettrick, then one of the wildest
parishes in the south of Scotland, where he remained till his death.
On the occasion of
the imposition of the abjuration oath, 1712, he was one of those ministers
of the Church of Scotland who refused to take it. This oath was originally
proposed by the leaders of the presbyterian party to be inserted in a bill
granting toleration to episcopalian worship in Scotland, in the expectation
that by refusing to take it the indulgence to the episcopalian clergy, who
were all Jacobites, would be nullified; but by the counter policy of the
court party, it was extended to, and made obligatory on, presbyterian
ministers likewise. Their conscientious objections, however, were not to the
oath itself, but to a clause in it recognising the act of succession, which
provided that the successors to the crown of Great Britain should be of the
communion of the Church of England – a recognition which they deemed
inconsistent with their principles. To provide against the worst, Boston
made over to his eldest son a house in Dunse, which he had inherited from
his father, and assigned all his other goods to his precentor, John Currie,
so that he might elude the penalty of five hundred pounds sterling, which
was attached to the refusal to take the oath within a certain specified
time; but the penalty was never demanded. Having devoted much of his
attention to the study of the Hebrew accents, which he was persuaded are the
key to the true version of the Hebrew text, he wrote an ‘Essay on the Hebrew
Accentuation,’ which was not published till 1738, when it was brought out at
Amsterdam under the care of the learned David Mill, professor of oriental
languages in the university of Utrecht. His ‘Human Nature in its Fourfold
State’ was at first brought out in 1720 under the auspices of Mr. Robert
Wightman, treasurer to the city of Edinburgh, who prefixed a preface, and
added many of his own emendations; but these Mr. Boston could not agree to,
and they were omitted in the second edition. Mr. Boston died May 20, 1732,
in the 57th year of his age. His works have had a wide
circulation, particularly his ‘Fourfold State.’ They were collected into a
large folio volume in 1768; and in 1773 his ‘Body of Divinity,’ 3 vols. 8vo.
was published from his manuscripts. The most remarkable of his posthumous
pieces is the ‘Memoirs of his Life, Time, and Writings,’ written by himself,
and published in one closely printed 8vo volume in 1776. He was survived by
his wife, and by two sons and two daughters, whose descendants still remain
Mr. Boston’s works
Human Nature in
its Fourfold State: Of Primitive Integrity subsisting in the Parents of
Mankind in Paradise: Entire Depravation subsisting in the Unregenerate:
Begun Recovery subsisting in the Regenerate: and consummate Happiness or
Misery subsisting in all Mankind in the Future State. In several Practical
Discourses. First published, 1720. Numerous editions since. New edition,
revised by the Rev. Michael Boston, the Author’s grandson. Falkirk, 1784,
Sermons. Edin. 1720.
Stigmologieus Hebraeo-Biblicus. Cum Prefatione D. Millii. Ams. 1738, 4to. On
Hebrew Accents. a very learned production.
Discourses. Edin. 1753, 2 vols. 8vo.
A View of the
Covenant of Works, from the Sacred Records. Edin. 1772, 12mo.
Character of True Believers, in 17 Discourses. Edin. 1773, 12mo.
Body of Divinity.
1773, 3 vols. 8vo.
Ten Fast Sermons.
Four Sermons on
Sacramental Occasions. 1773, 8vo.
An Illustration of
the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, with respect to Faith and Practice.
In Sermons. Edin. 1773, 3 vols. 8vo.
The Christian Life
delineated, in the principal times thereof, both as to its rise and
progress. In 2 discourses. Edin. 1775, 2 vols. 12mo.
A View of this and
the other World. In 8 Discourses. Edin. 1775, 8vo.
chiefly relating to the Grounds of the Lord’s Controversy with this
Sermons on the
Method of Recovery from the Ruins of the Fall, by Jesus Christ.
Sermon on the
Sovereignty and Wisdom of God in the Afflictions of Men, displayed. To which
are added, Sermons on the Nature of Church Communion. Berw. 1785, 12mo. This
collection contains the well-known Sermon, entitled, The Crook in the Lot.
Memoirs of his
Life, Time, and Writings, divided into 12 periods. Written by himself. Edin.
one of the founders
of the Relief church, the youngest son of the preceding, was born April 3,
1713. He seems to have been very early brought under the influence of
religious impressions, and having made choice of the ministry, he pursued
his studies at the university of Edinburgh. He was only nineteen years of
age when his father died, and though his course of theological study was not
completed, so great were his attainments, and such was the desire of all
parties that he should succeed his father in the parish of Ettrick, that he
was licensed to preach the gospel, earlier than the laws of the church
allowed. His gifts as a preacher, we are told, soon won for him a
distinguished reputation. Mr. Bogue of Gosport, who often heard him, when he
was in his prime, declared that, next to Whitefield, Thomas Boston was the
most commanding preacher he had ever heard. From Ettrick, he was, after
several years, translated to Oxnam, a few miles from Jedburgh. Mr. Boston
entertained strongly his father’s sentiments as respects some features of
the national establishment, being opposed to patronage and a friend of free
communion, and even in the height of his popularity he planned a secession
from the Church of Scotland different from that which had taken place under
the Erskines. On this account he was obnoxious to the ruling party, and in
1751 a competing call to Dundee in his favour was rejected as informal, the
magistrates, with whom the patronage rested, having named another candidate.
In 1755, a vacancy took place in the church of Jedburgh, and the people were
anxious for Mr. Boston to be their minister. The church, however, was in the
patronage of the Crown, and a presentation was granted in favour of Mr. John
Bonar, minister at Cockpen; but so great was the opposition to his
settlement that, on the case being carried to the Assembly, the Lord
Advocate deemed it wise to depart from the presentation. Mr. Douglas of
Kenmore, who was still more unpopular, was next presented to the vacant
charge, and as the Assembly of May 1757 peremptorily ordered his settlement
to be proceeded with, it was resolved, on the part of the townspeople, to
separate from the established church, and have the minister of their
choice.. They, therefore, sent Mr. Boston a call to be their minister, which
he accepted of, and in the short space of six months, a place of worship was
built for him in the town of Jedburgh. At the meeting of the established
presbytery in that town, on the 7th December 1757, he formally
demitted his charge of Oxnam, giving his reasons for taking this step, and
two days thereafter he was inducted into the new church build for him at
Jedburgh, when at least two thousand people were present; on which occasion
the bells were rung, and the magistrates and council, in their robes of
office, walked in procession to the meeting-house. His admission was
performed by Mr. Roderick Mackenzie, and Independent minister from England,
who was shortly to accept a charge in the same way, at Nigg in Ross-shire.
After his induction Mr. Boston preached to crowded audiences, and persons
from a great distance formed a considerable portion of his congregation. At
his first dispensation of the sacrament, the concourse of people was very
great. It took place in the open air on a little holm called the Ana, on the
banks of the Jed, and close by the town of Jedburgh. The scene was august
and most impressive. A touching incident marked his second dispensation of
the Lord’s Supper. He had invited to assist him Mr. Thomas Gillespie of
Dunfermline, who, in 1752, when minister of Carnock, had been deposed for
not obeying an order of the General Assembly to attend at the induction of
an unpopular minister to the church of Inverkeithing. “Mr. Gillespie,” says
Dr. Struthers, in his History of the Relief Church, “acceded to his request.
It was not so easy travelling then as now between Dunfermline and Jedburgh.
On Saturday he did not arrive; on Sabbath morning he was not come. Boston
went to the church, where the sacrament was to be dispensed by him, alone. A
whole day’s services were before him; and taking strangers along with his
own congregation, (aged persons report that) 1,800 would at times
communicate with him. During the morning prayer, Mr. Boston heard the pulpit
door open, and a foot come gently in behind him. It was then the custom for
the assistant minister to go to the pulpit during the action sermon. He
could scarcely be deceived as to his visitant. His prayer was speedily drawn
to a close. Turning round – it was Mr. Gillespie. In the face of the
whole congregation, whose feelings were wound up to the highest pitch of
excitement, he gave him a most cordial welcome. From this time forward they
followed joint measures for promoting the liberty of the Christian people,
and affording relief to oppressed parishes, though they did not constitute
themselves into a regular presbytery till three years afterwards.” It was on
the 22d October, 1761, at Colingsburgh in Fife, that Messrs. Boston and
Gillespie, with the Rev. Mr. Collier of Colingsburgh, and representative
elders from the three churches of Jedburgh, Dunfermline, and Colingsburgh,
formed themselves into a presbytery for the relief of Christians oppressed
in their Christian privileges. The Relief church gradually extended
throughout Scotland till 1847, when it was united to the Secession church,
and both together now form the United Presbyterian synod. Mr. Boston died in
1767. He was the author of a volume of essays, two of which were published
by his son after his death, as well as of some well-written prefaces to
religious reprints. – Struthers’ History of the Relief Church.