Book Review: The Complete Works of Thomas Boston (12 volumes)
The Complete Works of Thomas Boston (12 volumes)
[note: The following review compliments The Puritan Study, a series on incorporating Puritan literature into expositional preaching.]
Thomas Boston (1676-1732) is not only one of my favorite Puritan authors, but has also proven himself to be one of the most important and useful Puritans in my expositional research.
Known for his excellent books like “The Crook in the Lot” and “The Art of Man-Fishing,” his works are both excellent examples of Boston’s deep understanding of the Christian life and his firm commitment to obedience to Scripture.
As a preacher I love Boston for both his depth and breadth. Depth, in his ability to apply texts so personally and powerfully to his hearers. Breadth, in the fact that he preached on almost every biblical theme. It seems every time I flip through Martin’s topical index (A Guide to the Puritans) I discover Boston preached a sermon on my current topic. Preachers will find Boston’s breadth and depth to be very useful for every sermon, no matter the sermon topic or text.
Incredible sensitivity towards applying the scriptures to his hearers, and tremendous balance and diversity of content make Boston an often-used resource in my expositional research. But what I also find impressive about Boston was his pastoral work in Ettrick, which, prior to his arrival, was an unstable and worldly town. As Dr. Joel Beeke writes in the introduction, “When Boston arrived in Ettrick, the town had less than 400 people. The roads were nearly impassable. The parsonage was dilapidated. Church services were irregular. When a service was held, the people often talked throughout it. Spiritual barrenness, pride, deceit, swearing, and fornication abounded” (p. I-5). What happened over the next 25 years was the result of Spirit-blessed preaching now preserved for us in these volumes.
The works of Thomas Boston (published by Tentmaker) include 7,400 pages of books, sermons and his own memoirs.
Volumes one and two comprise “An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion” organized by the Shorter Catechism. These volumes are affectionate and deeply applicable on the main subjects like the authority of scripture, the trinity, creation, Christ, sin, justification, the Ten Commandments, self-examination, prayer, an experimental knowledge of Chirst, etc. These volumes are a treat to those of us who have seen systematic theology lacking experimental warmth and deep application. Boston abhors the thought.
Volume three is a collection of 37 sermons and two books: “The Crook in the Lot” and “The Unity of the Body of Christ.” Volume four includes 40 sermons and the book “The Distinguishing Characters of Real Christians.” Volume five includes books on discerning genuine believers from the false and “The Art of Man-fishing.” Volume six includes 16 sermons and a number of Q&As on various topics. Volume seven includes nine sermons and more theology similar to volume one and two, including discourses on “The Evil and Danger of Schism” (on 1 Cor. 1:10), “The Necessity and Foundations of a Throne of Grace for the Behoof of Poor Sinners, Pointed out and Illustrated” (on Psalm 89:14). Volume eight includes “Man’s Fourfold State” on the state of innocence, the state of nature (or sinfulness), the state of grace and the eternal state. Volume nine and ten are comprised of 88 sermons. Volume eleven includes diverse material on the covenant of grace and prayer. And the final volume comprises Boston’s excellent “Memoirs” where you can read more about his 25- year pastorate at Ettrick.
One of my favorite sections of Boston is a little book titled, “A Soliloquy on the Art of Man-Fishing” in volume five. It is a great reminder of the duty and pleasures of the work of evangelism. At times through this short book I have been lost in his language. Here is one section I especially enjoyed:
“I find in my heart a flame of desires, Matt. 5:6.  After the righteousness of Christ. My soul earnestly desires to be stripped naked of my own righteousness, which is as rags, and to be clothed and adorned with the robe of his righteousness. This wedding garment my soul affects; so shall I be found without spot, when the Master of the feast comes in to see the guests. My soul is satisfied, and acquiesces in justification by an imputed righteousness, though, alas! My base heart would fain have a home-spun garment of its own sometimes.  After communion with him, Ps. 42:1. When I want it, my soul though sometimes careless, yet, at other times, cries out, O that I knew where I might find him! I have found much sweetness, in communion with God, especially at the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, in prayer and meditation, hearing the word, faithfully and seriously preached, and in preaching it myself, when the candle of the Lord shines on my tabernacle; then was it a sweet exercise to my soul. I endeavor to keep it up when I have it, by watching over my heart, and sending up prayers to God. When I want it, I cry to him for it, though, alas! I have been a long time very careless. Sometimes my soul longs for the day, when my minority [earthly life] shall be over-past, and I be entered heir to the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away; to be quit of this evil world; to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is best of all; especially at three times. (1.) When I get more than ordinarily near God, when my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fat, when my heart is nobilitated, and tramples on the world. (2.) When I am wrestling and groaning under the body of sin and death, the evil heart: then fain would I be there, where Satan cannot tempt, and sin cannot enter; yea, when I have been much forsaken, at least as to comfort … (3.) When I preach, and see that the gospel hath not success, but people are unconcerned, and go on in their abominations” (5:17).
Boston opens his soul to answer the question: At what time is my heart aflame? It comes, he writes, as a result of my deep love for the imputed righteousness from Jesus. It comes when I have enjoyed the presence of God in a special season. And later, my heart is aflame for God’s presence in heaven when I am reminded of my own sin and weaknesses and long for eternity.
For Boston, knowing and preaching the truth alone are insufficient. He wants to see the effects of the Spirit at work as confirmation of his work. This expectation that the Word of God will become reality in the world is the experiential mark on all of Thomas Boston’s sermons and books.
For the expositor of God’s Word, these volumes (and especially the many sermons) make this set a priceless gem. Boston is a Puritan friend who is exegetically faithful and sensitive of the human heart. His depth and breadth make him one of the very few writers that will help you prepare any sermon on any text for any audience.
Binding: clothbound (maroon)
Dust jackets: Yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: oversized and heavy weight
Text: facsimile printing of 1853 version (William Tegg & Co. of London)
Topical Index: yes (end of vol. 11)
Textual index: no
Biography: yes (“Memoirs” in vol. 12)
Publisher: Tentmaker (United Kingdom)
Price USD: $325.00 at RHB; $250.00 at TPB; $250.00 at Amazon
Want more information? An excellent introduction to Thomas Boston and his writing will be found in Christian Focus’ recent re-publication of “The Art of Manfishing.” J.I. Packer’s short introduction at the beginning of this book is beneficial. An extended biography and bibliography is included in Beeke’s new book “Meet the Puritans,” available by Christmas from Reformation Heritage Books.