Born in 1676 in the obscure village of Duns, Berwickshire, Thomas Boston died on this day in 1732 in the equally obscure parish of Ettrick in the Scottish Borders. But his 56 years of life, 45 of them spent in conscious Christian discipleship, lend credibility to the spiritual principle that it is not where a Christian serves, but what quality of service he renders, that really counts.
Graduating with a degree in the classical arts from Edinburgh University, Boston was able to afford only one session of theological training. He then underwent a rigorous self-guided study program completing all his studies extramurally. With arduous discipline, sustained by only a meager library, his autodidactic studies earned him a widespread reputation. Indeed, as a Hebrew scholar he was, according to the renowned linguist George Morrison, “welcomed as an equal by the finest Hebrew scholars in the world.” As a theologian, Jonathan Edwards wrote that he was “a truly great divine.”
But it was as a loving, faithful, rigorously self-disciplined Christian pastor, and one deeply committed to the grace of God, that Boston was best remembered. Leaving his first charge at Simprin, where he served 1699-1707, he settled in Ettrick for a 25-year ministry that saw the numbers of communicants rise from a mere 60 in 1710 to nearly 800 in 1731.
Constantly burdened for his congregation, Boston taught them in season and out of season, in pulpit and at home. Burdened for the truth of the Gospel, he overcame all natural timidity to engage in confronting heretical doctrine and dealing with the critical cultural issues of the day. Though he was a quiet man, by all accounts he became a roaring lion in the pulpit. According to James Heatherton, “There was a grip in it that no preacher wins who is a stranger to his own heart.”
He was thus counted as one of the most powerful and effective ministers of his day—and this despite the fact that he labored for Christ in an obscure, out of the way place all his life, never desiring for anything more. According to Thomas Chalmers, “He so understood the covenant that he found his greatest reward amongst those who knew him best; so he never desired to leave them.”