Boston and the Gospel for Everyone

I’m a church historian, and have a particular interest in Scottish Presbyterianism — especially the period of the Marrow controversy. It took place in the Scottish church of the 1700’s, not over bone marrow transplants, but over a book with the trendy 1640’s Puritan title The Marrow of Modern Divinity. The present day title equivalent would be something like “The Heart of Contemporary Theology.” The book addressed the twin errors of legalism and antinomianism among English Christians, calling them to a biblical understanding of the role and relationship of the law and the gospel, with all its implications for daily Christian living.


Thomas Boston, a young Church of Scotland minister, came across the book some fifty years after its publication, and found it profoundly helpful in understanding the full sufficiency of Christ for salvation, Christian life and growth. (So have I.) It transformed him and his preaching. In one of his sermons, The Everlasting Espousals, Thomas Boston draws on this rich gospel theology, comparing the offer of the gospel to a marriage contract, “drawn up already and signed by the Bridegroom, bearing his consent to match with the captive daughter of Zion.” He declares:

“[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… it is indorsed and directed to you, every one of you: therefore you have a sufficient warrant to sign it for yourselves. What is your name? … thirsty sinners? Then read your name, and see how it is directed to you, Isaiah 55:1, ‘Ho everyone that thirsts, come’… Will you answer to the name willing sinner? Then it is directed to you, Rev. 22:17, ‘Whosever will, let him take of the water of life freely.’ Are you called heavy laden sinner? Arise then, the Master calls you, Matth. 11:28, ‘Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ Is your name whorish backslider? ‘You have played the harlot with many lovers, “yet return again unto me says the Lord.”’ Jer. 3:1. Are you a lost sinner? The son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost Luke 19:10. Are you the chief of sinners? Even to you the word of this salvation is sent, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief, I Tim 1:5. But whatsoever artifice ye may use to disown these, or any of these to be your name; surely you are men, sons of men; you cannot deny that to be your name: therefore it is directed to you, and every one of you: ‘unto you O men I call, my voice is to the sons of men’ Prov. 8:4… O the riches and the freedom of grace!… this offer is made unto all of you without exception, Christ is willing to be yours.” [1714]