Monday, December 19, 2011

Thomas Boston on Death

I’ve been reading through Thomas Boston’s spiritual classic, Human Nature in its Fourfold State (first published in 1720; Banner reprint, 1964). The four states are the state of innocence (pre-fallen man), the state of nature (fallen man), the state of grace (regenerate man), and the eternal state. George M. Morrison describes the hold this book had on the people of Scotland when it first appeared:

It was discussed in Edingburgh drawing-rooms. The shepherd read it on the hills. It made its way into the Highland crofts, where stained and tattered copies of the earlier edition may still be found. For more than a hundred years its influence upon the religious life of Scotland was incalculable (pp. 19-20).

He then laments that in his day (1899), however, it was “very little read” (p. 20).

I just started Boston’s discussion of the fourth and final state, the eternal state, which opens with a discussion of death. There is no modern attempt to cover over the realities of mortality. Here are a few (of many, many) vivid quotes that give some idea as to how this book has gripped many through the years:

Why so much care for the body, to the neglect of the concerns of the immortal soul? O be not so anxious for what can only serve your bodies, since, ere long, the clods of cold earth will serve for back and belly too (p. 334).

The finest clothes are but badges of our sin and shame, and in a little time will be exchanged for a winding-sheet, when the body will become a feast for worms (p. 335).

The world is a great inn in the road to eternity to which you are traveling (p. 337).

The worst men can do is to take away that life which we cannot long keep, though all the world should conspire to help us to retain the spirit (p. 337).

Our life in the world is but a short preface to long eternity, and much of the tale is told (p. 338).

We have nothing we can call ours, but the present moment; and that is flying away (p. 339).

Now the flying shadow of our life allows no time for loitering…. Therefore prepare for death (p. 339).

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