Thomas Boston On Ways to Prevent the Devil’s Attacks
As ARP’s one of our forefathers in the faith was a man by the name of Thomas Boston. I love to read his works and recently I read a sermon of his from 2 Kings 2:14 where he is making some complaints about the lack of piety and the growth of sinfulness in his day in Scotland (ca. 1713). Desiring to see his people not fall into the same trap Boston gives six helpful examples of ways the individual Christian can work to help in his own heart to prevent a slackness in his hope in the Lord. For our prayer and worship help today I will list them with some commentary.
1) Stir Yourselves Up to Repent and Reform. (Rev. 3:2)
This is key. Much like in Daniel 9 where the prophet is moved to recognize Judah’s deserved punishment in Babylon the Christian must begin with his own sin and need for personal growth in holiness before he can call upon his brethren to likewise move forward in sanctification. That is the heart of Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 7 in regards to the log in the eye. It is the height of hypocrisy to demand others to bend away from their lusts if you are not willing to do it yourself. Understanding your own lack of righteousness before God is part and parcel of the humility we are all called to as believers in Christ. Is your brother a Sabbath-breaker? How do you fail to keep the Sabbath? Does your sister violate the ninth commandment in her conversation? What are you doing in spreading gossip about her work? That again must be the foundation of any prayer before the LORD God, especially when it concerns national impiety. Reformation begins in the church before we can expect it elsewhere.
2) Lament After the Lord. (1 Sam 7:2).
True repentance does not look for self-satisfaction in that repentance, but sincerely and honestly seeks God’s forgiveness and His love. The Scriptures often associate tears with humble remorse for sin and the reason for doing so is that there is heartfelt response tied in with such emotional pleading. This is not to say tears must follow repentance, but the heart knows whether it is wholehearted or half-hearted in its work. A good way to learn what this kind of prayer looks like is to read the Book of Lamentations. In that work you see the depths of the inward pain of the prophet Jeremiah at his own sin, his nation’s sin, and how that effects their relationship with God. The holiness and justice of the Lord must always be in the forefront, for as David rightly notes in his prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 it is against the Lord alone that people have sinned and it is to Him they must flee not just for forgiveness, but assurance of peace. Sin cannot be muddled through, it must be seen for what it is.
3) Study Unity, and Beware of Division. (Psalm 133:3).
In Boston’s own words he says:
Be more afraid of your own than other people’s sins. This church at best is but weak. Let us not by divisions make ourselves an easier prey to the common enemy, lest God be provoked to cast us into the fire to make us burn together.
What Boston intends here is not a quietism or a cowardice that seeks union for union’s sake, but that Christian’s would never divide for division’s sake. A united front and a confessional agreement on the Gospel is vital to the testimony of the church. If the Church cannot agree on what the good news is what witness is that to the unbelieving world around it? Boston’s wisdom here is that the people of God would always seek corporate rather than personal or professional glory in the work of Christ.
4) Lay Out Yourselves For the Advancement of Piety
As with the first three principles Boston begins at home. How can you call upon the world to turn away from their defections to the Lordship of Christ if you also are in rebellion against His Word? The individual Christian and the Church has to be willing and be already engaged in the work of stirring up holiness, love, and good works among its members and needs to be a witness through their lives to the nation. (Deut 4:9). It is a popular thing in our day to bemoan the wickedness of our culture and even to mock the liberals and antinomians of this age, but where are we falling short of the glory of God in the conservative, confessional church? How are we violating the Law of God in our response to these things? Are we seeking God’s blessing in calling out sinfulness or are we unrighteously puffing up our chests to be seen among men?
5) Labor to Put Yourselves in Posture For Suffering
Jesus’ own words to His disciples are instructive here:
“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.” — John 16:1-4
It is in keeping with the general witness of redemptive history that the World and its king the Devil will do everything in its power to shut the mouths of faithful preaching. Christians should neither be surprised nor shocked to see it happening. However, believers need to be careful not to use persecution as a sign of faithfulness. In other words it is easy to not only seek out the world’s existing hatred, but to revel in it. We should not go out of our way to either cause offense or to try to bring societal pressure on ourselves. Sufficient will be the dislike of the world for the ordinary Christian things without making up reasons for the world to condemn. You are to prepare for hardship, because it will come, and to find rest in the promises of God in the midst of it. What Boston truly has in mind here is remembering that we are aliens, and will be treated as such, so let us stay focused on the ordinary life, and we’ll be blessed.
6) Pray For the Remnant That is Left
In closing, Thomas Boston reminds us to pray, and to do so often and without reservation. The content of these prayers must be in light of what he has already noted: Seeking God’s mercy in forgiveness, acknowledging His majesty and perfection, faithfully hoping for the uplifting of the saints in unity, working towards a Christlike life according to His blessed Law for the betterment not just of the Church, but society writ large, seeing your own holiness grow in the face of the world’s hatred, and finally that you may rest in the corporate worship and the sufficiency of the given ordinances of Christ for His Bride which are granted therein for all your needs in this life.
I hope these six suggestions from our father in the faith will be helpful to you not only as you consider the wicked days in which we live, but also in your personal walk with Christ as forgiven sinners by Grace through Faith Alone.
Here’s some more:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church