Thomas Boston and the doctrine of God’s will

  • Jonathan Peter MacKenzie

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


The focus of this thesis is the Reformed doctrine of the will of God and its pastoral application in the theology of Thomas Boston (1676-1732). The objective of this thesis is to establish Boston’s doctrine of the will of God and how he applies that doctrine pastorally. We shall argue that one significant key to understanding Boston and his theology is the use he makes of the doctrine of the will of God, particularly in relation to God’s providence. This is a common theme in Reformed theology but the way in which Boston worked the theme out in his practical theology and in his pastoral care marks him out as significant.
We shall begin (chapter 1) with a brief introduction to the life and thought of Thomas Boston, before concentrating (chapter 2) on his Memoirs, in which it becomes very clear that his understanding of the doctrine of the will of God, particularly in relation to God’s providence, is not only a theological idea but an intensely personal way of understanding his own life and circumstances and those of his parishioners.
In order to understand Boston’s doctrine of the will of God in its context within the wider Reformed tradition, we shall consider (chapter 3) very briefly the contribution of the Fathers, before focussing in on the writings of John Calvin (1509-64). We shall then consider the use of the doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which was adopted as the Principal Subordinate Standard of the Church of Scotland in 1647 and to which Boston, as a Minister in that Church, would have been required to subscribe. We shall also consider in passing the influence upon Boston of John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence (1676-77).
With that background and context we shall then (chapter 4) examine closely Boston’s doctrine of the will of God, particularly in relation to the doctrine of the providence of God. This will encompass such themes as God’s being and attributes; the decrees of God; the problem of evil; election and reprobation; and free will. The pastoral and practical applications of this theological perspective will then be examined (chapter 5), demonstrating how significant a theme the will of God was for the way in which Boston ministered to his congregation in his preaching and pastoral care, as well as his wider ministry to the church through his writings.
Date of Award26 Nov 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorAndrew McGowan (Supervisor) & Don Wood (Supervisor)

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