These selections from Boston’s Memoirs come from his ministry in the parish of Ettrick, having accepted that charge in 1707 after his labors in Simprin. To read the previous post, click here.
Observe the rigors of Boston’s parish ministry. The strains on his physical constitution in his commitment to parish catechesis remind one of David Brainerd’s hardships with the Delaware Indians.
We also note in these passages a strong sense of ministerial responsibility for the youth. Several of these ‘diets’ of catechizing were especially for the youth. Obviously, these were hardly ‘youth groups’ in the modern sense; yet they were gatherings of youth nonetheless. Also in this pastoral vein we see how Boston’s catechesis often involved practical exhortations. This wasn’t merely a discipline to inform minds, but to change hearts.
In one instance, Boston distinctly notes that he adjusted his particular practice by observing the useful method of a colleague in the ministry. This ministerial duty ever needs reassessment and retooling for maximal usefulness, and we should not be ashamed to observe how others do it better than we.
Last, these diets of catechizing appear to have been set for places outside the parish kirk, as in his manse, or throughout the parish at suitable gathering-places. The man of God, though ‘settled within his bounds,’ is ever itinerant. He must “preach publicly and from house to house.” The churchly calling of catechesis engages the mind; but it is worth noting that it first goes to the minds that need engaging!
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“Twice a-year I catechised the parish, having no diet but one at the church; and once a-year I visited their families. The former was usually begun about the end of October, the latter about the end of April, or beginning of May. This was my ordinary course all along, save that of some few late years; through my wife’s extraordinary sickness in the spring, and the decay of my own strength, I have not got the visiting of families performed as before; neither have I hope of it any more, though I still aim at something of that kind yearly. But I bless God, that when I had ability, I was helped to lay it out that way. Thus the winter-season was the time wherein I did most of my work in the parish. Meanwhile that also was the season wherein I did most in my closet. Being twelve miles distant from the presbytery-seat, I attended it not in the winter; but when I attended it, I ordinarily went away and returned the same day, being loath to lose two or three days on it” (227-28).
“On Tuesday, 11th November, I finished the memorial concerning personal and family fasting, begun 5th August, and consisting of 149 pages; and laid it before the Lord for acceptance through Jesus Christ, and a blessing thereupon. Having had a severe cold these two days, and been in a sweat Tuesday’s night, I was in doubt whether to keep the appointed diet of catechising at Calcrabank on the Wednesday, or not: but I was determined to go, through one’s coming to me that morning from the parish of Yarrow, with a line, to get his child baptized there. So I went off, and my cold was no worse. But being come home again that night, I was seized with a severe fit of the gravel; in which, vomiting up at length some blackish matter, I was deeply impressed with a view of the loathsomeness of this body, bearing the image of the earthly first Adam, and what it must come to by means of death, till it be reduced to dust again; out of which it is to be reformed after the image of the heavenly man, the second Adam, far removed for ever from that corrupt constitution. The day had been very bad; and this season I have not hitherto had one good day on that occasion; but I have had a sort of pleasure and satisfaction in enduring these little hardships, for my Master and His work’s sake” (426-27).
“3rd January.—I found myself fail mightily, in managing the diets of catechising this season; especially the two last diets. Considering the loss sustained by the people, through my inability to speak, and apply to it, it has been very heavy to me. But this day the Lord pitied, and helped me therein again; the which is the more welcome, that now I begin this work also, the catechising of those of the younger sort, which is carried on together with the public catechising of the parish; not daring as yet to ease myself of that accessory piece of my work” (435-36).
“It had been my manner of a long time, besides the catechising of the parish already mentioned, to have diets of catechising those of the younger sort; and they met in the kirk, sometimes in my house. What time I began this course I do not remember, but I think it has been early; for I learnt it from Mr. Charles Gordon minister of Askirk, whom I found so employed in his house when I went at a time to visit him; and he died, at furthest, in the year 1710. By this course I got several young people of both sexes, trained up to a good measure of knowledge; some of whom unto this day are solid and knowing Christians; but it suffered some interruptions. The time I found fittest for it on their part, was from January to the beginning of May; and the whole youth of the parish, who were disposed, and had access to wait on, came together and were welcome; as were others also, who inclined to hear. The intimation of their first diet was made from the pulpit; and then from time to time I set and signified to them their next diet; ordinarily they met once a fourtnight; sometimes once in 20 days only; sometimes once a week, as occasion required. Several times these meetings were closed with warm exhortation to practical religion; the which I sometime used also in the diets of catechising the parish. Thus this accessory work fell in the time when ordinarily I was weakest; and of late years that my frailty notably increased, I wanted not inclination sometimes to give it over. But that I might the better comport with it, I did some years ago cause make a portable iron grate, in which I had a fire in the kirk to sit at on these occasions. This year, after I had once and again found my self fail mightily in diets for the parish, thro’ bodily inability, the time of beginning this course was returning; and the Lord pitied and helped again in another diet for the parish. So I was encouraged, and began that course again at the ordinary time, not daring as yet to give it over; and thro’ the mercy of God, it was got carried on as usual.
“This winter I did more at night than of a long time before, having ordinarily written something, for a while, after six o’clock at night. And on the 17th day of March, I had completed the catechising of the parish for the second time. This was a kind disposal of Providence: for about the same time began a breach of my health, which made me the heaviest spring I had ever felt” (437-38).
“It pleased the Lord, for my trial, to make the entry on that work difficult; and the progress has, through several interruptions, been small to the writing hereof; whatever He minds to do about it. On the morrow I catechised at Buccleugh. I continued about three hours in that exercise without my spirits or strength failing ; which is the more sweet, and filled my heart with thankfulness, that in the morning I had, in consideration of my weakness, prayed for pity. I was minded next day to have spent some time in prayer for assistance in the aforesaid work: but being called out of my bed that night, to visit a sick person supposed to be a-dying, I found in the morning that I was not in case for it. So I applied myself to writing of letters, which at length I was obliged also to give over. Being seized with a colic, I behoved to take my bed that night: and rising on the Friday, I was obliged to take bed again, where I was fixed till the Saturday morning. Then the pain was removed; but I was unfit for business, save writing of letters. But though the Lord’s day was so bad that few came to church, it was a good day to me, in delivering the Lord’s word, weak and crazy as I was. I admired the indulgence of my gracious Master, in timing the trial so as not to mar my public work; and in that I had as much studied the preceding week, as fully served that Sabbath; so that as I was not able, so I did not need to study. He is a good Master to me: and I kissed that rod” (452).
“On Tuesday, 1st December, I spent some time in prayer, with fasting, chiefly for two causes—1. The work on the Hebrew text; and therein I found a pinching sense of need carrying me to that exercise, my hope of success being in the Lord alone; 2. For my younger son, who the day before had gone towards Edinburgh, to attend the school of divinity only. I reviewed my whole life, made confession, and renewed my acceptance of the covenant, as that time twelve months before: and then I made my supplications on these accounts and some other, particularly the affair at London as to the MSS., concerning which there was still a deep silence; and came away with hope, rolling them on the Lord. On the morrow I catechised at Calcrabank. I had a singular satisfaction in that little journey, while I observed how Providence taught me, trying me and delivering me. It being a very hard frost, it was dangerous riding; and my horses being both away to Edinburgh with my son, I was mounted on a beast that would hardly stir under me. At the second ford above Hopehouse, I was quite stopped, the ford being frozen, and the horse not able to make the brae where the water was open. Alighting therefore to take the hillside, the bridle slipped off, and my horse got away homeward, and I pursued. But kind Providence had a well-inclined lad coming down on the other side of the water, who coming through to my help, catched unhorse, led him on, and I walked on foot once and again. Coming home, I was cast under night; but the lad staid, and came along with me, and led my horse again, while I walked with some uneasiness, by means of my boots, and otherwise. Meanwhile it was some moonlight: and I had a pleasure in that trial, beholding how my God took notice of me, even in my little matters, and how He balanced them for me! ‘Lord, what is man that Thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that Thou makest account of him!’ After all, having only got two falls, perfectly harmless, while walking, I came home safe; and found not the least ill effect of this adventure, save some weariness in my legs on the morrow after. And I got what I could spend of the next day, on the beloved study: but still Providence kept me on trial, as to time for it” (453).
“But holy Providence had designed a piece of new trial for me that I was not aware of. When I came home from Maxton, I was told one had advised blistering, and putting a pea in my leg, for my sore knee, and had left me a blistering plaister for that end. The plaister was applied on the Friday’s night. On the Sabbath night the pea was put in; and thro’ pain I slept none that night. The pain continuing, the pea was taken out again on the Tuesday; and on the morrow after, I had my first diet of catechising at Chapplehop. After taking away the pea the hole quickly closed; but there grew upon it a hard callous substance and withal the leg was inflamed. This created thoughts of heart, and the sore knee was forgotten. On the Monday after I wrote for a surgeon; who returned me answer, he apprehended no danger and sent me an ointment to apply. Expecting some benefit by the ointment, I wrote him on the morrow, he needed not to come till again called. But finding the ointment quite ineffectual as to the substance aforesaid, I was sorry I had prevented his coming up…”
“Meanwhile the catechising of the parish was interrupted and I sat in the pulpit when I preached. But my soul rejoiced to observe, how my gracious God and Master still timed the hardest of my trouble, so as it had been designed, that it should be over before the Sabbath should return. But with this trouble of my leg there was joined sore eyes, occasioned by my sitting in the bed writing, in the sunlight, on the Tuesday before the surgeon came: so that, for some nights, leg and eyes were to be buckled up with their respective applications at once; and one night a dint of the toothache joined them. The callous substance was got away by degrees; and on 7th November at night, what day I had intimated from the pulpit a diet of catechising again, the sore appeared closed” (469-71).
“I observed the diet of catechising aforesaid: but the day was so very bad that few came to it, being at Kirkhop. The week following I had another at Buccleugh. Considering my frailty, the season, and how Providence had, by the above-mentioned trial, carried me by the time I thought fittest for the utmost corners of the parish, I laid the matter before the Lord. And rising early in the morning, I got a good seasonable day, visited a sick man by the way, had a full allowance of strength for my work of catechising, without failing of my spirits, and got home again with daylight. This merciful conduct of Providence was big in my eyes” (472).
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