Here are selections from Boston’s personal journal in which he recounts his catechizing efforts throughout his regular, parish ministry. This installment takes us from Boston’s first labor in the parish of Simprin to his second and last at Ettrick. Observe the diverse settings and audiences of his catechizing, its bearing on church membership and the sacraments, as well as Boston’s pastoral sensitivity and adaptability to the needs of the people. Note also how Boston deplored ignorance of Gospel ‘fundamentals’ and so regarded catechizing as a sine qua non in making authentic Christians (that is, in evangelization).
* * * *
“12th December.—I have had a desire to set up week-day sermons this long time. And since the synod (at which time I had great apprehensions of evil days, which pressed me to be busy in my time) I resolved to try what encouragement I might meet with in prosecuting it. This night I proposed it to two of the members of the meeting for Christian fellowship; who received the motion with all gladness; and I wa3 desired to begin it next Thursday’s night. Upon which immediately I found a great averseness in my own mind to it; thinking withal, that I should have tabled it particularly before the Lord ere I had proposed it. Thus I saw the dreadful deceit of my heart. I pressed my heart with that word, 2 Tim. iv. 2, ” Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season:” but it would not do. As I was going out of doors, it was suggested to me, that the Lord had thus punished me for not seeking light as to that particular expressly. While I wrote this, I thought it indeed a temptation of Satan to divert me from this work. (Nota, It seems both were true.) I was helped earnestly to seek light from the Lord in it. On the morrow I went to God again with this business ; yet could I not be fully satisfied to undertake that work, so long and so much before desired by me; neither had I anything material to object against it. Wherefore I renewed my suit; and thinking about it, got my heart more satisfied and inclined thereto, urging myself with the Lord’s kindness to me in His work, and the necessity of the people’s souls. I went to God again with it; and, in fine, the assiduity of faithful ministers, the apostles, and others, preaching both by day and by night, and no doubt sometimes to a small handful, did overcome me : so that I determine to go on, desiring heartily to comply with it. On Thursday the 14th, at night, I began this exercise, having spent the afternoon in catechising. I went about the examination under a sense of my own emptiness and insufficiency; and was well helped while my heart kept right; but in turning to some one or other of its biasses, my help decayed. In the evening-exercise the Lord’s presence was such, that I was made to say, ” It is good for us to be here.” When alone, the mismanaging of the examination, yea and the sermon too, lay heavy on me; and therefore I went to God for pardon of my weakness. And that exercise I kept up all along after, during my continuance in Simprin ; and had many a sweet and refreshing hour of it. In the winter-season, our meetings for it were in my house, and in the night; in the summer, they were in the kirk, at the time of the day wherein the men rested from their labour: for the people were servants to Langton. And I believe that, for the same reason, it was only the women whom I catechised at any other time of the day ; being solicitous that the master’s business might not suffer by me, nor my good be evil spoken of on that account. On the morrow after, having visited the sick, and found how the Lord had laid His rod on my handful, I was thereby convinced, that, had I slighted the motion for the Thursday’s sermon, I would have had no peace in so doing. Having come home from this visitation, I reflected on it, and saw what secret averseness was in my heart to it, and how poorly I had managed it. I got a clear sight of the freedom and riches of grace, went by myself, and lamented my emptiness and unworthiness; which when I saw, it gave me a check for an inward itching after more work, whereby I might have a little more stipend. That work was, I think, to have been a catechist in Dunse, the encouragement £100 Scots. I had such an offer, and refused it; yet since that time I had such an itch after it. Last night in reading the latter part of John vi. the Lord held His candle before me, helping me to understand it. This night having consulted some books, and my own heart, on the sinfulness of man’s natural state, to see what further of that subject remained to be handled, there occurred only man’s death in sin, to which I was determined accordingly. On the Saturday I studied it, but not with my former assistance: but, after having prayed, and found it to be owing to that I was not so much emptied of myself as before, reckoning the subject more easy, I recovered the divine aid, in meditating afterward on what I had prepared” (109-110).
“17th December. . . That night I began the catechising of the servant; the which part of family duty I continued in my family on the Sabbath nights, till of late years my strength decaying, I almost confined it to the time of the year wherein we have but one sermon.
On the morrow I visited the sick, and spent the afternoon in catechising, and found great ignorance prevailing. On the Tuesday, visiting a sick woman grossly ignorant, after I had laid out before her her wretched state by nature, she told me she had believed all her days. I thereupon sat as astonished for a while, lifted up my eyes to the Lord, and addressed myself to her again for her conviction; howbeit nothing but stupidity appeared. Therefore I saw I had enough ado among my handful. I had another diet of catechising on Wednesday afternoon; and looking to the Lord for help, I got it: and I had some more comfort in them than before. Having inculcated almost on each of them their wretched state by nature, and they frequently attending the means of instruction, there were but few examined that day who did not shew some knowledge of that point. But the discovery I had made of their ignorance of God and of themselves, made me the more satisfied with the smallness of the charge”(111-114).
“Saturday the 23rd… On the morrow, being the Lord’s day, after prayer in the morning I had given way to some worldly thoughts, which were indeed occasioned by something that concerned my conscience; yet my heart soon went without bounds: so that though a desire to be near Christ remained in me, yet I found an averseness to duty even in the very time of duty. Entering on the public work, my prayer was according to my frame, complaining of a body of death, and an ugly heart, and admiring heaven as a place of rest from sin. I preached that day man’s ignorance of his wretched state by nature; and was sure that God called me to preach it, by the voice of the people’s necessity, two of whom had told me expressly that week, they had believed all their days. That night I altered the evening-exercise, from explaining a question sermon-wise, to catechising, as more fit to profit the people: and to this I had been determined after seeking a discovery of the Lord’s mind therein” (114).
“[15th January] I endeavoured on the Monday, not without some success, to keep my heart in a heavenly disposition; spent the morning in my chamber, the forenoon in catechising, the afternoon in business, and visiting a sick man at night, with help from the Lord. Thereafter earnestly plying my books, I found my heart much bettered, my confidence in the Lord more strengthened, the world less valuable in my eyes, and my soul free of the temptations that otherwise I was liable to” (120).
“As for the subject of baptism; after I was settled among the people of Simprin, and had entered closely on my work, finding some of them grossly ignorant, and hardly teachable in the ordinary way, and casting in my mind what course to take with such, I drew up in writing a little form of catechising in the fundamentals, in short questions and answers, on design to teach it them privately in my house. I do not well remember the progress of that affair; nor do I well know where these questions are; but afterward I used the same, in the case of my little children, in the first place, when they became capable of instruction. Among other such grossly ignorant, there was one, who desiring his child to be baptized, I could not have freedom to grant his desire for some time: neither am I clear, whether, when the child was baptized, it was baptized on a satisfying account of the fundamental principles from him or his wife. Whatever had laid the foundation of such scrupling, I was, by means of such straitening in practice, brought closely to consider that point. And having purposely studied the question, Who have right to baptism, and are to be baptized? I wrote my thoughts thereon also. And being one day in conversation on that head with Mr. William Bird, dissenting minister in Barmoor in England, he presented to me Fulwood’s Discourse of the Visible Church, for clearing me. Bringing home the said book with me, I considered it, and wrote also some animadversions on a part of it. From that time I had little fondness for national churches strictly and properly so called, as of equal latitude with the nations, and wished for an amendment of the constitution of our own church, as to the membership thereof” (171-172).