In May 1708, toward the beginning of his ministry in Ettrick, Thomas Boston began to preach on man’s fourfold state, as he had done before in Simprin. Ever an observer of Providence, Boston noted that “The conduct of Providence in leading to a second attempt on that subject, was the more remarkable, considering what the same Providence had designed it for, unknown to and unlooked for by me, till the event discovered itself years after. And preaching of these sermons of the Fourfold State, through the mercy of God, was not in vain” (Memoirs of Thomas Boston, 227). The eventual publication of Human Nature in Its Fourfold State in 1720 was a matter of deep spiritual exercise for Boston. He anticipated that, given the General Assembly’s condemnation of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, he might be called to account for some things in his Fourfold State (349). He was also much smitten in conscience that he had given liberty to a Mr. Wrightman to modify his book. Mr. Wrightman, for instance, had changed the expression “horribly” to “too much” and had blotted out from the title page the words of 1 Cor. 4:10: “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” (351) Besides visiting Edinburgh to intervene in the publication of his book, Boston prayed earnestly for the Lord’s blessing to go forth with Fourfold State and for the Lord’s help in his next writing project on the Hebrew accents: “The Lord helped to cry to Him in both these: and for some time I spread the Hebrew Bible, and my written materials, before the Lord in prayer, crying to the Father of lights, my Father, over them, for light, life, strength, time, and conduct, into all truth; the which practice I found useful to my upstirring (353).”
The author of Fourfold State left such things on record, and they are worthy of our observation. When choosing what to read, we may well ask, “From what sort of spiritual climate has this book come forth?” Where can we find literature steeped in earnest prayer and sustained meditation on Scripture? Who are the authors who thought nothing of gaining fame through publication but sought to please their master rather than men? Who are the authors who felt their own sinfulness and infirmities deeply and cried to their gracious Father in heaven? Whose teaching in print was first brought to the hearts of men in a searching, eternity-minded, Christ-exalting preaching ministry? One such book is Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.
As to the contents of this book, this brief review will note that the “fourfold state” in question is man in the state of innocence, man in the state of nature, man in the state of grace, and the eternal state. The purpose of the whole is to show the reader what a terrible fall man has had from his first estate, to help the reader discern what his present state is, and to drive him and draw him to enter and abide in the state of grace through believing in Christ, all with a view to the great day when there shall be an unalterable separation between men and men, according to their state.
There are many choice sections in the book. Among them are the vindication of God’s justice in regard to the fall of man, who was made upright by God (Eccles. 7:29), though changeable—the attribute of unchangeableness is not inherent in man as a creature, nor was God obligated to make man unchangeable in his first estate. The treatment of John 15:5 is rich and precious: “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” The way that men are ingrafted into Christ is set forth, and then the benefits of being ingrafted into him: justification, peace with God and peace of conscience, adoption, sanctification, growth in grace, fruitfulness, acceptance of their fruits, establishment, support, and the special care of the husbandman. The doctrine of the last things—the general resurrection and judgment, and the eternal state—is taught with Scriptural fullness and the weightiness befitting eternal things. This reviewer has nowhere else found the equal of this book in its solemn treatment of the doctrine of hell.
As we have opportunity, we might profit much by reading Fourfold State in the same praying, God-seeking frame in which it was sent forth by its author.