My dear friends,
You might, having read the title of this letter, wonder what is about to follow.
Those of you who know even a little about a remarkable eighteenth century Scottish minister called Thomas Boston, will, however, have immediately recognised the source of my title.
Boston’s ‘Works’ run to twelve volumes and contain some lengthy theological treatises. When Jonathan Edwards read Boston’s work on The Covenants, he said that the Scottish minister was ‘a truly great divine’. But Boston also wrote brief, very accessible and pastoral books, and chief among these is the quaintly titled, ‘The Crook in the Lot’, with the subtitle, ‘The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God, in the Afflictions of Men Displayed’.
Thomas Boston was born in 1676 at a time when vital religion was in short supply in Scotland. His father, a faithful gospel minister, had been imprisoned for his steadfast commitment to the doctrines of the Reformed faith. Boston’s ‘Memoirs’ (a must read) recount the many crooks that affected his lot in life as a faithful minister of the grace of God.
Before I let Boston speak for himself, let me explain what he means by ‘crook’ and ‘lot’. By ‘lot’, Boston means your and my ‘lot in life’, the shape of our lives as they are styled by God’s many providences. By ‘crook’, he means those unforeseen troubles (‘thorns’) that afflict, unsettle or disturb us in any way. Boston sets out to minister pastoral wisdom and help to God’s people experiencing crooks in their lots, ‘the sufferings of this present time’ (Rom.8:18).
As Boston begins to unpack his text ("Consider the work of God: for who can make straight which he hath made crooked‘(Ecclesia.7:13 KJV), he does so in the form of ’three propositions':
First Proposition: ‘Whatsoever crook there is in one’s lot, it is of God’s making’. Boston wants his readers to understand that ‘Everybody’s lot in this world hath some crook in it. Complainers are apt to make odious comparisons: they look about, and taking a distant view of the condition of others, can discern nothing in it but what is straight, and just to one’s wish; so they pronounce their neighbour’s lot wholly straight. But (says Boston) that is a false verdict; there is no perfection here, no lot out of heaven without a crook’. Boston is highlighting a very basic, but very important truth. Life this side of glory is marred by inescapable crooks. This is true for everyone everywhere, and not least for God’s chosen, saved and heaven bound children.
It is one of the devil’s stratagems to try and persuade us that other people don’t have the crooks in their lot that we have. Comparisons truly are odious. You and I never really know what is going on in anyone’s life (we barely know what is going on most of the time in our own lives). Living in a fallen world, in yet fallen bodies, with sin’s entail yet within us, crooks in the lot are an inevitable part of life.
But more to Boston’s point is his assertion that all of our crooks are ‘of God’s making’. God’s sovereignty is absolutely unabridged (Eph.1:11). It may often be dark and mysterious to us, but it is the wise, kind, gracious, if always just, sovereignty of our heavenly Father - the Father who spared not his only Son for us.
Second Proposition: ‘What God sees meet (appropriate) to mar, no one shall be able to mend in his lot’. Boston is not meaning that we should simply shrug our shoulders and say (with Doris Day), ‘Que sera sera’ when the Lord is pleased to send crooks into our lot. What he means is that by our own strength or ability we cannot mend the crooks in our lot. If they are to be mended, it will be the Lord who mends them. We should pray and even plead. But it will be the Lord himself who removes the crooks, if they are ever to be removed this side of glory. Boston has much to say on this, but he says one thing that is so very needful: ‘If you would, in a Christian manner, set yourselves to bear the crook, you would find it easier than you imagine’. He then quotes Jesus‘ words, ’Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and he shall find rest for your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light' (Matt.11:29-30).
Third Proposition: ‘The considering the crook in the lot as the work of God is a proper means to bring one to behave rightly under it’. Boston proceeds to ask the question, How are Christians to behave when it pleases the Lord to bring various crooks into their lives? His answer is simple, ‘Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud’ (Prov.16:19). Boston proceeds to tell us that ‘Humility is part of the image of God. Pride is the master-piece of the image of the devil’. He reminds us that ‘Though the Lord be on high, yet hath he respect to the lowly; but the proud he knowers afar off’ (Ps.138:6). So when crooks appear in your life, listen and take to heart Peter’s words, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you’ (1 Pt.5:6-7. ESV).
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Boston’s ‘Crook’ is the fact that over half the book is devoted to explicating and applying this one fundamental response Christians must seek to cultivate as they respond to their God-sent crooks, the grace of humility. Humility is receiving and meekly accepting all that the Lord pleases to bring into our lives, for good or for ill. Jesus is our model and pattern. Not once in the face of all the many crooks that afflicted his lot, did our Saviour murmur or complain. His one invariable response to crooks in his lot was, ‘It is the Lord’.
So, unsurprisingly, Boston concludes his little pastoral gem with a final exhortative encouragement: ‘Ye have been called to humble yourselves in your humbling circumstances, and have been assured in that case of a lifting up. To conclude: we may assure ourselves, God will at length break in pieces the proud, be they ever so high; and he will triumphantly lift up the humble, be they ever so low’.
It is little wonder that Jonathan Edwards considered Boston ‘a truly great divine’. He was.