Book Review: The Complete Works of Thomas Boston (12 volumes)

Book Review

The Complete Works of Thomas Boston (12 volumes)

[note: The following review compliments The Puritan Study, a series on incorporating Puritan literature into expositional preaching.]

Thomas Boston (1676-1732) is not only one of my favorite Puritan authors, but has also proven himself to be one of the most important and useful Puritans in my expositional research.

Known for his excellent books like “The Crook in the Lot” and “The Art of Man-Fishing,” his works are both excellent examples of Boston’s deep understanding of the Christian life and his firm commitment to obedience to Scripture.

As a preacher I love Boston for both his depth and breadth. Depth, in his ability to apply texts so personally and powerfully to his hearers. Breadth, in the fact that he preached on almost every biblical theme. It seems every time I flip through Martin’s topical index (A Guide to the Puritans) I discover Boston preached a sermon on my current topic. Preachers will find Boston’s breadth and depth to be very useful for every sermon, no matter the sermon topic or text.

Incredible sensitivity towards applying the scriptures to his hearers, and tremendous balance and diversity of content make Boston an often-used resource in my expositional research. But what I also find impressive about Boston was his pastoral work in Ettrick, which, prior to his arrival, was an unstable and worldly town. As Dr. Joel Beeke writes in the introduction, “When Boston arrived in Ettrick, the town had less than 400 people. The roads were nearly impassable. The parsonage was dilapidated. Church services were irregular. When a service was held, the people often talked throughout it. Spiritual barrenness, pride, deceit, swearing, and fornication abounded” (p. I-5). What happened over the next 25 years was the result of Spirit-blessed preaching now preserved for us in these volumes.


The works of Thomas Boston (published by Tentmaker) include 7,400 pages of books, sermons and his own memoirs.

Volumes one and two comprise “An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion” organized by the Shorter Catechism. These volumes are affectionate and deeply applicable on the main subjects like the authority of scripture, the trinity, creation, Christ, sin, justification, the Ten Commandments, self-examination, prayer, an experimental knowledge of Chirst, etc. These volumes are a treat to those of us who have seen systematic theology lacking experimental warmth and deep application. Boston abhors the thought.

Volume three is a collection of 37 sermons and two books: “The Crook in the Lot” and “The Unity of the Body of Christ.” Volume four includes 40 sermons and the book “The Distinguishing Characters of Real Christians.” Volume five includes books on discerning genuine believers from the false and “The Art of Man-fishing.” Volume six includes 16 sermons and a number of Q&As on various topics. Volume seven includes nine sermons and more theology similar to volume one and two, including discourses on “The Evil and Danger of Schism” (on 1 Cor. 1:10), “The Necessity and Foundations of a Throne of Grace for the Behoof of Poor Sinners, Pointed out and Illustrated” (on Psalm 89:14). Volume eight includes “Man’s Fourfold State” on the state of innocence, the state of nature (or sinfulness), the state of grace and the eternal state. Volume nine and ten are comprised of 88 sermons. Volume eleven includes diverse material on the covenant of grace and prayer. And the final volume comprises Boston’s excellent “Memoirs” where you can read more about his 25- year pastorate at Ettrick.


One of my favorite sections of Boston is a little book titled, “A Soliloquy on the Art of Man-Fishing” in volume five. It is a great reminder of the duty and pleasures of the work of evangelism. At times through this short book I have been lost in his language. Here is one section I especially enjoyed:

“I find in my heart a flame of desires, Matt. 5:6. [1] After the righteousness of Christ. My soul earnestly desires to be stripped naked of my own righteousness, which is as rags, and to be clothed and adorned with the robe of his righteousness. This wedding garment my soul affects; so shall I be found without spot, when the Master of the feast comes in to see the guests. My soul is satisfied, and acquiesces in justification by an imputed righteousness, though, alas! My base heart would fain have a home-spun garment of its own sometimes. [2] After communion with him, Ps. 42:1. When I want it, my soul though sometimes careless, yet, at other times, cries out, O that I knew where I might find him! I have found much sweetness, in communion with God, especially at the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, in prayer and meditation, hearing the word, faithfully and seriously preached, and in preaching it myself, when the candle of the Lord shines on my tabernacle; then was it a sweet exercise to my soul. I endeavor to keep it up when I have it, by watching over my heart, and sending up prayers to God. When I want it, I cry to him for it, though, alas! I have been a long time very careless. Sometimes my soul longs for the day, when my minority [earthly life] shall be over-past, and I be entered heir to the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away; to be quit of this evil world; to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is best of all; especially at three times. (1.) When I get more than ordinarily near God, when my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fat, when my heart is nobilitated, and tramples on the world. (2.) When I am wrestling and groaning under the body of sin and death, the evil heart: then fain would I be there, where Satan cannot tempt, and sin cannot enter; yea, when I have been much forsaken, at least as to comfort … (3.) When I preach, and see that the gospel hath not success, but people are unconcerned, and go on in their abominations” (5:17).

Boston opens his soul to answer the question: At what time is my heart aflame? It comes, he writes, as a result of my deep love for the imputed righteousness from Jesus. It comes when I have enjoyed the presence of God in a special season. And later, my heart is aflame for God’s presence in heaven when I am reminded of my own sin and weaknesses and long for eternity.

For Boston, knowing and preaching the truth alone are insufficient. He wants to see the effects of the Spirit at work as confirmation of his work. This expectation that the Word of God will become reality in the world is the experiential mark on all of Thomas Boston’s sermons and books.

For the expositor of God’s Word, these volumes (and especially the many sermons) make this set a priceless gem. Boston is a Puritan friend who is exegetically faithful and sensitive of the human heart. His depth and breadth make him one of the very few writers that will help you prepare any sermon on any text for any audience.

Binding: clothbound (maroon)
Volumes: 12
Pages: 7,400
Dust jackets: Yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: oversized and heavy weight
Text: facsimile printing of 1853 version (William Tegg & Co. of London)
Topical Index: yes (end of vol. 11)
Textual index: no
Biography: yes (“Memoirs” in vol. 12)
Publisher: Tentmaker (United Kingdom)
Price USD: $325.00 at RHB; $250.00 at TPB; $250.00 at Amazon
Want more information? An excellent introduction to Thomas Boston and his writing will be found in Christian Focus’ recent re-publication of “The Art of Manfishing.” J.I. Packer’s short introduction at the beginning of this book is beneficial. An extended biography and bibliography is included in Beeke’s new book “Meet the Puritans,” available by Christmas from Reformation Heritage Books.

The Puritan Study (Part 9) The Strategy of Building a Puritan Study

Part 9: The Strategy of Building a Puritan Library

I assume many of you are like me, lacking access to a solid library of Puritan literature. Here in my hometown we have no seminary and it is rare to find a fellow believer who has even heard of Spurgeon, not to mention Boston, Manton and Goodwin.

So building a Puritan library was my responsibility. I just started buying Puritans that I had indexes for and especially the Puritans published by The Banner of Truth. I learned from both my successes and mistakes.

The Strategy

First, I assume you already spend a fair amount of money on books right now. If you are like me, you probably look around your library with regret at some of the volumes that serve no purpose in your expositional research. For years, my library suffered from a clear game plan.

A poorly planned library will lack important reference books like commentaries and Puritan sermons. It will be heavy on contemporary controversies and issues books. Read blogs if you want to be up-to-date on the current trends in the church. Buy commentaries and Puritans if you want a solid expositional library.

A solid library that helps support the preacher or writer in their expositional work is no accident.

This post will help you define your own personal game plan.

Bottom line

The Puritan Study I have described in this series comes to a grand total of $1,500.00. That sounds like a lot but it figures out to $1.40 a day for 3 years (which is about what I spend at Starbucks). And to have this entire library in three years is pretty fast!

I’ve broken down my list of Puritans into $500 segments. Again, this list is ordered by availability and usefulness of each author. Your first $500 will be the best-spent money. The second and third $500 increments are important but not immediate.

(Note: What follows is a simple strategy for building a Puritan library. Specific reviews of each author and set will follow the Puritan Study series. Pictures of each set can be seen here. Updated (3/17/07): Note that most of these resources can be found at a more reasonable price through Monergism Books. Please check them before making any purchases.)

Here is my strategy, broken into three phases…

// THE FIRST $500

1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (63 sermon vols.; CD-Rom)

I cannot begin with any more important preacher than Charles (C.H.) Spurgeon. The Puritans thoroughly impact everything Spurgeon preached or wrote. Look at his commentary on the Psalms (The Treasury of David) and you will see why Spurgeon is a priceless Puritan resource. He is the great Puritan synthesizer. Spurgeon’s complete works total about 150 volumes and you can download them all for $15.00 or buy the CD-Rom for $20.00 from Ages software. (If you have extra money, I would recommend buying some printed volumes from Pilgrim Publications but especially his autobiography and the classic book on pastoral ministry, Lectures to My Students.) [Read Piper’s biography of Spurgeon here]

2. Jonathan Edwards (2 vol. works; printed)

An extraordinarily rich resource! These two volumes of works by Jonathan Edwards are gems to the Puritan researcher. I would recommend the Banner of Truth volumes for their sturdy binding. You can buy volumes one and two here in the Banner of Truth editions or a cheaper version. The complementary text files can be found online for free. [Read Piper’s biography of Edwards here]

3. John Bunyan (3 vol. works; printed)

John Bunyan is most famous for his novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress. But he was also an incredibly gifted (and imaginative) preacher. These three clothbound volumes from the Banner of Truth are well built and come with an excellent topical index. You can find them for about $89.00. All of the associated text files can be found online for free. [Read Piper’s biography of Bunyan here]

4. Thomas Boston (12 vol. works; printed)

Jonathan Edwards considered Thomas Boston, “a truly great divine.” Boston is one of my personal favorites. These precious volumes have provided me many years of sermon quotes and exegetical thoughts on God’s Word. The entire 12-volume set has been recently published by Tentmaker in a beautiful cloth binding and is available in the United States for $325.00 here or $250.00 here. Worth every penny! You can buy the incredible Memoirs alone. [Read our full review of this set here]

5. Thomas Manton (22 vol. works; CD-Rom)

A set that is simply too large to make affordable in print format. The CD-Rom of Manton’s complete 22-volume set can be purchased for only $10.00. A great price for a must-have set of works! The first three volumes are avaliable in print.

// THE SECOND $500

6. John Owen (16 vol. but especially vols. 1,2 and 6; printed)

All of John Owen’s 16-volumes works are excellent. I especially have found volumes one, two, six and seven of great use. You can add other volumes in the future but these three are essential. The volumes are clothbound (as you would expect from the Banner of Truth) and run about $25.00 each or $75.00 total. The text files are available online for free but you will want to read these volumes cover-to-cover, making the printed works a must. [Read Piper’s biography of Owen here]

7. John Flavel (6 vol. works; printed)

Another excellent Puritan I have used on several occasions. Your meditations and sermons will be greatly blessed by Flavel. The Banner of Truth volumes are clothbound and beautiful. They sell for $150.00.

8. Richard Sibbes (7 vol. works; printed)

The “sweet dropper,” Sibbes was an incredible Puritan preacher. The Banner of Truth volumes are clothbound and run $126.00.

9. Jeremiah Burroughs (misc. books; printed)

Burroughs is the most difficult author on the list because his works are not collected and published by various companies. Several of his works comprise the Gospel Life series ($91.00). The six titles include Gospel Worship, Gospel Fear, Gospel Conversation, Gospel Revelation, Gospel Remission, and Gospel Reconciliation. Beyond this there are other Burroughs titles in print including The Sinfulness of Sin or The Evil of Evil ($17.00), The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, Hope ($15.00), Irenicum to the Lovers of Truth and Peace ($22.00), The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment ($6.25), The Saints’ Happiness, The Saints’ Treasury and A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness. All told, it would be easy to spend $180.00 on Burroughs alone. Still, his works are indexed and very valuable.

10. Thomas Brooks (6 vol. works; printed)

The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks in six volumes is available in cloth binding from Banner of Truth for $140.00. One Puritan scholar says of Brooks, “He had a body of divinity in his head and the power of it in his heart.” Incredible material!

// THE THIRD $500

11. Thomas Goodwin (12 vol. works; printed)

Reformation Heritage Books has recently reprinted the paperback version of Goodwin’s 12 volume works. This is a great service to the Puritan community and can be purchased for $240.00. I have yet to read a Puritan that glorifies the person and works of Christ more than Goodwin. [read our full review here]

12. John Newton (6 vol. works; printed)

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me” are the words of John Newton. An excellent preacher, his complete works are available in cloth binding for $144.00. [Read Piper’s biography of Newton here]

13. David Clarkson (3 vol. works; printed)

Not as experiential as the authors above, but well indexed and valuable. The works of David Clarkson are available for $62.00.

14. Edward Reynolds (vols. 1,4,5,6 of 6 vol. works; printed)

Like Burroughs, the complete works of Reynolds are not available. Today there are five volumes in print: Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Meditations on the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Last Supper, Preaching Christ, Sinfulness Of Sin and Treatise on the Passions and Faculties of the Soul. All these valuable volumes can be purchased for about $115.00. Spurgeon wrote, “Reynolds was a man of vast learning and thoroughly evangelical spirit.” The digital files are beginning to appear on Google books for free download.


By this point you may feel totally overwhelmed (and broke). Remember, this is a long-term goal.

I don’t even think it would be beneficial to buy all these works at once! Slowly add works as you grow comfortable with the ones you already have.

If you follow this plan you will spend your money wisely and have a storehouse of expositional material at arm’s-reach. This is my promise to you: Even if the Lord blesses you with 30 more years of expositional ministry, you will never exhaust the Puritan Study you built in three years.

Next time … Part 10: Concluding Thoughts, part 1