Friday, January 12, 2007

Book Review - The Art of Manfishing by Thomas Boston

The Art of Manfishing: A Puritan’s View of Evangelism
Thomas Boston
Christian Focus Publications, 2006 (originally written in 1699)
Category: Puritans / Evangelism / Christian Living
ISBN: 1857921062
104 pages including Introduction by JI Packer
$6.99 MSRP

Although this little book does undertake the question of a Christian’s responsibility in evangelistic efforts, I do not think that this work has been rightly titled. In our day, we tend to classify areas of a Christian’s life, especially when it comes to the topic of worship and evangelism. When we discuss “worship” it is typically in the context of our corporate gatherings on the Lord’s Day and the style of music found therein. Rarely do we say, “While I was worshiping the Lord the other day…” and the immediate thought that comes to the mind is one of Bible study, prayer, or fellowship with the saints. And thus is true of evangelism. We tend to think that this is more something that we do rather than a part of who we are. Sadly, I must confess that this is indeed the case for me – so it might be that this is more personal than is true for the rest of the body of Christ. All this said, if I were to title this book, I would have called it The Art of Manfishing: A Puritan’s View of One’s Life in Christ. Thomas Boston makes his case so clear that evangelism is not to be relegated to an event, but rather is something that is incorporated into the fibers of the Christian as he lives his life in Christ.

JI Packer writes in his introduction that “as Boston had a sensitive spirit, so he had a first-class mind, a retentive memory, and a way with words” (9). This is indeed appears to be the case as The Art is my first introduction to Boston. A minister of the gospel in Scotland, he came to trust in Christ as Lord under the ministry of Henry Erskine when he was eleven years old. Hungry for the word of God, Boston said that he often traveled the four miles to hear Erskine preach, “without so much as the benefit of a horse to carry me through Blackadder water, the wading whereof in sharp frosty weather I very well remember. But such things were then easy, for the benefit of the word, which came with power” (8). This devotion to the ministry of the word of God prompted Boston to write The Art while he was yet twenty-two years old.

Boston begins The Art with a confession that he is unworthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ let alone to be a minister of it. “[I] am a poor fool, having a weak heart and a shallow head; who might rather be learning of others than teaching them…But yet seeing I am called out to preach this everlasting gospel, it is my duty to endeavor, and it is my desire to be (Lord, thou knowest) a fisher of men” (20). And thus, Boston makes his first assertion that a fisher of men, must be humble to confess that it is not the minister who works in his own power, but one who relies on the power of Christ. The effective minister must first realize than any efforts he puts forth in his won strength will be an eventual failing, compared to the surety that the power of Christ affords. “O my soul, then see that gifts will not do the business. A man may preach as an angel, and yet be useless. If Christ withdraw His presence, all will be to no purpose” (28). And later,

“What thinkest thou, O my soul, of that doctrine that lays aside this power of
the Spirit, and makes moral suasion all that is requisite to the fishing of men?
That doctrine is hateful to thee. My soul loaths it, as attributing too much to
the preacher, and too much to corrupt nature in taking away its natural
impotency to good, and as against the work of God’s Spirit, contrary to
experience; and is to me a sign of rottenness of the heart that embraces it.
Alas! that it should be owned by any among us, where so much of the Spirit’s
power has been felt” (30).
Oh that my soul would hate self-sufficiency half as much as Boston’s did! I agree with his statements that the power of Christ must not be removed or curtailed if any preaching of the gospel is to be effective, but how often am I tempted to look for eloquence of speech and delivery in “rating” the effectiveness of any given sermon. I know the error of this thinking; O Lord, that You would change the inwrought wretchedness of my heart!

Boston then moves on to ask and answer the question “What following Christ supposes and implies.” He answers this by stating, “It presupposes life” (47), “implies a knowledge of the way that Christ took” (56), “supposes sense of weakness, and the need of a guide” (57), “renouncing of our own wisdom” (59), and “that we must not make men our rule, to follow them any farther than they follow Christ” (65). As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…But God…made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:1, 4, 5), Boston rightly asserts that the Christian’s life is characterized by life, as those who are without Christ remain dead. Boston, like many, questions the validity of his won salvation because of what he calls “the prevailing of corruption” (47). However, through further examination he may give witness to the transforming grace of Christ because he testifies

“I have light that sometimes I had not…It lets me see my heart sins, my
imperfections and shortcomings in the best of my duties; so that God might damn
me for them…It makes me to see Christ precious…preferable to the world…It lets
me see my need of Him…I feel help in duty from the Spirit…I find a threefold
flame, though weak, in my heart. A flame of love to Christ…A flame of desires
after the righteousness of Christ…some heat of zeal for God, which vents itself
first, by endeavoring to be active for God in my station…I am more acquainted
with Christ and His ways than before…I think I discern a growth
of…love…faith…watchfulness…[and] contempt of the world (48-56).

When we get to a point where we ask ourselves, “Where is the evidence of grace in my life?”, what a pleasant reminder it is to ask such probing questions that direct us back to the cross and relive our first experiences of grace. What a marvelous treasure this is!
Boston then moves on to his second chief question, “Wherein is Christ to be followed?” This section of the book hit home with me the most. It may very well be that it is because I am one who senses the call into the gospel ministry and desires to do so with the right intentions. Boston attempts to examine how the Lord Jesus approached His earthly ministry and imitate certain aspects it.

“I am not called to follow Him in converting sinners by my own power; to work
miracles for the confirmation of the doctrine that I preach, etc. But there are
some things wherein He is imitable, and must be followed by preachers, if they
would expect to be made fishers of men” (67).

Boston concludes that all preachers should have a call to preach, or a call to gospel ministry, whichever term is more preferable, given that not all are called to preach in its formal setting, but all are called to proclaim the gospel message and Christ as its central figure. A minister’s call to vocational ministry should include “knowledge of the doctrine of the Christian religion above that of ordinary professors”, “aptness to teach”, “a will some way ready to take on the work of preaching the gospel” unless there is a “want of clearness for entering on such a great work at that time”, and “the call of the church” (68-69).

Boston next seeks to assert that the minister must seek not his own glory, but only the glory of the Christ he proclaims lest he be considered hypocritical and an object of vileness in the eyes of God. This preaching is self centered and deplorable. Paul says that “some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will…What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil 1:15, 18), but these preachers will still incur a greater judgment.

“Thou pretendest to preach Christ to a people; but seeking they own glory, thou
preachest thyself, not Him” (72). Boston further warns, “look not after popular
applause; if thou do, thou hast thy reward (Matt 6:2), look for no more…trample
on thy own credit and reputation, and sacrifice it, if need be, to God’s honour”
(70). “Consider that the applause of the world is worthy nothing…and when it is
got, what have you? A vain empty puff of wind. They think much of thee, thou
thinkest much of thyself, and in the meantime, God think nothing of thee…Let
this scare thee from seeking thyself” (72).

Following this is the greatest portion of the book that is devoted to “evangelism” per se. However, any speaking engagement where Christ should be presented is always to be evangelistic in some measure. Even though it may not be characterized by the tent meeting or revival service that we have become so acquainted with from the previous era, this should not be the first thought when one thinks of an evangelistic message. To be evangelistic simply means to present the need for Christ to be supreme in all areas of life. For a non-believer, this begins by confessing Christ as Lord. Before this is done, Christ is of no eternal benefit if He is sought after only to following His teachings on morality and service. Thus, Boston stated before that following Christ “presupposes life.” The basic premise of this section is that all preaching should be centered on Christ and the sinners need for Him. Every preacher, and every Christian for that matter, should be concerned with the souls of men. I must confess that all too often, I am concerned with my own affairs and do not give a passing thought to the eternal affairs of men. I began to think today about a friend of mine who died when he was twenty-one. To my knowledge, he had never made a profession of faith in Christ, and for all that I know, he is to spend an eternity apart from Him. I confess that I do not often think this way, and I should “let the good of souls be before thee; when thou preachest, let this be thy design, to endeavor to recover lost sheep, to get some brands plucked out of the burning” (75).

Boston then turns to the importance of prayer in the gospel ministry if we are to be effective witnesses to Christ. “Thou wilt not dare study without prayer, nor yet pray without study, when God allows the time for both. It is a weighty work to bring sinners in to Christ, to pluck the brands out of the fire. Hast thou not great need then to be serious with God before you preach?” (86). Prayer should be central to any minister’s life and is an area of mine that is more than wanting. Boston even goes so far to say that after the day’s preaching, a minister should not retire to the fellowship of the brethren, but rather, should persist in a state of prayer throughout the rest of the afternoon.
“It is better to do this, than go away with the great people in the afternoon,
which I shun as much as I can…Pray to God, O my soul, that thy labours be not
unsuccessful; that what thou hast delivered may not be as water spilt on the
ground. Pray for pardon of thy failings in public duties…that He would not
withdraw His blessing because of thy failings…Think not, O my soul, that thy
work is over, and thou hast no more to do when the people are dismissed…the
devil was as busy as thou wast, when thou wast preaching; and afterwards He is
not idle” (88, 89).

I would be delighted to have a tenth of the devotion that it appears Thomas Boston had to the ministry of the word and the ministry of prayer. This was a powerful little book delving into the mind of a twenty-two year old preacher that all of us could stand to imitate.


jc said...

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KC Armstrong said...


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jc said...

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KC Armstrong said...

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