Memoirs of the Life, Time, and Writings
of the Reverend and Learned
Back to Contents
Period I From My Birth, Till I Left The Grammar-School
I was born of honest parents, of good reputation among their neighbours, in the town of Dunse, on the 17th, and baptised on the 21st, of March, in the year 1676; being the youngest of seven children, four brothers and three sisters, procreated betwixt John Boston, and Alison Trotter, a woman prudent and virtuous. I was born at a time when my mother was thought to have left bearing; for which cause a certain woman used ordinarily to call me God's send. The youngest of my sisters I saw not: but the rest lived, and had all of them several children; many of whom have now children of their own. Meanwhile my brothers and sisters are all of them gone, several years ago, into the other world, which I have now in view.
Andrew Boston, my grandfather, came from Ayr to Dunse, and possessed the tenement given afterward by my father to my eldest brother, and belonging to his heirs to this day. But before him had come William, his brother, as I suppose; whose name the tenement next on the west side, to that which my father gave me, bears. When I was a boy, I saw a granddaughter of his from England, by his son Mr. William, a churchman there; a very devout woman in her way, and married to one Mr. Peter Carwain, another churchman; but I suppose childless.
My father was a knowing man, having in his youth, I think, got good of the gospel. Being a nonconformist during the time of Prelacy, he suffered upon that head, to imprisonment, and spoiling of his goods. When I was a little boy, I lay in the prison of Dunse with him, to keep him company: the which I have often looked on as an earnest of what might be abiding me; but hitherto I have not had that trial. My mother once paying, to one Alexander Martin sheriff-depute, the sum of £50 as the fine of her imprisoned husband, for his nonconformity, desired of him an abatement; whereupon he, taking up a pintstoup standing on the table, therewith broke in pieces a part of a tobacco-pipe lying thereon; bidding the devil beat him as small as that pipe-stopple, if there should be ought abated of the sum. And once walking through the street, while my father was with the masons that were building his house, he looked up, and said to him, that he would make him sell that house yet. Nevertheless he and his posterity were not long after rooted out of the place; and that house was not sold, until I, not for need of money, but for my own convenience otherwise, sold it some years ago. May all my offspring be saved from ever embarking with that party; of whom I say from the heart, "O my soul, come not thou into their secret; mine honour, be not thou united with them."
The schoolmistress having her chamber in my father's house, I was early put to school; and having a capacity for learning, and being of a towardly disposition, was kindly treated by her; often expressing her hope of seeing me in the pulpit. Nevertheless, for a considerable time, I wept incessantly from the time they began to put on my clothes till I was upstairs in the school. Thus my natural temper of spirit appeared, being timorous and hard to enter on, but eager in the pursuit when once entered.
By the time I was seven years old, I read the Bible, and had delight in reading it; would have read with my schoolmistress in the winter-nights, when the rest of the children were not present; yea, and got the Bible sometimes to the bed with me, and read there. Meanwhile I know nothing induced me to it, but the natural vanity of my mind; and curiosity, as about some scripture-histories. However, I am thankful, that it was at all made my choice early; and that it has been the study of my ripest years, with which I would fain close my life, if it were His will.
Sometime in the year 1684, or at farthest 1685, I was put to the grammar-school, under Mr. James Bullerwall, schoolmaster in the town, and continued at it till the harvest 1689, save that one summer I was kept at home, while the rest of my class were going on in the grammar.
When I was very young, going to a neighbour's house, with a halfpenny, or some such reward of divination, in my hand, to a fortune-teller; after entering the outer door, I was suddenly struck in my mind, stood musing a little between the doors, durst not go forward, but came stealing away again. Thus the unseen Counsellor preserved me from that snare.
I remember some things which I was, by hearing or seeing, in persons come to years, witness to, in these days, leaving an impression on me to their disadvantage. Wherefore care should be taken, that nothing should be done or said, sinful or indecent, before children; for their memory may retain the same, till they are capable to form a right judgement of it, to the staining of the character of the party with them afterward.
By means of my education, and natural disposition, I was of a sober and harmless deportment, and preserved from the common vices of children in towns. I was at no time what they call a vicious or a roguish boy; neither was I so addicted to play as to forget my business; though I was a dexterous player at such games as required art and nimbleness: and towards the latter end of this period, having had frequent occasion to see soldiers exercised, I had a peculiar faculty at mustering and exercising my schoolfellows accordingly, by the several words and motions of the exercise of the musket; they being formed into a body, under a captain. The which exercise I have managed, to as much weariness and pain of my breast, as sometimes I have preached.
During the first years of my being at the grammar-school, I kept the kirk punctually, where I heard those of the Episcopal way; that being then the national establishment: but I knew nothing of the matter, save to give suit and presence within the walls of the house; living without God in the world, unconcerned about the state of my soul, till the year 1687. Toward the latter end of summer that year, the liberty of conscience being then newly given by King James, my father took me away with him to a Presbyterian meeting, in the Newton of Whitsome. There I heard the worthy Mr. Henry Erskine, minister of Cornhill before the restoration, by whose means it pleased the Lord to Baleen me, and bring me under exercise about my soul's state; being then going in the twelfth year of my age. After that, I went back to the kirk no more, till the Episcopalians were turned out: and it was the common observation in these days, that whenever one turned serious about his soul's state and case, he left them. The which experience in my own case, founded my aversion to that way, which has continued with me all along to this day.
But how blameless and harmless soever my life was before the world during my childhood, and while I was a boy, whether before or after I was enlightened, the corruption of my nature began very early to show and spread forth itself in me, as the genuine offspring of fallen Adam. And this, not only in the vanity and ungodliness of the general course of my life before I was enlightened, living without God; but in particular branches thereof, which I remember to this day with shame and confusion before the Lord. And indeed in this period were some such things as I have ever since looked upon as special blots in my escutcheon; the which, with others of a later date, I have been wont, in my secret fasts all along, still to set before mine own eyes, for my humiliation, and lay before the Lord, that He may not remember them against me; though I hope they are pardoned, being washed away by the blood of Christ my Saviour. I remember my gross and unbecoming thoughts of the glorious, incomprehensible God; keen hatred of my neighbour, upon disobligations received; and divers loathsome sproutings of the sin which all along has "most easily beset me," as the particular bias of my corrupt nature. Two snares I fell into in that period, which have been in a special manner heavy to me, and have occasioned me many bitter reflections; and, I think, they had been after the Lord had begun to deal with my soul, and enlighten me. The one I was caught in, being enticed by another boy to go to Dunse-law with him on a Lord's day, and, when on the head of the hill, to play pins with him. The other I narrowly escaped, being put into the snare by the indiscretion of one who then had the management of me: all circumstances favouring the temptation, God alone, by His Spirit, working on my conscience, delivered me as a bird out of the snare of the fowler. The particular place I well remember, whither after the escape I went, and wept bitterly, under the defilement I had contracted, in tampering with that temptation. Such is the danger of ill company for young-ones, and of indiscreet management of them. However, that they were the genuine fruits of my corrupt nature I do evidently see; in that, however bitter both of these had been to me, I did some years after run, of my own accord, into two snares much of the same kinds, narrowly also escaping one of them, but so as it occasioned to me great bitterness.
Two of Mr. Erskine's first texts were, John 1: 29, "Behold the Lamb of God," etc., and Matt. 3: 7, "O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee," etc. I distinctly remember, that from this last he ofttimes forewarned of judgements to come on these nations, which I still apprehend will come. By these, I judge, God spoke to me; however, I know I was touched quickly after the first hearing, wherein I was like one amazed with some new and strange thing.
My lost state by nature, and my absolute need of Christ, being thus discovered to me, I was set to pray in earnest; but remember nothing of that kind I did before, save what was done at meals, and in my bed. I also carefully attended for ordinary the preaching of the word at Revelaw, where Mr. Erskine had his meeting-house, near about four miles from Dunse. In the summer-time, company could hardly be missed; and with them something to be heard, especially in the returning, that was for edification, to which I listened; but in the winter, sometimes it was my lot to go alone, 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.
The school-doctor's son having, in his childish folly, put a pipe-stopple in each of his nostrils, I designing to pull them out, happened so to put them up that he bled. Whereupon his father, in great wrath, upbraided me; and particularly said, Is that what you learned at Revelaw? which cut me to the heart, finding religion to suffer by me.
In these days I had a great glowing of affections in religion, even to a zeal for suffering in the cause of it, which I am very sure was not according to knowledge; but I was ready to think, as Zebedee's children said, Matt. 20: 22, "We are able." I was raw and unexperienced, had much weakness and ignorance, and much of a legal disposition and way, then, and for a good time after, undiscerned. Howbeit I would fain hope, there was, under a heap of rubbish of that kind, "some good thing toward the God of Israel" wrought in me. Sure I am, I was in good earnest concerned for a saving interest in Jesus Christ; my soul went out after Him, and the place of His feet was glorious in mine eyes.
Having read of the sealing of the tribes, Rev. 7, Satan wove a snare for me out of it, viz., That the whole number of the elect, or those who were to be saved, was already made up; and therefore there was no room for me. How that snare was broken, I do not remember; but thereby one may see, what easy work Satan, brooding on ignorance, has to hatch things which may perplex and keep the party from Christ.
At that time there was another boy at the school, Thomas Trotter of Catchilraw, whose heart the Lord had also touched: and there came to the school a third, one Patrick Dillies, a serious lad, and elder than either of us; but the son of a father and mother, ignorant and carnal to a pitch; which made the grace of God in him the more remarkable. Upon his motion, we three met frequently in a chamber in my father's house, for prayer, reading the Scriptures, and spiritual conference; whereby we had some advantage, both in point of knowledge and tenderness. It was remarkable concerning the said Thomas, that being taken to the first Presbyterian meeting that was in the country after the liberty; where I suppose, the worthy and famous Mr. James Webster, afterwards a minister in Edinburgh, preached; he, upon his return from it, giving an account in the school concerning his being there, ridiculed the Whigs; the which I, who nevertheless was not there, was very sorry for, on no other account, I reckon, but that my father was one of that sort of people. But going afterward to the like meetings, he turned a very devout boy.
To bind myself to diligence in seeking the Lord, and to stir me up thereto, I made a vow, to pray so many times a day: how many times, I cannot be positive; but it was at least thrice. It was the goodness of God to me, that it was made only for a certain definite space of time; but I found it so far from being a help, that it was really a hindrance to my devotion, making me more heartless in, and averse to, duty, through the corruption of my nature. I got the time of it driven out accordingly: but I never durst make another of that nature since, nor so bind up myself, where God had left me at liberty. And it has been of some good use to me, in the course of my after life.
The schoolhouse being within the churchyard, I was providentially made to see there, within an open coffin, in an unripe grave opened, the consuming body just brought to the consistence of thin mortar, and blackish: the which made an impression on me, remaining to this day; whereby I perceive, what a loathsome thing my body must at length become before it be reduced to dust; not to be beheld with the eye but with horror.
In the course of years spent at the grammar-school, I learned the Latin rudiments, Despauter's grammar, and all the authors, in verse or prose, then usually read in schools; and profited above the rest of my own class, by means of whom my progress was the more slow. And before I left the school, I, generally, saw no Roman author, but what I found myself in some capacity to turn into English: but we were not put to be careful about proper English. Towards the end of that time, I was also taught Vossius's Elements of Rhetoric; and 15th May 1689, began the Greek, learned some parts of the New Testament, to wit, some part of John, of Luke, and of the Acts of the Apostles. And helping the above-mentioned Patrick Gillies, in the Roman authors, in our spare hours, I learned from him, on the other hand, some of the common rules of arithmetic, being but a sorry writer. And this was the education I had at school, which I left in harvest 1689, being then aged thirteen years, and above five months.
Back to Contents