Suffering and the Sovereign

One of the first people that I hope to meet in heaven is the Scottish theologian Thomas Boston. I admire the man for the depth of his theology; Jonathan Edwards said that Boston's work on the covenants distinguished him as a "truly great divine." I also admire for the breadth of his writing: twelve thick volumes on almost every doctrine of the Christian faith, taught from every book of the Bible. I admire Thomas Boston even more for his faithfulness as a pastor over twenty-five years in the same rural parish.  But I admire him most of all for his perseverance through suffering.

Thomas Boston was a melancholy man, prone to seasons of discouragement in the Christian life.  He was often in poor health, even though he never missed his turn in the pulpit.  His wife suffered from chronic illness of the body, and perhaps also the mind.  But perhaps the couple's greatest trial was the death of their children: they lost six of their ten babies.  

One loss was especially tragic.  Boston had already lost a son named Ebenezer, which in the Bible means "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us" (1 Sam. 7:12 KJV).  When his wife gave birth to another son, he considered naming the new child Ebenezer as well.  Yet the minister hesitated.  Naming the boy Ebenezer would be a testimony of hope in the faithfulness of God.  But what if this child died, too, and the family had to bury another Ebenezer?  That would be a loss too bitter to bear.  By faith Boston decided to name his son Ebenezer.  Yet the child was sickly, and despite the urgent prayers of his parents, he never recovered.  As the grieving father wrote in his Memoirs, "it pleased the Lord that he also was removed from me."

After suffering such a heavy loss, many people would be tempted to drop out of ministry, to argue with God, or to even abandon their faith. Thomas Boston did none of these; he continued believing in the goodness andthe sovereignty of God.  Rather than turning away from the Lord in times of trial, he turned towards the Lord for help and comfort...

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Philip Ryken (PhD, Oxford) is the Bible teacher on Every Last Word, a weekly radio broadcast from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Dr. Ryken also serves as president of Wheaton College. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Art for God's Sake and Grace Transforming. When he is not preaching or playing with his children, Dr. Ryken likes to play basketball and ponder the relationship between Christianity and American culture. 


This excerpt was originally published on reformation21 in June 2009. To read more from Philip Ryken's "The Crook In the Lot" series, see the list of articles below:

  1. The Crook In the Lot 
  2. Good Days, Bad Days
  3. Avoiding Two Dangers
  4. Suffering and the Shepherd’s Crook

Related Links

Mortification of Spin: Struck Down But Not Destroyed (with Pierce Taylor Hibbs)

"A Peculiar Perspective on Suffering" by Tessa Thompson

"Living with Anxiety" by Amy Mantavadi

'Mindfulness' or the mind of Christ by Matthew Miller

Amidst Darkness: Suffering, Solace, and the Psalms by James Boice [ Booklet  |  Download ]

When Trouble Comes by Phil Ryken