Book Review: The Art of Manfishing by Thomas Boston
Book Review: The Art of Manfishing, by Thomas Boston
(Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford)
Thomas Boston, a Scottish Puritan of the eighteenth century, produced at the beginning of his ministry what was to become a classic expression of the Puritan, and indeed the Reformed, attitude towards evangelism. Today we know this passionate and soul-searching meditation as The Art of Manfishing. Anyone who has ever been brought to despair by the lack of success attending his ministry, or the dullness of heart which he often finds seeping into his soul, would find much balm in these weighty words, written by one who truly feels that of which he speaks; and who knows, moreover, where the healing and hope is to be found.
The caricature of Puritanism as a condemnatory and passionless religion of self-satisfied curmudgeons could scarcely be further from the reality, as Bostonâ€™s little treatise convincingly demonstrates. Within its pages are to be found deep humility, a passion for souls, and a desperate desire that God be glorified. This is Puritanism at its best; and even at its worst, Puritanism has much to offer the modern church, as she pursues her task of evangelizing the lost. It is primarily in two particulars that we, as modern evangelists, stand to learn from the scripturally-saturated reflections of Thomas Boston.
The first of these is humility. True humility, which ever despairs of oneself and looks to Christ alone for succor, is always in short supply. Thomas Boston habitually and systematically taught himself to remember his own weakness and apply to Jesus for aid. He did not consider his own conversion as certain, unless the Savior should lay hold of him; and so he was ever mindful not to base the likelihood of the conversion of those to whom he preached on their own merits. Precisely in proportion as he despaired of all human effort in evangelism, he leaned upon Christ; which is an attitude as likely to be put to much use as it is unlikely to be found.
The second particular is genuine fervor for lost souls. Rare is the man who can cry out with true and empathetic passion for the lost sheep of his homeland. This the apostle Paul did, as you may remember from Romans 9:1-5. More to the point, this is what Christ did, when he wept for Jerusalem, and was stricken with compassion for the scattered multitudes. If we would follow Christ, we must be affected as he was affected. This eminently Christ-like love is a sovereign gift that serves always as the foundation for a Christ-honoring evangelism. If we would be true â€œmanfishers,â€ let us cry out to Christ for a measure of this same spirit!
Perhaps this humility and passion, which are so evident in Boston, sprang from his conception of the ministry of evangelism. He saw conversion not as a glib, one-time decision, but an often long and always weighty process of being broken down by the law, so that one might be bound up by the free grace of the Savior. And he saw this process, moreover, as a supernatural affair, impossible to be counterfeited by human measures, and occurring ever as a testimony to Godâ€™s surprising power and grace. This may well be why Boston, who loved Jesus much, so desperately desired the conversion of souls. It may be why he was so ardently devoted to pursuing Christ in his evangelistic office. It is certainly why he was so humbly inclined to despair of himself as he looked instead to the one who alone is able, for all his strength both to persevere, and to preserve the gospel free from corrupting influences and motivations. In all of these particulars, we would all do well to drink deeply from the same spring.