Thomas Boston’s Human Nature In Its Fourfold State is a book of vital importance. It examines the four states of human existence from a Biblical Reformed perspective. John Macleod wrote of this work,
‘If there is one book that more than any other stands out as representative of the best of our Scottish religious classics it is Human Nature in its Fourfold State.’John Macleod
In the introduction, Boston, describes the four states as follows “What man was in the state of innocence, as God made him. 2. What he is in the state of corrupt nature, as he hath unmade himself. 3. What he must be in the state of grace, as created in Christ Jesus unto good works… 4. What he will be in his eternal state, as made by the Judge of all” (page 41).
This post is essentially a brief outline of the book. It will give you an introduction to the ideas of Boston’s work, but also, I do pray it will bless you as you think on who God is and what He has done for you. Lastly, I cannot recommend this work enough, for those who are thirst to drink deeply from the well of Scripture, this book will serve you well.
The State of Innocence
The State of Innocence describes Adam’s condition as he was made by God, before sin’s entrance into his heart. Adam had an original righteousness. “There was no corruption in his will, no inclination to evil… The will of man then was naturally inclined to God and goodness, though mutable” (p 41). This original righteousness was natural to man, and not some artificial layer added by God’s supernatural intervention as is classically held by Roman Catholic theology. Adam truly was righteous in mind and heart, not having the “least inclination to sin” (p 44). Yet, in that state, Adam was also mutable. “God set it [Adam’s will] towards good only, yet he did not so fix and confirm its inclinations, that it could not alter” (p 44). Not only was this a holy state of existence, but it was a happy state of existence. “O how did light shine in his holy conversation, to the glory of the Creator!” (p 46). God, in his infinite grace, entered into a covenant with Adam in the garden commissioning him as his “deputy governor in the lower world” (p 49). He was to exercise dominion over all the other creatures, including the woman made as a companion for him, while maintaining subjection to God’s ultimate authority. His was a life of tranquility, of delight, or immortality, and of sheer pleasure as he was to live his days in the garden of Eden, “the most pleasant spot of that pleasant place, a garden planted by God Himself, to be the mansion-house of this His favorite” (p 51).
The State of Nature
The State of Nature describes man’s condition after sin’s entrance but before regeneration by Christ. It describes the corrupt nature of man in his natural state after Adam’s fall. Sin has disordered and corrupted the entirety of man. “The soul, which was made upright in all its faculties, is now wholly disordered” (p 61) In this state, men are hostile enemies of God, who can do no good or pleasing thing to God. Even mankind’s seemingly good deeds are paved with false motivations because the “frame of the thoughts of the heart… is evil” (p 61) In this state we are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). In a rather systematic approach, Boston outlines six separate aspects of our nature that are wholly corrupted: our understanding, our will, our affections, our conscience, our memory, and our body. He summarizes this thorough investigation into the condition of our nature by saying, “As in a dunghill every part contributes to the corruption of the whole, so the natural man, while in this state, grows still worse and worse… every faculty of the soul serves to corrupt another more and more” (p 131). Boston then describes both the utter misery of man in this state as well as the absolute inability for man to rescue himself from this state. He concludes by pleading with the reader, “O be convinced of your absolute need of Christ… belief your utter inability to recover yourself, that so you may be humbled…” (p 199).
The State of Grace
The State of Grace describes man’s condition after being born again. In this state, man is truly a new creation, born of the Spirit, yet not fully perfected. “Though every part of the man is renewed, there is no part of him perfectly renewed” (p 209) Just as under the State of Nature, six aspects of our being were corrupted, so in our State of Grace, all six aspects are renewed and enlightened. “In a word, the whole man is for God, in soul and body, which by this blessed change are made His” (p 222) The impact of this regeneration on a man’s soul is overwhelming impacting every area of his life, from the company he keeps to the performance of his duties. “It does not only make good men and good women, but makes good subjects, good husbands, good wives, children, servants, and, in a word, good relatives in the church, commonwealth, and family” (p 223) True to his Reformed heritage, Boston plainly states that we are entirely passive our regeneration. “God leaves some in their depraved state; others he brings into a state of grace, or regeneracy. If you be thus honoured, no thanks to you…” (p 227). In this state we experience a true union with Christ and are blessed with the grace of sanctification whereby we mortify the deeds of the body and grow in our likeness of Christ.
The Eternal State
Lastly, Boston describes the Eternal State in which the wicked are punished eternally for their rebellion against God, and believers are secured eternally in Heaven. He begins this section by writing at length of the fleeting nature of life and the certainty of the future death all humanity faces. “Man’s life in this world, according to the Scripture account of it, is but a few degrees removed from death” (326). He describes the vanity of life and all with great emotional vigor, likened unto the author of Ecclesiastes. “When you are lying on a deathbed, all your friends and relations cannot rescue you; all your substance cannot ransom you, nor procure you a reprieve for one day; nay, not for one hour. Yea, the more you possess of this worlds’ goods, your sorrow at death is likely to be the greater.” Referring to unregenerate souls whose greatest delights were here in this life Boston writes, “How sorrowful must their departure be, when they have nothing in view so good as that which they leave behind them!” (p 344). Hell is a place of eternal suffering, away from Christ’s presence, and away from any sense of hope or reprieve from torment, amidst the company of the demons. “What horrible anguish will seize the damned, finding themselves in the lab of fire with the devil who deceived them; drawn thither with the silken cords of temptation by these wicked spirits; and bound with them in everlasting chains under darkness!” (p 494). The saints on the other hand are destined for an eternal state of glory where they will inherit incorruptible bodies suitable for an incorruptible heaven. “Death can do them no harm” (p 355). They therefore have no fear in death, but eagerly anticipate the life that awaits. “But, at the resurrection, they leave all the seeds of corruption behind them in the grave; and rise incorruptible, incapable of the least indisposition, sickness, or sore, and much more, of dying” (p 387). We will see his throne, and be granted “glorious bodies; not only beautiful, comely, and well-proportioned, but full of splendour and brightness” (p 388). This is the glorious hope and certain future of all who genuinely receive Christ as Lord and Savior.