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From Thomas Boston's “Commentary on the Shorter Catechism”.


Thomas Boston (1676-1732) was a pastor of God's flock in Ettrick, Scotland, whose preaching God abundantly blessed in the saving of many souls. The son of a Presbyterian who knew the Lord and was imprisoned for non-conformity, Boston was raised in times of murderous persecution. Nevertheless, he lived to see God’s people flourish and multiply, as “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). He is perhaps best known for his part in the reprinting of “The Marrow of Modern Divinity”, a book which distinguishes the Covenant of Works from the Covenant of Grace.



There are two things which ye should take heed of as tending to atheism. (1.) The influence of prosperity on a corrupt heart, which is like that of the sun on a dunghill, Proverbs 30:9, and therefore often is that added to threatenings, 'They shall know that I am the Lord.' This should make afflictions welcome as antidotes against atheism. (2.) Doubting or denying of providence, Malachi 3:14,15, Psalm 73:13. If men once get God excluded from the earth, it is a great step to the excluding him out of heaven too.

3. There is practical atheism, which is a denying of God in our works, Titus 1:16. These have a language for or against God which he understands, yea, even men too sometimes, Psalm 36:1. It matters not what principles men have, when their practice is nothing but a contradiction to them, when the web of principles in their head is every day opened out by their conversation. This practical atheism is opposite to that acknowledgment of God as the true God spoken of before. Accordingly it is twofold.

1st. Practical heart-atheism, which is, when men entertain no frame of spirit suitable to what God has revealed of himself in his word and works, Psalm 14:1,2,3. And may not that be a confounding question to us on that point, Malachi 1:6: 'If I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts.' God is light, which discovers itself wherever it is; but if we look into our hearts, we will quickly find ofttimes that he is not there, by an absolute unsuitableness in them to his presence; that they are in no other case than if indeed there were no God; so that if de non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio, how oft and justly are we chargeable as atheists?

To instance in a few things. God is a spirit, but how do we put him off with mere bodily service, as if we were serving an idol? Isaiah 29:13. God is omnipresent; but though we should act as before him everywhere yet it is scarcely done anywhere. How often does our heart find a great deal of sinful liberty in one place which it has not in another; and to do that fearlessly in secret, which men would be ashamed to do before a child? He is omniscient; yet what a deal of security do men seem to have from secrecy, while the thoughts of God abide within their own breast, as if he no more saw our thoughts than men do? He is omnipotent; but how soon are we at giving up all for lost in difficulties to us inextricable? and how little awe is there of God on our spirits, when we are in ways wherein his power is engaged against us? What is all this but heart-atheism originally?

If we consider how we handle his word, heard, or read, his promises, threatenings, commands, and how little our hearts are influenced thereby, suitably to what is read or heard, much heart-atheism will appear; so that when we are closing the Bible, or going out of the church-door, the language of our hearts in effect would often be found, the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil, for practically they seem to be but idle tales.

If we consider how little God's works influence us, much heart-atheism will appear. I am sure, that men's hearts often, when they behold the works of creation, could do no less than they do, if the world had been made by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, that is, to pass them unregarded. And for his providence under crosses, how often are men like the dog that snarls at the stone, but looks not after the hand that threw it? and in mercies as the fed horse, that greedily falls to the hay, but regards not him that laid it before him, but to kick at him? And as to the work of redemption, it is not seen, believed, or laid stress upon, by the most part of the world; and those that do, how often do they lay their weight on it but at a venture, as afraid it would break with it?

2dly, Practical life-atheism, which is when men carry before the world as if there were no God, Psalm 36:1.— Such are,

(1.) The factors for atheism in the world, who, by their devilish reasonings, mockings, and cavils at religion, do what they can to banish the notion of a God out of the world.

(2.) Those who, as they have no religion, make as little profession of it. God indeed is not their God, and as little do they avouch him to be so. They are none of God's servants, and they will not wear his livery.

(3.) Those who, whatever they profess, yet live as if there were no God, no heaven, no hell, but the Bible were a fable. There is a spice of this life-atheism in all the irregularities and disorders of our lives wherein our actions do contradict our principles of God.

(4.) Lastly, Those who having had a profession, do at length quit it. Their leaf faileth and falleth. [1.] There are some whose leaf fadeth, as the leaf of a tree in harvest, through want of sap from the stock, and so falls of. There are not a few at this day of that sort, who sometimes were blooming professors, but now they have lost leaf as well as fruit; and nothing ailed them to loose it, but just that the root of the matter was never in them. They have drawn back, and have not staid till they had been driven back. [2.] There are some whose leaf falleth, like the leaf of a tree in summer, by a stormy wind of persecution. They would keep their leaf if it would always abide calm; but they cannot abide the shock of persecution, and so, rather than deny themselves, they will deny Christ before men, Mark 8:38, and many such our times are likely to produce, because we have no other gods before the Lord.

Go home then, and mourn over the sin that some of us have never been troubled about hitherto; that is, atheism, which is not so rare in the world as is imagined. Thy heart is too kindly a soil for the worst of abominations, to miss any devilish corruption therein, that is going on in the world. And apply to Christ for his blood and Spirit, to remove the guilt of this sin, and destroy its power and influence in you.




“Commentary on the Shorter Catechism - Of the First Commandment” by Thomas Boston.