[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of Samuel Bolton. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]
Samuel Bolton (1606-1654)
This scholar and member of the Westminster Assembly was not related to his namesake above. Samuel Bolton was born in London in 1606, was educated at Manchester School, matriculated as a pensioner at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1625, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1629 and a Master of Arts in 1632.
Bolton became curate of Harrow, Middlesex, in 1634; minister of St. Martin Ludgate, London, in 1638; and then, in 1641, minister of St. Saviour’s, Southwark. During his ministry there, he was also appointed lecturer at St. Anne and St. Agnes, Aldersgate, and was delegated as a member of the Westminster Assembly.
In 1645, Bolton became master of Christ’s College, Cambridge (1645). Even then, however, he continued to preach regularly in London, especially at St. Andrew’s, Holborn, because “his desire to win souls to Christ by preaching was so great” (Calamy, p. 25). Later, he served as vice-chancellor of Cambridge University (1650-52).
Bolton wrote seven books, most of which were collections of revised sermons. They reveal him as a clear, warmly experimental, orthodox interpreter of Scripture. He lived as he preached, taught, and wrote.
He died October 15, 1654, at the age of forty-eight, after a long illness. At his funeral, he was described as a God-fearing, other-worldly divine whose preaching “snatched our souls by vigorous sympathy.” In his will, he asked “to be interred as a private Christian, and not with the outward pomp of a doctor, because he hoped to rise in the Day of Judgment and appear before God not as a doctor, but as a humble Christian.” Edmund Calamy preached at his funeral.
The Arraignment of Error (SDG; 460 pages; 1999)
Notwithstanding its title, this book aims to show why unnecessary controversy ought to be avoided as well as why errors on essential doctrines must be firmly opposed. Its title page summarizes the questions addressed:
A discourse serving as a curb to restrain the wantonness of men’s spirits in the entertainment of opinions, and as a compass whereby we may sail in the search and finding of truth, distributed into six main questions.
Question 1. How may it stand with God’s, with Satan’s, and with a man’s own ends, that there should be erroneous opinions?
Question 2. What are the grounds of abounding errors?
Question 3. Why are so many carried away with errors?
Question 4. Who are those who are in danger?
Question 5. What are the means of examining opinions, and the characteristics of truth?
Question 6. What ways has God left in His Word to suppress error and correct erroneous persons?
Under which general questions, many other necessary and profitable queries are comprised, discussed, and resolved. And, in conclusion of all, some motives and means conducing to a happy accommodation of our present differences are subjoined.
The Arraignment of Error addresses the question: If there is one truth and one gospel, why are there so many divisions among God’s people? Bolton’s answer is that errors abound to try and sift God’s children, thus preparing them to hold the truth dear. He addresses other questions as well, such as: Why does God allow errors in the church? What should we do when godly men disagree on doctrinal matters? What is the importance of synods and councils in settling matters? Bolton teaches that both the pastoral use of synods and the power of the civil magistrate are necessary, but both should be limited, clearly defined, and subjected to Scripture. He writes with conviction: “The Word of God and God in His Word, the Scripture and God in Scripture is the only infallible, supreme, authoritative rule and judge of matters of doctrines and worship, of things to be believed and things to be done.”
The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (BTT; 224 pages; 2001)
First published in 1645, this book explains the place of the law in the Christian’s life. Living in an age in which licentiousness and immorality abound, we cannot recommend this book enough. Bolton’s analysis is piercing. While opposing Antinomianism, he assures the believer that the law is not a death sentence, but rather an encouragement to do good works. The law is to be loved and cherished, not feared and disobeyed.
After defining the nature of true freedom, Bolton answers six related questions:
Are Christians free from the moral law as a rule of obedience?
Are Christians free from all punishments and chastisements for sin?
If a believer is under the moral law as a rule of duty, is his liberty in Christ infringed? Can Christ’s freemen sin themselves back into bondage?
May Christ’s freemen perform duties for the sake of reward?
Are Christians free from obedience to men?
Bolton concludes his treatise by saying, “It is my exhortation therefore to all Christians to maintain their Christian freedom by constant watchfulness.”
Christian Freedom first appeared under the endorsement of John Downame, who described it as a “solid, judicious, pious and very profitable” book. In this edition, S.M. Houghton provides a poignant summary of the historical background to Bolton’s book in an appendix (pp. 225-30).