Christ’s Holiness of Nature in Thomas Boston’s Notion of the Imago Dei and the Imago Christi

In his seminal work Human Nature in its Fourfold State, which T. F. Torrance regards as “probably the most influential book in Scottish theology,” Thomas Boston (1676–1732) expounds on theological anthropology, delving into the nature of humanity in the states of innocence, nature, grace, and eternity. This paper draws on Boston’s Fourfold State and his other writings to explicate the theological significance of Christ’s holiness of nature in Boston’s understanding of the imago Dei and the imago Christi. Specifically, this paper explores the theological rationale behind Boston’s assertion that Christ’s holiness of nature, in conjunction with his active and passive obedience, is imputable to believers, contributing to the formation of the imago Christi. The imputation of Christ’s holiness of nature to believers’ human nature is a subject that has received scant attention in existing scholarship.

Boston regards Christ’s righteousness as comprising not only “righteousness of life” and “satisfaction for sin” but also “holiness of nature.” As Christ’s divine nature is inherently holy, this holiness of nature pertains to Christ’s human nature, formed during his incarnation. Boston maintains that Christ’s fulfillment of all righteousness is the sole condition of the covenant of grace, whose benefits sinners may access through participation in Christ’s holy nature, obedience, and satisfaction, all through union with Christ. The imputation of Christ’s holiness of nature, Boston contends, is the foundation of believers’ holiness of nature, wrought by the Spirit in regeneration and initial sanctification. He further maintains that believers’ holiness—comprising habitual and actual holiness founded respectively on Christ’s holiness of nature and righteousness of life—is based on the corresponding work of the Spirit in initial and progressive sanctification.

By emphasizing Christ’s holiness of nature as a fundamental aspect of Christ’s essential righteousness imputable to sinners through faith, Boston highlights the ontological dimension of the imago Dei, which God instilled in humans at creation. Furthermore, his emphasis on the imago Christi as the foundation of believers’ holiness of nature underscores the transformative dimension of the imago Dei, which is actualized through union with Christ. While the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience falls within the standard parameters of the Protestant doctrine of justification, the imputation of Christ’s holiness of nature is a distinctive contribution of Boston that warrants further exploration. Therefore, this paper aims to provide an in-depth examination of Boston’s notion of Christ’s holiness of nature and the ways in which it impinges upon his conception of the imago Dei and the imago Christi as the respective foundation of human nature and redeemed human nature.

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