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George Swinnock

(69 posts)

George Swinnock on the moral capabilities of man: There are several things which may help the to make the life fair in the eyes of men, but nothing will make it amiable in the eyes of God, unless the heart be changed and renewed. Indeed, all the medicines that can be applied, without the sanctifying work of the Spirit, though they may cover, they can never cure the corruptions and diseases of the soul. . . . Such civil persons go to hell without much disturbance, being asleep in sin, yet not snoring to the disquieting of others; they are so far from being awaked that they are many times praised and commended. Example, custom, and education, may also help a man to make a fair show in the flesh, but not to walk in the Spirit. They may prune and lop sin, but never stub it up by the roots. All that these can so, is to make a man like a grave, green and flourishing on the surface and outside, when within there is nothing but noisomeness and corruption. George Swinnock, Do You Worship God, cited in John MacArthur, The Jesus You Cant Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), 47.

Knowledge of God

George Swinnock on The Excellency of the Knowledge of God: If knowledge be the excellence of a man, and differenceth him from a beast, surely then divine knowledge, or the knowledge of God in Christ, is the excellency of a Christian, and differenceth him from other men. Our awe of, love to, and trust in the divine Majesty, are founded in the right knowledge of him. Creatures, the more they are known, the less they are esteemed; but the more blessed God is known, the more he is prized, desired, and obeyed. Our hatred of sin and contempt of the world proceed from our acquaintance with God. He only hath hateful thoughts of sin, and self-loathing apprehensions because of it, who hath seen the great and glorious, the good and gracious God, whose authority is condemned, whose law is violated, whose name is dishonoured, whose image is defaced, and whose love is abused by it. He only lives above this present evil world, and all the riches and honours and pleasures thereof, who can look beyond it to the infinite God, and those unsearchable riches and weights of glory, and rivers of pleasure that are in and with him. That which was rich and glorious and pleasant to a soul before, hath now no worth, no glory, no pleasure, by reason of that wealth and glory and pleasure which doth so infinitely exceed. When the God of glory appeared to Abraham, he quickly and quietly loft his country and kindred, and followed God, not knowing whither he went. If the God of glory appeared to your souls, you will soon wink upon these withering vanities, broken cisterns, and gilded nothings, and count them all but dung and dross, for the excellency of the knowledge of him in Christ. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 21–22.

Made for Worship

George Swinnock on Our Great End: Now the great end to which man is designed by God, is the exercising himself to godliness. God erected the stately fabric of the great world for man, but he wrought the curious piece of the little world [man] for himself. Of all his visible works he did set man apart for his own worship. Man. saith one, is the end of all in a semicircle , intimating that all things in the world were made for man, and man was made for God. . . . The great God, according to his infinite wisdom hath designed all his creatures to some particular ends, and hath imprinted in their natures an appetite and propensity towards that end, as the point and scope of their being. Yea, the very inanimate and irrational creatures are serviceable to those ends and uses in there several places and stations. . . . Surely much more is man, the point in which all those lines meet, designed to some noble end, suitable to the excellence of his being; and what can that be, but to worship the glorious and blessed God, and the exercising himself to godliness? “The Lord made all things for himself.” God made things without life and reason to serve him passively and objectively, by administering occasion to man to admire and adore his Maker; but man was made to worship him acutely and affectionately, as sensible of, and affected with, that divine wisdom, power and goodness which appear in them. As all things are of him as the efficient cause, so all things must necessarily be for him as the final cause. But man is an special manner is predestined and created for this purpose: “Thou art mine; I have created him for my glory; I have formed him, yea, I have made him.” There is both the author and the end of our creation: the author, “I have created him;” the end, “for my glory” . . . . Man is made as a glass, to represent the perfections that are in God. A glass can receive the beams of the sun into it, and reflect them back again to the sun. The excellencies of God appear abundantly in his works; man is made to be the glass where these beams of divine glory should be united and received, and also from him reflected back to God again. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 69–70.

What Is Godliness?

Moral living is not Godliness. By itself, morality is nothing but bare legalism. Genuine Godliness goes much deeper. Godliness is a worshipping the true God in heart and life, according to his revealed will. In this description of godliness, I shall observe four facts. . . . First, for the act, godliness is a worship. Worship comprehends all that respect which man oweth and giveth to his Maker. It is that service and honour, that fealty and homage, which the creature oweth and tendereth to the fountain of his being and happiness. It is the tribute which we pay to the King of kings, whereby we acknowledge his sovereignty over us, and our dependence on him. “Give unto the Lord the honour due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” To worship God is to give him the glory which is due him. It is a setting the crown of glory on God’s head. To render him due honour is true holiness; to deny this, is atheism and irreligion. All that inward reverence and respect, and all that outward obedience and service to God, which the word enjoined, is included in this one word worship. . . . Secondly, the object, the true God. All religion without the knowledge of the true god is a mere notion, an airy, empty nothing. Divine worship is one of the chiefest jewels of God’s crown, which he will by no means part with. God alone is the object of the godly man’s worship. . . . God alone is to be worshipped, because he alone is worthy of worship. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power: for thou hast created all things.” To hold anything in opinion, or to have anything in affection for God, which is not God is idolatry. . . . Thirdly, the extent, in heart and life. Godliness is the worshipping God in the inward motions of the heart, and the outward actions of the life; where the spring of the affections is clear, and the stream of the conversation runs clear, there is true godliness. . . . Heart-godliness pleaseth God best, but life-godliness honors him most; the conjunction of both make a complete Christian. In a godly man’s heart, though sin may be left, yet no sin is liked; in his life, though sin may remain, yet no sin reigns. His heart is suitable to God’s nature, and his life is answerable to God’s law, and thence he is fitly denominated a godly man. . . . Fourthly, the rule, according to his revealed will. Every part of divine worship must have a divine precept. . . . The institutions of Christ, not the inventions of men, are the rule of worship. Our work is not to make laws for ourselves or others, but to keep the laws which the great prophet of his church hath taught us; that coin of worship which is current amongst us must be stamped by God himself. We are to be governed as the point in the compass, not by the various winds (the practices of former ages, or the fashions of the present generation, which are mutable and uncertain), but by the constant heavens. Our devotion must be regulated exactly according to the standard of the word. It is idolatry to worship a false god, or the true God in a false manner. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 91–93.

Pursuing Godliness Together

On “Godliness in Company,” George Swinnock wrote of the importance of deliberately choosing the right friends, and of directing our friendships toward a mutual pursuit of godliness. I come now to show wherein the power of godliness consisteth, or how a man maketh religion his business in the choice of his companions. First, Be as careful as thou canst, that the persons thou choosest for thy companions be such as fear God. . . . Thou art far from walking after the good Spirit, if thou choosest to converse with open sepulchers, and such as are dead in sins and trespasses. . . . Secondly, If thou wouldst manifest godliness in the choice of thy companions, thy care must be, not only to choose such as are the godly, but also to choose them because they are godly. As godliness must be a ruling quality in them that are chosen, so it must be the ground of thy choice. . . . When God’s grace in them is the only ground of our choice, and God’s image on them the chief loadstone of our love, then we exercise ourselves to godliness in the choice of our companions. . . . Thirdly, In thy choice, have respect to spiritual ends, and accordingly improve it. Attend and intend thy own and thy companions’ soul good in it. Friendship hath a key to the heart which it may use, not only to let itself into its secrets, but also to introduce its own conceptions. He hath a great advantage of persuading another to, and encouraging him, in holiness, who is already entertained as his friend into his heart. Where the person is so acceptable the instruction will be the more welcome. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 125–127.

Pursuing Godliness Alone

Yesterday, my two teenage daughters were contending for the use of the car. As those of you who are parents of such creatures know, when teens become licensed to drive, they simultaneously become cripples. “Walk? Ride bike? Inconceivable!” They made all the usual arguments, eventually coming to the “waste of time” argument. This is, I am sure, the only occasion in which stewardship of time ever crosses their minds. I replied that no time need be wasted, that, in addition to the health benefits of perambulation, time alone with one’s thoughts is necessary and profitable. If I was a wise theologian, and four hundred years older, I might have continued as follows: A gracious person is not only conscientious in company, but also when he is alone; his whole life is nothing else but a walking with his God. “When I awake I am still with thee.” He no sooner opened the eyes of his body in the morning, but he was lifting up the eyes of his mind to heaven; when he was alone in his bed, when was in company with his God. As God was still with him, so he was still with God. . . . A saint, therefore, sequestereth himself from the noises and clamor of company, and worldly business, that he might have the more free and intimate converse with his Redeemer. . . . If thou wouldst exercise thyself to godliness when thou art alone, guard thy heart against vain thoughts; this is the first work to be done, without which all that I have to commend to thee will be in vain. It is to no purpose to expect that a glass should be filled with costly wine, when it is filled already with puddle water. . . . If thou wouldst exercise thyself to godliness in solitude, mind solemn and set meditation. . . . Occasional meditations are like loving strangers, that afford us a visit, but are quickly gone. Deliberate meditations are as inhabitants that dwell with us, and are longer helpful to us. . . . Solemn meditation is a serious applying the mind to some a sacred subject till the affections be warmed and quickened, and the resolution heightened and strengthened there by, against what is evil, and for that which is good. . . . If thou wouldst exercise thyself to godliness in solitude, accustom thyself to soliloquies, I mean to conference with thyself. He needs never be idle that hath so much business to do with his own soul. . . . Commune with your own hearts; when ye have none to speak with, talk to yourselves. Ask yourselves for what end ye were made, what lives ye have led, what times ye have lost, what love ye have abused, what wrath ye have deserved. . . . Self-communion will much help to curb your headstrong, ungodly passions. Serious consideration, like the casting up of earth among bees, will allay inordinate affections when they are full of fury, and make such a hideous noise. . . . In solitude, accustom thyself to secret ejaculations and converses with God. Lovers cast many a glace at each other, when they are at a distance, and are deprived of set meetings. A little boat may do us some considerable service, when we have not time to make relay a great vessel, the casting of our eyes and hearts up to heaven, will bring heaven down to us: “My mediations of him shall be sweet.” —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 129–132.

His Boundless Excellencies

Today I give you but one sentence upon which to meditate. It’s a thick hunk of meat that will require persistent chewing, but I trust you are up to it. Who can be so brutish as to conceive that ‘the only wise God’ should take so much pains, as with infinite counsel to contrive the goodly frame and comely structure of his visible creation from all eternity, and by his omnipotent arm to give it a being, and not intend that his boundless excellencies and vast perfections, written in such a fair print, and large characters, should be admired and adored? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:11. In other words, man was made to worship God, who has from the beginning, placed every reason and motivation to do so in the plain sight of all.

Do We Grieve?

Who can sufficiently bemoan it, that man, who is capable of and created for so high an honour, and so heavenly an exercise, as to serve his Maker here, and to enjoy him hereafter, should all his time, like a hog, be digging and rooting in the earth, and not once look up to heaven in earnest, till the knife is put to his throat, that he cometh to die and enter into the other world? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:13. This is the condition of all, in their natural state, and the end of all who do not hear the gospel and are not born again. This is so grievous that indeed, we cannot “sufficiently bemoan it.” But do we grieve over it at all? How often do we even think about it? God help us to remain conscious of this truth in our communications with the world.

Thy Principle Business

Those of us who call ourselves Christians, do we know what we owe to God? Do we live as though we know? Hear the puritan George Swinnock, and meditate upon this: Is not the blessed God worthy of all thy service and honour? Doth he not deserve all thy love, and fear, and trust—all thy time, and strength, and wealth, and infinitely more? From whom came they but from him; and to whom should they be given but to him? Art thou not bound to him by millions of engagements? Art thou not the work of his hands? Dost thou not lie at his mercy every moment? Canst thou live, or move, or breathe without him? Can he not as easily sink thee with fury, as support thee with mercy, turn thee into hell, as warn thee of hell? Oh think of that place, ‘The God in whose hands is thy breath, thou hast not glorified,’ Dan. v. 23. Alas! alas! man, though thou makest no reckoning of pleasing God, but banishest him thy heart and house, as if his company were a burden, yet know that thy breath is in his hands continually; if he do but shut his hand, thine eyes will be no longer open, but thy mouth quickly stopped with earth. Ah, how soon can he take away that airy difference between sleep and death! He can wink thee into the other world, and look thee into the unquenchable lake: ‘By the breath of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils they are consumed,’ Job iv. 8. If thou dependedst altogether upon another man for thy livelihood, thou wouldst think he deserved thy service, and that it concerned thee to please him. Oh how highly doth it concern thee to worship and honour the almighty God, in whose hand is thy livelihood, life, and everlasting weal or woe! Ah, didst thou but know what perfections are in him, and how indispensably thy dependence is every minute upon him, thou wouldst wonder at thy folly and madness in slighting him, and make it thy principal business to glorify and enjoy him. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:14–15.

The Best Master

Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, The sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free. —Psalm 146:3–7 Is not thy conscience convinced that God is in all respects the best master, his worship the best work, and his pay the best reward? Hast thou not knocked many time at the creature’s door, entered in, sat down, and fed on such fare as it had to set before thee, and, after all, gone away as empty and unsatisfied as thou camest? Hast thou not found by experience that the creature keepeth a poor, pitiful house? that they who run to it with heads full of hopes, return back with hearts full of heaviness? and shall no learning teach thee? Man, man, where is thy reason? Hast thou no eyes to behold the rottenness of the world’s ware, because it is glazed over with gaudy dyeings? Shall the sweet breath of this alluring panther still bewitch thee, notwithstanding all his deformity and ugliness, vanity and emptiness, so as to get thee within his power and destroy thee? Dost thou not see hundreds before thine eyes, of the world’s chief favourites, whom she dandled on her knees, and was very fond of, hurried in haste into the other world, leaving all her gifts behind them, and not a button the better for all her fondness and fooleries? Didst thou never observe how she leaveth her lovers in the lurch, and, like a false, deceitful friend, forsakes them wholly in the time of their greatest extremity? ‘Man walketh in a vain show; he disquieteth himself in vain.’ ‘He returneth to his earth, and in that day his thoughts perish,’ Ps. xxxix. 8, and cxlvi. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:15.

No Worship Without Fear

You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. —Deuteronomy 6:13 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” —Matthew 4:10 Useful word of the day: synecdoche. It’s a truly lovely word, don’t you agree? Yet, it’s one of those words I’ve had to learn multiple times, because I can never remember it when I need it. A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole, or vice verse. For example, “our daily bread,” one part of our diet, is a reduction of the whole, while “the gospel,” one part of God’s word, is often expanded to represent the whole of Scripture. Today’s use is found in the following passage, the point of which I hope you will not miss due to the presence of this new and unfamiliar word. What Moses calls fearing God, Deut. vi. 13, our Saviour quoting, calls worshipping God, (Mat. iv. 9, 10,) by a synecdoche, because the former is both a part and a sign of the latter. As when the guard are watching at the court-gate, or on the stairs, and examining those that go in, it is a sign the king is within; so when the fear of God stands at the door of the heart, to examine all that go in, lest the traitor sin should steal in slily, it is a sign that God is within, that he sits upon the throne of the soul, and is worshipped there. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:32. While the word “worship” is thrown around rather promiscuously these days, the fear of God has fallen quite out of fashion. The former is never independent of the latter.

First Things First

Are your priorities in order? Every saint, like Solomon, first builds a house for God, and then for himself. Whoever be displeased, or whatever be neglected, he will take care that God be worshipped. Abraham’s steward, when sent to provide a wife for Isaac, though meat were set before him, refused to eat till he had done his errand, Gen. xxiv. 33. Godliness is the errand about which man is sent into the world; now, as faithful servants, we must prefer our message before our meat, and serve our master before ourselves. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:37. “Godliness,” according to Jerry Bridges, is “devotion [to God] in action.” Do our actions demonstrate our desire to please God first, and serve ourselves last?

Made to Worship

‘The Lord made all things for himself,’ Prov. xvi. 4. God made things without life and reason to serve him passively and subjectively, by administering occasion to man to admire and adore his Maker; but man was made to worship him actively and affectionately, as sensible of, and affected with, that divine wisdom, power, and goodness which appear in them. As all things are of him as the efficient cause, so all things must necessarily be for him as the final cause. But man in an especial manner is predestinated and created for this purpose: Isa. xliii. 1, 7, ‘Thou art mine; I have created him for my glory; I have formed him, yea, I have made him.’ There is both the author and the end of our creation: the author, ‘I have created him;’ the end, ‘for my glory.’ As man is the most exact piece, on which he bestowed most pains, so from him he cannot but expect most praise. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:48.

The Chief Reason

The Talmud is, of course, no authority, but its theory of why man was created on the sixth day is, at least, interesting. And it is certainly correct in naming the purpose for which man was created. George Swinnock wrote: A philosopher may get riches, saith Aristotle, but that is not his main business; a Christian may, nay, must follow his particular calling, but that is not his main business, that is not the errand for which he was sent into the world. God made particular callings for men, but he made men for their general callings. It was a discreet answer of Anaxagoras Clazamenius to one that asked him why he came into the world; Ut cælum contempler, That I might contemplate heaven. Heaven is my country, and for that is my chiefest care. May not a Christian upon better reason confess that to be the end of his creation, that he might seek heaven, and be serviceable to the Lord of heaven, and say, as Jerome, I am a miserable sinner, and born only to repent. The Jewish Talmud propounds this question, Why God made man on the Sabbath eve? and gives this answer: That he might presently enter upon the command of sanctifying the Sabbath, and begin his life with the worship of God, which was the chief reason and end why it was given him. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:49–50.

The Very Turks

Unless we are utter barbarians, our manners vary greatly, adjusting appropriately to our circumstances. We tend to be quite casual among our peers in informal settings, while in the presence of our superiors, our conduct becomes more formal, more serious. Frivolity is set aside. Our focus is sharpened, and our attention is given to duty. So it should be with our approach to God, and the manner in which we live the lives that he created for his glory. As his servants—indeed, as his slaves and rightful property—we ought never to consider him or our manner of living casually. Evil words spoken, or blows given, to an ordinary man, bear but a common action at law; but in case they relate to the king, they are treason. The higher the person is with whom we converse, the holier and more exact should our carriage be. If we walk with our equals, we toy and trifle by the way, and possibly, if occasion be, wander from them; but if we wait upon a prince, especially about our own near concernments, we are serious and sedulous, watching his words, and working with the greatest diligence for the performance of his pleasure. A lawyer will mind the countryman’s cause when he is at leisure, when greater affairs will give him leave, and then, it may be, do it but coldly and carelessly. But if he have business committed to him by his sovereign, which concerns the prerogative, he will make other causes stay, crowd out of the press to salute this, attend it with all his parts and power, and ability and industry, and never take his leave of it till it be finished. I need not explain my meaning in this; it is obvious to every eye that godliness is the worshipping the infinite and ever-blessed God. Surely his service is neither to be delayed nor dallied with, it is not to be slighted or slubbered over. ‘Cursed is he that doth the work of the Lord negligently.’ When we deal with our equals, with them that stand upon the same level with us, we may deal as men; our affections may be like scales that are evenly poised, in regard of indifferency, but when we have to do with a God so great, that in comparison of him the vast ocean, the broad earth, and the highest heavens are all less than nothing, and so glorious that the great lights of the world, though every star were a sun, yet in respect of him are perfect darkness, we must be like angels, our affections should be all in a flame in regard of fervency and activity. The very Turks, though they build their own houses low and homely, yet they take much pains about their mosques, their temples—they build them high and stately. David considered about a temple for God, ‘The work is great, for the palace is not for man, but for the Lord God.’ Now, saith he, ‘I have prepared with all my might for the house of my God.’ Upon this foundation, that it was God-work, David raiseth this building, to make it his business, to prepare for it with all his might, as if he had said, Had it been for man, the work had been mean, it had wanted exceedingly of that weight which now it hath; but the work is great, for the palace is not for man, but for God; and because it is a work of such infinite weight, therefore I have prepared for it with all my might. I can think no pains great enough for so great a prince. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:55–56.

For Eternity

Zeuxis the famous limner made painting his business, and was exceeding careful and curious in drawing all his lines; he would let no piece of his go abroad into the world to be seen of men, till he had turned it over and over; viewed it on this side and that side again and again, and being asked the reason, answered, Because what I paint, I paint for eternity. So it is with every man and woman in the exercise of godliness, it is of eternal concernment; we pray, we hear for eternity, we read, we sing, we watch, we fast, we live, we die for eternity; oh, how exactly, how diligently, should all be done! —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:57–58.

Diadems, Death, and Dangers

Things that are most delicate cannot be had without the greatest difficulty; they that will enjoy large diadems must run through many deaths and dangers, and use much diligence. Nature herself will not bestow her precious treasure without much unwearied labour. Dust and dirt lie common in streets, but the gold and silver mines are buried in the bowels of the earth, and they must work hard and dig deep that will come at them. Ordinary stones may be had in every quarry, but pearls are secret in the bottom of the sea, and they must dive low, and hazard their lives, that will fetch up the oysters in which they breed, and enjoy them. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:59.

The Cost of Intellectual Laziness

I know a man who, presumably on little more than the strength of leadership skills, rose to a position of leadership in one of our local churches. I say this because, according to his own confession, he was not interested in reading anything more than he had to read. He was content to leave his knowledge at a superficial Sunday school level. He was a businessman (now retired) whose hard work was evident in the success of the business he built and subsequently sold, and in his standard of living. But he was unwilling to put the same effort into intellectual exercise. The tragedy is that intellectual laziness deprives of spiritual knowledge. Swinnock wrote, When did we ever find nature so prodigal of her gifts, as to bestow skill and excellency in any art or science, without industry and diligence. Doth she not force her students to beat their brains, to waste their bodies, to break their sleep, to burn up their strength, before she will permit them to pry into her secrets, to pick the lock of her curious cabinet, and gain any considerable knowledge of her wealth and richness? And can we think the God of nature will give men to know him, as they are known of Him—will bestow on them the unspeakable gift, the pearl of price, the Holy of holies, such things as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither man’s heart conceived, while they lie lazying on the bed of idleness? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:59—60.

The Desire of the Slothful

‘The desire of the slothful killeth him, because his hands refuse to labour,’ Prov. xxi. 5. He is full of wishing, but far from working. As the cat, he would fain have the fish, but is unwilling to wet his feet; his desires are destitute of suitable endeavours, and therefore rather harm him than help him. Like . . . He thinketh to be hurried in haste to heaven, to be carried as passengers in a ship, asleep in their cabins to their haven, but is all the while in a deceitful dream. . . . He that will be but almost a Christian, must be content to go but almost to heaven. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:61—62.

Word-Worship versus Will-Worship

It is in the Word of god, not the traditions of men, that nourishment is to be found. Likewise, it is worship as instituted in the Word, not in men’s imaginations, that promises blessing. When corn runs out into straw and chaff, those that feed on it may well be thin and lean; but when it runs into ear and kernel, thou mayest expect such as eat of it to be fat and well-favoured: when religion runs into formalities and ceremonies, her followers can never be thriving spiritually—they may starve, for all the gaudy flowers wherewith the several dishes on her table are decked and set forth; it is the power of godliness alone, which, like wholesome and substantial food, will distribute nourishment and strength to the inner man. I expect nourishment from bread, not from straw or stones, because God hath annexed his blessing to the former, not to the latter. I look for spiritual strength from divine institutions, not from human inventions, because God’s promise is made to word-worship, not to will-worship. One would think the sparks of that fire wherewith Aaron’s sons were consumed should fly in the faces of men, and make them afraid to offer up to the Lord what he commanded them not, Lev. x. 1, 2. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:82.

Betwixt Thy Sins and Thy Saviour

I must needs tell thee that there is an impossibility of dividing thy service betwixt thy sins and thy Saviour, and of parting thy heart and work between the world and the word: ‘No man can serve two masters,’ Mat. vi. 24. If like a meteor thou hangest between heaven and earth, haltest between Christ and the flesh, as a hunting dog between two hares, running sometime after this, sometime after that, thou wilt be sure at last to lose both. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:82.
Wherefore I must entreat thee, reader, to make godliness thy sole design and delight, thy main occupation and recreation. If thou find not the golden veins upon the surface, or just under the skin of the earth, do not throw off thy trade, nor cast away thy tools, but delve and dig lower; thou shalt certainly at length come to the rich treasure. The virtuous man in Greek is denominated from a word, σπουδαιος, that signifieth industrious and diligent. Labour is the way to get and increase virtue, and the more virtuous thou art, the more laborious thou wilt be; frequent use must keep thy spiritual arms from rust. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:83.
Believers are commanded to be ‘holy men,’ Exod. xxii. ult. In the original it is men of holiness; and ‘ye shall be men of holiness unto me’—that is, all over holy. As Christ is called ‘a man of sorrows,’ because his whole man, body and soul, was steeped in tears, and his whole time, from the womb to the tomb, was spent in sorrows and sufferings, full of tribulations; and as Antichrist is called a ‘man of sin’ because he is, as Beza observes well, merum scelus—mere sin, nothing but sin, Isa. liii. 3; 2 Thes. ii. 3; so the children of God should be men of holiness, mere holiness, made up of holiness, nothing but holiness. Every part of them should be holy, and every deed done by them should be holy. Holiness in their hearts should, as the lungs in the body, be in continual motion; and holiness in their life must run through all their works, as the woof through the whole web. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:84–85.

Unwilling, Wandering, and Weary

The feet of the harlot abide not within her house, neither will thy affections easily within the house of God; doth not experience tell thee that they love to be gadding, and therefore require a strong and vigilant guard? Parents set their children before them at church, and have their eyes much upon them, because otherwise they will be toying and playing; truly so will thy heart, if thine eye be not on it. Alas, thy heart in duty is like one that looks through an optic glass on some small object, with a palsy hand, it is long before he can discern it, and as soon as he hath found it, so unsteady is his hand that he hath lost it again; therefore it behoves thee to keep it diligently, and to watch it narrowly; there is a bottomless depth of deceit in thine heart—how unwilling is it to a duty! how much wandering in a duty! how soon weary of a duty! ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who knoweth it?’ Jer. xvii. 11. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:91.

That God should heed thy prayers

I have a wandering mind. It's been a problem for as long as I can remember. Sitting in school as a child, there was almost always something more interesting to be thinking about than the lessons in the book or on the board. At work, the less demanding the job, the more poorly I tend to perform, because I am so easily distracted by something more interesting. If you're a long-winded talker, chances are my mind will wander, and when you ask me what I think of that, I won't know what “that” is. George Swinnock speaks to me this morning, because I have the same problem in prayer. What he asks me is, if I hold my prayers to be of so little importance that my own words can’t keep my full attention, why should God trouble himself to hear it? And what does it say of my attitude towards him that I approach him so absent-mindedly? Think of the disrespect you feel when you’re with someone who talks on their cell phone or sits texting. Now imagine this rude person came to you, asked for your attention, and then proceeded to behave that way. Swinnock writes, Those that perform their duties, as papists say their paternosters, and musicians play their lessons, with their fingers, when their minds are busied about other things, will make but harsh and displeasing music in God’s ears. ‘God,’ saith the psalmist, ‘thou art terrible out of thy holy places,’ Ps. lxviii. 35. The sanctuary or place of worship was divided into three parts, thence called ‘thy holy places;’ now out of them God was comfortable to his watchful and diligent servants, but terrible to the slothful and negligent. He is terrible not only in the high places of the field, but also in the holy places of the faithful. How canst thou expect that God should heed thy prayers, when thou dost not heed them thyself; wouldst thou give alms to a beggar that by his carriage and language should slight both thee and thy bounty? If a condemned malefactor were suing to a prince for his life, and in the midst of his entreaties should see a moth or a fly, and leave his suit and follow after that, would this wretch deserve a pardon? And is it not as unreasonable that God should grant thy requests, if thou wilfully follow those foolish objects which thy heart, or the devil offer to thee in the midst of thy prayers; monstrous compositions, wherein is the face and voice of a man, the heart and feet of a beast, must needs be odious to God; Oh bind thine heart to its good behaviour, when thou goest into God’s house. Men put locks and fetters on wild horses, whom no enclosure can keep in. This watching the heart in duties will fasten and tie it, as with cords, to the altar. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:93

The Resemblance of Duty

Christian duty performed in our own strength is duty failed. George Swinnock wrote, Indeed, the Christian hath no natural power for . . . spiritual performances, but God gives him his Spirit for this purpose, that he might be enabled to do sacred duties, with suitable graces; ‘we know not how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit helpeth our infirmities,’ Rom. viii. 26. Man is impotent, but the Spirit is an able assistant, ‘helpeth our infirmities,’ συναντιλαμβανεται. The word is either an allusion to a nurse, which helps her weak little child to go, so the Spirit affords his hand and helps us to go to God in duties; or, as the composition of the word imports, it is an allusion to those who lift at a weighty piece of timber, too heavy for one alone, one man tugs and pulls hard, but he cannot wag it, till one stronger than he comes and helps him, then he bears it away cheerfully; so the Christian, he pulls and hales at his own heavy heart in a duty, to perform the duty aright, and yet makes nothing of it till the Spirit comes and helps him, and then he goes along comfortably through the duty. As to preaching there is required external mission, so to every prayer and performance there are required internal motions; therefore we find the ‘Spirit of grace and supplication’ joined together, Zech. xii. 10. Samson when his lock was cut off, became like another man; the Christian, when the Spirit withdraweth, that grace be not acted, he performeth duties like a carnal man. It is the breath of the Spirit of God in a duty, which is so sweet and savoury to God; gifts may do somewhat as to the outward part of a duty, as a carver may make an image with the external lineaments of a man, but unless grace and spiritual life be in it, it is but the counterfeit, the resemblance of a true duty. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:94–95

That Glorious and Fearful Name

The elders of Israel trembled at the coming of Samuel, 1 Sam. xvi. 9, and shall not we tremble when the great God cometh to us in his ordinances? Every relation in which men stand to God calls for awfulness and dread of him. ‘If I be a father, where is mine honour? if I be your master, where is my fear?’ Mal. i. 6, but especially in the saints’ approaches to him; they must stand in awe of him. When God appeared to Jacob at Bethel, where he saw nothing but visions of love, he crieth out, ‘This is none other but the house of God; how dreadful is this place!’ Gen. xxviii. 17. . . . Therefore, reader, be persuaded to ‘fear that glorious and fearful name, the Lord thy God,’ Deut. xxviii. 58. That name which is the greatest prop of thine affiance,* commandeth thy fear and reverence. When thou nearest, in the fear of God give audience to his word, Acts xiii. 16. Poor peasants must be trembling when this prince is speaking. With meekness receive that word which will damn or save thy soul. Alas! with what fear should a condemned prisoner attend to his king, when every word he speaks is life or death! It becomes the greatest persons to be awful in God’s presence. Constantine the Great, when hearing a sermon, would start out of his chair of state, being ravished with the word, and stand up for a long time; ’and being minded by his courtiers that such a posture was unbecoming his high place, he would not hearken to them. Eglon, though a fat unwieldy man, as soon as Ehud told him that he had a message from God to him, rose up to hear it, Judges iii. 20. Abraham, who had the honour and favour to be God’s friend, yet when God spake to him, fell on his face, Gen. xvii. 3. Moses, though high in the heart of God, yet is humble when he hears from God; he boweth his head towards the earth, and worships, Exod. xxxiv. 8. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:96–97 * The greatest support/ground of your security/assurance.

Every Place an Altar

There is no duty in my observation which hath so many precepts for it, or promises to it, as prayer, and sure I am, there is no duty which giveth more honour to God, or receiveth more honour from God, than prayer. Prayer hath a twofold pre-eminence above all other duties whatsoever, in regard of the universality of its influence, and opportunity for its performance. The universality of its influence. As every sacrifice was to be seasoned with salt, so every undertaking, and every affliction of the creature, must be sanctified with prayer. Nay, as it sheweth the excellency of gold, that it is laid upon silver itself, so it speaketh the excellency of prayer, that not only natural and civil, but even religious and spiritual actions, are overlaid with prayer. We pray not only before we eat or drink our bodily nourishment, but also before we feed on the bread of the word, and the bread in the sacrament; prayer is requisite to make every providence and every ordinance blessed to us. Prayer is needful to make our particular callings successful; prayer is the guard to secure the fort-royal of the heart; prayer is the porter to keep the door of the lips; prayer is the strong hilt which defendeth the hands; prayer perfumes every relation; prayer helps us to profit by every condition; prayer is the chemist that turns all into gold; prayer is the master-workman; if that be out of the way, the whole trade stands still, or goeth backward. What the key is to the watch, that prayer is to religion; it winds it up and sets it a-going. It is before other duties in regard of opportunity for its performance. A Christian cannot always hear, or always read, or always communicate, but he may pray continually. No place, no company can deprive him of this privilege. If he be on the top of a house with Peter, he may pray; if he be in the bottom of the ocean with Jonah, he may pray; if he be walking in the field with Isaac, he may pray when no eye seeth him; if he be waiting at table with Nehemiah, he may pray when no ear heareth him; if he be in the mountains with our Saviour, he may pray; if he be in the prison with Paul, he may pray; wherever he is, prayer will help him to find God out. Every saint is God’s temple; and he that carrieth his temple about him, saith Austin, may go to prayer when he pleaseth. Indeed to a Christian, every house is an house of prayer; every closet a chamber of presence; and every place he comes to an altar, whereon he may offer the sacrifice of prayer. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:106–107

Meditate on thy sins

Confession of sin must be with shame and sorrow; petition for mercy must be with faith and fervency; thanksgiving must be with admiration of God, and delight in God. Now it is meditation of our sins, wants, and miseries, which provides fuel for the fire of these graces to work upon, by which they break out into a heavenly flame. Meditate on thy sins. Thy duty in prayer is to indict, arraign, and condemn and execute those malefactors and transgressors of the royal law, which can never he done till they are apprehended. If thou wilt kill those foxes that spoil the vine, those lusts which hinder thy regenerate part from thriving, thy care must be by meditation to hunt them out of their lurking holes and take them. Thy wounds, which stink and are so unsavoury to God, must by serious consideration be searched and felt before they can be healed. When thou art going to prayer, do as Jehu, when he went to sacrifice to Baal, send out and fetch in all thy false worshippers, those enemies of the true God, that deny his supremacy, and bow the knee to the world or the flesh, and then by a humble penitential confession, and self-judging, cut them off. Who ever bewailed his sins, that did not know their sinfulness? or who ever was ashamed, that did not see his own nakedness? When the Jews came to know that they were the betrayers and murderers of the Lord Jesus, then they were pricked to the heart. Oh do that for thyself which God will do for many others! set thy sins in order before thine eyes, thine original and thine actual, thine omissions and commissions, thy personal and relative, thy secret and public, thy sins about natural, civil, or spiritual actions, thy sins under mercies and against afflictions. Say to thy conscience, as Samuel to Jesse, ‘Are all thy sons here?’ are all thy sins here? If any be wanting to thy knowledge, cause it to be sent for and brought, and sit not down to sacrifice before it come; when this is done, put them all into their own colours, accent them with their several aggravations, consider what light, what love, what motions of God’s Spirit, what convictions of thy own spirit, they were committed against. Above all, meditate on the infinite majesty, purity, and mercy of that God against whom thou hast sinned. Those three attributes duly weighed would, like Moses’ strokes, fetch water out of a rock. Ah couldst thou, that hast heard of this God by the hearing of the ear, but see him with the seeing of the eye, thou wouldst quickly abhor thyself in dust and ashes! How ugly, how loathsome would sin be, couldst thou behold the glory, holiness, and grace of that God whom thereby thou hast offended! Ah, how great an evil must that be which is so opposite and offensive to the greatest good! Think also on the blood of the dearest Jesus, which was let out by thy lusts; and surely when thou beholdest those knives before thee which made those bloody mortal wounds in his blessed body, anger and grief will both strive within thee for the mastery. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:112–113

Consider thy mercies

Some times and circumstances are hard. God’s promises should be enough to carry us through, but we are weak; we can be overwhelmed, and lose sight of his hand in our lives. When we can’t see God in the present, we can look to the past. Consider thy mercies, meditate on the several particular passages of God’s providence towards thee, from thy birth to this moment; how many dangers thou hast been delivered from, how many journeys thou hast been preserved in, what seasonable succour God hath sometimes sent thee in dangers, what suitable support he hath afforded thee in distress, what counsel he hath given thee in doubts, what comforts he hath vouchsafed thee in sorrows and darkness. Make past mercies, by meditation, present with thee. How many years hast thou lived, and every moment of thy life hast breathed in mercy? Do not forget former favours bestowed on thee or thine. The civet* box, when the civet is gone, still retains its scent; the vessel, when the liquor is gone, hath still a savour of it. So when thy mercies are past and spent, thou shouldst still have the scent and savour of them in thy spirit. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:114 * Perfume

God Will Not Hear

‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear my prayer,’ Ps. lxvi. 18. He that expecteth pardon must throw down his weapons of rebellion. The child that asketh forgiveness of his oaths, must not desire it of his father with curses in his mouth. When dust clogs the wheel of the watch or clock, they cannot strike true; when sin hampereth and clogs the wheels of the affections, the mouth will never speak true or right in its petitions. ‘He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination,’ Prov. xxviii. 9. It is high impudency for him that will not hear God, to look that God should hear him. When the sin of the petitioner is before God’s eyes, his petitions cannot enter into God’s ears; the wide mouth of sin outcrieth the voice of his prayers. . . . the smallest sin, loved and liked, will hinder the course of prayer, though it be never so instant and vehement. ‘The Lord’s ear is not heavy that it cannot hear, but your iniquities separate between you and your God,’ Isa. lix. 1, 2. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:118

The Rule of Our Prayers

George Swinnock reminds us to petition God for only that which he has promised. To the matter of our prayers: God’s word and will must be the rule of our prayers, what we must ask of him, as well as of our practice, what we must do for him. Subjects must set bounds to their desires, and take heed that their petitions do not encroach upon the prerogative royal. Divine precepts, what God commandeth us to act; divine promises, what God engageth himself to do for us; and divine prophecies, what God hath foretold shall come to pass, are to be the bounds of our prayers: he wandereth to his loss, that in his requests goeth beyond these limits. Balaam would needs ask leave of God, that he might be the devil’s chaplain to curse Israel; but mark the issue, he hath an ironical concession to go to his own destruction; the sharp razor indeed of his tongue would not pierce the Israelites, who had armour of proof ; but the sword of the Israelites soon entered his body, and sent his soul to receive its wages of that master that set him a-work. The Israelites on a sudden are all in a hurry for a king: ‘God gave them a king in his anger,’ for their punishment, rather than for their protection; and how soon were they sick, like children, of that which they cried so loud for—the king and people, at least many of them, perished together. Oh how much better is a favourable denial, than an angry grant of such prayers; but immodest desires never have profitable answers. . . . Take heed, reader, of exceeding the limits of prayer; those beasts which will not be kept within their bounds, are soonest caught and killed. Israel had their wish, to their woeful cost, when they cried out, ‘Would God we had died in the wilderness,’ Num. xiv. 2, 28, 29. ‘Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is,’ Eph. v. 17. Indeed, the Christian may have anything of God, if he do but in his prayer secure God’s honour; but he that exalteth his own will, not minding God’s, like a proud beggar, will be a chooser; and therefore he shall be sent away either without an alms, or else with the serpents which he desired, instead of the fish which he denied. The Christian’s charter is wide enough, he hath no cause to desire its enlargement: ‘And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us,’ 1 John v. 14. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:120–121

Is Thy Heart Right?

Our prayers may often be weak and imperfect, but this matters not at all to God. He cares only that we be fully dependent on him alone, that we come to him as a faithful bride, looking to no other. He will overlook our weakness, but he will never tolerate a divided mind. ‘The Lord is nigh to all that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth,’ Ps. cxlv. 18. When the wife giveth the husband her heart, and defileth not the marriage bed, he will, if wise, bear with many infirmities in her. When the heart in prayer is devoted to God, he is pleased out of his grace and goodness to pardon and pass by many imperfections in the duty; but if that bed be prostituted to any other, he gives a divorce to the sacrifice, and putteth it away, for he is a jealous God. Jacob’s small present could not but be acceptable to Joseph, because it was ‘the best of the land.’ The heart of man is but little, yet it is the best of man, and therefore taken kindly by God. The main inquiry at prayer is concerning the heart: as Jonadab was asked by Jehu, so is the Christian by God, ‘Is thy heart right, as mine is? Then come up into my chariot.’ Then come to the throne of grace, and welcome. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:125–126

In a Praying Frame

Pray without ceasing; —1 Thessalonians 5:17 There is no duty enjoined a Christian for his constant trade so much as prayer: ‘Pray always,’ ‘pray continually,’ ‘pray without ceasing,’ ‘pray with perseverance,’ ‘pray evermore.’ But why is all this? would God have his people do nothing else but pray? must they cast by their callings, cast off all care of their children, and shut themselves up into some cell or cloister, and there be always upon their knees at prayer, as the Euchites fancied? No; I shall therefore give a brief description of this praying without ceasing. [1.] Thy soul must be ever in a praying frame. The soldier hath his weapons ready, though not always in fight with his enemy. Thy heart must be ever in tune, and ready upon the least touch to make heavenly music. The church’s lips are compared to a honeycomb, Cant. iv. 11. The honeycomb doth not always drop, but it is always ready to drop. The believer’s spirit is like fire upon the hearth; though it do not blaze, yet it is ready upon any opportunity to be blown up into a flame. [2.] No considerable business must be undertaken without prayer. Thou art God’s servant, and thy duty is to ask his leave in all thou dost: Eph. iv. 6, ‘In all things let your requests be made known to God.’ When thou risest up or liest down, when thou goest out or comest in, prayer must still be with thee. Prayer is the way to prevent evil. The world’s poison may be expelled with this antidote, John xvii. 11. He that converseth with God by prayer dwelleth in heaven, and to such a one the earth is but a small point. Prayer is both a charm to enchant, and a scourge to torment Satan. It engageth Christ in the combat with the devil, and so assureth the soul of conquest. When the saint is fighting, and like to be foiled, either by the world, the flesh, or the wicked one, prayer is the letter which he sendeth post to heaven for fresh supplies of the Spirit, whereby he becometh ‘more than a conqueror.’ Prayer is the way to procure good: he that will not speak must not expect to speed. It sanctifieth our food, raiment, sleep, callings, and all our enjoyments to us. The Christian, like the chemist, extracteth all good things out of this one body of prayer. [3.] He that prayeth constantly hath set times every day for prayer. The morning and evening sacrifice were called the ‘continual sacrifice,’ Num. xxviii. 4. The Christian hath his set meals for his soul every day as well as for his body. With the marigold, he opens himself in the morning for the sweet dews of heaven’s grace and blessing, and he doth at night, (though his occasions hinder him in the day,) like a lover, find some opportunity to converse with his beloved. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:130–131

I Wish That I

If you are like me, your prayers are often desultory exercises, casual, clichéd, presented with an unprepared mind and low expectations. It ought not to be so, but, I must confess, it often is. George Swinnock presents, for our encouragement in prayer, a lengthy list of wishes: I wish that the many and weighty mercies which I, unworthy wretch, enjoy, may be written so firmly in my mind, and presented to me before prayer, in the various and lively colours of their freeness, fulness, and seasonableness; that I may never steal the custom of thanks from my God, which is all he desires, for those rich and full vessels which he sendeth me in every day; but may pay him this impost of praise and glory with all uprightness and alacrity. I wish that . . . I might never leave confession without sorrow for sin; petition, without some sense of the worth of mercies; nor thanksgiving, without some solace and joy in God, the author and fountain of all my happiness. I wish that I may draw nigh to God with a pure conscience; and before I go to desire the lovely portion of his friends, give a bill of divorce to all my lusts, and, at least, banish from the bed of my heart those enemies of his which would not have him to reign over me. I wish that I may never desire mercy at his hands with the least degree of malice in my heart . . . I wish I may resolve beforehand to remember in particular my enemies, to beg of God that he would pardon, sanctity, and save them. . . . I wish that I may be specially careful to look up to the Master of requests, the Lord Jesus Christ: first, for the justification of my person, and then for the acceptation of my prayer; and that I may be so enabled, with the hand of faith, to put on the glorious robes of his perfect righteousness, that neither the nakedness of my person nor performance may appear to my shame. I wish that all the flowers which I present to my God, in the posy of prayer, may be gathered out of his own garden, the Scriptures; I mean, that I may never exceed those bounds which he hath set me for the matter of my prayer, but may use much caution that all those spices, which I make my incense of, may be of his own prescription: and oh that, to this end, his Holy Spirit, who knoweth his mind fully, might draw up all my petitions for me! I wish that my prayers may be ever presented upon the bended knees of my soul, and also, in regard of my body, in the lowest and most submissive posture; ah, how humble should dust and ashes be, when he takes upon him to speak to the most high God! I wish above all that I may never mock the most jealous God in this duty, by speaking parrot-like what I neither mind nor mean . . . I wish that I may so feel my spiritual wants, that . . . I may cry aloud for the bread of life . . . When I am petitioning for pardon and grace, I wish I might beg as earnestly, and beseech God as importunately, as if it were in the power of my prayer to change his mind and procure the blessing; but when I am asking temporals, I would . . . willingly be at my Father’s allowance, and desire no more than what his infinite wisdom seeth needful to bear my charges, till I come to my blessed and everlasting home. . . . I wish that every mercy may come flying to me upon the wings of prayer, and may fly back to God upon the wings of praise . . . that at night prayer may make my bed soft, and lay my pillow easy, that in the day-time prayer may perfume my clothes, sweeten my food, oil the wheels of my particular vocation, keep me company upon all occasions, and gild over all my natural, civil, and religious actions. I wish that, after I have poured out my prayer in the name of Christ, according to the will of God, having sowed my seed, I may expect a crop, looking earnestly for the springing of it up, and believing assuredly that I shall reap in time if I faint not; yea, that though the promise may stick long in the birth, yet it will at last bring forth, when God will give me large interest for my forbearance. Finally, I wish that, though before sorrowful, having opened my mind to God about any suffering, my countenance, like Hannah’s, may be no more sad; that I may never busy myself about God’s work, the success and event of things, nor like an idle, lazy beggar, be careless about my own work, but may in my place, and to my power, be industrious in the use of all those lawful means which his providence affords me for the enjoyment of my desires, that as I did lift up my heart in praying, so I may lift up my hands in working to God, who dwelleth in the heavens. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:138–140

Search, Study, and Listen

George Swinnock on the duty of attending to God’s word: This word, which is of such unspeakable worth, God hath deposited as a special treasure into the hands of the children of men, that they might ‘obey his will, and know the just one.’ And, reader, it is thy duty to search and study this book. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:141 But reading and studying are not the whole of our duty. God has ordained ministers who are no less than his ambassadors. To neglect the preaching of the Word is an offense against God himself. When kings send out their proclamations, either concerning acts of grace, or some law which their subjects ought to obey, they expect that all should take notice of them, and give them the reading and hearing. What an affront dost thou offer to the King of the whole world, if thou turnest thy back upon his word! I must tell thee it is no less than [high treason]; ‘He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me,’ Luke x. 16. Thou mayest think, possibly, that by neglecting to hear, thou dost only contemn the preacher; but believe me, it is a contempt of thy Maker—ministers are God’s ambassadors. Now to deny an ambassador audience, is one of the greatest disrespects which can possibly be offered him, nay, it is an affront to his prince, on whose errand he cometh, and whose person he representeth; and what is the conclusion usually of such bad premises, but a bloody war? —Ibid., 1:141–142 There are consequences for neglecting study and despising preaching. Consider what thou dost, when thou ‘refusest him that speaketh from heaven;’ for if thou shuttest the windows of thine eyes from reading, and the door of thine ears from hearing, God may clap such a padlock of a judiciary curse upon them both, that thou shalt never open thine eyes nor ears, till thou comest, as the rich glutton, to see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and to hear and bear thy part in those dreadful screechings and howlings which are in hell. —Ibid., 1:142

Let It Dwell with Thee

Swinnock has called attendance to God’s word a duty, and so it is, but it is a duty that ought to come naturally to every child of God. [I]f thou art a child of God, I doubt not but thou delightest to look into thy Father’s will, and weighest every word in it, as knowing that in his testament there is a great charge committed, and a great legacy bequeathed, to thee. It is thy daily companion and counsellor; thou darest not go without thy cordial, being liable every day to faint; nor without thy weapons, being called every hour to fight. The Scriptures are the light by which thou walkest, and the tools with which thou workest. Let me persuade thee to persevere in this gracious practice; take the counsel of the author of it, who is fittest to give laws for thy carriage towards it: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ Col. iii. 16. . . . Do not leave thy Bible, as some do, at church, and hear nothing of it all the week long; but bring it home to thy house, let it dwell with thee. Let not the word be ‘as a wayfaring man, to tarry with thee but for a night,’ and so begone; but let it be an inhabitant, one that accompanieth thee to bed and board, and with whom thou conversest continually as thy familiar and intimate friend. Make thine heart, as Jerome saith of Nepotianus, by his assiduous reading and hearing the Scriptures, Bibliothecam Christi, the library of Jesus Christ. I cannot but think that thou hast found the Bible so bountiful a guest, to pay thee so liberally for its board, that thou hast bid it heartily welcome, and wouldst not part with it for the whole world. Agesilaus is commended, saith Xenophon, because he never went to bed, nor rose up, before he had looked into Homer, whom he called his sweetheart. Advise thou with a divine, at least, as often as he did with a profane author. Kings have their counsellors, and great men their remembrancers; let God’s testimonies be ‘the men of thy council,’ Ps. cxix. 24. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:142–143

Take Heed What You Hear

George Swinnock has a warning for the credulous and gullible, written three hundred and fifty years ago, that is at least as necessary today as it was then. Our Saviour therefore commandeth . . . ‘Take heed what you hear,’ Mark iv. 24. Ministers are Christ’s ushers; Christ himself is the head master. Now Christ forbiddeth the pinning our faith upon our usher’s sleeve. The Bereans have an honourable crest put into their coat of arms by God himself, to distinguish them in nobility from others, for bringing the coin offered to them to the touchstone of the Scripture, to try whether it were true gold or counterfeit. ‘And these were more noble than those of Thessalonica, because they received the word of God with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so,’ Acts xvii. 11. Men must not, like children, take down whatever their nurses put into their mouths, whether meat or poison, but know how to distinguish between good and evil. Our faith must not ‘stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’ All weights and measures must be compared with, and tried by, the king’s standards. The copy is no further authentic than it agreeth with the original deed. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:144–145

“This is the finger of God”

Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation —1 Peter 2:2 Many preachers aim for style over substance, or even style with no regard for substance. Many serve up sugary sweets rather than meat and vegetables. Which do you prefer? It may be thou goest to table only for the sauce, to church for the style and elegancy of the language; if so, I dare be bold to tell thee, that ‘thine heart is not right in the sight of God.’ Dost thou not know that it is the naked sword which doth the execution, that a crucified Christ is the great conqueror, not a pompous, gaudy Messiah, which the Jews dreamed of? Paul is commanded to preach, ‘not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect,’ 1 Cor. i. 17, so also ver. 27, 28. Truly, if thou lustest after the quails of some new dish, it is a sign that thou loathest manna, the bread of heaven; and what a condition is thy poor soul in then! They that have the greensickness care not for solid food, but hanker after trash. They have souls sadly sick that neglect the good word of God, and long after the fancies and wit of men. God doth, ‘by the foolishness of preaching, save them that believe,’ that he alone might have the glory of their salvation; ‘that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us,’ 2 Cor. iv. 7. When men nibble at the bait of human eloquence, and are caught, the skill of the angler is applauded; but when men bite at the naked hook, the simplicity of the gospel, all will grant this to be a miracle, and say, ‘This is the finger of God.’ Dost thou not see, that as Daniel and his companions thrived better and looked fairer with feeding upon pulse, than the other captives who fed on the king’s dainty provision, so those Christians in every parish, look abroad where you will, thrive more in holiness, and are fairer in God’s eye, who feed on plain, naked Scripture, than those whom no dishes will please but such as are curiously cooked for a king’s palate? Thou wilt not believe but that thy face may be seen in a glass where the sides are not gilded; thou wilt choose a horse, not by its trappings and fine furniture, but by its usefulness and serviceableness. Why shouldst thou be so childish as to be in love with no garments but what are daubed with silver lace, when other plain raiment will warm thy body as well? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:146–147

The Necessity of the Word

Before going to worship on the Lord’s Day, we ought to prepare our minds to receive the Word. Toward that end, George Swinnock suggests three things to consider: “Before thou goest to hear, labour to affect thine heart with the necessity, excellency, and efficacy of the word.” On the first: Consider its necessity. Mary minded ‘the one thing necessary;’ indeed she gave the word her heart, but the way to it was this, she gave it her ear; she ‘sat at Christ’s feet and heard his word.’ . . . Urge thy soul with this: The word which I am going to hear, in regard of the ordination of God, is absolutely necessary to my spiritual and eternal good. I am dead, and it is the word that must enliven me; I am blind, and it is the word that must enlighten me. It is absolutely necessary that I know my sins and misery; now the word must do this, and is therefore called a glass, James i. It is absolutely necessary that I know my Saviour, and the way of my recovery: now the word must do this, and is therefore called faith and life, John vi., Rom. Iii. It is necessary to open mine eyes to see Christ, to open my heart to receive Christ, and that heaven hereafter may open to my poor soul. My soul is sinful, and it is the word that must sanctify it; my soul is sick, it is the word that must heal it; my soul is hungry, and it is the word must feed it, or I shall starve; my soul is thirsty, and it is the word that must satisfy it, or I shall die for thirst. Whatsoever conditions of misery I am in, it is the word that must give suitable exhortations to support me; whatsoever relations of life I stand in, it is the word that must give suitable exhortations to direct me; whatsoever service I am called to, whether of doing or suffering, it is the word which must relieve me with suitable supply. Oh, what concernment is this word to my well-being in this and the other world! I must be sanctified, or I can never be saved; I must turn to God, or burn in hell; and the word must do this for me, or it will never be done. Good Lord, how should I hear! —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:149–150

The Excellency of the Word

Before going to worship on the Lord’s Day, we ought to prepare our minds to receive the Word. Toward that end, George Swinnock suggests three things to consider: “Before thou goest to hear, labour to affect thine heart with the necessity, excellency, and efficacy of the word.” On the second: Consider its excellency; it is the word of God. Though thou dalliest when men are speaking, yet surely it becomes thee to be serious when the great God is speaking. . . . ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God to salvation,’ Rom. i. 16. What wonders hath the great God wrought by his word! He hath given eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, ears to the deaf, life to the dead, by his word. What legions of devils and lusts hath he unkennelled and cast out with his word! . . . He hath caused many a soul to hear and live by his word; he hath awakened many a soul that was asleep in sin by the voice of the Scriptures, and caused them to arise and work out their own salvations; thousands of poor creatures, who were sinking into the bottomless hell, have, by God’s hand stretched out in his word, been delivered from going clown to the pit, and lifted up to heaven. It is a word of divine institution and of divine benediction. Rev. i. 3. It is the word in which the Father speaketh: John vi. 45, ‘Every one that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh to me.’ It is the word of Christ, Heb. xii. 25; Col. iii. 16. In it the Spirit speaketh to the churches, Rev. ii. 11. The pearl hid in it, (the Scriptures are ‘they that testify of Christ,’ John v. 39,) the price paid for it, (both Testaments are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, Heb. ix. 27,) do fully speak the excellency of it. Now, reader, think with thyself thus: I am going to hear that word which hath God for its author, Jesus Christ for its matter, and eternal life for its end. Shall I, like a beastly swine, trample these invaluable jewels under my feet? Shall that which is infinitely more precious than fine gold be esteemed by me as dirt? It is the picture of God’s own excellencies . . . Ah, how tender should I be of that glass which hath wine in it more worth than heaven and earth! Would it not be a thousand pities that I should suffer the flies of my wandering thoughts to corrupt and spoil this box of precious ointments? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:150–151

The Efficacy of the Word

Before going to worship on the Lord’s Day, we ought to prepare our minds to receive the Word. Toward that end, George Swinnock suggests three things to consider: “Before thou goest to hear, labour to affect thine heart with the necessity, excellency, and efficacy of the word.” On the third: Consider the efficacy of it. The revealed word is like the essential word; ‘for the fall, as well as for the rise, of many in Israel.’ As there is nothing so evil but a serious holy person may get good out of it—like some creatures we read of, he may digest and fetch nourishment out of serpents;—so there is nothing so good but a careless, graceless heart may pervert to his hurt; like the spider, he may suck poison out of the sweetest rose. The word will work one way or other; if it work not for thy salvation, it will work for thy damnation; if it be not ‘a savour of life to life,’ it will be ‘a savour of death to death.’ ‘As the rain cometh down and watereth the earth, and returneth not thither again; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void,’ Isa. lv. 10, 11. The word is compared to fire: fire doth either purify the metal or consume it; the word will either convert thee or confound thee. The sea sinks some vessels, and lands others safely; the Scripture will either further thee towards heaven or towards hell. ‘The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them; but the transgressors shall fall therein,’ Hosea xiv. 9. Mark, reader, what an engine is here to screw thee up to the greatest attention to the word which is possible. It is like strong physic to a person exceeding sick, which either mends them or ends them. Think thus with thyself: I am going to hear that word which will not be in vain, but will either kill or cure me: this sword of the Spirit is sharp and keen; if it doth not defend me, it will destroy me. Oh, it is bad jesting with such edge-tools! How sad will it be for me to find death about the lips of Christ, to fall into hell with a stumble at the gospel of the kingdom of heaven! How exceedingly am I concerned to set my heart to all the words which I shall hear this day! for ‘it is not a vain thing, but it is for my life,’ Deut. xxxii. 46, 47. Urge thy soul in earnest with these particulars. As Elisha, stretching himself upon the young dead child, at last got life and quickening into it; so thou, forcing and stretching, as it were, these things upon thy heart, mayest quicken it, how dull and dead soever it is. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:151–152

Commend Thy Minister to God

Pastors are often subject to great scrutiny and criticism. This, in fact, is not altogether wrong. Christ makes great demands on his under-shepherds and they are to be held accountable for their care of the flock. Yet it is hardly reasonable to expect much of an elder whom we have not, in love, regularly taken before the throne of grace, praying on his behalf for the grace to perform his duty for our profit and God’s glory. Swinnock writes, [B]e sure thou forget not to commend thy minister to God. As thy duty is to beg a ‘door of entrance’ for thyself, so a ‘door of utterance’ for thy pastor. ‘Withal praying for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ,’ Col. iv. 3; Eph. vi. 19. Thy profit by him will be not a little furthered by thy prayer for him. He that loves his child, will often remember the nurse that feeds it; he that loves his precious soul, will often mind the preacher that prepareth and bringeth its spiritual portion. I have known some to praise their cooks highly, when they would prevail with them to dress a dish curiously for their palates. I am sure thy way is to pray for thy pastor fervently, if thou wouldest have him provide such food as may be for thy soul's pleasure and profit. Starve the mother, and you starve the child in her womb. If the heavens do not favour the hills with showers, they cannot fatten the valleys with their chalky streams. If the pipes be broke which convey water to our houses from the river, we can expect no supply. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:153

He Came to Hear God

When thou art hearing or reading, set thyself seriously as in the presence of God. God setteth before thee in his word, and offereth to thee life or death, blessing or cursing, his infinite favour or fury, heaven or hell; and, friend, are these things to be jested with? Imitate Cornelius in his carriage, when he was to hear Peter, ‘We are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God,’ Acts x. 33. The piety of this centurion appeareth in the ground and motive of his hearing; he came not to hear men, but God: ‘to hear all things which are commanded thee of God,’ . . . In the gracious manner of his hearing; he doth not say, We are all here present before thee, but, ‘We are all here present before God.’ When the heart is awed with the apprehension of a divine presence, the iron gates of the ears will fly open of their own accord, and give the word a free passage. The creature dares not but hearken diligently to the speech of that God, on whose breath depends his life and death, when he seeth him immediately before his eyes. . . . there is little good to be got by the Scripture, if a man read or hear it cursorily and carelessly; but if a man do it out of conscience, and as in God’s presence, he shall find such an efficacy in it, as is not to be found in any other book. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:156

Be Very Watchful

We have heard from Swinnock on the necessity of preparing ourselves to hear the Word, and of being attentive to receive it. We must also be careful, lest, after hearing, we allow it to be lost. I must tell thee that it concerneth thee now to be very watchful, for many birds wait to peck up the corn as soon as the husbandman hath sowed it. Our Saviour telleth us, “He that received seed among thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful,’ Mat. xiii. 32. As highwaymen watch the honest countryman as he cometh from the fair, where he hath sold his cattle and filled his purse, and then set upon him, and rob him, so do the cares of the world dog the honest Christian as he cometh from the word, where he got some spiritual treasure, and then fall upon him to plunder him. Besides, Satan is so subtle that he will be sure to haunt the soul after reading or hearing the word: “When any one heareth the word, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart,’ Mat. xiii. 19. The season, then, is worthy our observation. When the Christian hath made a good meal, then the devil trieth all his wiles and tricks to make him vomit it up again. Servants, when they carry full cups of wine in the midst of unlucky boys, must be wary and watchful, or they will spill it. Some people take physic, and, though it doth them some good at present, yet all is quickly marred by their neglect of those rules which should be observed afterwards. The word, possibly, when thou heardest it, made some work among thy affections. The beauty of Christ’s person was displayed before thine eyes, and thy heart began to fall in love with thy Saviour. The extremity of his passion was described to thee, and thine heart began to loathe the cause thereof, thy sins. Well, now then thy conscience is a little warmed and awakened, and the pores of thy soul opened, shouldest thou go into the cold presently, all would come to nothing. If water be taken from the fire when it is a little warm, it cooleth quickly. He that would have it boil must rather increase the fire. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:162–163 While I am not a Sabbatarian, I think this passage reminds us of the benefit to ourselves—not to mention the effect of glorifying God—that we gain by setting aside the entire day for meditation on the Word. How many sermons heard in the morning are lost and forgotten among the distractions of a busy Lord’s Day afternoon?

The Influence of Heaven

Swinnock has exhorted us to allow time for meditation on the Word. Our own meditations, however, will do little good without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We must also Petition for a blessing upon the word. After the seed is sown, the influence of heaven must cause it to spring up and ripen, or otherwise there will be no harvest. ‘Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God must give the increase,’ 1 Cor. iii. 6. The minister preacheth, thou hearest, but it is the Lord who teacheth to profit. Thou mayest, like Mary, have Christ before thee in a sermon, and yet not know him till he discover himself to thee. The eunuch could read of Christ in the prophet, but could not reach Christ till God came to his chariot. There is a twofold light requisite to a bodily vision—light in the eye, and light in the air. The former cannot, as we experience in the night, do it without the latter. There is also a twofold light necessary to spiritual sight: beside the light of understanding which is in a man, there must be illumination from the Spirit of God, or there will be no beholding the Lord in the glass of the word. When the disciples had heard Christ’s doctrine, they were not able to understand or profit by his preaching, and therefore they cry to him, ‘Lord, open to us this parable.’ When thou hast read or heard the word, go to God, and say, ‘Teach me, Lord, the way of thy statutes; give me understanding and I shall keep thy law, yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness,’ Ps. cxix. 33–37. Entreat God to write his law on the fleshly tables of thine heart. Bernard observes, bodily bread in the cupboard may be eaten of mice, or moulder and waste; but when it is taken down into the body, it is free from such danger: if God enable thee to take thy soul-food down into thine heart, it is safe from all hazards. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:163

He Heareth Best

When the preacher hath done in the pulpit, the hearer must begin in his practice. He heareth a sermon best who practiseth it most. What one saith of Ps. cxix., I may say of the whole Scriptures, They are verba vivenda, non legenda, words to be lived, more than to be read or heard. A Christian’s life should be a legible comment on God’s law. The strokes in music must answer to the notes and rules set down in the lesson. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:166

Practical Memory

Memory is frustrating. I retain information fairly well, but I often do not remember the exact phrasing of what I have read, or even where I read it. This is most irritating in regard to my memory of Scripture, which has been conveniently assigned chapter and verse divisions, and is referenced by those designated markers. I retain the truth contained, but often cannot quote the source from memory. Ask me, as antagonists will do, “Oh, yeah? Where does it say that?” and I will stumble around, reach for a concordance (or, these days, search BibleGateway), and find it. And it will say what I knew it said. I retained the truth, but not the words or their location. (This is one reason I would much rather write than speak: no one sees how laboriously I gather my words.) This paragraph from George Swinnock was encouraging. I have read a story of two men who, walking together, found a young tree laden with fruit; they both gathered and satisfied themselves at present; one of them took all the remaining fruit, and carried it away with him; the other took the tree, and planted it in his own ground, where it prospered, and brought forth fruit every year; so that though the former had more at present, yet this had some when he had none. They who hear the word, and have large memories, and nothing else, may carry away most of the word at present; yet he that, possibly, can remember little, who carrieth away the tree, plants the word in his heart, and obeys it in his life, shall have fruit when the other hath none. The practical memory is the greatest mercy. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:167–168

A Lively Resemblance

George Swinnock’s summary of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper: When the blessed Saviour was taking a doleful farewell of an ungrateful world, as a lively resemblance of his sufferings for his, and as an undeniable evidence of his love to his, he instituted this supper: As a lively resemblance of his passion for his people. A crucified Christ is the sum of the law, and the substance of the gospel; the knowledge of him is no less worth than eternal life. Now as he was crucified by the Jews and soldiers actually, and by unbelieving Gentiles, who live amongst us, interpretatively, so he is crucified in the gospel declaratively, and in the sacrament representatively. ‘This cup,’ saith Christ, ‘is the New Testament in my blood,’ 1 Cor. xi. 25. The Old Testament was sprinkled with the blood of beasts, but the New Testament with the blood of Christ, Heb. ix. 15, 19. This precious blood, which was the costly price of man's redemption, which is the only path to eternal salvation, which was promised to Adam, believed by the patriarchs, shadowed in the sacrifices, foretold by the prophets, and witnessed in the Scriptures, is drunk, received, signified, and sealed in the supper. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:173.

Exercise Thyself to Godliness

Ought godliness to be every one’s business? then, reader, let me persuade thee in the fear of God to put this precept into practice—‘Exercise thyself to godliness.’ Let it be the chief trade thou drivest, the principal calling thou followest, to worship the true God in heart and life, according to his revealed will. . . . Let conscience judge between God and thee, whether such a work as this is doth not deserve all thy time and strength, thine utmost care and greatest diligence, and ten thousand times more than thou canst possibly give it. . . . Themistocles seeing two cocks fight, when he was going to a battle, pointed his soldiers to them, and said, ‘Do you see yonder combatants, how valiantly they deal their blows, with what fury they fight! and yet they fight not for their country, nor for their gods, nor for the honour of their ancestors, nor for glory, nor liberty, nor children! What courage then, my brave countrymen, should this put into our hearts, on whose resolution all these depend, and by whose valour they subsist! ‘So I say to thee, reader; dost thou see yonder worldling, how he rideth, runneth, toileth, moileth, sweateth, wasteth his strength, wrongeth his body, makes a very pack-horse of it, and will scarce allow it time to eat or sleep? Dost thou see yonder superstitious person, how zealous he is for the inventions of men, laying his estate, limbs, liberty, and life at the feet of his own idol? How like one upon a fiery steed full of mettle, he rides post out of God’s way, and from God’s word! Nay, dost thou see yonder sinner, what time he spends, what miseries he endures, what wealth he wastes, how hard he labours to gratify his lust? And yet these work not for the blood of Christ, nor for the love of the Father, nor for the graces of the Spirit, nor for freedom from the curse of the law, the slavery of Satan, the torments of hell, nor for their souls, nor for their God, nor for fulness of joy, and the pleasures that are at God’s right hand for evermore. What zeal and fervency should this put into our hearts, dear friends, and what diligence and industry into our hands, when we work and trade for all these! and if we make them our business our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:79–80

Examine Yourself (1)

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:27–29 George Swinnock describes the offense given by unbelievers at the Lord’s Table: First . . . Thy duty is to examine thyself in general, concerning thy regeneration or spiritual life. The sacrament is children’s bread, and it must not be given to dogs; dogs must be without doors, not within, snatching the meat from the table. Men must prove their right to the purchase before they take possession. He must have an interest in the covenant of grace who will finger the seal of the covenant. It is high treason to annex the king’s broad seal to forged writings. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:181–182

Examine Yourself (2)

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:27–29 Participation in the Lord’s Table requires knowledge. Thy duty is to examine thyself in particular also of those graces which are specially requisite in a communicant, of thy knowledge to discern the Lord’s body. There is a competency of knowledge needful if thou wouldst receive acceptably. Dost thou know the threefold estate of man?—his innocency, apostasy, and recovery; what a pure piece he was, how holy, when he came out of God’s hands; what a miserable polluted creature he hath made himself by disobeying God, and hearkening to the tempter; what a glorious remedy God hath provided to restore man to his primitive purity. Dost thou know God as he discovereth himself in his works, but especially as he is represented in the glass of his word? Dost thou know Jesus Christ, his two natures, his three offices, how he executeth them, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation? Dost thou know the nature and end of the Lord’s supper? An ignorant person can no more discern Christ’s body than a person stark blind can discern the bread. God hath expressly forbidden lame and blind sacrifices, Mal. i. 8. The hypocrite’s sacrifice is lame, for he halteth in God’s way. The ignorant person’s sacrifice is blind, for he can give no account of his own work. . . . Do not say, though thou art ignorant, yet thy heart is good, when God himself saith, ‘Without knowledge the mind is not good.’ —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:183–184 To those not familiar with catechetical language, it may seem as though Swinnock is demanding a high level of theological education, but these questions are really quite basic. Do you know your sinful condition and how you came to that state? Do you know who Christ is, and what he has done and is doing to reconcile you to God? Those questions are so fundamental, they could be summarized with “Do you understand the gospel?” If you do not know these things, you cannot “know the nature and end of the Lord’s supper.” It is meaningless.

Examine Yourself (3)

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:27–29 Participation in the Lord’s Table requires faith. Examine thy faith. This grace is thy spiritual taste, without which thou canst relish nothing on the table. This is the bucket, and if it be wanting, I may say to thee, as the woman to Christ, ‘The well is deep, and thou hast nothing to draw with.’ This is the hand to receive Christ, John i. 12. This is as the arms whereby we embrace Christ; they ‘embraced the promises’ by faith, Heb. xi. 13. As loving friends that have been a great while asunder, when they meet together, hug and embrace each other in their arms; so the Christian who longeth to see Jesus Christ in the promises, when at a sacrament he meeteth him, huggeth and embraceth him in the arms of faith. Examine not so much the strength as the truth of thy faith. The wings of a dove may help her to mount up towards heaven, as well as the wings of an eagle. Try whether thy faith be unfeigned, 1 Tim. i. 5. What price dost thou set upon Christ? ‘To them that believe, Christ is precious,’ 1 Pet. ii. 7. An unbeliever, like the Indians,* seeth no worth in this golden mine, but preferreth a piece of glass, or a few painted beads, mean, earthly things, before it; but a believer, like the Spaniard, knoweth the value of it, and will venture through all storms and tempests that he may enjoy it. Dost thou prize the precepts of Christ, the promises of Christ, the people of Christ, the person of Christ, (is that altogether lovely in thine eyes?) and the passion of Christ? Is thy greatest glory in Christ’s shameful cross? Dost thou esteem it above the highest emperor’s most glorious crown? . . . God forbid,’ saith Paul, ‘that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ,’ Gal. vi. 14. Doth thy faith purify thine heart? ‘Having their hearts purified by faith,’ Acts xv. 9. The hand of faith, which openeth the door to let Christ into the heart, sweepeth the heart clean. Faith looks to be like Christ in glory, and faith labours to resemble Christ in grace. An unbeliever . . . though he keep the room of his life a little clean, which others daily observe, yet he cares not how dirtily those rooms of his inward man lie, which are out of their sight; unbelieving and defiled are joined together, Tit. i. 15. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:183–184 * To those who might take offense at this simile: consider the times (1627–1673) before making any anachronistic judgments.

Examine Yourself (4)

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:27–29 Participation in the Lord’s Table requires love—love for Christ, and love for his body. Examine thy love. The primitive Christians kissed each other at the supper, which they called Oscidum pacis, A kiss of peace. They had their ‘feasts of charity,’ Jude 12. ‘The bread which we eat, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?’ As the bread is made of many grains, and the cup of wine of many grapes united, so is the body of Christ of many members, united under one head. Eating together was ever a sign of love and friendship. Joseph hereby shewed his love to his brethren. . . . Now, reader, what love-fire hast thou for this love-feast? Dost thou love the brethren as brethren, because they are related to God, and because they have the image of God? Or dost thou love them only for the natural qualities in them, and their courtesy to thee? This fire I must tell thee is kitchen fire, which must be fed with such coarse fuel; the former only is the fire which is taken from God’s altar. Dost thou love Christ in a cottage as well as in a court? Dost thou love a poor as well as a rich Christian? Dost thou love grace in rags as much as grace in robes? Is it their honour or their holiness which thou dost admire? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:185

Examine Yourself (5)

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:27–29 It does little good to examine ourselves without the proper standard of measure. If we compare ourselves to our friends and neighbors, husbands and wives, or any other worldly standard, we are likely to pass most tests. But Christians have a more pure standard. But be sure thou compare thy heart and life with the law of God. Oh how many spots will that glass discover! When the woman hath swept her house and gathered the dust up altogether, she thinks there is none left; but when the sun doth but shine in through some broken pane of glass, she seeth the whole house swarm with innumerable motes of dust floating to and fro in the air. The light of God’s law will make innumerable sins visible to thee, which without it will lie hid. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:186

Meditate on Thy Corruptions

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. —1 Corinthians 11:26 Since the purpose of the Lord’s Table is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” it behooves us to understand well why he died. Therefore we ought to Meditate on thy corruptions. As his love was the inward moving cause, so thy sins were the outward procuring cause, of his sufferings: ‘He was wounded for thy transgressions, he was bruised for thine iniquities; the chastisement of thy peace was upon him,’ Isa. liii. 5. When thou art at the sacrament, which fitly representeth Christ’s sufferings, consider with thyself, What was that which brought the blessed Saviour into such a bleeding condition? It was my sin; I was the Judas which betrayed him, the Jew which apprehended him, the Pilate that condemned him, and the Gentile which crucified him. My sins were the thorns which pierced his head, the nails which pierced his hands, and the spear which pierced his heart. It was I that put to death the Lord of life: he died for my sins; he was ‘made sin for me, who knew no sin; ‘his blood is my balm, his Golgotha is my Gilead. Oh, what a subject is here for meditation! He suffered in my stead, he bore my sins in his body on the tree, he took that loathsome purging physic for the diseases of my soul. When he was in the garden in his bloody agony, grovelling on the ground, there was no Judas, no Pilate, no Jew, no Gentile there, to cause that unnatural sweat, or to make his soul sorrowful unto death; but my pride, my unbelief, my hypocrisy, my atheism, my blasphemy, my unthankfulness, my carnalmindedness, they were there, and caused his inward bleeding sorrows, and outward bloody sufferings. Ah, what a heavy weight was my sin to cause such a bloody sweat in a frosty night! My dissimulation was the traitorous kiss, my ambition the thorny crown; my drinking iniquities like water made him drink gall and vinegar; my want of tears caused him to bleed; my forsaking my Maker made him to be forsaken of his Father. Because the members of my body were instruments of iniquity, therefore the members of his body were objects of such cruelty; because my soul was so unholy, therefore his soul was so exceeding heavy. O my soul, what hast thou done? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:201–202

This Is Repentance

This is what repentance at the Lord’s Table (or anywhere else) looks like: It was the glory of Alexander, that, as soon as ever he had opportunity, he slew the murderers of his father upon his father’s tomb. Truly, reader, a sacrament day is a special opportunity, and thou wilt shew but little love to thine everlasting Father if thou dost not now put his murderers to death, upon those monuments of his passion. Now thou art at the table, think of thy unthankfulness, ambition, hypocrisy, covetousness, irreligion, and infidelity, and the rest, how these ‘crucified the Lord of glory,’ and resolve through the strength of Christ that these Hamans shall all be hanged, that these sins shall be condemned and crucified. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:211

The Cup of Blessing

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. —1 Corinthians 11:26 As we think on what the Lord’s Table means, we ought to be filled with profound gratitude for the grace it preaches. The cup in the sacrament is called the Eucharistical cup, or ‘the cup of blessing; ‘let it be so to thee. Let thy heart and mouth say, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who hath visited and redeemed his people,’ Luke ii. Canst thou think of that infinite love which God manifested to thy soul without David’s return, ‘What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits?’ His heart was so set upon thy salvation, his love was so great to thy soul, that he delighted in the very death of his Son because it tended to thy good. ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise him,’ Isa. liii. 10. . . . Surely the mind of God was infinitely set upon the recovery of lost sinners, in that—whereas other parents, whose love to their children in comparison of his to Christ is but as a drop to the ocean, follow their children to their graves with many tears, especially when they die violent deaths—he delighted exceedingly in the barbarous death of his only Son, in the bleeding of the head, because it tended to the health and eternal welfare of the members. Friend, ‘what manner of love hath the Father loved thee with?’ He gave his own Son to be apprehended, that thou mightest escape; his own Son to be condemned, that thou mightest be acquitted; his own Son to be whipped and wounded, that thou mightest be cured and healed; yea, his own Son to die a shameful cursed death, that thou mightest live a glorious blessed life for ever. ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will to men.’ Alas, how unworthy art thou of this inestimable mercy! Thou art by nature a child of wrath as well as others, and hadst been now wallowing in sin with the worst in the world, if free grace had not renewed thee; nay, thou hadst been roaring in hell at this hour if free grace had not reprieved thee. Thy conscience will tell thee that thou dost not deserve the bread which springeth out of the earth, and yet thou art fed with the bread which came down from heaven, with angels’ food. O infinite love! Mayest not thou well say with Mephibosheth to David, ‘What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am? For all my father’s house were as dead men before my lord, yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table.’ Lord, I was a lost, dead, damned sinner before thee, liable to the unquenchable fire, and yet thou hast been pleased to set me among them that eat at thine own table, and feed on thine own Son. Oh, what is thy servant, that thou shouldst take notice of such a dead dog as I am? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:212–213

Because He Loveth Thee

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:8–9 For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? —1 Corinthians 4:7 As the undeserving recipients of God’s most extreme favor, Christians ought to be anything but proud. Yet, it is all too easy for us to look around and notice how much better we are than the unbelieving world. How absurd that is. Comparisons to the world are only true and edifying if we have eyes to see our true condition, and what the difference truly is. Look abroad in the world, and thou mayest see others refused when thou art chosen, others passed by when thou art called, others polluted when thou art sanctified, others put off with common gifts when thou hast special grace, others fed with the scraps of ordinary bounty, when thou hast the finest of the flour, even the fruits of saving mercy. As Elkanah gave to Peninnah, and to all her sons and daughters, portions, ‘But to Hannah he gave a worthy portion, because he loved her;’ so God giveth others outward portions, some of the good things of this life; but to thee, Christian, he giveth a Benjamin’s mess,—his image, his Spirit, his Son, himself,—a worthy portion, a goodly heritage, because he loveth thee. Others have a little meat, and drink, and wages, but thou hast the inheritance; others, like Jehoshaphat’s younger sons, have some cities, some small matters given them; but thou, like the firstborn, hast the kingdom, the crown of glory; others feed on bare elements, thou hast the sacrament; others stand without doors, and thou art admitted into the presence chamber; others must fry eternally in hell flames, and thou must enjoy fulness of joy for evermore. O give thanks unto the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever; to him that chose thee before the foundation of the world, for his mercy endureth for ever; to him that called thee by the word of his grace, for his mercy endureth for ever; to him that gave his only Son to die for thy sins, for his mercy endureth for ever; to him that entered into a covenant of grace with thee, for his mercy endureth for ever; to him that hath provided for thee an exceeding and eternal weight of glory, for his mercy endureth for ever. ‘give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever.’ —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:213–214

At the Lord’s Table (1)

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:26–29 Under the heading of A good wish about the Lord’s supper, George Swinnock summarizes his teaching on the preparation for and reception of the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. This is the first of three parts: The Lord’s supper being one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian religion, a lively representation of my dearest Saviour’s bleeding passion and blessed affection, and a real taste of that eternal banquet which I shall hereafter eat of in my Father’s house at his own table, I wish in general that I may never distaste the person of my best friend by abusing his picture; that I may not go to the Lord’s table as swine to their trough, in my sin and pollution, but may receive those holy elements into a clean heart. Oh that my lamp might be flaming, and my vessel filled with oil, whenever I go to meet the bridegroom! I wish, in particular, that my soul may be so thoroughly affected with Christ’s special presence at this sacred ordinance, that I may both prepare for it, and proceed at it with all possible seriousness and diligence. Oh let me never be so unworthy and impudent as to defile that holy feast before the author’s face. I wish that my heart may have an infinite respect for the blood of my Saviour, the stream in which all my comforts, both for this and a better world, come swimming to me, which hath landed thousands safely at the haven of eternal happiness, one drop of which I am sure is more worth than heaven and earth; that as all murder is abominable, being against the light of nature, so Christmurder may be most of all abhorred by me, as being directly against the clearest light of Scripture, and the choicest love which ever was discovered to the children of men. Good Lord, whatever I jest with, let me never sport or dally with the death of thy Son! Let me not give him cause to complain of me, as once of Judas, ‘He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish is the same that betrayeth me! ‘Let me never buy a sacrament, as the Jews the potter’s field, with the price of blood. ‘Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy loving-kindness.’ I wish that true self-love may be so prevalent with me, that since I believe the profanation of the most precious things will be most pernicious to my soul, as the whitest ivory is turned by the fire into the deepest black, and the sweetest wine becometh the sharpest vinegar, I may tremble and fear before I receive, lest I should poison myself with that potion which is intended for my health, and cut the throat of my precious soul with that knife, wherewith I may cut bread, feed on it, and live for ever. I wish that I may prepare my heart to meet the God of Israel at this holy ordinance; and to this end, that I may be impartial in the search and examination of my soul, whether I come short of the grace of God or no. . . . I desire that both by my tongue and hand, by my words and works, I may know the state and condition of my heart. In special, my prayer is, that I may never fail to try my faith, which is to the soul what the natural heat is to the body, by virtue of which the nutritive faculty turneth the food into nourishment, but may make sure of an interest in the vine before I drink of the fruit thereof. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:218–219.

At the Lord’s Table (2)

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:26–29 This is the second of three parts of George Swinnock’s A good wish about the Lord’s supper: I wish that before I go for a discharge, I may look into the book of my conscience, cast up my accounts, and consider how infinitely I am indebted to my God, that I may consider whence I am fallen and repent, and . . . rend my garments, my heart I mean, with godly sorrow and self-abhorrency. Oh that my soul might be so searched to the bottom that none of my wounds may fester, but all may be discovered and cured. I pray that I may not dare to turn the table of the Lord into the table of devils, by receiving the sacrament in the love of any known sin, but may go to it with a hearty detestation of every false way, and a holy resolution against every known wickedness. I wish that after all my pains in preparing myself, I may look up to Christ alone for assistance, as knowing that I am not sufficient of myself so much as to think anything, but my sufficiency is of God; blessed Saviour, be thou surety for thy servant, and bound for my good behaviour at the last and loving supper. I wish that when I come to the table I may, like the beloved disciple, behold the wounds of my Saviour, and see that water and blood which did flow out of his side; that as in the Gospel I read a narrative, so in this ordinance I may have a prospective of his sufferings: how he emptied himself to fill me, and to raise my reputation with his Father, laid down his own; how he humbled himself, though he had the favour of a Son, to the form of a servant, and though he were the Lord of life and glory, to the most ignominious death, even the death of the cross. I wish that in his special passion I may ever take notice of his affection, and esteem the laying down his life, as the hyperbole of his love, the highest note that love could possibly reach. Ah! how near did this high priest carry my name to his heart, when he willingly underwent the rage of hell to purchase for me a passage to heaven! ‘I will remember thy love more than wine.’ I desire that when I see Christ crucified before mine eyes, in the breaking of the bread, and pouring out of the wine, I may not forget the cause, my corruptions, but may so think of them and my Saviour’s kindness, in dying to make satisfaction for them, that as fire expelleth fire, so I may be enabled by the fire of love to expel and cast out the fire of lust. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:219–220

At the Lord’s Table (3)

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:26–29 The last of three parts of George Swinnock’s A good wish about the Lord’s supper: I wish that however my body be attired, my soul may by faith put on the Lord Jesus Christ at this heavenly feast; that I may not only look up to him, as the cripple to Peter and John, expecting an alms, but may receive him by believing, and so banquet on his blessed body, and bathe my soul in his precious blood, that my spirit may rejoice in God my Saviour, whilst I am assured that though the pain were his, yet the profit is mine; though the wounds were his, yet the balm issuing thence is mine; though the thorns were his, yet the crown is mine; and though the price were his, yet the purchase is mine. Oh let him be mine in possession and claim, and then he will be mine in fruition and comfort, ‘Lord, I believe; help mine unbelief!’ I wish, since love is the greatest thing my Saviour can give me, for God is love, and the greatest thing which I can give my Saviour, that his love to me may be reflected back to him again, that my chiefest love may be as a fountain sealed up to all others, and broached only for him who is altogether lovely, that I may hate father, mother, wife, child, house, and land, out of love to him; that many waters of affliction may not quench this love, but rather like snuffers make this lamp to burn the brighter. Beasts love them who feed them. Wicked men love their friends and benefactors; my very clothes warming me are warmed by me again, and shall not I love him who hath loved me, and washed me in his own blood! . . . When my soul has been thus feasted with marrow and fatness, Lord, let my mouth praise thee with joyful lips. Ah, what am I, and what is my father’s house, that when others eat the bread of violence, and drink the wine of deceit, I should eat the flesh and drink the blood of thine own Son? ‘What is man, that thou art so mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou dost thus visit him?’ I wish that I may shew my thankfulness to my God and dearest Saviour for these benefits—the worth of which men and angels can never conceive—by the love of my heart, the praises of my lips, and the exemplariness of my life. At the sacrament Christ gave his body and blood to me, and I gave my body and soul a living sacrifice to him . . . Shall I pollute that heart which was solemnly devoted to God, and profane that covenant which I have seriously contracted with the most High? . . . Oh let me never start aside from my vow like a deceitful bow! Lord, I have sworn, and will perform, that I will keep, through thy strength, thy righteous judgments. Lastly, I desire that I may not only . . . deny sin at present, but afterwards defy it; that I may not only be faithful to my oath of allegiance, but also fruitful in obedience; that as Elijah walked in the strength of one meal forty days, I may walk in the strength of that banquet, serving my Saviour and my soul all my days. In a word, I wish that I may ever after walk worthy of my birth, having royal, heavenly blood running in my veins; worthy of my breeding, being brought up in the nurture of the Lord, fed at his own table with the bread of heaven, clothed with the robes of his Son’s righteousness; and that my present deportment may be answerable to my future preferment. Oh that I might in all companies, conditions, and seasons, walk worthy of him who hath called me to his kingdom and glory! Amen. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:220–222

Godliness in Eating and Drinking

George Swinnock, typically Puritan, wrote at great length on the godly treatment of holy things. Now he turns his attention to How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness in natural actions, beginning with eating and drinking. As thy duty is to make religion thy business in religious, so also in natural actions. A good scrivener is not only careful how he makes his first and great letters, his flourishes, but also the smallest letters, nay, his very stops and commas. A scribe instructed for the kingdom of heaven, is heedful not only that the weightiest actions of God’s immediate worship, but also that the meaner passages of his life, be conformable to God’s law. A wise builder will make his kitchen as well as his parlour according to rule. A holy person turns his natural actions into spiritual, and whilst he is serving his body he is serving his God. It is said of a Scotch divine, that he did eat, drink, and sleep eternal life. Luther tells, that though he did not always pray and meditate, but did sometimes eat, and sometimes drink, and sometimes sleep, yet all should further his account; the latter as truly, though not so abundantly, as the former. And indeed it is our privilege that natural actions may be adopted into the family of religion, and we may worship God as really at our tables as in his temple. Saints must not, like brute beasts, content themselves with a natural use of the creatures, but use them as chariots to mount them nearer, and cords to bind them closer to God. Piety or holiness to the Lord must be written upon their pots, Zech. xiv. 20. ‘Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,’ 1 Cor. x. 31. Philo observeth that the ancient Jews made their feasts after sacrifice in the temple, that the place might mind them of their duty to be pious at them. It is a memorable expression, ‘And Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God,’ Exod. xviii. 12. In which words we have the greatness of their courtesy, and the graciousness of their carriage. For their courtesy, though Jethro were a stranger, and no Israelite, yet the elders honoured him with their company. And Aaron and all the elders came to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law. But mark the graciousness of their carriage, they came to eat bread with him before God ; that is, In gloriam et honorem Dei, to the honour and glory of God, saith Calvin. They received their sustenance, as in God’s sight, and caused their provision to tend to God’s praise. God takes it ill when we sit down to table and leave him out, Zech. vii. 6, ‘When ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did ye not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? ‘He sends us in all our food, we live at his cost; and therefore our eating may well be to his credit who is the master of the feast.—George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:260–261

Godliness in Sleep

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. —1 Corinthians 10:13 It is not only in matters specifically religious that Christians are to be circumspect; hence, Swinnock writes of How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness in natural actions. Today, we consider our sleep habits. Thy sleep, reader, must be moderate; but how much, or how little, thy own prudence, or piety together, must judge. No certain time can be prefixed, though some general rules may be propounded. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:283. Swinnock presents several health-based reasons to avoid excessive sleep, all, I’m sure, sound according to seventeenth century science, but some questionable, at best, in light of modern knowledge (what are “humours”?). The bulk of his warnings, however, are sensible and solidly biblical. Many are the discommodities of immoderate sleep. It wasteth time, a most precious talent, which is committed to us by God, and must be accounted for at the great day. A man asleep can hardly be said to live. Sleep is a kind of death. It injureth the soul, hindering it of time, robbing it of the body’s service, and by blunting its tools, dulling its faculties, that they become unfit for those ends to which they were designed, Prov. xxvi. 13–17. . . . It is an enemy to a man’s estate. Solomon dissuades from sluggishness, from this argument, ‘So shall thy poverty come as one that travaileth, and thy want as an armed man,’ Prov. vi. 11. Wealth will not come without working. They are deceived who think to have the pleasure of slothfulness and the plenty of laboriousness; ‘The diligent hand maketh rich, but slothfulness will clothe a man with rags,’ Prov. x. 4, and xxiii. 21. —Ibid., 283–284. He then turns to the benefits “of moderate sleep.” again, while the general principles are solid, much of the science is archaic. I present it here, unedited, for your edification and entertainment. The ends of sleep must be minded; sleep is given us by God, not for the solution or weakening, but for remission and refreshing of nature, which would be not only wearied, but quite tired out by continual labour. The effects of moderate sleep will speak its ends. Sleep will, if taken seasonably, and not in excess, help digestion, recreate thy mind, repair the spirits, comfort the whole body; it concocteth not only the meats, but also the humours. By the retreating of the heat into the inner parts, the vital faculty is much strengthened, because the heart is abundantly supplied with blood for the breeding of spirits. The ends of sleep will somewhat direct us about the measure. Sleep may be followed till the concoctions in the stomach and liver are finished, which will be discovered upon our awaking ordinarily by a sensible lightness of the body, especially of the head, and the passage down of the meat from the stomach. —Ibid., 285.

Godliness in Recreation

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. —1 Corinthians 10:13 Continuing with Swinnock on How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness in natural actions, we consider How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness, in his recreations and pleasures. To begin with, recreation is not to be despised, but to be received with gratitude, enjoyed, and used as a means toward health and godliness. Thy duty is to exercise thyself to godliness in thy recreations; the Christian in his walking, as well as in his working, must be furthering his eternal weal. Our gardens or places of delights, as well as our houses, must be consecrated ground; David’s cymbal, viol, and timbrel were all useful in and serviceable to the tabernacle; with them he praised God, Ps. cl. Saints’ outward pleasures must be some way or other subservient to their inward purity. It was a witty observation of Bernard on the signification of Isaac, which is laughter or joy, Sacrifice your Isaac, and your Isaac shall live. It is the ram, the rankness and stoutness of your heart which shall die. Reader, sacrifice thy recreations, thy joys, thy delights to God, and they shall all live; it is rankness of them which God desireth should be put to death. That these pleasures are not simply unlawful, is plain; ‘Eat thy bread,’ saith God, ‘with joy, drink thy wine with a merry heart; live joyfully with the wife of thy youth,’ Eccles. ix. 7–9. Epicurism is not at all commanded, but moderate delight in creatures is allowed and commended, ‘He gives all things richly to enjoy.’ To enjoy, not to behold, nor to hoard up; he condemneth those rich cormorants that starve at a full table, and like asses laden with good victuals, feed on thistles, Eccles. vi. 2, 3, ii. 24, and iii. 12. The merciful God is pleased, out of his bounty, not only to allow his creatures what is for necessity, but also what is for delight. Christian, it is more than God requireth of thee to be always pondering and poring on such subjects as make thy heart sad, whereby thou thyself art disadvantaged, banishing that cheerfulness from thee, which is an ornament to Christianity; and others discouraged, supposing that all who walk in heaven’s way, must needs be, as thou art, mopish and melancholy. Piety doth regulate, but not extirpate our pleasures. It is a pruning-knife to cut off the luxuriancy of them, not a weeding-hook, to pluck them up by the roots. If thy body be, as one of the fathers calls it, jumentum animæ, the soul’s beast, then it must be allowed some rest and refreshment, or else it will carry thee but heavily along in thy journey. It is reported of a primitive Christian, that as he was on a time playing with a bird, two or three youths going by saw him, and one of them spake to the other, See how this old man plays like a child with a bird! Which the good old man overhearing, called him to him and asked him, what he did with the bow in his hand, and how he used it. Whereupon the young man bent his bow, shewed him what he did with it, and unbent it again. Why do you unbend it? saith the old man. Because, saith the youth, if my bow should always stand ready bent, it would prove a slug and be unserviceable. Such is the condition of man, saith the old Christian; if his mind were always bent and intent about the best things, the wings of devotion would soon flag, and the arrows of contemplation fly but slowly towards heaven. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1: 288–289. Not all recreation devised by man, of course, is healthy and righteous. But, reader, thou mayest be merry and not mad, enjoy thy pleasures without such poison; thou mayest have thy recreation, and never be beholden either to sin or Satan for them; God alloweth thee choice enough of trees in his garden, though thou dost wholly forbear the forbidden fruit; nay, thou mayest, like a skilful mariner, make use of this side-wind of recreation, to help thee towards the haven of rest.—Ibid., 290. Therefore, enjoy leisure time, but keep it in its place. It is not bad to use recreations, but it is good to be watchful, that we do not abuse them; which that thou mayest not do, I desire thee to enclose this common, which many wander in to their woe, with these three cautions: First, Mind moderation at them; remember thy recreation is not to be thy occupation. . . . Our time here is our pilgrimage, and therefore not to be spent in pleasures. The candle of our lives is set up, not to play, but to work by. . . . A man that builds a house, will not make it very full of windows, for then it would be weak; neither will he make it without any, for then it would be dark. Recreations to our natural, are like windows to our artificial houses; some are convenient, many weaken the building, and strengthen the thief, who hath the more advantage thereby to steal. Fish that leap into the air for their recreation, return quickly to their own element again. Beasts that play up and down in the fields, in a short time return to their food. Recreation is like some pleasant house which we may call at, as we pass on toward our heavenly country, but must not stay, much less dwell there.—Ibid., 291.

The Foundation of Woe

The only way, reader, to find thine own will, is, to lose it in God’s will; those that grumble at his doings, and quarrel at his dealings, do but like a bull in the net, and the silly bird among the limetwigs, by struggling entangle themselves the more. Unsubmissiveness to God’s will is the fountain of all man’s woe; the quiet resignation of our persons and portions to God’s pleasure is the only sleeping pill which can give rest to the soul. Christian, let me ask thee this question, Didst thou give up thyself to Christ for temporal, or for eternal comforts? Didst thou enter upon religion to save thine estate, or thy soul? Oh, why then shouldst thou be so sad, when thine eternal happiness is so safe? For shame, live like a child of God, an heir of heaven; and let the world know, that thy hopes and happiness are in a better world; that though thou art denied those acorns which thy father giveth to his hogs, yet thou hast the children’s bread, and expectest thine inheritance when thou comest to age. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:315–316.

Perfumed by Grace

Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. —Joshua 24:14–15 George Swinnock writes A good wish about the government of a family. The government of my family being a special talent and trust committed to me by the blessed God, and being a business of exceeding concernment, both in regard of its influence upon the whole kingdom, which is raised or ruined by the good or wicked management of families, and in reference to the everlasting estates of the precious souls in it, wherewith I am charged, I wish, in general, that I may never, like a rotten post, endanger the whole building of church and state in any degree by my unfaithfulness in my place, nor be so unmerciful and unnatural as to see that bloody butcher Satan drive my children and servants, like silly sheep, to the shambles of hell, and never stir or strive to rescue them out of his hands. But that my resolution and practice may be according to Joshua’s religious pattern, that whatsoever gods others serve, whether the world or the flesh, yet I and my house may serve the Lord. Oh that I might so walk in the midst of my house with a perfect heart, that grace, like Mary’s box of ointment, may perfume the whole house with its savour, and that in every corner of it . . . there may be some scent of godliness. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:356. Certainly, this is an impossible goal—“that I might so walk in the midst of my house with a perfect heart”—but one to which a true lover of God will gladly aspire, so that “in every corner of it . . . there may be some scent of godliness.”

Unhappy Birthday, Roe versus Wade

On this anniversary of the United States Supreme Court ruling on Roe versus Wade (January 22, 1973), I am reminded of this lament from George Swinnock: Good God! whither is man fallen, to be more cruel than a beast to the children of his own body! What slavery is it to serve Satan, and what liberty to serve thee! —The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:74.

Miniature Gods

I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins. Why is it that even Christians tend to view sin casually? It is because, says Albert Mohler, we tend to bring God down to our level. A deficient view of God naturally begets a deficient view of sin. Christians find themselves in a crisis of truth. A deficient grasp of the horror of sin empties the cross of Christ of its splendor. It is necessary, therefore, to understand the total and universal depravity of all mankind. Christians must go where David [Psalm 51:1–4] did. All must see their sin as God himself sees it. The failure to grasp the horror of sin rests in the miniature god Christians have fashioned in their own image. Christians are guilty of diminishing the holiness and grandeur of God’s incomparable glory. We cannot rightly understand the graveness of our offense if we do not behold the glory of the One we offended. Puritan preacher George Swinnock wrote, “If God be so incomparable, that there is none on earth, none in heaven comparable to him, it may inform us of the great venom and malignity of sin, because it is an injury to so great, so glorious, so incomparable a being.” Sin, therefore, must be measured in the depth of its offense against the splendor of the One it offended. If God be so infinitely glorious, more glorious than all the stars of the galaxies combined, then the weight of our sin against this God embodies evil of the highest order. Another Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, drew out this implication: So strike at God and you wish God would cease to be God. This is a horrible wickedness indeed. . . . What will you say to such a wickedness as this, that it should enter into the heart of any creature, “O that I might have my lust and, rather than I will part with my lust, I would rather God should cease to be God than that I would leave my lust.” Christian, your sin amounts to nothing less than a desire for God to cease being God. Your sin rebels as cosmic treason. Your sin against God beckons him to step off his throne that you might ascend its steps. Your sin wishes the Creator to relinquish his rightful rule and claim to glory and give way to your will. We fail to grasp the weight of sin because we fashioned a small god to worship rather than the splendid, infinite, supreme, excellent, beautiful, and eternal Creator. We have a shallow view of his glory. Swinnock concluded, How horrid then is sin, and . . . heinous a nature, when it offendeth and opposeth not kings, the highest of men, not angels, the highest of creatures, but God, the highest of beings; the incomparable God, to whom kings and angels, yea, the whole creation is less than nothing! We take the size of sin too low, and short, and wrong . . . but to take its full length and proportion, we must consider the wrong it doth to this great, this glorious, this incomparable God. If Christians are to glory in the riches of the forgiveness of sins, then they must first cast down the inglorious, unholy idols they have fashioned and called “god.” Christians must come and behold the terrifying and awesome glory of God in order to grasp the horror of sin. Failure to see God in all his glory necessarily leads to a diminished view of sin. An anemic view of sin will give way to a cheap gospel, a pointless cross, and a Messiah who need not to have shed his blood. —Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed (Crossway, 2019), 173–175.


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