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What it is for a man to make religion his business, or to exercise himself to godliness

I proceed to the second particular promised, that is, To shew what it is for a man to exercise himself to godliness. It implieth these three things:

The outline

A. Precedence in all actions

B. Pursue it with “industry”

C. Persevere

A. Precedence in all actions

1. General Statement

2. Categories of Conduct

3. Response to Hinderances

4. Attendance to Worship

5. Exhortation/encouragement

6. Conclusion

First, To give it the precedency in all our actions. That which a man maketh his business, he will be sure to mind, whatsoever he omits. 

1. Swinnock first provides an example to make the standard comprehensible. He is also dealing with a potential objection by using something which he assumes would not entail the same objection. The illustration merely says, Give godliness the same level of attention you do work. But there is an implied argument: One might think, you can’t possibly expect me to devote my primary attention to this. Answer, you willingly devote yourself to your business pursuits. You won’t goof off before you got your work done. Implied argument: Godliness is more important than money. Conclusion: Therefore, you should give godliness this level of attention.

This argument and illustration would have greater force in a world without the excess resources available today in the West. When ruin and starvation were real threats for the reader, the force of you would work hard has a more emphatic effect.

A good husband will serve his shop before his sports, and will sometimes offer a handsome and warrantable kind of disrespect to his friends, that his calling may have his company; he will have some excuse or other to avoid diversions, and force his way to his trade through all opposition, and all because he makes it his business: he that makes religion his business, carrieth himself towards his general, as this man doth towards his particular, calling. 

Then he provides a summary statement. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you have told them. 

In his whole life he walks with God, and is so mannerly and dutiful, as to give God the upper hand all the way. 

2. Categories: These points will be developed at much greater length in the remainder of the book. What Swinnock does here is to provide the specific categories of conduct: worship, family, work:

He knoweth that his God must be worshipped, that his family must be served, and that his calling must be followed, (for religion doth not nullify, only rectify his carriage towards his earthly vocation;) but each in their order,—that which is first in regard of excellency is first in regard of his industry. 

An illustration with an implied argument

Children > Cattle

Savior > World

He will fulfill the most necessary, even if it costs him elsewhere:

He is not so unnatural as to serve his cattle before his children, nor so atheistical as to serve his body and the world before his soul and his Saviour. He is so sensible of his infinite engagements to the blessed God, that he allotteth some time every day for his religious duties; and he will be sure to pay God home to the utmost of his ability, whosoever he compounds with, or pays short.

3. Hinderances

The use of a sea voyage as a metaphor for the difficulties of life was a commonplace during this time in England. And again, the metaphor involves an argument: Just as a mariner in a storm would not give place to distractions which would keep from coming to port, so a godly man will not allow distractions to keep him from heaven:

As he sails along through the tempestuous sea of this world towards his eternal haven of rest, he hath many temporal affairs in his company, but he is specially careful that they keep their distance, and strike sail through the whole voyage. 

If the other calls upon his time will not keep to their place, then they simply must go. The applicable story of Hagar is found in Genesis 21:

If his worldly businesses offer, like Hagar, to jostle or quarrel for pre-eminence with their superior, religion, he will, if possible, chide them into subjection, and cause them to submit; but rather cast them out than suffer them to usurp authority over their mistress.

That is a rather complicated series of clauses:

If his worldly businesses offer, 

                        like Hagar, 

            to jostle or quarrel for pre-eminence 

                        with their superior, 


he will, 

            if possible, 

chide them into subjection, 

and cause them to submit; 

but rather cast them out 

            than suffer them to usurp authority over their mistress.

He then enters into a counter argument, although this is not clearly explained. If someone follows in godliness, but does not really have a desire for it, will follow after distractions. The Gadarenes: In Matthew 8, Jesus, in the land of the Gadarenes, heals a man filled with demons. The demons move from the man into the swine. The people of the land are more upset by the death of the pigs, than they are pleased with the salvation of a man:

He that minds religion by the by, will, if other things intervene, put it back, and be glad of an excuse to waive that company, to which he hath no love; nay, he doth in the whole course of his life prefer his swine, as the Gadarenes, before his soul; set the servant on horseback and suffer the master to go on foot. 

He here uses three illustrations from Scripture. This was a common use of Scripture as illustration among the Puritans. But what needs to be noted is that the passages are not used as prooftexts or as exegesis: 

In the first, just as a hardhearted wealthy man ignores the life of the poor and speaks rudely to him. This images works well for his point. The second involves Jacob (Gen. 48) where he blesses the second-born over the first born, and so one who prioritizes anything over godliness has their priorities in the wrong order. The second image is not as successful, because Jacob’s decision was the correct one in his case. The third is an oblique reference to Esau

His voice to religion is like the Jews’ to the poor man in vile raiment, ‘Stand thou there, or sit thou here under my footstool;’ and his words to the world are like theirs to the man in goodly apparel, ‘Come up hither, or sit thou here in a good place,’ James 2:23.  

He doth, like Jacob, lay the right hand of his care and diligence upon the youngest son, the body, and the left hand upon the first-born, the soul. 

That which was Esau’s curse is esteemed by him as a blessing, that the elder serves the younger: 

Swinnock ends the three illustrations with a characterization of one who leaves off godliness. The first element is the stupidity of preferring the lesser before the greater; the last three elements all involve his rebellion against God:

he is 

[1]so unwise as to esteem lying vanities before real mercies; 

[2]often so unworthy as to forget God, 

            [a]whosoever he remembereth; 

[3]and so uncivil at best as to give God the world’s leavings, 

[4]and to let the almighty Creator dance attendance till he pleaseth to be at leisure. 

What this practice looks like:

If he be in the midst of his devotion, he makes an end upon the smallest occasion; and is like the patriarch, who ran from the altar, when he was about his office, to see a foal new fallen from his beloved mare.

4. Attendance to Worship

Here we have proposition (God first), example, (Abraham’s steward), application (godliness is an errand):

But 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. 24:33

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.

What this means to make godliness his chief errand.  In this instance, he states that godliness must be the element which begins the day:

He that makes godliness his business gives it the first of the day, and the first place all the day. He gives it the first of the day: 

Now he gives examples to prove the point:

Jesus Christ was at prayer ‘a great while before day,’ Mark 1:35.

Abraham ‘rose up early in the morning to offer sacrifice,’ Gen. 22:1;

so did Job, chap. 1:5.

David crieth out, ‘O God, my God, early will I seek thee,’ Ps. 63:1. ‘In the morning will I direct my prayer to thee, and look up,’ Ps. 5:3.

The next two examples contain an implicit argument: If the pagan will rise early to worship a false god, then certainly you should rise early to worship the true:

The Philistines in the morning early offered to their god Dagon. The Persian magi worshipped the rising sun with their early hymns. 

He then repeats the original proposition together with a flourish. This sort of construction is quite common in Swinnock:




Proposition recap

The saint in the morning waits upon heaven’s Majesty. As soon as he awakes he is with God; one of his first works, when he riseth, is to ask his heavenly Father’s blessing. Like the lark, he is up early, singing sweetly the praise of his Maker; and often, with the nightingale, late up, at the same pleasant tune.

This final repetition and recap would do better if the first line were dropped. It seems out of place:

He finds the morning a greater friend to the Graces than it can be to the Muses. Naturalists tell us that the most orient pearls are generated of the morning dew. Sure I am, he hath sweet communion with God in morning duties.

5. Exhortation/encouragement

Reader, let me tell thee, if religion be thine occupation, thy business, God will hear from thee in the morning; one of the first things after thou art up will be to fall down and worship him. Thy mind will be most free in the morning, and thine affections most lively, (as those strong waters are fullest of spirits which are first drawn;) and surely thou canst not think but that God, who is the best and chiefest good, hath most right to them, and is most worthy of them.

Contemporary style in exegetical preaching is to put all the application or encouragement in a separate section at the end. I find that a fault, because it elevates a sense of structure over the reality of recipient. Swinnock has been pretty strict about the duty to be done. In the words of the catechism, this is to “Glorify God.” But this duty is not meant to be a drudge: the remainder of the catechism’s answer is to “enjoy Him forever.” Swinnock’s exhortation is not merely do because must; it is do, also, because it will be your joy. 

We fail in godliness often times because it seems joy rests elsewhere. The dour Puritanism of Hawthorne has nothing to Swinnock’s religion. Perhaps the way to square the two is that the one who does not know God cannot enjoy God; and such a one’s outward conduct can only be drudgery, because he must give up the (deceiving) joys of sin and gains nothing in return. I suppose a man would rather have a mirage of water than none at all.

He provides a second exhortation and encouragement, this time he basis upon the Christian’s nature: you were born to greater things than sin:

As a godly man gives religion the precedency of the day, so he gives it the precedency in the day. The Jews, some say, divide their day into prayer, labour, and repast, and they will not omit prayer either for their meat or labour. Grace (as well as nature) teacheth a godly man not to neglect either his family or body; but it teacheth him also to prefer his soul and his God before them both. Seneca, though a heathen, could say, I am greater, and born to greater things, than to be a drudge to, and the slave of, my body. A Christian’s character is, that he is not carnal, or for his body, but spiritual, or for his soul, Rom. 8. It was a great praise which Ambrose speaks of Valentinian, Never man was a better servant to his master, than Valentinian’s body was to his soul.

6. Summary

This is the godly man’s duty, to make heaven his throne, and the earth his footstool. 

This is an allusion to Isaiah 66:1

Thus says the Lord

Heaven is my throne

The earth is my footstool.

It is the exposition which one gives upon those words, ‘Subdue the earth,’ Gen. 1:28, that is, thy body, and all earthly things, to thy soul. 

This is an interesting exposition of the command from Genesis. In context, this plainly applies to giving order to the physical creation, making it a garden. This sort of application is not a “grammatical-historical-literary” exposition. This would be an “analogical” or “spiritual” level of exegesis. 

ANAGOGICAL. This is one of the four senses in which Scripture may be interpreted, viz. the literal, allegorical, anagogical, and tropological. The anagogical sense is given when the text is explained with regard to the end which Christians should have in view, that is, eternal life: for example, the rest of the Sabbath, in the anagogical sense, corresponds to the repose of everlasting blessedness.

Richard Watson, “Anagogical,” A Biblical and Theological Dictionary (New York: Lane & Scott, 1851), 52.

He ends with an argument for the precedence of godliness: the purpose of our life is where we are going. This teleological sense is interesting in how it plays out. There is an attitude that one may ignore this world, because there will be a New Heaven and New Earth; this life thus becomes unimportant. But note what Swinnock said above: godliness entails worship of God, care for our family, attention to our vocation. Godliness entails the manner of living here, but with an eye to the result of that work. It is not an abandonment of the world.

Our earthly callings must give way to our heavenly; we must say to them, as Christ to his disciples, ‘Tarry you here, while I go and pray yonder.’ 

And truly godliness must be first in our prayers—‘Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come,’ before ‘Give us this day our daily bread;’ and first in all our practices—‘Seek first the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof, and all other things shall be added to you,’ Mat. 6:33.