1. He is laborious in the work of godliness.
a. He makes godliness his chief concern
b. He is diligent
c. He is heedful
d. He is zealous
e. He is careful
This sort of a list should not be read over as if it were mere information. To be properly understood, it is necessary to also ask, “Is this me?” It is also best read with a Bible in one’s hand to check to consider the passages cited.
Thus he that makes religion his business is industrious and laborious in the work of the Lord.
a. He makes godliness is his chief concern
The heart of his ground, the strength of his inward man, is spent about the good corn of religion, not about the weeds of earthly occasions.
To prove this point, Swinnock lists six ways in which this chief concern are apparent. I have broken-up this paragraph and have added numbering to make these elements apparent.
i. He makes haste to keep God’s commandments, knowing that the lingering, lazy snail is reckoned among unclean creatures, Lev. 11:30;
This use of a seemingly unimportant and certainly obscure element from the law to illustrate a proposition is a characteristic of the English Puritan. The word translated “snail” in the KJV is now understood to refer to a sand lizard of some sort.
ii. and he is hot and lively in his devotion, knowing that a dull, drowsy ass (though fit enough to carry the image of Isis, yet) was no fit sacrifice for the pure and active God, Exod. 13:13.
iii. He giveth God the top, the chief, the cream of all his affections, as seeing him infinitely worthy of all acceptation;
This is a proposition that was famously developed by Jonathan Edwards, “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. Swinnock plainly hopes to stir up affections from the manner of his writing. He does not treat people as merely lacking some generally knowledge: he is constantly seeking to cause the reader to be taken up and to desire these things which he is being encouraged unto.
iv. he is ‘not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit,’ when he is ‘serving the Lord,’ Rom. 12:11.
v. He believeth that to fear God with a secondary fear is atheism; that to trust God with a secondary trust is treason; that to honour God with a secondary honour is idolatry; and to love God with a secondary love is adultery;
This is a biting observation. It is our nature that we settle for having some fear, some trust, some honor, some love. That is not merely insufficient, it is dangerous.
vi. therefore he loveth (and he feareth and trusteth and honoureth) ‘the Lord his God, with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength,’ Mat. 22:36, 37.
(vi.) 1. His love to God ‘is a labour of love, as strong as death; the coals thereof are coals of juniper,’ which do not only burn long, (some say twelve months together,) but burn with the greatest heat.
(vi.) 2. His measure of loving God is without measure.
Illustrations. He here provides two historical illustrations:
The Samseans in Epiphanius were neither Jews, Gentiles, nor Christians, yet preserved a fair correspondency with all: a hypocrite is indifferent to any, never fervent in the true religion.
It is reported of Redwald, king of the east Saxons, the first prince of this nation that was baptized, that in the same church he had one altar for the Christian religion, another for the heathenish sacrifices. The true believer doth otherwise; he that makes religion his work, gives God the whole of his heart, without halting and. without halving.
b. He is diligent:
Set him about any duty, and he is diligent in it.
He is diligent in his prayer and in receiving the sacraments.
he laboureth in prayer, Col. 4:12;
he crieth to God, 1 Sam. 7:9;
he crieth mightily, Jonah 3:8;
he poureth forth his soul, Lam. 2:19;
he strives in supplication with God, Rom. 15:30;
stirs up himself to lay hold on God, Isa. 27:5;
and even wrestleth with omnipotency, Gen. 32:14.
There is the repetition of the “he” in five short phrases, each backed with biblical support. He then switches the form of phrase to conclude. Not also that the variation between each line is a verb. The verbs are not bare synonyms, but rather each phrase provides more information. When I hear contemporary preachers make an emphasis similar to this they repeat the “he” with a verb, but each line is merely a repetition not an addition.
He then ends with this epigram, which is fit to the previous statement and also is each to remember:
When the mill of his prayer is going, his fervent affections are the waters that drive it.
The movement of image from water to fire works well:
There is fire taken from God’s own altar, (not the ordinary hearth of nature,) and put to his incense, whereby it becomes fragrant and grateful to God himself.
He then provides an additional epigram:
His fervent prayer is his key to God’s treasury, and his endeavour is, that it rust not for want of use.
When he goeth to the sacrament, he is all in a flame of affection to the author of that feast; with desire he desires to eat of the passover.
He longs exceedingly for the time, he loves the table; but when he seeth the bread and wine, the waggons which the Lord Jesus hath sent for him, oh how his heart revives!
When he seeth the sacraments, the body and blood of Christ in the elements, who can tell how soon he scents! how fast this true eagle flieth to the heavenly carcase.
c. He is heedful
In this section, Swinnock highlights two aspects of the godly man’s life: hearing and speaking. First, he heeds what he hears from the Word of God. Second, he speaks in such a way that others should do the same. To those who dishonor God, he corrects. But when he is counseling the one who willingly hears, he is gentle:
At hearing he is heedful; he flieth to the salt-stone of the word with swiftness and care, as doves to their columbaries, Isa. 60:8. As the new-born babe, he desires the sincere milk of the word; and when he is attending on it, he doth not dally nor trifle, but as the bee the flower, and the child the breast, suck with all his might for some spiritual milk, Isa. 66:11; Deut. 28:1; he hearkeneth diligently to the voice of the Lord his God;
let him be in company, taking notice of some abominable carriage, he will rebuke cuttingly, Tit. 1:13. If he gives his bitter pill in sweet syrup, you may see his exceeding anger against sin, whilst you behold his love to the sinner; he is, though a meek lamb when himself, yet a lion when God, is dishonoured; his anger waxeth hot when men affront the Most High, Exod. 32:19.
If he be counselling his child or friend to mind God and godliness, how hard doth he woo to win the soul to Christ! how many baits doth he lay to catch the poor creature! you may perceive his bowels working by his very words: how fervent, how instant, how urgent, how earnest is he to persuade his relation or acquaintance to be happy! He ‘provokes them to love, and to good works.’
d. He is Zealous
Set him about what religious exercise you will, and he is, according to the apostle’s words, ‘zealous’ (or fiery fervent) ‘of good works;’ like spring water, he hath a living principle, and thence is warm in winter, or, like Debris in Cyrene,1is seething hot.
As Augustus said of the young Roman, Quicquid vult, valde vult; whatsoever he goeth about that concerns the glory of his Saviour, and the good of his soul, he doth it to purpose.
Whatever God requires, the godly man will do.
In this next section, Swinnock makes his argument from the Greek word diōkō. The word is translated as “follow after,” in the KJV. The ESV has “pursue”. It is a very strong word, which as Swinnock notes, is elsewhere translated as persecute or hunt. The idea here is that Paul is chasing after something to catch it. He puts this image to good use when he refers to persecutors as “industrious”:
As Paul saith of himself, ‘I follow after, if that I may apprehend’ Phil. 3:12. The word in the original is emphatical, διώκω, I prosecute it with all my strength and power, that I may attain if it be possible. The word is either an allusion to persecutors, Mat. 5:10–12, for it is used of them frequently; so Piscator takes it. Or to hunters, according to Aretius; take either, and the sense is the same, and very full.
As persecutors are industrious and incessant in searching up and down for poor Christians, and hauling them to prison; and as huntsmen are up betimes at their sport, follow it all day, and spare for no pains, even sweating and tiring themselves at this their pleasure; so eager and earnest, so indefatigable and industrious was Paul, and so ought every one of us to be (the command is delivered to us, in the same word, Heb. 12:14) about godliness.
The reference to Hebrews 12:14: Pursue [same word, diōkō] peace with all men and holiness without which no one will see the Lord. In short, godliness requires the zeal of a hunter seeking prey or a persecutor seeking to capture another.
e. He is careful
In this section, Swinnock changes the nature of the argument. Rather than speaking first of what this element requires, he begins with the negative image: What is it to not be careful? It is interesting, because such a man willingly presumes upon God and in so doing makes an idol out of God. The God of his imagination is quite similar to the modern default God who cares for me, helps when I need it, and never judges anything. I found this negative portrait quite effect, because it captures presumption. A merely positive statement on all points could have the effect of making the standard sound purely aspirational: we’d all like to be like this. By using the negative at points, Swinnock catches our sloth in its burrow:
A man that minds godliness only by the by, looks sometimes to the matter, seldom to the manner, of his performances. Opus operatum [work working], the work done is a full discharge for him, how slightly or slovenly however it be done. If he stumble sometimes upon a good word, yet it is not his walk; and when he is in that way, he cares not how many steps he treads awry.
It may be said of him as of Jehu, ‘He takes no heed to walk in the way of the Lord God of Israel with his heart,’ 2 Kings 10:31.
He makes an idol of the blessed God, (he prays to him, and hears from him, as if he had eyes and saw not, as if he had ears and heard not, as if he had hands and wrought not,) and anything will serve an idol.
Here he closes out the portrait with sarcasm:
How aptly and justly may God say to him after his duties, as Cæsar to the citizen after dinner, (who, having invited the emperor to his table, made but slight preparation and slender provision for him,) I had thought that you and I had not been so familiar.
What it is to be careful. Here, Swinnock
But he that exerciseth himself to godliness hath a more awful and serious carriage towards God. The twelve tribes served God ‘instantly day and night,’ Acts 26:7, fervently, vehemently, to the utmost of their power; the word implieth both extension and intension; the very heathen could say that the gods must be worshipped, ἢ ὅλως ἢ μὴ ὅλως, [everything or nothing] either to our utmost withal, or not at all.
1 “Beyond it is the desert, and then Talgæ, a city of the Garamantes, and Debris, at which place there is a spring, the waters of which, from noon to midnight, are at boiling heat, and then freeze for as many hours until the following noon;” Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, ed. John Bostock (Medford, MA: Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street, 1855), 1399.
 This is a line from Augustine’s Confessions, “Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.” Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Vol. 2, ed. T. E. Page and W. H. D. Rouse, trans. William Watts, The Loeb Classical Library (New York; London: The Macmillan Co.; William Heinemann, 1912), 149.