Thirdly, Godliness must be made our principal business, our main work, because otherwise we shall lose our reward.
He immediately proves up the point with a proverb. The proverb works because it notices a point which is incontrovertible. You read it and think, “Of course that is true.” He then applies the proverb to the instant situation:
We say, As good never a whit, as never the better. Piety without much pains will redound to little or no profit.
First, a look at the structure of these proverbs (the original and his applied version). The original proverb has two lines of six syllables, each which with begins with a comparative “As”. The word “never” is repeated in both lines. The word “good” is repeated as the comparative “better”. The second line contains a near rhyme: never-better.
As good never a whit
As never the better
The second proverb, coined by Swinnock, is slightly less compact. The two lines are of different length. The first line is seven syllables. The second, 10. The effect of the uneven lengths is to make the second an answer to the first. The primary musical effect comes from the alliterative “P” Piety pains profit, which are the primary points of his argument:
Piety without much pains
Will redound to little or no profit.
He provides a proverb, which although obscure to us would have been instantly understood in the 17th Century. Here are some examples of the same proverb:
William Gurnall (d. 1679)
The foolish virgins made as great a blaze with their lamps, and did expect as good a day when Christ should come, as the wise virgins; but, alas! their lamps are out before he appeared, and as good never a whit as never the better. The stony ground more forward than the best soil; the seed comes up immediately, as if a crop should soon have been reaped, but a few nipping frosts turn its hue, and the day of the harvest proves a day of desperate sorrow. All these instances and many more in Scripture do evince, that nothing short of solid grace, and a principle of divine life in the soul, will persevere.
William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 186.
William Gouge (d 1653)
Unless this inward reverence and due respect of a husband be first placed in the heart of a wife, either no outward reverence and obedience will be performed at all, or if it be performed, it will be very unsound, only in shew, hypocritical and deceitful: so that as good never a whit as never the better. For according to ones inward affection and disposition will the outward action and conversation be framed.
Matthew Henry (d. 1714) on Jude 11:
Trees they are, for they are planted in the Lord’s vineyard, yet fruitless ones. Observe, Those whose fruit withereth may be justly said to be without fruit. As good never a whit as never the better. It is a sad thing when men seem to begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh, which is almost as common a case as it is an awful one. The text speaks of such as were twice dead.
He follows up the proverbial statement with an example: Why would you start that which you do not finish:
How foolish is that builder who, in setting up a house, hath been at much cost, and yet loseth all, because he will be at no further charge. Many ‘lose what they have wrought,’ 2 John 8. Their works, because not their business, are not perfect, and so to small purpose. ‘The slothful roasts not what he took in hunting,’ Prov. 12:27. He was at some labour to catch the beast, but was loath to be at any more in dressing it, and so all was lost; laboriousness to godliness is as the soul to the body, which, being separated from it, godliness dieth and quickly becomes unsavoury.
He then changes the course of the argument slightly: rather than the foolishness of stopping before receiving the benefit, he turns to the value of the end: great things are worth great effort. The of godliness is of worth surpassing effort; therefore, we should expend any and all effort to obtain that end.
The reward of godliness is of infinite worth, the end of holiness (as of hope) is the salvation of the soul, the eternal and immediate enjoyment of God in heaven. Now, who can think to attain the place of such ravishing pleasures without much pains? Iter per angusta ad augusta.
He supports this contention from a number of angles. First, precious things are found only with great effort:
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.
Turning from stones to the “secrets” of nature, what we would not refer to as scientific discovery. New information requires new work:
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?
Then analogy: if it is so in nature, how much more with God:
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?
Mountains as symbols of achieving the divine:
Heaven is not unfitly compared to a hill; among heathens to Olympus, among Christians to Mount Zion. They that will climb up to it must pant and blow and sweat for it.
At this point, Swinnock wishes to make a point about Elijah in a chariot of fire. However, he pauses to make this aside which does not advance his argument. It is a fine paragraph, but would be the sort of thing cut by an editor:
Elijah’s translation to the place of bliss was much more speedy and facile than ordinary. We see no panting heart, no trembling hands, no quivering lips, no ghastly looks to be the forerunners of his passage into eternal life. Where the union is near and natural, there the separation is hard and painful, but behold here the marriage-knot betwixt body and soul is not untied. Those loving relations, like husband and wife, ride triumphantly together in a stately chariot to the heavenly court; yet even in this rapture God would teach us that the virgin inheritance must be ravished: ‘There appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven,’ 2 Kings 2:11.
Here is the point which Swinnock wished to raise concerning Elijah, as a word-picture of effort to obtain heavenly ends:
Why a chariot of fire, but to note that heaven must be stormed and taken by force. Fire is the most active inanimate creature; hereby is figured that laborious action is the way to the beatifical vision. The chariot is made of fire, the wheels upon which it runs are a whirlwind. Activeness and violence are the only way to the blessed inheritance.
Having given his word-picture, Swinnock turns to the proposition. This matter of taking heaven by force was a theme emphasized in 17th Century English Puritans (and it is a matter which I cannot recall being raised in this way except in passing among my contemporaries; I cannot recall preaching on this particular theme myself). Thomas Watson published, The Christian Soldier or Heaven Taken by Taking Storm.
For instance Richard Sibbes preached a sermon “Victorious Violence” which contains this doctrine: “Doct. The violent, and only the violent, and all the violent, do at length certainly obtain what they strive for, the kingdom of heaven.” He then elaborates on that point in a manner which is consistent with Swinnock’s theme here, “And again, Only the violent, because only they can prize it when they have it. They only can prize grace and heaven. They know how they come by it. It cost them their pleasures and profits, it cost them labour, and danger, and loss of favour with men; and this pains, and cost, and loss, it endears the state of grace and glory to them; for God will never bring any man to heaven till he have raised his affections to that pitch, to value grace and glory above all things in the world. Therefore only those shall take it by violence; for only those shew that they set a right price on the best things. They weigh them ‘in the balance of the sanctuary,’ Dan. 5:27. They value things as God would have them valued.”
Many more examples could be given:
Whoever entered into heaven with ease? They that will be knighted must kneel for it; they that will wear the crown must win it. ‘A man is not crowned except he strive lawfully,’ that is, strenuously, 2 Tim. 2:5. He that will be saved must ‘work out his salvation, and that with fear and trembling,’ Phil. 2.
Christ, who first bought the purchase, hath already set the price upon which, and no other, the sons of men may come to the possession. There is, indeed, a twofold price of a thing, a natural price, when so much is laid down as is commensurate or proportionable to the thing bought; so the price of heaven was the blood of Christ, Heb. 10:19.
This point is rather out of step with the purpose-driven life theology, or the (near) universalist theology which forms much of contemporary Christianity:
A pactional price [the price according to contract, a “pact”], when so much is laid down, (though inferior to the commodity,) upon which the seller is contented that you enjoy the thing desired; so labour, knocking, working, is the price of heaven, Isa. 55:3. This price is made of man’s future felicity, and Christ is resolved not to abate the least farthing.
‘Strive,’ saith he, ‘to enter in at the strait gate; for many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able,’ Luke 13:24. As if he had said, There will be many seekers, many that will both cheapen heaven by a profession, and bid somewhat by performances, but they shall miss the place for want of more pains; ‘they shall not be able.’ If ye, therefore, have any love to your souls, be not only seekers but strivers; do not only cheapen and offer a little, but come up to the price. Put forth all your strength, as wrestlers do that strive for masteries, as ever you would enjoy those eternal pleasures. Men were as good bid nothing, as not come up to the seller’s price.
‘All run in a race, but one receiveth the prize; so run that ye may obtain,’2 1 Cor. 9:24. They that intend for the crown do beforehand diet themselves, breathe their bodies, and when they run for the conquest, strive and stretch themselves to the utmost; he that loitereth, is as sure to lose as if he sat still.
Now a question arises: How does this doctrine of striving square with salvation by grace through faith? Is this merely making a works-righteousness argument? Swinnock solves this by speaking of the nature of faith. He does not articulate this difficulty well, but it is apparent in this explanation: True faith, which lays hold of salvation, is not a vague assent that a thing may be true. To ‘believe’ unto salvation is not come to the conclusion that it is 51% likely that Jesus rose from the dead. True faith is a life-changing event. We can see this when we look at the various groups who “believed” Jesus mentioned in John’s Gospel, who soon went away. True faith flows out in a manner of life (however imperfectly lived). It is not merely putting a bucket down into a well, it is also drawing it up (which would take far more effort):
The lazy world, because Christ sends chapmen [merchant] up and down with his wares, to offer them to every house, to every heart, think to have them at their own ordinary rates: but they shall find that grace, which is many degrees short of glory, is not to be had by sloth and idleness; there must be lifting up the heart, lending the ears, seeking, searching, begging, digging, attention of the outward, intention of the inward man, before men can ‘understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God,’ Prov. 2:3–5. Though it be easy to let the bucket into the well, yet it is hot work and hard labour to draw water out of the well of salvation. The laborious bee only is laden with honey.
Richard Sibbes answers this same question in a slightly different manner:
“Obj. But is not the kingdom of heaven and grace free? Therefore what needs violence to a thing that is free, and freely offered?
Ans. I answer, Because it is free, therefore it is violently taken. For, alas! if it were offered to us upon condition of our exact performing of the law, it might damp the spirits of men, as indeed usually such, if they be not better informed, they end their days in despair. But being freely offered, ‘the publicans and harlots,’ saith Christ, ‘go into the kingdom of God before the proud Pharisees,’ Mat. 21:31. Because it is free, it is free to sinners that feel the burden of their sins. ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden,’ &c., Mat. 11:28. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: they shall be satisfied,’ Mat. 5:3–6. Thereupon he that hath a guilty conscience, he makes haste, and offers violence, when he hears of free pardon. What makes the condition of the devils so desperate? There is no hope of free pardon to them. What makes men so eagerly to embrace the gospel, notwithstanding their sins? Because it is freely offered. Thereupon it was that the Gentiles were so glad of it, that had been sinners and under Satan’s kingdom before; and that makes miserable persons, that are humbled with afflictions and abasement in the world, glad of it—it being so great a thing, the kingdom of heaven, the favour of God, and freedom from misery, and so freely offered. It is so far from hindering violence because it is free, that therefore the humble afflicted souls that desire grace are the more eager after it. The proud Pharisees thought the kingdom of heaven belonged only to them; and therefore they despised Christ, and despised the gospel, because it was propounded to sinners, and to such mean persons that they thought were viler than themselves. But now when the meaner sort of people, and others that were abased with crosses in the world, saw what a kind of gospel it was, what great matters were offered, and that it was offered freely, they justified wisdom, Mat. 11:19, and the counsel of God which others despised, and pressed for it with violence, Luke 7:29, 30.
“….Therefore when he saith, ‘the violent take it by force,’ it is to encourage us. The violent, eager, strong endeavours of a Christian in the ways of God, in the means of salvation, they are no successless endeavours.”
I remember a song when I was a child, “you can’t get to heaven in a rocking chair.” It’s a silly song, but it at this point makes the same general point which Swinnock makes with more care:
‘The desire of the slothful killeth him, because his hands refuse to labour,’ Prov. 21:5. 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 Ishbosheth, he lazieth on his bed till he is deprived of his life. 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. There is no going to those heavens where Christ is in his glory, as the sick man came to the house where Christ was in his estate of ignominy, let down in a bed.
He now concludes this portion of his argument (that we must exert true effort in godliness if we will receive our end) as he began, with a series of epigrams:
He that will be but almost a Christian, must be content to go but almost to heaven.
Idleness is the burial of our persons, and negligence is the burial of our actions.
Writing on the sand is easy, but soon worn out, it is marred with a small breath of wind; but writing on marble, as it is more permanent, so it costeth more pains.
An idle servant is in God’s esteem an evil servant;
he doth not distinguish betwixt a slothful and an unfaithful man: his word tells us that he hath bonds for those hands that are folded in the bosom, when they should be working for a blessing;
that he hath fetters for those feet that stand still, and stick fast in the mire and mud of sinful pleasures, when they should be running the way of his precepts; nay, that he hath utter darkness for them that will not walk and work while they enjoy the light, Mat. 25:26, 30. He that takes his ease in this world must travel in the next.
At this point, he changes the argument slightly and answers the question: What difficulty lies in the way of godliness? Why must we expend such efforts?
Two things shew a necessity that godliness must be made our business, if ever we would make anything of it.
These are (1) the opposition we will meet; and (2) the greatness of the work to be done. First the opposition: the Flesh, the World, and the Devil. In his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, Peter Abelard wrote, “Tria autem sunt quae nos tentant, caro, mundus, diabolus.” This theological truism lies behind Swinnock’s discussion of the opposition we will meet in this world
First, Because of the opposition we meet with in the way of religion.
He supports this general proposition with a pair of word-pictures: difficulty at sea and difficulty on land:
When the wind and tide are both with the mariner, he may hoist up his sail and sit still, but when both are against him, he must row hard, or never think to come to his haven.
The way to heaven is like Jonathan’s passage against the Philistines, betwixt two rocks,—the one Bozez, dirty; the other Seneb, thorny; the men of the world will be ever diligent, either with dirt to bespatter their credits, or with thorns to wound and pierce their consciences, that walk in this path; he must therefore have a mind well resolved to take pains, and his feet well shod with patience, that will go this way to paradise.
First, the world:
The way of this world is like the vale of Siddim, slimy and slippery, full of lime-pits and stumbling-blocks to maim or mischief us. Saints are princes in all lands; but as princes that pass through a country in disguise meet with many affronts, so do Christians.
Second, the Devil:
The flesh is like bird-lime, which, when the spirit would at any time mount up to heaven with the wings of faith and meditation, hampers and hinders it; it is the holy soul’s prison, wherein it is fettered and fastened, that it cannot, as it would, walk at liberty, and seek God’s precepts.
Third, the Devil. He will develop this theme at greater length than the first two:
The devil, both a serpent for craft and a lion for cruelty, doth, out of his hatred to God, make it his constant business by his power and policy to hinder godliness. As the panther, because he cannot come at the person, he tears the picture wherever he finds it: ‘We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers,’ Eph. 6:12.
While Satan reigneth in a creature, all may be quiet and calm; but if he be once cast out, he will rage and roar to purpose.
He then proves up this point with examples from examples from Scripture: Israel, Christ, the Church:
[Israel] While Israel serveth the Egyptians, carrying their crosses, bearing their burdens, doing their drudgery, all is well; but when once they shake off Pharaoh’s yoke, turn their backs upon Egypt, and set out for Canaan, with what force and fury are they pursued to be brought back to their former bondage!
[Christ] Christ was no sooner baptized than buffeted; he went, as it were, out of the water of baptism into the fire of temptation. And if the prince were all his time persecuted, his subjects must not expect to be wholly privileged. The cross is tied as a tag to the profession of Christianity, Mat. 10:30.
When he comes to the Church, he notes that the Church must follow in the suffering of Christ:
One article in the indenture which all apprentices must seal to, that will call Christ master, is to bear the cross daily, Mat. 16. The saints are as vessels floating on the waters of Meribah, where (omne quod flat aquilo est, as Tertullian saith of Pontus) no wind blows but what is sharp and keen.
The Hebrews were no sooner ‘enlightened’ to their conversion, but they ‘endured a sharp fight of affliction;’ their lightning was accompanied with a grievous storm, Heb. 10:32.
Having provided his examples and proofs, Swinnock returns to the general proposition. This is a very effective way to teach: Proposition, illustration, proof, repeat and restate proposition:
Holiness is usually followed with much hatred and hardship. The enemies of man’s salvation are impudent and incessant, ever raging, never resting.
What the Carthaginian commander said of Marcellus, may be truly spoken by us in regard of them, That we have to do with those who will never be quiet, either conquerors or conquered; but conquerors they will pursue their victory to the utmost, and conquered, labour to recover their loss.
He then adds a final note on Satan:
Satan especially is both wrathful and watchful to undermine souls.
He is fitly called Beelzebub, the master-fly, because as a fly he quickly returns to the bait from which he was but now beaten. Though emperors may turn Christians, saith Austin, yet the devils will not.
Here he answers an implied question: Will it really be this difficult? Often in Puritan works this would be marked explicitly as an “objection”. Swinnock does not provide a specific title of “objection”, but he does answer the question which someone may have at the end of a section of argument:
Doth not this fully speak the necessity of making godliness our business? Can such difficulties be conquered without much diligence? Who can eat his way, like Hannibal, through such Alps of opposition without hot water and hard work?
If, like Samson, we would break all these cords of opposition in sunder, we must awake out of sleep, and put forth all our strength.
He here returns in a related manner to the question of taking heaven by force. But rather than emphasizing storming heaven, he here uses the image to speak of fighting our way through the hazards.
Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress gives this picture:
Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the names of them that should enter therein; he saw also that in the doorway stood many men in armor to keep it, being resolved to do to the men that would enter, what hurt and mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat in amaze. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, “Set down my name, sir;” the which when he had done, he saw the man draw his sword, and put a helmet on his head, and rush towards the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, Matt. 11:12; Acts 14:22; he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace; at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying,
“Come in, come in,
Eternal glory thou shalt win.”
So he went in, and was clothed with such garments as they. Then Christian smiled, and said, I think verily I know the meaning of this:
Saints are all called to be soldiers; our whole life is a warfare, ‘All the days of my appointed time,’ Job 14:14; an expositor reads it, ‘All the days of my warfare I will wait till my change come.’
The soldier’s life is no lazy life; armies are wholly for action, especially when they deal with such subtle strong adversaries, that assault them day and night without ceasing. Who can conquer three such mighty monarchs as flesh, world, and devil are, or force his way through their temptations and suggestions, unless he fight in earnest, and make it his business?
That fire, if ever any, had need to be hot, that must melt and overcome such hard metal; and that hand, if ever any, had need to work hard, that will remove and level such high mountains. If the silly hare, pursued by such a pack of hounds, offer once to stand still or lie down, she is sure to be torn in pieces and devoured.
There is a time, saith the holy bishop, when kings go not forth to warfare; our spiritual war admits no intermission, it knows no night, no winter; abides no peace, no truce; this calls us not into garrison, where we may have ease and respite, but into pitched fields continually; we see our enemies in the face always, and are always seen and assaulted; ever resisting, ever defending, receiving, and returning blows; if either we be negligent or weary, we die.
He gives a final warning:
We can never have safety and peace but in victory; there must our resistance be courageous and constant, where both yielding is death, and all treaties of peace mortal.
The second reason that godliness requires such extraordinary effort: it comprises the whole of life. It would be an easier matter if God required some rite or sacrifice which could be paid and segregated from the remainder of life. But the question of godliness something which can be compartmentalized: it entails the whole of one’s life:
Secondly, There is a necessity of making it our main work, because of the multiplicity of business that is incumbent on every Christian. That stream had need to run freely, and with full force, that must be divided into many channels. That estate had need to be large, that must be parted among many children.
Note how Swinnock turns the abstraction – duties – into a picture: wading, mocking:
Who can count the variety of works that every Christian must be engaged in? how many dangers he must wade through? how many snares must he avoid? how many taunts and mocks must he abide? how many temptations must he conquer? how many graces must he exercise? how many lusts must he mortify? how many duties must he perform?
Every relation, every condition calls for answerable duty and diligence; every ordinance must be improved by him, every providence must be sanctified to him. Mercies must, like a ladder, mount him nearer to heaven; misery must, like the famine to the prodigal, force him to hasten to his father’s house.
Having said that it is every relation, he then specifies relations to make the point clear:
His wife, his children, his servants, his neighbours, his friends, his enemies, his shop, his closets, his visits, his journeys, do all require suitable service; and who can perform it that is not diligent and sedulous?
His “religious” duties:
Consider him in reference to God’s immediate worship; he must pray, hear, read, meditate, watch, fast, sanctify sabbaths, sing psalms, receive the sacrament, and in all walk humbly, reverently, and uprightly with his God.
The protestant work-ethic entails specific duty to those who have less and have honesty in all his dealings:
Consider him in reference to poor men; he must love mercy, and supply their necessities according to his ability, and not, like a muck-heap, good for nothing till carried forth; whatever men he deals with, he must do justly, love his neighbour as himself, and as God gives him opportunity, provoke them to mind grace and sanctity; as musk, perfume, if possible, all that he comes near.
Godliness entails one’s internal psychological state:
Consider him in reference to himself; he must live soberly, vigilantly; his heart is like a subtle, sturdy thief, ever seeking to break the jail, and therefore must have a strong guard; his corrupt nature is like fire, and his whole man like thatch, and therefore he must keep a narrow watch; his senses are the outworks, which Satan is ever assaulting, by them to gain the royal fort of the soul, that he must defend them with care and courage day and night. What is said of the husbandman, is true of every Christian.
It is comprehensive. Notice how he applies godliness to the most mundane, even earthy- of labors: dunging a field, weeding a field:
His work is never at an end; the end of one work is but the beginning of another; he must always be employed, either in dunging, dressing, ploughing, sowing, harrowing, weeding, or reaping his ground; he hath no leisure to be idle and lazy, who hath so much work lying upon his hand.
He hear turns to two historical examples as illustrations, which he sums up with pithy sayings:
Seneca thought philosophy cut him out so much work, that he was necessitated to spend every day, and part of the nights, in making it up. Christianity, a nobler mistress, as she gives better wages, so she commands greater work; that her servants may say well with the emperor, Let no day pass without a line; and with Solomon’s housewife, not let their candle go out by night, Prov. 30.
The French Duke d’Alva could say, when he was asked by Henry the Fourth whether he had seen the eclipse of the sun, that he had so much business to do upon earth, that he had no time to look up to heaven.
Sure I am, the Christian may say with more truth and conscience, That he hath so much business to do for heaven, that he hath no time to mind vain or earthly things.
Here is his final exhortation, which I have broken out into phrase to better see the structure.
That servant who doth
ponder the strictness of his master,
consider the shortness of his time,
conceive the largeness of his task,
and believe the weightiness of his work,
how it must be done,
or he is undone for ever,
will be easily convinced
that it very nearly concerns him,
that it highly behoves him,
to shake off sloth and sluggishness,
to gird up the loins of his mind,
to give it the precedency in all his actions,
to pursue it with industry against all opposition,
to persevere in it with constancy to his dissolution,
and, in a word,
to make it
his main business,
his principal work.
2 Sic notat diligentiam et celeritatem.—Cor. A Lapid.