6. A contrast of Callings
In this section, Swinnock returns to an expansive rather than argumentative style. Rather than make his persuasion by means of example-analogy, or application of a proposition, Swinnock also relies upon argument founded in imagery, repetition, and sound. These elements (as we can see) he places toward the beginning of the end of argument. This moving between fundamental styles and techniques does two things: (a) It keeps the argument from becoming tedious. Too much emotional repetition soon loses its effect. (b) It balances appeal to both intellect and emotion. Persuasion theory explains that some persuasion takes place through deliberation, other persuasion through an emotional response. By aiming at both “routes”, Swinnock makes his argument as persuasive as possible:
O Lord, what a foolish, silly thing is man, [This reminds me of Shakespeare, O Lord, what fools these mortals be]
to prize and take pains for husks before bread, [Luke 15:16]
vanity before solidity, [Eccl. 1:2]
a shadow before the substance, [Ps. 39:6]
the world’s scraps before the costly feast,
the dirty kennels before the crystal water of life, [Rev. 22:1]
an apple before paradise, [Gen. 3]
a mess of pottage before the birthright, [Gen. 25:29-34]
and the least fleeting and inconstant good
before the greatest, truest, and eternal good.
Notice that he ends the section with a repetition of “good”: inconstant good/eternal good.
a. Particular and General Callings:
Here he considers “particular” and “general” callings: Particular would have to do with the individual human. General are things applicable to all people:
Their particular callings are but about earth
—the lowest, meanest, and vilest of all the elements in these callings;
they deal but with men and brutes;
their gains here at best cannot be large,
because their lives here cannot be long; [two lines end with the same phrase]
and yet how eagerly are they pursued! [break]
how closely are they followed! [note the repetition of “How C—]
how constantly are they busied about them!
We spend our primary effort on temporary, often trivial or even grotesque matters. No matter who much we gain, it will never be very much and will not be kept. The best we can acquire is an appearance but never the substance.
General Callings: what is our duty toward God. The repetition of “their” does a great deal to hold this following complex sentence together:
Their general callings are about their souls,
their eternal salvations;
in these they have to do with the blessed God,
the lovely Saviour,
in communion with whom is heaven upon earth;
their gains here are above their thoughts,
and beyond their most enlarged desires,
no less than infinite and eternal!
This next section praises the value of godliness. It relies primarily upon a quote from Job, which is itself quite beautiful:
The profit of godliness is invaluable above price.
‘It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof:
It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it,
and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of coral or of pearls,
for the price of wisdom is above rubies.
The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it,
neither shall it be valued with pure gold,’ Job 28:15–20;
The movement of these three clauses is excellent. The first clause is longer, with accents upon “L” and “C”. The section and third lines are much shorter. The second line repeats the “L”, the third line the “C”.
yet how lingeringly is this calling entered upon,
how lazily is it followed,
and how quickly cast off.
He concludes with a rebuke, alluding to Galatians 3:1:
O foolish man, who hath bewitched thee,
that thou dost thus dislike and disobey the truth?
7. Concluding Contrasts
a. Compared to a Hen
Having made the comparison to a hen, he then applies the image to human life with a series of seven consecutive clauses which begin with the form “The [noun]” Each clause is something ignored. He ends the whole with a comparison to a mole, which forms an inclusion to hen.
I cannot more fitly resemble man than to a silly hen,
which, though much good corn lie before her, takes little notice of it, but still scrapes in the earth.
The favour of God,
the promises of the gospel,
the covenant of grace,
the blood of Christ,
the embroidery of the Spirit,
the life of faith,
the hope of heaven,
joy in the Holy Ghost, are laid before man;
yet he overlooks them all,
and lives like a mole,
digging and delving in the earth.
b. Though men see:
This is a remarkably complex sentence, built around two long sections introduced by “though” and the verb “to see” which leads to a “yet” which concludes the whole. Though men see the danger yet they will take no warning.
Though men see:
Though men see before their eyes a period and end of all earthly perfections,
that the beauty,
bravery of all earthly things is
but like a fair picture drawn on ice,
that their riches and estates are but like snow,
which children take much pains to rake and scrape together to make a ball of, which upon the sun’s shining on,
it presently melteth away;
though they see daily
though they see daily men that hoarded up silver,
and wrought hard for wealth, [Prov. 2:1-6]
hurried away into the other world,
leaving all their heaps behind them;
yet they will take no warning:
yet they will take no warning,
but, as the silly lark,
still play with the feather in the glass till they are caught
and destroyed by the fowler.
This is an ironic allusion to Proverbs 1:17, “For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird” – a bird can see the net and won’t be caught.
c. Failing to seek
There is a theme in the Bible of our need to seek. We are to seek wisdom: Proverbs 2:1. Jesus says that if we seek, we shall find. Matt. 7:7, et cetera. God expects us to seek. But some draw the wrong conclusion from all things not being made available without effort:
Men wrong themselves, and misconstrue God, who, as if he had hidden those things because he would have them sought, and laid the other open for neglect, bend themselves only to the seeking of those earthly commodities, and do no more mind heaven than if there were none. If we would imagine a beast to have reason, how could he be more absurd in his choice?
d. Three concluding examples:
At best, we are like a king bound in golden chains:
What a beast is he to love his silver above his soul, and lose his God for a little corruptible gold. While he lives, like the king of Armenia, by Marc. Anton., he is a close prisoner in golden fetters; and when he dieth, this worldling may say to his darling, as Cornelius Agrippa to his familiar spirit near his end, Abi, perdita bestia, quæ me perdidisti, Begone, thou wicked wretch, thou hast undone me.
If a king would consider this, how much more the rest of us:
It was good counsel which was given John, the third king of Portugal, to meditate a quarter of an hour every day on that divine sentence, (and oh that, reader, I could persuade thee to it!) ‘What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’ Mat. 16.
A philosopher and a blacksmith:
I have read of a philosopher, who, living near a blacksmith, and hearing him up every morning at his hammer and anvil, before he could get out of his bed to his book, professed himself much ashamed that such an ignoble trade as a smith’s should be more diligently attended than his more serious and excellent studies.
This final application is interesting. Throughout, he has been addressing the reader almost as if the reader was one who rarely sought godliness. But here in the end, he makes a direct appeal: Why are we so easily distracted as they are?
What sayest thou, reader; dost thou not blush to think that worldlings are more busy and laborious about the low things, the rattles and trifles of this life, than thou art about the high affairs of God and thy soul, the noble and serious concernments of eternity?