Saturday, April 9, 2011

Book Review: The Works of George Swinnock

I really didn't know much at all about George Swinnock when I bought this 5 volume set of books at a close-out sale for almost nothing some ten years ago or so, but he's grown on me a lot over that time. I didn't know it at the time but I was like a man who had just bought a small piece of land for a few dollars completely unaware that it was full of gold, silver and many other precious gems just beneath the dirt.

George Swinnock (1620-1673), a gifted English Puritan pastor, was one of the 2000 and some Puritan ministers who refused to take the oath concerning the Act of Uniformity in May of 1662. A new “Prayer Book” had been introduced into the churches at that time and any form of worship other than that prescribed in this new book was forbidden to be practiced. Around 2000 Puritan ministers refused to conform to this Act and were removed from their pulpits and reduced to poverty in what became known as the "Great Ejection of 1662". 

I haven't met many people who are familiar with these books, but for the life of me I don't know why. At 5 volumes it's one of the shorter and more affordable Puritan works and it's packed full of Puritanism at its best! When I stop and reflect on these volumes three things immediately come to mind:

1)      1) It is extremely easy to read.

While I love reading many of the other Puritans like John Owen or Thomas Goodwin, I have found them to be much more work by comparison. Mining in Swinnocks works is much less labor intensive and the jewels are everywhere.

2)     2)  It’s teaming with illustrations.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about reading Swinnock is that he probably uses more illustrations per square inch than any of the other Puritan writers out there. If you enjoy lots of pithy little illustrations sprinkled in your reading you're going to love Swinnock. 

For instance, when speaking of the regulative principle of worship in one paragraph he brings in currency, coins, winds and a compass as illustrations:

"...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.” -Vol. 1

 When speaking of worshiping God from our hearts, in one instance, he uses the Lute as an illustration:

"...The deeper the belly of the lute is, the pleasanter the sound; the deeper our worship comes from the heart, the more delightful it is in God's ears." -Vol. 1

When speaking of Scriptures doctrine of clothing he speaks of innocency as man’s first robe and heaven-spun attire:

“...Innocency at first was man's comely robe, in comparison of which the richest clothes are but nasty rags. Ah, how lovely did he look in that heaven-spun attire! In his primitive splendour, the most gaudy and costly apparel would have been but as a cloud over the face of the sun, or a coarse curtain over a beautiful picture. But sin caused shame, and shame called for clothes to cover it”

I could literally go on and on and on with such quotes but in the interest of time and space I’ll be putting further quotes under the "George Swinnock" label on the blog.

3)      3) These volumes are immensely practical.

Swinnock can often hardly seem to mention a doctrine without diving right into its practical implications and applications. While such practicality is true of most of the Puritans, and is perhaps the one of the most stunning features of their writings (at least those that I’m familiar with), it seems to be especially true of these five volumes. Just a quick glance at the Contents at the beginning of each book will bear this out. The entire first two volumes and part of the third are entitled “The Christian Man’s Calling” and deal with every aspect of the Christians life. Covering how we Christians may “exercise ourselves to godliness” in everything from prayer and taking of the sacraments to hearing the word preached to how we eat, drink and dress. These first three volumes deal with every aspect and relation of family life, recreation, work, self-examination, prosperity, adversity, solitude, sanctifying the Sabbath,  visiting the sick and even how we can die well. I don’t think he missed anything!

Other subjects dealt with in the remaining two and a half volumes are the beauty, dignity and duty of civil magistrates, the incomparableness of God, the fading of the flesh, Heaven and Hell epitomised, salvation, regeneration, the sinner’s final sentence and his farewell sermon upon his ejection from Rickmansworth in 1662.

If you’d like an easy to read, relatively inexpensive, extremely practical and very edifying sample of Puritanism at its best, you might want to consider the Works of George Swinnock.

"We confess that we have rejoiced in the writings of Swinnock as those that find great spoil. So pithy and pungent and practical, few books are more fitted to keep the attention awake, and few so richly reward it."  - Dr. James Hamilton

"George Swinnock had the gift of illustration largely developed, as his works prove...they served his purpose, and made his teaching attractive...there remains a rare amount of sanctified wit and wisdom."  -C.H. Spurgeon

George Swinnock Works at 
George Swinnock Works at
George Swinnock Works at

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I just discovered your blog, and I'm enthralled! I'll be reading regularly!