Swinnock, George. The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith. Grand Rapids, Reformation Heritage Books, 2009. 178 pp. $10.00. Purchase at Westminster for $7.50.
George Swinnock was an English Puritan who lived from 1627-1673. He is best known today because of his extraordinary gift of giving vivid illustrations of doctrinal truths found in the Scriptures. You can get a succinct introduction to this divine by reading Trading and Thriving in Godliness, a book in the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality Series published by Reformation Heritage Books. J. Stephen Yuille edited both works.
Swinnock originally preached most of what later became this work at the funeral of his cousin, Caleb Swinnock. In what amounts to a large exegetical sermon, Swinnock looks at Psalm 73 in its proper context. From there he draws out the two opposing perspectives by the Psalmist. The first is that of jealousy with the heathen who seems to have it all. After arriving at the crux of the Psalm, verses 16-17, the Psalmist makes an about face in his perspective and then praises God for His mercy and grace. Swinnock’s leaping off point for the majority of his message is rooted in vs. 26 where the Psalmist writes, “my flesh and my heart may fail, but God i the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (ESV).
While I do not think that Swinnock originally split his work into 20 chapters (I am not completely sure on this), this book is divided into 20 chapters. This is a good thing as each chapter requires much thought and contemplation from the reader. Swinnock builds a foundation of teaching the reader how to prepare to die. After that foundation is laid, Swinnock points us to the truth that God is man’s only true happiness and joy. God is the only one who offers the comfort and joy we desire.
One of my (many) jobs in this season of life is to work at my father-in-law’s funeral home. I am around death a lot. That being said, I, as a pastor and believer in Christ, have noticed a great need for a return of a theology of death as our enemy. George Swinnock, writing in the 17th century, helps us to do that. His exegesis of Psalm 73 is phenomenal and I dare say unheard of today in most pulpits. His vivid (that word does not begin to describe the imagery conjured!) depictions of the biblical truths and the reality of death will leave the reader longing for more. There are 178 pages worth of daily meditations on life and death found in The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith.
This book is one of the first to come out in the new series being produced by Reformation Heritage Books. The series prefaces states:
Interest in the Puritans continues to grow, but many people find the reading these giants of the faith a bit unnerving. This series seeks to overcome that barrier by presenting Puritan books that are convenient in size and unintimidating in length. Each book is carefully edited with modern readers in mind, smoothing out difficult language of a bygone era while retaining the meaning of the original authors. Books for the series are thoughtfully selected to provide some of the best counsel on important subjects that people continue to wrestle with today.
I am greatly excited about this series and cannot wait for more to be published. This edition of George Swinnock’s work is profound and would do well to be on your shelf. There is not as much contemplation of the brevity of life and the ultimate end to all man as there should be. While it may be a short book, it will certainly take the reader deeper into Psalm 73 that he has ever been. I highly recommend this resource–especially if you are a believer and you know someone that may die before you.