Friday, July 1, 2011

The All-satisfying Nature of God

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith, ed. J. Stephen Yulie (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009). 170pp.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw
When it comes to old books, I am a purist. Ordinarily, something is lost along the way in translations or abridgments. However, as a pastor, I have come to recognize that most Christians do not have adequate time or dedication to become familiar with the language of older authors. This means that a rich treasure of unparalleled Christian literature is lost to vast body of believers today. Reformation Heritage Books has sought to remedy this problem with the series, Puritan Treasures for Today. The books in this series are neither translations nor abridgments. Instead, the publisher has sought out authors who are familiar with the Puritans in order to smooth out difficult language for contemporary readers. The language is updated with great care in such a way that the original thought remains intact. Moreover, they have selected books that are short in length and that address issues of contemporary importance. The result is a series of small, inexpensive, and easily accessible books that bring the wisdom of the Puritans to a contemporary world. These small works encapsulate warm-hearted practical theology that is so rare in our age that most church members do not know what they are missing.

The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith by George Swinnock is the first installation in this series. This book is based upon his sermons on Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” In typical Puritan fashion, Swinnock begins with an overview of the Psalm in context, which gradually narrows to a brief exposition of his selected text. The subject matter is roughly divided into two parts. First, the concept that our flesh is fading and that we must consider death as an inevitable reality (chapters 1-8). Second, the glorious consideration that God alone is suitable to satisfy man’s soul (chapters 9-20). The book as a whole reads as an extended evangelistic tract that drives people to the conviction of their sins, faith in Christ, and the necessity of repentance. The most delightful part of the argument resides in the manner in which the author entices his readers by mediations upon the all-satisfying nature of God so that every other means of satisfaction appears as dust and ashes by comparison. While it is true that sinners do not love God by nature, it is true as well that most people have never considered what the Bible says about the beauty and glory of the Lord. In chapter 17 (“Choose God as Your Portion”), Swinnock becomes so enraptured with the pleasure that he finds in God that he bursts forth into exuberant doxology. Because the language of the book has been updated, you can actually give this book to an unbeliever as an evangelistic tract; and they will be able to understand it.

The only significant flaw in this work seems to be an under-emphasis upon the Holy Spirit. It is surprising that while the Father and the Son predominate in the author’s meditations upon God’s glory, the Spirit is mentioned rarely. That caveat aside, this book is a feast for the soul. Swinnock’s use of illustrations rival even Thomas Watson and the overall tone of the work is very comforting.