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A Classic Study -
Man's Principal Business by George Swinnock

This study was written by the English Puritan pastor and author George Swinnock (1627-1673). It is chapter five of his very fine book The Christian Man's Calling.

Man's Principal Business

"But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, `Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. . . Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.'" (Isaiah 43:1,7).

[Why should godliness be every man's main and principal business?]

Because it is God's chief end in sending man into, and continuing him in, this world. It is without question, that the work should be for that end to which it is appointed, and for which it is maintained by a sovereign and intelligent workman. Where the master hath authority to command, there his end and errand must be chiefly in the servant's eye. Zeno well defines liberty to be a power to act and practise at a man's own pleasure; opposite to which, servitude must be a determination to act at, and according to, the will of another. A servant is, as the orator saith well, a word that speaks one under command; he is not one that moveth of himself, but the master's living instrument, according to the philosopher [Aristotle], to be used at his pleasure. According to the title or power which one hath over another, such must the service be. Where the right is absolute, the obedience must not be conditional; God having therefore a perfect sovereignty over His creatures, and complete right to all their services, his end and aim, his will and word must be principally minded by them. Paul gathers this fruit from that root: "The God whose I am, and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23). His subjection is founded on God's dominion over him.

Now the great end to which man is designed by God, is the exercising himself to godliness. God erected the stately fabric of the great world for man, but He wrought the curious piece of the little world [man] for Himself. Of all His visible works He did set man apart for His own worship. Man, saith one, is the end of all in a semicircle, intimating that all things in the world were made for man, and man was made for God. It is but rational to suppose that if this world was made for us, we must be made for more than this world. It is an ingenious observation of Picus Mirandula, God created the earth for beasts to inhabit, the sea for fish, the air for fowls, the heavens for angels and stars, man therefore hath no place to dwell and abide in, but the Lord alone.

The great God, according to His infinite wisdom, hath designed all His creatures to some particular ends, and hath imprinted in their natures an appetite and propensity towards that end, as the point and scope of their being. Yea, the very inanimate and irrational creatures are serviceable to those ends and uses in their several places and stations. Birds build their nests exactly, bringing up their young tenderly. Beasts scramble and scuffle for their fodder, and at last become man's food. The sun, moon, and stars move regularly in their orbs, and by their light and influence advantage the whole world. The little commonwealth of bees work both industriously and wonderfully for the benefit of mankind. Flowers refresh us with their scents; trees with their shade and fruits; fire moveth upward; earth falleth downward, each by nature hastening to its centre; thunder and winds, being exhalations drawn up from the earth by the heavenly bodies, are wholly at, though stubborn and violent creatures, the call and command of the mighty possessor of heaven and earth; and with them, as with besoms, he sweeps and purifieth the air; fish sport up and down in rivers; rivers run along, sometimes seen, sometimes secret, never ceasing or tiring till they empty themselves into the ocean; the mighty sea, like a pot of water, by its ebbing and flowing purgeth itself, boileth and prepareth sustenance for living creatures. Bishop Hall (in contempt) termeth it, men travel in moveable houses, from country to country, transporting and exchanging commodiies. Thus the almighty Creator doth, as Plato saith, observe a curious comely order in all His work, and appoints them to some use according to their nature. Surely much more is man, the point in which all those lines meet, designed to some noble end, suitable to the excellency of His being; and what can that be, but to worship the glorious and blessed God, and the exercising himself to godliness?

"The Lord made all things for Himself." (Prov. 16:4). God made things without life and reason to serve Him passively and subjectively, by administering occasion to man to admire and adore his Maker; but man was made to worship Him actively and affectionately, as sensible of, and affected with, that divine wisdom, power, and goodness which appear in them. As all things are of Him as the efficient cause, so all things must necessarily be for Him as the final cause. But man in an especial manner is predestinated and created for this purpose: "Thou art mine; I have created him for my glory; I have formed him, yea, I have made him" (Isa. 43:1,7). There is both the author and the end of our creation: the author, "I have created him"; the end, "for my glory". As man is the most exact piece, on which He bestowed most pains, so from him He cannot but expect most praise. Lactantius accounteth religion the most proper and essential difference between men and beasts. The praises which beasts give God are dumb, their sacrifices are dead; but the sacrifices of men are living, and their praises lively.

God did indeed set up the admirable house of the visible world (floating it with the earth, watering it with the ocean, and ceiling it with the pearly heavens) for His own service and honour; but the payment of the rent is expected from the hands of man, the inhabitant. He was made and put into this house upon this very account, that he might, as God's steward, gather his rents from other creatures, and pay in to the great landlord His due and deserved praise. Man is made as a glass, to represent the perfections that are in God. A glass can receive the beams of the sun into it, and reflect them back again to the sun. The excellencies of God appear abundantly in His works; man is made to be the glass where these beams of divine glory should be united and received, and also from him reflected back to God again.

Oh, how absurd is it to conceive that God should work a body so "curiously in the lowest parts of the earth" (Ps. 135:16), embroider it with nerves, veins, variety and proportion of parts, (miracles enough, saith one, between head and foot to fill a volume,) and then enliven it with a spark of His own fire, a ray of His own light, an angelical and heaven-born soul, and send this picture of His own perfections, this comely creature, into the world, merely to eat, and drink, and sleep, or to buy, and sell, and sow, and reap. Surely the only wise God had a higher end and nobler design in forming and fashioning man with so much care and cost.

The upright figure of man's body, as the poetical heathen [Ovid] could observe, may mind him of looking upward to those blessed mansions above; and that fifth muscle in his eye, whereby he differeth also from other creatures, who have only four--one to turn downward, another to hold forwards, a third to turn the eye to the right hand, a fourth to turn the eye to the left; but no unreasonable creature can turn the eye upward as man can--may admonish him of viewing those superior glories, and exercising himself to godliness, it being given him for this purpose, saith the anatomist, that by the help thereof he might behold the heavens. Thus the blessed God, even by sensible demonstrations, speaks His mind and end in making man; but the nature of man's soul being a spiritual substance, doth more loudly proclaim God's pleasure, that he would have it conversant about spiritual things. He made it a heavenly spark, that it might mount and ascend to heaven.

A philosopher may get riches, saith Aristotle, but that is not his main business; a Christian may, nay, must follow his particular calling, but that is not his main business, that is not the errand or which he was sent into the world. God made particular callings for men, but he made men for their general callings. It was a discreet answer of Anaxagoras Clazamenius to one that asked him why he came into the world: "That I might contemplate heaven. Heaven is my country, and for that is my chiefest care." May not a Christian upon better reason confess that to be the end of his creation, that he might seek heaven, and be serviceable to the Lord of heaven, and say, as Jerome, "I am a miserable sinner, and born only to repent." The Jewish Talmud propounds this: "Why [did] God [make] man on the Sabbath eve?" and gives this answer: "That he might presently enter upon the command of sanctifying the Sabbath", and begin his life with the worship of God, which was the chief reason and end why it was given him.


7. All Scriptures cited in this article are taken from the King James Version.

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