The Works of Thomas Goodwin
The complete works of Thomas Goodwin (1600-1679) have become quite rare and so I was encouraged to find that Reformation Heritage Books released the complete set this year.
Goodwin was a very gifted bible scholar and experiential preacher. He and John Owen (1616-1683) team-preached on Sundays at Oxford between 1652-1657. According to scholars, much of the content in those precious volumes on the mortification sin and the glory of Christ were preached by Owen during these years. The bar was set high, and Owen was certainly more gifted, but Goodwin was an able counterpart. For me, Goodwin seems a bit easier to read than Owen, although that hardly makes Goodwin an easy read.
Owen may have been more prolific, but Goodwin was much more handsome and fashionable, incorporating hip stocking caps at formal occasions. Though differing in style, Owen (who favored a more kippot cap) and Goodwin were united by common passions. Both exalted the glory of Christ and encouraged believers to fight personal sin. And seeing that both men majored on these important topics makes me long to have been an Oxford student between 1652-1657.
The Glory of Christ
My first contact with Goodwin’s works came a few years ago when I purchased volume 5 (Christ the Mediator). In this volume Goodwin consumes 436 pages to relish in Christ’s fitness and work as our Mediator. He shows evidence upon evidence that Christ is the only hope for humanity. No angel or fallen man can save us – we sinners are helpless and hopeless of redemption without Christ. But here is the kicker: Christ’s fitness for the work does not make Him our Savior.
Christ, being perfectly suited for the work and able to fulfill the demands of the Father, still needs to freely choose the work for Himself. I was moved by Goodwin’s description of Christ’s willingness to freely lay His own life down for sinners. That nobody took His life, but He chose to give it (in a transaction made in eternity past) is a truth I will never fully consume or digest. It is a great truth that moves my affections and mortifies my sin.
When it comes to the glory of Christ, Owen and Goodwin are the power-hitting duo for the Puritans, what Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were to baseball. No duo matches Owen and Goodwin in overwhelming me with the glory of Christ.
For a preacher or writer who needs to navigate Puritan literature efficiently and timely, the index at the end of these works is a real treat. The topical index alone is 89 pages long. The text index contains over 10,200 biblical references and takes up 95 double-column pages. These two indexes make every one of the 6,600 pages easily accessible.
As I was recently reading, the following example struck me. In volume three Goodwin preaches a sermon titled, The Trial of Christian Growth (on John 15:1-2). We grow when we are pruned and we are pruned because we, as believers, are still sinful.
In the sermon, one question naturally arises: How do we know that sin resides in the heart of the believer? And for the next few pages Goodwin sets out to answer this important question. The following is a good example of Goodwin’s thought.
Of course sin resides in the believer because they are pruned. But then, Goodwin argues that we know sin resides in our hearts due to the nature of our justified righteousness in Christ.
“When the Apostle, long after his first conversion, was in the midst of that great and famous battle, chronicled in that 7th chapter of Romans, wherein he was led ‘captive to a law,’ and an army of sin within him, ‘warring against the law of his mind,’ presently upon that woeful exclamation and outcry there mentioned, ‘O miserable man that I am,’ &c., he falls admiring the grace of justification through Christ,–they are his first words after the battle ended,–‘Now,’ says he, ‘there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ.’ Mark that word now; that now, after such bloody wounds and gashes, there should yet be no condemnation, this exceedingly exalts this grace; for if ever, thought he, I was in danger of condemnation, it was upon the rising and rebelling of these my corruptions, which, when they had carried me captive, I might well have expected the sentence of condemnation to have followed; but I find, says he, that God still pardons me, and accepts me as much as ever upon my returning to him, and therefore I do proclaim with wonder to all the world, that God’s justifying grace in Christ is exceeding large and rich. And though there may be many corruptions in those that are in Christ, yet there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, that walk after the Spirit, though flesh be in them.” (3:448 )
Then on to the next idea… Sin resides in the heart of the believer, otherwise God’s preserving grace of His children would be no special thing.
“It serves exceedingly to illustrate the grace of perseverance, and the power of God therein; for unto the power of God is our perseverance wholly attributed. 1 Peter 1:5, ‘Ye are kept,’ as with a garrison, as the word signifies, ‘through the power of God unto salvation,’ And were there not a great and apparent danger of miscarrying, such a mighty guard needed not. There is nothing which puts us into any danger but our corruptions that still remain in us, which ‘fight against the soul,’ and endeavor to overcome and destroy us.” (3:448-449)
Then on to the devil. Satan can only be motivated towards tripping and tempting believers if they have opportunity for sin. He writes,
“Neither would the confusion of the devil in the end be so great, and the victory so glorious, if all sin at first conversion were expelled. For by this means the devil hath in his assaults against us the more advantages, fair play, as I may so speak, fair hopes of overcoming, having a great faction in us, as ready to sin as he is greedy to tempt; and yet God strongly carries on his own work begun, though slowly, and by degrees, backs and maintains a small party of graces within us to his confusion.” (3:449)
Sin in the believer’s heart humbles us and makes certain we do not think of ourselves too highly. Notice Goodwin’s humor.
“But sanctification being a work wrought in us, we are apt to dote on that, as too much upon excellency in ourselves. How much ado have poor believers to keep their hearts off from doting upon their own righteousness, and from pouring on it, when it is, God wot [knows], a very little! They must therefore have something within them to pull down their spirits…” (3:450)
But Goodwin continues. We know sin resides in the believer’s heart to exalt post-conversion grace and again to humble us.
“It is not the sins of a fore-past unregenerate estate that will be enough to do this thoroughly; for they might be looked upon as past and gone… God would have us humbled by seeing our dependence upon him for inherent grace. And how soon are we apt to forget we have received it, and that in our natures no good dwells! We would not remember that our nature were a step-mother to grace, and a natural mother to lusts, but that we see weeds still grow naturally of themselves.” (3:450)
And Goodwin continues. Further, we know sin resides in the heart of the Christian because how else could God call believers to a life of self-denial?
“As thus to humble them, so that they might have occasion to deny themselves; which to do is more acceptable to God than much more service without it, and therefore the great promise of ‘having a hundred-fold’ is made to that grace. It was the great grace which of all other Christ exercised. Now, if we had no corruption to entice and seduce us, what opportunities were there for us thus of denying ourselves? Christ indeed had an infinite deal of glory to lay down, not so we. Unless there be a self in us to solicit us, and another self to deny those solicitations, we should have no occasions of self-denial or the exercise of any such grace.” (3:450)
But Goodwin hasn’t even arrived at the application! In application he reminds us (1) we must be humbled towards other Christians who fall into sin, and (2) we must fight to ever purge sin from our acts and hearts.
“If thou hast prevailed against the outward act, rest not, but get the rising of the lust mortified, and that rolling of it in thy fancy; get thy heart deaded towards it also; and it must not only be ‘crucified with Christ,’ but ‘buried’ also, and so rot.” (3:451)
I find his argument for sin in the life of the Christian to be compelling, humorous, experiential and very valuable. These four little pages held my attention for a few hours as I reflected upon them. I find this a common response to Goodwin’s sermons.
The first two volumes are largely comprised of sermons through Ephesians 1:1-2:11. The first volume also contains a helpful biography and strategy for reading Goodwin, written by Joel R. Beeke. Volume one contains 36 sermons through the first chapter of Ephesians and volume two contains 24 sermons on the second chapter of Ephesians. It has been said that, “Not even Luther on Galatians is such an expositor of Paul’s mind and heart as is Goodwin on the Ephesians.” Volume two concludes with four sermons on various other sections of Ephesians and a short book on James 1:1-5.
Volume three contains an exposition on various passages from Revelation 4-16. A 120-page book titled, A Child of Light Walking in Darkness, covers the darkest periods of the Christian life. An 80-page book follows on the topic of noting answered prayers. A 70-page book, The Trial of a Christian’s Growth, considers the God who prunes His children for more usefulness. A powerful 20-page sermon on The Vanity of Thoughts concludes this valuable volume. Volumes four and five are loaded with Christ-exalting books and sermons including Christ the Mediator (a personal favorite), Christ Set Forth and the Supereminence of Christ.
Volume six is comprised of one long book on the work of the Holy Spirit in our salvation. Volume seven contains several books covering the perfection of original created order, a call to gospel holiness in the Christian life, the three stages of Christian maturity (babes, men, fathers), the glory of the saints after death, man’s restoration by grace and a book on repentance. Volume eight is one long book titled, The Object and Acts of Justifying Faith, and clearly defines the object, act and properties of personal faith.
Volume nine is given almost wholly to defining the doctrine of election except for a sermon on thankfulness due to God for His blessings to us. Volume ten is one long indictment towards the unregenerate and their guiltiness before God. Volume eleven contains Goodwin’s argument for congregational church government over a Presbyterian form. The final volume is the shortest. It contains five sermons on various topics, a collection of quaint sayings of Goodwin and some extracts of sermon notes taken by hearers. The volume includes with those two incredibly helpful indexes to navigate the complete works.
Goodwin was mighty in the scriptures and a scholar of the human heart. He was balanced in topics and so provides help for the preacher on various themes. He was never content with the superficial, but dove to the depths of divine wisdom.
His complete works provide us a lifetime of learning into the sin-killing glories of Calvary. It is a set worth planning your library around.
Dust jackets: no
Text: facsimile of 1861-66 version (Nichol’s Standard Divines)
Topical Index: yes (excellent; end of vol. 12)
Textual index: yes (excellent; end of vol. 12)
Biography: yes (Joel R. Beeke; vol. 1)
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books (Grand Rapids, MI)
Price USD: $350/$240 at RHB, Inc.
Indexed: yes, in both Martin and PCA
ISBNs: 1892777916, 9781892777911
9781892777904, 9781892777829, 9781892777805, 9781892777898, 9781892777874, 9781892777843, 9781892777850, 9781892777867, 9781892777881, 9781892777836, 9781892777799, 9781892777812, 9781892777911