28 October 2014

Encouragement from Gurnall: God's strength for me

by Dan Phillips

As part of my morning devotional reading I'm going through William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armour. Though I have the hard-copy, I'm using the Logos edition.

I've just started preaching through Ephesians. My fourth sermon got me partway through verse 1a. So I figure that, given my rate of preaching and Gurnall's weigh-in of 1240 pages, I ought to be mostly through it by the time I get to the armor of God in chapter 6, DV.

You know that Gurnall is a Puritan writer, and perhaps some acquaintaince with Owen prepares you for difficult, turgid prose. That's what makes reading him such a delight. He so often uses quaint, everyday, homely turns of phrase. He's Puritanism at its best, mulling and chewing over the morsels of Scripture until we get the whole sweetness.

So that said, let me give you an extended excerpt that just encouraged and strengthened me. He's in his fourth chapter dwelling on "be strong in the Lord" and developing the implications of that charge. I'll add some paragraph-breaks to make it a bit more readable, and I'll bold a few particularly-notables.

Hear Gurnall and be encouraged:
First, In agonies of conscience that arise from the greatness of thy sins, fly for refuge into the almighty power of God. Truly, sirs, when a man’s sins are displayed in all their bloody colours, and spread forth in their killing aggravations, and the eye of conscience awakened to behold them through the multiplying or magnifying glass of a temptation, they must needs surprise the creature with horror and amazement, till the soul can say with the prophet, for all this huge host, ‘There is yet more with me than against me.’ One Almighty is more than many mighties. All these mighty sins and devils make not any almighty sin, or an almighty devil. Oppose to all the hideous charges brought against thee by them, this only attribute. As the French ambassador once silenced the Spaniard’s pride in repeating his master’s many titles, with one that drowned them all.
...The very consideringas none can bind God but himself, so none can break the bond himself makes; and are they not his own words, that ‘he will abundantly pardon?’ Isa. 55. He will multiply to pardon; as if he had said, I will drop mercy with your sin, and spend all I have, rather than let it be said my good is overcome of your evil.
God to be God, supposeth him to be almighty to pardon, as well as to avenge, and this is some relief; but then to consider it is almighty power in bond and covenant to pardon, this is more: 
...Thou mayest, poor soul, when accused by Satan, molested by his terrors, say, It is God that justifies; I have his hand to it, that I should have my life given me as soon as I laid down my arms and submitted to him, which I desire to do; behold the gates of my heart are open to let the Prince of Peace in, and is not the Almighty able to perform his promise? I commit myself to him as unto a faithful Creator.
Secondly, Improve this alstands in sight of thee while thou art in the valley fighting, and stays [refrains from helping] but for a call from thee when distressed in battle, and then he will come to thy rescue. Jehoshaphat cried, when in the throng of his enemies, and the Lord helped him; much more mayest thou promise thyself his succour in thy soul-combats.
mighty power of God and thy interest therein, in temptations to sin; when thou art overpowered, and fleest before the face of thy strong corruption, or fearest thou shalt one day fall by it, make bold to take hold of this attribute, and reinforce thyself from it; again to resist, and in resisting, to believe a timely victory over it. The Almighty God 
Betake thyself to the throne of grace with that promise, ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you;’ and before thou urgest it, the more to help thy faith, comfort thyself with this, that though this word Almighty is not expressed, yet it is implied in this and every promise; and thou mayest, without adding a tittle to the word of God, read it in thy soul; ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you,’ saith the Almighty God; for this and all his attributes are the constant seal to all his promises. Now, soul, put the bond in suit, fear not the recovery, it is debt, and so due. He is able whom thou suest, and so there is no fear of losing the charge of the suit; and he that was so gracious to bind himself when he was free, will be so faithful, being able, to perform now he is bound; only while thou expectest the performance of the promise, and the assistance of this almighty power against thy corruptions, take heed that thou keep under the shadow of this attribute, and condition of this promise, Psa. 91:1.
The shadow will not cool, except in it. What good to have the shadow, though of a mighty rock, when we sit in the open sun? To have almighty power engaged for us, and we to throw ourselves out of the protection thereof, by bold sallies into the mouth of temptation? The saints’ falls have been when they run out of their trench and hold; for, like the conies, they are a weak people in themselves, and their strength lies in the rock of God’s almightiness which is their habitation.
Thirdly, Christian, improve this, when oppressed with the weight of any duty and service, which in thy place and calling lies upon thee. Perhaps thou findest the duty of thy calling too heavy for thy weak shoulders; make bold by faith to lay the heaviest end of thy burden on God’s shoulder, which is thine, if a believer, as sure as God can make it by promise. When at any time thou art sick of thy work, and ready to think with Jonas to run from it, encourage thyself with that of God to Gideon, whom he called from the flail to thresh the mountains: Go in this thy might; hath not God called thee? Fall to the work God sets thee about, and thou engagest his strength for thee. ‘The way of the Lord is strength.’ Run from thy work, and thou engagest God’s strength against thee; he will send some storm or other after thee to bring home his runaway servant. How oft hath the coward been killed in a ditch, or under some hedge, when the valiant soldier that stood his ground and kept his place, got off with safety and honour?
...He can give thee so much comfort in hand, as thou shalt acknowledge God is aforehand with thee, for all the shame and pain thou canst endure for him. And if it should not amount to this, yet so much as will bear all thy charges thou canst be put to in the way, lies ready told in that promise, 1 Cor. 10:13. Thou shalt have it at sight; and this may satisfy a Christian; especially if he considers, though he doth not carry so much of heaven’s joy about him to heaven as others, yet he shall meet it as soon as he comes to his Father’s house, where it is reserved for him.
In a word, Christian, rely upon thy God, and make thy daily applications to the throne of grace, for continual supplies of strength; you little think how kindly he takes it, that you will make use of him, the oftener the better; and the more you come for, the more welcome; else why would Christ have told his disciples, ‘Hitherto ye have asked nothing,’ but to express his large heart in giving, loath to put his hand to his purse for a little, and therefore by a familiar kind of rhetoric puts them to rise higher in asking, as Naaman, when Gehazi asked one talent, entreats him to take two. Such a bountiful heart thy God hath, while thou art asking a little peace and joy, he bids thee open thy mouth wide, and he will fill it.
Go and ransack thy heart, Christian, from one end to the other; find out thy wants, acquaint thyself with all thy weaknesses, and set them before the Almighty, as the widow her empty vessel before the prophet; hadst thou more than thou canst bring, thou mayest have them all filled. God hath strength enough to give, but he hath no strength to deny: here the Almighty himselfwith reverence be it spoken, is weak; even a child, the weakest in grace of his family that can but say Father, is able to overcome him, and therefore let not the weakness of thy faith discourage thee. No greater motive to the bowels of mercy to stir up almighty power to relieve thee, than thy weakness, when pleaded in the sense of it. The pale face and thin cheeks, I hope, move more with us, than the canting language of a stout sturdy beggar. Thus that soul that comes laden in the sense of his weak faith, love, patience, the very weakness of them carries an argument along with them for succour.
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 19–21.]
Isn't that good? Better still, the truth Gurnall relished.

Be encouraged, Christian friend; and be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.

Dan Phillips's signature


Michael Coughlin said...

Very encouraging, thanks.

Perhaps thou findest the duty of thy calling too heavy for thy weak shoulders; make bold by faith to lay the heaviest end of thy burden on God’s shoulder, which is thine, if a believer, as sure as God can make it by promise.

Terry Rayburn said...

Thanks, Dan. Guys like Gurnall were so filled with the Scriptures, they often poured it out almost automatically, even without biblical references.

This sentence, no doubt referencing Lev. 11:5 and/or Deut. 14:7, is one of my favorites in your post:

"The saints’ falls have been when they run out of their trench and hold; for, like the CONIES[*], they are a WEAK people in themselves, and their strength lies in the ROCK of God’s almightiness which is their habitation."

Now to remember it, daily, hourly.

*Coney (Heb. "shaphan", scientific name "Hyrax Syriacus") - weak in itself, but protected by its rock.

Here's a picture:


LanternBright said...

I've just added this to my reading list for next year. Can't wait! Thanks, Dan!