Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reading the Classics: William Gurnall – The Christian in Complete Armour

I got this idea from Tim Challies on his blog (great site). He just finished Mere Christianity by Lewis. He posted his review/discussion points with each chapter, one chapter a week. I love reading, and I especially love reading classics, so this was a natural fit for me.

I picked Gurnall's book out of an interest in both puritinical literature and his stance that the Christian faith is one of constant wafare, not one for the coward or faint of heart. Braveheart is my favorite movie (with Shooter coming in a close second) so that sealed it.

Gurnall puts a completely different slant on spiritual warfare. This is not the same kind of warfare that Neil T. Anderson proposes in his books, Instead of interacting with demonic figures, Gurnall urges his readers to fight against their own nature and live the life they were bought for, a life marked by purity and holiness. Take for instance his directive to confess the sins that lie closest to the center of our heart:

The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sinswhich have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet. So David, 'I have kept myself from my iniquity.’ Now what courage and resolution does this require? You think Abraham was tried to purpose, when called to take his 'son, his son Isaac, his only son whom he loved,’ Gen. 22:2, and offer him up with his own hands, and no other; yet what was that to this? Soul, take thy lust, thy only lust, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused the most joy and laughter, from which thou hast promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me; run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it; and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down —and all this now, before thou hast one embrace more from it. Truly this is a hard chapter, flesh and blood cannot bear this saying; our lust will not lie so patiently on the altar, as Isaac, or as a 'Lamb that is brought to the slaughter which wasdumb,’ but will roar and shriek; yea, even shake and rend the heart with its hideous outcries.

Who is able to express the conflicts, the wrestlings, the convulsions of spirit the Christian feels, before he can bring his heart to this work? Or who can fully set forth the art, the rhetorical insinuations, with which such a lust will plead for itself? One while Satan will extenuate and mince the matter: It is but a little one, O spare it, and thy soul shall live for all that. Another while he flatters the soul with the secrecy of it: Thou mayest keep me and thy credit also; I will not be seen abroad in thy company to shame thee among thy neighbours; shut me up in the most retired room thou hast in thy heart, from the hearing of others, if thou wilt only let me now and then have the wanton embraces of thy thoughts and affections in secret. If that cannot be granted, then Satan will seem only to desire execution may be stayed awhile, as Jephthah's daughter of her father: 'let me alone a month or two, and then do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth,’ Judges 11:36, 37, well knowing few such reprieved lusts but at last obtain their full pardon; yea, recover their favour with the soul. Now what resolution doth it require to break through such violence and importunity, and notwithstanding all this to do present execution? Here the valiant swordsmen of the world have showed themselves mere cowards, who have come out of the field with victorious banners, and then lived, yea, died slaves to a base lust at home. As one could say of a great Roman captain who, as he rode in his triumphant chariot through Rome, had his eye never off a courtesan that walked along the street: Behold, how this goodly captain, that had conquered such potent armies, is himself conquered by one silly woman.

And this is why I like Gurnall: He is clear and his arguments cut deeply. He does not speak as a self-righteous puritan who wants to shame his brother, but rather as a sinner who understands exactly how the decay of sin eats away at the soul. There is no judgement levied, and yet there is no quarter given for allowing sin to stay. There is no sin that is acceptable.

To sum up, I like Gurnall because he is practical. While scripture permeates his thoughts and his worldview, this is not a book on Christian Theology; this is a book on Christian praxis. This book very clearly presents a picture on the first part of Christian Leadersip, that is, how to look like Christ. I would encourage you all to read this along with me, participating in the discussion through the comments.

Because I like free, you can download Gurnall's book at If you create an account you can download the .pdf's for free. Without an account, the book can be read online for free, but I'll be using page numbers to lay out the reading plan. For those of you who like to add to burly books to your bookshelves, check out Amazon or AbeBooks (much cheaper).

For Next Week: Pages 1-22. I would recommend three pages a day of Gurnall to supplement your current devotional time (you can't look like Christ if you don't know what he thinks). If you don't have a Bible reading plan but would like one, check out to get the Bible-in-a-Year plan. It's about 10 to 20 minutes of bible reading a day.

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