Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Write-Up: Daily Readings from The Christian in Complete Armour

William Gurnall.  Daily Readings from The Christian in Complete Armour.  Ed., James S. Bell, Jr.  Moody Publishers, 1994.   See here to purchase the book.

William Gurnall was a Puritan pastor who lived in seventeenth century England.  His work, The Christian in Complete Armour, edified John Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” and also the renowned preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  Daily Readings from the Christian in Complete Armour renders Gurnall’s work into a daily devotional, in modern English.  Although the English is modern, the book still conveys a heavy, deep tone, such that readers may feel that they are encountering a work from the past, even as they understand it and find it relevant to their own lives.

The organizing theme of this book is the armor of God in Ephesians 6:11-17, the spiritual tools that the author of Ephesians advocates so that believers can resist onslaughts from the devil.  The book is characteristically Puritan.  It presents life as an upward spiritual struggle to the very end, encourages people to test whether their faith is authentic, and regards spiritual experience as at least one test for the reality of one’s life in Christ.  At the same time it offers hope, encouragement, and compassion to Christians who feel that Satan is attacking them and making them feel depressed.  How does a Christian tell the difference between conviction by the Holy Spirit and Satanic criticism?  Many Christians glibly respond that conviction restores, whereas Satanic criticism undermines.  Gurnall somewhat goes that route, but not entirely.  You will have to read the book to see what I mean!

Puritanism can be daunting to those who spiritually struggle, in that it encourages people to examine whether they are truly in the faith.  People, in response to such a message, can look at their imperfections and become discouraged, feeling as if they are dangling over the pit of hell.  The book had its share of daunting passages and encouraging passages, but even the daunting passages were edifying, in their own way.  Gurnall advocates a spirituality that is not tied to worldly possessions, approval, and appetites because it values God more and finds genuine happiness in God.  For Gurnall, authentic spirituality brings about a consistent spiritual transformation of the believer (i.e., the Christian values all of the graces, not just some), and encourages continual repentance as a necessary path to honoring God.  At the same time, Gurnall recognizes that believers in this life are imperfect and that they face unhappiness, and he encourages them to seek and to depend on God.  Gurnall sometimes seems to present salvation as a continuous journey, not something that one knows that one has as a result of an initial moment of faith; at the same time, Gurnall stresses the importance of justification by faith and personal regeneration.  One may think that Gurnall contradicts himself, but even his spiritually difficult passages have their rhyme and reason.  Faith should be transformative, consistent, and lasting, and yet, of course, people fall short.

The book is a delightful read, in its own way.  While some of the themes that I mention above may appear trite, this book is deep and conveys wisdom.  Gurnall often starts with one theme in a daily reading then ends up in a different, yet somewhat related, place.  He has a keen insight into human psychology.  It is not necessarily an infallible insight, since people may explain negative or tepid reactions to religion in alternative ways, ways that give people the benefit of a doubt.  Still, what Gurnall says may be at least somewhat on the mark.  (I think of his comments about how people can become hardened even to God’s grace and mercy.  That stood out to me, since I have lately regarded Christianity, rightly or wrongly, as a carrot-and-stick religion.)  Gurnall also smoothly weaves into his text biblical allusions, as if the Bible is second nature to him and his audience (which it likely was).  Some of the allusions are from Old Testament stories that may not be readily familiar to contemporary readers.

I am giving the book five stars, and, as one who enjoys reading the Puritans (even though there is much Puritan literature that I have not read), I consider the book a keeper.  In terms of critiques, the book should have had some footnotes, to inform the reader of possibly unfamiliar Old Testament stories, and also of the religious views of the time that Gurnall is attempting to refute.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

2 comments:

  1. Have you read Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, or Richard Baxter's The Saints' Everlasting Rest?

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  2. I haven't yet, but I'll see if I can find them online. I have Baxter's Reformed Pastor, which I got from a book giveaway.

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