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
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
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.
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