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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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HOPE

William Gurnall:

Hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called “the rejoicing of hope” (Hebrews 3:6).

 

 

Man’s Dependence on his Creator

William GurnallIt is the very nature of that, which is created, to depend on its Creator for both being and function. It is impossible for that which is created to exist or act without the intervention of its Creator. William Gurnall writes:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Ephesians 6:10 ESV)

The strength of the general in other hosts lies in his troops. He flies, as a great commander once said to his soldiers, upon their wings; if their feathers be clipped, their power broken, he is lost; but in the army of saints, the strength of every saint, yea, of the whole host of saints, lies in the Lord of hosts. God can overcome his enemies without their hands, but they cannot so much as defend themselves without his arm. … Some propound a question, whether there be a sin committed in the world in which Satan hath not a part? But if the question were, whether there be any holy action performed without the special assistance of God concurring, that is resolved, ‘Without me ye can do nothing,’ John 15:5. … We apostles, we saints that have habitual grace, yet this lies like water at the bottom of a well, which will not ascend with all our pumping till God pour in his exciting grace, and then it comes. To will is more than to think, to exert our will into action more than both. These are of God: ‘For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,’ Php. 2:13.

He makes the heart new, and having made it fit for heavenly motion, setting every wheel, as it were, in its right place, then he winds it up by his actuating grace, and sets it on going, the thoughts to stir, the will to move and make towards the holy object presented; yet here the chariot is set, and cannot ascend the hill of action till God puts his shoulder to the wheel: ‘to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not,’ Rom. 7:18. God is at the bottom of the ladder, and at the top also, the Author and Finisher, yea, helping and lifting the soul at every round, in his ascent to any holy action.

Well, now [if] the Christian is set on work, how long will he keep close to it? Alas, poor soul, no longer than he is held up by the same hand that empowered him at first. He hath soon wrought out the strength received, and therefore to maintain the tenure of a holy course, there must be renewing strength from heaven every moment. . . .

The Christian, when fullest of divine communications, is but a glass without a foot, he cannot stand, or hold what he hath received, any longer than God holds him in his strong hand. Therefore, Christ, when bound for heaven, and ready to take his leave of his children, bespeaks his Father’s care of them in his absence. ‘Father, keep them,’ John 17:11; as if he had said, they must not be left alone, they are poor shiftless children, that can neither stand nor go without help; they will lose the grace I have given them, and fall into those temptations which I kept them from while I was with them, if they be out of thy eye or arms but one moment; and therefore, ‘Father, keep them.’ (“The Whole Armour of God”)

Knowing for whom you Fight

William GurnallThere are no mercenaries in God’s army. The Christian soldier fights for the One he loves most. His resolution is steadfast. According to William Gurnall:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV)

He that knows not well what or whom he fights for [may] soon be persuaded to change his side, or at least stand neuter. Such may be found that go for professors, that can hardly give an account what they hope for, or whom they hope in; yet Christians they must be thought, though they run before they know their errand; or if they have some principles they go upon, they are so unsettled that every wind blows them down, like loose tiles from the house top. Blind zeal is soon put to a shameful retreat, while holy resolution, built on fast principles, lifts up its head like a rock in the midst of waves. ‘The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits …’ (Daniel 11:32)

Let a man be never so knowing in the things of Christ, if his aim is not right in his profession, that man’s principles will hang loose; he will not venture much or far for Christ, no more, no further than he can save his own stake. A hypocrite may show some mettle at hand, some courage for a spurt in conquering some difficulties; but he will show himself a jade at length. He that hath a false end in his profession, will soon come to an end of his profession when he is pinched on that toe where his corn is — I mean, called to deny that [which] his naughty heart aimed at all this while. Now his heart fails him, he can go no farther. O take heed of this squint eye to our profit, pleasure, honor, or anything beneath Christ and heaven; for they will take away your heart, as the prophet saith of wine and women, that is, our love, and if our love be taken away, there will be little courage left for Christ. (The Whole Armor of God)

Keeping on the Way to Heaven

William GurnallWilliam Gurnall:

The Christian must keep on his way to heaven in the midst of all the scandals that are cast upon the ways of God by the apostasy and foul falls of false professors. There were ever such in the church, who by their sad miscarriages in judgment and practice have laid a stone of offense in the way of profession, at which weak Christians are ready to make a stand, as they at the bloody body of Asahel, II Sam. 2:22, not knowing whether they may venture any further in their profession, seeing such, whose gifts they so much admired, lie before them, wallowing in the blood of their slain profession: [from being] zealous professors, to prove perhaps fiery persecutors; [from being] strict performers of religious duties, [to prove] irreligious atheists: no more like the men they were some years past, than the vale of Sodom (now a bog and a quagmire) is, to what it was, when for fruitfulness compared to the garden of the Lord. We had need of a holy resolution to bear up against such discouragements, and not to faint; as Joshua, who lived to see the whole camp of Israel, a very few excepted, revolting, and in their hearts turning back to Egypt, and yet with an undaunted spirit maintained his integrity, yea, resolved though not a man beside would bear him company, yet he would serve the Lord. (The Whole Armour of God)

Exploits of Faith against Sin

William GurnallChristians, God and angels are observing you as children of the Most High God. Your every exploit of faith against sin and the devil results in a shout in heaven. William Gurnall writes:

The fearful are in the forlorn of those that march for hell, Rev. 21; the violent and valiant are they, which take heaven by force: cowards never won heaven. Say not that thou hast royal blood running in thy veins, and art begotten of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by this heroic spirit, to dare to be holy despite men and devils. The eagle tries her young ones by the sun; Christ tries his children by their courage that dare to look on the face of death and danger for his sake, Mark 8:34, 35. O how uncomely a sight is it to see, a bold sinner and a fearful saint, one resolved to be wicked, and a Christian wavering in his holy course; to see guilt put innocence to flight, and hell keep the field, impudently braving it with displayed banners of open profaneness; [to see] saints hide their colors for shame, or run from them for fear, who should rather wrap themselves in them, and die upon the place, than thus betray the glorious name of God, which is called upon by them to the scorn of the uncircumcised. Take heart therefore, O ye saints, and be strong; your cause is good, God him­self espoused your quarrel, who hath appointed you his own Son, General of the field, called ‘the Captain of our salvation,’ Heb. 2:10. He shall lead you on with courage, and bring you off with honor. He lived and died for you; he will live and die with you; for mercy and tenderness to his soldiers, none like him. Trajan, it is said, rent his clothes to bind up his soldiers’ wounds: Christ poured out his blood as balm to heal his saints’ wounds; tears off his flesh to bind them up. For prowess, none to compare with him: he never turned his head from danger: no, not when hell’s malice and heaven’s justice appeared in field against him; knowing all that should come upon him, [he] went forth and said, ‘Whom seek ye?’ John 18:4. For success insuperable: he never lost battle even when he lost his life: he won the field, carrying the spoils thereof in the triumphant chariot of his ascension, to heaven with him: where he makes an open show of them to the unspeakable joy of saints and angels. You march in the midst of gallant spirits, your fellow-soldiers every one the son of a Prince. Behold, some, enduring with you here below a great flight of afflictions and temptation, take heaven by storm and force. Others you may see after many assaults, repulses, and rallying of their faith and patience, got upon the walls of heaven, conquerors, from whence they do, as it were, look down, and call you, their fellow-brethren on earth, to march up the hill after them, crying aloud: ‘Fall on, and the city is your own, as now it is ours, who for a few days’ conflict are now crowned with heaven’s glory, one moment’s enjoyment of which hath dried up all our tears, healed all our wounds, and made us forget the sharpness of the fight, with the joy of our present victory.’ (The Whole Armour of God)

The Prison Years of Paul

William GurnallThe prison years of Paul’s life might quite naturally be assumed as the low point of his evangelistic career. However, we know this is not so. William Gurnall offers this analysis:

Paul was now in bonds, yet not so close kept as to be denied pen and paper; God, it seems, gave him some favor in the sight of his enemies: Paul was Nero’s prisoner, but Nero was much more God’s. And while God had work for Paul, he found him friends both in court and prison. Let persecutors send saints to prison; God can provide a keeper for their turn.

But how does this great apostle spend his time in prison? Not in publishing invectives against those, though the worst of men, who had laid him in; a piece of zeal which the holy sufferers of those times were little acquainted with: nor in politic counsels, how he might wind himself out of his trouble, by sordid flattery of, or sinful compliance with, the great ones of the times. Some would have used any picklock to have opened a passage to their liberty and not scrupled, so escape they might, whether they got out at the door or window. But this holy man was not so fond of liberty or life, as to purchase them at the least hazard to the gospel. He knew too much of another world, to bid so high for the enjoying of this; and therefore he is regardless what his enemies can do with him, well knowing he should go to heaven whether they would or no. No, the great care, which lay upon him, was for the churches of Christ; as a faithful steward, he labors to set the house of God in order before his departure. We read of no dispatches sent to court to procure his liberty; but many to the churches, to help them to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free. There is no such way to be even with the devil and his instruments, for all their spite against us, as by doing what good we can wherever we [are]. The devil had as good have let Paul alone, for he no sooner comes into prison but he falls a preaching, at which the gates of Satan’s prison fly open, and poor sinners come forth. (The Whole Armour of God)

Persevering

William GurnallI firmly believe in the perseverance (preservation) of the saints. It is, indeed, all of grace. However, living out this perseverance in our lives often feels very difficult on this side of heaven. William Gurnall wrestles with this problem for our benefit:

The believer is to persevere in his Christian course to the end of his life: his work and his life must go off the stage together. This adds weight to every other difficulty of the Christian’s calling. We have known many who have gone into the field, and liked the work of a soldier for a battle or two, but soon have had enough, and come running home again, but few can bear it as a constant trade. Many are soon engaged in holy duties, easily persuaded to take up a profession of religion, and as easily persuaded to lay it down, like the new moon, which shines a little in the first part of the night, but is down before half the night is gone—lightsome professors in their youth, whose old age is wrapped up in thick darkness of sin and wickedness. O, this persevering is a hard word! this taking up the cross daily, this praying always, this watching night and day, and never laying aside our clothes and armor, I mean indulging ourselves, to remit and unbend in our holy waiting on God, and walking with God. This sends many sorrowful away from Christ, yet this is a saint’s duty, to make religion his every-day work, without any vacation from one end of the year to the other. These few instances are enough to show what need the Christian hath of resolution. . . .

This gives us reason why there are so many professors and so few Christians indeed; so many that run and so few obtain; so many go into the field against Satan, and so few come out conquerors; because all have a desire to be happy, but few have courage and resolution to grapple with the difficulties that meet them in the way to their happiness. … So the sweet bait of religion hath drawn many to nibble at it, who are offended with the hard service it calls to. It requires another spirit than the world can give or receive to follow Christ fully. (The Whole Armour of God)

Bear Up Against All Opposition

William GurnallIf you wish to courageously bear up against all opposition on your march to heaven, raise your spirit with the noble words of the Bible. Such reading will make your principles well fixed, and prevent your heart from becoming unstable. William Gurnall writes:

The Christian is to walk singularly, not after the world’s guise, Rom. 12:2. We are commanded not to be conformed to this world, that is, not to accommodate ourselves to the corrupt customs of the world. The Christian must not be of such a complying nature as to cut the coat of his profession according to the fashion of the times, or the humor of the company he falls into… No, the Christian must stand fixed to his principles, and not change his habit; but freely show what countryman he is by his holy constancy in the truth. Now what odium, what snares, and what dangers doth this singularity expose the Christian to? Some will hoot and mock him, as one in a Spanish fashion would be laughed at in your streets. Thus Michal flouted David. Indeed, the world counts the Christian for his singularity of life the only fool; which I have thought gave the first occasion to that nickname, whereby men commonly express a silly man or a fool. Such a one, say they, is a mere Abraham; that is, in the world’s account, a fool. But why an Abraham? Because Abraham did that which carnal reason, the world’s idol, laugh’s at as mere folly; he left a present estate in his father’s house to go he knew not whither, to receive an inheritance he knew not when. And truly such fools all the saints are branded for by the wise world. . . .

Shame is that which proud nature most disdains, to avoid which many durst not ‘confess Christ openly,’ John 7:13. Many lose heaven because they are ashamed to go in a fool’s coat thither. Again, as some will mock, so others will persecute to death, merely for this nonconformity in the Christian’s principles and practices to them. This was the trap laid for the three children; they must dance before Nebuchadnezzar‘s pipe, or burn. This was the plot laid to ensnare Daniel, who walked so unblameably, that his very enemies gave him this testimony, that he had no fault but his singularity in his religion, Dan. 6:5. It is a great honor to a Christian, yea, to religion itself, when all their enemies can say is, they are precise, and will not do as we do. Now in such a case as this, when the Christian must turn or burn, leave praying, or become a prey to the cruel teeth of bloody men; how many politic retreats and self-preserving distinctions would a cowardly unresolved heart invent? The Christian that hath so great opposition had need be well locked into the saddle of his profession, or else he will soon be dismounted. (The Whole Armour of God)

To War against Sin is Hard Work

William GurnallThere are many who quickly profess Christianity, and just as quickly are persuaded to lay it down. To war against sin is hard work. There are few willing to take up the cross daily and cease indulging in their favorite sins. William Gurnall explains this problem:

The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins, which have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet. … 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 [most loved sin], 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 was dumb,’ 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 neighbors; 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 favor 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. (The Whole Armour of God)

Cleaning Up Our Lives

William Gurnall writes:

God would not rub so hard if it were not to fetch out the dirt that is ingrained in our natures. God loves purity so well He had rather see a hole than a spot in His child’s garments.

Hope For Sick Hearts

[H]aving the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. . . . (Ephesians 1:18 ESV)

[R]emember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12 ESV)

The verses above speak of future grace. How often do we tend to forget about the blessings of grace we have received and instead live in hopelessness as if there were no God? Dare we to say that the God of grace, Who has given us past victories, now fails in strength to meet our current problems and future circumstances? Many people have experienced troubles in recent years which have eaten away the hope of their expectations. During the last two years my family has experienced more unexpected troubles than I would care to name. I understand very well this proverb of Solomon’s: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12 ESV) So maybe you consider this past year a dud, but what about 2012?

The New Year is a good time to redirect our thoughts toward the future. The beginning of a new year is a time to prepare our hearts for all that God will do in our lives during the coming year. In Luke, chapter three, John the Baptist told the people to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Messiah. A Savior had been born who represented the rebirth of hope to all who would call on His name. John the Baptist was the messenger sent by God to prepare the hearts of the people. He helped the people to see the condition of their hearts and their need for a Savior, because without Christ we are imprisoned by our sins.

John’s preaching was not at all about lifting the people’s self-esteem. Instead, John forced them to look at their own sinfulness. His message would not be welcome today in most churches. “He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” (Luke 3:7 ESV) By stripping away the defensive shield of self-righteousness, John showed them the true condition of their hearts. What defensive shields do you use to protect you from knowing the sin your heart?

John taught that the Christ was coming. Those who prepared the way would have their hope restored. John the Baptist describes the coming savior in these terms: “John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’” (Luke 3:16-17 ESV)

John’s ministry was also one of repentance: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark 1:4-5 ESV)

We, too, should prepare our hearts for a wonderful rebirth of hope that will enable us to begin this New Year with a sense of passion and enthusiasm. Now is the time to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts and minds that we may be assured: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:19-20 ESV) When Jesus becomes our only hope, we will have placed our hope in very secure hands. Let me close by offering this quotation from William Gurnall: “Hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called ‘the rejoicing of hope’.” Prepare the way!

You Must Study The Word Of God

William Gurnall

From the desk of William Gurnall:

Christian, if you can once and for all break your engagement to the flesh and become a free man in Christ, truth will be your steadfast friend. Study God’s word faithfully as well. Satan has a habit of stopping the ears from hearing sound doctrine before he opens them to listen to corrupt. He will, as often as he can, pull a saint away from God’s Word and talk him into rejecting some point of truth. But he who rejects the truth of one doctrine, loses the blessing of them all. Paul predicted how this would happen “They shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Do not pretend you want to be lead into truth if you will not bother to study the whole Word of God. In doing so, you are no different from a child who says he wants to learn, yet plays the truant. Such a child must be disciplined. Because your Heavenly Father loves you, He will bring you back to the Word with shame and sorrow, rather than leave you trapped in Satan’s lies.

As you study and grow, be wary of new doctrine. Do not hastily accept every thing you hear, even when from the pulpit. Now I admit that to reject a doctrine simply because we have never heard of it before is foolish. But we have every right to wait and inquire before embracing it. When you hear a new notion about the truth, go to God in prayer and seek His council. Search the scriptures. Discuss it with your pastor and with other Christians whose wisdom and maturity you trust.

The truth will stand up under scrutiny. It is a fruit that never bruises or spoils from handling. But error, like a fish, begins to stink after a few days. Therefore, let new ideas sit before you, do not make a meal of them. You do not want to poison your soul with rotting mackerel when you could be feasting on manna from heaven! (The Christian in Complete Armour, 1665)

Lighting The Way

A man in darkness needs light to see where he is going. Yet, the sinner will prefer darkness over the light and when exposed to the light, runs away to find comfort in his sin. The spirits of darkness are always near, encouraging those who are blind to the Gospel to hide from it; make fun of it; criticize it; but to never look into the light. If he hears a preacher deliver a powerful sermon, Satan’s minions will whisper foolish thoughts into his ears to distract him. There are also devils who will dull his senses and fog his mind until the sermon’s end. But fallen man does not need devils to lead him astray, his conscience is addicted to sin and self-interest. What if a man has been touched by God to desire the truth found only in the light? Satan’s demons will try to lead him to hear a cold preacher, who preaches cold sermons. This pastor may be a modern media preacher who will do anything to avoid pricking the conscience of his hearers. This is a preacher who is too cowardly to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. Many in his congregation will die in darkness and sin. William Gurnall explains:

Both sin and darkness cause distress. What could the Egyptians do under the plague of darkness but sit still and hope it would pass? A man under the state of sin is under the same plague. He can do nothing profitable until God lifts the darkness from his soul. The epitaph of every impenitent sinner could fitly read: “Hear lies one who never did one hour’s work for God”.

And if he can do God no service while kept in darkness, neither can he help himself. Pity the man whose darkness hides the disservice he does to his own soul! He is like one who stands helplessly in a dark cellar, supposing himself trapped and doomed to die. But if a candle were lit, he would find the door within easy reach. Christ is the candle that lights the way out of man’s darkness. (The Christian in Complete Armour)

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