Tuesday, May 19, 2009

1 The Power of God in Soothing a Troubled Conscience

In reading closely Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armour, I am discovering why some have called the work a broad and systematic teaching concerning the Christian experience as a life lived before God. Paragraph after paragraph offers deep and sound wisdom from the depths of a well clearly filled by weeks, months and even years of meditation on God's Word.

In discussing the grounding of faith on the promises of God to supply strength to His saints, Gurnall takes up a pastoral question of conflicted consciences in his readers. Part of the Christian life is dealing with our consciences when realization is made that we are walking awry in some way or another - and oftentimes this engagement with our consciences can give rise to great agony and pain over knowing our sin and understanding the offense it is to our Almighty God and Sovereign Lord. Gurnall offers in such cases great wisdom, and solid exhortation:
"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. 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 one almighty sin, or an almighty devil. Oppose to all the hideous charges brought against thee by them this onely attribute... 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 to me as soon as I laid down my arms and submitted to him.... I commit myself to him as unto a faithful Creator." (p. 35, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)
Surely all sin - God's lambs as well as those outside the fold. All, however, do not have recourse to God's living water. Oftentimes we who are in Christ will see more clearly and experience more forcefully the effects of sin in ourselves... for we see sin as it is - black and ugly, and a rebellion toward God our Father. Surely this realization is of a discomforting nature - and therefore the balm of Gilead must be applied to us if we are to survive that discomfort brought on by our self-awareness. This is promised to us, and a help toward obtaining that salve is the recognition of the promise of God's covenant bonds with us. When I am convinced of the promise of God to save His own, and the certainty of the declaration of Christ on the Cross, "It is finished", then I can declare with Paul, "thanks be to God," and "it is God that justifies".

We must, too, remember that this covering, this actual, realized atonement, is not ours by our obedience, or ours by our good intentions - but ours by bond of Christ, instituted by God Himself in eternity past, realized in time. It is the covenant union of Christ's sheep with Him as the Shepherd who laid down His life for them that brings the sheep through, and renders them acceptable and spotless as He is.

We must, as we approach God in penitential prayer, strive with our own flesh to approach Him in humility as recipients of the gracious gift of acceptance with Him. As we take refuge in Him with this understanding, we are able to grasp the promise of protection, strength, and grace that Gurnall has been talking about for some time in this first part of this work.

Gurnall next goes on to point out an inconsistency in some - an arrogance that is so easy to slip into when one is promised strength by the Almighty God. This arrogance is the attitude that, "since God is on my side, I can therefore test the waters of His promise and go live on the edge a little. I don't intend to actually dip my whole body in the pool of sin, but maybe dangle my feet in a bit, since I know the lifeguard is perfect. It'll be alright - God will understand that I'm fallible."

As the angel said to John when John bowed down to him in worship, "Don't DO THAT!" This is the height of arrogance and a manifestation of a complete misunderstanding of God's grace. Gurnall writes,
"while thou expectest the performance of the promise, and the assistance of the almighty power against thy corruptions, take heed that thou keep under the shadow of this attribute, and condition of this promise, Ps. xci.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?" (p. 36, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)
The beauty of God's grace is its freedom in His decree, and our freedom in it - but that freedom is a freedom to walk in His ways - not a freedom of licentious living. We cannot rightly expect ANY protection if we deliberately dabble in sin... that is not the purpose of God's grace, and it is an ugly thing to pursue paths of unrighteousness while clinging to the promise of God. Security in God's arms must have the effect of our longing to be drawn closer to, not test the boundaries of, His heart.


Reformed Renegade said...

Wonderful quote. How often we think we are depending on God when we're really still depending on ourselves. Thanks for the reminder.


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