Sunday, May 31, 2009

0 Wise Pastoral Counsel from Gurnall, Part II

Continuing the previous discussion of Gurnall's answers in The Christian in Complete Armour to the potential objection, wherein a believer asks, "I have asked God for strength against this corruption, and find that my hands are yet weak..." (p. 37) In the first two answers to this objection, Gurnall suggests that the objector consider a second time the response that God has given to the prayers he had made for strength - for God often answers prayers in different ways that we expect Him to. In his second two answers to this objection, Gurnall has somewhat more challenging responses to give us.

First, Gurnall asks the objector to consider whether in fact he himself might be the cause of his own continued struggles despite his prayers to God for strength. Gurnall writes, "If, after long waiting for strength from God, it be as thou complainest, inquire whether the [thing that hinders] be not found in thyself..." So blind we are to our own contributions to our condition that we sometimes are unaware that in fact we are obstructing our own prayers... To flesh this out, Gurnall offers three additional questions:
"1. Hast thou come indeed to God for strength to perform duty, to mortify corruption, and the like? Perhaps thou wilt say, Yes, I have waited on those ordinances which are the way in which he hath promised to give out strength. But is this all? Thou mayst come to them and [i] not wait on God in them.[/i] Hast thou not carnally expected strength from them, and so put the ordinances in God's stead?" (pp. 40-41, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)
This is needed medicine for those who habitually attend worship and the Lord's Supper and somehow expect that without any further effort on their part to gain from these duties they'll automatically be blessed. The case is similar with those who believe that in order to raise Christian children all they must do is present them for baptism. Their duty is not merely to bring them to the font and mark them, laying hold of the promise of God "to you and your children", and there the work stops. This is not what it means to raise a Christian seed - it is the Reformed conviction that this is incumbent upon Christian parents, but what makes a Christian home is not the fact that all are baptized. Prayer, centering life on the Word, raising children to be obedient followers of Christ, and more are the duties of the Christian parents. In the same vein, we cannot simply expect a mechanistic connection to exist between attendance upon the Word in worship and the Lord's Supper when it is celebrated and Christian spiritual health. It doesn't simply connect in such a way as that. We must, as Gurnall argued, "come to God" in these means of grace in order to be blessed in them... and not mechanically seek our salvation in them as though our mere presence there is the operative fact.

Gurnall continues:
"2. Ask thy soul whether thou hast been thankful for that little strength thou hast.... dost thou through feebleness often fail in duty, and fall into temptation? Mourn in the sense of these; yet bless God that thou dost not live in a total neglect of duty, out of a profane contempt thereof, and that instead of falling through weakness, thou dost not lie in the mire of sin through the wickedness of thy heart. The unthankful soul may thank itself that it thrives no better." (p. 41, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour).
Thanksgiving for what God HAS given us helps us more humbly approach Him for that which we have not. It puts us also in a more appropriate frame; a more trusting frame; a more faithful frame.
"3. Art thou humble under the assistance and strength God hath given thee? Pride stops the conduit. If the heart begin to swell, it is time for God to hold his hand, and turn the cock, for all that is poured on such a soul runs over into self-applauding, and so is as water spilt, in regard of any good it doth the creature, or any glory it brings to God." (p. 41, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)
The moment we puff ourselves up in pride over God's strengthening, the moment we reveal the fact that we do not understand who God is and what He has done for us. When the grace of strength is granted us, and we remain not humble, and thankful, we are liable to God's snatching away of that which He has graced us in order to discipline us and cause us to seek Him rightly. When God blesses, we must particularly be on watch that we be not proud in that which He has blessed us.... We are sternly warned against this in Scripture, as we are told to "take heed, lest ye fall." This is ESPECIALLY true when God has graciously given us strength to withstand a test or trial.

Gurnall expands on this third item, describing how pride appears:
"(1) It appears in bold adventures, when a person runs into the mouth of temptation, bearing himself up on the confidence of this grace received. (p. 42)"
"Pride goeth before a fall," we are told - and when pride swells the heart, in successes against temptation, such that we forget humility and that God provided the way out or the strength to succeed, we are particularly prone to a greater fall than we would have taken in the first place. When we trust in our gifts of grace (gifts that they are) rather than God Himself, we are liable to a great fall.
"(2) Pride appears in the neglect of those means whereby the saint's graces and comforts are to be fed when strongest. (p. 42)"
When we are prostrate before God, lying in the dust, fully laid out and reliant upon His grace - we are eager to wait on Him in worship, the Lord's Supper, prayer and in study of the Word. When strong, our pride has a tendency to rise up, and displace our need for these continual dispensings of God's manna. We have a tendency, when feeling spiritually strong, to neglect those very things through which God blessed us with strength in the first place. It is much easier to humbly wait on God when feeling weak (as we always should) and a much greater challenge to wait upon Him when feeling strong. The reason for this is simple: pride.

Finally, Gurnall adds a fourth answer to the objection spoken of above. I'll quote it simply as I've gone on far too long already in this post:
"If thy heart doth not smite thee from what hath been said, but thou hast sincerely waited upon God and yet hast not received the strength thou desirest, yet let it be thy resolution, to live and die waiting on him." (p. 42, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)
We may need to wait forever... and that's okay. God may continually have us to be, as Luther's dog, waiting at His hand for blessing - and even blessing that never comes in this life. Our dependence should be that strong, and our willingness to persevere in waiting on Him that constant. For in Him and in Him alone are we strong, and in Christ, in Christ alone can we persevere in our weakness.



In Principio ... Deus Copyright © 2011 - |- Template created by O Pregador - |- Powered by Blogger Templates