Sunday, May 31, 2009

0 Wise Pastoral Counsel from Gurnall

William Gurnall, in his The Christian in Complete Armour, often steps aside from his primary exposition, as the Puritans were wont to do, and gives particular counsel to presumed objections that his readers might have. At the very end of the first part of this work, the author is dealing with the objection some might raise to the doctrine of the Christian's sure recourse to God's strength in dealing with temptation and trial. Throughout the first part of his work, Gurnall has been working through the phrase from Ephesians 6:1, wherein Paul writes, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." Gurnall has claimed throughout that the Christian does in fact have the infinite reserve of God's strength for his help in dealing with struggles against sin, and combatting the wiles of the devil. He recognizes, though, that many may not sense this fact, Biblical as it is, when they deal with sin in their lives. An objection he envisions, which surely has come to the minds of many who have read this great work, is the following: "So if God is my strength, and if I have prayed repeatedly for His help in my trials, why am I not succeeding in holding firm against temptations and doubts?" This is a natural question -and one which the careful shepherd will be prepared to answer... and Gurnall does just this at the tail end of part I of The Christian in Complete Armour.

His answer comes in several parts - first, he writes:
"Look once again, poor heart, into thy own bosom, and see whether thou findest not some strength sent unto thee, which thou didst overlook before; this may be, yea, is very ordinary in this case, when God answers our prayer not in the letter, or when the thing itself is sent, but it comes in at the back-door, while we are expecting it at the fore." (pp. 37-38, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)
He very strongly counsels the person asking "where is the help I prayed for?" not to besmirch God with the charge of failing to answer his prayer in the way he expected Him to - but to consider that God ALWAYS answers prayer, and, for the Christian, always answers in such a way as is better ultimately for him than for Him to answer exactly as requested.

Perhaps, Gurnall reasons, God's answer to our prayers for strength to withstand temptation is not to give us strength as we request, but instead gave us the strength to pray more earnestly against it:
"Thou prayest before, but now more earnestly, all the powers of thy soul are up to plead with God. Before, thou wast more favorable and moderate in thy request, now thou hast a zeal, thouh canst take no denial... Now, poor soul, is this nothing? [Is this] no strength? Had not thy God reinforced thee, thy sin would have weakened thy spirit of prayer, and not increased it. (p. 38, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)"
Such an answer to prayer is a good answer, indeed - and a great blessing. If God so deems it to be the proper answer for Him to make, then it is our best end in those prayers. For us, it is hard, I think, to accept partial successes. We always want complete success now against every sin and every temptation - and, in our flesh, we are likely to think that God has failed us when perfect success against sin and temptation does not result from our prayers. We must take care not to tar God with such a charge.

Secondly, Gurnall argues that it may very well be as we have suspected when we have prayed for strength and not received it. We should, though, "take heed of charging God so foolishl, as if God were not what he promiseth..." (p. 39) Rather, we should recognize that the Father is wiser than we are, and that he has "gracious ends" that stay his hand when we ask Him for strength. Gurnall gives three suggested reasons for denial of prayers for strength, and I appreciate all of them greatly:
"1. God may deny further degrees of strength to put thee on the exercise of that thou hast more carefully...
2. God may deny the Christian such assisting strength in duty, or mortifying strength of corruption, as he desires, purely on a gracious design that he may thereby have an advantage of expressing his love in such a way, as shall most kindly work upon the ingenuity of the soul to love God again...
3. God may communicate the less of his assisting strength, that he may show the more of his supporting strength, in upholding weak grace..." (pp. 39-40, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)
We are so apt to assume that God only "answers" when He gives us exactly what we have asked for, not recalling, importantly, that He is the wise God He is - and that if we are His, then he always gives us what is ultimately best for us; no more, no less. In thinking He must answer as we have asked, we put ourselves above Him and forget that God is in charge, and that Father does indeed know best.

Two more answers to this objection William Gurnall gives later - and I'll post them next time.



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