Written by William Gurnall (1617 – 1679)
Edited for thought and sense by Michael Pursley.
The Christian must be in complete armor…
…in regard of the several pieces and weapons, that make up the whole armor of God. Indeed there is a concatenation of graces; they hang together like links in a chain, stones in an arch, members in the body. Prick one vein, and the blood of the whole body may run out at the sluice; neglect one duty, and no other will do us as good.
The apostle Peter, in his second epistle, Ch. 1:5-7, presses the Christians to a joint endeavor to increase the whole body of grace; indeed, that is health when the whole body thrives. ‘Add,’ saith he, ‘to your faith virtue.’ Faith is the file-leading grace. Well, hast you faith, add virtue. True faith is of a working stirring nature, without good works it is dead or dying. Fides pinguescit operibus—‘faith fattens or becomes strong on works,’ Luther. It is kept in plight and heart by a holy life, as the flesh which plasters over the frame of man’s body, though it receives its heat from the vitals within, yet helps to preserve the very life of those vitals. Thus good works and gracious actions have their life from faith, [and] yet are necessary helps to preserve the life of faith; thus we see sometimes the child nursing the parents that bare it, and therein [he] performs but his duty.
You are fruitful in good works, yet you are not out of the devil’s shot…
…except you adds to thy virtue, knowledge. This is the candle without which faith cannot see to do its work. Art you going to give an alms? If it be not oculata charitas, if charity hath not this eye of knowledge to direct when, how, what, and to whom you art to give, you may at once wrong God, the person you relieves, and thyself. Art you humbling thyself for thy sin? For want of knowledge in the tenor of the gospel, Satan may play upon thy ignorance, and either persuade thee that you art not humbled enough, when, God knows, you art almost soaked with thy tears, and even carried down by the impetuous torrent of thy sorrow into despair, or else showing thee thy blubbered face, may flatter thee into a carnal confidence of thy humiliation.
Perhaps you see the name of God dishonored in the place where you live…
…and thy spirit is stirred within thee, as Paul’s at Athens; now if knowledge sits not in the saddle to rein and bridle in thy zeal, you will be soon carried over hedge and ditch, till you fallest into some precipice or other by thy irregular acting.
Neither is knowledge enough…
…except you best armed with temperance, which here, I conceive, is that grace, whereby the Christian, as master of his own house, so orders his affections, like servants, to reason and faith, that they do not regularly move, or inordinately lash out into desires of, cares for, or joy in the creature comforts of this life, without which Satan will be too hard for thee. The historian tells us, that in one of the famous battles between the English and French, that which lost the French the day was a shower of English arrows, which did so gall their horse, as put the whole army into disorder, [for] their horse knowing no ranks, did tread down their own men. The affections are but as the horse to the rider, on which knowledge should be mounted; if Satan’s barbed arrows light on them, so that thy desires of the creature prove unruly, and jostle with thy desires of Christ, [if] thy care to keep thy credit or estate put thy care to keep a good conscience to disorder, and thy carnal joy in wife and child trample down or get before thy joy in the Lord, judge on which side victory is like to fall.
Well, suppose you marching thus far in goodly array towards heaven, while you art swimming in prosperity…
…must you not also prepare for foul way and weather—I mean in an afflicted estate? Satan will line the hedges with a thousand temptations, when you come into the narrow lanes of adversity, where you canst not run from this sort of temptation, as in the campaign of prosperity. Possibly, you escaped the snare of an alluring world, but you might be dismounted by the same when it frowns; tough temperance kept thee from being drunk with sweet wines of those pleasures, yet for want of patience you may be drunk with the wine of astonishment, which is in affliction’s hands; therefore, saith the apostle, ‘to temperance, add patience.’ Either possess thyself in patience, or else some raving devil of discontent will possess thee. An impatient soul in affliction is a bedlam in chains, yea, too like the devil in his chains, [who] rages against God, while he is fettered by him.
Well, have you patience?—an excellent grace indeed, but not enough.
You must be a pious man as well as patient. Therefore, saith the apostle, ‘to patience, add godliness.’ There is an atheistical patience, and there is a godly Christian patience. Satan numbs the conscience of one, and [so] no wonder he complains not, that feels not; but the Spirit of Christ sweetly calms the other, not by taking away the sense of pain, but by overcoming it with the sense of his love. Now godliness comprehends the whole worship of God, inward and outward. If thou dost worship God, and that devoutly, but not by Scripture rule, you art but an idolater. If according to the rule, but not in spirit and truth, then you art a hypocrite, and so fallest into the devil’s mouth. Or if you give God one piece of his worship, and deny another, still Satan comes to his market. ‘He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination,’ Prov. 28:9.
Yet, Christian, all thy armor is not on.
Thy godliness indeed would suffice, wert you to live in a world by thyself, or hadst nothing to do but immediate communion with God. But, Christian, you must not always dwell on this mount of immediate worship, and [since] when you descendest, you hast many brethren and servants of thy Father, who live with thee in the same family, you must deport thyself becomingly, or else thy Father will be angry.
You hast brethren, heirs of the same promise with thee, therefore you must add to godliness ‘brotherly-kindness.’
If Satan can set you at odds, he gives a deep wound to your godliness. You will hardly join hearts in a duty, that cannot join hands in love. In the family there are not only brethren, but servants, a multitude of profane carnal ones, who though they never had the names of sons and daughters, yet retain to God’s family. And thy heavenly Father will have thee walk unblameably, yea winningly, to those that are without, which you may do, you must add to brotherly-kindness, ‘charity;’ by which grace you shalt be willing to do good to the worst of men. When they curse thee, you must pray for them, yea, pray for no less than a Christ, a heaven, for them.
‘Father, forgive them,’ said Christ, while they were raking in his side for his heart-blood.
And truly, I am persuaded this last piece of armor hath given Satan great advantage in these our times, we are so afraid our charity should be too broad. Whereas in this sense, if it be not wide as the world, it is too strait for the command which bids us ‘do good to all.’
The entireness of the saint’s armor may be taken not only for every part and piece of the saint’s furniture, but for the completeness and perfection of every piece.
As the Christian is to endeavor after every grace, so is he to press after the advance and increase of every grace, even to perfection itself. As he is to add to his faith virtue, so he is to add faith to faith—he is ever to be completing of his grace. It is that which is frequently pressed upon believers. ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,’ Matt. 5:48. ‘And purify yourselves, as God is pure.’ There we have an exact copy set, not as if we could equalize that purity and perfection which is in God, but to make us strive the more, when we shall see how infinitely short we fall of our copy, when we write the fairest hand; so ‘Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing,’ James 1:3, 4, or [be] wanting in nothing. You who make a hard shift to carry a little burden with thy little patience, wouldst sink under a greater, therefore there is need that patience should be ever perfecting, lest at last we meet a burden too heavy for our weak shoulders.
Gurnall is known by his “Christian in Complete Armour,” published in three volumes, dated 1655, 1658 and 1662. It consists of sermons or lectures delivered by the author in the course of his regular ministry, in a consecutive course on Ephesians 6: 10–20. It is described as a magazine whence the Christian is furnished with spiritual arms for the battle, helped on with his armour, and taught the use of his weapon; together with the happy issue of the whole war. It is thus considered a classic on spiritual warfare. The work is more practical than theological; and its quaint fancy, graphic and pointed style, and its fervent religious tone render it still popular with some readers. Richard Baxter and John Flavel both thought highly of the book. Toplady used to make copious extracts from it in his common-place book. John Newton, the converted slave trader, said that if he was confined to one book beside the Bible, he’d choose Christian Armour. Cecil spent many of the last days of his life in reading it, and repeatedly expressed his admiration of it.Charles Haddon Spurgeon commented that Gurnall’s work is “peerless and priceless; every line full of wisdom. The book has been preached over scores of times and is, in our judgment, the best thought-breeder in all our library.” The writing style is akin to that of the King James Bible, so in 1988 [Banner of Truth Trust] did a revised and abridged version in contemporary English.
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: William Gurnall (1617 – 12 October 1679) was an English author and clergyman born at King’s Lynn, Norfolk. He was educated at the free grammar school of his native town, and in 1631 was nominated to the Lynn scholarship in Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1635 and MA in 1639. He was made rector of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Lavenham in Suffolk in 1644; and before he received that appointment he seems to have officiated, perhaps as curate, at Sudbury.
At the Restoration he signed the declaration required by the Act of Uniformity 1662, and on this account he was the subject of a libellous attack, published in 1665, entitled Covenant-Renouncers Desperate Apostates.