Guided by Gurnall

We continue our guided tour through Ephesians 6:10-20 with William Gurnall. I have been blessed, encouraged, and convicted by Gurnall’s exposition. I’m only 17 pages in!

William Gurnall wrote this about Jesus, encouraging believers to “be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.”

“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?’ Jn. xviii. 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.” (16-17)

These are so powerful! I especially love, “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?’ Jn. xviii. 4.” Our Savior, the Captain of our faith (Hebrews 2:10), is truly the Mighty God.

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Guided by Gurnall

This initial post will be an ongoing project as I work my way through William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour, published by Banner of Truth.

This series of sermons comes from Ephesians 6:10-20.

In one of his dedications he writes, “The subject of the treatise is solemn; A War between the Saint and Satan, and that so bloody a one, that the cruelest which was ever fought by men will be found but sport and child’s play to this. It is a spiritual war that you shall read of; and that not a history of what was fought many ages past and is now over, but of what is now doing—the tragedy is at present acting—and that not at the furthest end of the world, but what concerns thee and every one that reads it. The stage whereon this war is fought is every man’s own soul. Here is no neuter in this war. The whole world is engaged in the quarrel, either for God against Satan, or for Satan against God.” (emphasis his, Gurnall, v)

With these solemn, weighty words, I was eager to engage! What depths of the Scriptures has Gurnall dove that will draw strength for me in this war? It only took a few pages into the very first verse (Ephesians 6:10) before Gurnall began to tune my heart to the power of God’s Word.

For this first guide, I shall take Gurnall’s first point, namely “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.” (emphasis his, Gurnall, 13)

He goes on to write, “So David, ‘I have kept myself from iniquity.’ Now what courage and resolution does this require?” (Gurnall, 13) He then uses Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as unable to equal the power our “bosom sins” hold over us, how desperate and difficult the task truly is. He passionately cries, “Yet, what was that to this? Soul, take thy lust, thy only list, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused most joy and laughed, 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.” (Gurnall, 13)

Paul opens this section of the Christian and the war by encouraging, “Finally, be strong in the Lord…” (Ephesians 6:10, ESV) Gurnall’s exhortation is drawn from this one verse. Actually, it is the idea found in “be strong”. He denotes this doctrine as “The Christian of all men needs courage and resolution.”

I sat in my living room floor floored. I have read that verse dozens of times, and never has its power and implications hit me as hard as when exposited by this Puritan preacher.

Have you seen the seriousness of the battle at hand? Do you see the need for courage in God for this fight? Do you see how vicious, destruction, and unrelenting the enemy of sin is to your soul? I have not felt the weight of it until now. And lest you leave this initial post discouraged at how great the battle is and how malevolent our inner-enemy is, remember from Whom our strength comes: it is the God who, when He speaks, things happen (Genesis 1:3), it is the God at whose presence the whole earth trembles (Psalm 33:8; 114:7), it is the God who made an open show of our dastardly enemies (Colossians 2:15). Take courage, be strong in the Lord, and fight!

John Owen famously preached, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” (On the Mortification of Sin) Brothers and sisters, let us be killing sin.

“Seven Stories”: A Review

“Seven Stories”: A Review

I recently received a copy of Anthony Bartlett’s Seven Stories: How to Study and Teach the Nonviolent Bible from SpeakEasy. I am going to divide my review into different stages: aesthetic appeal, content, and overall thoughts.

Aesthetic Appeal

The book itself is quite beautiful. The print is crisp and contrasts well with the predominately-white background. Even when other colors are used (from blue to green) the print is easily read and pleasing to the eyes.

The paper itself feels good to the touch. I enjoy printed books, and they are more enjoyable when the quality of the materials is high. The binding is solid, allowing me to bend the pages in order to lay flat on my desk. Additionally the pictures, charts, and inserts are well designed. They are simple and cover the point well.

The only negative aspect of the book itself is the size. It is designed (in part) to be used as a textbook. Bartlett notes on page 14, “Alternatively, Seven Stories can be teacher-led, where at least one individual with background in the study of scripture and theology will undertake to lead a group of students through the material.” While being a perfect size for a textbook, it does prevent easy transportation. Thus, I was limited in where I could bring the book. Overall, I’d give it a 9 out of 10 on design and quality of materials.

Content

To understand where the book is coming from simply read “About the Author.” I had not previously heard of Dr. Bartlett, I had no idea what to expect. The title hinted at the content, but at times authors use appealing titles to draw in readers.

To sum it up (simply, so I beg your pardon!) he is writing for an emergent viewpoint. There is now a great deal of literature on this topic, and I encourage you to read through the vast amounts of materials according to your desire and time. This will provide a better framework for understanding Bartlett’s concepts and views.

Basically, it is a denial of biblical, orthodox Christianity in favor of a less-violent, less-offensive religion and view of God. In his introduction he develops the framework of the book, covering the different stories with accompanying lessons.

In the chapter “Method” he attempts to provide a brief treatment of the various methods of interpreting Scripture. He then presents his own method (modified and heavily relied on the work of René Girard) as the preferable method for understanding God as He truly is.

From this point he addresses each story, covering the biblical history and focusing on different issues or topics surrounding the story. For example, in his story on “Victim to Vindication” (or story 5). He develops the idea of “the way in which the victim’s vindication leads to forgiveness.” (Bartlett, 148) This, of course, builds off the idea of a bloodless faith that is examined in more details in stories two and three. At Bartlett notes, “Job is the indisputable case, the locus classicus, of the innocent victim who is vindicated.” (Bartlett, 148) He understands Job as vindicated from God (see pages 151-152). It is this different understanding of the account of Job that illustrates Bartlett’s method of interpretation and its effect on the understanding of Scripture.

On a different note, I love Bartlett’s ending for each lesson. In his story “The Temple and its Destruction” (pages 172-193), at the end of lesson one he includes the following: lesson questions, personal reflection, glossary, resources/background reading, and cultural references.

I found these to be quite fascinating, and something that, should I ever have the privilege of writing a book, would love to include in my work. The lesson questions are very direct and cover the materials addressed. The personal reflection takes the materials presented and personalizes them. The questions are developed around different aspects of the lesson but allow one to personalize them. The glossary provides the reader with excellent definitions of key terms (as a bonus, the terms and others can be found on pages 227-232). The resources/background reading provides the more scholarly student with additional materials that are similar. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the cultural references. Bartlett connects the teachings of the stories (or lessons) with various media in culture. For example, in lesson one of “The Temple and its Destruction,” Bartlett cites C. S. Lewis’ book Till We Have Faces, A Myth Retold “for descriptions of the terror and power of the sacrificial holy.” (Bartlett, 179)

 

Overall Thoughts

As a Christian adhering to the orthodox creeds and faith, I found myself frustrated working through Bartlett’s book. Stemming from his method of hermeneutics, his understanding of Scripture simply brushes aside biblical doctrine, accounts, and theology to present a god in whom he can believe.

It is nothing new. Brian Mclaren, Rob Bell, and others have already attempted to present logical and scholarly reasons for rejecting the orthodox views of Scripture. Though at times he presents some interesting views, holistically it is unfortunate.

If you enjoy reading and being challenged on your biblical views, check it out.

If you do not believe in God as understood throughout centuries of Church history, then you will enjoy Bartlett’s reinterpretation.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Preach: The Density of Sermons

In Mark Dever’s and Greg Gilbert’s book Preach: Theology Meets Practice, they devote a chapter to “Delivering the Sermon.” Overall the book is simply yet very helpful. This chapter, particularly, was helpful to me.

Under the heading “The Density of Sermons” the authors write, “The point isn’t for your congregation to be able to recall, like human Google searches, every sentence or even every point you made. The point is for the Word to shape their hearts and minds and wills, and that can happen even if they don’t remember the precise words or points you spoke.” (Preach, 124)

This was so helpful to me, because I tend to get discouraged when people don’t remember what I preached about. I read Andy Stanley’s and Lane Jones’ book Communicating to Change and was left with the impression that if people don’t remember the sermon then I have failed as a preacher. I know that was not their point, but that is how I felt.

With that being said, I hope this might help some of my preacher friends.

The Key to Sanctification

As I work my way through Powlison’s book How Does Sanctification Work?, I have been repeatedly impressed. The biblical insight is amazing, the practical aspects are encouraging, and the balanced approach is encouraging.

In my last post I mentioned the coming of snow. I can happily say that snow it did! We received about a foot of snow during the evening. It is beautiful, a small spark of God’s incredible beauty, wisdom, and graciousness. As I type this, I am sitting near a warm fire with BBC’s Planet Earth II playing in the background. I am not sure why I am telling you this, but now you know!

Back to sanctification. Chapter two begins with a question, “Is there one key to sanctification?” My understanding of sanctification would have answered with a qualified answer. Yes, of course there is one key! This key may be multifaceted, but it boils down to the basics of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

This, of course, is simplistic and utilitarian thinking, and unbiblical. Powlison provides nine typical “keys” that we often hear (or that I often say). He makes the point, “These nine assertions becomes problematic only when we lapse into saying, ‘Just remember this one thing…Just rehearse…Just make sure…Just ask…If you will just do…’”. (Powlison, 25)

What are the nine keys? Here they are:

  1. “Remember that God is sovereign and is working all things for good in those who love him.” (emphasis his, Powlison, 24)

    This one is a go-to for myself. When something bad is happening, I relish God’s control of the situation. While it may be difficult to fathom or understand its implications, God truly is in control. The problem lies when we focus on this to the exclusion of the other biblical truths about our God.

  2. “Rehearse and remind yourself of your identity in Christ.” (Powlison, 24)

    A few people seem to focus on this aspect of the Christian life. It is so important, and it is one of Paul’s emphases in the book of Ephesians. I typically hear this in conjunction with conquering sin. If you just saw yourself in Christ you wouldn’t sin! While this may be a help, it is certainly not the

  3. “Make sure you are in honest accountability ” (emphasis his, Powlison, 24)

    Depending on the flare of the church, this one can be huge! Accountability is certainly a vital part of growth in holiness. Yet, it is not everything. Some seem to suggest that having an accountability partner will alleviate all sins.

  4. “Avail yourself of the means of grace.” (emphasis his, Powlison, 24)

    By ‘means of grace’ Powlison means “corporate worship and sacraments, and maintain[ing] daily Scripture reading and prayer.” (Powlison, 24) This would be second on my list. I love the way Scripture reading and prayer can be completed, almost like a chore that can be checked off my daily to-do list. I encourage people to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer daily. It is a great way to grow, but in and of itself it is not the complete way to sanctification.

  5. Wage spiritual warfare against the predator of your soul.” (emphasis his, Powlison, 24)

    The spiritual warfare movement received more attention in the past than it does today (perhaps). Ephesians 6:10-18 warns believers about this war and how to fight it. I just began working through William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor, and in the beginning he mentions the seriousness of the conflict.

  6. “Get busy serving others with the gifts the Lord has given you.” (emphasis his, Powlison, 25)

    This one brings me back to my fundamental Baptist days. Some seemed to think that service equaled holiness (thankfully not everyone felt this way!). The more you do, the more holy you are. If you share with others the Gospel then of course you are a great Christian! God has gifted each believer with a gift (or gifts, as is the case) to be used for the edification of believers, evangelization of the lost, and the exaltation of our Savior.

  7. “Remember that you are accepted by God as his child and that he fully forgives your sins through the shed blood of Jesus.” (Powlison, 25)

    This is a wonderful truth that as a Christian we can never get over! Our sins, which were scarlet, are now white as snow! What a glorious reality! This, in its entire splendor, is not all there is to the Christian life. There is so much more!

  8. “Ask the Lord to give you his Holy Spirit that you might walk in his ways.” (Powlison, 25)

    Frequently the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the believer is downplayed. We love the Holy Spirit; he helps us live the righteous life. Through the Holy Spirit we are able to pray to our Heavenly Father.

  9. “Set your hope fully on the grace to be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Powlison, 25)

    This is a look to the future grace that will be all for all believers. And I cannot wait for this! But, this is not the

Powlison’s work is already so helpful. As I continue to work through it, I hope to share it with you!

Sanctification: A Threefold Understanding

First, as I write this, I am waiting in line to pick my daughter up from school. Isn’t technology amazing?

Second, it is cold! It’s around 32 degrees with a chance of snow tomorrow. I’m hoping we see some white on the ground!

Third, I began reading David Powlison’s book How Does Sanctification Works? In the introduction, Powlison defines what sanctification is. He gives a snap shot of the tenses of sanctification: past, present, and future.

I’d simply like to provide his material, as I think it may prove beneficial for you in your walk with God. Everything from here on out is Powlison’s work.

  • In the past tense, your sanctification has already happened. You are a saint—an identity for which you get no credit! God decisively acted by making you his very own in Christ. You have been saved.
  • In the present tense, your sanctification is now being worked out. God is working throughout your life—on a scale of days, years, and decades—to remake you into the likeness of Jesus. You are being progressively sanctified. You are being saved.
  • In the future tense, your sanctification will be perfected. You will live. Your love will be perfected. You will see God’s face when he decisively acts to complete his work of conforming you to the image of Jesus. You will participate in the glory of God Himself. You will be saved.

David Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work?, pages 13-14.

How to Sanctify God: Practical Progress from the Puritans, Part Three

How do we sanctify God? We have been looking at this thought, brought from the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9. Thomas Manton, a Puritan preacher, has walked us through very practical ways in which we can sanctify God. We have noticed how God is sanctified upon us in judgment and by us in our lives. We can sanctify God in thoughts, words, and actions. (Manton, 86) We have examined how to sanctify God in thoughts and words, and now we will look at how to sanctify God in our actions.

Manton begins by dividing our actions into two things: worship and ordinary conversation (or lifestyle).

Sanctifying God in Worship

Manton writes, “In our worship, there God especially will be sanctified.” (Manton, 87) He goes on to write, “God is very tender of his worship: sancta sanctis, holy things must be managed by holy men in a holy manner. Therefore, what is it to sanctify God when we draw night to him? To have a more excellent frame of heart in worship than we have about other things.”

When we worship God, we must remember Who we are worshiping. Manton cites Ecclesiastes 5:1. Feel the reverence and seriousness of this verse, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” We would do well to consider the seriousness of worship. I am slowly (very slowly) working my way through R. Kent Hughes and Douglas Sean O’Donnell’s The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry. The very first chapter addresses Sunday worship. In the chapter, specifically pages 32-38 provide a walkthrough of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 in which they address the seriousness of worship.

Manton ends the section with these weighty words, “We must not go about these holy services hand over head, but with great caution and heed.” (Manton, 87)

Sanctifying God in Ordinary Conversation

Our lives can either sanctify God or dilute His good Name. Manton quips that to sanctify God is, “When our life is ordered so that we may give men occasion to say, that surely he is a holy God whom we serve.” (Manton, 87) This, according to Manton, can be accomplished two ways:

  1. “When you walk as remembering you have a holy God.” (Manton, 87) We should build our lives around the truth that God is holy. The Wesminster Confession of Faith describes God as, “…most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands.” (WCF 2.2) In another point Manton observes that God’s holiness “…is that which God counteth to be his chief excellency, and the glory which he will manifest among the sons of men.” (Manton, 88) God is, according to the angels, holy, holy, holy (see Isaiah 6:3). When we remember that God is holy, our lives will be different. We will seek to be like our holy God in our speech (Ephesians 4:29) and in our interactions with each other (Ephesians 5:1-6:9). Manton, bridging off this idea, comments, “Therefore you must be watchful and strict.” (Manton, 87)
  2. “When you walk as discovering to others you have a holy God.” (Manton, 87) This is a wordy way of saying practice what you preach. One of the greatest hindrances to the Christian faith is hypocrisy. If you want some proof of this, check our Barna’s research on this. Manton notes the issues surrounding this, “A carnal worshipper profaneth the memory of God in the world.” (Manton, 88) One of the dangers of living a life rightly structured is human moralism. Not unaware of this, Manton warns, “We should discover (or make known) more than a human excellency, that so those which look upon us may say, These are the servants of the holy God.” (Manton, 88) When Christians sanctify God in action they “discovereth what a God he hath.” (Manton, 88)

So, Christian, are you sanctifying God? We have noted three ways in which we can sanctify God: in thought, speech, and action. Let every aspect of our being sanctify God!