The Means of Grace, William Gurnall and the Puritan Hard Drive

Several weeks ago, the good folks at Stillwaters Revival Books sent me a review copy of the Puritan Hard Drive (hereafter PHD). On the day I received the drive, I spent a couple of hours searching through the contents and was floored by what was available here. I sent an initial review, which they posted here (see also the youtube advertisement), and told them that I would interact further with the PHD when my quarter ended.

Well, the wonderful news is that I am completely done with my winter academic term and now have time to work through some parts of the drive. In this first post, I wanted to show how I decided to put the PHD to use in preparing for a sermon on Art. 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, “The Marks of the True Church.”

I decided to find an illustration regarding the importance of the means of grace and turned to I.D.E. Thomas’ A Puritan Golden Treasury which has an entire section devoted to this topic (pgs. 180-82). Anyone familiar with Thomas’ book, however, knows that he provides only the name of each quote’s author. There is no index enabling one to find where the quote comes from. Enter the PHD.

I found this quote by William Gurnall in Thomas:

What is Jordan that I should wash in it? What is the preaching that I should attend on it, while I hear nothing but what I knew before? What are these beggarly elements of water, bread and wine? Are not these the reasonings of a soul that forgets who appoints the means of grace?

Cited in A Puritan Golden Treasury, pg. 181.

Interested in the broader context of this quote and thinking that this work might contain other gems like this, I turned to the KnowledgeBase Application that is the main index of the PHD. I searched for authors and found that the PHD had two books by William Gurnall, both in .pdf format and both OCR’d (i.e., searchable). Since there were only two sources, I opened the first (vol. 1 of The Christian in Complete Armour: A Treatise of the Saints’ War Against the Devil) and searched for the following phrase: “What is Jordan that I should wash.”

Success! On pg. 54 of this 600+ page volume, I found the larger context from which Thomas extracted aforementioned quote:

It appears we look not at God’s appointment, when we have low thoughts of the means. What is Jordan that I should wash in it? What is this preaching that I should attend on it, where I hear nothing but I knew before? what these beggarly elements of water, and bread, and wine! Are not these the reasonings of a soul that forgets who appoints them? Didst thou remember who commands, thou wouldst not question what the command is. What though it be clay, let Christ use it and it shall open the eyes, though in itself more like to put them out. Hadst thou thy eye on God, thou wouldst silence thy carnal reason with this, It is God sends me to such a duty; whatsoever he saith unto me I will do it , though he should send me, as Christ them, to draw wine out of pots filled with water.

(Original quote in Italics)

These are indeed a solid indictment of our tendency to succumb to rationalism when considering the means of grace. Yes, they are counter intuitive. Note how Gurnall suggests that clay in and of itself might actually injure one’s eyes, whereas in the hands of our Lord, it restores sight to the blind! It is these means by which Christ has been pleased to strengthen our faith.

Another thing gleaned from use of the PHD to locate this quote is Gurnall larger argument. At this point, he is illustrating the following point:

They do not use the armour of God as such, who in the performing of divine duties, eye not God through them, and this makes them all weak and ineffectual Then the Word is mighty, when read as the Word of God; then the gospel preached, powerful to convince the conscience, and revive the drooping spirit, when heard as the appointment of the great God, and not the exercise of a mean creature. Now it will appear in three things, whether we eye divine appointment in the means.

The Christian in Complete Armour, Vol. 1, pg. 53.

This is only the beginning. I’ve been able to put the PHD to use preparing for this sermon, but in doing so have used only one of the PHD’s many resources. With each perusal through this drive, I’m finding it to be a fine selection of texts and resources in a useful format. The KnowledgeBase Application takes getting used to, but it lists search results in a format that I find intuitive.

More interaction with/and review of the PHD to come!


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