How We May Strengthen Our Hope

Christian hope is one of the greatest blessings because it increases our joy, assures us of our blessed future, gives us patience to bear burdens, and it helps us keep our eyes above, where Christ is.  But how can we strengthen our Christian hope?  William Gurnall gave six directions for strengthening hope.  I’ll summarize them below; notice how intimately the growth of Christian hope is tied to the Word and prayer.

  1. Study the word of God diligently.  The Christian is bred by the word, and he must be fed by it also.  “…Through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4 NASB).  God has provided in Scripture food to nourish every Christian grace, and in it we find particular respect to the welfare and growth of our hope.
  2. Keep your conscience pure.  Sins that are deliberately plotted and committed are to the Christian’s hope as poison is to his body.  Faith and good conscience are hope’s two wings that help her fly.  If you have wounded your conscience by any sin, renew your repentance so that receiving renewed forgiveness you may revive your hope.
  3. Pray to God daily and beg for a stronger hope in him.  This is what Paul prays about in Romans 15:3, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (NASB).  Be sure you humbly acknowledge God by a constant waiting on him for growth.  God will surely hear the prayers of his children when they beg for more hope.
  4. Labor to increase your love for the Lord.  There is a secret but powerful influence that love has on hope.  Love casts out fear (1 John 4.18).  “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love” and into the patient waiting for Christ’s return (2 Thes. 3:5).  Love him, and you will patiently wait for him – this has to do with hope.
  5. Exercise your hope much.  Repeated acts strengthen habits.  The promises of God are hope’s object to act upon.  Meditate on the promises, set some apart for yourself, and drink in the refreshing truths of God’s promises.  David did this when he remembered that with the Lord there is forgiveness (Ps. 130).  He exercised his hope by meditating on the promise of forgiveness.
  6. Fill up your experiences of past mercies, and your hope will grow stronger for future mercies.  Endurance works hope (Rom. 5:2-4).  A good Christian keeps track of the history of God’s gracious dealings in the past, and this gives him hope for the future.  “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope” (Lam. 3:21 NASB).  When God gives one mercy, he opens a door so he can give it, and this open door leads us to expect more mercy through it.

William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor, volume 2, pages 177ff.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Advertisements

Why Does God Make Us Wait?

Quite often waiting is very difficult.  In our instant culture, most of the time we don’t even like waiting one week for a package to come in the mail; we get impatient if our internet is a tiny bit slower than usual or if our data connection isn’t lightning fast.  Waiting can be frustrating!

When it comes to the Christian faith there is a lot of waiting involved.  God’s people are already justified, but not yet fully sanctified.  We have been saved, but we don’t yet have full and complete deliverance.  We have the promise of eternal life but don’t yet experience it.  God promised that he will glorify all of his people, but that’s something for which we still wait.  Christ will come again to make all things new, but we don’t know when.  Therefore we wait and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”  Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is hard and we get impatient.  We even ask: “Why does God make us wait so long?”

William Gurnall answered this question with another question:

Why does God make any promise at all to his creatures?  This may well be asked, considering that God is free from owing any kindness to his creatures; till, by the mere good pleasure of his will he put himself into covenant bonds, and made himself, by his promise, a debtor to his elect.  This shows that the former question is flippant and over-bold, as if some great rich man should make a poor beggar that is a stranger to him his heir, and when he tells him this, the poor man asks, ‘But why should I wait so long for it?’

Truly, any time is too soon for him to receive a mercy from God that thinks God’s time in sending it is too late.

Gurnall goes on to say that impatience in waiting for God’s promises to come true arises from our selfishness since we prefer our own contentment and satisfaction before God’s glory.  Impatience also arises from ingratitude and forgetfulness (Ps. 106.13).

To combat spiritual impatience, we need to pray for more hope and patience.  Here’s Gurnall again:

“Patience is the back on which the Christian’s burdens are carried, and hope is the pillow between the back and the burden, to make it sit easy.”

God wasn’t obligated to make any good promises to sinners like us.  But in his sovereign and free mercy, he did promise salvation and all the blessings that go with it. Therefore, it’s fitting and right to be patient and to say that his timing is best.  And we put on “the hope of salvation as a helmet,” knowing he will keep his promise (1 Thes. 5:8)!  “And this is what he promised us – eternal life” (1 John 2:25 NIV).

The above-edited quote by William Gurnall is found in volume 2 of The Christian in Complete Armor, p. 151-2.

Shane Lems

Regeneration, Christian Graces, and Assurance of Salvation (Gurnall)

When God sovereignly regenerates a sinner, that person is renewed, reborn, made new.  “…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17 NASB; c.f. Gal. 6:15).  The person then walks in the newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  This doesn’t mean a regenerate person is sinless and perfect, but it does mean that his whole person is made new by God.  William Gurnall put it this way:

“As natural corruption is a universal principle of all sin that sours the whole lump of man’s nature; so sanctifying grace is a universal principle that sweetly seasons and renews the whole man at once, though not completely.  Grace indeed grows by steps, but is born at once.  The new creature has all its parts formed together, though not its degrees.  One grace may, we confess, be perceived to stir and so come to be noticed by the Christian before other graces.”

Gurnall is saying that when God renews and regenerates a person, that person is given true faith, repentance, love, fear of God, evangelical obedience, and so forth.  These things are called “graces.”  Sometimes a Christian sees one of his graces more than another, but it doesn’t mean that other graces aren’t there.  God doesn’t just give someone repentance but not godly fear or true faith.  Gurnall said that some parts of the world have been discovered before other parts of the world, but the whole world has been in existence since God created it.  So it is with Christian graces: God has given them all to all his people, even if we don’t always discover them or notice all these graces at once.

So what?  Why is this important?  Well, as Gurnall noted, knowing this fact gives relief to the Christian when he’s in doubt of his salvation.  Just because a Christian can’t immediately discern godly fear doesn’t mean he should “unsaint” himself.  If you don’t have godly fear but you do have a sincere desire to please him, be assured that God’s grace is at work in you, and in time you’ll notice godly fear.  Or if your faith is seemingly gone but you have a hearty sorrow when you sin against God, don’t despair.  Know that you are a new creation in Christ, and you will again see your faith – it is there!  Here’s Gurnall again:

“As by taking hold of one link you may draw up the rest of the chain that lies under water, so by discovering one grace, you may bring all to sight.  …This holy kindred of graces go ever together, they are knit, as members of the body, one to another.  Though you see only the face of a man, yet you do not doubt that the whole man is there.”

Here’s a good quote to end on:

“Moses would not go out of Egypt with half his company (Ex. 10).  Either all must go or none shall stir.  Neither will the Spirit of God come into a soul with half his sanctifying graces, but with all his train.”

(These slightly modernized and edited quotes are found in the beginning of “Direction Ninth” in Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

 

The Wandering Mind in Prayer

Sometimes when the Christian prays, his or her mind wanders.  We’ve all had it, no doubt, when we’re praying and our mind ends up thinking about our son’s dentist appointment or our friend’s new mountain bike.  While a wandering mind during prayer isn’t a good thing, we shouldn’t despair because of it.  William Gurnall (d. 1679) gives some consoling thoughts for Christians who are downcast because of frequent wandering in prayer.  I appreciate Gurnall’s tone – it’s not “Try harder, you fool!” but “Don’t be downcast, dear brother or sister.  God is merciful.”   I’ve edited his list to keep in brief and readable.

1) The affliction of your spirit because of your wanderings in prayer should be more comforting to you than discomforting.  Why?  Because even the best saints have acknowledge wandering during prayer.  Take David or Paul for example.  No saint has complete mastery of all his thoughts.

2) Wandering in prayer is a necessary infirmity of your imperfect state.  As long as you are faithful to resist wanderings and mourn for them, they move God to pity you rather than be angry with you.  It is one thing for a child to purposely spoil the work his father has given him to do; it is another when the child fails to do it perfectly because of weakness.  Christ’s favorable answer to his disciples’ drowsiness in prayer was, “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

3) Believers’ prayers pass a refining before they come into God’s hands.  Our prayers come to God under the corrector’s hand; Christ intercedes for us.  Our Lord Jesus inspects our prayers and sets right all our broken requests and misplaced petitions.  He washes out our blots with his blood.  What is of his own Spirit’s breathing he presents to the Father, and what our fleshly part added he hides.  This was the sweet gospel truth wrapped up in the priest’s bearing the sins of their holy offerings (Ex 28:38).

4) Though the presence of wanderings in prayer are an affliction to you, yet God will make them of singular use to you. a) To humble you and keep you from pride in prayer, b) to keep you wakeful and circumspect in your Christian course – to remind you that the “good fight of faith” is not yet over, and c) to give you patience and empathy for other Christians who struggle with the same problem(s).

5) In your faithful conflict with wanderings in prayer, you may remind yourself that one day you will no longer wander in prayer.  Slowly in this life you will be sanctified, even in your prayers, but the complete victory will come when Jesus returns.  Therefore maintain the fight…pray, and mourn than you can’t pray any better.  Just remember, victory is coming.

The unedited and unabridged section is found in the 11th part of Gurnall’s lengthy treatise on the Armor of God (Eph. 6) called, The Christian in Complete Armor (on Kindle for just $.99).

shane lems

Seasons, Harvest, Holiness

 Here’s a good Lord’s Day meditation by Puritan William Gurnall (d. 1679).

“As God makes use of all the seasons of the year for the harvest – the frost and cold of the winter, as well as the heat of the summer – so doth he, of fair and foul, pleasing and unpleasing providences, for promoting holiness.  Winter providences kill the weeds of lusts, and summer providences ripen and mellow the fruits of righteousness.  When he afflicts it is for our profit, to make us partakers of his holiness (Heb 12.10).”

This quote of Gurnall’s is found on page 417 of The Christian in Complete Armor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002 reprint).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Where There is Fellowship, There Is Strength

 William Gurnall (d. 1679) has a great paragraph on the fellowship of the saints in his book, The Christian in Complete Armor. In one section, he discusses what he calls “recovery of declining grace.”  In other words, if a Christian is not wielding his armor as he should, or if it is getting rusty, what is he to do?  How can he grow in grace after languishing?  He mentions repentance, faith, and meditation upon Scripture.  He also mentions Christian fellowship, the “communion of the saints” in the language of the Creed.  I’ve modernized the words to make it a bit easier to read.

“Join the fellowship and communion with the saints in your area.  It is no surprise to hear that a house gets robbed when it has no other houses around it.  He that walks in communion of saints travels in company, he dwells in a city where one house keeps watch over another.  The devil knows the damage he does in hindering this great ordinance of communion of saints – in doing this he hinders the progress of grace, indeed, brings that grace which Christians have into a declining, wasting state.  The apostle couples these two duties close together, to ‘hold fast’ our ‘profession,’ and to ‘consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works’ (Heb. 10:23-24).”

“Indeed, it is a dangerous step towards apostasy to forsake the communion of saints; so it is said of Demas that he ‘hath left us, and embraced the present world’ (2 Tim. 4:10).”

There are many good illustrations that show that Christian fellowship is good for our faith, spiritual strength, obedience, and sanctification.  A soldier is weak apart from his unit, a coal gives off little heat alone, the ship that strays from the convoy is often sunk, predators go after the prey who has left the flock, and so on.

In another place Gurnall summarizes it well.

“God so orders things that we should need one another.”

These quotes were taken from The Christian in Complete Armor (or Armour depending on where you live!), pages 241 and 350 of the Banner of Truth one volume edition.

shane lems

Jack Rabbits and Ping-Pong

 I’m surprised how many times I hear people speak negatively about a pastor’s seminary education – as if knowledge is deadly to the soul (or ignorance is bliss).  Of course, this sentiment is a common American one that goes way back to the early frontier days of circuit preachers.  Billy Sunday even said, “I don’t know any more about theology than a jack-rabbit knows about ping-pong, but I’m on my way to glory” (he was right, by the way!).  If you read a lot of Christian books and hear sermons on Christian radio and TV, you’ll notice there are quite a few Billy Sundays out there today. 

Puritan William Gurnall discusses this topic briefly in The Christian in Complete Armor (I’ve edited it a bit to make it shorter and easier to read).  I appreciate what he has to say here; I firmly believe a pastor should have a solid and vigorous seminary education (Greek and Hebrew included!).

“Knowledge is so fundamental to the work and calling of a minister, that he cannot be one without it (cf. Hos. 4:6).  The lack of knowledge in a minister is such a defect that it cannot be supplanted by anything else.  Even if he were ever so meek, patient, excellent, and blameless, if he doesn’t have the skill to rightly divide the word, he is not fit to be a minister.  Even if a knife has a handle made of diamonds, if it does not cut it is a worthless knife.  If a bell does not ring, it is a worthless bell.  The great work of a minister is to teach others, his lips are to preserve knowledge, he should be as conversant in the things of God as others in their particular trades.”

“I know these stars [ministers of the gospel] in Christ’s hands are not all of the same magnitude.  There is a greater glory of gifts and graces shining in some than in others; yet so much light is necessary to every minister, as was in the star the wise men saw at Christ’s birth, to be able out of the word to direct sinners the safe and true way to Christ and salvation.”

Here’s a great analogy worth remembering (Gurnall ends the section with it): “He is a cruel man to the poor passengers, who will undertake to be captain, when he never so much as learned his compass.”  J. G. Machen would have agreed: “The Church is perishing today through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it.” 

Dear pastors, missionaries, elders, and seminary students: study hard, train well, learn the doctrines of grace – for the glory of God and the good of his church!

shane lems

sunnyside wa