William Gurnall on “Spiritual Pride”

I’m working my way through William Gurnall’s,  “The Christian in Complete Armour“.  While I’m not a new to Puritan writings, I haven’t read extensively either, so I continue to be surprised at how unlike the stereotype puritans the real men actually were.  The self-righteous, quick to condemn killjoys of popular thought simply hasn’t emerged from the pages of Richard Baxter, John Owen, Thomas Watson, or William Gurnall.  In fact quite the opposite.
Take for example the following passage on spiritual pride from The Christian in Complete Armour:

O how uncheerfully, yea, joylessly do many precious souls pass their days!  If you inquire what is the cause, you shall find [that] all their joy runs out at the crannies of their imperfect duties and weak graces.  They cannot pray as they would, and walk as they desire, with evenness and constancy;  they see how short they fall of the holy rule in the Word, and the pattern which others more eminent in grace do set before them; and this, though it does not make them throw the promises away, and quite renounce all hope in Christ, yet it begets many sad fears and suspicions, yea, makes them sit at the feast of Christ hath provided, and not know whether they may eat or not.  In a word, as it robs them of their joy, so [it robs] Christ of that glory which he should receive from their rejoicing in him.

In other words, it is sinful spiritual pride to base your joy on your own performance.  Here is a masterful surgeon of the soul at work.  It might appear very humble and devout to mourn failings in your piety, and Gurnall acknowledges that we should “mourn for those defects thou findest in thy grace and duties”, but to do so without also rejoicing in the Christ who redeemed you in spite of your failures is to look to your own righteousness instead of his.  To focus on our failures in this way is to believe that our personal holiness, rather than Christ, is the source of our joy.

O, if thou couldst pray without wandering, walk without limping, believe without wavering, then thou couldst rejoice and walk cheerfully.  It seems, soul, thou stayest to bring the ground of thy comfort with thee, and not to receive it purely from Christ.

If our chief end is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”, we fail to do so by seeking our joy in ourselves, even our desired righteous and holy selves, instead of Christ.  We rob Christ of glory when our hope is in our perfection instead of his.
In thinking about the spirituality characteristic of many churches I have realized many are based on a cycle of guilt and redoubled effort.  Too often I hear comments from people that reveal that their spiritual feelings are based on messages or experiences that stir emotions of guilt, most often expressed as “stepping on toes”.  Too often I’ve been in worship services where I feel like my will had been absolutely battered and bruised.  And all too often the solution is not “rest in Christ”, “trust in His work”, “look at the cross”, but “try harder”, “recommit”, “decide today”.  The so called gospel I hear from many pulpits is: Jesus loves you, you’ve failed, return to the Law with stronger effort.
Brother, Sister – If you feel inadequate as a disciple, that you could be a more committed and devoted follower of Christ, you’re right  – we all could.  Repent, and as Gurnall says, “Christian, even while the tears are in thy eyes for they imperfect graces … thou should rejoice, yea, triumph over all these thy defects by faith in Christ, in whom thou art complete…”

Life is short.

All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field...The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.  (Isaiah 40:6-8 ESV)

All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field…The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:6, 8 ESV)

I recently heard about Ashley Madison, a twenty-one million member strong website that charges husbands and wives who want to break their marriage vows to meet others who also want to commit adultery. The site apparently gets a lot of publicity for not being allowed to pay for publicity. What especially caught my attention was the companies slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair.”

We have a premise about the brevity of human life followed by the conclusion.

Premise 1: Life is short

Conclusion: Therefore it is reasonable to pay someone to help me break my vow of faithfulness, deeply hurt someone I claim to love, and risk breaking up my family for the chance of a few moments of pleasure using someone who is also untrustworthy.

If you are familiar with logical syllogisms you’ll notice something is missing. We are expected to fill in the the second premise.

Ashley Madison, and their twenty-one million members, assumes that between “Life is short.” and “Have an affair.” there is another thesis along the lines of “There is no accountability afterwards.”

Everything changes if you disagree with the unstated second premise. If you believe that there is a God who made this world and everything in it and therefore rightly has established a moral law to which each soul will be held accountable, reflecting on the brevity of life will lead to a different conclusion. When I think of how short life is I don’t think how I need to betray those I love the most or how I need to make seeking pleasure and entertainment my overruling priority. I think how much I need to pour what’s left of my years into serving those I love and I regret how much time I have wasted seeking trivia that promised pleasure. I regret my sins.

Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”  Which means if life is short, then I am facing judgement soon. The last thing I would want to do is rack up as many offenses as possible before meeting the judge.

Life is short, but meditating on the brevity of life should lead to wisdom and deeper trust in God, not to folly and sin.

 “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:10-12 ESV)


What’s Your Excuse?

There’s a story that a man was once asked by his neighbor to borrow his ax. The man responded that he couldn’t loan him the ax because he was about to have soup for supper. The stunned neighbor thought for a moment and asked what eating soup for supper could possibly have to do with borrowing his ax.  The reply was, “When you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.”  How true.


Most of us are quite skilled at coming up with excuses, I can’t count the times I’ve not started watching what I eat because I wanted a fresh start Monday morning.  Any deviation in the weather can be an excuse to not exercise.  We can come up with all sorts of excuses to not do things we know will draw us closer to God, the ordinary means of God’s grace: scripture reading, attending public worship, and prayer.  In A Heart Like His, Mike and Amy Nappa give a list of excuses we use for not going to worship, but “church” was replaced with “ballgame”.  For example:

  1. Whenever I go to a game, they ask for money.
  2. The other fans don’t care about me.
  3. The seats are too hard.
  4. The referee makes calls I don’t agree with.
  5. Some of the games go into overtime and make me late for dinner.
  6. The band plays songs I don’t know.
  7. I can be just as good a fan at the lake.
  8. I won’t take my kids to a game either. They must choose for themselves which teams to follow.

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? The truth is that if something is important enough to us we make time and we make an effort. If it isn’t we make excuses.

The Road to Emmaus

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35 ESV)


The narrative of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to serves as a wonderful image of the church in microcosm.  Yesterday evening I taught on the passage and wanted to share in brief some of the connections I see Luke pointing to in the event.

  1. ‘That very day’ – that is the Lord’s Day, the day Jesus had risen.  The Church gathers on the day of resurrection to meet the risen Lord.
  2. ‘two of them’ – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20)
  3. ‘were going to a village name Emmaus‘ – that is to a small village not mentioned before.  True worship  is no longer in Jerusalem, but ‘in Spirit and in truth’ and everywhere.  The Church is not marked by a specific location, but gathers in Jerusalem, Emmaus, Glasgow, New York, secret house meetings in China and in Allsboro.
  4. They were ‘on the Road’ – Road (Greek: ὁδός) also means “way” the term used for followers of Christ in Acts which was also written by Luke. See for example Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9 and Acts 22:4.
  5. The disciples were Cleopas and an unamed disciple – that is, it was not Peter, James or John or even another of the Apostles.  It was ordinary followers that the Risen Lord met with, Cleopas and someone not named who could have been any other of the 500 regular men and women who saw Jesus before his ascension.  The implication Luke has is that it could easily have been any of his readers.
  6. ‘Jesus himself drew near’ – the Trimphant Christ meets his disciples on the Way on the Lord’s day.  This what happens every Sunday.  In many villages, cities and towns around the world as we gather he draws nears.  Moreover, they didn’t recognize him.  First, Jesus is truly present regardless of what they understand or feel.  Had Jesus never revealed himself he still would have been there, it his presence not our experience that makes it real.  Second, consider how often we gather to meet the Risen Lord without recognizing his presence.
  7. Worship is defined by and the Church is recognized in Word and Sacrament – “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures” and ” he was known to them in the breaking of the bread”
  8. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – All scripture”Moses and the Prophets” point to Jesus.  Jesus uses scripture as a means of revelation, and it is Jesus who is the true Teacher through his Spirit.
  9. “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” – The four verbs took, blessed, broke, and gave are the words used to describe the actions of the Lord’s Supper. See Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:23 and Luke 22:19 (blessing and giving thanks are almost synonymous in mealtime prayers which is why we alternatively ask someone “Say the Blessing” or to “Give Thanks” before eating)
  10. Then they told what had happened on the road – From being nourished by the Lord in Word and Sacrament they leave to tell about the what had happened and how he was made known to them.  They go on a mission of bearing witness to what had happened.

This passage from Luke reminds us of who we are and the ordinary means God has given through which we disciples on the Way, wherever we are, experience the true presence of the Risen Lord.  He draws near to us through Word and Sacrament in the community of Faith every Lord’s Day.

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day
is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in
Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake
of your love. Amen. (A Collect for the Presence of Christ from The Book of Common Prayer)