Having read of this seventeenth century Puritan classic in a review written by a Bible institute professor who claimed this to be his favorite book of all times, I thought I would give it a go. I now can understand his enthusiasm, for The Christian in Complete Armour is full of solid instruction, helpful words of wisdom and interesting anecdotes. Gurnall is a very typical Puritan writer who churns out very serious prescriptions for what ails our souls. On the other hand, he is also typically Puritan in his verboseness, love of reason and topical rather than exegetical approach to Scripture.
This final Puritan characteristic is Gurnall’s weakness. While this work claims to be a study of Ephesians 6:10-17 in reality the author simply bounces off the text to pursue various related topics. The danger here, one the author falls prey to, is that it is easy to move beyond the teachings of the passage and string together miscellaneous thoughts, which have the ring of common sense, and pronounce them the biblical instruction on a given topic. As an example, take the subject of hope. Gurnall writes, “I come now to counsel you how to strengthen your hope: first, study the Word of God diligently; secondly, keep a pure conscience; thirdly, ask God for a stronger hope; fourthly, increase your love; fifthly, exercise your hope; and sixthly, recall past mercies” (p.205). Now, while each of these admonishments is worthy in and of itself, the Bible does not teach that the road to hope is paved with these six steps. This is a common mistake by those who approach the Bible in a proof-text manner, and in my opinion, seriously undermines the value of such works.
But, if you are willing to take the time, read slowly, and compare carefully all things with Scripture, there is much profit in a study of this volume. Here are a few quotes that show some of the rich material within:
“The sheep may fall into a ditch, but it is the swine that wallow in it.”
“The more partial payments the Christian receives the more his soul groans for the whole of his inheritance.”
“Nothing is more unbecoming to a heavenly hope than an earthly heart.”