William Gurnall (1617‑79)
This is incomparably the greatest work that passeth upon the soul from the Spirit of Christ. It is called "the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe" (Eph. 1:19). Observe with what a heap of expressions the Spirit of God loads our weak understanding, that labouring under the weight of them, and finding the difficulty of reaching the significancy of them, we might be the more widened to conceive of that power which can never be fully understood by us, being indeed infinite, and so too big to be enclosed within the narrow walls of our understandings. Power, greatness of power, exceeding greatness, and lastly, exceeding greatness of His power, that is of God. What angel in heaven can tell us what all these amount to? God (with reverence be it spoken) sets His whole force to the work. It is compared to no less than the "working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the Heavenly places, far above all principality and power" (Eph. 1:20-21). To raise anyone from the dead, is a mighty, an almighty work; but to raise Christ from the dead, carries more wonder in it than to raise any other. He had a heavier grave‑stone to keep Him down than any besides, the weight of a world's sin lay upon Him; yet notwithstanding this, He is raised with power by the Spirit, not only out of the grave, but into glory.
Now the power God puts forth upon the soul in working faith, is according to this of raising Christ; for indeed the sinner's soul is as really dead in sin, as Christ's body was in the grave for sin. Now, speak, poor creature, art thou any way acquainted with such a power of God to have been at work in thee? Or dost thou think slightly of believing, and so show thyself a stranger to this mystery? Certainly this one thing might resolve many (if they desired to know their own state) that they have no faith, because they make faith so light and trivial a matter, as if it were as easy to believe, as to say they do; and it were no more difficulty to receive Christ into their souls by faith, than to put a bit of bread into their mouths with their hand. Ask some, whether such a day or time of God's power ever came over their heads, to humble them for sin, drive them out of themselves, and draw them effectually unto Christ; and they may answer you, as those did Peter, when he asked whether they had received the Holy Ghost since they believed; they said unto him: "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost." So these might say: We know not whether there be any such power required to the working of faith or no...
The Spirit finds the creature in such a state, as it neither can nor will contribute the least help to such a work. As the prince of this world, when he came to tempt Christ, found nothing in Him to befriend and further his tempting design; so when the Spirit of Christ comes, He finds as little encouragement from the sinner; no party within the castle of the soul to side with Him, when He comes first to sit down before it, and lay siege to it; but all the powers of the whole man against Him. Hence it is that so many scornful answers are sent out to the summons that are given to sinners to yield. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." Never was any garrison more resolved to stand out against both the treaties and batteries of an assailing enemy, than the carnal heart is against all means that God useth to reduce it to His obedience. The noblest operations of the soul are "earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:15). So that, except heaven and earth can meet; sensual and spiritual please one palate; God and the devil agree; there is no hope that a sinner of himself should like the motion Christ makes, or that with any argument he should be won over to like it, so long as the ground of dislike remains in his earthly, sensual, and devilish nature.
...Now the Spirit's addresses are suited to the several faculties of the soul; the principle of which are the understanding, the conscience, and the will. These are like three forts, one within the other, which all must be reduced before the town be taken; the sinner, I mean, subdued to the obedience of faith. And to these the Spirit makes His particular addresses, putting forth an act of almighty power upon every one of them.
1. On the understanding He puts forth an act of illumination. The Spirit will not work in a dark shop; the first thing He doth in order to faith, is to beat out a window in the soul, and let in some light from heaven into it. Hence believers are said to be renewed in the spirit of their minds, which the apostle calleth being renewed in knowledge (Eph. 4:23; Col. 3:10). By nature we know little of God, and nothing of Christ, or the way of salvation by Him. The eye of the creature therefore must be opened to see the way of life, before he can by faith get into it. God doth not waft (to cause to drift gently ar smoothly through the air or over water) souls to heaven, like passengers in a ship, who are shut under the hatches, and see nothing all the way they are sailing to the port. If so, that prayer might have been spared which the psalmist, inspired by God, breathes forth in the behalf of the blind Gentiles: "That Thy way may be known upon earth, and Thy saving health among all nations." As faith is not a naked assent, without affiance (to trust to) and innitency on (leaning upon, reliance, resting upon) Christ; so neither is it a blind assent, without some knowledge. If therefore thou continuest still in thy brutish ignorance, and knowest not so much who Christ is, and what He hath done for the salvation of poor sinners, and what thou must do to get interest in Him, thou art far enough from believing. If the day be not broke in thy soul, much less is the Sun of Righteousness arisen by faith in thy soul.
2. When the Spirit hath sprung with a divine light into the understanding, then He makes His address to the conscience; the act which He passeth upon that, is an act of conviction (John 16:8). "He shall convince (reprove) the world," etc. Now this conviction is nothing but a reflection of the light that is in the understanding upon the conscience, whereby the creature feels the weight and force of those truths he know, so as to be brought into a deep sense of them. Light in a direct beam heats not; nor doth knowledge swimming in the brain affect. Most people under the gospel know that unbelief is a damming sin, and that there is no name to be saved by but the name of Christ; yet how few of those know this convincingly, so as to apply this to their own consciences, and to he affected with their own deplorable state, who are unbelievers and Christless persons! He is a convicted drunkard in law, who in open court, or before lawful authority, upon clear testimony and deposition of witnesses, is found to be such; so he scripturally is a convinced sinner, who upon clear evidence of the Word brought against him by the Spirit, is found by his own conscience (God's officer in his bosom) to be so. Speak now, poor creature, did ever such an act of God pass upon thee, as this is? which that thou mayest the better discern of, try thyself by these few characters of a convinced person.
(i) A sinner truly convinced, is not only convinced of this sin or that sin, but of the evil of all sin. It is an ill sign, when a person seems in a passion to cry out of one sin, and to be senseless of another sin. A parboiled conscience is not right, soft in one part and hard in another; the Spirit of God is uniform in His work.
(ii) The convinced sinner is not only convinced of acts of sin, but of the state of sin also; he is not only affected with what he hath done, this law broken and that mercy abused, but with what his state and present condition is. Peter leads Simon Magus from that one horrid act he committed, to the consideration of that which is worse, the dismal state he discovered him to be in: "I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." Many will confess that they do not as they should, who will not think by any means so ill of themselves, that their state is naught, a state of sin and death; whereas, the convinced soul freely puts himself under this sentence of death, owns his condition, and dissembles not his pedigree: I am a most vile wretch, saith he, a limb of Satan, full of sin as the toad is of rank poison; my whole nature lies in wickedness even as the dead rotten carcass doth in its slime and putrefaction; I am a child of wrath, born to no other inheritance than hell flames; and if God will now tread me down thither, I have not one righteous syllable to object against His proceedings, but there is that in my own conscience which will clear Him from having done me any wrong in my doom.
(iii) The convinced sinner doth not only condemn himself for what he hath done and is, but he despairs of himself, as to anything he can now do to save himself. Many, though they go so far as to confess they are vile wretches, and have lived wickedly, and for this deserve to die; yet when they have put the rope around their necks by a self‑condemning act, they are so far from being convinced of their own impotency, that they hope to cut the rope with their repentance, reformation, and I know not what bundle of good works, which they think shall redeem their credit with God, and recover His favour, which their former sins have unhappily lost them. And this comes to pass because the plough of conviction did not go deep enough to tear up those secret roots of self‑confidence with which the heart of every sinner is woefully tainted; whereas every soul thoroughly convinced by the Spirit, is a self-despairing soul; he sees himself beyond his own help, like a poor condemned prisoner, laden with so many heavy irons, that he sees it impossible for him to make an escape with all his skill or strength, out of the hands of justice. O friends, look whether the work be once gone thus far in your souls or no. Most that perish, it is not their disease that kills them, but their physician; they think they can cure themselves, and this leaves them incurable. Speak, soul; did the Lord ever ferret (to uncover and bring to light) thee out of this burrow where so many earth themselves? Art thou as much at a loss what to do, as sensible for what thou hast done? Dost thou see hell in thy sin, and despair in thyself? Hath God got thee out of this Keilah (as God did David in I Sam. 23:1-13) and convinced thee if thou shouldest stay in the self‑confidence of thy repentance, reformation, and duties, they would all deliver thee up into the hands of God's justice and wrath, when they shall come against thee? Then indeed thou hast escaped one of the finest s nares that the wit of hell can weave.
(iv) The convinced sinner is not only convinced of sin, so as to condemn himself and despair of himself, but he is convinced of a full provision laid up in Christ for self‑condemned and self-despairing ones. "He shall convince the world of sin, and of righteousness." This is as necessary an antecedent (event preceding another) to faith, as any of the former. Without this, the soul convinced of sin, is more like to go to the gallows with Judas, or fall on the sword of the law as the jailer attempted to do (when he thought his condition desperate), than think of coming to Christ...
3. The third and last faculty is the will. On this (for production of faith) the Spirit puts forth an act of renovation, whereby He doth sweetly but powerfully incline the will which before was rebellious and refractory (obstinate, resistant), to accept of Christ, and make a free deliberate choice of Him for his Lord and Saviour. I say a free choice, not only cudgelled (to strike or beat with a short heavy club) into Him with apprehensions (dread) of wrath, as one may run under an enemy's penthouse in a storm, whose door he would have passed by in fair weather, and never looked that way. Speak, soul, dost please thyself in choosing Christ? Dost go to Christ, not only for safety, but delight? So the spouse: "I sat under His shadow with great delight." I say a deliberate choice, wherein the soul well weighs the terms of Christ. Like Ruth, who when Naomi spake the worst she could to discourage her, yet liked her mother's company too well to lose it for those troubles that attended her. Speak, soul, hath the Spirit of God thus put His golden key to the lock of thy will, to open the everlasting door of thy heart, to let Christ the King of glory in? Hath He not only opened the eye of thy understanding as He awakened Peter asleep in prison, and caused the chains of senselessness and stupidity to fall off thy conscience, but let thee out of the prison of impenitency, where even now thou wert fast bolted in; yea brought thee to knock at heaven's door for entertainment, as Peter did at the house of Mary, where the Church was met? Be of good comfort, thou mayest know assuredly that God hath sent not His angel, but His own Spirit and hath delivered thee out of the hand of sin, Satan, and [vindictive] justice.
The above article is public domain material copied from VOICE OF TRUTH, P.O. Box 6250, New Orleans, LA 70174.
THE PERSUADER - December, 1995-January, 1996