Books in history Christian in complete armour

JOHN NEWTON once declared that if he were confined to one book, besides his Bible, he dared say that he would choose William Gurnall's Christian Armour. Baxter, Flavel and Toplady also spoke highly of it.
For Spurgeon the work was, "Peerless and priceless; every line is full of wisdom; every sentence is suggestive . . . the best thought-breeder in all our library". J C Ryle declared, "I find more of definite soul-satisfying thought in one page of Gurnall than in five pages of such books as the leaders of the so-called 'Broad Church School' put forth." In 1883 A A Rees of Sunderland, in Rare Jewels from Gurnall, declared there was no book from which he had derived more benefit, as a Christian and a minister.
Much more recently the late Leonard Ravenhill spoke of its revolutionary effect on him. David Wilkerson, of Cross and the Switchblade fame, wrote of its, "holiness" and "purity", its power to provoke one "to prayer and a fuller dedication to Jesus Christ. It is one of the most important books ever written. ... I will forever bless the day it was put into my hands."
The Christian in Complete Armour, A Treatise of the Saints' War Against the Devil by William Gurnall first appeared in three volumes in 1655, 1658 and 1662. It was republished in two volumes, with an introduction by Ryle, in 1864. These were reproduced in a one volume edition exactly one hundred years later by the Banner of Truth Trust, who have reprinted it at least five times since then. They have also produced a heavily abridged and modernised edition in three paperback editions.
Gurnall described his work as A treatise of the saints war against the Devil, wherein a discovery is made of that grand Enemy of God and his People, in his Policies, Power, Seat of his Empire, Wickedness, and chief design he hath against the Saints.
ts alternative title is A Magazine Opened, From whence the Christian is furnished with Spiritual Arms for the Battle helped on with his Armour and taught the use of his Weapon: together with the happy issue of the whole War.
It is an exhaustive exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20. It is divided into some 13 parts. The first is dubbed by the abridgement The Saints' Call to Arms. It calls Christians to courage and service and gives two admonitions.
Then follow a series of Directions for managing the war successfully. They are headed Christians Must Be Armed And Why; Nature of the War and Character of Assailants; Second Exhortation to Arm; Position to be Maintained in the Fight; and finally the various parts of the Christian Armour: Girdle; Breastplate; Shoe; Shield; Helmet and Sword. At the end we have How the Spiritual Panoply May Alone be Kept Furbished and The Duty to Aid by Prayer the Public Ministers of Christ.
A recent Banner paperback called The Embattled Christian by Bryan Zacharias is subtitled William Gurnall and the Puritan View of Spiritual Warfare. It is based on a Master's thesis written under Jim Packer's supervision. It mentions Puritan works that preceded and possibly informed Gurnall, including Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) and William Perkins' Combat Between Christ and the Divell Displayed (1606) and Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1610). In 1608 John Downame published the very popular Christian Warfare. Another work from the early 1600s was William Gouge's The Whole Armour of God revised and enlarged in 1627, three previous editions having sold out.
Later Puritan works that possibly benefited from Gurnall's previous work include Daemonologia Sacra or Treatise of Satan's Temptations by Richard Gilpin (1677), Baxter's Certainty of the World of Spirits (1691) and Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World (1693). Bunyan's Holy War touches on similar themes, as do parts of Pilgrim's Progress.
Zacharias also consults commentaries on Ephesians 6 by Baynes, Calvin, Henry and Poole. From more recent times he mentions D M Lloyd-Jones' two volumes, Christian Warfare and Christian Soldier, the only comparable modern treatment of the same material. (It is interesting to note Dr. Lloyd-Jones' obvious embarrassment when he felt need to diverge from Gurnall at one point - see Christian Warfare, page 16).
Gurnall's life was rather uneventful. Born in 1616 he grew up in Lynn, Norfolk, and at the age of 15 went to Emmanuel, Cambridge. Thus he was surrounded by Puritans throughout his formative years. In 1644, as Civil War raged, he was preferred to the living of Lavenham in Suffolk, where he spent the rest of his life, dying in 1679. He seems often to have been in ill health but married and had ten children or more. In 1662, almost uniquely among Puritans, he escaped ejection with the 2,000 who refused to conform. He suffered opprobrium for this from some quarters. However, nothing can be taken away from his classic work. Its chief attraction lies in what Rees describes as, "... similitudes; which flash from his glowing brain, under the pressure of thought, as plentifully, as naturally, and in all directions, as sparks fly from the heated metal under the hammer's stroke. Here are some of the examples Rees collected:
He that has a false end in his profession will soon come to an end of his profession. It will cost something to be religious - it will cost more not to be so.
We ministers fear man so much because we fear God so little: one fear cures another
A weak hand, with a sincere heart, is able to turn the key in prayer
The study of the word differs as much from the mere reading of it, as loving intimacy differs from a passing salutation.
The serpent's eye does well only in the dove's head

This article first appeared in The Evangelical Library Bulletin