How To Use The Sword Of The Word Against Afflictions
By William Gurnall (1617 – 1679)
The Christian stands open to storms and tempests from every direction. He is not like a fenced house that is so sheltered by hills or woods that the wind comes against only one side. Like the strange wind which “smote the four corners” of Job’s house, the Christian’s afflictions leave no corner unassaulted. Often he is attacked by financial stresses, physical problems, and a wounded spirit all at once. And when so many seas of sorrows meet, it is not easy for the Christian’s heart to stand unbroken by their violent waves.
God does allow His children to walk through many different trials and temptations: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous...” (Psa. 34:19). But Scripture is a garden which grows a comforting promise for every sorrow. A wise Christian gathers one of every kind and writes them down as a doctor keeps records of tried and proven prescriptions for diseases.
My task here is to counsel you how to use the sword of the Word for defense and comfort in any affliction which may attack you. Know your right to God’s promises. This is the hinge on which the dispute between you and Satan will move in the day of trouble. How pathetic for a Christian to stand at the door of promise in the darkest night of affliction and be afraid to turn the knob! That is the very time when we should go right in and find shelter as a child runs into his father’s arms. “Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast” (Isa. 26:20).
Meditate on God’s Promises
It is human nature to think more about our problem than about God’s promise. But the promise holds in itself the very power to restore the spirit. When a crying baby takes the nourishment he needs, he falls asleep at the breast. And the Christian stops complaining about his affliction as soon as he takes hold of the promise and enjoys its sweetness in his heart: “In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul” (Psa. 94:19).
When a swarm of bees dislodge themselves they are in confusion, flying everywhere without any order, until they enter their hive again. Then the uproar ends and they get back to work as peaceably as before. And it is just as true in the Christian’s heart. God, in the promise, is the soul’s hive. Let the saint turn his thoughts loose and they riot in fear of the affliction or temptation facing him. But as soon as he collects his straying thoughts and settles his heart on the promise, he recovers his comfort. The Spirit of God sounds a call to retreat from troubled thoughts and come into Him, where there is a quietness and confidence: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him...” (Psa. 37:7).
The Christian’s heart is the color which his most abiding thoughts have stained it. Transient ideas, even if they are comfortably neutral, do not have much effect on the soul either for joy or for sorrow. Poison cannot kill and food will not nourish unless they stay in the body. But when a person’s thoughts lie steeped in sorrow every day and bitter fears soak into his heart he will probably become bowed down with “a spirit of infirmity” (Luke 13:11). Then he is unable to raise his heart from the thought of his cross to meditate on the refreshing promise of resurrection.
On the other hand, God’s promise works effectually when the believer wakes with it and walks with it bound to his heart. No pain he feels nor danger he fears can ever take the promise away from him; but as Samson went on his way eating the honeycomb, the Christian feeds on the sweetness of the promise. Here is the saint who can spend the hours of his affliction singing while others are sighing, and praising while they are murmuring.
Be careful, Christian, to practice this duty of meditation. Do not just chat with the promise in passing; but like Abraham with the angels, invite it to stay in your tent door so you can enjoy it fully. This is how saints through the centuries have caused their faith to triumph over the most tragic troubles. “My beloved,” said the woman, “shall lie all night betwixt my breasts” (Song 1:13). In other words, when sorrows press in to cause fear she will spend the night meditating on the love and loveliness of Jesus, on His beauty and tenderness toward her. When you have learned to do this you will not feel the severity of affliction any more than you feel the bitter cold of a north wind as you wait by a glowing fireplace.
When a Christian can stand upon this Pisgah of meditation and look with the eye of faith across the panorama of the great and precious things which the faithful God has prepared for him, it is easy to turn from the world’s love and rejection alike. But it is hard for some of us to get up there because we get tired after only a few steps of climbing toward God’s mount. That is when we must call out, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psa. 61:2). Who will lift us up to this holy hill of meditation, higher than the surging waves that dash upon us from beneath? God’s Spirit will pick us up in His everlasting arms and take us there.
If only we could put to better purpose the hours we lavish on inferior pleasures and worldly entertainment, the Spirit would surely meet us on the way. But if we take in just one lust to play with – even for a moment of leisure – Satan will be right there to help. Instead, we must spread our sails and let the Holy Spirit fill them with His own breath.
If we are willing priests and lay the wood and sacrifice in order, fire from heaven will come down upon it. But be careful to provide fuel – gather your truth for meditation from the promises and put your thoughts to work on it. Then the Spirit of God will kindle your affections: “...While I was musing,” David said, “the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue” (Psa. 39:3).
Plead the Promises at the Throne of Grace
Meditation fills the heart with heavenly matter but prayer gives the discharge which pours it forth on God and moves Him to give desired relief to the Christian. Although it is some comfort to a penniless person to read through his statements and find that someone owes him money, this alone will not supply bread for his next meal. Payment of the debt does this. By meditating on God’s promise we can see there is deliverance from affliction; but it will not happen until the prayer of faith calls in the debt: “...Your heart shall live that seek God” (Psa. 69:32). “They looked unto Him, and were lightened...” (Psa. 34:5). If you hold back prayer God holds back His mercy.
Meditation is like the lawyer’s preparation of the case in order to plead it at the bar. After you have viewed the promise, and disposed your heart to the riches of it, then get you to the throne of grace and spread it before the Lord, as David did: “Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused me to hope” (Psa. 119:49).
Act in Faith that God Will Perform His Promises
The Christian’s safety lies in the faithfulness and strength of God who is the Promiser; but that security will not be a reality unless faith believes He will perform His Word. Reason may try to discourage you, and if your faith is weak or based only on sense and reason, you will draw little satisfaction from the promise. Too many Christians are bound by fears because their faith acts weakly on a mighty God.
“...Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?...” (Matt. 8:26). Here you can see the leak where the water came in to sink their spirits – they had “little faith.” It is not what God is but what we understand Him to be which makes the difference between victory and defeat. If a man thinks his house will collapse in a tornado – though it is as unmovable as a rock – that person will probably stay outside in the storm rather than trust the shelter to cover him.
To keep up the energy of faith on the power of God’s promises, we must somehow dismiss sense and reason from being our counselors. Why did Abraham not stagger in his faith, although the promise was such a strange one? “...He considered not his own body now dead...” (Rom. 4:19). And, on the other hand, what made Zacharias falter? He listened to the counsel of reason and assumed he was too old to have a child. Like Thomas, we are prone to carry our faith on the tips of our fingers – to trust God no further than our hand of sense can reach. God is very often on His way to perform a promise and deliver joyful news to His afflicted servants, when sense and reason close the case as being hopeless.
Sense, reason, and faith are separate entities and must not be confused with one another. We know some things by sense but cannot understand them by reason. Other realities we accept by reason that cannot be discerned by sense, like the size of the sun exceeding the circumference of the earth – when judging by the eye it can be covered with one’s hat. And other things too, which eclipse both sense and reason, are clear to faith. By faith Paul knew, even when all hope was gone, that not a man would die in the sea storm: “...Be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (Acts 27:25).
When the angel struck Peter and told him, “Arise up quickly…and follow me,” Peter did not let reason respond to the impossibility of the whole thing (Acts 12:7-8). How could he walk quickly in chains? Or what about the iron gate which fastened him in? He did not give common sense a turn to ask questions but stood up and saw his chains fall off – just before the gate opened itself to them! So do not say it is impossible to bear your affliction or escape a certain temptation. Give faith free reign to follow the promise and God will loose the knots which reason and sense have tied.
Luther admonished Christians everywhere to crucify the word “how” – how can you possibly go through this trouble or withstand such a hard attack? Has not God been faithful to give plenty of promises to stand between you and all harm? “...I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5); and “...My grace is sufficient for thee...” (2 Cor. 12:9). Nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
A Jewish proverb says, “Shut the windows and the house will be light.” In other words, do not judge by sense but by faith in an omnipotent God. It is the highest act of faith to believe those things which seem most improbable; and it is the highest act of love, for Christ’s sake, to endure patiently the things which bring pain. In these we are denying carnal reasoning which disputes against God’s power and strength.
– From the 2002 printing of The Christian in Complete Armour; Volume Three by William Gurnall. Reprinted by permission of Banner of Truth, P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, PA 17013.