Although his book. The Christian in Complete Armour, is so widely known there is remarkably little that can be discovered about the author. A volume published by M’Keon in 1830 is the main source of information regarding William Gumall. A more popular biography appears in J. C. Ryle’s Light From Old Times, and it is from this that the following notes on his life have been gathered.
Gumall was born at King’s Lynn, Norfolk and was baptized at St. Margaret’s church in that town on November 17th 1616. His father, Gregory, died when William was only fifteen years old. Educated first at the Free Grammar School in Lynn he afterwards went up to Cambridge University. He undoubtedly came under strong Puritan and Protestant influences from his earliest years and the effects of this influence can be clearly seen in his writings.
At Cambridge Gurnall was a pensioner of the famous Emmanuel College where he was admitted on March 29th 1632, taking his B.A. in 1635 and his M.A. in 1639. Apart from these meagre facts nothing else is known of this part of his life. It is, however, interesting to notice how many eminent theologians were educated at Emmanuel College in the seventeenth century;
among them, Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Shepherd, Matthew Poole, Ralph Venning, Thomas Watson, Stephen Chamock and William Bridge, many of whose writings are still being republished, and read today.
During Gurnall’s college days the nation was passing through troublous times between the Reformation and Commonwealth periods. As Ryle remarks, “The suicidal and blind misgovernment of Charles I was rapidly paving the way for the destruction of the throne. The undisguised Romish tendencies and bitter persecutions of Archbishop Laud and his-fellow-workers were doing the same for the Church of England”.
A silent five years follows Gurnall’s time at Cambridge and the next that is known of him is his appointment as minister of the parish of Lavenham, Suffolk, in December 1644 when he was twenty eight years of age. This was a position he held until his death on October 12th, 1679. His wife was buried nineteen years later on September 7th, 1698.
During his incumbency of Lavenham the infamous Act of Uniformity was passed, compelling many of Gurnall’s fellow ministers to forsake their livings in the Church of England. He, however, never felt compelled in conscience to make that separation and to this J. C. Ryle attributes the fact that we know so little of his life and testimony. Apart from his famous book The Christian in Complete Armour, which is a series of sermons
delivered in the course of his regular ministry on Ephesians 6.10-20, there are only two sermons known to be by Gurnall and these complete all that remains of his writings. It is known that he suffered a great deal of ill health during his ministry which very much limited his movements. It is disappointing that so little of a spiritually profitable nature is known about a man who could so graciously minister to believers in the midst of the same spiritual conflicts as still so deeply affect God’s children today.
*October 12th 1979 marks the tercentenary of GurnallÂ’s death.