Dire Warnings Against Murmuring (The evils of a murmuring spirit, part 4)

The following is the next installment in Tim Challies' series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I'll try to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.

(Chapter 9, part two)

“The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit - concluded"

The remainder of Burroughs' lessons lead us to quake in fear of the Lord - to remember that our "God is a consuming fire" (Heb.12:29). His remaining points are downright frightening, so believers, keep in mind we are His children. His warnings are given to us out of love - and so are His chastenings. If we do find ourselves suffering repercussions for our discontent, it is God's way of teaching us and developing Christ-like character in us. Here is what could be called "tough love", but in its most biblical form:

"For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." 1 Cor. 11: 31-32

For background, and a richer understanding of our author's points, I highly recommend beginning with a fresh reading of Numbers 14: 1-45, which narrates for us Israel's response to the report brought back the the spies who had ventured into the land of Canaan. As you read, keep in mind that these are the same folks who had witnessed the plagues of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, were fed and watered miraculously in the wilderness, and were led about night and day by the visible evidence of the presence of God.

Now consider the testimony of the historical Psalm 106 regarding the events of Numbers 14:

"Then they despised the pleasant land;

They did not believe His word,

But complained in their tents,

And did not heed the voice of the LORD.

Therefore He raised His hand in an oath against them,

To overthrow them in the wilderness..." (Ps. 106:24-26)

IX. "There is a great deal of danger in the sin of discontent, for it highly provokes the wrath of God."

"A discontented, murmuring fit of yours may cost you your lives. You see how it provokes God; there is more evil in it than you were aware of. It may cost you your lives, and therefore look to yourselves, and learn to be humbled at the very beginnings of such disorders in the heart."
These are terrifying words! I can hear the objection rising in my own heart: "But that's the Old Testament! What about grace?" And then to myself I must preach the truth, "Well, yes, but so were they!" No one has ever been saved by any other means than grace, through faith. That is one of the points of that great chapter Eleven of Hebrews. And that is one of the things we also learn from Romans 9-11: "Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work..." (Rom. 11:3-6) Salvation has always been by the grace of God, through faith. And the evidence of this faith in the lives of individuals has always been seen in their actions. Belief has always been recognized by the obedient behavior which flows from it.

Salvation has always been by the grace of God. So if those under the Old Covenant, who saw only the shadow of what was to come were held to such account, what excuse then is there for us who have the Substance? (Col. 3:17) Grace, then, is by no means a license for us to murmur in disbelief with impunity. On the contrary - we who are under the New Covenant have been issued this warning:

"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that no one of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.'
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.....Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Heb. 3:12-19; 4:11-13)
And keeping that in mind, let us return to our text, "And mark what follows after, 'I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel.' You murmur, and maybe others do not hear you, it may be that you do not speak at all, or but half-words; yet God hears the language of your murmuring hearts, and those muttering speeches, and those half-words that come from you."

Burroughs then goes further to explain that when we complain against those authorities God has placed over us in our lives we are complaining (albeit indirectly) against God. God takes it seriously, and personally, when we complain against our employers, our husbands, police, and even our own government and national rulers:

"...the congregation had murmured and they murmured only against Moses and Aaron... and that was against God's ministers. It was against God but not so directly; if you murmur against those whom God makes instruments, because you have not got everything that you would have, against the Parliament, or such and such who are public instruments, it is against God."
And in saying this, Burroughs speaks with all the authority of Scripture behind him: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment...Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed." (Rom 13:1-2; 5-7) Is the way you think and speak about your government respectful? Would you speak to your husband, or boss, or parent in the manner that you speak or think of your President? Are you resisting your authority figures, or willingly subjecting yourselves to them? Do you pay your taxes grudgingly, or with the same willing heart with which you pay your pastor? Would you want to be spoken of and treated in the way that you speak of and behave toward those who stand in authority over you; or are you murmuring against God and His ministers in your life?
"...you must not think to please yourselves in your murmuring discontentedness, and think that no evil shall come of it: 'Therefore he lifted up his hand against them to overthrow them.' You who are discontented lift up your hearts against God, and you cause God to lift up his hand against you."
I like to think that no harm will come from my silent griping, but I'm deceiving myself. My silent complaints, my inward grumbling, if not repented of will lead to repercussions. Eventually they will lead to sin so open that the truth of what is in my heart will become plain - to me and anyone looking on. Then the sin will need to be dealt with openly, in whatever way God sees fit. And so, when we grumble or witness grumbling we should rush to prayer:
"...it would be a very good thing for you who are a godly wife, when you see your husband come home and start murmuring because things are not going according to his desire, to go to prayer, and say: 'Lord, pardon the sin of my husband.' And similarly for a husband to go to God in prayer, falling down and beseeching him that wrath may not come out against his family for the murmuring of his wife."
X. "There is a great curse of God upon murmuring and discontent; so far as it prevails in on who is wicked, it has the curse of God upon it."

"All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statues that he commanded you. They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. Because you did not serve the LORD with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things..." Deut. 28:45-47
"God here threatens to bring his curse upon them, so as to make them a wonder and a sign to others. Why? Because they served not the Lord with joyfulness of heart, therefore God would bring such a curse upon them as would make them a wonder to all that were about them. Oh, how far are you, then, who have a murmuring heart, from serving the Lord with joyfulness!"

"Many men and women in discontented moods are a mad sort of people, and though you may please yourselves with such a mad kind of behavior, you should know that it is a curse of God upon men to be given up to a kind of madness for evils which they imagine have come upon them, and which they fear."

This may seem an odd statement on the surface, but anyone who's ever sunk into the downward spiral of worry, fear, and even paranoia of everything that possibly go wrong, will see the truth in it. That is a cursed mental place.

XI. "There is much of the spirit of Satan in a murmuring spirit."
"The Devil is the most discontented creature in the world, he is the proudest creature that is and the most discontented creature, and the most dejected creature. Now, therefore, so much discontent as you have, so much of the spirit of Satan you have."
We Christians are accustomed to think of Satan as a liar, but seldom do we consider his discontent. He was created by God as a lovely and gifted angelic being, yet he became dissatisfied with his position and sought to resist God's authority over him and recreate himself. This resistance to what is right and true is really at the heart of his lies. Discontent with the Truth, he seeks to invent his own version of reality.

So, if a person's life is characterized by discontent, just as if his life is characterized by lies, it is an indication that person is not God's child but the devil's. And so we must examine ourselves. As Christians the degree to which we are discontent is an indicator of the degree to which we are still allowing ourselves to be ruled by our flesh and the evil one. It indicates as well our ongoing need to have our minds renewed by the word of God. (See Eph. 4: 17-24 and Rom. 12:1-16)

IV. "If you have a murmuring spirit, you must have disquiet all the days of your life."
"God in just judgment will let things fall out on purpose to vex those who have vexing spirits and discontented hearts; and therefore it is necessary that they should live disquiet all their days."
Think back on the fate of those who grumbled in the wilderness. They spent the rest of their lives doomed to live in the very condition they complained against. (Num. 14:34-25) Consider also those referred to in Romans 1 who refused to acknowledge God and be thankful. They were given over to lives characterized by unrighteousness, immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, gossip, backbiting....I can't think of a more apt description of miserable and disquieted lives.

XIII. "God may justly withdraw his care of you, and his protection over you, seeing God cannot please you in his administrations."
"What if God should say to any of you, If my care over you does not please you, then take care of yourselves, if my protection over you will not please you, then protect yourselves?...if you are those who belong to God, there is a protection of God over you, and a care of God. If God were to say 'Well, you shall not have the benefit of my protection any longer, and I will take no further care of you' would not this be a most dreadful judgment of God from Heaven upon you?"
That is a truly terrifying prospect. And lest you think that the God of the New Covenant does not give over his people in this way, consider 1 Cor. 5:4-5, and 1 Cor. 11: 27-34.

There is a tendency among Christians to look at the people of Israel and wonder "Why wouldn't they ever learn? They had the pillar of God's presence with them everywhere, night and day. They had Moses, glowing before them. They had manna every morning, and water supplied miraculously every time it was needed!" And yet we are so often guilty of the same murmuring as they. We have Christ, crucified and resurrected - sitting at the right hand of the Father mediating for us. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us and the tables of the law of Christ engraved upon the soft flesh of our no-longer-stony hearts. As the letter to the Hebrews emphasizes throughout, we have the substance from which every one of their shadows fell. Everything we have is better. We have so much more than they did, and we have the words of warning from Christ that "to whom much is given, much will be required." The great sin of Israel was unbelief. Their unbelief manifested itself in discontent, complaining, murmuring and grumbling against God and authority. When we, in like manner, complain against God and authority, we are as guilty as Israel - guiltier.
"Now then, my brethren, put all these points together, those we spoke of in the last chapter, and these points that have been added now in this chapter, for setting out a murmuring and discontented spirit. Oh, what an ugly face has this sin of murmuring and discontentedness! Oh, what cause is there that we should lay our hands upon our hearts, and go away and be humbled before the Lord because of this!"

Comments

barrywallace said…
Excellent and sobering post, Laurie. 1 Corinthians 10 also points back to the events of Numbers 14 and contains similar warnings.

For I want you to know, brothers, [1] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Laurie M. said…
A wonderful addition, to the point! Thanks Barry.
Lisa notes... said…
Astute observation that salvation has ALWAYS been by grace, through faith, even in the Old Testament.

I needed to hear again that when we complain against those authorities over us, that we’re essentially complaining against God. Ouch.

I wonder how many times I’ve thought and said the statement you mentioned in your last paragraph, “Why wouldn’t they ever learn?” Yet they could look at me and say the exact same thing. We are all in need of grace and forgiveness, and thankfully we find it in Jesus Christ.

Thanks for another great post!

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