Friday, August 7, 2009

The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit - part two

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 8, part two

We'll be picking up the discussion where we left off in my previous post discussing "The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit." The remainder of this chapter will be spent making the following point:

"Murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian."
(To spare confusion, hopefully, I've again presented these ideas in outline form. Quotes from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment are in italics.)

I. Discontent is below "the relation of a Christian". There are several ways in which murmuring is beneath us as believers:

It is below "the relation in which you stand to God."
"Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:5)
God, the great King of all, is our Father. We are heirs of the kingdom promised to those who love Him; and we are rich, not with money, but with faith, which has rewards reaching all the way into eternity.
"And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain."" (Gal. 4:6-10)
We are no longer slaves, as we once were, subject to a system of works. Now we are the children of God. We are His heirs - the kingdom of God is ours. We are on our way to receive our great inheritance. How ridiculous it is for us to complain when difficulties arise on the way! (See also Gal. 3:26-29)
"Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." (Heb. 6:17-20)
Remember also what Romans 8:24 tells us: "For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance." How should this truth transform the way we look at the unpleasant situations of our lives? I can't help but think here of Romans 8:18-24 where we are told that all the present day sufferings are like birth pangs. These are the pains necessary to bring about the joy that is to come. I must keep hope in the promise of new life, the redemption of my body, ever before me, always on my mind. I've heard John Piper say, when you go to a hospital and hear screams of pain, the way you feel about what you're hearing differs dramatically depending upon whether you're in the maternity ward, or the oncology unit. We believers are on the maternity ward. There's a joyous hope awaiting us at the end of our afflictions which should dramatically affect our attitudes toward our troubles.

As Burroughs says: "...you cry out as if you were undone and yet are a King's son, you who stand in such relation to God, as to a father, you dishonor your father in this; as if either he had not wisdom, or power, or mercy enough to provide for you." Ponder for a moment the events of this day or this week. See if there wasn't at least one circumstance you would have dealt with more nobly if you'd kept this truth in mind.

It is below "the relation in which you stand in Jesus Christ."
"What! One married to Jesus Christ and yet troubled and discontented? Have you not enough in him?"
Speaking as a married woman, that hits close to home. We Christian women, at least in my limited experience, tend to be fairly well practiced in not complaining about our husbands' provision for us, but my how we do complain about all sorts of things that fall under the providence of God! Take a moment to read Eph. 5:22-33. Think about the kind of husband Christ is - the only perfect husband in history - and He is ours. He gave Himself up for us. He sanctifies and cleanses us. He washes us with His word. When His plan is complete, and His work in our lives finished, we will be glorious, without any spot or wrinkle, or blemish, or bit of unholiness. This is what He did; this is what He is doing and will accomplish for us. This husband that chose us, and purchased with His own blood, is He not enough for us?
"Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure" -
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me. 'These are the true words of God.'" (Rev. 19:7-9. If you'd like to hear more about the bride of Christ, read Rev. 21)
"Has not God given you his Son, and will he not with him give you all things? Has the love of God to you been such as to give you his Son in marriage? Why are you discontented and murmuring?...it is a dishonor for a husband to have the wife go whining up and down...Oh, Jesus Christ does not love to see his spouse with a scowling countenance; no man loves to see discontentment in the face of his wife, and surely Christ does not love to see discontent in the face of his spouse."

Just as husbands are dishonored when their wives go around complaining about the things they feel their husbands have failed to provide, so we dishonor God when we murmur and complain about the provisions He's made for us. This, by the way, touches every area of our lives, not just income or possessions, but health and every circumstance. Our Lord wants us to trust Him in all things and rejoice in His love and care for us.

It is below the relation you have as a member of Christ.
"You are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh; and to have a member of Jesus Christ in a condition of discontent is exceedingly unworthy."
Take a moment to review. 1 Cor. 12: 11-27. "But as it is, God arranged the members in the body each one as he chose." Not only is each of us a member of the body of Christ (who, by the way, never complained to God), but we've each been made to be just the part God intended. This should lead us to be content with our place in the world in general, and in the church, and with the gifts we've each been given in particular.

It is below the relation you have as younger sibling and co-heir with Christ.
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together...and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." Rom. 8: 16-17, 28-19 (See also Heb. 2:10-18.)
Notice the emphasis here on being like Christ, our brother, and especially as it relates to suffering. God's plan is to have many children who are like Christ in their willingness to suffer for the sake of the brethren. It is beneath the calling of a co-heir and brother of Christ to complain in hardship.

It is below the relation in which you stand to the Spirit of God.
"You are the temple of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost is your Comforter. It is he who is appointed to convey all comforts from the Father and the Son, to the souls of his people. And are you the temple of the Holy Ghost, and does he dwell in you, and yet for all that you murmur for every little thing?"
I'd like to make three observations here:
  1. If the God of all creation has seen fit to purchase us and sanctify us as temples for His own divine Spirit - the highest honor imaginable for any creature - what more could we want? What business do we have complaining about anything?
  2. With the God of all comfort indwelling us in the very form of the Comforter, why is it that we go around uncomforted? How is it that we claim to be filled with the Comforter while complaining over every discomfort?
  3. We don't even belong to ourselves. We have no right to complain about anything. We have a single purpose, to glorify God. It is He who decides the best way for us to do that - it is His glory after all.
(See John 15: 26-7 John 16: 7-15; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 6: 19-20; 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1)

It is below the relation in which you stand to the angels.
"You are made one body with them, for so Christ has joined principalities and powers with his Church: they are ministering spirits for the good of his people, to supply what they need, and you and they are joined together, and Christ is the head of you and angels."
I recognized "ministering spirits" as a reference to Heb. 1:13-14: "And to which of the angels has he ever said, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for you feet?' Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation." But I must say, when I first read this I had no clue where Burroughs was coming from in saying "you are made one body with them...you and they are joined together..." This sent me to Scripture in hopes of shedding some light on his assertion. I referred to the 1599 Geneva Bible (published the year of Burroughs' birth) since it is most likely the translation he used, and found some help there, first in Eph. 1:20-23: "Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might, and domination, and every Name, that is named, not in this world only, but also in that that is to come, and hath made all things subject under his feet, and hath given him over all things to be the head to the Church, which is his body, even the fullness of him that filleth all in all things." But even more helpful was Col. 2:9-10: "For in him [Christ] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." (See also Eph. 3:9-10, and 1 Cor. 11:8-10.)

I think Burroughs' point is that grumbling and complaining is hardly suitable behavior for beings to whom God's mighty angels have been given as ministers and helpers. Imagine a holy, sinless angel of God having to serve God by looking after foul sinners like us; and yet the angels, in obedience to God, minister to us without complaint. Yes, murmuring is beneath us in our relationship to the angels.

It is below the relation in which you stand to the saints.

"You are the same body with them, they and you make up but one mystical body with Jesus Christ, and if they are happy you must needs be happy."

(Read Hebrews 11:1-40 and 12:1-4)

II. "Murmuring and discontentedness is below the high dignity which God has put upon the Christian."

"Do but consider the high dignity which God has put upon you: the meanest (lowest) Christian in the world is a lord of heaven and earth."

We have been made a kings and priests, and we will reign with Christ. (See 2 Tim. 2:11-12 and Rev. 5:8-10.)
"It is a very strange expression, that death should be theirs, death is yours, that is, you are, as it were, lords over it, you have what shall make death your servant, your slave, even death itself, your greatest enemy is turned to be your slave. Faith makes a Christian as lord over all, lifted up in excellence above all creatures that ever God made, except the angels, and in some respect above them."
Because of the victory won for us by Jesus Christ, death rather than killing us serves as our entrance into life. (1 Cor. 15:50-58, 2 Cor. 5:1-10, and Rom. 8:28-39 provide some explanation as to how it is that death has been made our servant.)

And here Burroughs makes a profound observation:
"That you who were as a firebrand of hell, and might have been scorching and yelling and roaring there to all eternity, yet that God should raise you to have a higher excellence in you than there is in all the works of creation that ever he made except angels, and other Christians, who are in your position! Indeed, you are nearer the Divine nature than the angels, because your nature is joined in a hypostatical union to the Divine nature, and it that respect your nature is more honored than the nature of the angels. And the death of Christ is yours. He died for you and not for the angels, and therefore you are likely to be raised above the angels in many respects. You who are in such a position as this, you who are set apart to the end that God might manifest to all eternity what the infinite power of a Deity is able to raise a creature to - for that is the position of a saint, a believer: his position is that he is set apart to the end that God might manifest to all eternity what his infinite power is able to do to make a creature happy. Are you in such a position? Oh, how low and beneath this position is a murmuring and discontented heart for want of some outward comforts here in this world!"
The import of the hypostatic union in this context is that God the Son did not take on the form of an angel, but that of a man. He became a man, and He for all eternity remains the God-man. He is not the God-angel, but the God man. What amazing dignity He has conferred upon mankind. Man now has a mediator and representative seated for all eternity at the right hand of God. No angel can ever make such a claim. And so, in this sense we sinners who trust in Christ are raised higher than the sinless angels and have been conferred greater dignity. Beyond that, God has purposed for us that we should be recipients for all eternity of His Divine love and power. How petty of us is it then to complain over the temporary problems we face - and they are all temporary.

III. "Murmuring is below the spirit of a Christian."

"The spirit of every Christian should be like the spirit of his Father. A father loves to see his spirit in his child, rather than the features of his body. Oh, the Lord who is our Father loves to see his Spirit in us. Great men love to see great spirits in their children, and the great God loves to see a great spirit in his children."

"For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29) God's desire, and the purpose of all creation, is that Jesus be the first of many like Him. And being like Him means being content and ceasing our murmuring. As Burroughs says, "He manifested his lion-like spirit in passing through all afflictions and troubles whatsoever without any murmuring against God." And this is the "lion-like spirit" God loves to see in His children.

IV. "Murmuring is below the profession of a Christian."
"A Christian's profession is to be dead to the world and to be alive to God, that is his profession, to have his life hid with Christ in God. What! is this your profession? And yet if you have not everything you want, you murmur and are discontented. In that you even deny your profession."
V. Murmuring "is below that special grace of faith."

The gospel promises us Christ and access to the Father through Him. Our faith was given us to bring us to God - and He is sufficient for all our deepest needs. We have no promise from Christ that we will live our lives without suffering - quite the contrary. Suffering is something we are promised. We can count on it.
"A Christian should be satisfied with what God has made the object of his faith. The object of his faith is high enough to satisfy his soul, were it capable of a thousand times more than it is. Now if you may have the object of your faith, you have enough to content your soul. And know that when you are discontented for want of certain comforts, you should think thus: God never promised me that I should have these comforts, at this time, and in such a way as I would have. I am discontented because I have not these things which God never yet promised me, and therefore I sin much against the Gospel and against the grace of faith."
VI. Murmuring "is below a Christian because it is below those helps that a Christian has more than others have."

We Christians have Christ and His Spirit indwells us. We have the Scriptures with all its promises; and we've been given the faith to believe them. We have brothers and sisters in Christ to comfort and edify us. And these are just a sample of the helps we have in this life which unbelievers must do without.

VII. Murmuring "is below the expectation that God has of Christians, for God expects not only that they should be patient in afflictions, but that they should rejoice and triumph in them." (See Romans 8:31-39)

VIII. "It is below what God has had from other Christians. Others have not only been contented with little trials, but they have triumphed under great afflictions, they have suffered the spoiling of their goods with joy."

1 comment:

Lisa notes... said...

"We believers are on the maternity ward." Great line!