The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit

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 one

In our last reading Burroughs sought to display for us the many excellencies of the virtue of Christian Contentment. His hope is that by now we have seen its beauty and begun to desire it for our own - for the sake of God's glory in our lives, “for there are none who more honor God, and honor their profession than those who have this grace of contentment.” And so, in his words, “what remains but the practice of this?” Meaning, it’s time to start putting into practice all we’ve been learning. We've talked about contentment and admired it from every angle. We can put it off no longer; we must get down to the business of being content. Or, as C.S. Lewis would say: “Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future.” (The Weight of Glory)

To put us in the right frame of mind Burroughs begins by endeavoring to humble us “for lack of this grace”. He will spend the next two chapters showing us that, "There is more evil in it than you are aware of." He will endeavor to make us hate our discontent so that we will never be content to live with it again. Before we begin, take a moment to prayerfully consider any circumstances in your life with which you are discontent. Pray God to help you see the evil that is in it - how it keeps you from glorifying Him in your life, and to help you repent of it.

In Scripture, discontent is often represented as "murmuring," or complaining, and God is ever displeased with it. But what’s the big deal about murmuring? Why does God Almighty find it so offensive?

I. It reveals much corruption in the soul.

Burroughs likens discontent to a septic sore. The problem isn’t so much the wound on the surface (which would heal nicely under different circumstances) as it is the infection that lies beneath. So with our souls, it is not so much our outward difficulties that make us miserable as the contaminated attitude of discontent in our hearts. “There is an affliction upon you and that is grievous, but there is a murmuring heart within and that is more grievous."
"As contentment argues much grace and strong grace, and beautiful grace, so murmuring argues much corruption, and strong corruption, and very vile corruptions in your heart.... Let God do with you what he will, till he purges out that fretting humour your wound will not be healed. A murmuring heart is a very sinful heart; so when you are troubled for this affliction you had need to turn your thoughts rather to be troubled for the murmuring of your heart, for that is the greatest trouble. There is an affliction upon you and that is grievous, but there is a murmuring heart within and that is more grievous...a murmuring spirit is a greater evil than any affliction, whatever the affliction!"
The murmuring which escapes our lips is a symptom of a much more serious problem than any external difficulties we might face. It is evidence of a heart problem. "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks...."(See Matt. 6:22-23. Note the context of avoiding greed and worry & Matt. 12: 33-35.)

II. Murmuring is one of the defining marks of an ungodly man.
"The evil of murmuring is such that when God would speak of wicked men and describe them, and show the brand of a wicked and ungodly man or woman, he instances this sin in a more special manner....murmurers in Scripture are put in the forefront of ungodly ones...You think you are not as ungodly as others, because you do not swear and drink as others do, but you may be ungodly in murmuring."
"And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, 'Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?...And the LORD said to Moses, 'How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?...'How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me, I have heard the grumblings of the prople of Israel, which they grumble against me.'" (Num. 14:2-3a, 11, 27 )

"For I want you to know, brothers 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, 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 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, my beloved, flee from idolatry."
1 Cor. 10: 1-11, 14 (Remember, Col. 3:5 tells us that covetousness is idolatry.)

“Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’ These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.” Jude 14-16

These are very convicting words which should leave us quaking a bit every time we find ourselves grumbling.

III. Murmuring is accounted as rebellion.
(See Numbers 14: 26-38.)

“…a murmuring heart is a rebellious heart…”
"Just as it is the beginning of rebellion and sedition in a kingdom, when the people are discontented. When discontent comes, it grows to murmuring, and you can go into no house almost, but there is murmuring when men are discontented, so that within a little while it breaks forth into sedition or rebellion. Murmuring is but as the smoke of the fire: there is first a smoke and smoldering before the flame breaks forth; and so before open rebellion in a kingdom there is first a smoke of murmuring, and then it breaks forth into open rebellion. But because it has the seeds of rebellion, it is accounted before the Lord to be rebellion. Will you be a rebel against God? When you feel your heart discontented and murmuring against the dispensation of God towards you, you should check it thus: Oh, you wretched heart! What will you be a rebel against God? Will you rise in rebellion against the infinite God? Yet you have done so. Charge your heart with this sin of rebellion."
Just as anger is to murder and lust is to adultery, as heart sins are the seeds from which the outward acts grow, so murmuring is the smoldering of rebellion before it erupts into open flame. Murmuring is open rebellion waiting to happen.

IV. It is opposed to grace, especially in the work of God in conversion.

I know no disorder more opposite and contrary to the work of God in the conversion of a sinner, than this is.”

Burroughs supports his point by describing some of the works God does in the heart of a sinner when He brings him to saving faith in Christ, and how murmuring opposes that work. I found this section a bit difficult to follow, so I’ve outlined it below, to make it easier to track with his line of thought.

1. In salvation, God usually causes the soul to become aware of the dreadfulness of it’s sin, and it’s separation from God. It really is impossible to appreciate the good news unless we have a sense of how bad our situation really is. When we understand the truth about ourselves, the dreadfulness of our evil and the kindness of God in atoning for our sin, and yet find ourselves grumbling and complaining our appropriate response should be,
“What! Am I now murmuring against God’s hand? Says such a soul, whereas a while ago the Lord made me see myself to be a damned wretch, and apprehend it as a wonder that I was not in Hell?”
As time places our own conversions farther and farther back into our memories we can tend to forget that we once walked as children of wrath and under just condemnation. It always helps me regain contentment when I think of my great salvation. I'm often reminded of a murderer, guilty and deserving of death, who was unexpectedly declared "not guilty". Like the murderer, it would have been a miscarriage of justice to pardon me, except that the very One I was guilty of sinning against gave His own Son to die in my place, to pay my penalty, so that I could walk free. And now that I’m free how do I dare complain against the very One who gave me life?

2. In conversion we are given a “sight of the infinite excellence and glory of Jesus Christ, and of the things of the Gospel."
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. to them God ch0ose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Colossians 1:24-27
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord,with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
So, Christian, having been given the promise of such riches, “will you be discontented for a trifle in comparison to that?" It has been given to us to know the greatest mysteries of all the ages. How little these great treasures must mean to us when we complain about the transient troubles of this life. This is an example of how discontent sets itself in opposition to the saving grace of God.

3. Another effect of our conversion is “the disengagement of the heart from the creature …the calling of the soul from the world”.
"'Oh, Soul, your happiness is not here, your rest is not here, your happiness is elsewhere, and your heart must be loosened from all the things that are here below in the world.' this is the work of God in the soul, to disengage the heart from the creature, and how contrary is a murmuring heart to such a thing!"
Discontent begs us to cling to this world and find seek our happiness in its temporary pleasures and comforts. This is in clear opposition to the work of God's grace in our hearts.
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." 1 John 2: 15-17
As Burroughs says, “Something which is glued to another cannot be taken off, but you must tear it; so it is a sign your heart is glued to the world, that when God would take you off, you heart tears....If God, by an affliction, should come to take anything in the world from you, and you can part from it with ease, without tearing, it is a sign then that your heart is not glued to the world.”

4. When we are saved we cast ourselves in total dependence upon Christ, seeking all our fulfillment in Him. If that is the case, why do we murmur as if He were not enough? (See John 4: 10-13 and John 6:35-37)

During his temptation Jesus countered Satan with these words: “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) Jesus is the living Word of God. (see John 1:1) He,the living Word, and the Scriptures, God's written word - which points to Christ- are all we need for life and godliness.

5. In salvation we become subdued to God, with Christ as our King. Discontentment wars against the dominion of God in our lives. (Read from Luke 19: 11-27, take particular notice of v. 14 and 27, a part of the story we tend to overlook.)

6. “In the work of conversion there is the resignation of the soul wholly to God in an everlasting covenant to be his.” When you murmur against God you are in essence regretting this wonderful covenant. Take a moment to “look back to see what the work of God was in converting you”. Recover the amazement at God’s grace in choosing not to leave you dead in your sin and rebellion, but instead showing you His own glory in the face of Christ Jesus. Resolve, by the grace of God, to fight against any murmuring in your heart against that wonderful God.

You may have wondered at some point in this discussion of how discontent wars against God’s saving work in our souls, “If we’re already saved, why do we need to concern ourselves with this business?” I'll let the apostle Paul shed some light on this:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1: 18) And in Romans 13: 11, he says: “ our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

We "are being saved". Our salvation is a process which will not be complete until we meet our Lord Jesus face to face. We will never outgrow the gospel! It is the power of God for salvation, the ongoing salvation of all who believe. There is a sense in which we are saved, and yet there is a future tense to our salvation. Our “redemption draweth nigh”; it is not yet complete. As Burroughs says, Men are deceived in this, if they think their conversion is finished merely at first; you must be in a way of conversion to God all the days of you life.” In this sense, sanctification is part of our ongoing salvation, part of our “being saved”. In this sense, we need the saving work of the gospel and the grace of our God every day of our live. And in this sense, discontent still wars against the salvation of our souls.

(I will conclude this discussion of The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit in a subsequent post.)


jeri said…
Laurie, excellent, excellent summation and thoughts. I have this book on my list to get to soon. Thanks for taking the time to do this, reading your posts on Contentment have been quite helpful to me the past few weeks.
Simple Mann said…
Burroughs is a wonderfully insightful author. I remember reading this chapter a couple years ago when I first discovered this wonderful little gem. It was actually my first introduction to the Puritans, and this chapter in particular shamed me to my knees. And am I ever glad it did!

He has another book called A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness, which is an excellent companion to Rare Jewel (which is one of my favorite books by any human author. I like how he pulls back the folds of the cloak around my heart to expose the shadows that still remain. He is immensely practical and always points us to our only hope in Christ.

Wonderful book. Wonderful author. And as the other commenter said, excellent summary. I recommend this book whenever I have the opportunity. I believe it is (that it must be) even more relevant today than when Mr. Burroughs first wrote almost 500 years ago.

In Christ,
Simple Mann
Lisa notes... said…
Another great summary. I especially appreciate your help with # IV. I got a little bogged down there.

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