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You will say, Yes, but you do not know what our afflictions are; our afflictions are such as you do not conceive of, because you do not feel them. Answer. Though I cannot know what your afflictions are, yet I know what your mercies are, and I know they are so great that I am sure there can be no afflictions in this world as great as the mercies you have. If it were only this mercy, that you have this day of grace and salvation continued to you: it is a greater mercy than any affliction. Set any affliction beside this mercy and see which would weigh heaviest; this is certainly greater than any affliction. That you have the day of grace and salvation, that you are not now in hell, this is a greater mercy. That you have the sound of the Gospel still in your ears, that you have the use of your reason: this is a greater mercy than your afflictions. That you have the use of your limbs, your senses, that you have the health of your bodies; health of body is a greater mercy than poverty is an affliction. No man who is rich, if he is wise, and has a sickly body, would not part with all his riches that he might have his health. Therefore your mercies are more than your afflictions.
We find in Scripture how the Holy Ghost aggravates the sin of discontent from the consideration of mercies: you have a notable Scripture for this in the 16th of Numbers, verse 8 and following. it is a speech of Moses to Korah and his company, when they murmured: ‘And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi’ (that is something, that you are sons of Levi), ‘Seemeth it but a small thing unto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?’ Korah and his company were murmuring, but mark how Moses aggravates this: “Seemeth it a small thing unto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord? etc.’ You see, it is a great honor that God puts upon a man, a great mercy that he bestows upon any man, to separate him in the service for himself, to come near to him, to employ him in the service of the tabernacle, to minister to the congregation in holy things. This is a great mercy, and indeed, it is such a mercy that one would think there should be none upon whom God bestows such a mercy who would have a murmuring heart for any affliction. It is true, many ministers of God meet with hard things which might discourage them, and trouble and grieve their spirits; but this consideration, that God is pleased to employ them in such a service near to himself, that though they cannot do good to themselves, yet they may do good to others, this should quiet them. And yet in the 10th verse: ‘And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee, and seek ye the priesthood also?’
Have you not enough already? But still you are discontented with what you have, and must have more; do you seek still more? ‘Seek ye the priesthood also? For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?’ What, has God given you such things, and yet will you be murmuring, because you cannot have more? Methinks that this place should keep ministers from murmuring, no matter what afflictions and crosses, and unkind dealings they meet with from men, yet still they should go on with hearts quiet and discomforted in the work that God has set them about, and labor to countervail all their afflictions by being more abundant in the work of the Lord. That is the first text of Scripture that shows how the mercies we enjoy are aggravations of the sin of murmuring.
Then a second Scripture is in the 2nd of Job, verse 10. It is a speech of Job to his wife: What? said Job, when his wife would have him curse God and die, which was a degree beyond murmuring, Why, he said, ‘thou speakest as one of the foolish women. Shall we receive good at the hand of God and not evil?’ You see, Job helped himself against all murmuring thoughts against the ways of God, with this consideration, that he had received so much good from the Lord. What though we receive evil, yet do we not receive good as well as evil? Let us set one against the other: that is the way we should go. In the 7th chapter of Ecclesiastes, the 14th verse, you find a notable Scripture whereby you may see what course is to be taken when the heart rises in murmuring: ‘In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider.’ What should they consider?
Mark what follows: ‘God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.’ ‘God also hath set the one over against the other,’ thus, when you are in prosperity, then indeed every man can be joyful, but what if afflictions befall you, what then? Then consider - consider what? ‘That God hath set one over against the other’; you have a great deal of affliction, and you have had a great deal of prosperity, you have many troubles, and you have had many mercies: make one column of mercies, and one column of afflictions, and write one against the other, and see if God has not filled one column as full as the other. You look altogether upon your afflictions, but look upon your mercies also.
For instance, it may be God has afflicted you in one child, but he has been merciful to you in another child: set one against the other. God afflicted David in Absalom, but he was merciful to David in Solomon, and, therefore, when David cried out: ‘Oh Absalom, my son, my son,’ it would have quieted him. And it may be God has been merciful to you in a wife, or in your husband: set that against your affliction. It may be, God crosses you in your possessions, but that he employs you in his service. It may be, you are afflicted in some of your friends, but you have other friends who are great mercies to you, and therefore you should set one against the other; and it concerns you to do so, for those mercies will be aggravations of your sins, and you had better make God’s mercies a means to lessen your sins, than to be the aggravation of your sins. If you do not make the mercies of God help you against your murmuring, you will make them aggravations of the sin of murmuring.
Take but this one further consideration, and if you will but work it on your hearts, I hope you may find a great deal of power in it. You find afflictions, and your hearts are troubled and murmur; consider how God’s mercies aggravate this sin. in the midst of our sins we reckon that God should accept our services. Do but consider thus: if in the midst of our many sins we hope that God will accept our poor services, why, then, should we not in the midst of our afflictions bless God for his many mercies? Shall God be thus gracious to us that, notwithstanding our many sins, yet he will not cast away our poor duties and services that we perform? then why should not we in the midst of our sufferings accept what mercies we have, and not slight them and disregard them? If you, in the midst of God’s mercies, are not willing to bear the afflictions that God lays upon you, then it is just with God that, in the midst of your sins, he should not regard any of your duties. Now is there not as much power in your manifold sins to cause God to reject your duties and services, as there is power in afflictions (in the midst of many mercies) to take off your heart from being affected with God’s mercies? And that is the first aggravation of the sin of murmuring, to murmur in the midst of mercies. 2. A SECOND AGGRAVATION OF THE SIN OF MURMURING IS, When we murmur for small things. Naaman’s servant said to him, Father (for so he called him), if the prophet had required you to do some great thing, would not you have done it? How much more this little thing.
So I say, if the Lord had required you to suffer some great thing, would not you have been willing to suffer? How much more this little thing! I remember reading in Seneca a Heathen, that he has this comparison which is a very fine one to set out the great evil of murmuring over small afflictions: he says, Suppose a man has a very fine house to dwell in, and he has beautiful orchards and gardens, set about with handsome tall trees for ornament. If this man should now murmur because the wind blows a few leaves off his trees, what a most unreasonable thing it would be, for him to be weeping, and wringing his hands over the loss of a few leaves, when he has plenty of all kinds of fruit? Thus it is with many, says Seneca, though they have a great many comforts about them, yet some little thing, the blowing off of a few leaves from them is enough to disquiet him. So for us to murmur, not because we have not got such a thing as we have need of, but because we have not got what possibly we might have: this is a very great sin.
Suppose God gives a woman a child who has all his limbs and parts complete, a child who is very comely, with excellent gifts, wit and memory, but maybe there is a wart growing on the finger of the child, and she murmurs at it, and, Oh, what an affliction this is to her! She is so taken up with it, that she forgets to give any thanks to God for her child, and all the goodness of God to her in the child is swallowed up in that. Would you not say that this was folly and a very great evil in a woman to do so? Truly, our afflictions, if we weighed them aright, are but such things in comparison of our mercies Rebekah had a mighty desire to have children, but because she found some trouble in her body when she was with child, said, ‘Why am I thus?’ As if she should say, I had rather have none, only because she found a little pain and trouble in her body. To be discontented when the affliction is small and little that increases very much the sin of murmuring. It is too much for anyone to murmur over the heaviest cross that can befall one in this world, but to be discontented and murmur over some small things, that is worse. I have read of someone who, when he lay upon a heap of damask-roses, complained that one of the rose leaves lay double under him. So we are ready thus for very small things to make complaints, and to be discontented with our condition, and that is a second aggravation. 3. FOR MEN OF GIFTS AND ABILITIES TO WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN WISDOM, TO BE DISCONTENTED AND MURMUR, IS MORE THAN IF OTHERS DO IT.
Murmuring and discontentedness is too much in the weakest, yet we can bear with it sometimes in children and women who are weak, but for those who are men, men of understanding, who have wisdom, whom God employs in public service, that they should be discontented with everything, is an exceedingly great evil. For men, to whom God has given gifts and wisdom, when things fall out amiss in their families, to be always murmuring and repining, is a greater sin than for women or children to do it. 4. THE CONSIDERATION OF THE FREENESS OF ALL GOD’S MERCIES TO US.
Whatever we have is free of cost. What though we have not got all we would have, seeing what we have is free! If what we have were earned then it would be something, but when we consider that all is from God, for us to murmur at his dispensations is very evil. Suppose a man were entertained in a friend’s family, and did not pay for his board, but had it given him for nothing: you would not expect him to be ready to find fault with everything in the house, with servants, or with the meat at table, or the like. If such a one who has plentiful provision and all given him gratis, and pays nothing for his board, should be discontented when a cup is not filled for him as he would have it, or when he has to wait a minute longer for a thing than he would, we would reckon this a great evil. So it is with us: we are at God’s table every day, and it is free, whatever we have. It is accounted very unmannerly for a man at his friend’s table to find fault with things, though at home he may be outspoken. Now when we are at the table of God (for all God’s administrations to us are his table) and are free from lusts, for us to be finding fault and to be discontented is a great aggravation of our sin. 5. FOR MEN AND WOMEN TO MURMUR AND BE DISCONTENTED AND IMPATIENT, when they have the things for the want of which they were discontented before. So it is sometimes with children: they will cry for a thing, and when you give it them, then throw it away; they are as much discontented as they were before. So it was with the people of Israel, nothing would quiet them but they must have a king. Samuel would have persuaded them to the contrary, and told them what kind of king they would have. And when they had a king: ‘What shall a king do to us?’ ( Hosea 10:3); they were not contented when they had one. So Rachel must have children or else she died, and when she had a little trouble she was discontented too. So that, as we say, we are not well, either full or fasting. 6. FOR THOSE MEN AND WOMEN TO BE DISCONTENTED AND MURMUR WHOM GOD HAS RAISED FROM MEAN AND LOW ESTATES AND POSITIONS.
This is a very great aggravation, if you are discontented now. There was a time when you were low enough, and perhaps when you were so low then you said, ‘Oh, if God would deliver me from such an affliction, or give me but a little more wealth, I should think myself in a good condition.’ But if God by his providence does raise you, you are still as greedy of more as you were before, and as much discontented as you were before. It is an evil thing for people who had mean breeding, and poor beginnings to be so fastidious that nothing can please them, whereas there was a time not long since when they were low and mean enough. But it is very common for those who are raised from a low and mean condition to be more nice and dainty and proud when they are raised than others who are of better breeding.
It is too much for a child to be discontented in his father’s house, but if you have taken a poor beggar boy, who lay begging at your door, into your house, and set him at your own table, could you bear that he should complain that some dish is not well dressed, or the like? You could not bear it if you children should do it, but you could bear it a great deal better from them than to hear such a one do it. But you are a poor beggar, and God has, as it were, taken you into his great family, and if the Lord has been pleased to raise you higher, so that now you have a competence, that you may live as a man, to be of use and service in the place where God has set you: now will you be discontented because you have not everything that you desire?
We know that when the prodigal came to himself, he said, ‘In my father’s house is bread enough’; he did not say, ‘There is good cheer enough and a great deal of dainties.’ No, he thought of nothing but bread, ‘There is bread enough.’ So it is common for men and women, when they are in a low condition, to think that if they may have bread any competence, they will be contented and bless God; but when they have their bread and things convenient, then they must have more or else they are not contented. Know that this is an exceedingly great aggravation to your discontent, when you are raised from a very low condition, and yet you cannot be contented with what you have. 7. FOR THOSE TO BE DISCONTENTED WHO HAVE BEEN VERY GREAT SINNERS AND UNGODLY IN THEIR FORMER LIFE.
For men and women who have much guiltiness upon them, the guilt of very many sins upon them, who have provoked God exceedingly against them, and have brought themselves in a most dreadful manner under the sentence of God’s justice, and yet, God having been pleased to reprieve them - for them to murmur and to be discontented with God’s administrations towards them is exceedingly evil. Oh, it were consideration enough to quiet any murmuring in our hearts, to think thus, We are but sinners, why should we not be sufferers who are sinners? But then consider, we who are such great sinners, guilty of such notorious sins that it is a wonder that we are out of Hell at the present, yet for us to be discontented and murmur, how exceedingly this increases our sin! Consider how we have crossed God in our sins; then if God should cross us in the way of our sufferings, should not we sit down quiet without murmuring? Certainly you never knew what it was to be humbled for your manifold sins, who are discontented at any administration of God towards you! 8. FOR MEN WHO ARE OF LITTLE USE IN THE WORLD TO BE DISCONTENTED.
If you have a beast that you make much use of, you will feed it well, but if you have but little use of him then you turn him into the commons;* little provision serves his turn because you do not make use of him. [*Common grazing-ground.] If we lived so as to be exceedingly useful to God and his Church, we might expect that God would be pleased to come in some encouraging way to us, but when our consciences tell us we live and do but little service for God, why, what if God should turn us upon the commons?
We are being fed according to our work. Why should any creature be serviceable to you, who are so little serviceable to God? To meditate on this alone would much help us - to think: I am discontented because such and such creatures are not serviceable to me, but why should I expect them to be serviceable to me, when I am not serviceable to God? That is the eighth aggravation. 9. FOR US TO BE DISCONTENTED AT A TIME WHEN GOD IS ABOUT TO HUMBLE US.
It should be the care of a Christian to observe what are God’s ways towards him: What is God about to do with me at this time? Is God about to raise me, to comfort me? Let me accept God’s goodness, and bless his name; let me join with the work of God, when he offers mercy to me, to take the mercy he offers. But again, is God about to humble me? Is God about to break my heart, and to bring my heart down to him? Let me join with God in this work of his: this is how a Christian should walk with God. It is said that Enoch and Noah walked with God - walked with God, what is that? It is, To observe what work God is now about, and to join with God in that work of his; so that, according as God turns this way or that way, the heart should turn with God, and having workings suitable to the workings of God towards him.
Now I am discontented and murmuring, because I am afflicted; but that is why you are afflicted, because God would humble you. The great design God has in afflicting you, is to break and humble your heart; and will you maintain a spirit quite opposite to the work of God? For you to murmur and be discontented is to resist the work of God. God is doing you good if you could see it, and if he is pleased to sanctify your affliction to break that hard heart of yours, and humble that proud spirit of yours, it would be the greatest mercy that you ever had in all your life. Now will you still stand out against God? It is just as if you were to say, ‘Well, the Lord is about to break me, and humble me, but he shall not’: this is the language of your murmuring and your discontentedness, though you dare not say so But though you do not say so in words, yet it is certainly the language of the temper of your spirit. Oh, consider what an aggravation this is: I am discontented when God is about to work such a work upon me as is for my good; yet I stand out against him and resist him. That is another aggravation. 10. THE MORE PALPABLE AND REMARKABLE THE HAND OF GOD APPEARS TO BRING ABOUT AN AFFLICTION, the greater is the sin of murmuring and discontent under an affliction. It is a great evil at any time to murmur and be discontented, but though it is a sin, when I see an ordinary providence working for me, not to submit to it, when I see an extraordinary providence working, that is a greater sin. That is to say, when I see the Lord working in some remarkable way about an affliction beyond what anyone could have thought of, shall I resist such a remarkable hand of God? shall I stand out against God, when I see he expresses his will in such a remarkable manner that he would have me to be in such a condition? Indeed, before the will of God is apparent, we may desire to avoid an affliction, and may use means for it, but when we see God expressing his will from heaven in a manner beyond what is ordinary and more remarkable, then certainly it is right for us to fall down and submit to him, and not to oppose God when he comes with a mighty stream against us. It is our best way to fall down before him and not to resist, for just as it is an argument of a man’s disobedience, when there is not only a command against a sin but when God reveals his command in a terrible way - the more solemn the command of God is, the greater is the sin in breaking that command - so the more remarkable the hand of God is in bringing an affliction upon us, the greater is our sin in murmuring and being discontented. God expects us to fall down when he, as it were, speaks from Heaven to us by name and says, ‘Well, I will have this spirit of yours down. Do you not see that my hand is stretched out, my eyes are upon you, my thoughts are upon you, and I must have that proud spirit of yours down?’ Oh, then, it is fitting for the creature to yield and submit to him. When you speak in an ordinary manner to your servants or children, you expect them to regard what you say, but when you make them stand still by you, and speak to them in a more solemn way, then if they should disregard what you say, you are very impatient. So, certainly, God cannot take it well whenever he appears from Heaven in such a remarkable way to bring an affliction, if then we do not submit to him. 11. TO BE DISCONTENTED THOUGH GOD HAS BEEN EXERCISING US FOR A LONG TIME UNDER AFFLICTIONS, YET STILL TO REMAIN DISCONTENTED.
For a man or woman when an affliction first befalls them, to have a murmuring heart, is an evil, but to have a murmuring heart when God has been a long time exercising them with affliction is more evil. Though a heifer when the yoke is first put upon her wriggles up and down and will not be quiet, if after many months or years it will not draw quietly, the husbandman would rather fatten it and prepare it for the butcher than be troubled any longer with it. So though the Lord was content to pass by that discontented spirit of yours at first, yet now that God has for a long time kept the yoke on you - you have been under his afflicting hand, it may be, many years, and yet you remain discontented still - it would be just if God were to bear your murmuring no longer, and that your discontent under the affliction were but a preparation for your destruction.
So, you see, when a man or woman has been long exercised with afflictions, and is still discontented, that is an aggravation of the sin. Mark that text in Hebrews 12:11: ‘Now’, says the Scripture, ‘no chastening for the present is joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.’ It is true our afflictions are not joyous, but grievous. Though at first when our affliction comes it is very grievous, afterwards, says the text, it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those that are exercised thereby. When you have been a long time in the school of afflictions, you are a very dullard in Christ’s school if you have not learned this contentment, ‘I have learned’, said St. Paul, ‘in every estate therewith to be content.’ Paul had learned this lesson quickly; you have been learning many years. Perhaps you may say, as Heman did, that you are afflicted from your youth up ( Psalm 88). Oh, it is a very evil thing if, having been exercised long with afflictions, you are not yet contented. The eye in a man’s body is as tender as any part of his body, but yet the eye is able to continue in and bear a great deal of cold, because it is more used to it. So those who are used to afflictions, those whom God exercises much with afflictions (though they have tender spirits otherwise) yet they should have learned contentedness by this time. A new cart may creak and make a noise, but after it has been used a while it will not do so. So when you are first a Christian and newly come into the work of Christ, perhaps you make a noise and cannot bear affliction; but are you an old Christian and yet will you be a murmuring Christian? Oh, it is a shame for any who are old believers, who have been a long time in the school of Jesus Christ, to have murmuring and discontented spirits.