The word “temptation” often means a solicitation to sin (as in James 1:13 where God cannot be tempted to evil), but this verse can also be speaking about enduring a particular trial or time of adversity. God brings difficulties and sometimes tragedies into our lives to refine us. His goal is not to destroy us, but for us to grow in Christlikeness through the difficulty. It is a comfort that although my personal suffering seems, at the moment, to be unique to me, it is in fact common to endure suffering as part of God’s plan of sanctification. I am drawn to many examples in Scripture where individuals faced problems similar to or much worse than I am facing to find instruction and encouragement.
Jeremiah Burroughs notes that our difficulties or afflictions are not unique when he poses this hypothetical objection: “You will say, ‘Yes, but you do not know what our 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 into his 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 mercy is certainly greater than any affliction.
Burroughs points out two passages of Scripture to encourage us in our afflictions:
Job 2:8-9 “‘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 speaketh…shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil [calamity or adversity]?’ 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 thither–that is the way we should go.
Ecclesiastes 7:14 “Here you may see what course is to be taken when the heart rises to murmuring: ‘In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.’ When you are in prosperity, then indeed every man can be joyful, but what if afflictions befall you, what then? The consider—consider what? That ‘God hath set the one over against the other.’ You have a great deal of afflictions, 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.”
What better way to dispel a complaining and murmuring attitude than to count the many blessings that God showers on us each day. Sing, hum, or whistle this popular song and we will realize how blessed we are!
Count Your Blessings
by Johnson Oatman, Jr. *
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by. [Refrain]
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. [Refrain]
So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end. [Refrain]
* Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922) was age forty-one in 1897 when he wrote what has been regarded as his most popular gospel song. Composer E.O. Excell, set “Count Your Blessings” to music. Of this popular gospel song evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “Men sing it, boys whistle it, and women rock their babies to sleep to the tune.”
Another of his equally singable gospel songs, “Higher Ground,” begins with this stanza:
I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”
Oatman was never a great singer. He was never a great preacher insofar as pulpit messages were concerned. But he found his talent and made great contributions to the faith. For through his sermons in song he has preached to millions that he could never have reached from the pulpit. He wrote an average of two hundred gospel songs a year for more than a quarter of a century. His total output passed the 5,000 mark. And, when publishers insisted, for business reasons, that he set a price on his work, Oatman stipulated his terms: he would accept one dollar per song. His messages still reach multitudes through such gospel songs as “Count Your Blessings.”
Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,
points out that the sin of discontent is further aggravated by the sin of murmuring against our circumstances (actually against God who is the author of our circumstances) especially when we have been blessed by Him with such abundant mercies. Murmuring aggravates, amplifies, compounds our sin of discontent.
“Because it is very hard to work upon a murmuring spirit, there are many aggravations which we must consider for the further setting out of the greatness of this sin.
“To murmur when we enjoy an abundance of mercy; the greater and the more abundant the mercy we enjoy, the greater and the viler is the sin of murmuring. For example, when God had newly delivered the [Israelites] out of the house of bondage, for them to murmur because they lacked some few things they desired, Oh, the sin against God after such a great mercy, is a great aggravation, and the most abominable thing (Exodus 15:22-24ff).
“Has God given to you the contentment of your hearts? Take heed of being the cause of any grief to your brethren. Do not think that because God has been gracious to you, that therefore he has given you liberty to bring your brethren into bondage by your murmuring. Nothing is more grievous to the heart of God than the abuse of mercy, as, for example, if any way that is hard and rigid should be taken towards our brethren, and those especially whom God has made such special instruments of good to us; if now, when we have our turns served, we let God and his people and servants who helped to save us shift for themselves as well as they can. This is great aggravation of our sin, to sin against the mercies of God.
“For men and women to be discontented in the midst of mercies, in enjoyment of an abundance of mercies, aggravates the sin of discontent and murmuring. To be discontented when we are in the midst of God’s mercies, when we are not able to count the mercies of God, still to be discontented because we have not got all we would have, this is greater evil.”
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed trinity!
* Reginald Heber (1783-1826) was born into a wealthy, educated family. He was a bright youth, translating a Latin classic into English verse by the time he was seven, entering Oxford at seventeen. After his graduation he became rector of his father’s church in the village of Hodnet near Shrewsbury in the west of England where he remained for sixteen years. His denomination appointed him Bishop of Calcutta in 1823 and he worked tirelessly in India for three years until the weather and travel took its toll on his health and he died of a stroke.
Thirty-five years after his death, Heber’s widow found a roll of his hymns in a trunk and had them published as poems. A London publisher and his staff were studying the poems when they came across a masterpiece! Composer John Dykes was called in. Dykes, with 300 fine compositions to his credit, could compose music almost anywhere and quite rapidly. When he left the publisher’s office, he left behind a group of startled men and one of the finest hymn tunes ever composed. Reginald Heber wrote 57 hymns in his lifetime. Holy, Holy, Holy, his greatest, was written especially for his congregation in Hodnet.
Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646), in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, explains in a lengthy passage how murmuring and complaining is contrary to our standing as Christians.
“Murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian. Oh, it is too mean and base a disorder for a Christian to give place to it. Now it is below a Christian in many respects…”
Burroughs reminds us of many ways that our Christian position makes murmuring and complaining unfitting. Here are some examples:
1. Our position as a child of God our Father – “Are you the King’s son, the son, the daughter of the King of Heaven, and yet so disquieted and troubled, and vexed at every little thing that happens? As if a King’s son were to cry out that he is undone for losing a toy? What an unworthy thing would this be! So do you cry out as if you were undone and yet you 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.” Galatians 3:26
2. Our relation to Jesus Christ – “You are espoused to Christ. What! One is married to Jesus Christ and yet is troubled and discontented?” (II Corinthians 11:2). Christ is in believers (Colossians 1:27) and yet believers murmur and complain about every trouble as if Christ was absent and unmindful of us!
3. Our relation to the Holy Spirit – “…He dwells within you and yet for all that you murmur over every little thing?” I Corinthians 6:19-20
4. Our relation to the Body of Christ – We are members of His Body; Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church. Do we complain against the head of the body to which we belong? Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:22-23
5. Our relation to the saints of God – As members of one another in the Body, we suffer with one another and rejoice with one another. Murmuring in our trials seems unthinkable when we consider what other saints have suffered over the centuries. Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:26; Ephesians 3:6
6. Our relation to the dignity that God has placed on Christians – Believers are made kings and priest to God; we are a royal priesthood; we are blessed with all heavenly blessings in Christ. What can kings and royalty have to complain about? Revelation 1:6; I Peter 2:9; Ephesians 1:3
7. Murmuring is contrary to a Christ-like spirit – The mind of Christ means that He did not complain wen He went to the cross to pay for our sins. Philippians 2:5-8
There have been many hymns written over the years based on Isaiah chapter 53. He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions is appropriate to be sung at communion services as a memorial hymn and draws our attention to the infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ that paid the price for our sin. Take time to meditate on these words which share the great sacrifice that was made for our salvation. And don’t forget the final verse of victory, “Millions, dead, now live again, myriads follow in His train! Victorious Lord, victorious Lord, Victorious Lord and coming King!” Hallelujah!
He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions
by Thomas Obediah Chisholm *
He was wounded for our transgressions,
He bore our sins in His body on the tree;
For our guilt He gave us peace,
From our bondage gave release,
And with His stripes, and with His stripes,
And with His stripes our souls are healed.
He was numbered among transgressors,
We did esteem Him forsaken by His God;
As our sacrifice He died,
That the law be satisfied,
And all our sin, and all our sin,
And all our sin was laid on Him.
We had wandered, we all had wandered
Far from the fold of “the Shepherd of the sheep”;
But He sought us where we were,
On the mountains bleak and bare,
And bro’t us home, and bro’t us home,
And bro’t us safely home to God.
Who can number His generation?
Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?
Millions, dead, now live again,
Myriads follow in His train!
Victorious Lord, victorious Lord,
Victorious Lord and coming King!
* Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960) drew inspiration from Isaiah 53:5 to pen the words to this great hymn in 1941. Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky. He received his education in a rural schoolhouse in the area and he never got past an elementary school education. However, by the age of sixteen he was a teacher. Five years later, at the age of twenty-one, he was the associate editor of his hometown weekly newspaper, The Franklin Advocate.
In 1893, at a revival meeting in Franklin, Chisholm accepted Jesus Christ into his heart and life. Later, Chisholm moved to Louisville, Kentucky and became an editor for the Pentecostal Herald. In 1903, he became an ordained Methodist Minister and married Katherine Hambright Vandevere. Due to ill health, Chisholm was only able to serve one year in the ministry. After leaving his ministry in Scottsville, Kentucky he and his wife relocated to Winona Lake, Indiana for the open air.
After a time in Indiana, he moved to Vineland, New Jersey where he sold insurance. He suffered from health issues the rest of his life and had periods of time when he was confined to bed and unable to work. But over the years more than eight hundred of his poems were published, and a number of these were set to music and have found their way into our hymn books. Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Living for Jesus, O to be Like Thee! are a few of the hymns we sing today. His aim in writing poems and hymns was to incorporate as much Scripture as possible and to avoid flippant or sentimental themes.
Our teacher, Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) has three observations about learning to be content. This first lesson focuses on an uncomfortable subject: the evils of a complaining (murmuring) spirit. We like to minimize our complaining so much that we don’t notice it when we grumble and snap at the slightest provocation. Trust me, loved ones notice our whining and are often hurt by it.
Maybe you’ve experienced something like this: a child is given a simple chore like taking out the trash or maybe putting away his toys. The rebellious child throws a tantrum, yelling, crying and stomping around the house. He finally does the chore and then gripes, complains, and sulks for an hour more while the household is thrown into turmoil. Adults do this too and it causes “much vexation of spirit” in homes, workplaces, and schools. It tarnishes our testimony for Christ if we become known as a “complainer.” Where’s our Christian contentment then?
Let’s admit with Dr. Burroughs that complaining is a major hindrance to learning Christian contentment. Until men, women, and children get victory over the habitual sin of complaining (Yes, it’s a sin!) we will have a difficult time being content. As he points out, the evil of murmuring is worse than the affliction that prompts it.
Part 1 – There is more evil in a murmuring heart than you are aware of.
“This murmuring and discontentedness of yours reveals much corruption in the soul. 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. So is murmuring in your heart, if every little trouble and affliction makes you discontented, and makes you murmur, and even causes your spirit within you to rankle.
“So it is, just for all the world, in the souls of men: it may be that there is some affliction upon them, which I compare to a wound; now they think that the greatness of the wound is what makes their condition most miserable. Oh no, there is a fretting humour [bodily infection; bacterial contamination], and inflammation of the heart, a murmuring spirit that is within you, and that is the misery of your condition, and it must be purged out of you before you can be healed. Let God do with you what he will. Until 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 by a physical affliction you had need to turn your thoughts rather to be troubled for the murmuring of your heart within that is much more grievous.
“Oh, that we could but convince men and women that a murmuring spirit is a greater evil than any affliction, whatever the affliction… a murmuring spirit is the evil of the evil, and the misery of the misery.”
“Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself. This life is completely different from the life I would naturally live myself. Each time I am faced with a new demand from the Lord, I look to him to do in me what he requires of me. It is not a case of trying but trusting; not of struggling but of resting in him. If I have a hasty temper, impure thoughts, a quick tongue or a critical spirit, I shall not set out with a determined effort to change myself, but instead, reckoning myself dead in Christ to these things, I shall look to the Spirit of God to produce in me the needed purity of humility or meekness, confident that he will do so. This is what it means to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you” (Exodus 14:13).
Watchman Nee (1903-1972) From the day in 1920 when, as a college student, Nee To-sheng found the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior during the visit of a Chinese evangelist to his native city of Foochow, he gave himself without reserve to God for work among his own people. Over the years he became widely known in China as a gifted preacher of the Gospel and an original expositor of the Word whose ministry bore remarkable fruit in individuals and in many groups of spiritually vital Christians.
Nee is remembered for his leadership of an indigenous church movement in China as well as for the books that continue to enrich Christians throughout the world. Beginning in the 1930s, Nee helped establish local churches in China that were completely independent of foreign missionary organizations and were used to bring many to saving faith in Jesus Christ. From them came many of the house churches that continued a faithful witness when Western missionaries were forced to leave the country.
The Normal Christian Lifewas first published in 1957 in Bombay, India and was at once accorded a widespread welcome. It is based on a series of addresses originally given by Mr. Nee during and shortly after a visit to Europe in 1938-39.
Arrested in 1952 and found guilty of a large number of false charges, Watchman Nee was imprisoned until his death in 1972.
Until a few days ago I had never heard of William Newell. A friend recently told me that he’d bought Newell’s commentary on Revelation and I had to google the author. We’ve sung At Calvary many times at church, but how many people notice the hymn writer unless they are someone really famous like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, or Ira Sankey? Newell wrote the words to this song as sort of an autobiography (see below). He was a respected Bible teacher, conference speaker, and author of three verse-by-verse commentaries. Only God knows how many lives have been changed by grace at Calvary. I look forward to meeting them in Heaven!
by William Newell
Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary
Mercy there was great and grace was free,
Pardon there was multiplied to me,
There my burdened soul found liberty–
By God’s Word at last my sin I learned–
Then I trembled at the Law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.
Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus ev’rything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.
O the love that drew salvation’s plan!
O the grace that brought it down to man!
O the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.
* William R. Newell (1868-1956)
Born in Savannah, Ohio, William R. Newell is remembered as a pastor, evangelist, Bible teacher, author, conference speaker and writer of the beloved hymn, At Calvary. The hymn captures his personal testimony.
In his youth, Newell was known as a troubled and wayward teen. As a last resort, his father wrote to the president of Moody Bible Institute, begging him to allow his son to enroll. Since the college was only open to serious Bible students, the president opposed the idea at first, but finally agreed that Newell would be enrolled on the condition that he would meet with the president daily and take his studies seriously.
Because of a father’s prayers, a college president’s commitment and a teen’s perseverance, Newell eventually graduated. He knew it was only by the grace of God that his life had been turned around and he had been able to accomplish so many good things. After Moody, he graduated from Wooster (Ohio) College in 1891, studied at Princeton and Oberlin Seminaries and, after ordination, pastored the Bethesda Congregational Church in Chicago until 1895.
As assistant superintendent at Moody Bible Institute, Newell displayed his gift of Bible exposition at his city-wide Bible classes in Chicago, St. Louis and Toronto. This led to publication of his well-known commentaries, “verse-by-verse” explanations on Romans, Hebrews and The Book of Revelation, still widely used today.
In 1895, Newell wrote his personal testimony as a poem, the lines sharing his thoughts about his conversion and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is said that he wrote the words quickly on an old envelope in his classroom. He showed the lyrics to his friend, Dr. Daniel Towner, director of music at Moody, and in an hour At Calvary was a finished work.
Newell died April 1, 1956, in DeLand, Florida. Understanding the great importance of God’s grace in Christ is difficult for some to understand, but Newell communicated that truth in a profound and lasting way through a personal, and moving, song.
Jeremiah Burroughs suggest that spiritual contentment is like a lamp to comfort us in the darkness of our storms.
“Contentment is a comfort to a man’s spirit in that it keeps out whatever may damp his comforts. I may compare this grace of contentment to a sailor’s lantern: when a sailor is at sea, no matter how much provision he has in his ship, yet if he is thousands of leagues from land, or in a route where he will not meet with a ship for three or four months, he will be in a sad state if he has no lantern on his ship by which to keep a light in a storm. He would give a great deal to have such a lantern. When a storm comes in the night and he can have no light above board, but it is puffed out at once, his state is very sad. So, many men have the light of comfort when there is no storm, but let any affliction come, any storm upon them, and their light is puffed out at once, and what can they do? When the heart is furnished with the grace of contentment, this grace is, as it were, a lantern in the midst of the storm or tempest. When you have a lantern in the midst of a storm, you can carry that light everywhere up and down the ship, to the top of the mast if you wish, and keep it alight; so when the comfort of a Christian is enlivened with the grace of contentment, it may be kept alight whatever storms or tempest come—he can keep the light of contentment in his soul. Oh, this light helps your comforts very much in the storms of life!”