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Repentance (For Ash Wednesday)
Jonah 3:5 ; Jonah 3:10
Among all the passages in the picturesque narratives of the Old and New Testaments, there is none that, as a picture, is more wonderfully illustrative of the repentant life than is this. It brings before us three well-defined points.
I. First, as to the cause which leads a man to repentance. The people of Nineveh are here said to have believed God. I want to submit to you that this curious statement about this people strikes one more forcibly the more one contemplates it. We could imagine the people turning at the sound of the Prophet's voice and seeing there a stranger, and asking each other what it was he was saying. 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown? What nonsense this man says! He must be beside himself.' But they say nothing of the sort. Instead, I find that they accepted, according to this story, exactly the judgment that the Prophet foretold. They heard not his voice alone, but they caught the very voice of God, speaking through the Prophet. And, says the story, they believed God. That belief in God was, to the men of Nineveh, the start of their repentance.
II. Then, secondly, here there are recorded the characteristics of the repentant life. Now the vision of God, what is it to you and me? In one way of viewing it, it is the recognition by the mind of man of all that God means. In one very real sense it may be said that God's attributes are Himself. When we think of God, what do our minds realize but His perfect goodness, His perfect holiness? In fact, you may take every attribute, every ideal, and in that which we call God, that attribute, that ideal has its perfect existence. Now when I go and stand beneath that great life and let my mind go out to the recognition of all that God means, and I catch the vision of His perfect goodness, what does that vision do but drive my mind inwards upon itself and make me recognize my own utter badness? When I look upon God as the perfection of all that is merciful, beautiful, holy, what does it do but make me recognize my own absolute failure in His sight, and I stand in the vision of God through the Holy Spirit's agency to see myself lost, and undone, a creature without hope except what hope I have in Him, my Ideal? That vision inevitably creates the sternest sorrow that ever invades the life of a man. Repentance turns the mind from sorrow to prayer. Did you notice that the men of Nineveh, led by their king, were told to cry mightily unto God? Prayer is a characteristic of the life of repentance. We go to a trusted minister of Christ, and we open our grief to him, and tell him our fears; but all that he can do is to guide us to this. 'Cry mightily,' he says, 'to God.' Out of the depths the soul lifts up its voice to God, that He may hear its prayer; and if there is a prayer that ever comes from the soul of man and ascends to the Throne of God, that He cannot turn away from, that He must stretch out His Hand readily and immediately to help, it is the prayer of the repentant soul.
References. III. 5. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 194. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 73. III. 10. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 202.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Jonah 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter