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Now the Word of the Lord came unto Jonah.
Jonah, the runaway prophet
The commission may be viewed--
I. In its source. It is--
1. Supreme, as the Word of the Lord.
2. Peremptory; it is absolute, imperative, final.
3. Honourable. As associating the commissioned with the commissioner.
Investing him with royal rights, privileges, honours.
II. In its recipient. Jonah.
1. In his filial relationship: the son.
2. In his official capacity: prophet. Learn--
(1) That in the economy of moral purposes God makes use of creature agency.
(2) That appointments in this economy are specific and sovereign.
(3) That the rewards of faithfulness in Christian service will be promotion here, and coronation hereafter.
III. In its purport. “Arise, go to Nineveh.” It is--
1. A summons to activity. Shake off dull sloth. Rouse thee from careless ease.
(1) The physical plays an important part in the execu tion of Divine purposes.
(2) The will too must give its sanction, or all the activ ities will be held in restful subjection. Where there is no will-power a man is a mere tool in the hands of others.
2. A call to arduous duty. Note--
(1) Its sphere. “Nineveh, that great city.” In God’s great busy world there is a definite sphere for everyone.
(2) Its spirit. “Cry against it.” Energy was to rise to its highest point. To cry requires energy of soul; a vivid realisation of sin, and moral courage. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
The behests of God
We are apt to think that this coming of the Word of the Lord to men in ancient times was so special a circumstance that it has no application to ourselves. How rarely it occurs to us that he who spoke to the prophets in times past is now speaking unto us as directly and vividly, by the ministry of the Holy Ghost. How are we to understand that the Word of the Lord has come to us? Have we a strong conviction of duty? That is the Word of the Lord. We should ask, not “what is expedient?” but “what is right?” If a thing is right, then it is a revelation from God; it is a testimony of the Holy Ghost in my heart; and at all risks it must be done. No man knows what he is, and what he can do, until he knows the severity of the behests of God. Our call, like Jonah’s, is to go wherever wickedness is, and cry against it. Every child of God is to be a protesting prophet. Every earnest man is to have no difficulty in finding the word of condemnation when he comes into the presence of sin. In Jonah we have a man falling below the great occasions of life. Every man has some great chance put into his hands. How possible it is to be doing instead some little peddling work, to be mistaking fuss for energy, and an idle industry for that holy consecration which absorbs every power. It is said that Jonah “paid his fare.” How particular some of us are about these little pedantries of morality! Many of us are making up by pedantries what we are wanting in the principles of our life. We have good points without having a good soul; we have beautiful characteristics without having a solid and undoubted character. Jonah has paid his fare, but he has forsaken God. Can a man like that do anything right? It is said that the mariners “ cast forth their wares.” The bad man never suffers alone. This bad man causes a loss of property. He paid his fare, but it was taken out again in the loss of the wares. Wickedness is the cause of social loss What a crying out for gods there is in the time of trouble! Note the instinctiveness of the religious element that is in man. We are all religious. What was wrong was found out at last, in the case of Jonah, and they cast him into the sea, which then ceased from its raging. Nothing is ever settled until it is settled right. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
was a man of the northern kingdom,--an Israelite prophet, who had been foretelling the highest prosperity to which the Ten Tribes ever attained, and the widest extension which, under Jeroboam II., their territory ever received. Nineveh was a Gentile, that is to say, a heathen city; the very city, moreover, from which were to come those judgments and the destruction which prophets like Jonah’s contemporary, Amos, were about this time beginning to announce as certain to fall upon Israel at no very distant date. Jonah, the Israelite, then, was sent to a heathen city, and--whether he knew it or not--to that particular enemy of his country from which there was most to fear. To an Israelite patriot, with even the smallest intimation of this, how natural to say, “To Nineveh?” No, let Nineveh go on and sin, and perish; the sooner the safer for my country. To warn Nineveh, and so to turn away its doom--what is that but to keep alive the fire which is to consume our Samaria and our national life? In any case, whether Jonah felt any patriotic difficulty or not, the religious difficulty was great enough. To go to heathen people with God’s message, one of mercy as he saw clearly, quite as much as of judgment--that alone was repugnant to all his instincts. “No; rather let me no longer be one of the prophets who stand in the presence of Jehovah, ready for any errand, awaiting His commands. Rather let me lay down my office, and go out from before His face. Let me die first!” That is the heart of a good man, but of a narrow one. It is not the heart of the God even of the Old Testament. It is sometimes made matter of reproach to the New Testament, and to Christianity, as it is there expounded, that it makes little or no account of patriot ism. There is some truth in the criticism; but why? Patriotism has often been a noble thing; but it is really a narrow thing, narrower, at any rate, than the heart and view of God. The patriot sees and loves his fellow-countrymen; God only sees man! He loves Israel, even to idolatrous Israel of the Ten Tribes. But God loves the world. God so loved the world that He would have one of the earliest, if not the earliest, of the prophetic writers to go and offer His mercy to a heathen city, the enemy of His people. (H. J. Foster.)
The character of Jonah
One of the most remarkable facts about the Book of Jonah is, that while he himself is so prominent in it, yet there is not a word from beginning to end of comment upon his character and conduct. No word is said of his state of mind, his sense of sin, his repentance, his return to the attitude of submission and prompt obedience to the Divine command. The facts are set before us in the barest, most naked simplicity, without one single sentence of reflection. The only probable and consistent view of the work is, that Jonah wrote it himself. He therefore said as little about himself as possible. He told the facts with all their weight of meaning against his own character, just as they were, without a line of exculpation or condemnation.
1. The first point at which the narrative may be said to touch the personal character of the prophet is the flight to Joppa. Here is a man, conscious of special inspiration and authority, doing direct violence to the Word of the Most High! We must begin our study with this conviction--Jonah meant nothing throughout like determined rebellion against God. From the first he seems to have understood the mission to have been one of mercy, and not of destruction. The man had laid hold of the thought of Divine goodness and compassion. Jonah’s sin was not apostasy from God. He simply shrunk from the mission. The struggle in Jonah’s mind must have been the result either of personal feeling or of mistaken ideas. It may have been personal feeling that lay at the root of his conduct. There was personal danger. He did not care to preach to heathen. But his feelings were founded on false ideas about God, and about the people of God, and their vocation. Another view may be taken of Jonah’s mind. He anticipated the result of his mission, and did not like it. His prediction would be falsified in the result. And a mission to the stronghold of heathenism seemed quite a new departure in the religious history of Israel. It seemed to Jonah a change in the Divine action, so stupendous that he could not drive out of his mind doubts as to the authority of the message.
2. Look at another point,--the sleep into which the prophet fell instantly that he went down into the ship is quite consistent with a state of perplexity and fear. He was so wearied with the mental strain and struggle, so burdened with the weight of a reproachful conscience, that he gladly hid himself from the faces of his fellow-men, and sought the darkness and solitude of his sleeping place, where nature asserted its demands, and he was soon wrapt in unconsciousness. When he was awakened he had no crime to confess, such as heathen men would understand, and condemn by the light of moral law. Jonah’s character was defective rather than corrupt. Like the Apostle Peter, he needed a great deal of teaching, but the root of his piety was sound and deep. He put himself at once into the hands of the chastising Jehovah. (R. A. Redford, M. A.)
Jonah regarded as a type
1. In his solemn discovery and apprehension. Sin hath entered among us, and the Creator is angry. Some victim is awanting to pacify His just indignation; but where is the sacrifice to be found? At length a merciful Heaven interposes, and the sacrifice is revealed.
2. In the generous self-devotement of the prophet. Applied to the doctrine of substitution, everything is plain, everything is instructive.
3. In his descent to the place of the dead. Two circumstances in the descent of Jonah.
(1) His descent to the grave. “Out of the belly of hell.”
(2) In the midst of all this suffering the prophet was yet alive.
4. In the doctrine of Messiah’s resurrection.
5. In the mission of Jonah to the Gentiles. His was just the commission of Jesus. To the lost sheep of the house of Israel He first turned His eyes; then He sent His disciples to the four winds of heaven, saying, “Preach the Gospel to every creature.” (James Simpson.)
Go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it.
The comparative corruption of great cities proposition
That though by no means exclusively, yet in cities that are great and luxurious, integrity is exposed to peculiar snares, and depravity cherished to an extraordinary growth.
I. Explain this proposition.
1. We confine human depravity to no combination of circumstances. In some situations, it is true, the poison may evolve its noxious qualities more fully and freely than in others; but in one way or another it makes itself manifest in all. It is not intended to represent this depravity as in itself essential to our nature. Sin is not essential, but accidental, to our nature.
2. It should also be observed, that in great cities there are even advantages which are nowhere else to be so fully enjoyed. The children of this world, wise in their generation, instantly discern the advantages of city situations, in reference to their particular pursuits. Beside the civil and intellectual, there are moral and religious advantages which, in more sequestered situations, we can scarcely hope to enjoy. In cities there is an easy and regular access to the ordinances of grace.
3. There are peculiar temptations, to which more obscure situations are liable. In solitude the mind is in danger of being filled with prejudices, and the heart with passions, which at once destroy present tranquillity and endanger future well-being.
II. Illustrate the subject before us. That in populous cities corruption peculiarly prevails. Consider--
1. The multitude of transgressors.
2. The aggravated nature of the sins there particularly indulged.
3. The individual sinner usually attains a degree of presumptuous hardness, not common in less frequented scenes.
III. The causes from which this peculiar depravity proceeds.
1. The depravity of the heart is the groundwork of the whole.
2. Neglect of parental instruction.
3. The infectious power of example.
4. The chilling influence of the world.
5. The seducing influence of luxury. (James Simpson.)
Every man his call
This same event comes to every man. Do not suppose that Jonah is a lonely creature afar off in the ages somewhere, having an experience unique and incommunicable. The experience of Jonah is the experience of every good man. What is your call in life? To go wherever wickedness is, and cry against it. Nineveh has perished, but Ninevitish iniquity is upon our streets, is throwing its shadow upon our thresholds, is sending a keen wail of pain and blasphemy through the very air that blows about us. Every child of God is to be a protesting prophet. Every earnest man is to have no difficulty in finding the word of condemnation when he comes into the presence of sin. If we could realise this call, all the Lord’s people would be prophets. Is it not a burden to speak against wickedness? Where is the man that dare do it? It is easy to condemn wickedness generally. The difficulty is to say to the individual--“Thou art the man.” Almost anybody can stand up before a thousand people, and speak against iniquity in the mass. But he must be a lion from God that dare say to the individual criminal,” I charge you, in the name of the Living One, with doing things that are wrong.” Still, it is well that we should have men who stand up in the midst of cities, and who let the cities know that there are eyes upon them that see things in moral relationships, and aspects, and consequences: and woe betide the cities of the earth when the voice of the prophet is no longer heard in them. It is a harsh voice, it is a piercing cry; but believe it, and regeneration comes, and restora tion and lost peace return, and things are set right before the face of God. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The city to which he was com missioned was remarkable for its magnitude and its wickedness.
1. Nineveh was a great city in many respects.
(1) It was of great antiquity (Genesis 10:9-12).
(2) It was great in respect of its power. It was the chief city of the mightiest monarchy in the world.
(3) In respect of its wealth.
(4) In respect of its extent. Probably sixty miles in circumference.
(5) In respect of its population. Probably 600,000 persons resided within its walls.
2. Nineveh was a guilty city. Cruelty was the characteristic vice. No man in Nineveh was secure from the violence to which its people were prone.
3. Nineveh was a Gentile city. It was this circumstance which chiefly rendered the commission addressed to Jonah so remarkable. It was so unusual that it startled Jonah. God displayed His interest in the welfare of mankind at large, even at that remote and unripe epoch. The Israelites were slow to learn that God did thus interest Himself in the welfare of the Gentiles. Now consider the disobedience of Jonah to the mandate addressed to him. The prophet’s object was to flee from the presence of the Lord; i.e., to get as far as possible beyond the range of those manifestations of the Divine presence which were peculiar to Palestine and its neighbourhood. Jonah sought to escape from such a consciousness of the Divine presence as he had been accustomed to experience in his own country, and may have regarded as peculiar to it. The presence of the Lord had become intolerable to Jonah from the moment that his want of sympathy with the Divine will in relation to Nineveh had become apparent to himself. Moreover, Jonah was an official of high rank in the theocracy, and his words may mean, “I will resign my office rather than undertake this duty.” But he had no right to resign the office he held in the service of Jehovah. His guilt and presumption are apparent; but have we not been as guilty and presumptuous as he; shrinking from duties that we knew were laid upon us? (Samuof Clift Burn.)
Jonah sent to Nineveh
A natural interpretation of the book is this,--Jonah had as great contempt for the heathen as his bigoted brethren of Israel. He was sent on a mission of mercy to his political enemies. As he had never learned to love his enemies, he fled from so distasteful a service. He was disciplined in the stomach of a fish till he was willing to deliver formally the commission given. He preached in Nineveh, still hating those who, if spared, might overthrow Israel. He was further disciplined by the lesson of the gourd. He at last learned the lesson of pity, and rejoiced in the good that accrued to his enemies, singing, “Salvation is of the Lord.”
I. The prophet’s commission to bless his enemies. About 825 b.c. God sent Jonah with a message to Nineveh, which was regarded by Israel as its natural enemy.
II. Jonah’s refusal to accept a mission of mercy to his foes. Jonah was not a son of Satan, but a wilful servant of the Lord, who, by reason of false views, failed to comprehend Jehovah’s broad policy in the government of this world.
III. How God humiliated His prophet before heathen sailors. Humiliating must have been the confession that he who knew move about holy things than all others on board was afraid to trust and obey his own God.
IV. How the heathen sailors made friends with Jonah’s God. The prophet’s acknowledgment of his fear of Jehovah struck a nameless terror to the consciences of the crew. They did their best to save him from his fate, but all was in vain. When Jonah was cast overboard, and the storm ceased, they felt that Jonah’s God was the true God, and must henceforth be their God. (Boston Homilies.)
God speaking to man in mercy, and man fleeing from God in disobedience
I. GOD SPEAKING TO MAN IN MERCY.
1. Here He speaks. “The Word of the Lord.” His Word to Jonah, like His word to all men, was clear, brief, weighty, practical.
2. Here He speaks to an individual. He speaks to all men in nature, conscience, history; but in sovereignty He singles some men out for special communications.
3. Here He speaks to an individual for the sake of a community. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city.” Why does God call it a great city? To men it was considered “great,” great in numbers, pomp, pretensions, masonry. But to God it could only be great in sin, for sin is a great thing to God; it is a black cloud in His universe. For the sake of this city, in order to effect its moral reformation, and therefore to save it, Jonah receives a commission. “Arise,” shake off thy languor, quit thyself for action, and to work out the ideas of the Infinite. No other creature on earth has this power.
(2) God’s method of helping humanity. God enlightens, purifies, and ennobles man by man. We have this “treasure in earthen vessels.”
II. Man fleeing from god in disobedience. “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord.” Here is a threefold revelation of man.
1. His moral freedom. God did not coerce Jonah, did not drive him to Nineveh. Man has power to resist God--a greater power, this, than can be found in all the heavenly orbs, or in the whole history of material organisms. This power invests man with all but infinite importance, links him to moral government. “Ye do always resist the Spirit of God.”
2. His daring depravity. Alas! men have not merely the power but the disposition to oppose God. This is their guilt and their ruin; it is what men are doing everywhere, trying to break the shackles of moral responsibility, trying to elude the Infinite.
3. His egregious folly. His endeavouring to escape from God was--
(1) Not merely an impulse, but a resolution. Had it been a sudden wish it would have been bad. He “rose up.” He rallied and marshalled his energies.
(2) Not merely a resolution, but an effort. He “went down to Joppa.” The probability is, that he went with the greatest speed to Joppa, the Jaffa of this day. When he reached the spot, how long he was about the quays in search of a suitable vessel.
(3) Not merely an effort, but a persevering effort. It was not one or two or three spasmodic efforts and then over. When he found a suitable vessel he “paid the fare thereof.” Ah, what fares men pay in the career of sin! (Homilist.)
1. When God has a work to do He is never at a loss for agents to accomplish His purposes. The Lord, on some occasions, fixes on instruments which appear to us the least suitable. All fitness is of God; He finds none fit for His service till He makes them so, and He can qualify the most defective. Should any ask why God fixed upon Jonah, and preferred him before any man on earth for this important service? We answer that God giveth no account of His matters; and though His footsteps are in the great deep, He never errs in judgment. The Word of the Lord came to Jonah. He knew who spoke to him, and what He said,--yet he was disobedient to the heavenly call.
2. The commission which God gave to Jonah. Great cities are great evils, seminaries of vice, and schools for profligacy. The more the fallen children of men herd together, the more deeply they corrupt one another. Cities may be great in many respects, and yet little in God’s account, because they are low in all real excellence.
3. Nineveh was ripe for destruction. Mark carefully, that all our sins go up before God, and are registered in His book of remembrance, with a view to the day of judgment. Cry against this “great city.” “Their” sins have cried long and loud against Me, and now My vengeance from heaven shall cry against them. When sinners kindle anger in the bosom of God, who is love itself, great must be their guilt, and tremendous will be their judgments when love turns to wrath. Nineveh is ripe for ruin; God is coming in His wrath against it; yet He halts by the way, and sends His messenger first, to say that He Himself is coming. (Thomas Jones, of Creaton.)
The reasons for Jonah’s mission to Nineveh
Jonah was a suitable agent, but he was not indispensable. God called him, but He could do without him. To be the bearer of such a message as that which is here recorded could not in itself be pleasant, but it was highly honourable. To refuse to speak in such a case, at Divine bidding, was almost to take part with the wrong-doers, and is recorded in this book, by Jonah’s own hand, to his personal discredit. There is but this one reason for the mission stated here; but there were at least several other reasons in reserve--some gently hinted, some unrevealed until ages afterwards. God, as we know, not only kindled in the indignation of justice against what was wrong, but He longed for the repentance of the wrong-doers, and for the manifestation of His mercy among them when thus penitent. He thought, too, of the future; of the use He would make of that people when His people should be led among them captive. As He sent Joseph into Egypt, He will send Jonah into Nineveh, to provide a remedy for a coming evil, a home for a captive people. He thought, too, of the far future of the world, and of the spiritual use to be made of the penitence of that wicked people in the proclamation of His mercy by the Gospel. He has made the Ninevites “a pattern” to all cities and ages--a proof that shall be known as long as history remains, that if a whole city, full of sinners, turn unto the Lord, they shall live. Whether Jonah knew much of these and such like reasons or not, it is certain that he knew quite enough to make the road to Nineveh, far and difficult as it might be, the Lord’s highway of duty and life to him; and any way else he could find, the devil’s road of crookedness, danger, and death. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish.
The refusal to obey a God-given charge
Jonah sullenly resolved not to obey God’s voice. What a glimpse into the prophetic office that gives us! The Divine Spirit could be resisted, and the prophet was no mere machine, but a living man who had to consent with his devoted will to bear the burden of the Lord. One refused, and his refusal teaches us how superb and self-sacrificing was the faithfulness of the rest. Jonah represents the national feelings which he shared. He refused because he feared success. God’s goodness was being stretched rather too far if it was going to take in Nineveh. His was the spirit of the prodigal’s elder brother. Israel was set among the nations, not as a dark lantern, but as the great candlestick in the temple court proclaimed, to ray out light to all the world. Jonah’s mission was but a concrete instance of Israel’s charge. All sorts of religious exclusiveness, contemptuous estimates of other nations, and that bastard patriotism which would keep national blessings for our own country alone, are condemned by this story. Note the fatal consequences of refusal to obey the God-given charge. Jonah only meant to escape from service. The storm is described with a profusion of unusual words, all apparently technical terms, picked up on board. No wonder that the fugitive prophet slunk down into some dark corner, and sat bitterly brooding there, self-accused and condemned, till weariness and the relief of the tension of his journey lulled him to sleep. It was a stupid and heavy sleep. Over against the picture of the insensible prophet is set the behaviour of the heathen sailors, or “salts,” as the story calls them. Their conduct is part of the lesson of the book. Their treatment of Jonah is generous and chivalrous. They are so much touched by the whole incident that they offer sacrifices to the God of the Hebrews, and are, in some sense, and possibly but for a time, worshippers of Him. All this holds up the mirror to Israel, by showing how much of human kindness and generosity, and how much of susceptibility for the truth which Israel had to declare, lay in rude hearts beyond its pale. Jonah’s conduct in the storm is no less noble than his former conduct had been base. The burst of the tempest blew all the fog from his mind, and he saw the stars again. His confession of faith; his calm conviction that he was the cause of the storm; his quiet, unhesitating command to throw him into the wild chaos foaming about the ship; his willing acceptance of death as the wages of his sin--all tell how true a saint he was in the depths of his soul. The miracle of rescue is the last point. Jonah’s repentance saved his life. The wider lesson of the means of making chastisement into blessing, and securing a way of escape--namely, by owning the justice of the stroke, and returning to duty--is meant for us all. The ever-present providence of God, the possible safety of the nation, even when in captivity, the preservation of every servant of God who turns to the Lord in his chastisement, the exhibition of penitence as the way of deliverance, are the purposes for which the miracle was wrought and told. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The main features of the ease are clear, and from these we draw the principles and lessons to be enforced. On the one hand, there is a Divine commission and command distinctly and authoritatively given, with some of the reasons for it annexed, although with others certainly not fully revealed. On the other hand, there is a state of reluctance and suspense ever verging towards actual disobedience--expressing itself, now in remonstrance, now in request for exemption, now in moody and distrustful silence. The situation is none so rare. The principles involved, and the lessons arising, are for all time. The supreme and unchallengeable obligation of the Divine will when clearly expressed. There can be no higher obligation to man or angel than that. That will is always in harmony with the eternal principles of truth and goodness. When God “speaks” to a servant, there can be no pretence for delay or non-compliance, much less for disobedience. Obedience, promptly, fully given, is the most beautiful thing that walks the earth. Prompt and simple obedience, when we are sure that God speaks, is the way to clearness, virtue, honour, strength, safety, and peace.
2. The exceeding danger of a mood of hesitation or remonstrance. We should watch with great self-jealousy the moral hesitations of the will, and the silent petitionings for delay or exemption. All such heart movements are fraught with peril. Divine light is given for “walking” and “working.” In most, if not all of the critical moments of life, duty is revealed very quickly, and made very plain and clear. In matters of expediency and prudence, wait for the afterthoughts. In matters of conscience and present duty, take the first thoughts that arise, for they are the Divinest. Happy is he whose action is as quick as the impulse that calls for it! whose daily obedience has in it the fresh colours of newborn convictions! whose feet sound the echo of God’s “Arise”! (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Jonah’s motive in his flight
This dereliction of duty could not arise from imperfect acquaintance with God’s will. That is nowhere intimated in the narrative. It was deliberate disobedience.
1. The arduousness of the duty may have been one cause of the sin. He shrank from the service because of the hardships he supposed to be involved in it. He thought of the journey; of the probable reception of his message by the Ninevites; and of possible violence done to himself by them. If God calls to arduous duty, He is prepared to give all needed grace for doing it.
2. The mortification of his own vanity. God’s mercy and forbearance on repentance Jonah feared would be a personal dishonour to him as a prophet. Rather than subject himself to the possibility of such mortification Jonah chose to decline the duty altogether. This motive argues a painful obtuseness of right human feelings. Learn--
1. In the prosecution of arduous and self-denying duties to seek the help of God, and not throw off our responsibilities by shunning them. Responsibility can only be met by the conscientious discharge of duty. Human nature often shrinks, as Jonah did, from this duty, but let us be faithful to God, and depend on Him for strength and blessing.
2. And let us discharge all our obligations to our fellew-men from a sincere desire to benefit them and please God. Let us not mingle personal vanity with any of our religious endeavours, nor be too anxious about our fame and reputation. Our record is on high, our judgment is with our God. (Thomas Harding.)
Jonah’s soft-persuasions to disobedience
How did he persuade himself to enter on a course of disobedience to the Divine will so open and declared?
1. It was a long way.
2. The thing to be done was very difficult.
3. It would be natural that he should despair of any great success.
4. He may have thought that, in the event of attaining a spiritual success, failure must come in another way. His own reputation would suffer. Over-consciousness of personal character, and over-carefulness for the Divine honour, were not of old, are not now so very uncommon.
5. The prophet had some dark forecast of evil to his own country from the probable turn which matters would take, if his mission at Nineveh should be successful. We cannot pass any severe and overwhelming judgment on Jonah. There is too much reason to fear that his kind of disobedience is not at all uncommon. Far oftener than many suppose, great and gifted spirits have shrunk back from great responsibilities. See cases of Moses, Gideon, etc. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The story of Jonah
The Book of Jonah is a prophetic history. It sets forth in object-lessons truths which bring us very near to the heart of the Gospel.
I. The scorned message of mercy. The prophet was the recipient of a Divine message. He was to declare to the people of Nineveh their sins, and summon them to repentance. This should have been an acceptable and agreeable duty. Why should Jonah have closed his ear against the Divine Word, shut up his heart against compassion for Nineveh, and fled from his duty? The answer uncovers at once God’s compassion and Jonah’s sin. Jonah’s fault lay in narrowing the compassion of Jehovah, and exaggerating the claims of the chosen people. His pride of race overrode his humanity; his sectarian zeal consumed his charity.
1. What shall we say of one who refuses to enter upon a work of salvation such as this? Jonah sinned against God and humanity.
2. If we seek downward for the tap-root of Jonah’s fault, where do we find it? In false views of God’s nature.
3. There are still men and women--good but misguided people--who hold that the salvation of God is limited to their Church. In the light of Jonah’s story, we may regard all such people with sincere pity, even while we condemn their presumptuous bigotry.
II. The sinner pursued by God. If God is com passionate, He is also just. He pities Nineveh, but He punishes Jonah. He pursues the offending prophet with a rod of judgment. If we suppose that Jonah’s sleep was one of self-security, we may imagine the sharp awakening to the sad truth of his condition.
III. A verdict of the self-condemned. The behaviour of the ship’s crew at the climax of the storm presents an interesting study. We are insensibly drawn to these rough pagan mariners. We respect their manhood, we praise their virtues, we pity their gropings after truth and duty, and long that they and such as they might have knowledge of the one sufficient atonement for sin. We are drawn with even tenderer sympathy to Jonah. He stands there on the tossing deck, self-condemned indeed, but his whole attitude is noble. His fault has risen upon him at once in its full magnitude. He neither denies nor extenuates it; he confesses it fully, and he offers himself in atonement therefor. No wonder that the sailors, profoundly touched by Jonah’s act, struggled to the verge of hope ere they could find heart to sacrifice this man.
1. We see here a wonderful illustration of the force of conscience when it is once awakened within the breast.
2. We have here a fine example of the operation of a genuine repentance. What must have beer the influence of this experience upon Jonah’s after preaching?
IV. Burial in the deep. The miracle consisted not so much in the fact that Jonah was swallowed alive, as that he was kept alive within the fish for three days. We must place this miracle upon the same footing as other Scripture miracles. Our Lord teaches that this burial and resurrection was a sign of His own burial and resurrection (Matthew 12:40-41). (Henry C. M’Cook, D. D.)
The prophet’s disobedience, and what came of his flight from duty
Jonah must have been a contemporary, or near successor, of Elisha.
I. His disobedience and flight from God’s presence. All men at least try to believe that they have good reasons for their disobedience. What was Jonah’s? Told in John 4:2. It was thought that God was specially present in Israel. If he left the country he would not be at hand to be sent on missions. His fleeing was a way of resigning his prophetic office. Have none of us ever done as Jonah did? When God calls to service or duty, do we never go another way? How easy to fancy that, by some means, we can escape the Divine presence!
II. His arrest and exposure. Thus far all had seemed to go well with the renegade prophet. For a time the Lord allowed him to have his way. And so He does with us all. If one chooses to run from duty, to decline service, to defer obedience, God does not ordinarily interpose to prevent his doing it. The downward way is commonly broad and smooth for a time. But, happily for us, God often finds means for the arrest of the disobedient. In the case of the fleeing prophet, He made use of the tempest. All sorts of persons pray in those great emergencies, which prove to us how utterly powerless we are. There is a feeling, which seems native to the human heart, that behind all physical ills there is a moral cause. Troubles come out of sin. These seamen, imagining, as it is so common to imagine, that unusual calamity is proof of unusual guilt, jumped to the conclusion that their present peril was due to the presence of some flagrant wrong-doer. They thought that, by means of the lot, the culprit might be detected. The lot fell on Jonah. In so unlikely a way his sin had found him out.
III. His confession and surrender. Crowding about this mysterious stranger, the questions of the sailors fell fast and thick. They wanted to have his whole story. Jonah made frank and full confession. There was no self-justification, but a declaration that God is to be reverenced and feared. And he put himself into God’s hands. Understanding, as a prophet, that only by casting him into the sea could the tempest be stayed, he humbly, submissively, bowed his will to God’s. It is precisely that spirit of penitence and trust which ever marks one as a sure subject of that mercy which, whatever befalls the body, saves the soul unto the life ever lasting.
IV. His chastisement and preservation. It is clear that Jonah’s conduct had won the respect of the seamen, and touched their hearts. They would save him if they could. Jonah’s preaching and conduct had convinced them of the true faith; for soon we find them offering sacrifice and making vows unto the Lord. True penitence does not save from present and outward ills. The forgiven still need correction, Note the blending of the providential and the miraculous in the story. Having brought a self-willed servant to account and repentance, and administered needed correction, it was the Lord’s will to restore Jonah to the place he had deserted. The chief practical lesson is the great folly of attempting to escape the service or duty to which God may call us. To obey is easier than to flee. There are crosses and hardships in the way of obedience, but they are far lighter than those which are sure to overtake unbelief and self-will. (Sermons by Monday Club.)
Jonah was unwilling to execute his commission;--not under a humble sense of unworthiness and insufficiency;--this would have made him earnest in prayer to God for the courage and strength in which he felt himself to be deficient. This would, in fact, have been the very best qualification for the work assigned him: such feelings and such qualifications we find in Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, but he shrunk from it, through a distrust of God, and a dread of the consequences. His faith in God failed; and then, what did he foresee at Nineveh, but ridicule, and bonds, and death? Perhaps, too, he was living in the enjoyment of comforts, which he must forego, for the chance only of returning from his perilous expedition. It seems, too, that he was apprehensive that the labour and peril might be encountered by him for nothing; for that, after all, the mercy of God would spare the Ninevites, and then some might pour contempt on his predictions. His motives were probably mixed: some of them might not be known to himself; for, having resolved to disobey God, he yielded himself to the power of Satan, who would pour darkness and perplexity into his mind, and would probably succeed at last in persuading him that his offence was far from heinous, and that the severity of the trial would almost excuse his sinning. Possibly he set against this act of disobedience his former zealous exertions in the cause of God; he excused his present cowardice by his former boldness--his present love of ease, by his former self-denial and endurance of injuries. Thus, while he regarded his own credit and ease and safety more than the honour of God and the deliverance of the Ninevites, he deserted his post. Let us not condemn him; but ask ourselves, before God, how we should have acted in the same circumstances. (Matthew M. Preston, M. A.)
Faithless to a high vocation
Though the Israelites were the elect people, the mercy of God was continually extending itself beyond them. He would from time to time send prophets and messengers to turn them from their idols, to reveal to them the knowledge of Himself, and bring them to repentance. Jonah resisted the call of God, and refused to go to Nineveh. Why did he refuse to go? Because he thought God would spare the Ninevites after he, His prophet, had proclaimed their ruin, and he shrank from the supposed humiliation of appearing in their eyes a false prophet. He shrank from the sensitiveness of a proud nature. Another reason has been suggested, that he passionately loved his country, and feared the uprising of this powerful nation on its borders. It is said that Jonah fled “unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Is it possible that he thought by a change of place to get beyond the reach of the Divine displeasure? It is more probable that he fled from “the service of God.” He meant to abandon his prophetic office. He was faithless to his vocation, and would cast off the responsibility of a high calling. Dwell on this unfaithfulness, and draw lessons from it. Are we not, each of us, like Jonah, called to stand in the presence of God and to serve Him? We have each certain duties and responsibilities, as clear and definite as the prophet had when he heard the Word of God, bidding him go to Tarshish. We too may flee from the presence of God. Our calling may require effort and hardness, and we shrink from it. Jonah is the image of every man who, knowing the command of God, gives up the path of duty, choosing in preference something more congenial to his tastes and disposition, or some passing feeling, some desire or fear. The call of duty will constantly involve giving up some interest or pleasure. Some trouble one meets in daily life may try the soul and test its faithfulness. It is always true that only he who doeth the will of the Father can enter the kingdom. (T. T. Carter.)
The runaway prophet
I. What was the reason for this flight? The cause of disobedience is to be found in the significance of God’s message to the prophet. It was a message of judgment, and yet, underlying it, as Jonah easily perceived, was a message of mercy. It taught Jonah, and through him the Jews generally, that God had a grand purpose of love and mercy to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Such a thought as that was utterly opposed to Jewish ideas. Jonah’s conduct is but the representation of the whole national feeling. Jonah wanted the Ninevites and all other Gentiles to fall under the judgment of God, and to be destroyed from the face of the earth. This was the reason for his flight. Let us beware lest we should find his sin lying at our door. God taught the same lesson to Peter when the times of the Gentiles had fully come. We are now learning the lesson that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s message of love to no one nation, or select few, but to every member of the human family.
II. What was the object of Jonah’s flight? Not to flee from the omniscience of God. The object of Jonah was to escape from standing before God as His prophet. He regarded the revelation and voice of God as in some way confined to Jewish territory. Though we, too, know that we cannot escape from the presence of God, we often fancy we can fly where the voice of God shall not be heard by us. When God calls men to go in one direction, and they like it not, immediately they set out to go in directly the opposite.
III. The successive steps of Jonah’s flight.
1. He went down to Joppa. His journey was downward in more senses than one.
2. He found a ship, and paid his fare to Tarshish. Is there not quite a parable in that paying the fare? It was the last barrier that kept him a prisoner to his native land. Now he thinks he is secure.
3. He falls asleep. He is tired out. No obstacles have been placed in his way. It seems as if everything had been providentially arranged. Yes, Jonah, thou sleepest, but God sleeps not. Now God will have a beginning. (James Menzies.)
The natural disposition of Jonah
It has often been remarked that religion and a good temper are by no means always allied. Though it cannot, perhaps, at all times be said that a religious profession is adorned by the meek and the quiet spirit so precious in the sight of the Lord, it must be always remembered that true religion has the most happy influence on all who in reality receive it. So far from producing the evil with which it has often been associated, it is associated with it for its correction, and does actually produce in due time its destruction. This sweet subduing spirit can tame the roughest passions; it can humble the proudest heart, and open the most avaricious, in a manner and to a degree that no other principle can. The natural dispositions of Jonah seem to have been uncommonly adverse. His supreme regard to the dignity of his own character, without respect to what concerned either Divine manifestation or human comfort, was selfish and arrogant; while his language with regard to the gourd, and to his own personal sufferings, seems altogether to represent him as a person of a proud, passionate, jealous, and intemperate mind. Indeed, so numerous and so striking are the instances of his misconduct, that they afford occasion to inquire whether he really was a saint at all? His wicked refusal of obedience, with the subsequent attempt to escape when under a special appointment of heaven, are circumstances in no respect favourable. His stupid security, too, during the tempest, and his sullen silence during the subsequent investigation, bespeak a state of mind very foreign from that which the lively exercise of religion would dictate. His angry complainings, also, at the dispensations of providence, seem in no common degree to indicate the workings of an unmortified mind. Still grounds are not awanting on which charity may found a better hope. See what may be pleaded in his favour. (James Simpson.)
The unfaithful prophet
In those days the prophet was the organ of a Divine revelation. He was the representative of that Holy Spirit who had been speaking through many ages to the fathers. If a word came to him which went beyond the ordinary scope of prophetic ministry it would be all the more solemn; it would be very clearly not the prophet’s own, but “the Word of Jehovah” which had “come to him.” To disobey that Word, to hide it within his own thoughts, to take from it, or add to it would be a grievous sin, to be conspicuously punished. It was “disobedience to the heavenly vision.” It was renouncing the position and vocation of the Divine messenger. It was doing “despite unto the Spirit of grace.” The whole book is a commentary on the expression, “Presence of the Lord.” By the “presence of the Lord” is manifestly intended the organic centre of Divine revelation. The radical conception of Judaism is the foundation on which such an expression must rest;--it was that of a ministry gathered about Jehovah, who is seated on a throne of majesty and grace in the midst of His people. “The presence of the Lord,” regarded as a place, is the chamber where the ministering priest, or prophet, is face to face with God. Forth from that chamber he goes to fulfil his mission, whatever it be, whether as a priest to bless, or as a prophet to speak the message, to proclaim the “ Word of the Lord.” Jonah rose up to flee from that centre of his spiritual responsibility, to turn his back upon One who was telling him what to say and what to do. At that special crisis in the history of His people such unfaithfulness was specially sinful. (R. A. Bedford, M. A.)
The fugitive from duty
In estimating the character of Jonah we have no desire to palliate or to exaggerate. His prominent sin was disobedience to God. It cannot be said that he misunderstood the command of God. Could it be fear that induced Jonah to become a fugitive from duty? It was the character of God which made Jonah shrink from His service. Some of the fruits of Jonah’s flight from duty.
1. He rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord.
2. The fugitive from duty was degraded before his inferiors. Jonah’s flight subjected him to the reproofs, examinations, and cross-examinations of heathen sailors.
3. Jonah, no doubt, suffered much at the near prospect of death.
4. His misery was prolonged in a living tomb.
5. The fugitive from duty had to do at length the work he first refused. When man contends with his Maker we may be certain who will be the victor. That Jonah needed much refining in the furnace of affliction is evident from the dross which remained after correction. Perhaps the Word of the Lord was never entrusted to a frailer earthen vessel. After Jonah had passed through the painful and humiliating punishments of disobedience, we find him still in a deplorable state of mind, and using most unbecoming language to God. Jonah should have known that when punishments are denounced as coming upon a nation, it is with the understanding that they continued in their sin. If both Jew and Gentile were acquainted with mercy as one of the glorious attributes of Jehovah, where was the room for Jonah’s displeasure? But what Jonah did, we are all capable of doing, if not prevented by Divine grace. There are those who fly from duty, because pride hinders them from pursuing their most suitable calling, those who intrude into sacred places for which they were never designed; and generally, the unconverted. (W. Holderness.)
The disobedient act
“Jonah rose up.” So far then he was obedient. No. He only rose up “to flee to Tarshish.” His mind was made up, before he arose, to disobey. We sin in thought, resolution, will, before we take a single wrong step. Had Jonah sufficient grounds for his disobedient act? Was not his ministry in Israel a great failure? And if a great failure among his privileged kindred, might he not reasonably infer it would be a greater failure among untutored and degraded heathen? Moreover, it was a new expedition- there was no precedent for him to follow. And did not he fear that God might turn from His purpose? In the face of these considerations it may he asserted that he had no honest reasons for shirking duty, for running away from God. Our failures may be our greatest successes.
I. His disobedient act was wilful. It was not done without deliberation. It was not done without breaking through moral restraints. Jonah had a stern battle to fight with the checks of conscience and the promptings of his better nature. Through a whole “bodyguard” of moral influences, monitions, voices, hindrances, Jonah had to cut his way to Joppa for Tarshish. This made his act of disobedience all the more criminally wilful. The harder the path to ruin the greater the guilt and punishment.
II. The act was foolish. He attempted--
1. The impossible. The Presence like an all-encompassing atmosphere hemmed him in--beyond it he could not get. God meets man inevitably at every turn of life.
2. He abandoned the indispensable. He thought he could do without God, and so ventured on the mad experiment. God is a necessity.
3. He undertook the unmanageable. In fleeing from God, he flew in the face of God. In trying to escape Him, he came into collision with Him. No man is sufficient for such an engagement. How foolish is all sin! Disobedience is moral mania.
III. His act was encouraged by opportune circumstances. He “found a ship going to Tarshish.” The accidental favoured the intentional. It so happened that the ship was freighted for Tarshish, and Jonah came on the quay just in time to pay his fare and get on board. Don’t blame the ship, but blame the prophet. Don’t censure the opportunities, but censure the disposition which seized and made them auxiliaries of evil intentions. Occasion for sin is no Divine warrant to sin.
1. Circumstances are rendered moral or immoral in their bearing on human actions, only as they further goodness or facilitate disobedience.
2. Opportunities in the way of transgression are accidental and not Divinely appointed, which if availed of to accelerate rebellious flight will entail heavier penal consequences.
3. The ready way is not always the right way.
IV. The act was expensive. He might have gone down to Nineveh for less than it cost him to go to Tarshish. He paid his fare in a very expensive sense. It cost him his peace of mind, his conscience approval, his official honour, mortification of spirit, risk of life, and peril of soul. As a mere matter of economy it is wiser and better to be good than sinful. Sin’s pleasures, sin’s fashions, sin’s companions, sin’s vanities are all prodigiously expensive. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
Neglect of Christian duty
Sleep is one of the great essentials to human existence. Sleep in itself is right, but there is “a time to sleep.” Jonah’s sleep was sinful, it was at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Look at this religious deserter asleep.
I. It is a very easy thing to neglect Christian duty. All that Jonah did was easily done. So are neglect of prayer, Bible study, services, work, etc., easy now.
II. Neglect of Christian duty is a most dangerous practice. Jonah went to Tarshish at the peril of his temporal and spiritual life. Every Christian who allows himself to be led away into bypaths of spiritual indolence, lethargy, and neglect, will suffer great loss, will imperil his soul.
III. It is not for us to choose our field of Christian work. God sent Jonah to preach a short soul-stirring sermon to the Ninevites. How much more would be done if all Christians would just take the field God assigns them, and work with all their hearts for God and Souls.
IV. The infinite folly of attempting to get away from the presence of God. “Whither shall I go from Thy presence?” The monarch who threw chains into the sea to bind it; the boys who undertook to count the stars; these were wise adventures compared with the folly of attempting to get away from God. Then “let us not sleep, as do others, but let us who are of the day be sober.” (W. Rodwell.)
Sorrow follows disobedience
You are seeking your own will. You are seeking some other good than the law you are bound to obey. But how will you find good? It is not a thing of choice; it is a river that flows from the foot of the invisible throne and flows by the path of obedience. I say again, man cannot choose his duties. You may choose to forsake your duties, and choose not to have the sorrows they bring. But you will go forth, and what will you find? Sorrow without duty--bitter herbs and no bread with them. (George Eliot.)
He found a ship going to Tarshish.
I. Attend to the whole of the circumstances concerned. By partial and distorted views the most magnificent objects may be rendered contemptible, and the most perfect propriety ridiculous.
1. In this world the wicked often succeed, while the righteous are involved in distress. If any man be exempted from trouble in the present state, we should expect it to be a wicked man. The present is, with respect to the wicked, the only season of forbearance, the only time of indulgence. If any labour under a peculiar series of sufferings, we should expect him to be a saint. Because the present is, to the believer, a state of discipline. We cannot, however, conclude either that all the afflicted are righteous, or that it is only the tabernacle of the robber that prospers.
2. All the success of the wicked is confined to external objects. It would be affectation to say that man is independent of these.
3. The success of the wicked is but momentary. Duration is an important measure of value.
4. The worst moral effects are produced by success on the conduct of the wicked. But consequences cannot always be considered as a Standard for regulating judgment.
5. The successful sinner would tremble did he look forward to the sufferings which must eventually overtake his crimes.
II. The grounds on which Divine wisdom proceeds in such dispensations.
1. Previous to such trials the sinner is already warned of his danger in the Word. It is to this men are to look for a regulating law.
2. Such trials are seldom permitted until conscience has been grossly violated.
3. No external obstacle can stop the career of the sinner.
4. Abused grace is properly and justly withdrawn.
5. These scenes of trial discover to others the dispositions that were previously in power.
III. The marks by which judicial may be distinguished from sanctified success. If sanctified it follows you in a course of obedience to the Word. It is not a partial or incidental circumstance. It recognises God as its origin. The effects will show whence the prosperity proceeds. (James Simpson.)
In the case of Jonah we have a striking instance of Divinely located work and responsibility. How are we to know that the Word of the Lord really comes to us? What more can any man desire than to be fully convinced that his duty lies in a certain direction? We are so made that, if true to ourselves, we shall have clear, sharply defined religious convictions; and in so far as we are faithful in following them, we are in direct communion with the Spirit of God.
I. Life has its great occasions, and woe to the man who fails to successfully grapple with them. God signally honoured Jonah by selecting him as the first preacher to the heathen world. Human life does not always remain on the same key. Sometime, some where, God arrests the old monotonous tune, and strikes the keynote to a loftier anthem. Everything depends on how we catch the new tone, follow the leader, and master the music. How possible it is to be unequal to our opportunity, to let it pass unimproved, and to be doing a little paltry work,--to be mistaking fuss for energy, and an idle industry for that holy consecration which absorbs every power, and ennobles the man by the sublimity of its motives and aims. There are hours in the lives of most men, compared with which all after hours are poor and commonplace,--great critical hours, pregnant with the possibilities of manhood and destiny. To fall below such crises is a calamity which the future can never repair. Society is full of poor men, both temporally and spiritually, because they did not manfully grapple with the great occasions of life.
2. Opportune circumstances do not of necessity imply divine approval. Here we see that a man may be strangely favoured by circumstances, who is in open rebellion against God. Rightly to interpret circumstances is one of the most difficult things in life. And a man who has become loose at the conscience may so interpret them as to embolden and fortify himself in a life of sin. There are people who make circumstances into a kind of Bible, and argue that, after all, it is impossible they can be so very bad, or Providence would not thus conspire to further their purposes. When a man gets himself mixed up with iniquity, it is not much wonder that he tries to set up a kind of supernatural wisdom of his own, as a sort of self-vindication. It is quite possible for a man so to put circumstances before his mind as to be fearfully misled by them. Much charity should be exercised towards those whose very circumstances invite their further continuance in sin. Many a man has had reason to thank God that the ship left before he got to Joppa; that was the only thing that saved him from disaster and perhaps destruction.
III. A man may ignore the claims of God and yet be scrupulous in his observance of the laws of social justice and equity. Jonah “paid his fare.” Honest with the owner of the ship, but dishonest with the Owner of the universe. God has claims upon us as well as man: and any man’s integrity is partial and ruinously defective that does not honour both claims..
IV. The wicked man is a public calamity, a social curse. No matter how much the sinner may have things his own way, God can head him off, frustrate his purposes, and convert the very elements that were most friendly to his progress into instruments of punishment and death. Learn that there is a right and a wrong way of settling things. We must have a settlement with God on a basis of mediation and righteousness, or the sea will always be rough. (T. Kelly.)
The unwisdom of disobedience
God said to Jonah, “Go to Nineveh.” “I won’t go; I’ll go to Tarshish.” He started for Tarshish. Did he get there? The seas raged, the winds blew, the ship rocked. Come, ye whales, and take this passenger for Tarshish. No man ever got to Tarshish if the Lord told him to go to Nineveh. The seas would not bear him; they are God’s seas. The winds would not waft him; they are God’s winds. If a man deliberately sets out to do that which God declares he must not do, the natural world as well as God is against him and the lightnings are ready to strike him, and the fires are ready to consume him, and the sun is ready to smite him, and the waters are ready to drown him, and the earth is ready to devour him. (Christian Age.)
He paid the fare thereof.--
Paying the fare
There had been many hindrances in Jonah’s way to prevent him from consummating the act of disobedience, but he overcame them all. And yet this fact that he had paid his fare might have startled him. It was the last hindrance to his headstrong will, Had he gone to Nineveh he would not have needed to pay his own fare. But deliberately selecting his own way, Jonah was left to pay his own fare.
1. Accept this feature of the case as a starting-point. Obedience is economy; disobedience is expensive.
2. This was only a small part of the fare that Jonah paid. Only the first instalment. In the second place, he paid his fare in the thwarting of his purposes. He made more haste than speed. The ready way was not the right way. If you will be disobedient, you must pay your fare in the thwarting of your purposes.
3. As part of the fare the prophet had to pay for his disobedience. I mention his moodiness and peevishness.
4. Part of the fare was the withdrawal of Jehovah’s presence.
5. He paid part of his fare in the loss of reputation. Regard to reputation was the only defence he made. Reputation may be overestimated, If the means is exalted into an end; if reputation becomes the be-all and end-all of the ministry, there is no limit to the harm that may accrue. For the sake of reputation Jonah declined tim call of God. And his disobedience was its own punishment. (John A. Macfadyen.)
Sinful pleasures dear bought
The sacrifices required by religion are infinitely more reasonable and light than those which sinful courses demand.
I. The sacrifices required of the sinner. The boasted pleasure of the sinner is obtained at a very disproportioned expense of time--of labeler--and of substance: and moreover to it is freely sacrificed not only health, reason, conscience, but also the precious soul.
II. The sacrifices required of those who are the friends of religion.
1. Religion does not require the renunciation of any lawful enjoyment.
2. Religion does require of its followers certain worldly sacrifices. Such as a seventh portion of time. Jehovah demands of all His worshippers--
3. The total surrender of their persons. Your talents, with all their energies; your will, with all its propensities; your affections, with all their fervour, are exclusively and supremely His. The members of the body too are become instruments of righteousness unto righteousness.
4. When sinners come to the Saviour they present Him with their most cheerful services.
5. The severest sacrifice that religion requires is that of our unholy desires. The service is severe, but the command is absolute.
III. Compare these systems. Each has something to enjoy. The Christian needs not fear to grant to the sensualist his luxuries; or to acknowledge the general depression of the faithful. To ascertain the several claims of these systems observe--
1. That, while all the demands of religion are just, those of iniquity are the vexatious claims of a tryant.
2. The demands of religion are most gracious, whereas those of a tyrant are insatiable.
3. The services of religion are beneficial; those of the world destructive.
4. The sacrifices of religion shall be richly repaid. Sin also has its wages, and to the uttermost farthing they shall be paid. Choose then what master you will serve.
1. To the seductions of pleasure.
2. Be not afraid of the reproaches cast upon religion.
3. Be truly wise. Listen to the cautions of Divine wisdom. (James Simpson.)
One virtue cannot atone for a wicked course
Jonah’s attempt to run away was a foolish and wicked act, all must admit; but there is one thing told of him that is very much to his credit: he “paid his fare” on board the ship that was to bear him away to Tarshish. He fulfilled his obligations to the shipowners in the matter of the passage money He was none of your mean sneaks who, in running to destruction, try to go as dead-heads. Jonah went on his way like a man. How often, by some such reasoning as this, men make out a good case for themselves, or for others, in the face of flagrant and atrocious acts. Men use some single virtue to cover much wrong or vice. I know a young man who refused to obey the call of God, as clearly given as was ever that to Jonah, and is satisfying conscience by the assurance of honesty in a very different and self-appointed sphere. There is much of this Jonah business on every hand. Men are sharp in their dealings, even to rank dishonesty, but they talk well, and profess better. They cheat and shave right and left, but they found a scholarship or a seminary, endow a college, or build a church. They are helping to undermine every good institution in a community, but they are kind and obliging neighbours. Because the men that cheat, swindle, and murder us are possessed of some single excellent virtue, we are asked to set it over against their many nefarious acts and terrible failures in character and life, and call it even. Not that we would undervalue or despise the admirable traits that sometimes appear in wicked and debased lives. We only utter our protest against the attempt, so often made, to make them atone for the sin and failure by which they are surrounded. We are all liable to be satisfied with one little pet virtue, that blooms, perhaps, like a flower adorning a corpse. The way we help one another to this same self-complacency over small virtues cherished in the midst of flagrant wrong, is, perhaps, the worst part of the story. (Homiletic Magazine.)
Men get “passes” of railroads--all must pay the fare who go through life. Bible tells us there are two ways. You must pay the fare in either case.
I. Broad way to destruction. Fare?
1. Loss of conscience.
2. Loss of character. Character is built up by thoughts, words, deeds, little by little.
3. Loss of Divine image.
4. Loss of soul. No escape. “The wages of sin is death.”
II. Narrow way to life. Fare? Yes, we must pay the fare. The results are--
1. Noble character. God’s building.
2. Uplifting influence. People respect.
3. Satisfaction. Duty done; clear conscience.
4. Gain Heaven. Two ways are before you; which one will you take? (Homiletic Review.)
The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea.
The Divine displeasure
There is a religious side to storms. Tempests have done what spiritual teachers could not do.
1. Disobedience ensures punishment. No man can sin with impunity. There is an absolute necessity for moral wrong to be judiciously dealt with.
2. The forces of nature are often the instruments of God’s corrective or punitive purposes. There is a providence in all varieties of weather.
3. The sin of one involves others in its consequences.
From John 1:5, we gather--
1. That in seasons of extreme peril the religious instinct invariably reverts to a real or imaginary superior power for help. The religious sense is in imploration to God.
2. That possessions are valueless when life is at stake.
3. That remedial measures to alleviate the consequences of evil are futile while the cause slumbers undisturbed. Sin is the Jonah in every man which keeps him in jeopardy and restlessness every hour.
From verse 6, we are taught--
1. That adverse circumstances often require to be supplemented by direct appeal to arouse men to a sense of their perilous situation.
2. The insufficiency of nature to correct the false and teach the true object of worship.
3. The parallel and divergent points in human history. The same ship, route, port, etc., but widely different motives, ends, etc.
Verse 7 teaches--
1. That the casualties of life are not unfrequently associated with wrong-doing. No calamity without a cause, no sin without a calamity, sooner or later.
2. That necessity drives to expedients.
3. That detection will inevitably overtake the guilty, or the lot fall on the right man.
4. That the extremities of men are the opportunities of God.
5. That one rebellious act sends its ring down the vestibule of ages. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
The disobedience of the prophet of Gath-hepher
This storm was not accidental,--accident has no place in the government of God. It is the name for a cause or causes of which we are ignorant. The sublimity of this description, and of others which occur in Scripture, will be more apparent when you compare them with the account which the heathen poets give of the deity to whom they assign the direction of this element. The varied operations and agencies in nature and providence which heathenism has distributed among lords many and gods many, the Bible centres in one. What a humiliating contrast is here presented between rational and irrational beings. Jonah obeys not. Inanimate nature waits God’s commands. The following lessons may be deduced from the passage.
I. See here the insensibility of the daring transgressor. Jonah had entered into a contest with his God. The furious elements proclaimed the contest to be fearfully unequal. While every one else is uniting his exertions and his prayers to avert the threatened danger, Jonah had gone down into the sides of the ship, and was fast asleep. Contrast our Lord’s sleeping during the storm on Galilee. But why wonder at the insensibility of Jonah? Look around and you will see insensibility as profound, and where there is the same difference between insensibility and safety. Engrossed by pleasure or business, how many are there who feel no concern for religion.
II. See the difference between insensibility and safety. While the apprehensions of the prophet diminished, his dangers increased. In endeavouring to escape from the voice of God, given to him in prophetic direction, there was the near prospect of his hearing that voice announcing his destiny from the judgment-seat. Perilous, however, as the prophet’s situation was, it was not in reality more so than that of thousands who nevertheless participate in the security. In the one case as in the other, there may be but a step between the sinner and death.
III. The objects of trust made the instruments of punishment. This is a marked feature of the Divine administration. See the case of David numbering the people. God permits Jonah to gain his object. Then his troubles begin. The vessel which he expected would bring him to his ultimate point threatens to become the grave of him and his shipmates. So men set their hearts on a favourite object. This is pursued not only without reference to God’s will, but in manifest opposition to it. They gain it. And out of this their vexation and punishment arise. This is often seen in the acquisition of wealth.
IV. The duty of recognising the voice of God in the events which thwart our wishes. “Affliction springeth not from the dust.” It was God who sent forth that great wind which put in jeopardy the vessel in which Jonah sailed. It was for the purpose of arresting him in his course of disobedience--of bringing him to a sense of his misconduct--and of leading him to seek forgiveness. What is the obvious use which we should make of this narrative? The uniform doctrine of revelation is, that sin hardens the heart, and tends to the still further commission of sin. On this it grounds the exhortation to give all diligence to make our calling and election sure--to be sober and watch unto prayer. (R. Brodie, A. M.)
The mariners were afraid, and cried every one unto his god.
Fear driving men to God
We see how in dangers men are constrained to call on God. Though, indeed, there is a certain impression by nature on the hearts of men as to God, so that everyone, willing and unwilling, is conscious that there is some Supreme Being; we yet, by our wickedness, smother this light which ought to shine within us. We indeed gladly cast away all cares and anxieties; for we wish to live at ease, and tranquillity is the chief good of man. Hence it comes that all desire to live without fear and without care, and thence we all naturally seek quietness. Yet this quietness generates contempt. Hence, then, it is that hardly any religion appears in the world when God leaves us in an undisturbed condition. Fear constrains us, however unwilling, to come to God. False, indeed, is what is said, that fear is the cause of religion, and that it was the first reason why men thought that there were gods; this notion is indeed wholly inconsistent with common sense and experience. But religion which has become nearly extinct, or at least covered over in the hearts of men, is stirred up by dangers. Of this Jonah gives a remarkable instance when he says that the sailors “cried, each of them to his God.” We know how barbarous is this race of men; they are disposed to shake off every sense of religion, they indeed drive away every fear, and deride God Himself as long as they may. Hence, that they cried to God, it was no doubt what necessity forced them to do. And here we may learn how useful it is for us to be disquieted by fear; for while we are safe, torpidity, as it is well known, creeps over us. Since, then, hardly any one of him self comes to God, we have need of goads; and God sharply pricks us when He brings any danger so as to constrain us to tremble. But in this way He stimulates us; for we see that all would go astray, and even perish in their thoughtless ness, were He not to draw them back, even against their own will. (John Calvin.)
Fear at the prospect of death
Pliny, who was a contemporary of the Apostle John, made some close observations of the animal world. Among other things he tells us of the mole--“Moriendo incipit oculos aperire,” that is to say, “the mole first opens his eyes in death.” And such is really the case, for the mole’s eyelids, on account of his occupation, are closed all his life long, and only when lie is dying does he force wide open his small black eyes and look round upon the world, and up to the sky. Now, although the mole is not a favourite among men either for its usefulness or its beauty, we may be permitted to say that most human beings, created in the image of God, do just the same as the mole. Of them, too, it is true that, for the most part, they only truly open their eyes, that is, their inward eyes, in death. Then only, when about to leave the world and time, are their eyes couched; not till then do they learn to distinguish between what is something and what is nothing, what is vanity and what is true glory; and then, for the first time, they look up to the inexhaustible sources of eternal life, and discover, to their horror, that like deluded fools they have all along been pursuing what was only illusion, deception, or imposture. Yea, only in that hour do they who took so much pride in their own wisdom become wise in the sense which Moses meant when he prayed: “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” So late do they begin to seek the antidote to death. Thus we find the fellow-voyagers of the runaway prophet are full of dread and dismay at the gates of death. (Otto Funcke.)
The superstitious infidel
The man who, in ordinary circumstances, refuses a just and enlightened submission to the authority of God is, in the hour of calamity, of all others the most likely to degrade his nature and his name by the low and debasing services of a gross superstition.
I. Whence does infidelity originate?
1. Not, assuredly, in the superior understanding of its subjects. Were it even so, that the most acute individuals were found in the ranks of infidelity, still infidelity gains nothing unless it can either be shown that it is itself the cause of this acumen, or that it results properly and immediately from its exertions. Infidelity is the vice not of mature but of juvenile minds, or of those whose minds never open beyond the attainments of indiscretion.
2. Infidelity, in very many instances, derives its origin from the distorted views of religion, which superstition or bigotry present.
3. The grand origin of all infidelity is the pride and pollution of the heart. Passion now usurps the authority over conscience, and the understanding submits to the will. What we strongly incline to we are easily persuaded to believe; whereas, a doctrine that opposes our desires, it is hardly possible to bear. The principles of infidelity may be held in the fullest harmony with indulged sensuality.
II. Trace infidelity in its results. Follow the history of the infidel to his ultimate manifestation. That sooner or later he will be revealed is what we are warranted to assume. In one or other of the following ways is his folly revealed.
1. By voluntary confession on his acceptance of the Saviour.
2. By the despair which must follow the rejection of this salvation.
3. By the degrading superstitions to which the infidel is constrained to apply.
II. What judgment ought to be formed of such a system of principles?
1. Of its wisdom. Intellect is the boast of infidels.
2. Of its practical influence. The interests of society are concerned here.
3. What is infidelity with respect to its ultimate comfort?
That is no religion for man which does not afford consolation. (James Simpson.)
Seamen in storms
I. The mighty agency of God. The wind is a strange power in nature. The fact that storms are under Divine direction should--
1. Rouse us to consider them as God’s voice.
2. Lead us to submit to the catastrophes they produce.
II. The natural instincts of man. These men developed--
1. The dread of death.
2. Faith in prayer. Their prayer involved--
(1) Faith in the existence of divinity.
(2) Faith in the intreatableness of divinity.
III. The strange vicariousness of suffering. The storm came on as a consequence of the sin of Jonah. The innocent suffer for the guilty the world over. The principle of vicarious suffering is a principle developed in the experience of all. We suffer for others, and others have suffered for us. A man may deny the justice of vicarious suffering, but he cannot deny the fact. The sufferings of mariners are strikingly vicarious. Let shipwrecks remind us--
1. To put our confidence in God.
2. Of our moral condition.
3. Of our duty to pray for our brethren on the sea. (Homilist.)
They cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea.
The unavailing sacrifice
Whatever sacrifices the sinner in the hour of trial may be disposed to make, nothing can avail him so long as unpardoned sin remains concealed in the heart.
I. There are important sacrifices which, in the hour of trial, the awakened sinner will make.
1. The awakened sinner may abandon, in the hopes of relief, his worldly companions. These were his treasure.
2. Conviction may even constrain the sacrifice of the most endeared and of the most inveterate habits of sin,
3. He sacrifices his prejudices.
4. He sacrifices his personal ease.
5. He will even sacrifice his worldly substance.
II. Sacrifices so presented can never be accepted of God. They have no intrinsic value;--they are involuntary--unseasonable--selfish--unauthorised--unbelieving--and unholy. Such sacrifices may be made while sin remains safely concealed in the soul. Two things are requisite in order to our intercourse with God. Not only must iniquity be pardoned, but it must also be destroyed as to the influence which it exerts on the heart. By that method of salvation which the Scripture reveals, holiness is effectually secured. (James Simpson.)
So the shipmaster came to him.
A model sea-captain
The shipmaster was a good workman. The spirit and manner in which he went about his work deserve our imitation. He was intensely in earnest. At any risk he wished to arouse this slumbering passenger to a sense of duty. Death was staring them in the face, and he was anxious that every person on board should be doing something to assist the ship, or to save his life. Seek to imitate--
I. His earnest solicitude. When we remember that millions of our fellow-men are actually slumbering on the very verge of perdition, the first desire of every Christian heart should be to awaken them out of sleep. The conversion of men to God is the ultimate and immediate aim of all truly Christian effort. If we fail in this we fail altogether. This is the spirit of the age. In business, politics, and science, men may be as fanatical as they please, and society will applaud their zeal; while in any undertaking which is strictly Christian and spiritual, an ordinary amount of earnestness will not be tolerated.
II. His rational appeal. “What meanest thou, O sleeper?” Give us a reason for this strange conduct. This inquiry is equally appropriate and rational as applied to unconverted men. In reference to a matter of such importance we cannot do rational men the injustice to suppose that this subject has not received their most earnest attention. The fact may be, that though there is so much nominal belief in the world, there is also, even amongst ordinary Gospel hearers, a wide spread spirit of scepticism.
III. His simple exhortation. “Arise, and call upon thy God.” Straightforward, honest, manly, and emphatic, the man came right to the point, and discharged his soul. Such a man as a Gospel preacher would be sure of success. Let us aim at the heart. Let our theme be the Gospel. This earnest sea-captain is an example for every Christian professor. (W. H. Burton.)
The good shipmaster
Jonah behaved at once like a very presumptuous and a very ignorant man. Jonah’s slumbers were unaffected by the danger, and unbroken by the noise above and around. The shipmaster, seeing that he was quite unconscious of his peril, and might probably be engulphed in the yawning abyss below them, before ever he knew that there was danger, came near and aroused him. The shipmaster had no very accurate ideas of Jonah’s God, of His character, grace, mercy, long-suffering, or providence. Yet in the darkness of heathenism he had not absolutely lost sight of every glimpse of the truth. Amidst all the obscurity and ignorance in which they were involved many a heathen retained the knowledge that a power there certainly is that made heaven and earth, and all things therein;. and that in evils which mock the weakness of human devices, the only probable road to safety is in appeal to that invisible Being, who certainly has the power, and may have the will, to save to the uttermost. (W. H. Marriott.)
Men aroused by unexpected means
If Jonah had been told one year before that a heathen sea-captain would ever awaken him to a sense of danger, he would have scoffed at the idea; but here it is done. So now, men in strangest ways are aroused from spiritual stupor. A profane man is brought to conviction by the shocking blasphemy of a comrade. A man attending chinch, and hearing a sermon from the text, “The ox knoweth his owner,” etc., goes home unimpressed, but crossing his barn-yard, an ox comes up and licks his hand, and he says: “There it is now--‘the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib,’ but I do not know God.” The careless remark of a teamster has led a man to thoughtfulness and heaven. The child’s remark, “Father, they have prayers at uncle’s house,--why don’t we have them?” has brought salvation to the dwelling. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
By strangest way and in most unexpected manner men are awakened. The gardener of the Countess of Huntingdon was convicted of sin by hearing the countess on the opposite side of the wall talk about Jesus. John Hardoak was aroused by a dream, in which he saw the last day, and the Judge sitting, and heard his own name called with terrible emphasis--“John Hardoak, come to judgment!” The Lord has a thousand ways of waking up Jonah. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Man’s interest in God
To the end the Lord may discover the guilty man, and cause of this tempest, as he made the mariners sensible themselves, so the shipmaster is set on work to awaken Jonah, to try his interest with his God (whom they knew not yet to be the true God), if possibly He had more power or goodwill to such as worshipped Him than theirs had. Which is the first step to His discovery. Doctrine--
1. A child of God may sometimes miscarry, so far through infirmity, negligence, and temptation, that even a pagan, by nature’s light, may see him reproveable and blameworthy, for so is Jonah reproved by the shipmaster.
2. It is deeply censurable and absurd, even to nature’s eye, to be secure in trouble.
3. Variety of false gods hold men in suspense and uncertainty. Therefore every “man having cried unto his God,” yet they are not settled, but will have Jonah to essay his God, if He be better than the rest.
4. Nature’s light will acknowledge that He who is the true God hath power to deliver in most extreme dangers; for in this great tempest they assert it,--“If God think on us, we will not perish.”
5. Howsoever in a calm day, nature conceit and boast of merit, yet in a strait, natural men are forced to have their recourse only to the favour of God. For this pagan shipmaster hath no ground of hope that they shall not perish, but in God’s thinking (or being bright and shining, as the word also signifies, that is, looking favourably) on them. (George Hutcheson.)
Arise, call upon thy God.
Asleep in sin
These were the words of the shipmaster to Jonah, and they present to us the strange anomaly of the reckless seaman upbraiding with impiety the prophet of the Lord. Jonah could not at that hour have possessed a conscience void of offence. At that time he was flying in the face of God, disobeying His Word, betraying His trust, and he could not have thought of Him without dread. He could not have dared to bend the knee to Him in prayer without conscience flying, like a scorpion, in his face. Was it the conflict of his feelings which overpowered him, and nature sunk exhausted under the dreadful struggle? Or was it that Jonah had succeeded in silencing the remonstrances of conscience? Only by way of accommodation can this passage be improved.
1. Apply it to the careless and ungodly. Thousands are rushing onward in the broad way which leadeth to destruction. Many a man, in the midst of the most awful realities of life, is locked up in fancied security, and not a pang, not a misgiving, not an apprehension is entertained. Well may it be said to such, “Awaken, thou that sleepest.”
2. Apply to the backslider. Those who once knew the Lord, and who, remembering the blessedness of knowing Him, have nevertheless fallen from their stead fastness; who, by sin, have inflicted a deadly wound upon their souls. They may be, like Jonah, sleeping, insensible to the perils around them. But the words admit of a more extended application. They come, in a greater or less degree, pointed to us all. It seems to say to us all, “watch and pray, arise and be doing.” (Dennis Kofly, M. A.)
Notice the character of Jonah’s sleep. It could not have been the sleep of innocence and confidence. Jesus Christ slept in the calm confidence of a mighty faith which knew that the elements were powerless to injure the Holy One of God. Jonah slept to escape from himself. He had already fled from the presence of God, but he could not escape from the sound of God’s voice in his conscience. May we not see in this sleep of Jonah a type of the condition of many souls? As with him, so with us. God has given us a work to do for Him. But the work grows distasteful; so we gradually slacken our efforts, and perhaps at last abandon them altogether; and then try to escape from the presence of the Lord We lull ourselves more effectually to sleep by the expressed intention of making our peace with God at some far distant time, when we are less distracted by the world’s claims upon us. But what are such intentions save as the dreams of an unhealthy sleep? Every landmark of our lives which tells us that another stage is reached, and our journey is so much nearer the close, is in point of fact as the voice of that heathen sailor who roused the sleeping prophet. It is no new or striking thing to say, that the time and manner of your death is uncertain. We need to take homo to ourselves the common-places of religion before we can actually realise them. How can we dare to continue to live in such a state as we dare not die in? (F. R. H. H. Noyes, D. D.)
The sleeper called to awake
The prophet, jealous, as some think, for the honour of Israel, and unwilling that the Gentiles should partake of the benefits of prophecy; or fearing that, as others imagine, notwithstanding all the denunciations he might utter against them, the merciful God might still spare them, and thus tarnish the veracity of his predictions,--subjecting him, moreover, to the ignominy of being despised and punished as an impostor; or apprehensive, as is the opinion of a third class, of the perils to which this journey and message were likely to expose him, refused obedience to God’s authority. What could the prophet mean by attempting to flee from the presence of the Lord? Possibly Jonah thought that by removing from Judea the special place of Divine revelations, he would remove from that presence of the Deity which was peculiar to it. During his passage he does not appear to have thought of the folly or sinfulness of his conduct. He fell fast asleep. Did not this splenetic seer know that it is in vain for a man to contend with his Maker?
1. It must be obvious to every one that this impassioned inquiry into the conduct of the sleeper speaks it to be fraught with extreme folly. Man is placed under the regimen of a moral and an equitable administration, in which God deals with him as a rational creature. A door of hope is set before us. The awful consequences of refusing to accept God’s mode of deliverance are fully displayed. Now, does the sleeper act the part of a wise man; to remain locked in the embraces of a most sluggish inaction, when affairs of such moment are to be decided? Surely no frenzy is half so desperate as this! The sleeper’s conduct is fraught with extreme folly.
2. This awakening salutation intimates that the sleeper’s conduct is full of danger. See the appalling and perilous position of this ship. Far more appalling and perilous is your condition, O ye spiritual slumberers. You are embarked on the ocean of Divine wrath. The vessel to which you have committed yourselves is frail and shattered, yet an ark of safety has all along attended you, but you will not be at the trouble of accepting its aid. By neglecting the great salvation, your peril is increased a thousand-fold. Jonah’s condition in the ship gives but a faint idea of the danger you every moment run while without Christ, and “without God in the world.”
3. The earnestness of the interrogatory imports that now is the proper time to awake. It should be a rule with every man who wishes to regulate his conduct wisely, to put off nothing till to-morrow which is necessary to be done to-day. The present time is always the best, and, what is more, it is all that we can call our own. The circumstances of this case demand that you decide instantly.
4. The vehemence of this call tells us, that the business for which the sleeper is called to awake is of the utmost importance, and well deserves his attention. Inconceivably greater than Jonah’s is the business to which we now solicit your attention. By nature you are lost and undone; but we now announce to you a message of peace and reconciliation with God. We tell you of a Saviour. Will you, through the pride of your heart, banish from your mind that deep and mysterious project? Will you, through the listlessness of your inaction, discard, as not deserving your serious contemplation, that unrivalled event which filled the world with wonders?
5. The question here put to the sleeper may also be viewed as the language of reproof and astonishment. These sailors were heathen, yet in time of strain they called on their God. The one man who professed to fear the God of heaven remains fast asleep, makes no attempt to call upon his God. (W. Nisbet.)
The sleeper awakened
Like all who endeavour to frustrate the designs, evade the commands, or flee from the presence of God, Jonah found his hopes miserably disappointed. The address of the shipmaster to the slumbering prophet is equally applicable to those who are yet in their unregenerate state.
1. Like the prophet, you are exposed to the storm of Divine wrath, which every moment pursues and threatens to overwhelm you.
2. The inspired writers employ various figurative expressions to describe the situation and character of impenitent sinners. Persons of this description are represented sometimes as foolish, mad, or infatuated; sometimes as blind and senseless; sometimes as dead in trespasses and sins; and sometimes as slumbering or asleep.
(1) Sleep is a state of insensibility.
(2) Sleep is a state of dreams and delusions.
Apply to unawakened sinners, and then to those whom God has been pleased to awaken. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The sleeper aroused
The circumstances connected with this message of the prophet are very striking. We may trace a parallel between those circumstances and man as we now find him. Every man, from the least to the greatest, is charged with a mission from God; every man comes into the world charged with this one great business, the bringing glory to God; and every man who goes forth, in the exercise of the faculties which God has given him, influenced and regulated by Almighty grace, fulfils his mission. But the greater part of mankind shrink from it; they flee (as it were) from the presence of the Lord; they go forth from the round of duty in which He places them, and seek to escape. Every soul who is not fulfilling his mission will sooner or later be convinced how fearful a thing it is, as well as vain, to seek to depart from God, and to neglect the one great business of life. The subject suggests one aspect of the unconverted man,--he is in a state of deep sleep. All his faculties whereby he might glorify God are inactive, or if employed at all, are employed unwisely and unfitly. He slumbers in sinful indulgence. There is an absorbing power in this; it holds the heart fast, it subdues the whole being, and brings it into entire subjection. He slumbers in spiritual feeling. What should be done in this case? Two things. “Arise.” “Call upon thy God.” To every slumberer in sinful indulgence and spiritual ignorance we say, “Arise.” Awaken to serious thought. Respond to the call of the Divine Spirit. Call upon God with all the lowliness of humiliation, and in the exercise of a simple faith, of a faith which He will give, of a faith which is even now tendered. And let me remind you that every day spent in the dangerous slumber of sinful indulgence and spiritual ignorance increases the difficulty of your awakening. (George Fisk, LL. D.)
Arousing voice to moral sleepers
Three practical appeals to the morally indifferent are suggested.
I. Jonah was in imminent peril; so are you. What are the perils of the material shipwreck to the perils of a corrupt and disobedient soul?
II. Jonah was unconscious of his peril; so are you. You say to yourself, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” If you were aware of your position, you would give no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids.
1. Jonah’s unconsciousness was foolish; so is yours. How unwise was the prophet to sleep under such circumstances; he should have been on deck, alert, all ear and eye, and with hands ready to grapple with the emergencies of the terrible hour.
2. Jonah’s unconsciousness was wicked; so is yours. For the sake of his companions on board he ought not to have been fast asleep it indicated a shameful lack of interest in his fellow-men. Your indifferentism is wicked. You ought to be spiritually alive and awake, not only for your own sake, but also for those around you who are in similar peril.
III. Jonah had a messenger to warn him of his peril; so have you. There are certain points of analogy between this “shipmaster” and the godly ministers that are warning you.
1. He believed in the existence and power of God; so do they. “Call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us.”
2. He believed in the efficacy of human prayer; so do they. What soul does not pray when in conscious contact with overwhelming dangers? Your ministers believe in prayer; they pray for you, and urge you to pray for yourselves.
3. He believed it to be his duty to sound the warning; so do they. Your ministers have a right to warn you; they are bound to warn you. They are commanded to “cry aloud, to lift up their voices like a trumpet.” Do you say, when godly men speak to you about your moral condition, What business have they to interfere? My soul is my own; if I choose to throw it away, what matters it to them? It does matter to them. You are not your own, you are not an isolated unit, you are a member of the spiritual universe; you have therefore no right to be dishonest, corrupt, ungodly, and throw your soul away. You were made to serve the universe, not to curse it; you cannot sin without injuring others. (Homilist.)
An alarm to the careless
Observe the goodness and mercy of God. He would not punish without a warning, and affording opportunity to forsake their sin and turn unto Him. Jonah was to warn Nineveh, but instead of obeying he fled, hoping to hide himself from the eye of the Almighty. Consider Jonah as representing the state of the great bulk of mankind, the state of every unconverted sinner.
I. The expostulation. “What meanest thou, O sleeper?” Sleep implies a state--
1. Of insensibility. Jonah has no sense and feeling of his desperate condition. Sinners are dreaming, they are fast asleep.
2. Of insecurity. No one is more defenceless than he who is asleep. He is exposed to every danger, without anything wherewith to shield him. Just such is the state of the case with every impenitent sinner.
3. Of inactivity. Notwithstanding all the evils to which Jonah is exposed, he makes not one effort to escape. He is fast asleep. So is it with the souls of the unregenerate.
4. Of inability. What can a man that is asleep do to preserve himself, to save his property, or protect his life? The sinner cannot rescue himself from danger.
II. The advice. Open thine eyes, and see thy danger. Look, and behold the remedy. “Call upon thy God.” Prayer is a haven to a shipwrecked mariner; an anchor to them that are sinking in the waves; a staff to the limbs that totter; a mine of jewels to the poor; a security to the rich; a healer of diseases, and a guardian of health; prayer at once secures the continuance of our blessings, and dissipates the cloud of our calamities.
III. The. Encouragement. “If so be that God will think upon us that we perish not.” It may be that God will hear us. At least we can try. Such was the encouragement which the shipmaster held out. We can add more to this. Our God can and will hear and answer prayer. He is “thy God.” Address--
1. The careless sinner.
2. Those who are beginning to awake to a sense of their awful condition.
3. Those who have complied with the advice given. (Robert Simpson, M. A.)
The awakening influence of light
A young lady was carried to the hospital of St. Lazare in a sleep that had continued for a week. All the chemical and medical appliances had been used, and yet she slumbered. There was an expert among these French doctors that awoke her. The last resource! On the cones of the eyes that have dropped into insensibility is light. He focussed into the eyeball of the sleeper the rays of the sun. Hardly had the concentrated ray touched the eyeball when she awoke. Is it in sight of this physical principle that Paul uttered without knowing it, or is it not a marvellous testimony to God’s Holy Spirit and His guiding when he says that the last resource for the slumber, even of death, is Christ’s light,? When Christ shines into your soul you can’t slumber. (John Robertson.)
A troublesome cabin passenger
I know a shoal upon which I have seen several vessels come to ruin, but upon which I have never seen the remains of any two ships at the same time. It has been remarked that as long as the mast of a sunken wreck was to be seen above the water, another vessel was never known to strike on that bank. But it is seldom that that place is without its mournful beacon. As one ship thus becomes a beacon to another, so, in the voyage of life, one man’s faults and failings should become warnings to all the rest. God has given us many such beacons by the way; for the very fails and weaknesses of His people are made to subserve our highest good. The rock of disobedience, upon which Jonah split, is one of the most dangerous. Some who have grounded thus have managed to get off again into deep water, but it has always done them permanent injury, and has maimed them for the rest of the voyage. Jonah never did much after this misfortune. We see in Jonah a type of many round us, both in the Church and in the world.
I. Indolence in the midst of activity. “He lay.” Ease--rest--to be down in the sides of the ship, fast asleep in the bunks of formality and carnal ease, is the fullest realisation of the ordinary professor’s dreams. Respectable Jonahs are the curse of our churches.
II. Unconcern in the midst of danger. Men sleep on the very verge of eternal ruin. How is it possible to describe the sad condition of those who “will not” be aroused by all the Gospel admonitions which from time to time they hear?
III. Detection in the midst of flight. Jonah little dreamed, when he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, that the Lord was marking his every step. God knows us through all our disguises. We must all “appear before the judgment-seat of Christ,” and He who is to be your Judge has watched all your doings right throughout. (W. H. Burton.)
Of the dispositions becoming men in the times of very threatening and impending danger
1. That apprehensions of the displeasure and vengeance of God, on account of sin, are apt to arise in all ingenuous minds in times of very threatening and impending danger.
2. That notwithstanding there is a just foundation laid in the human mind, for apprehensions of this sort, in a state of distress, or great danger, yet many of those who are most criminal and guilty are, in such a situation, quite unaffected and secure.
3. That a sense of the displeasure of God, manifested in present or apparently approaching calamities, would naturally excite and urge men to devotion, humiliation, and repentance. (J. Orr, D. D.)
The history of Jonah
Jonah is justly no favourite with us, though conspicuously a prophet of the Lord. Hardly one prophet’s name is pronounced with so little respect. He was a real saint, with too much of the remaining elements of a sinner. His conduct on receiving his commission does appear very strange. We must accept his own explanation, given in chapter 4., which seems to amount to this,--he felt in danger of being disgraced as a prophet, the denunciation being to be uttered in positive, not conditional, terms. How abominably considerations of self may interfere with obedience to God! The purpose of his voyage betrays a most unworthy conception of the Divine Being, whatever was exactly the prophet’s notion. He may have been under the influence of a notion, that God maintained a peculiar jurisdiction over Judea, and a less absolute one beyond; though he knew that it must extend, with awful authority at least to Nineveh. He may have thought that, if he went far enough away, God would do without him, and appoint some other agent. He slept, but it is not wise to sleep in guilt. The God that is disobeyed on land can make the sea avenge Him. There is no situation more pitiable than that of a religious man who has disabled himself to take the benefit of his religion. Jonah’s associates had various gods, but they could all pray earnestly to their objects of adoration. He could not; he who knew the real Lord of the land and the ocean. There must soon have been manifested some peculiarity of circumstances in the storm, indicating that it was of a nature extraordinary and judicial. The mariners referred it to the avenging power to point out the criminal by “casting lots.” There follows the decision of the lot, a Series of questions and expostulations. Jonah’s answers were perfectly explicit. The honesty he showed made the mariners think it best to inquire of himself what they should do to him. His ready, explicit answer and self-devotement, no doubt, made them much more reluctant to do what he directed them, it would strike them as generous and heroic. They rowed hard. But the necessity became imperative at length. Jonah was sacrificed, but he was a willing sacrifice. Think of the prophet in his living tomb. The “belly of hell,” that is, the grave. Short of death, is it possible to conceive so strange a transition of state and feelings? By degrees the amazing fact that he did really live, and continue to live, would bring him to the distinct sense of a miraculous and protective Providence over him. Every moment would add strength to his impression of the Divine presence, and he came at length to a state of thought and faith and hope capable of prayer. What is given as the prophet’s prayer is doubtless the brief recollection, afterwards recorded’ of the kind of thoughts which had filled his mind during his dark sojourn, with the addition of some pious and grateful sentiments caused by the review. The final result of these mental exercises no doubt was a full consent of his will, that He who had sent him hither should send him anywhere else He pleased, even to Nineveh. Our Lord declares all this to be a type of Him. We may trace the analogy in the being consigned to the deep, and to the grave, in order that others might be saved;--the duration of time the same in the dark retirement;--the coming to light and life again, for the reformation of mankind. (Hercules was fabled to have had the same three days in a fish.) We follow Jonah to Nineveh, and there leave him, It does not appear that he showed any “signs and wonders.” There was a speedy humiliation and repentance, to which God graciously responded, but at which Jonah was angry. (John Foster.)
The sleep of Jonah, and the sleep of Christ
(taken with Matthew 8:24):--Our Lord has taught us to associate His name with that of Jonah. Christ taught us how to find high teachings in that which is outwardly mean and insignificant. We may be permitted to observe an incidental resemblance between them, which appears to be fruitful of suggestion. There is a study for us here, in this sleep of Jonah and this sleep of Christ.
1. The physical conditions of human life are the same in all cases,--in the case of the good and of the bad. There is one law which makes sleep a necessity for all. In both these cases the immediate cause of sleep was bodily weariness and exhaustion. One had toiled in glad fulfilment of a ministry of love and sorrow; the other had angrily refused to obey the voice of the Lord. But both slept. Thus we see the check which the universal and mysterious law of sleep puts upon every form of human activity. This limitation of bodily energy puts its restraint on human wickedness. It enforces a perpetually recurring pause in the activities of the sinful, the thoughtless, the worldly. But we sometimes cry that the activities of the noble and the good should thus be stopped. Alas! that these must lay aside so often and so soon their toils, their consecrated tasks, their questionings, their search for truth. In discouragement and distress the Christian man at times longs for some exemption from the general law. But we may take heart again when we see Christ asleep. He sleeps, and His work stands still.
2. There are instances of peril in which physical causes conduce to the absence of alarm, both in the case of good men and bad. Jonah, fast asleep, was as untroubled by the threatening fury of the storm as Christ Himself. Sometimes the vigour and robustness of a man’s bodily constitution contribute largely to indifference to dangers, which, if he regarded them, might fill him with dismay. Here is a physical cause largely helping to make a man altogether indifferent to the awful peril of irreligion. Often, when the time to die comes, the avenues of the soul seem to close up; the powers of expression fail; the whole man sinks into a lethargy and unconsciousness, in which he finally passes away. It is so with the good and bad, the prepared and unprepared.
3. This sleep of Jonah and sleep of Christ are indicative of two widely different spiritual conditions and processes issuing in strikingly similar results. We do not wonder that Christ should calmly resign Himself to sleep without apprehension or consciousness of peril. He knew that He was in the Father’s hands. But how could Jonah sleep, whatever his weariness, in the very act of such unfaithfulness to God? In both instances the spiritual condition may have contributed to the soundness of the sleep and the consequent unconsciousness of danger. With what thought Jonah went to sleep we are not told. In proportion to the success which Jonah had in quieting conscience would be the ease with which he would drop off to sleep and the probable soundness of his slumber. There was no uneasiness at the heart of Christ, and so He slept. There was not uneasiness enough at the heart of Jonah to keep him awake, and so he slept also. Misery comes to men in gusts; it is not the permanent condition of life’s atmosphere to any one. If a man refuse to be a Christian it by no means follows that he will live in a state of perpetual excitement and alarm. We almost wonder how it is that God lets men thus sleep on. It is not God’s plan to compel men to His service. He never so speaks that we may not refuse to answer. He never so compels us to attend that we may not settle ourselves to sleep again. But the time of awaking comes. In most Christian congregations it may be there are some who are suffering from the pangs of an awakened conscience. For such Christ waits with infinite compassion and concern. But the probability is that the condition of the majority of those who habitually listen to Christian preaching is like that of the ten virgins, of whom Christ speaks in His parable. “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” We slumber and sleep. Is it because we are finding our rest in reconciliation with God, or because we have dismissed the thought of God, and comforted ourselves with an opiate? (Thomas Stephenson.)
Call upon thy God.--
Terrors of conscience
1. How natural it is to mankind to fly to God and to call upon Him in seasons of distress. If nature, dark and doubtful, and trembling with a sense of guilt, can yet fly to the Almighty and call upon Him, shall we, who are enlightened by grace, be careless and indifferent about this high privilege of drawing near to God in prayer? Shall we, as long as we can find any earthly satisfaction and enjoyment, give them the preference to God; think much of them, and little or never of Him? Who that has a real concern for his own welfare and happiness will not perpetually call upon God?
2. The folly of contending with God. He sent the prophet one way; but because this prophet liked not the errand that he was charged with, he endeavoured to go quite a contrary way. The folly of such an attempt we are all ready to acknowledge; but are all, who would not hesitate or doubt to pass sentence upon Jonah, free from this very folly? Jonah disobeyed an express order of God; and in doing so somehow satisfied himself that an all-discerning Eye would not see perverseness in him, nor an almighty Hand reach him in his flight. Do not thousands practise the same deceit upon themselves?
3. Conscience hath its power and authority and terrors derived from God; with which it will surround the sinner in the day of trouble, forcing him to confess and acknowledge his guilt.
4. These terrors of conscience, if they seize the sinner in due time, are most blessed and desirable. For the most unhappy of all conditions is security in sin, without any feeling or apprehensions of danger from it. But an humble and contrite heart, confessing its unworthiness, bewailing its sins, fully sensible of its own inability to rid itself of this burden, is in the fit and only fit disposition to return to God: such a soul is not far from salvation. 5, The Almighty, who bringeth good out of evil, ordained that Jonah should set forth a type or sign of the burial and resurrection of Christ. (T. Townson, D. D.)
Natural religion--its strength and weakness
The pilot not only rebuked the prophet, he had a proposal to make to him. “Arise, call upon thy God.” And he backs his proposal by a reason, a motive, an expectation of benefit. “If so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.” All this, as coming from a heathen, is peculiarly instructive. The two great truths conveyed are these.
1. That in man’s inmost nature, originally and radically, there are certain principles of religion most strong and ineradicable.
2. That these, without the guidance of revelation and faith, are altogether insufficient as guides in his real relation to God. Man’s natural helplessness, and his natural conscience, necessarily imply a capacity for religion and a certain religiousness, appertaining, of necessity, to human nature, and developed, in peculiar strength, even in heathen worship. In the progress of modern civilisation man may emancipate himself from the solemn awe with which the heathen contemplate the powers of nature, but if he rise not to a holy veneration of the one Supreme Author of nature, as a revealed and reconciled God, it is very questionable whether he does not become in some respects a more shallow and trifling being than the worshipper of idols. We might very easily maintain and prove the assertion, that godless men, in the days and in the state of society in which we live, are more thoroughly irreligious than the heathen are: that covetousness, which is idolatry, is more contemptible than the worship of stocks and stones. Two facts conspire to make man naturally and necessarily a religious being.
1. His observation of the powers of nature.
2. His experience of the powers of conscience.
I. What can natural religion do for us? What is it that reason, unenlightened by the Word and Spirit of God, can do towards furnishing man with a religion?
1. It may tell us that there is a God, that God is one. The existence and the unity of God may be proved by reason. These heathen mariners had many gods. Jonah, they took for granted, would have a God too. The whole herd of inferior deities whom the heathen worshipped were only so many sectional representatives of a portion of the powers believed to reside in a God, to whom might fairly be given, even by reason, the lofty designation, “God over all.” The wisdom, power, and goodness which man sees to be requisite for creating, preserving, and controlling the visible universe, are felt to be unbounded, infinite. One such Infinite Being is felt to be necessary to account for things as they are. But not more than one is felt to be necessary. Indeed, more than one such Infinite Being, possessing all knowledge and power, is felt to be impossible. The same result follows from our connection with the moral world. Conscience tells of a Ruler and Judge, but only of one.
2. Reason, fairly interpreted, assures us that this God is a Being capable of intercourse with His creatures. The creation of an intelligent Being is manifestly the work of a Being who Himself is intelligent. Hence reason itself demonstrates the possibility of a revelation from God, and of the possibility and efficacy of prayer.
II. Reason’s limit, and reason’s weakness.
1. Reason knows that God exists, but it does not know God. We need revelation to make us acquainted with Him. You never really know any person merely by discovering his intellectual or scientific abilities. You never do know a neighbour save by knowing his moral character and his heart.
2. Reason tells us that prayer is possible, yea reasonable, but revelation alone puts us in possession of the terms on which God actually hears prayer,--puts us in a condition actually to pray. Reason, therefore, without revelation, is sure fatally to err; and whether in ancient paganisms or in modern rationalisms, which are heathenisms, or in popery, or in nominal, formal Christianity, the error at bottom is identically one and the same. (Hugh Martin, M. A.)
Let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us.
Conditions to be observed in casting lots
1. We must never fall to lottery but when necessity enforceth us: all other lawful means must be first assayed.
2. We must use great reverence and religiousness in the action. Holy things must be done in a holy manner.
3. We must avoid impiety and idolatry therein, ascribing the event of our wishes neither to the stars nor to any other celestial body, which cannot want the ingestion and intermeddling of devils.
4. We must not apply the oracles of God in His sacred Scriptures to our earthly, temporary, and transitory losses.
5. The ends of our lots must be respected; the honour of God, as the moderator of all such ambiguities; the furnishing of His Church, if two or more be fit, with the fitter; the preserving of justice; the avoidance of greater mischiefs.
6. We must eschew all fraud and deceit in permitting our causes to heavenly arbitrament. (Bishop John King.)
In the proposal of the sailors, though superstition seems to have dictated it, I perceive an implied recognition of the agency of God in the storm. They considered their present distress as a visitation from God. And in this they judged truly. Storms do take place under the direction of Divine providence. I perceive, further, the operation of natural conscience in these heathen men; for they believe not only that it was God who sent the storm, but that the storm was the evident token of His displeasure on account of sin. Sin indeed is the great cause of all the evils with which mankind are afflicted. The conscience of the sinner may at other times be lulled into a false peace, but the pressure of great calamity, or the fear of its approach, rouses it from its slumber. In this case, the conscience of these heathen, though not enlightened by revelation, accused them. There is, however, no direct evidence that these mariners were impressed, severally, each with a conviction of his own sins in particular. Every man looked away from himself, as if he were blameless, and turned his thoughts towards some other of the company as the guilty cause of the storm which threatened their destruction. Besides, they were ill-informed respecting the administration of Divine providence towards sinners in this present world. They seem to have thought that the sufferings which befall men in this life are in exact proportion to the measure of their iniquities. This was the error of Job’s friends. The sailors considered the storm as a special visitation inflicted because of some more than ordinarily aggravated transgression, committed by some unknown individual among them. So they appealed to God by lot, in order to discover the Guilty person. The whole business of the sailors casting lots must be ascribed to their ignorance and superstition. We should err were we to judge of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of actions merely by their event; and God is often pleased to employ for His purposes the ignorance and folly of men. (James Peddie, D. D.)
And the lot fell upon Jonah.
Finding the guilty one
God will certainly find out the Jonah that causeth the storm. The guilty person shall not always go undiscovered.
I. Persons under guilt may go a long time undiscovered. Some men’s hidden works of darkness are sooner brought to light than others.
II. Some men’s sins are not discovered until they come to the great reckoning, the great audit day. “Some men’s sins are open beforehand to judgment, and some men they follow after.” Then the hidden things of darkness that escape discovery now will all be brought to light; and what if you he hid here, this will but harden you: whereas a discovery might be a means to awaken you and bring you to repentance.
III. Some men’s guilt comes under more dreadful aggravations than others. Ordinarily, the more aggravations that men’s sins are clothed with, the sooner will God lay them open to a discovery.
IV. Upon their discovery they either grow worse and are hardened, or they are deeply humbled. Jonah, upon his dis covery, acknowledges and accepts the punishment of his iniquity. Now we inquire, What ways and means doth God take for the discovery of guilty persons?
1. By pursuing them with the terrors of conscience.
2. By sending judgments and afflictions after them.
3. By suffering them to fall into some notorious sin.
4. By giving the guilty person up to some gross and notorious error.
5. By causing the power and authority of the Word to seize upon them and arrest them.
6. By wonderful providences.
7. By bringing them to heart and con science examination.
By such discovery of guilty persons God gets Himself a name. A name for His justice, wisdom, omniscience, omnipresence, and also for His Word and truth. Why will the Lord discover guilt? To bring poor souls to shame, and so to repentance, and all this while He hath a design of love to the soul in the discovery. Because He will have some persons made cautions and examples to others. That the world may know of His displeasure against sin. That the rottenness of many hearts may appear, and they may no longer go on to deceive others. (John Ryther.)
Let sinners conceal themselves as they may, their transgressions will sooner or later assuredly discover them.
I. Sin may be long concealed from the eye of man. There is, indeed, a gracious covering provided for the sins of believers. There is also a charitable concealment to which in many instances we are bound; but this regards the transgressions of others. But there is a covering which is not of God’s Spirit; a concealment by which sinners are encouraged to “add sin to sin.” This is worn sometimes in the form of delusion, and then sinners deceive themselves. At other times they wear their covering in the broad and ostensible form of hypocrisy. Ought every transgression to be avowed, however secret Were it viewed in relation to God we should say absolutely that it is hypocrisy to conceal. What are the cases where, in obedience to the Scripture, we are conscientiously bound to confess our faults, not only to God, but also in the presence of one another?
1. Such disclosure would be necessary when, in exercise of lawful authority, the sinner may be regularly called.
2. Disclosure of secret offences is required where, in their consequences, they may implicate others.
3. The interests of the Divine honour, not unfrequently, may require it. The honour of Divine grace is by such confession promoted.
II. All sins, even the most secret, shall be eventually revealed. Sentence against an evil work is not at all times speedily executed. But delay does not secure final impunity. As there can be no hiding-place to the impenitent, neither shall any species, any degree of transgression escape.
III. There are certain kinds of transgression which the wisdom of the Divine government reveals, and its justice generally avenges, even in our present state of being.
1. The general characters by which such sins are distinguished.
2. God is in no want of instruments for the discovery of the concealed transgressor.
3. For what purposes are these discoveries made?
(1) For the manifestation of the Divine glory.
(2) In mercy to the sinner himself.
(3) To afford us all the most salutary warning. (James Simpson.)
What is thine occupation?
What is thine occupation?
In secular life God intends every man to have an occupation. So too in the Christian life. The world of sin inquires of the Church, “What is thine occupation?” A religion that cannot give a valid reason for existence will and ought to die. God’s calls to duty are all Special calls. So are His calls to us. What is our response? The Church has been sent into this world on a special errand, with a special message; but many of her members are fleeing from duty; many are asleep over a volcano of human hate; are tossed skyward and hellward by the tumultuous waves of social unrest, every lift of the wave bearing them further from duty and Divine destiny. The Church should be a nursery--not a nursery for adults, but for babes. Men and women in the Church should be nursing fathers and nursing mothers. Then “what is your occupation?”(F. A. Swart.)
I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord.
I. The advantage of being born and educated in some countries above others. Consider them both in a natural and in a spiritual sense. Some countries place their inhabitants under serious disabilities. The conditions are most deplorable when men’s bodies draw the yoke of slavery, and minds are destitute of common civility, as well as of all true conceptions concerning God or religion. What then are the natural advantages into which we are born? And how great are the spiritual advantages?
II. The greatest happiness men can receive doth arise from their being numbered among those people who fear the Lord. This happiness is best demonstrated by comparison with the enjoyments of other people and nations. That this happiness may abide for ever with us, we are obliged--
1. To keep up a friendly society and correspondence with all men.
2. We are more particularly engaged to love and help one another, as fellow-countrymen. (John Hartcliffe, M. A.)
The confession and its sequel
Here is Jonah at the bar of inquiry. Conscience brings every man there. There is a present judgment-seat as well as a future. Observe--
1. The interrogators. Heathen sailors.
2. The prisoner at the bar. A prophet of Israel. A degrading position to be in.
3. The investigation. It was kind, considerate, circumstantial.
The verse 9 sets forth the elicited confession., Confession is a relief, a necessity, and a Divine condition of forgiveness: Here it was ingenious, contrite, humiliating, God-honouring. Verse 10 suggests that God’s terribleness, as seen in His judgments on sin, inspires the greatest terror. This prompts to earnest inquiry. Verses 11-15 set forth the humanity of the jeopardised heathen crew and the self-sentencing of Jonah. Their conduct shows great caution, tenderness, sympathy, moral change. There was earnest prayer; reluctance to touch God’s anointed; recognition of the Divine Sovereignty. The self-sentencing of Jonah was the result of conscious demerit. Learn--
1. That no sinner visited with Divine judgments is justified in taking his own life.
2. When God intends to execute judgments.
3. That in executing sentence against transgressors we should be certified it is in harmony with the will of God. Verse 16 indicates the moral effects of the whole phenomena on the sailors. They feared, sacrificed, vowed.
Verse 17 sets forth justice attempered by mercy through miracle. Learn that--
1. Irrational creatures, as well as inanimate creation, are subject to Divine control.
2. That we may alight on the mercy of God at the most unexpected hour and in the most unlikely place.
3. That partial deliverance is Divinely intended to exercise and develop faith.
4. That salvation shall be wrought for the penitent if it necessitate a departure from the ordinary course of things. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
It is certain that in all general adversities God has some purpose to accomplish with all those that suffer. But it is no less true that individual persons may be particularly aimed at. A few years ago the great steamship Austria, crowded with emigrants, was burned far out at sea, and only a few of the passengers were saved. Of these some after wards published reports of the terrible event. One thrilling narrative was from the pen of a young man who had sunk very low in debauchery, frivolity, and scorn of all higher things. And this is what he said of himself: “I do not understand the ways of the Eternal; but I do know this, that it needed a terrible catastrophe to awaken me from my deathlike sleep. Nothing less than such awful event would have driven me from the path of ruin; and in the midst of all the frightful agony of the scene, an inward voice seemed to say to me, ‘This is all for your sake, that your soul may be dragged from destruction.’” So also a Prussian musketeer who on the battlefield of Sadowa had both his legs shot off, said to me, “I can never reveal my sins to any human being; but believe me, that only in that way could I be plucked as a brand from the burning. As far as I am concerned, I know why the war had to come.” (Pastor Funcke.)
The penitence of the prophet of Gath-hepher
This is the first clear indication of a return on the part of the prophet to a proper state of feeling. His confession did not necessarily imply this.
I. The request of Jonah. “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea.” These words imply--
1. A conviction of the folly of attempting to resist God’s will. It may be said that this none will dispute. In words, indeed, many may admit this, but in their practice they contradict it. Every disobedient sinner imagines that he can secure his happiness not only independently of God, but in opposition to what He hath revealed or what He can do.
2. An expression of his readiness to endure the chastisement due to his transgression. It is one thing to acknowledge our guilt and desert of punishment, and another practically to acquiesce in that punishment when it is about to be inflicted. It is a much more difficult thing, and much more indicative of true penitence, patiently to bear affliction than actively to perform duty. Jonah pronounces on himself the appalling sentence, that he should be cast into the sea.
3. An expression of his readiness to submit, not only as respected the matter of the punishment, but the manner of it. Though Jonah passed sentence on himself, he did not propose that he should himself carry it into effect. Self-destruction is in no case justifiable.
4. The expression of his satisfaction that the innocent should escape, though he might suffer.
II. The conduct of the mariners. It might have been expected that they would follow Jonah’s advice. They did not at once. Notice--
1. The benevolence of their exertions.
2. The inefficacy of their exertions.
Learn the obstructions which sin presents to our efforts for the good of others. (R. Brodie, A. M.)
Settling the storm
Trace an analogy between the experience of these ancient mariners and that of those who are “led by the Spirit of God” to accept salvation through the death of Christ. “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.” It will be interesting to trace the steps by which this consummation was reached.
I. True spiritual religion is divine in its origin. Some of us began life very much as these sailors commenced their voyage. Every prospect seemed bright. So easily we persuaded ourselves to rest. Jonah learned in the belly of the fish that “salvation is of the Lord.” This at a stroke removes--
1. Inherent goodness.
2. Inherited grace.
3. Imparted sanctity.
As this spiritual religion is Divine in its origin, so it is--
II. irresistible in its operation. When God said, “Let light be!” light was, and nothing could resist His decree. And so it is in the new creation. What could these sailors do against the “mighty tempest” which threatened to dash their ship in pieces? Men may encase themselves in pride, carnal reason, prejudice, unbelief, but the Word of God is “quick and powerful.”
III. absolute its requirements. “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea.” That was God’s way of giving calm and rest. See the ways the mariners tried.
1. They began to be religious.
2. They tried to lighten the vessel.
3. They rowed hard to get to land.
“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of your selves: it is the gift of God.” Accept God’s method.
IV. blessed in its results. This is precisely the way in which God works in grace.
1. Peace through faith.
2. Piety with peace.
3. Profession with piety. (W. H. Burton.)
Let us not fail to admire all that was admirable in the conduct of this heathen crew. A nobler ship’s company was never gathered together. No human voice cried across the deck of the labouring vessel that the man who pronounced this sentence upon himself must be taken at his word. With a humane self-restraint which did them infinite honour the sailors set to work at an attempt to save themselves without sacrificing their passenger: and it was not until that attempt had completely and manifestly failed that they reluctantly and reverently consigned him to the deep.
I. The noble attempt of the sailors.
1. Notice the toil it involved on behalf of a stranger.
2. The risk to which it exposed them for the sake of one who had occasioned them loss.
3. It was a noble motive which prompted these men to make this attempt to save the prophet’s life. They desired to show their sense of Jonah’s own demeanour in relation to themselves, and to make a suitable response to it.
4. The failure of their attempt by no means detracts from the nobility of their conduct. It does not follow that they had nothing but their labour for their pains. They were morally the better for the purpose they had cherished of saving the prophet, and for the effort they had made to accomplish their purpose.
II. Consigning Jonah to the sea. They handled the prophet as tenderly as the circumstances permitted. Look at the prayer these men offered before they put Jonah into the sea.
1. The prayer is replete with interest to those who regard it with attention. It was a prayer addressed to the true God by these heathen for the first time. It was a very earnest prayer. It was a prayer for their own preservation. It was a prayer for the prophet.
2. The reply to the prayer. “The sea ceased from her raging.” This was a miracle. Miracles were signs. This was “a sign that Jonah was indeed a prophet of the Lord. A sign that Jehovah is the ruler of the sea. And a sign that God hears and answers prayer. (Samuel Clift Burn.)
Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land.
The unavailing efforts of these oarsmen have a counter-part--
1. In the efforts we are making to bring souls to the shore of safety, and set their feet on the Rock of Ages.
2. In the efforts we are making to bring this world back to God, His pardon, and safety. If this world could have been saved by human effort, it would have been saved long ago.
3. In every man that is trying to row his own soul into safety. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
The crux of the miracle
The real miracle was that Jonah should survive so long in his strange prison. “That violates the laws of nature.” But let us once understand Christ’s profound saying about a Father who “worketh hitherto” (John 5:17), that is, who has never taken His hand from off the thing which He has created, but is ceaselessly active and operative in His creation. Once let us understand that all force, in the last reach of our thought, is with force, and that the forces of nature are only the many-sided puttings forth of that force of the will of God, outspoken and expressed in that Word of His power by which He upholdeth all things. Once understand that there are no “laws of nature” to be violated, except the rules which He has laid down for His own ordinary and orderly action in governing His world. Once let it be seen that whilst for our sakes it is generally best and happiest that He should keep to His own rules, and should very seldom indeed do in any way differently, yet He is at perfect liberty to choose whether He will keep to His ordinary and orderly plan, or for some special reason will in any particular instance turn aside. Then, if there is as good evidence for the fact as the case admits of, and, above all, if plainly there is good reason for the fact, we may as reasonably fred no more difficulty in the miracle than in the general providence. What is ordinary is of God, just as much as the extraordinary. The natural is of God, as much as the supernatural. Once more it may be said that if our eyes were not too much the eyes of the children, we should see that the wonder is the orderly, reliable, age-long, ordinary providence, rather than the special thing, done just once, to meet an emergency for which the ordinary rule and method did not sufficiently provide. And the special is not an after-thought. It is provided for in the whole great plan of the Worker. It is one of His rules. It quite as much needed God to keep Jonah alive year after year in the atmosphere and upon the earth, as to keep him alive for three days within the body of the great fish. (H. J. Foster.)
The miracle of the whale
No miracle has been more frequently quoted, or more severely scrutinised.
I. Establish such principles as will warrant the fact.
1. There are some things of which even the Divine power is incapable. Things inconsistent or contradictory cannot be asserted of God.
2. There are other instances in which the Divine power may be easily supposed to interfere for the suspension or even contradiction of those laws which God hath given to a material world.
3. Besides these parts of creation with which we are in some measure acquainted, there are, doubtless, many others of which we remain totally ignorant. The infinitude of the Divine power is the basis on which this observation is built.
II. Consider the particular difficulties with which it has been thought this miracle was attended.
1. The act of deglutition.
2. The difficulty of respiration in the body of a fish.
3. The impossibility of resisting for so long the digestive powers of so huge an animal.
III. There were designs to serve which were worthy of such interposition.
1. It was of important advantage to the prophet.
2. It was of vast importance to the mariners.
3. It was of vast advantage, we may believe, to the people of Nineveh.
4. It was of the utmost importance if you consider it in its relations to the promised Messiah.
5. The sign of Jonas is intended for standing use to the Church, to the end of the world. (James Simpson.)
The miracle of the great fish
Strauss said, “He who will rid the world of priests, must first rid religion from miracles.” But the Christian religion stands or falls with the supernatural. A man may believe in a living God who works miracles, and yet hesitate and recoil at the extraordinary one which is narrated in the history of Jonah. No one will say that every man who believes that God can work miracles is bound to accept implicitly every miraculous event described in the Bible as having really happened, and as being the work of God. Let no one think that he is not a Christian because he must hesitate about the literal interpretation of this miracle of the “great fish.” Instead of adopting any artificial interpretation of this miracle, it would be better to suspend our judgment, and acknowledge that we cannot come to any conclusion about it. At any rate there is only the choice between saying that the whole history of Jonah is a parable, or an allegory, including the preaching in Nineveh, and saying that every event in it is related as an actual occurrence. To suppose that Jonah fell into a “mysterious hiding-place” is only to set aside the biblical miracle, and put another and more wonderful one in its place. We seek an answer to the general question, whether it is so wonderful a thing to believe that God works miracles: or whether, on the contrary, the belief that He must and does do so, is not founded on the very being of God, and on His relations with men. If we arrive at that decision, the question of the miracle by which Jonah was saved will be settled. A God without miracles would be the greatest miracle of all. If we have not a God who works miracles, we have no living God; and if no living God who communicates with men, then no God at all. Whoever knows anything of the living God, cannot possibly think that God has tied His own hands, once for all, with laws of nature. The rank and privilege of man demands Divine miracles. God must work for us in extraordinary and exceptional ways, or we could neither fear nor love Him, and He would soon be indifferent to us. (Otto Funcke.)
I. An ordinary event in the providence of God. It was not a miracle that a large fish should swallow Jonah. Instances have been known in which sharks have swallowed men.
II. What may be called a special providence of God. A remarkable coincidence of ordinary providences leading to some important result we generally regard as a special providence.
III. We have a miraculous providence of God. That the prophet should have lived in the fish was a miracle. And the miracle is the more striking because conscious ness continued. Learn--
1. That there is no way out of a plain duty except through chastisement.
2. That the place of prayer can neither add to nor take from the value of prayer.
3. That the inferior creatures may become instruments of moral instruction to man.
4. That the fish was honoured by being thus brought into the plan of God for Jonah’s recovery to the way of duty. Consider--
(1) The object and design of the miracle.
(2) The Disposer and Ruler of the action. “The Lord.”
(3) The manner of doing it. “The Lord prepared.”
(4) The instrument. “A great fish.”
(5) The end of its preparation. To swallow up Jonah.
(6) The time during which Jonah continued in the fish. “Three days and three nights.” (Outlines by a London Minister.)
Jonah in the sea
Mercy and truth, or an innate tendency towards kindness, and an essential love of rectitude form the most prominent features of the revealed character of God. A God all mercy would be a God unjust. The demands of justice were rigorously exacted, and the prophet was hurled into the deep. Why such severity? Jonah had sinned presumptuously against God, and he must bear the penalty. In this phase of Jonah’s experience, which we now consider, we find “mercy rejoicing against judgment.”
I. The prophet’s imprisonment. Note--
1. The singularity of the mode of imprisonment; the agency of God in preparing the prophet’s cell. On the supposition that Jonah retained his consciousness when cast into the mighty deep, it must have been with emotions of indescribable horror that he saw the jaws of this marine monster expanding to receive him.
2. The term of Jonah’s captivity. Explain Jewish reckoning “three days and three nights.”
II. The prophet’s prayer. Jonah retained his consciousness during the term of his imprisonment. Evidently we have only the substance of the prophet’s prayer. Note the evidences which his spiritual exercises furnish of sanctified affliction.
1. The spiritual exercises with which the prophet’s prayer is identified.
2. The conclusion of unbelief. “I am cast out from Thy sight.”
3. The victory of faith. “Yet will I look again towards Thy holy temple.”
4. The ardour of Jonah’s gratitude.
5. His emphatic ascription. “Salvation is of the Lord.” Notice the evidence of spiritual reclamation which the prophet’s prayer supplies. See his altered feeling towards God: the rekindling of the spirit of devotion: the vigorous action of faith. In the expression of his faith Jonah embodied the sentiments of former saints. Jonah was evidently cured of his folly in flying from God.
III. The prophet’s deliverance. This was miraculous in its character. Jonah was conveyed back safely to the Holy Land, and cast upon the dry shore. It was intended to test the sincerity of the prophet’s penitence, to secure the fulfilment and success of his errand, and to typify the mission of Christ. (John Broad.)
A restrained fish
The chapter closeth with the narration of Jonah’s preservation. Though thus pursued by justice in a fish’s belly, where, in a miraculous way, he was kept three days and three nights. Doctrine.
1. When God is pursuing the rebellion of His children in a most severe way, yet doth He not altogether cast off His mercy toward them, but out of the abundance thereof, moderates their affliction: for “the Lord,” pursuing Jonah, “had yet prepared a great fish to swallow him up.”
2. God’s providence over rules and directs the motions of irrational creatures and sea monsters, as pleaseth Him. For “ the Lord had prepared a great fish,” etc., whereas it knew nothing but to range up and down in the sea, and swallow him as any other prey.
3. God may have a mercy and proof of love waiting upon His people, in a time and place where it would be least expected; for Jonah meets a mercy in the heart of a raging sea, into which he is cast in anger, as to be destroyed.
4. Albeit the mercy of God will not destroy His guilty people in their afflictions; yet His wisdom seeth it not fitting at first totally to deliver them, but will have their faith exercised.
5. God can, when He seeth fit, preserve His people from ruin in an incredible and miraculous way. Therefore Jonah is not only swallowed whole by the fish, not being hurt by its teeth; but is preserved in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, where he was in hazard of choking for want of breath, or of being digested by the fish into its own substance. (George Hutcheson.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jonah 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13