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Part I. THE MISSION OF JONAH. HIS DISOBEDIENCE AND PUNISHMENT.
§ 1. Jonah is sent to Nineveh to cry against it; but he tries to avoid the mission, and to this end takes ship to Tarshish.
Now; or, and. Some have argued from this commencement that the Book of Jonah is a fragment, the continuation of a larger work; but it is a common formulary, linking together revelations and histories, and is continually used in the Old Testament at the beginning of independent works; e.g. Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1; 1 Samuel 1:1; Esther 1:1; Ezekiel 1:1. Jonah the son of Amittai (2 Kings 14:25). (See Introduction, § II)
Nineveh, the capital of the kingdom of Assyria, is first mentioned in Genesis 10:11, as founded by Nimrod. It stood on the left bank of the river Tigris, where it is joined by the Khosr, opposite to the present town of Mosul. The Assyrians had already become known in Syria. In B.C. 854 Shal-maneser II. had defeated at Karkar twelve kings confederate against him, among whom is reckoned Ahab King of Israel. Long before his time, Tiglath-Pileser I. had made a great expedition to the west, captured a town at the foot of Lebanon, and reached the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Jehu was compelled to pay tribute to the Assyrians; and Rimmon-nirari, who reigned from B.C. 810 to 781, held the suzerainty of Phoenicia, Samaria, Edom, and Philistia. Jonah, therefore, knew well what his country might expect at the hands of this people. That great city. It is thus called in Jonah 3:2, Jonah 3:3; Jonah 4:11; and the epithet is added here in order to show to Jonah the importance of his mission. The size of Nineveh is variously estimated according to the sense attached to the name "Nineveh." This appellation may be restricted to Nineveh proper, or it may comprise the four cities which lay close together in the immediate neighbourhood of each ether, and whose remains are now known as the mounds of Kouyunjik, on the southwest, directly opposite to Mosul; Nimrud, about eighteen miles to the southeast; Karamless, twelve miles to the north; and Khorsabad, the most northerly, about the same distance both from Karamless and Kouyunjik. Khorsabad, however, was not built till some hundred years after Jonah's time. These cities are contained in an irregular parallelogram of some sixty miles in circumference. The following account of Nineveh proper is derived from Professor Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1:252, etc.: "The ruins consist of two principal mounds, Nebbiyunus and Kouyunjik. The Kouyunjik mound, which lies nearly half a mile northwest of the others, is very much the more considerable of the two. Its shape is an irregular oval, elongated to a point towards the northeast. The surface is nearly flat; the sides slope at a steep angle, and are furrowed with numerous ravines worn in the soft material by the rains of some thirty centuries. The greatest height above the plain is ninety feet, and the area is estimated at a hundred acres. It is an artificial eminence, computed to contain 14,500,000 tons of earth, and on it were erected the palaces and temples of the Assyrian monarchs. The mound of Nebbi-yunus is at its base nearly triangular, and covers an area of nearly forty acres. It is loftier, and its sides are more precipitous than Kouyunjik, especially on the west, where it abutted on the wall of the city. The mass of earth is calculated at six and a half millions of tons. These two vast mounds are both in the same line, and abutted on the western wall of the city, which was some two and a half miles in length. Anciently it seems to have immediately overhung the Tigris, but the river has now receded to the west, leaving a plain of nearly a mile in width between its bank and the old rampart which evidently once followed the course of the river bank. The western wall is joined at fight angles by the northern rampart which runs in a straight line for seven thousand feet. At its other extremity the western wall forms a very obtuse angle with the southern, which impends over a deep ravine, and runs in a straight line for about a thousand yards, when it meets the eastern wall, which is the longest and the least regular of the four. The entire length of this side is sixteen thousand feet, or above three miles. It is divided into two portions by. the Stream of the Khosr-su; which, coming from the northwest, finds its way through the city and then across the low plain to the Tigris. The town is thus of an oblong shape, and the circuit of its walls is somewhat less than eight miles, and the area which they include is eighteen hundred acres. This, at the computation of something less than one hundred inhabitants per acre, would ascribe to Nineveh a population of one hundred and seventy-five thousand souls" (Rawlinson, 'Anc. Men.,' 1. Jon 1:1-17). Cry against it. The message is given in Jonah 3:4. Thus the knowledge of the true God is made known among the Gentiles. Their wickedness; i.e; as Pusey notes, their evil doing towards others, as in Nahum 3:19 (see Introduction, § I). Is come up before me, and appeals for punishment, as Genesis 4:10; Genesis 18:20, Genesis 18:21; Septuagint, Ἀνέβη ἡ κραυγή τῆς κακίας αὐτής πρὸς μέ, "The cry of its wickedness is come up unto me."
Tarshish; probably, Tartessus, a Phoenician city on the south coast of Spain, and therefore in the opposite direction to Nineveh. He was sent to the far east; he flees to the distant west. From the presence of the Lord; literally, from the face of Jehovah. This may mean, from God s special presence in Jerusalem or the Holy Land, as banishment from Cannaan is called "casting out of his sight" (2Ki 17:20, 2 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 23:27); or, from serving the Lord as his minister (Deuteronomy 10:8), Jonah preferring to renounce his office as prophet rather than execute his mission. The former seems the most natural explanation of the phrase. Kimchi says that Jonah supposed that the spirit of prophecy would not extend beyond the land of Israel. He could never have thought to escape from God's all-seeing eye. His repugnance to the duty imposed upon him arose partly from national prejudice, which made him loth to interfere in Gentile business, and partly, as he himself says (Jonah 4:2), because he feared God's compassion would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and that thus his prediction would be discredited, and mercy shown to heathens already inimical to Israel, if not known to him as the future conquerors of his people. Joppa. This is the modern Jaffa (called Japho in Joshua 19:46), a town on the seacoast thirty miles in a northwesterly direction from Jerusalem. "Jaffa," says Dr. Thomson, "is one of the oldest cities in the world. It was given to Dan in the distribution of the land by Joshua, and it has been known to history ever since. It owes its existence to the low ledge of rocks which extends into the sea from the extremity of the little cape on which the city stands, and forms a small harbour. Insignificant as it is, and insecure, yet, there being no other on all this coast, it was sufficient to cause a city to spring up around it even in the earliest times, and to sustain its life through numberless changes of dynasties, races, and religions, down to the present hour. It was, in fact, the only harbour of any notoriety possessed by the Jews throughout the greater part of their national existence. To it the timber for both the temples of Jerusalem was brought from Lebanon; and no doubt a lucrative trade in cedar and pine was always carried on through it with the nations who had possession of that goodly mountain. Through it, also, nearly all the foreign commerce of the Jews was conducted, until the artificial pert of Caessarea was built by Herod … . The harbour, howewer, is very inconvenient and insecure. Vessels of any considerable burden must lie out in the open road-stead—a very uneasy berth at all times; and even a moderate wind will oblige them to slip their cables and run out to sea, or seek anchorage at Haifa, sixty miles distant … . The road-stead is liable to sudden and unexpected storms, which stir up a tumultuous sea in a very short time … . The landing also is most inconvenient, and often extremely dangerous. More boats upset, and more lives are lost in the breakers at the north end of the ledge of rocks that defend the inner harbour than anywhere else on this coast." Went down into it; ἀνέβη [ἐνέβη, Alex.] εἰς αὐτό, "went up into it". Went on board; or, as Jerome says, sought a hiding place in the ship (comp. verse 5). With them. With the crew. Jonah had told them (verse 10) that he was flying from God's service, but, knowing and earing nothing about Jehovah, they took him on board when he paid his fare, and thought nothing of his private reasons for joining them
2. Jonah's foolish flight is arrested. In the midst of his fancied security God sends a great storm, and the ship is placed in imminent jeopardy. The crew try all means to save the ship, and at length cast lots to discover by this means for whose sake the tempest has been sent. The lot points out Jonah as the guilty person.
Sent out; Septuagint, ἐξήγειρε, "raised;" literally, cast forth, or hurled, a great wind, like the Euroclydon of Acts 27:14, and what is called nowadays a Levanter. Pusey quotes Josephus's account of the harbour of Joppa and the neighbouring sea, which, he says, is rendered very dangerous by the sudden rise of "the black north wind" ('Bell. Jud.,' 3.9. 3). Here we see wind and storm fulfilling God's word (Psalms 148:8). As Tertullian says—
"Si Dominum in terris fugiens, invenit in undis."
"Flying the Lord on earth, he found him in the sea."
Was like to be broken; literally, thought to be dashed in pieces. Wordsworth contrasts the living consciousness and apprehension of the ship with the lethargy of the prophet now lying fast asleep in the hold (Acts 27:5). Septuagint, ἐκινδύνευε τοῦ συντριβῆναι, "was in danger of being broken up."
The mariners (mallachim). Those who have to do with the salt sea. The word is used by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:9, Ezekiel 27:27, Ezekiel 27:29). Cried every man unto his god. They were either Phoenicians from different localities, or men of various nations; hence the multiplicity of their gods. The heathen are represented throughout the book as devout and sincere according to their lights. They cast forth the wares; Septuagint, ἐκβολὴν ἐποήσαντο τῶν σκευῶν, "cast out the furniture, or wares," as Acts 27:18,Acts 27:19; Vulgate, miserunt vasa. They threw overboard probably both all spare tackling and movables, and the cargo. The freight may have been corn, which was exported in considerable quantifies from Joppa (comp. Ezekiel 27:17), or manufactured articles from Tyre, which were exchanged with Spain for silver and other metals. To lighten it of them; literally, to lighten from against them; i.e. to ease the ship of its burden, or to ease them of their trouble, is Exodus 18:22. The LXX. takes the former interpretation, τοῦ κουφισθῆναι ἀπ αὐτῶν, "that it might be lightened of them;" Vulgate, ut alleviaretur ab eis. The sides of the ship. The innermost parts (interiora, Vulgate) of the ship; τὴν κοίλην; "the hold". Jonah hid himself there before the storm arose. The Hebrew word for "ship" (sephinah) is found nowhere else, and, probably from its derivation (saphan, "to cover"), implies that the vessel was decked. He lay, and was fast asleep; ἐκάθευδε καὶ ἔρεγχε, "was asleep and snoring,"; dormiebat sopore gravi (Vulgate). The word used implies a very deep sleep, as that of Sisera (Judges 4:21) or of the Assyrians (Psalms 76:6). He was fatigued and worn out with mental anxiety, and now being, as he thought, secure, and longing for solitude, he lay down to sleep, unconscious of danger. Contrast this sleep in the storm with that of Christ (Mark 4:38), and that of the apostles who slept for sorrow (Luke 22:45).
The shipmaster; literally, the chief of the ropemen; Vulgate, gubernator; Septuagint, ὁ πρωρεύς, "the look out man." The captain. What meanest thou, O sleeper? How canst thou sleep so soundly when our danger is so imminent? If thou canst help us in no other way, at least ask the aid of Heaven. It was the duty of a prophet of the Lord to take the lead in prayer; but here the prophet's stupor is rebuked by the heathen's faith. Call upon thy God. The sailors' prayers had not been answered, and they arouse Jonah, noting something special about him, perhaps his prophet's dress, or observing that he was an Israelite, and therefore a worshipper of Jehovah, of whose power they had heard. If so be that God will think upon us. They use the word "God" with the article, ha Elohim, as if they had, in spite of their Polytheism, a dim notion of one supreme Deity. Vulgate, Si forte recogitet Deus de nobis; Septuagint, ὅπως διασώση ὁ Θεὸς ἡμᾶς, "that God may save us." From the apparent use, of the Hebrew word (ashath) in Jeremiah 5:28 in the sense of "shining," some translate here, "if perchance God will shine upon us," i.e. be favourable to us. But the meaning given in the Anglican Version is best supported. So the psalmist says, "The Lord thinketh upon me" (Psalms 40:17), implying that God succours and defends him.
Finding the storm still violent, the crew come to the conclusion that it is sent by Heaven in punishment of some crime committed by one on board; and they proceed to cast lots to discover the guilty person. Jonah doubtless had meantime complied with the captain's request, but, as the sailors saw, without visible effect. The belief that temporal calamities are often connected with the presence of culprits, and are sent in judgment, is found in classical authors. Thus Plautus, 'Rudena,' 2:21—
"Pol minume miror, navis si fracta est tibi,
Scelus te et sceleste parta quae vexit bona."
"Little I wonder if the ship is wrecked
Which carries thee and thy ill-gotten wealth."
The misfortune of the Israelites at Ai was consequent on the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:1-26). Let us cast lots. Jerome says here, "The fugitive was taken by lot, not by virtue of the lots, especially of the lots of heathen men, but by the will of him who guided the uncertain lots." For whose cause; Septuagint, τίνος ἕνεκεν. The unusual nature of the tempest showed them that it was sent in judgment. Commentators cite the story of Diagoras told by Cicero ('De Nat. Deor.,' 3.37). The lot fell upon Jonah. Proverbs 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord".
The mariners having, as they supposed, discovered the culprit, proceed calmly to investigate his guilt; amid the roaring of the tempest and the peril that surrounded them, they give him every opportunity of clearing himself or confessing his crime. For whose cause. Some manuscripts of the Hebrew and the Greek omit this clause as unnecessary; but, as Keil remarks, it is not superfluous, the sailors thereby wishing to induce Jonah to confess his guilt with his own mouth. In their excitement they crowd question upon question, asking him about his business, his journey, his country, his parentage. Jerome notes the pregnant brevity of these inquiries, and compares Virgil, 'AEneid,' 8.112, etc.—
"Juvenes, quae causa subegit
Ignotas tentare vias? quo tenditis? inquit.
Qui genus? unde domo? pacemne huc fertis an arma?"
"Warriors, what cause constrained you thus to tempt
A path untrodden? Whither are ye bound?
What is your race? Where dwell ye?
Peace or war, Come ye to bring?"
(Comp. Hom; 'Od.,' 1:170)
What is thine occupation? His occupation, they thought, might have been one to excite the wrath of the gods; or his country and family might have been exposed to the hatred of Heaven; hence the succeeding questions.
I am an Hebrew. This is the name used by foreigners in speaking of Israelites, or by Israelites in speaking of themselves to Gentiles (see Genesis 14:13; Genesis 39:14; Genesis 41:12; Exo 1:16; 1 Samuel 4:6, for the former use; and for the latter, Genesis 40:15; Exodus 2:7; Exodus 3:18). Convinced that God had miraculously pointed him out as the culprit on whose account the storm was sent, and goaded by the stings of conscience, Jonah loses all his previous indecision and spiritual stupor, and in a manly and straightforward way confesses the truth without disguise. The LXX; reading differently, renders, Δοῦλος Κυρίου εἰμὶ ἐγώ, "A servant of Jehovah am I." This makes a tautological statement with the next words, and leaves one of the sailors' questions unanswered. I fear the Lord. I worship, reverence Jehovah, who is not a local deity like the false gods whom you adore, but the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker and Ruler of sea and dry land. So Abraham calls the Lord the God of heaven (Genesis 24:7), and Daniel (Daniel 2:37, Daniel 2:44) uses the same expression (comp. Psalms 96:5; Jeremiah 10:11).
Exceedingly afraid. They understand now the greatness of Jehovah and the terrible risk incurred by one who offends him. There was a widespread acknowledgment of the power of Jehovah among the heathen (see Exodus 15:15; Joshua 5:1; 1 Samuel 4:7; and comp. Judith 5:21). Why hast thou done this? better, What is this that thou hast done? (Genesis 3:13). This is not a question of inquiry, for he had already told them that he had fled from the presence of the Lord; but rather an exclamation of horror and amazement at his folly and sin. That one who worshipped the Almighty Creator should disobey his command seemed to them outrageous and inexcusably criminal. The prophet does not spare himself in giving the history of the transaction. To be thus rebuked by heathen sailors must have added to the poignancy of his remorse. The presence of the Lord (see note on Jonah 1:3).
§ 3. On hearing. Jonah's confession, the sailors appeal to him, as a worshipper of Jehovah, to tell them what to do to him that the storm may cease. He bids them cast him into the sea, which, after some demur and after renewed efforts to escape, they proceed to do. Upon this the storm immediately abates.
What shall we do unto thee? They recognize that the tempest was sent as a judgment on account of Jonah's sin; at the same time, believing him to be a prophet of Jehovah, under whose wrath they were suffering, they ask his advice in this emergency; if it was a crime to receive him, what shall they do to him to expiate the offence and to appease the anger of God? That the sea may be calm unto us; literally, may be silent from upon us, so as no longer to bear down upon us. Wrought, and was tempestuous; literally, was going and was tempestuous; Septuagint, Ἐπορεύετο καὶ ἐξήγειρε μᾶλλον κλύδωνα, "The sea was moving and lifting the surge still more;" Vulgate, ibat et intumescebat. That is, according to the Hebrew idiom, "grew more and more tempestuous" (comp. Exodus 19:19; Proverbs 4:18).
Jonah, brought to a better mind, perhaps divinely inspired, pronounces his own sentence. "I know," he says, "that the fault is mine, and deserves death, therefore take me up, and cast me forth into the sea." He will not he his own executioner, but will patiently bear a death righteously inflicted by others, whoso safety he was endangering by his continued presence.
The generous sailors, however, are loth to execute this sentence on a prophet of the Lord, and make a supreme effort to reach the land, and thus obviate this severe alternative. Rowed hard; literally, digged (Job 24:16; Ezekiel 12:7); Septuagint, παρεβιάζοντο, "used violent efforts." They endeavoured to force their way through the waves with oars, as the use of sails was impracticable. The expression is like the classical phrases, infindere sulcos, scindere freta, arare aquas, and our "to plough the main." To the land; to get them back to land. The wind was off shore, and they had taken down the sails, and tried to row back to the harbour. Τοῦ ἐπιτρέψαι πρὸς τὴν γῆν, "to return to the land". The sea wrought (see note on Jonah 1:11).
They cried unto the Lord. They prayed no longer to their gods, as before (Jonah 1:5), but unto Jehovah, the God of Jonah. Let us not perish for this man's life. Let us not incur death for taking this man's life. They seem to know something of the Noachic law that punished murder (Genesis 9:5, Genesis 9:6). Lay not upon us innocent blood. Charge us not with the guilt of shedding innocent blood (Deuteronomy 21:8). For thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee (1 Samuel 3:18). The whole affair has happened according to thy will. The tempest, the lot, the sentence, are all the working of thy providence. The prophet throughout brings into prominence the contrast between the behaviour of these heathen and his own, and would teach his nation a lesson thereby.
They took up, with a certain reverence. Ceased from her raging; literally, stood from its anger; Septuagint, ἔστη ἐκ τοῦ σάλου αὐτῆς, "stood from its tossing." The sudden cessation of the storm showed that it had been sent on Jonah's account, and that the crew had not sinned by executing the sentence upon him. Usually it takes some time for the swell to cease after the wind has sunk: here there was suddenly a great calm (Matthew 8:26).
Feared the Lord. They recognized the supernatural element in the transaction, and conceived an awe and fed, of Jehovah, who had wrought these wonders Offered a sacrifice unto the Lord. Many commentators think that they sacrificed on reaching shore, as they had thrown the cargo overboard, and would have had no animal to offer. The Chaldee renders accordingly, "They said that they would offer sacrifices." But the text implies that they sacrificed immediately on the cessation of the storm. They may naturally have had some animal on board fit for offering. And made vows. Vowed to make other offerings when it was in their power. Henderson compares Virgil, 'AEneid,' 3.403, etc.—
"Quin, ubi transmissae steterint trans aequora classes
Et positis aris jam vota in litore solves."
"And when thy fleet hath safely crossed the seas,
And, raising altars on the shore, thy vows
Thou shalt perform."
It has been supposed that these sailors embraced Judaism and became proselytes. At any rate, they showed themselves in the light of believers on this occasion.
§ 4. Cast into the sea, Jonah is swallowed alive by a great fish, is whose belly he remains unharmed three days and three nights. Had prepared; Septuagint, προσέταξε, "appointed;" so in Jonah 4:6, Jonah 4:7, Jonah 4:8 (comp. Job 7:3; Daniel 1:10, Daniel 1:11). The fish was not created then and there, but God so ordered it that it should be at the place and should swallow Jonah. The prophet seems, from some expressions in his psalm (Jonah 2:5), to have sunk to the bottom of the sea before he was swallowed by the fish. A great fish; Septuagint, κῆτος (Matthew 12:40). There is nothing in the word to identify the intended animal, and to call it "a whale" is simply a mistranslation. The white shark of the Mediterranean (Carcharias vulgaris), which sometimes measures twenty-five feet in length, has been known to swallow a man whole, and even a horse. This may have been the "great fish" in the text. Was in the belly of the fish. God used the natural agency of the fish, but the preservation of Jonah's life in the animal's belly is plainly supernatural. It is, indeed, analogous to the life of the child in its mother's womb; but it has besides a miraculous element which is unique, unless it was an actual death and revivification, as in the ease of Lazarus. Also God ordained this transaction as a type of the resurrection of Christ. Three days and three nights; i.e; according to Hebrew usage, parts of the days and nights; i.e. one whole day, and parts of the day before and after this. Jonah was released on the third day (comp. Matthew 12:40 with 1 Corinthians 15:4; and Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1). The historical nature of this occurrence is substantiated by Christ's reference to it as a figure of his own burial and resurrection. The antitype confirms the truth of the type. It is not credible that Christ would use a mere legendary tale, with no historical basis, to confirm his most solemn statement concerning the momentous fact of his resurrection.
A city's sin.
By its very nature sin is individual, personal; for it is the estrangement of the spiritual being and life from God. Yet, as men live in communities, and as these communities possess moral qualities and habits determined by the character of the component units, there is such a thing as the sin of a tribe, of a city of a nation. This is more obvious when it is remembered that states are personified in their rulers and representatives, whose words and actions must be taken as those of the community at large. The Scriptures, from the record of the Tower of Babel downwards, exhibit national responsibility as connected with national error and unfaithfulness. Among the lessons of this Book of Jonah, this lesson regarding a nation's moral life and accountability is not the least valuable.
I. A CITY'S SIN IS COMPATIBLE WITH ITS POLITICAL GREATNESS. Nineveh was "that great city." It was situated upon the noble river Tigris; it boasted a splendid and ancient history; it was of enormous extent, being, according to the historians, eighteen leagues in circumference; it had a population reckoned by hundreds of thousands; in short, it was one of the greatest and most famous of the cities of the ancient East, and was the capital of one of the most powerful of kingdoms. Recent discoveries have familiarized us with the civic life of the population of the city of Nineveh. Yet the wickedness of Nineveh was great. Magnitude, population, wealth, luxury, splendour, power,—all are, alas! consistent with forgetfulness of God, and with rebellion against his authority who is King of kings and Lord of all the nations upon earth. How signally was this the case with pagan Rome! And are there not cities in professedly Christian lands, the abodes of power and of pleasure, whose sin cries aloud unto God?
II. A CITY'S SIN IS OFTEN DISREGARDED BY HUMAN OBSERVERS, AND EVEN BY RULERS. The citizens take pride in their "gorgeous palaces," their "solemn temples," in magnificent public works, in stately ceremonies, in all the complicated apparatus of civilization, luxury, refinement, and enjoyment. The men in authority are content if outward order is observed, if regulations of police are respected, if the reports of health are satisfactory, if trade flourishes. But it is often forgotten that beneath this outward show of prosperity there may exist moral corruption and religious indifference, or even defiant infidelity. God may not be glorified; he may be hated and disobeyed. And yet no concern may be awakened, no contrition felt.
III. A CITY'S SIN IS OBSERVED BY THE ALL-SEEING GOD. What graphic language is this, "Their wickedness is come up before me"! Under this old Hebrew idiom a great religious truth is discernible. Nothing escapes the notice of him who searcheth the hearts of the children of men. Not only so. God looks upon the sins of the citizens, not as a statistician or a politician might look. He is grieved with men's irreligion; he is "angry," i.e; "with the wicked every day." We must not attribute to the Deity any emotions which would be unworthy of a human ruler. But it is not derogatory to God, it is honouring him, to think of him as distressed and dissatisfied with human rebellion, and to remember that his regard is that of a wise and righteous Ruler, who is concerned for the spiritual state of those whom he rules for their own good and for his glory.
IV. A CITY'S SIN MUST BE MET BY A RIGHTEOUS TESTIMONY, REBUKE, AND WARNING. It must not be forgotten that men's sins are often attributable to evil example, to common custom, to the force of habit, to forgetfulness and carelessness. For this reason is it needful that the preacher of righteousness should exhibit a just and lofty standard of national and individual virtue; that he should faithfully expose and denounce prevailing errors, follies, and injustice; and that he should remind men of their amenability to the tribunal of an Omniscient and Almighty Ruler. There is too little of this frank and fearless treatment of social corruption; the pulpit is to blame for this; and it is to be desired that Christian preachers should hear the Word of the Lord bidding them go and "cry against" the wickedness of great cities, and warn the citizens of the ruin they are bringing upon themselves. And above all is it important that the wicked should be summoned to repentance, and that the penitent should be directed to that Saviour who is the assurance of Divine pity, and the channel of Divine forgiveness, to all who come to him with contrite sorrow and with lowly faith.
Fleeing from the Lord.
There is something wonderfully simple in this language, and something wonderfully childish and naive in the action here described. Yet when Jonah, who should have gone eastward, turned his face towards the west, when he went down to the port of Joppa and took ship for Tarshish, though he was acting in a way sinful in itself and most disastrous for him, he was teaching for all time and for all readers of Scripture a lesson of human infirmity which is to us chiefly precious as preparing the way for a lesson of human repentance and of Divine forgiveness and acceptance.
I. THE MOTIVE WHICH LEADS MEN TO WISH TO FLEE FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD IS BAD. There are various impulses which may tend to drive men away from the all-searching eye of the Supreme. Some, like Jonah, may wish to avoid a service to which they cherish repugnance; for which, perhaps, they feel personally disqualified. Others may wish to hide their sins from One who, they know well, must regard them with displeasure. In any case, though the degree of culpability may vary, the motive is unworthy. The child should hide nothing from the Father; the Christian should never ask—Where shall I hide from thy presence? but should rather rejoice in the nearness, the interest, the favour, of his Maker and Saviour.
II. THE METHOD WHICH MEN ADOPT IN ORDER TO FLEE FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD IS ABSURD. Change of place cannot take us out of the territory of the Omnipresent King. Jacob found that when at Bethel; the Lord was in that place, though he knew it not. Jonah learned that God's hand held in its hollow the raging sea; the same hand that fashioned the dry land from which he fled. It is now more common for those who would flee from God to betake themselves to the society of the profane, the licentious, the ungodly; thus they seek at least to banish the thought of God, if they cannot escape from his all-regarding eye.
III. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF FLEEING FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD IS OBVIOUS. That is to say, obvious to all who reflect upon the nature and the attributes of the Eternal. And it is well that all who are tempted to wish that relations between themselves and their Creator were suspended should reflect upon this impossibility. In God we live and move and have our being. We may forget him, but he does not overlook us. We may be out of harmony with his highest purposes, but we cannot cease even for one moment to be subjects of his kingdom, whether contented or discontented, loyal or rebellious.
IV. THE CONSEQUENCES OF ENDEAVOURING TO FLEE FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD ARE AFFLICTING. In his favour is life. It is well to walk in the light of the Lord. They who depart from God forsake their true happiness. The presence of the Lord of all is necessary in order to strength and success in our work. A messenger from God above all men needs the consciousness of the Divine favour; for him to flee from God is to sacrifice his life, to throw up his vocation, and, except God have mercy upon him, to destroy his spiritual prospects.
V. GOD'S FORBEARANCE AND COMPASSION MAY BRING BACK THOSE WHO TRY TO FLEE FROM HIM. The narrative tells not only how Jonah. fled, but how God followed him; how God did indeed chasten his servant, but did not forsake him; how Providence overruled his sinful conduct and secured his spiritual good. We need not despond, even if we have, as it were, turned our back upon God. "He restoreth our soul." He so reveals his grace that, instead of fleeing from his presence, we come to find in that presence fulness of joy.
Nature and God.
There is a Hebrew directness and energy in this language describing the storm which overtook the unfaithful prophet. Some would be satisfied to say that we have here simply a poetico-theological expression descriptive of a natural phenomenon. But surely the Hebrew idiom here employed is the vehicle of a great truth. The Lord does send the wind and raise the tempest; and the Lord also calms the waters and stills the storm.
I. THE ATHEISTIC VIEW IS THAT NATURE IS A REALITY AND GOD A FICTION. Many scientific, and non-scientific, readers too will say—The storm did arise, but this was in accordance with natural laws, and there is no room and no need for the hypothesis of a Deity. Facts are facts, and regularities and uniformities are undeniable; but with explanations, with personal agencies, we have nothing at all to do.
II. THE PAGAN VIEW IS THAT NATURE IS THE OUTWARD EXPRESSION OF THE PRESENCE AND ACTIVITIES OF INNUMERABLE DEITIES. According to the heathen, the sea and the land, the woods and the fountains, had their several deities, whose actions accounted for all changes. In the tempest, Jonah's fellow voyagers cried every man unto his god. The mood of the deity might vary, his purpose might change.
III. THE SUPERSTITIOUS VIEW lS THAT NATURE IS GENERALLY INDEPENDENT OF GOD, BUT IS SOMETIMES VISITED BY A DIVINE INTERFERENCE. When all things proceed in an even course, it is supposed that there is no need to presume a Divine presence. But when anything happens which is unusual, this is taken to be an evidence of the interposition of a superior Power. The calm is Nature's work, the storm is God's. A capricious, arbitrary Providence is the superstitious man's deity.
IV. THE RATIONAL AND RELIGIOUS VIEW SEES GOD IN AND BEHIND NATURE IN ALL HER CHANGES. God is the Author of Nature's laws. "The sea is his, and he made it; and his hands formed the dry land." Divine purpose, intelligence, wisdom, benevolence, are to the thoughtful and pious mind manifest in all the scenes and operations which Nature presents to us. We need not be pantheists, and identify God and Nature, in order to see and to glorify God in all his works.
Danger and devotion.
The conduct of the seamen, who themselves, when encompassed 'by danger and when threatened by death, both called upon their gods and besought Jonah to imitate their prayers and vows, may have been superstitious in its accessories, but it was certainly right in principle.
I. DANGER REMINDS US OF OUR OWN POWERLESSNESS. In the presence of the great forces of nature—the hurricane, the earthquake, the volcano—man feels his own physical feebleness and helplessness. He is mightier than all these forces in that he can think and feel, purpose and act, whilst they blindly and unconsciously work out a higher will. But in his body he is incapable of resisting, of measuring himself against, these tremendous powers.
II. DANGER REMINDS US OF THE UNCERTAINTY AND BREVITY OF HUMAN LIFE. By some "accident" from without, or by some "disorder" within, the life of the body will certainly be brought to a close. The lightning may smite or the waves may swallow up the healthiest frame—may close the most useful and beneficent life. The treacherous sea, as in this narrative, threatens to engulf the mariner and the passenger.
To thee the love of woman has gone down,
Brave hearts and true are gathered to thy breast?
III. DANGER DRIVES THE SINNER TO SEEK GOD'S MERCY. To many the hour of peril is the only hour of prayer. Lips that have only used the name of the Eternal Majesty in ribald profanity, when white with fear utter that name in earnest entreaty for pity and for deliverance. When human help is vain, then the godless call upon the great Helper, God. How worthless such prayer often is experience sadly teaches. "The river past, the saint forgot." Yet it is well that men should be awakened, however rudely, from their self-sufficiency and false security.
IV. DANGER DRAWS FORTH THE CONFIDENCE AND THE PRAYERS OF THE PIOUS. How many are the records of shipwreck which tell of the peace and trust, the fortitude and hope, of the true Christian, when those around have abandoned themselves to despair l He who believes the gospel knows that God "thinks upon him," and knows that he so thinks upon his own for good. It may be that an unexpected deliverance will be wrought; but it will be the case that, whatever the Father above may suffer to happen to the body, the soul shall be safe in heavenly keeping unto life eternal.
A good confession.
What an insight this story gives us into the life and habits of travellers in ancient times! Curiosity is always entertaining; but the inquisitiveness of these seamen bound for Tarshish, as they questioned their passenger regarding his occupation, his race, and his religion, is a revelation of their character, and affords an opportunity to the prophet to avow his religious faith. Jonah was not willing to obey God; yet he was not slow to confess God. There is much to admire in his language.
I. IT WAS AN INTELLIGENT CONFESSION. God is to many little more than a name; religion merely a form of words. There are those who are satisfied to name the name of their hereditary deity. Jonah's acknowledgment was accompanied by statements which prove his faith to have been something more than traditional. He described the Jehovah whom he worshipped as the God of heaven, the Maker of the sea and of the land. The words remind us of the opening of the Apostles' Creed. To confess God truly is to recognize his attributes and his method of dealing with the sons of men. It is not enough to utter mechanically a form of words.
II. IT WAS A BOLD CONFESSION. Instead of being alarmed by the dangers of the deep, the prophet seemed now to recover the self-possession which he had lost. In the presence of the angry elements and the anxious sailors, and above all in the presence of the Lord of nature and of man, Jonah confessed his God. Was there in this conduct something of the spirit embodied in the words, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him"?
III. IT WAS A REVERENT CONFESSION. "I fear the Lord;" i.e. revere, worship, and honor him. They who know him aright may well offer to him the veneration and adoration which angels delight to present. Who would not fear his great Name? Alas! that the name of God should ever pass irreverent lips!
IV. IT WAS, HOWEVER, A CONFESSION WHICH WAS INCONSISTENT WITH THE PROPHET'S CONDUCT, AND WAS THEREFORE HIS CONDEMNATION. How was it that he, who so honourably confessed his God in the tempest, had fled from that God, and disobeyed his plain commands? Could he use this language and not feel that it censured himself for so acting as he had done? It is well that we should verbally acknowledge God, that we should sincerely confess his right over us. But it may be that when we recite our Creed, and make our confession, we shall learn to think of our frequent inconsistencies with the profession which we avow. The knowledge of God may bring us to the knowledge of ourselves; and confession may lead to penitence, and so to reconciliation.
Whatever difficulties the facts of this narrative may occasion in the mind of the reader, it must be admitted that it abounds with principles of the deepest interest and value. How could the lesson of self-devotion, of self-sacrifice, be more impressively taught than in the language of Jonah recorded in this verse? The unquestionable realities of federal human life, and of substitutionary suffering and sacrifice, are brought before us in a vivid and impressive form.
I. DIVINE PROVIDENCE APPOINTS THAT THE WRONG DOING OF MEN SHOULD INVOLVE SUFFERING TO THEIR FELLOW CREATURES. "For my sake," said Jonah, "this great tempest is upon you." No observer of human life can doubt that the greatest sufferers are not always the greatest sinners; they are often those who are brought into trouble, sorrow, and affliction through the conduct of those connected with them. The child suffers for the father's sins; the wife, for the husband's improvidence; the people, for their rulers' selfishness and negligence. We may not be able to explain this fact, we may not be satisfied with explanations of it which other people accept; but it would show an ignorance of human life to question its reality.
II. THE SAME PROVIDENCE APPOINTS THAT SUFFERINGS WILLINGLY UNDERGONE BY MEN SHOULD BE THE MEANS OF BENEFIT TO OTHERS. "Cast me forth," said Jonah, "into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you." Here again we are brought into contact with an undoubted fact in human society. The sufferings, hardships, and self-denial of parents are the means of comfort, culture, and well being to their children. Great men benefit society by means of their labours, their self sacrifice. Few persons reap a harvest of gladness and peace and prosperity, the seed of which has net been sown with toil and with tears. It is the highest exercise of patriotism to devote one's self to death for the country's weal; and the highest exercise of benevolence, when called upon by duty, to die for the welfare of humanity.
III. BOTH THESE PRINCIPLES ARE MOST CONSPICUOUSLY EXEMPLIFIED IN THE SACRIFICE OF OUR DIVINE REDEEMER.
1. The sins of men brought Jesus to the cross of Calvary.
2. The sufferings of Jesus bring men to the enjoyment of the Divine favour. "By his stripes we are healed."
Jonah 1:13, Jonah 1:14
Effort and prayer.
It has always been acknowledged that there was in the conduct of these heathen sailors something peculiarly generous. Although they believed themselves to have been brought into danger by the companionship of Jonah, although he himself invited them to cast him overboard and so secure their safety, this they would not do until they had exhausted every means of deliverance.
I. IN TIMES OF DIFFICULTY AND DANGER WE ARE SUMMONED TO EXERT ALL OUR POWERS FOR OUR ESCAPE AND PRESERVATION. There is a false piety which is true fatalism, which is content with prayer and indisposed to effort. But such is not the piety sanctioned in Scripture. Courage, effort, perseverance,—these are the qualities which are always mentioned with commendation. In fact, effort is the use of the natural powers with which our Creator has endowed us, the employment of the means which Providence has put within our reach. In striving for safety and for success men are honouring God. Endeavours may be unsuccessful, but it is better to fail while doing our very best than to fail by sloth and negligence.
II. IN TIMES OF DIFFICULTY AND DANGER THERE IS NO RESOURCE SO PROPER AND SO PRECIOUS AS PRAYER. The conduct of these heathen sailors, as here described, is beyond all praise. What they did was to put forth every effort for their own and their fellow voyager's safety, and then to commend themselves to the guidance and the mercy of the Most High. With their slender knowledge they could not have prayed with much intelligence; but they prayed with much good feeling towards man, with much submission towards God; and with much fervour. The lesson is obvious. Whilst we can work it is well to work in a prayerful spirit, with dependence upon God. When we can no longer work, when human effort is of no avail, then it is well to call upon God and to leave ourselves entirely in his hands.
Fear, sacrifice, and vows.
Times of danger are often times of devotion; but times of deliverance are not always times of thanksgiving. It is to the credit and honour of these seamen that when the storm ceased they acknowledged Jehovah as the Author of the calm, as the God of salvation. Three aspects of religious exercise are here presented to us.
I. REVERENCE. We cannot say that there was no superstition in the feelings and the conduct of these mariners. Probably the piety of most good men has an element of superstition. In any case, they feared the Eternal, feeling themselves to be in the presence and at the disposal of him who holds the waters in the hollow of his hand.
II. SACRIFICE. It was a thank offering, no doubt, which they presented. If they were sincere, this sacrifice was a symbol of the consecration of their whole nature, their whole life, unto God.
III. Vows. Mercy experienced in the past should lead to the expectation of mercy in the future. The season of deliverance is a suitable season for resolutions and for vows. But be it remembered, "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay."
HOMILIES BY J.E. HENRY
A despicable deserter.
"God looketh on the heart." And none but God can. It is an obscure and tortuous place—"deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Its chaos and darkness, transparent to the Divine Spirit, are impenetrable to any creature's eye. Even the new heart is not all new. Persistent among the grace germs are bacteria of sin, inseparable and morbific. In Jonah this baneful combination is obvious. He neither loved God supremely nor his neighbour as himself. If he had, the action here recorded could never have been done, nor the feelings which prompted it have found a home in his heart. To fly from God's service because it involved the helping of men is a course consistent it may be with grace, but only with grace alloyed, inchoate, and overlaid with the mind of flesh.
I. IN GOD'S ARMY IT IS EITHER DESERTION OR DUTY. "Jonah rose up, to flee from the presence of the Lord." There was a Divine presence from which Jonah was not so ignorant as to attempt escape. He shows familiarity with the Book of Psalms (Jonah 2:2-9), and doubtless knew with the psalmist (Psalms 139:7-10) that there was no place outside God's omnipresence. But there was a special presence of God in the land of Israel. He was present in gracious hearts, and in the ordinances and offices of the Church. This special and gracious presence Jonah, like Jacob (Genesis 28:16), seems to have considered peculiar to the Holy Land. He had a notion probably that the institutions arising out of it were purely local also, and that flight to heathen Spain would break the spiritual connection and void his prophetic office. His flight was "not from God's presence, but from standing before him as his minister … he renounced his office" (Pusey). And the act was logical in one aspect, however criminal. Enlistment in God's service means something. It is not playing at campaigning. It is not a kind of spiritual antumn manoeuvres, which merely give spice to a periodical outing. It incurs responsibility and involves obedience.
"I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty.
I woke, and found that life was duty."
That all must find who are spiritually awake. There is work for all, and his task for each. And it has got to be done. In the Divine code stand the regulations of the service, and they are not to be trifled with. Idleness is out of the question; insubordination is not to be named. Jonah felt this. "He rose up to flee." He could not point blank refuse, and stand his ground. Do something he must, when the word went forth. He will not preach, and so he has got to fly. It is so always. A man cannot remain at his post and strike work. The eye of the Master would look him through, and his presence compel obedience. The mutineer is in the same hour a deserter. He can maintain the one character only by adopting the other. Our spiritual duties arise out of our spiritual relations, and are at the same time their necessary expression. The alternative with us is "both or neither." Refuse God's work, and you put yourself out of his service.
II. BIGOTRY IS AN INEVITABLE WEAKENER OF THE MORAL SENSE. Some think Jonah refused to summon the Ninevites to repentance for fear they might take him at his word. Their reformation just now would not have suited his views. As heathen he disliked them, and as wicked he could use them as a foil for wicked Israel. Nineveh penitent, on the other hand, after one Divine warning, would have contrasted strongly with Israel impenitent after centuries of prophetic appeal, and he dreaded the repentance which would have been the occasion of such a damaging comparison. But this is clearly an exaggeration of Jonah's reeling in the matter. No prophet of God, no servant of God, could connive at sin against God in order to the destruction of men. To do so would be incompatible altogether with the religious character. Still, Jonah would have been more or less than a Jew if he had not been a bigot. He would not wantonly have compassed Nineveh's ruin. But being a bigot, and an egoist as well, he was so indifferent to the fate of the heathen city as to be ready to sacrifice it rather than risk the lowering of his own prophetic reputation, in all this we see the tokens of a weakened moral sense. Bigotry is an unequalled hardener of the heart. It is narrow, cold, sour, and carping. It denies or belittles all good outside its own ecclesiastical circle. Whilst blind to extern religious excellence, it is indifferent to extern religious attainment. It takes covert pleasure in the sins and weaknesses of rival Churches; it would regard their failure and collapse with mean complacency; and it would almost as lief see men remaining in sin as reformed by effort not its own. The tendency to look every man and Church on our own things is a natural one, and grows. And it necessarily involves the other tendency, its universe, to look away from the things of others. This is the very antipodes of the "mind of Christ." That believes in the dignity of man as man. It sets a unique value on human life. It regards the question of a human destiny as one of stupendous interest. It makes the securing of it a personal concern. It never asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" for the fact is with it an axiomatic truth. Loving its neighbour as itself, its moral attitude inspires its active one—"do good to all." It regards life as wasted if not lived for men, and the time as lost in which it does not "save some."
III. INGLORIOUS DUTY IS MOST IN DANGER OF BEING LEFT UNDONE. Jonah had an idea how his mission would end. As a prophet, he knew that Nineveh would repent, and on repentance be spared, his prophecy to the contrary notwithstanding (Jonah 4:2). And the prospect was humbling to his self-love. The affair could bring him little credit. He was simply to deliver an empty threat, a threat the utterance of which would serve God's purpose, and so prevent the necessity of carrying it out. How was he to get up a prophetic reputation by performing such a task? Warnings heeded and predictions fulfilled are the chief credentials of a prophet. The first is both in itself and in its practical results, by far the more important. But the second is more of a personal interest to the prophet as involving his credibility more directly. Hence in proportion as he is "yet carnal" and self-seeking it will bulk more largely in his regard. A Paul could say, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord," and mean it thoroughly. But the perfect self-sinking of the apostolic rule was an unscaled height to the egotistic prophet. He wanted a name and official distinction more than the exhibition of God's mercy and the reformation of wicked men. Accordingly, he refused to assume an equivocal position, although he knew, and because he knew, it would lead to these prime results. And servants his counterparts are still found in God's work. The men who "do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame" no doubt exist. But the blushes traceable to this source are a small proportion of the blushes current. He has reached a high spiritual level who no lives to God that personal considerations are as nothing in his work. Position and visibility, to say nothing of considerations more sordid still, are elements in the situation, hard to keep subordinate, harder still to ignore, when the Christian worker is making choice of fields. A place in the most distant mission field may single out a worker from the crowd, and the missionary pioneer finds temptations to pose before the Church as strong as beset the brightest metropolitan star. The large giver, moreover, or the great organizer, has as many temptations to self-seeking as either. It is so through all departments of activity and in all the walks of life. The work that brings fortune and fame will have thousands competing for a chance to do it. The only duty in practical danger of being shirked is the duty to be followed into obscure places, and done with only the eye of God to note our faithfulness.
IV. RETREAT FROM GOD IS RESOLUTE, AND AIMS AT ENTIRE ISOLATION. Josiah started at a run. He evidently meant to get away, and threw all his energy into the effort. He went, too, in a direction exactly the opposite of the one in which he had been sent. God had said, "Go northeast," and he went southwest. He set out. moreover, for the remotest place he knew of, Spain being the "far West" of those early times. He went about it also in the most business-like way, going to Joppa, the great seaport, and booking a berth on one of the. great ships of Tarshish, to break which was the magnum opus of the east wind (Psalms 48:7). All which things are no doubt an allegory. The sinner's drawing near to God is done at a snail's pace. Loving this sinful world, he hangs back long before he starts. Answering feebly as yet to the drawing of grace, and breaking cord after cord in the tearing of himself away, the motion toward God at first is show and painful, like that of a weak oarsman against a rapid stream. But like a stone down hill, and drawn by mighty gravitation, the motion away from God is by leaps and bounds (Romans 7:19, Romans 7:22, Romans 7:23). You have seen at the docks the seamen straining at the windlass, as, after minutes of strenuous effort, they have pulleyed a bale of merchandise high in air. And you have seen, when they let go the winch, how swiftly the handle flies and, as the rope unrolls, the bale comes rushing down. And such is retrogression in contrast to progress in the religious sphere. So much more quickly do men fall than rise, that a few days' backsliding is enough to neutralize the growth of years. Then so opposite to God is the sinful heart that its departure from him is absolute turning back. Swerving would be bad, aberration would be worse, but regression is worst of all; and such is religious backsliding. It is spiritual tergiversation. The renegade turns his back on right, and takes a way the very opposite. He obeys Satan and follows sin, the antipodes respectively of God and good. If God's way be light, his is darkness; if upwards, his is downwards infallibly Then there is no spiritual half-way house. God in his mercy may arrest him on the way, but the renegade starts for Tarshish, the spiritual remotest point. A stone detached from the house top has no stopping place short of the ground. Turn your back on God and heaven, and Satan and hell are, humanly speaking, your destination. Moreover, defection from God is not an aimless drifting, but intelligent and of purpose. It is a course wittingly taken and studiously kept. The deteriorated moral nature presses head and hand into its service, to survey and construct the road by which it would reach the shrine of its chosen idol. At the Joppa of occasion, advisedly sought, is chartered the ship of ways and means, to bring us to the Tarshish of accomplished sin, the goal of our godless hearts.
V. A MAN WILL ALWAYS FIND CIRCUMSTANCES FAVOURABLE TO THE COURSE HE HAS RESOLVED TO TAKE. Jonah found a ship about to sail to his destination, got accommodation on board, and had the means to provide a berth. Things seem as if arranged on purpose to facilitate his flight. Had it been otherwise, we sometimes think the prophet's "Hegirah" might have been stopped earlier, and a good deal of suffering saved. But that would be a shallow philosophy of human action. Physical surroundings cannot thus shape our moral course. Intelligence makes its own use of them all. Purpose is formed; action is decided on; and then the circumstances are examined to see what mode of action they can most easily be made to help. The ship, the berth, and the passage money to Tarshish were available to many besides Jonah, yet he only prostituted them to the purpose of shirking duty. They lent themselves to his project, because the project had, in the first place, been adjusted to them. So if a thief finds an open window, and no policeman in sight, the circumstances are said to favour a burglary. If a would be murderer finds the same state of things, then we say the circumstances favour assassination. But if a man who would neither kill nor steal finds them so, they favour no project of his, and so are either put right or passed unheeded. Circumstances favour neither good nor evil particularly, but each man makes use of those that fit his own purpose, and passes the others by. We hear often of wicked men who are the victims of circumstance. And there are some such, no doubt. But the cases are fewer and logically weaker than you might think. Here are two country youths apprenticed in town among a godless set. One turns out a profligate, and friends pity him and say, "He got into bad hands: what bettor could we expect in such a place?" But the other, with the Same surroundings exactly, turns out, as often happens, an honest tradesman and a godly man. And if you examine you will find that he has honest men for his friends, and Christian people for his associates, and enjoys beneficial influences in every relation of life. In other words, ha is in a new set of circumstances altogether, favourable to the religious life, and which his own conduct has drawn around him. The circumstances have not made the men, but the men have practically made the circumstances. And so we reason out the truth which God reveals, "To the pure all things are pure," etc. (Titus 1:15). We are greater than our environment. "Each man creates his own world The soul spreads its own hue over everything; the shroud or wedding garment of nature is woven in the loom of our own feelings. This universe is the image and counterpart of the souls that dwell in it. Be noble minded, and all nature replies—I am divine, the child of God; be thou too his child and noble. Be mean, and all nature dwindles into a contemptible smallness" (Robertson). "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." To you and me the world will be a new world when we are new creatures in Christ. It is not what it was, but a transfigured thing, when we view it "the eyes of our understandings being enlightened," and make all its elements tributary to a new life in Christ.—J.E.H.
An effective hue and cry.
We see here a man who ought to run for God endeavouring to run away from him, and also how he speeds. The flight was illogical, a fatuous attempt to get outside the sphere of omnipresence, as much of our sin is a practical endeavour to get, or imagine ourselves, beyond the cognizance of omniscience. And it was made in the blindness of egoism and carnal self will—the qualities which are generally to be found at the bottom of ministerial unfaithfulness to the message of God. A lorry off the lines attracts attention, when a whole train on them might pass unnoticed. A large proportion of the heterodoxy extant originates in or is exaggerated by a desire to catch the public eye. The evil it does to the souls of men will go on so long as there are nominal servants who have a private interest dearer to them than the Master's work. And the personal disappointment and suffering and failure of the prophet are the experiences bound to be repeated in all cases of spiritual renegadism like it.
I. THEY RUN HARD WHOM GOD'S JUDGMENTS CANNOT OVERTAKE. Jonah scarcely hoped to get away from God. But he did expect to get away from his work. It lay northeast, and he went southwest. He was determined not to be near the place where duty lay, lest by any chance he should be compelled to do it. In this he succeeded for the time, and he succeeded still more fully in getting morally and spiritually away from the Most High. Not depths of sea or wilds of desert could have taken him so far from God as the moral elements implied in that flight. But he found that desertion, however possible, can never be satisfactory. God's authority is not to be run away from. He makes storms his artillery, and thunders after the runaway. He makes heathen sailors his officers, and captures him in his flight. He makes a fish's belly his dungeon keep, and puts him in durance there, Do not for a moment dream of evading God. If you run away from his spade, you run against his sword. You can run away from sobriety, but not from the white liver and empty purse and premature grave that drunkenness brings. You can run away from purity, but not from the debilitated frame, and the cloyed appetite, and the hell of a strengthening lust with failing power to feed it. You can run away from charity, but not from the heart hardness and bitterness and gnawing unrest of all loveless souls. Disobedience accomplished means judgment on the way, and judgment on the way means judgment ahead of the transgressor, and waiting for him as the angel for wretched Balsam (Romans 2:3).
II. THE JUDGMENTS SENT AFTER THE GUILTY OFTEN FALL ON THE INNOCENT AS WELL. "Sin," says Chrysostom, "brings the soul into much senselessness." It brought Jonah to think that he could play off nature against its God, and escape him by the help of his own winds and tides. It brought him to pit one of the great ships of Tarshish—the East Indiamen of that time—against God's east wind (Psalms 48:7). But mighty merchantman or tiny skiff, it is all one to the hurricane's blast. The prophet, so far from getting out of trouble himself, got others into it (verses 4, 5). The sailors suffered fatigue and alarm; the ship owners suffered loss of freight; other vessels near suffered dilapidations; indeed, many interests were harassed before Jonah himself was reached. That is the rule with all sin. In almost every offence against the second table of the Law our neighbour suffers first. Then, after the offender begins to suffer, his suffering in turn involves the family and social circles in which be is. The spendthrift's poverty, the debauchee's disease, the felon's disgrace, go down infallibly to children, and it may be children's children. Sinning against God you are indirectly sinning against man, and sinning against one man, you are practically sinning against all his friends and all your own. Such a following of evils does the transgressor drag after him in an ever-lengthening train.
III. THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN THE OCCASION OF GREAT PUBLIC EVIL ARE OFTEN THE LEAST CONCERNED ABOUT IT. Jonah was the coolest man on board while the big storm was raging. It was due to him, sent after him, meant to arrest his thought and step, and yet, when hardy sailors were frightened, and ignorant heathen were driven to pray, the erewhile God-fearing landsman was making himself comfortable below, and curled up fast asleep. So the men who provoked the Flood were cool and calm about it, even when Noah and his family were flying to the ark. To the Sodomites also righteous Lot, preparing to fly the coming doom, seemed but as one that mocked. The hardness produced by recent rebellion had not yet worn off. The murderer does not regret his crime nor fear the gallows while his blood is up. The excitement sustains him for a time in reckless disregard of both. But when he has had time to cool down and think, when he gets the cold iron on his wrists, and sees the outer world through iron bars, when dreams recall his victim's death struggle or forecast the scaffold and the dangling rope, then his crime begins to look like itself, and his doom to put on its proper terrors. Jonah was still in the earlier stage. He did not see his sin yet, and he was too hot and rebellious to fear the punishment. After sin and before repentance there is an interval of unnatural insensibility, and in this interval Jonah's sleep was taken. It is a horrid sight to see judge and jury and the court affected to tears, and the criminal as hard as iron. Yet that is the analogue of a state into which we have only to defy God in order to fall.
IV. A PRAYERLESS BACKSLIDER IS AN ASTONISHMENT EVEN TO A HEATHEN. (Verse 6) The skipper, a responsible man, and pious according to his lights, thinks Jonah, sleeping there in the crash of the storm, must be either sick or mad. Prayer, whether to false gods or the true, is a universal and instinctive religious act. And so when the great wind guns began to boom and the billowy mitrailleuses to roar in chorus, when the helpless vessel tossed like a log and creaked and strained as about to break, then began every man to cry unto his god. Even the heathen could see that it was the thing to do, and the time to do it; and when the only worshipper of the true God aboard lies silent and indifferent, the captain and crew are alike astonished. Yet it is just what a little knowledge of the human character in its relation to spiritual things would lead us to expect. The iron that has been heated soft, and cooled again in water, is harder than ever. The process has simply tempered it. So the man who has been softened in the fires of grace, and plunged again into the waters of sin, is a harder man than he was at first (Hebrews 6:4). There are Canas and Chorazins among us, and it will be more tolerable for the Tyres and Sidons in the judgment than for them.
V. IT IS IN THE CRISES OF LIFE THAT FALSE CONFIDENCES FAIL AND THE TRUE GOD COMES TO THE FRONT. The captain sees appeal to his own gods to be vain, and he surmises that prayer to the God of Israel might be more successful. "Call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us." He knew of the true God as distinguished from the gods many whom he served, but only in extremity does he think of approaching him in prayer. The other gods were fair weather deities, good enough so long as you wanted nothing from them. But only the God who holds the winds in his fists will serve now. And thus, in a new sense, the extremity of man is the opportunity of God. Beliefs, moralities, observances, are made so many substitutes for the Christ of God. And they do to live with after a fashion. But you never knew a man to die comfortably with them. The last hour is apocalyptic. It unveils things. The bubble of conceit in personal merit bursts. The filthy rags fall off. The soul is flung naked, loathsome, undone, before the majesty of God. Take God in Christ for your trust this hour, and you will never know the withering curse on him that "maketh flesh his arm."—J.E.H.
Jonah 1:11, Jonah 1:12
A voluntary surrender.
Matters so anomalous up to this point are beginning now to resume their normal aspect. The prophet had been behaving in a most inconsequential and erratic way. His flight had been utterly out of character. He ran away from a duty in the doing of which piety would have met philanthropy, and both have had ample scope. His sleep through the storm which his own sin provoked, when death was imminent, and even the heathen sailors called in terror on their gods, was, if possible, more eccentric still Most unaccountable of all, perhaps, was the declaration, "I fear the Lord," so sincerely made when in the very act of setting his command at naught. But now the craze is passing off. Like the prodigal at a corresponding stage of his career, we see the prophet coming to himself. The reign of law is coming back, and mind and conscience and will fall into line and begin to act by rule. These verses exhibit to us the workings of the backslider's mind in his return to God. We see—
I. THAT CALAMITY HAS COMPELLED HIM TO THINK. The sinner is seldom logical. If he were, he would be a sinner no longer. There are no valid premisses to which a sinful act will stand in the relation of a conclusion. If Jonah had reasoned out the matter before he started on his flight, he would not have started at all. He adopted on impulse a course the folly of which a single moment's consideration would have shown. And he avoided this consideration as long as he could. It was only the impossibility of getting further that compelled him to face the question, "Why did I come so far? And was it wisely done?" It is almost invariably the practical results of a line of conduct that lead us to examine as to its intrinsic wisdom. We consult our taste in the first instance. What promises immediate pleasure or profit comes to our judgment so highly recommended by the fact, that few questions are asked. No one supposes that the drunkard takes the moral, economic, or hygienic measure of his disastrous habit before he forms it. He has a lively feeling that it is pleasant, and suits his taste, and he waives the consideration of other points till a more convenient season. It is only when his habit has brought misfortune that he really faces the question whether it is a good one or not. With his month full of the bitter fruit, be naturally begins to form an idea of the character of the tree. If the fruiting had never come, the appraising would have been left undone. There is to every sinner a day when he cannot but think. He is happy if the needs be overtakes him at the outset of his straying ere yet return has become impossible.
II. THOUGHT HAS CONVINCED HIM OF SIN. We can read a sense of guilt in every word of the arrested fugitive. His mind has awaked. In thought he has faced the situation. And his thought has not been barren. It has brought forth conviction. It would have been weak indeed if it had not. The fact of sin is patent to ordinary intelligence. And so to a certain extent is its demerit. To declare its existence and quality is the function of natural conscience; and what is conscience but reason dealing with moral truth? Of course, its diagnosis of sin is inadequate. The awful demerit of sin done against an infinite and holy God cannot be reached by mere force of thinking. It takes an enlightened eye to see it as it is, an opened heart to realize the whole truth regarding it. You must know God, in fact, in order to know sin, which is an offence against him. This, no doubt, Jonah did. There was a mote for the time being in his spiritual eye, but it had been opened once for all to see God. He came, therefore, to the contemplation of his sin with a measure of spiritual insight. And all may come to it similarly furnished. Obey the call of Scripture to "consider." Make a sincere attempt reexamine yourself. Turn your eye inward, desiring honestly to know yourself as sinful in God's sight. You won't be left to your own unaided efforts and to failure. God awaits the beginning of such action to strengthen it. He awaits the attempt at such action to help it. He waits the aim at such action to move to attempt it in the strength of grace. It follows from the connection between wanting and getting in the spiritual sphere—"examine, and you shall know;" for the Spirit convinces the world of sin, and that by guiding into all truth the searchers after its hidden treasures.
III. CONVICTION HAS DRIVEN HIM TO CONFESS. There is a natural egoism in men that is unfavourable to confession. You get it out of them only by a difficult process as men get water out of a still. And the reasons of this are obvious. One is that men are more or less unconscious of their own moral state. They do not realize sin. They deem it an outrage to have guilt charged home. In the impudence of their unconsciousness they would bandy words with God himself (Ma Jonah 3:8). Here is evident failure to discern the sinfulness of sin. And failure is due as much to pride as to incapacity. Men are naturally prejudiced in their own favour. Faults that others see well enough they ignore, or weakly disapprove what others utterly condemn. They abide in darkness because they hate the light (John 3:19). Given a man who cannot see his sin if he would, and who would not if he could, and you have a case in which confession need not be named. Even grant a measure of conviction, and confession does not necessarily follow. When sin is realized in a certain degree, the sinner's tongue is unloosed, and he tells it out with shame to God. But it does not follow that he will do it before his fellow men. That means a great deal more, is harder to do, and more reluctantly done. It is greater humiliation. It involves stronger reprobation. It implies deeper self-abasement. When it is honestly done conviction may be held to be at its intensest; in fact, to be true and adequate. Jonah's repentance had now come to this advanced stage (verses 10, 12). "When the whip of God and the rod of his justice had overtaken Jonah, so that be now sees heaven and earth to he against him, down comes his proud heart: the sleeper now awaketh; the runaway crieth, Peccavi; contrition and confession come now tumbling upon him" (Abbot). Confession of our faults is an essential part of true repentance. To deny them is to lie, to conceal is to bolster up. When a transgressor is either sullenly silent or volubly apologetic, he has not broken with his sin. He could bear to speak the truth about it if he had definitely cast it off. Hence God makes confession a criterion of sincerity and a condition of pardon (Leviticus 26:40-42; Jeremiah 3:12, Jeremiah 3:13). Hence, on occasion of sin, Aaron (Numbers 12:11), and Saul (1 Samuel 15:24), and David (2 Samuel 12:13), and Josiah (2 Kings 22:11, 2 Kings 22:13, 2 Kings 22:19), and Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:6, 2 Chronicles 12:7, 2 Chronicles 12:12), and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:12, 2 Chronicles 33:13), and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:26), and Peter (Mark 14:72), and others whose sincerity Scripture certifies, whilst it records the fact of their pardon, made free and heart-stricken confession of their fault before God and men. Sin confessed means sin discovered and reprobated and disowned. The man flings it off in the very act, declares himself at once its victim and foe. There is philosophy, therefore, and the fitness of things in the Divine deliverance, prescription and promise hand in hand, that "whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy."
IV. HIS NEW ATTITUDE TOWARD SIN INCLUDES WILLINGNESS TO SUFFER FOR IT. The world is sometimes surprised and puzzled by a voluntary confession of murder. The self-accused criminal has been hitherto undetected and secure. People may have had their suspicions, and drawn their inferences, but it was impossible to trace the crime home. Yet at last, when investigation had been given up, and the very memory of the crime died out, the murderer comes of his own accord, confesses his crime, and delivers himself up to justice. And, the wonder and puzzlement of shallow people notwithstanding, the act is perfectly logical. The anomaly is not that he has delivered himself up at last, but that he did not do it at the first. There is an instinctive sense of justice in a man, that recognizes the unfitness of a sinner going scot free. He feels that sin produces a moral derangement which cannot continue, and which it takes punishment to readjust. He feels at war with the nature of things until this has been done. He thinks if he had once endured the penalty the balance of things would be restored, and a foundation for future peace be laid. And he actually finds it so. The very fact of telling out his guilt has already lightened the load, and there is a new restfulness in the thought that now he is going to make some amends. It is to this principle that the doctrine of the cross appeals. In Christ crucified the demand of our nature for punishment proportioned to our sin is met. We see our transgressions avenged on him, in him our penal responsibilities met, and our full amends made. Our faith in Christ is, in one aspect, our instinctive clutching at the peace of the punished minus the preliminary pain. The same principle disarms and softens chastisement. Humility feels it is deserved. Intelligence sees it is necessary. And godly sorrow for sin welcomes it as a key to the dwelling of peace from which transgression had strayed. A willingness like Jonah's to accept the need of sin is no mean criterion of our attitude towards it, and of our whole moral bent.
V. HE THOUGHT THAT THE EVIL CONSEQUENCES OF HIS SIN COULD ONLY BE REMOVED BY HIS ENDURING ITS PUNISHMENT. There was a feeling among the sailors that some action must be taken in reference to Jonah (verse 11). Their present relation to him had involved them in a storm; what but a new relation to him could bring the calm? And the prophet himself is of the same opinion. He considers himself the mountain which attracts the storm, and that, if he were cast into the sea, its great occasion would be gone. What is this but the practical application of a revealed principle, "He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done"? The axiom applies to the righteous and the wicked alike, if in a different sense. The sin of wicked Saul is visited with punishment as final rejection and ruin. The sin of righteous David is visited with punishment as fiery trial eventuating in a contrite heart. Heathen Philistia and chosen Israel sin in almost equal degree, yet "the remnant of the Philistines" perishes (Amos 1:8), whilst "the remnant of Israel" is by suffering saved (Isaiah 1:8; Romans 9:27; Romans 11:5). And among natural and spiritual men alike the principle holds, cutting this way and that, with double edge: for believing sin, "the rod;" for unbelieving sin, "the sword;" for all sin, wrath in God and anguish in man (Romans 1:18; Romans 2:9). A recognition of this fact would solve some mysteries of suffering, and put an end to many "offences" and complaints. A man sins in his youth against God, and others, and his own body. By the grace of the Spirit he is brought in a little to repentance and the higher life. Is, therefore, his wrong doing undone? By no means. In some physical ailment, in some raked up imputation, in some injured fellow creature, it rises before him when his hair is white. And he is surprised at this. He thought that, after repentance and pardon, his sin was done with forever. But it Is not so. Sin once done cannot be undone. It leaves its mark on the sinner—in mind, or body, or estate, or social relations, but leaves it inevitably somewhere. The wood from which a nail has been drawn can never be as if the nail had not been driven. The nail hole is there, and there remains, do what we will. When, as with Jonah, the sin is against God directly, it has no physical concomitant, and the punishment in its physical aspect can show no connection with it. But it is neither more nor less the doing of God and the result of sin on that account. And, although in regions out of sight, a radical and natural connection still exists between penalty and crime. Its moral necessity and significance and tendency remain the same. Hence the certainty of its coming and the folly of striving to evade its stroke. Not till law natural and moral has had its amends, and all injured interests been recouped, can escape for the law breaker come. Come then it fitly and fairly may, and come then, and only then, it will (Psalms 89:30-33).
1. It is not enough to confess sin in general, we must confess it in particular. There is a kind of impersonal guilt which many will freely acknowledge, by whom personal guilt is altogether ignored. If we say generally, "Your nature is corrupt," they will own it without hesitation and without emotion. If we say, "Your conduct is bad," they will deny the impeachment and resent it. That was not Jonah's way. He unaffectedly confessed guilt as to the matter in hand. And it is not the way of true conviction. You confess and deny in one breath; deny in the particular what you confess in the general; which amounts to saying that a certain number of whites will make a black. But the fact is your acknowledgment is mechanical and formal, and therefore worthless. The denial, on the other hand, is intelligent and in earnest, and the deliberate expression of your mind and feeling. Accordingly, your confession as a whole means just what it says, and that is—nothing.
2. Mercy should move us to confession of sin as strongly as judgment. Who will say that it was altogether the severity of God in punishing at last, and in no degree his goodness in refraining till now, that led the prophet to repentance? Not so speaks the Scripture (Romans 2:4). Mercy touches a bad heart and breaks it, a cold heart and warms it, a closed mouth and opens it. That is its normal, and ought to be its actual, effect on you. Your mercies have been neither few nor small They supply a basis for the inspired appeal, "We beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God" etc. They supply an impulse more than adequate to bring you to the kingdom. If you have resisted them, what will persuade you? The resources of grace have been well nigh expended. God's time of striving has almost ran out. Strive to enter while you see the gate ajar, or the clang of its closing bolts may be the knell of your immortal soul.—J.E.H.
Storm stilling extraordinary.
We see in this passage, under favourable circumstances, the workings of the heathen mind in its first glimpses of God. And the study is one of lively interest, and important withal. The sailors have, innocently and involuntarily, been made actors in a drama that is not unlike to turn out a tragedy. A stranger, pursued by the vengeance of his (to them) unknown God, has got on board their ship, and mixed them up in his troubles to the extent of bringing them to the very brink of death. From their standpoint it was rather a hard case. They might well have felt resentment and given the cold shoulder to the not guiltless occasion of their evil plight. Their prudence, their considerateness, their conscientiousness, and their ultimate devoutness are qualities that come on us as an agreeable but complete surprise. There is a philosophy of these qualities, however, which it will be worth our while to endeavour to trace out.
I. THEY SHOWED AN ENLIGHTENED REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE. They might well have been excused if, in imminent danger of death through the guilty Jonah's presence in their ship, they had jumped at his proposal to throw him overboard. They knew, for he—an inspired prophet—had told them, that he had deserved it by his crime, and that to do so would calm the sea forthwith. Yet they make no movement in that direction, but redouble their efforts at the oar in their last desperate attempt to reach the land. This course was unlike a heathen crew. Heathenism has always been reckless about shedding blood. It is the Bible that teaches, and believers in it who recognize, the sacredness of human life. Its command, "Thou shalt not kill," is illustrated and enforced by its history and entire legislation. The murderer was to suffer death, though he should be dragged to it from the veiny horns of the altar (Numbers 35:31; lKi Numbers 2:29). The very ox that took a human life must die, and might not be eaten (Exodus 21:28). Even the man who slew another by misadventure made his life forfeit to the avenger of blood if he were caught outside the city of refuge (Deuteronomy 19:5). Blood, in fact, according to Scripture, must have blood (Genesis 9:5, Genesis 9:6). There is no other satisfaction for it. The value of it cannot be expressed in any earthly currency. Even the whole world is no compensation for a lost life (Mark 8:36). Those principles find little place in the consciousness of heathendom. It is filled with "the habitations of cruelty." You will get no heathen nation in any age exhibiting either in private life or public an adequate sense of the inviolability of human life. It is evident that in the case before us the sailors have been impressed by the Divine portents on the occasion, and under their impulse act for a time on a higher than the heathen plane. Not in their heathenism, but in the theism it is for the time in contact with, must we look for the explanation of their humane and generous conduct. The knowledge of God is early and inevitably practical. By it "grace is multiplied" and the "pollutions of the world" escaped (2 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 2:20).
II. THEY RECOGNIZED THE BELIEVING LIFE AS SPECIALLY SACRED. It will be conceded that, other things being equal, the life of a believer is more important than that of an unbeliever. Not only has it elements and functions which are all its own, but these are intrinsically more excellent than any others. God treats it as precious in a peculiar sense (Psalms 72:14; Psalms 116:15), keeping count of the very hairs of his people's heads (Matthew 10:30), and using (1Co 3:21, 1 Corinthians 3:22; 2 Corinthians 4:15), and even sacrificing, the lives of the wicked for their preservation (Isaiah 43:4). He also safeguards it by a double rampart of threat and promise. The death or the hurt of the saints he will avenge with punishment worse than death (Luke 18:8; Matthew 18:7); whilst even a cup of water to the least of them shall meet with eternal recognition and reward (Matthew 10:42; Matthew 25:40). Of the inviolable sacredness of the saint's life the sailors had evidently an intuitive idea "Although himself accuse himself, and lay his fault plain before them, although winds and waves did confirm it, although the lot thrown did assure it, although in words he did desire to be cast into the water, yet those who should have done it do so ill like of the matter, that if sails or oars can serve they will back again to the land—rather leave their intended journey than use any violence towards him" (Abbot). It was not on the score of his humanity merely that Jonah was so tenderly dealt with. The hurricane, the power and wrath of God speaking in it, Jonah's revealed connection with both, his acknowledgment and denunciation of his fault, and the meek manhood of his offer to die that they might live, were all circumstances to awe and soften them. "Disobedient though he may be, Jonah they perceive is God's prophet, and his servant still. Revering his God, they respect him. They feel that it is a solemn thing to have to do with anything that this God marks as his own—marks as his own even by his displeasure. Hence they pause" (Martin). This is godliness in its normal operation, and realizing its "promise of the life that now is" by surrounding it with an invisible yet inviolable guard.
III. THEY SHAPED THEIR CONDUCT IN THE EMERGENCY AS FAR AS POSSIBLE BY GOD'S. "Thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee" (verse 14). They would have spared the prophet's life had the thing been possible. It is only when Providence fights against them, and logically shuts them up to it, that they accept the inevitable, and throw him overboard. As their words imply, they "assume that to be righteous which God will have to be done; and because they see him will it, and that he will take no nay, therefore they know it is just, and accordingly yield unto it" (Abbot). The rule of right is God's will The expression of this in a particular case supersedes the general law. "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal" are canons in the universal moral code. Yet Abraham would have killed Isaac, and Samuel killed Agag, whilst Israel spoiled the Egyptians at the command of God. Then, from the general law forbidding homicide, was excepted the whole class of cases in which it was necessary for self-defence; and to take spoil in war, or as much food from a neighbour's field as would save the life, was excepted from the general law forbidding theft. On the same principle the execution of Jonah was legalized by the expressed will of God to that effect, and became to the sailors an act of simple duty. And their course was exemplary. Obedience to God is the highest morality. Whatever is done so is done well. It may seem anomalous and unfit. But that is only on the surface. Some of the finest passages in literature are least obviously conformable to grammatical rule. The conformity is there, and in the highest sense; it is only the tyro who cannot see it. So with actions done in the highest moral plane. The actor is too intent on doing what God says to look after the minor congruities. But the thing he does has an essential and fundamental rightness which lifts details into a new connection where they also become appropriate. "Whatsoever the Lord saith, that will we do." The men who accentuate the "whatsoever," and do it honestly, are seldom favourites with the crowd, but they have scaled the loftiest moral heights, where the voice of human opinion is neither listened for nor heard.
IV. THEY FOUND DELIVERANCE IN FOLLOWING GOD'S LEAD. (Verse 15) Attempts at escape in every other direction were made persistently, but all in vain. The ship lightening, the prayers to idols, the strenuous rowing, were so many exercises in the bootless task of fighting against God. Against the wind and tide of his purpose no human power can sail. "God was pursuing this matter to his own appointed issue, and would allow no effort, however well meant, to baffle his purpose" (Martin). This obvious fact the sailors are compelled at length to recognize. Reluctantly they give up their unavailing struggle, and take the course to which all along events had been conspiring to shut them up. And on the instant the face of affairs is changed. The elemental war is hushed in peace. The hurricane in which earth and heaven reeled becomes the calm as of a tropical night. The waters which had "gaped at their widest to glut him" swallow their prey, and forthwith cease their raging. How easy the end if we only take God's way! How swift the transition from impossibility to attainment! Yet it is just the transition from man's way to God's. Have we not all experiences on which by analogy the event may throw light? Aiming at a legitimate object, we adopt what seems to us a fitting course. But we never get on in it. Disappointment awaits us at every step. Disaster springs on us from every covert. It seems as if men and things were joined together in a universal conspiracy to baulk us. Discouraged at last, and bitter at heart, we take without definite intention or expectation a step in a new direction, and which circumstances seem to thrust upon us; and lo, before we are aware, and almost without an effort, our object is attained. God works, not against means but with them, not apart from means, but by them; yet everywhere and always he works his own will in his own way. As we recognize that way and take it, are we on the moral rectilineal—the shortest line between our present and God's future.
V. THEY ARE FINALLY WON TO GOD'S SERVICE BY THE EXHIBITION OF HIS CHARACTER. In the incidents of the day the sailors read a revelation of God. "The storm they clearly saw was in his hand; a reason for it, they saw, was in his heart. And that reason they saw as clearly as they saw the storm. His hand they saw was almighty. His heart they saw was righteous. They even became executioners of his wrath. It was a solemn initiation into the knowledge of his name" (Martin). And what but the revelation of God's character wins men to his service everywhere (Psalms 36:7; Rev 15:4; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15)? Conversion has many elements leading up to and meeting in it. There is the truth, the instrument in all saving change. There is the Holy Spirit interpreting the truth and bringing it home. But there is something else to which both refer. The power of the truth, even as applied by the Holy Ghost, must lie in the subject matter of it, and that subject matter is God (John 5:39; Romans 1:16). God is the Infinite Beauty. God made manifest means men attracted, all minds dazzled, and all hearts won (Psalms 9:10). His Character commands confidence and challenges fealty. He is one whom to know is to trust, whom to see is to love and choose. It is on this fact that inspiration founds in a familiar maxim of the kingdom (John 17:3). Knowledge of God is salvation, forevery saving grace inheres in it or goes with it.
VI. THEIR RELIGIOUS LIFE GAVE EVIDENCE OF ITS GENUINENESS BY FOLLOWING SCRIPTURAL LINES. (Verses 14-16) Prayer, fear, sacrifice, and vows;—what essential element in religious life or worship do not these exercises cover (Acts 2:21; Hebrews 9:22; Psa 3:1-8 :10; Isaiah 44:5)? In prayer is the coming to God for the things that are his gift if they come at all. In sacrifice is the coming symbolically by atonement; the only coming to which blessing is promised. Fear epitomizes the attitude and line of action in which practical religion may be summed up. A vow is a testimony that the ideal life is consecration—a pledge that they will freely give who have received so freely. We wonder at the propriety and fitness of the sailors' entire action. They had no Bible. They learned nothing from the prophet. Yet they took a distinctly scriptural course. They rendered God service in God's appointed way. Does it not seem as if they were somehow taught by his Holy Spirit; their minds enlightened, their hearts renewed, their activity shaped by almighty grace? As to salvation without the Bible, we must say, with a leading Reformation Symbol, that "there is no ordinary possibility" of it; but might it not be going too far to say that it is absolutely and in the nature of the case impossible? The rule is "salvation by faith, and faith by hearing;" but if the rule does not cover the case of infants, why must it be taken to cover that of all other human beings? The mere light of nature is doubtless insufficient to give saving knowledge of God; but saving enlightenment can hardly be held impossible in a mind to which God has access direct. Humility and charity will alike refuse to mark out a path for him whose "footsteps are not known." It is ill trying to make the voyage of the religious life with a spiritual Jonah on board. Yet the Church is full of such would be navigators. There is the Jonah of a demoralizing occupation—occupation having to do, e.g; with gambling, or betting, or drunkenness, or fraudulent manufacture, and it must be thrown overboard or the ship of personal religion will go down. There is the Jonah of some pet sin, which, like Herod to Herodias, we cling to and prefer to Christ; and if we would escape the lake of fire we must "pluck it out and cast it from us." There is above all the Jonah of an unbelieving heart. Men wilt have a religion without self-surrender; will do anything and everything but yield themselves to God. Yet they must do this, or all else is vain. Unbelief is in its nature fatal, cuts off the dead soul from its life in Christ. We ask you one question—Will you give yourself now and here to Christ? If you answer, "Yes," you are a saved man. If you answer, "No," we need pursue the inquiry no further, for heaven is as inaccessible to you as if Christ the Way to it had never come.—J.E.H.
The sign of the Prophet Jonas.
God sees the end from the beginning. He means it from the beginning. He is moving towards it from the beginning. There are no isolated events. Each is connected with a series leading up to it. The series is so long that we cannot see its earlier steps, much less observe their direction. But nothing is surer than that from the first they have a trend toward that one which is their ultimate effect. In proof of this we have only to select a series on which we have the light of Scripture, such as that leading up to the work of Christ. There are many such series. One leads up to his birth, another to his education, another to his sufferings, another to his death; and so on. And these series lead up to it in various ways. There is a prophetic series, and a typical series, and a contributory series, and a causal series. And there are events which lead up to it in two or three of these capacities at once. Such an event is the one recorded here, as the New Testament Scriptures repeatedly affirm. Consider this event—
I. AS A MIRACLE. It was clearly outside the natural order. The shark or other sea monster was "prepared" by God. It swallowed Jonah, contrary to its habit, without crushing him between its teeth. He remained alive in its stomach for days, contrary to all known physical laws. He was cast out safely on land, contrary to all natural probabilities. Seeing, as he could not but see, God's hand in the whole thing, Jonah would learn from it:
1. The Divine resistless purpose. Throwing off allegiance, he fled from duty like a man resolved on any terms to get away. But God went after him in a way that showed he meant to have his work done. The fugitive was stopped by wind and wave and conspiring circumstances as by an adamantine wall, impossible to break through. He knew now that God was a God who cannot be baulked, and who will have his way. The same lesson we all need to learn. Much rebellion arises out of a half conscious expectation that God at last will give way, and our disobedience be all condoned. And half the afflictions we suffer are to cure us of our wilfulness and conceit of irresponsibility. They teach us that God's arm, not ours, is strongest—that his will, not ours, must rule. When we have appropriated and endorsed the sentiment, "Not as I will, hut as thou wilt," our life sky will clear, and the thunderclouds that. threatened a deluge will discharge themselves in fertilizing showers.
2. The Divine consistent character. Severity was conspicuous up to the point of the prophet's immersion. After that everything spoke of goodness. There are qualities in God fitted each in its own way to move men to his service (2 Corinthians 5:11; Romans 12:1). They moved Jonah. His humble, believing, thankful prayer in the monster's maw is a revelation, of their effect on his moral nature. And godly lives the world over and all history through are effects due to the same cause (Psalms 7:17; Romans 2:4). Severity and goodness are just Divine moral excellence facing two different ways (Romans 11:22). Both have the same infinitely glorious perfection behind them, and are forceful with its inherent essential energy.
3. The Divine effective way. God had not interfered in the matter of Jonah's disobedient flight until things had gone a certain length. He allowed him to reach Joppa, and get on board a ship, and start for Tarshish. The sinful act was completed before the punishment began. But the moment it was morally complete the stern "Thus far and no further" was spoken. And how masterly the strategy, and resourceful the strength of God appeared! The elements, the lower animals, and man alike become his ministers, and stop the runaway before and on either side. And then the measures as a whole are so exactly yet variously apposite to the purpose of checking insubordination, and compelling execution of the original command! Jonah would know more about the God with whom he had to do, and the considerations moving to implicit obedience, than he ever knew before. It is not in the Divine dealings as an exhibition of mere force, hut of force directed unalterably to ends of justice and mercy, that their chief disciplinary value lies (Romans 2:2; Romans 3:3-6; Romans 11:22). Men are moved by them in proportion as God's perfections come out in them and shine.
II. AS A TYPE. On this point we have for an interpreter Christ himself (Matthew 12:40). "Jonah was in the fish's belly, so was Christ in the grave; Jonah came forth from thence, so did Christ rise again; his (Christ's) rising doth bring our rising, his resurrection ours, because he was the firstfruits of all those that do sleep (1 Corinthians 15:20)" (Abbot). The analogy between Jonah's sojourn in the deep and Christ's in the grave is such as to fit one to be a type of the other. The analogy holds:
1. In the time of the sojourn. It was three days in each ease. In the case of Christ we know that two of these days were incomplete. He was buried in the evening of the first day, and rose on the morning of the third day. Rhetorical speech is necessarily in round numbers, and our Lord states the truth broadly without attempting to elaborate details. Why three days was the period fixed on either in type or antitype we cannot tell. It is pertinent to notice, however, that three and four are mystic numbers, and together make up seven, the number of perfection. Then three days were sufficient, and no more, to establish the fact of death in the case of Christ, and the reality of the miracle of preservation in the case of Jonah. Details of Scripture are important because they record details of a Divine procedure which are purposeful through and through.
2. In the capacity in which each sojourned. Jonah was in the fish's belly as Christ was in the grave, in payment of the penalty of sin. Moreover, each by accomplishing this eared men from death. "Each of the processes is an atonement, an expiation, a sacrifice, pacifying the Divine Judge, satisfying Divine justice, abolishing guilt, restoring peace, effecting reconciliation" (Martin). But here the analogy ends. The type suffered for sins of his own, the blessed Antitype for sins of others. The type saved men from death of the body, the Antitype saved them from death eternal. Well might he say, on a memorable occasion, "a greater than Jonah is here"!
3. In the analogous experience of the two. The experiences were not identical. Christ literally "died and rose again according to the Scriptures." Jonah did not actually die and rise. But he did virtually. His natural life was forfeit, and was only saved by a miracle equal to that of resurrection. His life in the deep was a supernatural life, and, therefore, practically a new one. Indeed, he applies the words "hell" (Sheol) and "corruption" (shachath) to his condition, the same words which Scripture applies to Christ's sojourn in a state of death (Jonah 2:2-6; Psalms 16:10; Acts 2:31). He uses them doubtless in a figurative sense, but by using them at all he treats himself as virtually a dead man. Like those of Hezekiah and Lazarus and the widow's son (Isaiah 38:5; John 11:44; Luke 7:15), the life of Jonah from that hour was God given and new. So may be your life or mine. If God has saved you alive when men despaired of your recovery, or when but for some interposition which we call an accident it was forfeit by natural laws, then you are even as Jonah, and your remaining life, like his, is in a special sense and measure consecrate (Romans 12:1).
4. That with each it was the gate to a new life. The life of Jonah after his virtual resurrection was a new one, and greatly higher than the old. He emerges from the sea a new man, in a new relation to God, with a new purpose of heart, and a new life career opening out. "His old life is cancelled; all its guilt obliterated; all its evils interruptive of Divine fellowship and blessing abolished—left behind in the depths of the sea. He is dead to the past; and it has no more hold on him, no more evidence against him, no more wrath in store for him" (Martin). A prominent element in this new life was the preaching to Gentile Nineveh. But for it that heathen city would have perished for lack of knowledge, So also the resurrection-life of Christ is new (Romans 6:10). Living always to God, he lives to him now in a new sense. "He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father." And as he rose no bond of law kept hold on him any more; no condemnation laid its taint upon him any more; the glory of his Father's unmingled and eternal favour shone upon him now forevermore; and in his Father's favour he had life, his risen and eternal life" (Martin). In short, the risen Saviour's life is life in a new sphere, and a new relation and to new purpose. By that life, moreover, he enters the door which by his death he opened (Ephesians 2:11-17)—the door of access to the Gentile world (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:5-8). The risen Saviour gives the Scriptures to be preached to the ends of the earth, and the apostles and teachers to preach them, and the Spirit to apply them, and the Church to embody them in her Christ-like life. And thus is negotiated a wider repentance than of Nineveh, and with greater results. "God hath also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."
III. AS A SIGN. A sign is a miracle viewed from the evidential standpoint, a Divine work regarded as authenticating a Divine truth. Jonah's entombment served this purpose (Matthew 12:39).
1. It was a sign to the Ninevites. (Luke 11:30) Jonah in Nineveh would be full of his unparalleled adventure. He would tell the people of his virtual death and rising again by the hand of God. And would not the amazing story credential the prophet as beyond dispute the messenger of God? He would declare to them how the miracle of judgment which had consigned him to the deep had been, if possible, outdone by the miracle of mercy which had saved him "from the belly of hell." And would he not be thus a sign at once of God's resistless vengeance on sin, and his unspeakable mercy to the penitent? From such a God the Ninevites would know what they had to expect in the one character and in the other.
2. It was the archetype of the sign of the resurrection. (Matthew 12:40) The miracles of Christ were all signs The effect of them was to certify his Divine mission, and bring men to faith in his Name (Matthew 27:54; John 11:45). On many, however, they were practically thrown away. The Jews clamoured for a sign, while signs were being wrought before their very eyes. To this blind demand of insuperable unbelief there would be one further concession. The sign of the Prophet Jonah would be repeated in the Person of Christ by the resurrection on the third day. This was an unchallengable sign of the Divine mission of our Lord (Romans 1:4). If the dead One rose, then undoubtedly that dead One must have been the Son of God (1 Corinthians 15:14). The resurrection of Christ was the Father's sign manual to the Son's claim to a Divine character and an accepted work. It was a sign, too, of the Divine attitude toward sin. Taken in connection, as it must be, with the death and burial, the whole was, like Jonah's miraculous experience, a graphic 'attestation' of wrath against sin, removed as soon as satisfied, but inappeasable till then. If God "spared not his own Son, whom will he spare? If the sin laid on Christ is punished to the full, how much more the sin that remains on the sinner! And then, if Christ rises into a new life the moment his assumed connection with sin ends by death, shall not we, dead to our sin by the body of Christ, be raised together with him to "walk in newness of life"? The sign of the Prophet Jonah is everything to us. It means Christ credentialled, salvation finished and attested, and a sure hope springing of the resurrection unto life.
1. See how far God's judgments may follow deserters. Generally they include misfortune, often sickness, and sometimes death. The principle is that they must be efficacious, and so they go on till they reach their object, The distance you have gone away from God is the measure of the length to which his judgments will follow you (Colossians 3:25).
2. See how easily God can turn the destroyer into a preserver. Instead of killing Jonah, the fish saves his life. The Divine afflictive agencies operate in like manner. They wound only to heal; destroy the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of Jesus Christ." Your judgments are your mercies. Let the Divine mercy they reveal be your call to the duty you owe, your recall to the service you forsake (Psalms 89:30-33; Revelation 3:19).
3. Realize the high things to which this sign of the Prophet Jonas calls you. The death of Christ was for the death of your sin, his life from the dead for the life of your soul (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 5:14).—J.E.H.
HOMILIES BY W.G. BLAIKIE
Jonah's call and flight.
"Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying," etc.
I. THE MAN. Jonah is introduced without a word of explanation, except (implicitly) that he was a prophet of the Lord. So also Elijah (1 Kings 17:1). Their previous history is assumed. God's servants are treated as all waiting on him to receive his orders, so that "he says to this one, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh?" This is the true idea of servants; they "look unto his hand" (Psalms 123:2); "stand in his house" (Psalms 134:1); "stand before him" (Jeremiah 15:1). We have a little more information about Jonah (see 2 Kings 14:25). In the New Testament we have a twofold view of Jonah—a sign to the Ninevites (Luke 11:30, Luke 11:32), and a type of Christ (Matthew 12:40). This book is short, but of remarkable .interest. "It is long and it is short; short if we respect the smallness of the volume, but long if we respect the copious variety of excellent observations that are therein to be found: as the horribleness of sin, which was able within forty days to pluck down an utter desolation on so famous a city as Nineveh was; God's love in forewarning them that dwelt in that place that they might be spared; the prophet's foul fall, and his strange punishment for it; his offwardness from God, and God's favourable inclination evermore to him; the regard which the King of Nineveh and his people did bear to God's judgments when they were denounced; the free pardon of the Lord and his remitting of their sin upon their repentance" (Archbishop Abbot).
II. THE CALL.
1. Its source. Directly and clearly from God—the only source of spiritual authority—an authority not to be gainsaid or trifled with. Unlike any other authority, to it implicit obedience is due.
"Theirs not to make reply;
Theirs not to reason why."
2. Its rousing note. Arise! Implies summons to unusual exertion—the commission that follows needs great energy—it is not to be executed in a listless frame—"wherefore gird up the loins of your mind." Some duties are of such a kind that unusual self-excitation is needed for them (see Hebrews 12:1). "The very first word he hears is 'Arise.' It is a word used before another verb as a term of excitement. Arise! I know you have difficulties, in yourself, in your people, in the mission to Nineveh; arise, therefore, gird up your loins, stir up thy strength, and go! (Rev. A. Raleigh, D.D) How differently has the command to arise been dealt with by different men! Moses hesitates, pleads off, at last agrees (Exodus 4:1-31). Jeremiah urges his youth (Jeremiah 1:6). Paul confers not with flesh and blood (Galatians 1:16). Our Lord sets his face steadfastly to go up to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).
3. Its sphere. "Go to Nineveh, that great city." The prophet is sent outside the boundaries of Israel; he is a foreign missionary—the first foreign missionary after Elijah, who was sent among the Phoenicians. The field is Nineveh, probably the greatest and richest city of the world at that time. As missionary to Nineveh, Jonah occupies a remarkable position—through him God is to assert his claim as the God, not only of the Jews, but of the whole earth. He is to declare himself Lord of Nineveh and of all countries, and summon its inhabitants to their allegiance to him. "Suddenly, without note or warning, without preface, without explanation, assuming sovereign state as God Most High over all the earth; Jehovah, remanifesting, if not reassuming his universal supremacy, conducts, on the scale of most amazing miracle, a movement of his ceaseless government, as it extends over all nations; and that it may not fail to compel the attention of all succeeding ages, he adorns that movement with the most marvellous and romantic incident, with one of the most striking if not perplexing developments of human character, especially as occurring in a man of God, and with the symbolic death and resurrection of the agent under whose hand that movement is conducted—a death and resurrection on the very type of Mesaiah's; for Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, even as the Son of man was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth".
4. Its purport. Cry against it; for its wickedness is come before me. "He must cry against Nineveh, not whisper in the ear as if it were to one, not speak softly as to a few, but cry as unto all: this is a general proclamation. This word 'cry' is used in Scripture when men are fast asleep and lulled in their sins, and awake not with a little; so that as Elijah said to the Baalites, they were to 'Cry aloud, because Baal might be sleeping, and must be awaked;' so the minister must cry aloud, that men may be raised from their drowsiness in sin" (Abbot). "The wickedness of Nineveh" consisted in pride, ambition, oppression, cruelty, sensuality. The Ninevites were very merciless, and practised most horrible cruelties on captives, even of the highest rank. This wickedness had come before God, denoting that it had become full (Genesis 15:16), therefore intolerable. Yet to this merciless people Divine mercy was to be shown. Great cities apt to become great in sin—the power of sin becomes concentrated—one sinner encourages another—sin can be more easily hid—or, it may become very shameless—it is the duty of God's servants to cry against the wickedness of such cities, their drunkenness, licentiousness, greed, sabbath breaking, etc; and proclaim God's wrath against their sins.
III. THE CALL REFUSED. Jonah fulfilled the command to arise—but not to go against Nineveh. He shrinks from duty—"He should have risen to cry, but he rose to fly" (Abbot). His reasons were probably various—one is afterwards referred to by him (Jonah 4:2). Shirking duty because it is irksome and disagreeable, is too common. In ordinary life, irksome employments, when not patiently accepted, breed negligence, idleness, drunkenness, love of illicit pleasure, etc. Here is a lesson for the young—at school, or when beginning business or trade. In religious life, disagreeableness of duty is often a stumbling block—often makes us unfaithful; we neglect to warn others because the task is disagreeable. As the remedy for this, learn to regard duty ever as the command of God, who will strengthen and carry through all who trust him. "Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." He could hardly have believed that Tarshish was out of God's presence, but he acted as if he thought so. It was away from his immediate and manifested presence. There is a tendency in many to act as if God were in some places, not in others—as if God were in the church or religious meeting, but not in the marketplace, and as if they might act there as his enemies act. Edmund Burke said the humanity of England was "a thing of points and parallels." Some break the sabbath abroad as they would not do at home. Many fly from the company of godly people, because not willing to think of God. Lurking unbelief in this. Omnipresence of God a lesson for both old and young. God is sometimes represented by conscience. Fatal is the wish to escape from God—it would be to leave all that is bright, holy, gladdening, for ways of darkness, filth, misery. If we say to God, "Depart from us" (Job 21:14), he will say to us, "Depart from me" (Matthew 25:41). Jonah's effort to escape from God's presence seemed successful—"he found a ship going to Tarshish." Providence seemed to favour him; but this was a narrow view—providence must be interpreted widely. "We cannot expect smiles of approbation from Heaven any longer than we can say with Abraham's servant, 'I being in the way'" (Jones of Creaton). "So he paid the fare thereof." He had the money ready—another apparently favourable providence, and he paid it at once, for men do not grudge expense to carry out their own will, however reluctant often to spend it to carry out God's. See the costliness of sin—yet the devil's taxes are usually paid cheerfully. Picture Jonah afloat in the Mediterranean—his conflicting feelings—relief, yet no relief—like a modern criminal escaping to America, with an evil conscience and dread of the telegraph—his expedition insane. "Whither can I go from thy presence?" (Psalms 139:1-24). No hiding from God (Jeremiah 23:24; Revelation 6:16). Only hiding place in God (Psalms 32:7). The great lesson is this—indefeasible obligation of God's will, and man's alienation from it and disposition to resist it (Romans 7:1-25). Hence the need of watching and prayer: "Teach me to do thy will!"—W.G.B.
The fugitive arrested.
"But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken," etc. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!" God is never at a loss for means of conquering opposition and bringing erring men to their senses—he arrests Balaam by means of a sword, David through a parable, Peter by a look, the Philippian jailor by an earthquake, Jonah by a storm. All nature is at his command. "The whole world lull of invisible couriers, robed and ready for their service."
I. THE STORM SENT OUT BY GOD. Connection between the physical and moral world is so adjusted that the former accomplishes purposes of moral government. Storms in a sense are results of fixed law, yet instruments of Divine will—"stormy wind fulfilling his word" (Psalms 148:8) refitted to show men their helplessness and dependence—to reprove them for rebelling against him whose their breath is, and whose are all their ways. Many things else have same purpose—illness, frustration of plans, etc. "In the day of adversity, consider." Sin often causes storms—"in one's heart, in families, in Churches, in towns, and in nations (James 4:1)" (Jones). The storm was adjusted so as to answer precisely the purpose of God. The ship was not actually broken, but like to be broken—literally, "thought to be broken"—vivid image, as if creaks and groans were those of a living thing, as if the ship itself dreaded destruction.
II. CONDUCT OF THE MARINERS. "Then the mariners were afraid." Mariners usually an intrepid race—"a stiffer kind of men than most are"—are now afraid. Fear drives to prayer. In a storm the forces against man are overwhelming; in such a case fear becomes inevitable, and prayer an instinct. "No man," it has been said, "was ever an atheist in a shipwreck." Herein is testimony to the existence of God—man in conscious helplessness invokes a higher Power. The mariners took a double course—they both prayed and used the means available for the safety of the ship.
1. They cried every man to his god. Ignorance and superstition may mingle with more genuine feelings. "I think we have no ground for uttering one word of reproach or blame against these men. They would contrast but too favourably with many a ship's crew that sails out of London or Liverpool. These poor heathen men prayed to their gods. Many a British sailor only swears and curses by his. They did what they could. They were true to the best instincts of the human mind" (Raleigh). The prayer of fear is not necessarily the prayer of faith; fear may be the beginning of a godly life, but is not its essence; love is the essence of true religion and of true communion with God; "perfect love casteth out fear." If fear sets us at first to pray for ourselves, our families, our Church, our country, it must advance to something higher.
2. "They cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them." How worthless are all earthly possessions in comparison of life! "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath, he will give for his life;" "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own life?" There are moments when utter worthlessness of all earthly things irresistibly flashes even on the worldly mind. Would that men thought oftener of this! Contrast the security of the Christian treasure—immovability of the Christian hope.
III. CONDUCT OF JONAH. "But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep." Apparently he avoided prayer when the mariners took to it—he could not pray. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;" "Your sins have separated between you and your God." A guilty conscience makes prayer impossible, till a breakdown takes place, and contrition bursts out. Note the misery of Jonah—he cannot bear to see the men praying while he himself cannot pray—he goes down to the sides of the ship. "The most wretched man in the world is the man who is afflicted, and cannot pray." He was fast asleep. This was not unnatural—he had been under a great strain; now comes a recoil. Sisera slept in the tent of Jael—the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. Jonah's sleep was not a sign of insensibility, but a proof of the terrible constraint under which he had been acting. He had utterly exhausted himself in his struggle with God, and the very storm cannot keep him awake. Yet surely this was a strange sight—the heathen mariners praying, and the servant of God sleeping. This, indeed, was typical of the purpose for which God had sent him to Nineveh, viz. that the repentance of Nineveh might be a reproof to Israel; so the prayers of these heathen were a reproof to Jonah—he was provoked to jealousy by them that were not God's people. Sometimes the Church is rebuked by the world; at least a contrast to the crooked ways, cross temper, and ungracious talk of professing Christians is sometimes found in the integrity, gentleness, and charity of some who make no profession. Earnestness of heathen in their religious observances is often a reproof to Christians. "Why should the Church allow the world to bear away the palm in reference to any one element of excellence whatsoever—candour, courtesy, charity, kindliness, large-mindedness, liberality, self-denial, any virtue whatsoever? Why should there be one single department of what is good—good in any sphere, moral, physical, social, scientific, concerning which the world can with any show of fairness profess to school the Church, or say, Stand aside, for we are more at home here than you?" (Martin).
IV. CONDUCT OF THE SHIPMASTER. The absence of Jonah in time of prayer had arrested attention, and was felt to be strange and unseemly. Even the world expects Christians to do their duty. Shipmaster reproves him sharply, cries aloud against him, "What meanest thou, O sleeper?" for his sleep was not the sleep that God gives to his beloved. A rebuke often applicable still to many other classes to all at ease in Zion, to neglecters of the great salvation, to open transgressors, to worldlings, to forgetters of God, to those who think not of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come! "Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not." Jonah is called to prayer—earnest prayer; he must "arise"—a recumbent attitude not suitable for such prayer—rather the attitude of Jacob wrestling at Peniel. A reason is given why Jonah should pray, but a hesitating reason, "if so be"—if there be even a chance of prayer prevailing; this is very different from the full assurance of faith. Faith knows that God will hear, and that he ever thinks upon his own, and that they cannot perish, in the deepest sense of the word. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and they shall never perish." The name and work of Christ, unknown to this mariner, give confidence in prayer. The heathen mariner is here the preacher to the prophet, not the prophet to the mariner. "Let us listen to his awakening call. These words of his have aroused many a sleeper besides Jonah Hear them, sleeping soul, today. What meanest thou, O sleeper?—sleeping here in this great battlefield, where souls are lost and won? In this vineyard of noblest work, where God-given talents are doubled or forfeited forever? In this treacherous sea of life, girt round with storms which might so easily break the strongest ships that float? What meanest thou?—sleeping now, with noonday lights above thee, and about thee men who strive and men who pray?… While the gates of heaven and hell stand open, the murky shadows of the one gathering in deeper folds, the joy bells of the other waiting to peal?" (Raleigh). Oh the unreasonableness of spiritual sleep—sleep of unbelief—sleep of backsliding! "Now it is high time to awake out of sleep" (Romans 13:11).—W.G.B.
The fugitive convicted.
"And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah," etc. The prayers of the mariners, and Jonah's prayer, if indeed he tried to pray (although that is hardly likely; see Jonah 4:2, "Then Jonah prayed"), led to no abatement of the storm. God's purpose was not to be accomplished in that way—Jonah was not to be restored in so easy a manner. But prayer may seem to be unanswered while it is answered—it is a link in a chain. A much more profound discipline had yet to be passed through in order that Jonah might be restored and the great purpose of his mission to Nineveh attained. Let us trace the next steps in the development of the providential plan.
I. THE MARINERS RESOLVE TO CAST LOTS. (Verse 7) This is a striking step. They might have given themselves up for lost, perhaps drowning their feelings, as sailors have often done, in intoxication (if that be not an exclusively modern practice); but they resolved to make another effort to save their lives and their ship. This proceeded on the belief that this storm was caused by some man's sin; and to find out who was the offender they determined to cast lots. A dangerous generalization, to ascribe a calamity to one man's sin, though in this case correct. Perhaps there were unusual circumstances in the storm that led them to reason thus. "If anything should happen strangely, as while we are in this mortality we may very well expect, we can take no better course than these shipmen presently to fear lest iniquity be the author of it" (Abbot). Casting lots was a peculiar device to ascertain a secret; religious use of lots, however, is very different from the careless appeal to the lot often made (see Jos 7:16; 1 Samuel 10:21; Acts 1:26), The lot becomes legitimate only when all the ordinary methods of settling a difficulty have failed, and nothing remains but to make a solemn appeal to God.
II. THE LOT FALLS UPON JONAH. Picture his anxiety while the lot was being cast—his despair when it fell on him. This seems to have brought him to a sense of his sin: it was God's voice, "Thou art the man!" Jonah now broke down, prostrated by the little arrow from God's quiver. In walking through a hospital after a battle, two remarks are sometimes made—How easy to kill! and—How difficult to kill! Some bodies almost entire, yet killed; some fearfully shattered, yet alive. So we say—How difficult it is to humble! and How easy it is to humble! difficult for man, easy for God; man may reason, expostulate, apply truth, yet the offender may not in any degree be touched by it. A word, a look, a lot from God, makes one quite prostrate and helpless. What a power of rebuking and prostrating God may use at the last day!
III. JONAH QUESTIONED. All eyes are fixed on Jonah with eager curiosity to ascertain what he had done. The running fire of questions indicates desire for light on the strange transaction. They were chiefly anxious to know his crime, his occupation, and his country; either his personal guilt, or the guilt connected with his occupation, if it was an unlawful one, or with his country, or with his people; for there might be some horrible sin, perhaps committed of old by the people of his country, exposing them and him through them to the wrath of the gods. Why did they not act at once on the decision of the lot, and throw Jonah overboard? Probably they desired confirmation of it; it must be a painful transaction, and. they would like more authority for the step they were to take. It would be satisfactory to get Jonah to confess. It might throw light on the origin of storms, and be a useful hint for the future.
IV. JONAH'S ANSWER. The nobler aspect of Jonah's character now comes out—perfect ingenuousness and honesty; he knows his fate—death stares him in the face—yet there is no shrinking or fencing of any kind. He tells them:
1. He is a Hebrew, a member of the race that had so much to do with the powers above.
2. The God whom he worships is the God that made the sea and the dry land, and has absolute power over both.
3. He has fled from his presence, has offended him, and now God is showing his displeasure. Humiliating position, yet not without a certain grandeur—Jonah under the rebuke of God, his own conscience, and the heathen mariners. In reference to the mariners, he who might have been expected to bring them blessing has brought them trouble. His mouth is shut; he can say nothing for himself. There is something very striking in his undergoing the condemnation of the mariners. He had been afraid, apparently, of the bad opinion of the Ninevites, and had shunned his commission; but now he encounters the bad opinion of the mariners—with nothing to fall back on—his conscience and his God both against him. Yet there is a grandeur in his honest confession, in his attitude of thorough humility; there is a noble truthfulness now about him; he conceals nothing, though he must be the victim.
V. EFFECT ON THE MARINERS. They were exceedingly afraid. They felt a sense of the reality and nearness of a supernatural power—the power of the God who made the sea and now raises it in storm. The supernatural must be always very impressive—must have subduing effect whenever God is felt to be near, as in time of pestilence. The men now felt God near, in character of the righteous, holy Judge, punishing an offender—not like heathen gods, jesting at sin, but in terrible earnest against it. They seemed to have been impressed, and converted to God, for the soul may move very rapidly; deep impressions may be made very suddenly in time of great excitement. A great lesson to Jonah; if these rough heathen sailors were so deeply impressed by the fear of God, might not the Ninevites have been so too? They said to Jonah, "Why hast thou done this?" Strange aspect of sins of God's servants in eyes of world! God's servants have no cloak for their sins. The question must have cut Jonah to the quick. He could only echo it in blank amazement—Why have I done this? Observe the hollowness of all apologies for sin in the hour of judgment; sin, however sweet in the mouth, is bitter in the belly; "lust, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." The horror and misery of the ship's company are a type of the effects of sin, of one sin, by a servant of God. "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins." O sin, what a monster art thou! what tragedies come out of thee I how dost thou involve others in ruin, as the drunkard's family! God give us a true sense of it, and teach us to hate it in every form, and guard against its minutest seeds, lest, like the dragon's teeth, they breed against us hosts of armed men! Let each one often put the question, in reference to his sins, "Why hast thou done this?" Sinned against God and man, and against thine own soul, and against thine own children? Better we should put the question and answer it in time, than wait till God puts it in the day of judgment.—W.G.B.
The offender sacrificed
"Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous," etc. A new stage of spiritual progress has been reached—yet the sea not calm. There had been prayer—but no calm followed; now there is frank confession of sin, and doubtless repentance, and acknowledgment of God even by the men, but the sea still wrought, and was tempestuous. Was it "no use" to pray and repent? No; but God's plan was a large one, not yet completed. See the danger of impatience and despair when a blessing is delayed: "Though the vision tarry, wait for it."
I. JONAH IS MADE HIS OWN JUDGE. "Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?" They seem to have felt, "There is one God, and Jonah is his prophet." Fearing God, they recognized the claims of his servant, and appealed to him to pass judgment on himself—"What shall we do unto thee?" Doubtless they had their own ideas, but they respected him as a prophet, and were slow to lay bands on him, and thought that, as a servant of God, he would know best what would appease his wrath. "I see chiefly in this language an appeal to the true God and the true man. Wherever the knowledge of God is clearly and truly communicated, heathenism and idols have no chance. Let God be clearly known as he is revealed, and, with very few exceptions, men cannot but believe on him … . So, too, when the true man appears among men, although it may be, as in this case, coming out of untrueness and unfairness, staggering beck through the storm and penalty that he may at least die in the right way, men must yield that man reverence. The image of God is shining in him once more. He is a living and true man—son of the living and true God—"What shall we do unto thee?" (Raleigh).
II. THE SELF-IMPOSED SENTENCE. "Take me up, and cast me into the sea." The coward now become a hero shows a noble and self-sacrificing spirit—contrast to former spirit. And now comes to the front the instinct of retribution. Jonah does not propose that he should be granted an opportunity to go to Nineveh and execute his commission; he felt that he was causing death to others—it was just that he should die to prevent them from dying: "I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." But he will not be his own executioner: "Take me up, and cast me into the sea." No man is entitled to take away his own life; no countenance either in nature or in Bible to suicide. Jonah's death must be a judicial act, executed by others, "Cast me forth into the sea, for that is the will of God; it is my will also, for I cannot endure to see you in such danger and distress any longer on my account. You have already lost your goods because of me, and you have been for some time in peril of your Ryes; that you may suffer no more, take me up, and cast me into the sea" (Jones).
III. ANOTHER PULL FOR LIFE. "Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land." These men gain upon us—rough seamen by profession, tinged by Oriental barbarity in all likelihood, they become generous, and eager to save Jonah. Jonah's humility, candour, and ready self-sacrifice had impressed them: "They rowed hard to bring the ship to land." A self-sacrificing spirit draws men's hearts—turns the heathen—Livingstone's influence with natives of Africa due in no small measure to this feature—remember the self-sacrifice of our Lord: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." "Every good thing in our spirit and action has a tendency to reproduce itself in others who are in any way related to it, especially, of course, if it is called forth for their advantage. Jonah is true and noble at length. The sailors, having responsive qualities in themselves, are nobler for his nobleness, are more self-forgetful because, when the moment of stress came, he did the noblest thing a man could do for fellow men—offered his life for theirs" (Raleigh). Another step is thus gained in moral progress—"the men" have become full of reverence toward God, and full of regard for his prophet—but to no purpose apparently; "for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them." A sacrifice, is indispensable. (In the men "pulling hard" some have found an emblem of sinners trying to save themselves before they resort to God's way of sacrifice; but this lesson seems far fetched)
IV. THE MARINERS TO GOD. "Wherefore they cried unto the Lord, and said, We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee," etc. The tender conscience and devout feeling of the mariners are very remarkable. Observe:
1. Vehemence of their prayer: "They cried"—they beseech God once and again.
2. They appeal to God's justice: "Let us not perish for this man's life."
3. Their concern for life: "Lay not upon us innocent blood." Shedding of blood was little thought of in those times—massacre of innocent and guilty alike were common enough.
4. Their submissiveness to God: "For thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee." Thou hast shown thy sovereign will in the past; let it rule us now. Most profitable lesson for us all: "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:6). Especially in reference to any step that, once taken, cannot be recalled. For if they threw Jonah overboard, it was an irrevocable act.
V. JONAH IS CAST FORTH. "So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging" They took him up, tenderly and respectfully, not pitching him overboard in a tumultuous manner. The prophet offers no resistance; one great heave, and he is eungulfed; in a little moment the sea closes on him—the men gazing after him with sorrowful, anxious faces, thinking, perhaps, "Poor man! where is he now?" It is an awful testimony to the righteousness of God; one offence has forfeited Jonah's life. No wonder they are anxious. But their anxiety does not last long; God reveals himself at once, and very wonderfully: "The storm ceased from her raging." The men are relieved from a double anxiety—anxiety about the storm, and anxiety whether or not they have done right. "Thus died Jonah, to them, at least, the death of a criminal pursued by justice; yet the death of a repentant and righteous man; in death triumphing over death; committing himself to God in singular meekness and faith; acknowledging the justice of his doom, and relying on Divine pardon and protection; committing his body to the sea and his soul to the God whom he feared, the God of heaven, and of the sea, and of the dry land" (Martin).
VI. THE EFFECT UPON THE MEN. At last the storm ceases. What neither prayers, nor repentance, nor the change in the mind of the men had accelerated by one iota comes at once and completely after the sacrifice of one man. Fresh token of nearness of God; but not this time vindicating his justice or executing his wrath; showing his mercy and his love. Great power of mercy and love to move the heart: "The men feared the Lord exceedingly." Awed by his presence, reassured by his mercy, they "offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows;" showed their deep sense obligation, and took steps to keep it up. The vow was probably to be performed at some future time. Thus they took precautions against evanescence of grateful feeling—a useful lesson. Men "soon forget his mercies;" vows tend to keep sense of them alive after times.
VII. JONAH NOT LOST. "The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah." "Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps." God had shown himself the Lord of reanimate nature; now he shows himself Lord of animate nature. The storm had been his messenger; now his messenger is the fish. This is duly in accordance with the idea of God which the whole transaction and the whole book present. Jehovah claims to be not only the God of the Hebrew, but the God of Nineveh, and of the whole earth. He is the God of heaven, "which hath made the sea and the dry land." "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof;" "So is this wide and great sea, wherein go things creeping innumerable, both large and small beasts." He shows his sovereignty over the land by preparing a great fish. He bends it to his own purposes—makes the devouring monster a means of protection and preservation. The whole story has a supernatural air. If the presence of the supernatural be once admitted, the form of miracle is a mere matter of detail. Objections arising from the apparently grotesque character of this miracle am obviated if it be considered that God wished to convince Jonah of his power to protect and preserve him even in Nineveh, amid hordes of furious enemies, roused perhaps to fury by his message. He that had protected him in the body of the fish, surging up and down through the depths of the stormy sea, was able to protect him at Nineveh. The unusual character of Jonah's mission justifies an unusual miracle. God's manifold resources of preservation—Noah in the ark—Moses in the cradle of bulrushes—Elijah by the ravens—Jesus by flight into Egypt—Paul through his nephew finding out conspiracy, Many more are found in Christian biography. All the powers of nature, all creatures rational and irrational, men, devils, and angels, are subject to him; and now subject to Christ: God "hath put all things under his feet, and given him to be Head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."—W.G.B.
HOMILIES BY G.T. COSTER
Verse 1-ch. 4:11
Characteristics of Jonah.
The weaknesses, the secrete of character, as well as the possibilities of a man are discovered in life's crises. Jonah's great mission to Nineveh has revealed him to us; and who can tell how much it revealed him to himself?
I. HE WAS A MAN OF STERN TRUTHFULNESS. This book was virtually written by him. This is the testimony of antiquity; is attested by some linguistic peculiarities in the original, and by the striking details in the narrative, that only could have been known to Jonah himself. Sad and monitory is that narrative; but be it remembered that he writes it. And mark how. He conceals nothing, extenuates nothing; says the bitter worst about himself. There is no effort at explanation, no colour of apology, no relieving light, If his conduct should be a warning, let it be a warning. It is not difficult to" speak truth "to and about others. It is agreeable even to some. But to "speak truth" about one's self—there is the difficulty. Truth about one's wrongdoing, one's wrong spirit. The black truth, without any attempt at apology or explanation. Few can do it. Jonah did it. How men hide themselves from themselves! How they tone down their evil deeds! Their sin is not as other men's. Not so with Jonah. He seeks not, even covertly, mercy from the reader. Enough for him to "find mercy of the Lord."
II. HE WAS A MAN OF IMAGINATION. He is ever in triumphant exaltation or despairing depression; ever in extremes. And a very little matter could remove him from one to the other. To the imaginative life has brighter lights and deeper shadows than to other men; quicker transitions, darker sorrows. Sorrows, too, are imagined that never come. Something is missed; it is deemed lost; hence vexation and annoyance. All needless; the thing is soon found. A friend is expected, is delayed; all kinds of disasters are fancied to have befallen him. Oppressive, foolish fancies! A temperament this that often hinders from action. Molehills swell into mountains, and little bushes into burly lions. That seems in some eases even to exonerate from action; men so enamoured of deeds imagined, that the deeds in reality are never done. Men sunken into mere day dreamers. Every temperament brings its own special temptation. And the imaginative, so easily gladdened or saddened, need much to pray for "the peace of God." We can rest from the undue excitements and wearing vexations of imagination as we "rest in the Lord."
III. JONAH WAS A MAN OF NARROW RELIGIOUS SYMPATHIES. His selfish care for his prophetic reputation, fearing lest the preservation of the Ninevites should stigmatize him as a false prophet, made him cruel. His intense uncharitable patriotism made him long for the destruction of Nineveh, his country's enemy. Patriotism that binds us to our birthland, the scenes of memory, and of our nation's history, is well But it is sadly, terribly ill when a man thinks that he can only truly love his own country by longing for the humiliation and harm of all others. God is the God of all the nations; the gospel is for "every creature"—is to be passed on by us to those as yet unblessed by us. The story of Jonah warns us against the narrowing influence of professional and national feeling. How noble, in the comparison, is Paul, willing for Israel's sake to be "accursed," and yet the apostle of the Gentiles!
IV. JONAH WAS A MAN OF AN IRASCIBLE TEMPER. Uncorrected, it may be, in early life. Correction always comes sooner or later; better sooner than later. He was one soon angry, and who could be very angry. Not a pleasant man to live with. A complaining man, and fond of something to complain of. Fretful, dark, moody. Quick in a quarrel, and one who dared to quarrel with God's goodness. A man with a spirit of contradiction, who stood by what he said. "Did I not say so? I said it in my own country." Unlovable Jonah! A man's termperament is with him from the beginning, and abides with him, through all changes, to the end. But temper can be corrected, and become better; be uncorrected, and become worse. It is to be watched; resisted with "all prayer," if evil. Let temper, as well as cares, be carried to God. He can subdue it, curb its anger to peace, charm its darkness to cheerfulness.
V. WITH ALL HIS SIN, JONAH WAS A SERVANT OF THE LORD. The "root of the matter" was in him. We have gleams in this dark narrative of the better nature within him. Pleasant to believe that his later life (of which we have no record) was calm with a patience and beautiful with a charity unknown before; that "at the even time there was light." Here, through all time, he is seen as the great missionary-prophet, and as, of all the prophets, the great Christ-type. On earth he had much to learn—much concerning his own folly, impatience, sin; much of God's wisdom, forbearance, perfection. And now, clear from sin, is he not learning the lesson still? For to know God is the blessed lesson of eternity. And its song (as was Jonah's here) is, "Salvation is of the Lord." In that song may we join at length and forever, with him and all "the goodly fellowship of the prophets"!—G.T.C.
Jonah 1:1, Jonah 1:2
Jonah God's messenger.
In these words we have important instruction as to God's messengers.
I. THEIR CONTINUITY. The first word of this book is the Hebrew conjunction "and:" "And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah." Thus begin other books of the Old Testament. How significant! The Divine messages stand not alone; they are connected with those sent before. So with the Divine messengers. Did the word of the Lord come to Abraham, Moses, Elijah? And also to Jonah! He shows poorly in comparison with them, yet he too was in "the goodly fellowship of the prophets." We may have slight gifts and narrow opportunities, still we may be God's messengers and in the line of the greatest of the past. Each humblest Christian worker can say, "To me also is this grace given."
II. THE DIFFICULTIES OF GOD'S MESSENGERS. Jonah had many. This was a novel work to which he was bidden. A great work—one man to warn the millions of Nineveh. A work he could devolve on no other, and in which he was to have no human helper. He had to say a "hard saying." Not a sermon concerning Nineveh—that he could have preached at home; nor to Nineveh; but with fearless cry against it—the city of violence, of manifold vengeance clamouring wickedness. But his great difficulty was within him, in an unwilling mind that soon revealed itself in rebellious life. We too have difficulties as God's messengers. In the way we have to go, the people we have to address, their callous unconcern in the message we have to hear—"warning every man." But our greatest difficulty is within. To be promptly obedient. Not to hesitate, delay, argue against. Oh, to watch against the reluctant will! There is the fontal evil. No audible voice, such as may have come to the prophets, do we need today. The Spirit of Christ is with us, speaking in Scripture-illumined conscience, and in the fresh strong convictions of the soul. Let us hear and promptly heed them, willing to bear or do all to which he calls.
III. THE PRIVILEGE OF GOD'S MESSENGERS. With all his faults Jonah is clothed with honour. He carried God's messages to men; he was "Jonah the prophet." We too may bear his messages, and by every right word and true deed are doing it. How privileged thus are we! Then let us "arise, go." Let nothing hinder, remembering whose servants we are. "Arise, go" to cottage, school class, bed of the afflicted, to warn, entreat—in all bearing God's messages; to business, to do it as in Christ's very presence; to scenes of rest, by purity and cheerfulness to witness for God the All-holy, the All-happy One; to trials, temptations, to be in Christ's strength stronger than all of them. "Arise, go to" all the work given you to do, and go to finish it: to sorrows, that through them you may reach the realms of rest; to death, through it to arrive at the land of life; through all to him our Master and Lord. "Where he is there we shall be also."—G.T.C.
Jonah the fugitive.
I. THE MOTIVES THAT IMPELLED HIM TO FLIGHT. We cannot know all that prevailed with him. If we knew just where the call found him, and "the spirit of his mind," then we might be less surprised at his flight. Had he been "restraining prayer"? yielding to self-indulgence? or falling to the idolatry of his own judgment—confident that he knew his own powers, what he could best do, where best labour? not in all things seeking that higher wisdom which is our only safe and unerring guidance? Anyway, such a man as Jonah falls only by little and little. There are many steps to reach a spiritual catastrophe. Let us be warned, then, against the first steps, however secret, that lead from God. Among the things that wrongly influenced him to flight we may suppose:
1. The novelty of the work. To be a prophet to a heathen people, to go to them as God's messenger, was striking into a new line of duty. How different from work in Israel amid familiar surroundings!
2. It was work afar off, involving a long journey of several hundred miles. Those, too, were days of slow travelling, and Jonah too, perhaps, a poor traveller.
3. The difficulties of the work would only be beginning when Nineveh was reached. That he, a solitary man, a foreigner, should, in that city of insolent pride and pitiless violence, denounce judgment upon it, was indeed a stupendous work—something to do and to shrink from.
4. His little success at home was not encouraging. Jeroboam may have been quickened by his prophecies to military effort and victories, but Jeroboam was still an idolater. And idolaters, as a whole, were his people. What can Jonah expect, then, in Nineveh?
5. But if the Ninevites repented, then (for they would surely be saved) Jonah would be discredited. "He had foretold doom, and, lo! deliverance."
6. Why should Nineveh, Israel's enemy, be spared? All the small blind patriot in Jonah kindled into revolt against the work to which he was bidden. Let Nineveh perish! And have we no excuses for flight from duty? Such a novel work, or so new to us! So far away from all our experiences! Beset with countless difficulties! Amid dangers, too, perhaps! And little likelihood of success in it! Must the work be done? Then others must do it] Excuses may be many, valid reasons there can be none, for neglecting the duty which God bids us to do.
II. THE FAVOURABLE-SEEMING CHARACTER OF CIRCUMSTANCES IN JONAH'S FLIGHT. He left Gath-hepher; went down to the coast. No accident stopped him. In Joppa no illness delayed him. The sea was peaceful. He found just the ship he wished, and bound whither he desired. There was room for him on board. He had money enough for the passage; "so he paid the fare." He went aboard. What could be better? Not into the book of providence must we look to know the right way from the wrong. In themselves, prosperity is no proof of the Divine favour, nor adversity of the Divine displeasure. We have a "sure word" to guide us. And had Jonah tested his conduct by God's word, he would have known, in spite of all that seemed favourable, that he was going "the way of transgressors." Have you success in wrong? It is none the less wrong. Things are not really, permanently favourable if God is unfavourable. Are we right with him? Then all things, storm as well as shine, shall be right with us. "Even the night shall be light about us."
III. JONAH'S SPIRITUAL DEGRADATION IN FLIGHT FROM DUTY. "He went down to Joppa." Literally, down from the mountains of Zebulun, down to Joppa, and, having secured his berth, "down into it." Spiritually, how he had been going down! Down from his moral elevation as a prophet. Down from the heights of fellowship. Down from the highlands of peace. Down from Divine service in which he had been as "upon the top of the mountains." Down, ever less noble, beautiful, Divine! Men may "go up" in society, wealth, local influence, and yet morally be going down. By every act of duty done we ascend; by each neglected we morally descend. Having the Word of the Lord, may we have his Spirit too, that daily we may cheerfully respond to the heavenly voice that says, "Come up higher"!—G.T.C.
I. A TEMPESTUOUS PROVIDENCE REPROVED HIM. Jonah, aroused, creeps on deck. What a scene met him! The sea in horrible tumult. The fury of the wind. The ship
"… up and down
From the base of the wave to the billow's crown!"
The bronzed sailors wondering what would be the end! The storm is reproving him. No miraculous wind, perhaps. Still, God's servant with strong reproof: "Guilty Jonah, awake! arise! return! To thy God; to thy work! Duty may be left; it can never be escaped till done!" Sleep had been a part of his flight. Now he was awake. Was conscience awake? Could he think? What did he think? Or was he still escaping from himself in the very tumult of the tempest that came to awake him? To not a few life is like a long slumber. Thought, imagination, love, are asleep; their noble possibilities awake only to the gains and joys of this little spot of earth and fleeting day of time. But not without reproving storms, of loss, trouble, affliction, bereavement. It is well that the man suffer loss that he be not lost. The voice of circumstances is the voice of God.
II. THE EXAMPLE OF THE SAILORS REPROVED JONAH. They, each man of them, prayed. Each to his favourite god. Earnestly, with faith in the efficacy of prayer, they "cried every man unto his god." Prayerless Jonah (how can the backslider pray?) is reproved by those praying sailors. Their prayer is one of ignorance, ignorant earnestness. He has no prayer at all; and he, too, a prophet of the Lord! And how the heathen's passionate cries to his god rebuke our restraint of and coldness in prayer! How the full-hearted earnestness of the illiterate Christian reproves our heartless accuracies and formal worship! How the backslider is shamed by the cry of the penitent! "Arise, call upon thy God!"
III. THE APPEAL OF THE CAPTAIN REPROVED JONAH. He, respectful in all his surprise and suppressed indignation, goes down and himself awakes Jonah. A heathen, he is faithful in all his ship. Not man or boy aboard but he calls to prayer. And even the strange passenger must be called as well. A pattern master this. He had a religious as well as secular care for those under him; was not ashamed to show his earnest spiritual interest in this strange Hebrew. A pattern for all masters and mistresses on sea and land. Jonah should have been reprover, and he is reproved; a teacher, and is being taught; prayerless, when he shouht have been leading others in prayer. "What meanest thou, O sleeper?" Thou, backslider today, why sleep? Awake to thy peril! Call upon the great Deliverer! He will think upon you. His thought shall be salvation. You shall not perish.—G.T.C.
I. JONAH DETECTED BY THE LOT. Heathens cast that lot; still the disposal of it was of the Lord. He guided the fateful token, and so it fell to Jonah. Now that the Divine Spirit is given to those that seek him, we are released from dependence upon the indications of the lot. But still by things as little seeming as lot casting, backsliders are discovered to themselves if not to others. A cock crow detected the recreant Peter. And now by some memorial of better days, an old letter perhaps, a book inscribed with a once-cherished Christian name, or a time-yellowed ticket of Church membership, the backslider is self-detected. Oh the upbraiding days that are no more! Oh, reproaching light of the irrevocable years! Now he has sinned away the light, has grieved out of his heart the joy of the Lord. "The lot fell upon Jonah," and he was detected.
II. JONAH DETECTED BY THE SAILORS' MANY QUESTIONS. "Thine occupation?" A prophet! But so faithless to the prophetic call, so unworthy of the prophetic name! "Whence comest thou?" From Gath-hepher; from high, if perilous, mission to Nineveh, seeking, as he tells them, to flee from the presence of the Lord, to escape (how guilty! how futile!) from the great universal presence. "What thy country?" The land of privilege, the Holy Land! "Of what people art thou?" Of the people of God, the people chosen to be the depository of the Divine truth, and the witnesses to the Divine character. Questions these to go home. Backslider, "what thine occupation"? You have been, it may be, a Christian worker, a teacher of the young, a speaker of the truth. And not now. Why not? "Whence comest thou?" From a pious early home? From scenes of Christian activity and service that miss you, that know you no more? "What thy country, thy people?" A citizen of this Christian country, with such opportunities to be a Christian man and to do Christ's work among men, and yet you act as if gospel light had never shone to you, as if the news of salvation had never sounded in your ears.
III. JONAH DETECTED BY THE SAILORS' UNANSWERABLE QUESTION. "Why hast thou done this?" was the question that pierced deepest of all. It was unanswered. Jonah could not attempt excuses, and reason for his flight there was none. Backslider, once you could find time for Christian service; you had joy in it; you were a blessing; you were blest. Not so now. You have withdrawn from Christian work. "Why hast thou done this?" What valid reason can you give? Once you were in fellowship with God's people. Not so now. The world's spell is on you. You are intent on making a position, pushing the fortune of your family; pleasure is your pursuit, ambition your aim. But were you not happier in the former days than in these? "Why hast thou done this?" Once you tasted that the Lord was gracious; now you are far out on the godless, reckless deep, where there is no peace. Why is this? "Speechless" you must be. For such guilty flight reason there can be none.—G.T.C.
The sailors conduct.
Look at those swarthy sailors. They were among Jonah's teachers; they, too, may be among ours. From age to age in this chapter they sail the sea—Jonah's friends; ours also if we will let them be, having much to say to us if we have but ears to hear. Mark—
I. THEIR REVERENCE. There is nothing rough and rude about them. The storm has subdued them. What they hear from Jonah affects them. Is it not the hour of their conversion? They cease from idolatry and worship Jehovah. Hearing of Jehovah as God of heaven, earth, and sea, they were "exceedingly afraid." He must indeed be the Lord! And that Jonah should have sought to flee from him! "What shall we do unto thee?" they ask; for through Jonah they would learn the will of God concerning him. They have no grudge against him, no scorn for him, no words of insult, no deed of violence. They reverence his God, and so show kindness to him. A pattern in this to us. Have we an offending brother—one who has offended us? Let us wrong not ourselves, nor wrong him, the better man in him, by bitterness. The wrong doer will have self-reproach enough, bitter memories enough.
II. THEIR SELF-DENYING GENEROSITY. Those sailors did what they could to save the prophet. When Jonah was at his best they were at their best. His unselfishness called out theirs; their nobility answered to his. Thus is it ever. Be kind, pure, generous, and you will help others to show kindness, and to be pure and generous. What inspiration is there in goodness! Supremely is this seen in our blessed Lord. What an encouragement to copy him that we may quicken others!
"Honour to these whose words or deeds
Thus help us in our daily needs,
And by their overflow
Raise us from what is low."
III. THEIR PRAYERFULNESS. As heathens they had "given themselves to prayer; Hearing of Jehovah, they pray to him. They cannot save Jonah; but before they do the deprecated deed "they cried unto the Lord"—all of them, earnest, importunate. They recognized God in this series of events; they would be submissive to him; they would be clear of this man's blood; they would take no step without prayer. Nor let us. Let it be the "key of the morning and the bolt of the night." When have we not requests to offer? needs to be supplied? When do we not need God?
IV. THEIR GODLY FEAR ATTESTED. At the sight of the sudden great calm "the men feared the Lord exceedingly." Their fear, their faith, evidenced itself. By "a sacrifice unto the Lord" they expressed in act thankfulness for the past and present; by their "vows," their resolution of service in the time to come. As from themselves, must have come the knowledge of the sacrifice offered and vows made, we may believe that that sacrifice to Jehovah was the first of many, and that the vows made were paid; otherwise they had not cared to have remembered or spoken of them. In these days of Christian light may we offer a daily sacrifice of our time, means, faculty, influence, to him who for us "even dared to die," and in his strength perform the many vows that we have made.—G.T.C.
Verse 17-ch. 2:10
Jonah's De profundis.
Here the prophet is, as he is called in the Koran, "the man of the fish." God had pity on him, and sent him into an awful school house that he might "come to himself." A strange character was his, and a strange chastisement came upon him. God's power was his keeper—his power "who hath a bridle for the lips of every disease, and a hook for the nostrils of death." The external history of the man through that imprisonment is unwritten. Not so the history of his heart.
I. SEE JONAH AT PRAYER. He had slept in the ship; he is awake in the fish. He prays; he feels his misery; he sees his sin. The man is awake. In the terrible darkness of adversity he longs for the light of the Lord. In what solitude was he! Far from light of day, human voices, human sympathy. Yet there he could pray. We can pray anywhere. Jeremiah could pray in the miry pit, Daniel in the lions' den, and Jonah in the fish amid the paths of the seas. He was in sad and extreme case. He was as a dead man out of mind; yet he can pray. What distress is ours? Our hopes may be "ready to perish." But think of Jonah! He could have recourse to prayer. So can we. The greatest of all was Jonah's Friend. In losing his liberty he has found his God. He prays "unto the Lord his God." "O Lord my God" (verse 6), he cries. We, too, have the greatest of all as our Friend. None need despair with such a Helper.
II. JONAH'S PRAYER WAS A CRY. Whether a vocal cry or not, it was the cry of his soul. In this second chapter we have a well arranged prayer. If not the exact order, we have here the substance of the requests he cried unto the Lord. What agony and horror may be in a human cry! In cries from the sea when perishing men call for a lifeboat! Jonah cried to God. What tears in his words! what distress in his tones! What hope for him, as "out of the belly of hell" (the unseen world, the place of the dead) he cried? Already he seemed numbered with the dead. The sense of God's displeasure was the soul of his affliction. "All thy billows and waves passed over me." Was God favourably there? "I said, I am cast out of thy sight." That was the pang. He had sought to escape God's presence; now he mourned the Divine absence. He had no enjoyment in his prayer, yet it was accepted. The prayer of agony ends in the voice of singing.
III. JONAH'S PRAYER WAS ONE OF FAITH. "I will look again," he said—mentally look again—"toward thy holy temple." How much the "temple" included—the Law, worship, sacrifices! towards these he looked, and thus overcame his fears. Down there, in those depths, in that living tomb, by that "look" this man becomes one of the heroes of faith. He, too, like a prince prevailed. That look was seen. God was pleased with it, and accepted it. Still God sees a look when the soul is in it. Though no word be spoken, we can look unto him and be saved.
IV. JONAH'S PRAYER WAS ONE OF THANKFULNESS. In this prayer he recalls and makes his own words from the Book of Psalms. Some of the old cries of David became the new cries of Jonah. And, marvellously preserved, his prayer was praise; and, in view of his deliverance, he vowed unto the Lord. And his vow was kept. The very subsequent writing of this chapter warrants our belief of that. And what of the vows we have made in times of peril? "Vow and pay." Say, "I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back."
V. JONAH'S PRAYER WAS ONE OF UTTER DEPENDENCE ON GOD. Such was his spirit, such his prayer. With "salvation is of the Lord" it ended. And by that he seems to have meant that he left all with God? He was in the best hands. In his own time and way God would save him. If he will, creatures will act contrary to their natures, as did this fish in not hurting Jonah. It God had "prepared" or appointed; and now its work was done, the prophet penitent, saved not only from death, hut also from trusting in "lying vanity," "the deceitful promise of his own will and his own way," no longer "forsaking his own mercy" even God, but cleaving to him. Now "the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited Jonah upon the dry land." And the prophet is a saved man—saved body and soul, the word, his creed and To Deum, upon his lips, "Salvation is of the Lord," Still, "he must save, and he alone." Jesus, and no other, "shall save his people from their sins."—G.T.C.
Jonah 1:17 with Jonah 2:10; Jonah 3:3 (cf. Matthew 12:39-41)
Jonah a prophetic sign of Christ.
I. I N BOTH WE SEE A MARKED JUDGMENT OF GOD. The storm, the detection, the punishment, were all from God. Jonah was the sinner on board. Christ, "without sin," "became sin for us." He suffered at the hands of wicked men; yet "the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all," "He was wounded for our transgression." The vast world vessel went plunging on to destruction, the storm unappeased while the sin was unpunished. On!—
"When lo! upon the reeling deck a weary stranger stands,
And to the dark devoted crew stretches his suppliant hands;
From the face of God, from the face of God, from the face of God ye flee;
'Tis the blast of the breath of his nostrils that shakes this stormy sea.
But take ye me and cast me into the troubled deep,
And the wrath that is roused against you will be pacified, and sleep."
Yes, he is our Peace! "For the transgression of my people was he stricken."
II. JONAH, IN HIS BURIAL, WAS A SIGN OF CHRIST. Very unlike was the sea monster bearing away the prophet to the rock tomb that received the body of our Lord; yet in this they were alike, that they had been unused as tombs before. Prepared were both for the event that has made both eternally memorable. "The Lord had prepared" the fish. Joseph, unwittingly acting out the Divine purpose, had prepared the rock hewn tomb. He may have meant it for himself. God meant it for his Son. This Isaiah had foretold: "He made his grave with the rich." The time of Jonah's and our Lord's burial agreed. So our Lord's resurrection on the third day was "according to the Scriptures"—to his own word and his predictive type. Jonah, cast into the deep, seemed done with. An end of him! So, to many, with Christ, when the loving Marys and "those lords of high degree" bore him to the tomb. In his living tomb Jonah miraculously lived. And though Christ's body was dead, where was he? Still living; "doing good;" preaching the glad tidings in the unseen world (1 Peter 3:19).
III. JONAH'S RESURRECTION WAS A SIGN OF CHRIST'S. God "spake unto the fish," and it cast the living prophet to the shore. So "God raised from the dead" the Lord Jesus. Thus he reversed the marked judgment that, in suffering and death, had come upon his Son. He was now "highly exalted" as Prince and Saviour. Moral resurrections attest Christ's. "Witnesses to Christ's resurrection" are all saved men and women. They are "risen with Christ;" and by his Spirit rise.
IV. JONAH'S MISSION TO THE GENTILES WAS A TYPE OF CHRIST'S. Jonah was sent to the Ninevites. Christ arose to be a Saviour "to the uttermost parts of the earth." To all nations. For every creature. His mission—by many voices and ministers—is going on. Its continuance declares his. Its moral victories—over ignorance, superstition, sin—attest his royal and almighty power. "All power hath been given unto me." Jonah himself, raised from such a grave, was the sign to the Ninevites. Christ is the Sign of Christianity. Often, alas! spoken against and rejected. Happy those—only those—who accept and glory in him!—G.T.C.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Jonah 1:1, Jonah 1:2
The call of Jonah.
We may fairly identify Jonah, the son of Amittai, with the prophet who preached in Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. (see 2 Kings 14:23-27). His name signifies "a Dove," and it well expressed his mournful and brooding temperament. Amittai means "the Truth of God," and it has been wisely said by a great Puritan divine, "I would that truth were every preacher's father." The narrative is exceedingly simple, and the Hebrew remarkably pure; while the lessons taught by the book are of profound significance, and far in advance of those we might have expected in that age of the world's history. The revelation of God's infinite goodness shines radiantly throughout.
1. He was merciful to the Ninevites, who were regarded as being outside the covenant; but were warned, converted, and saved.
2. He was merciful to Jonah, not cursing him for his wilful disobedience, but preserving him from peril into which his own foolish precipitancy had plunged him; graciously giving him a new commission in spite of his failure; teaching him gently, after a sinful outburst of temper; and closing the narrative of his life by a question of infinite tenderness.
3. He was merciful to the sailors, who had been heathen all their lives, but who, on turning towards him, found his deliverance near and complete.
I. THE PROPHET'S CALL. "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah."
1. It was a Divine call. Without it no service should ever be attempted; with it no service should be avoided. To go and preach to Nineveh would never have arisen as a conception of duty in the heart of a patriotic Israelite in those days. The generosity of the thought was Divine, not human. We, too, should listen for the words of our God, and wait for his commission. If we are true Israelites, we shall not precede the cloud, but follow it. The attitude of those who would be true prophets should be that of Samuel, when he said, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."
2. It was a secret call. Jonah was not commissioned by courtiers, or by ecclesiastics, or by a popular assembly. Probably his proposed expedition was unknown to all of these. It is a frequent experience with a Christian to get instruction as to what he should do, when he enters into the closet, shuts to the door, and prays to the Father who seeth in secret.
II. THE PROPHET'S SPHERE. Nineveh was at this time in the zenith of its glory. Rich, corrupt, and godless, it was the centre and focus of evil
1. The sphere was dangerous. Even in these gentler times, and amidst more phlegmatic people, moral courage is required by those who rebuke popular sins. But an Eastern mob would be likely to handle very roughly any foreigner who dared to threaten their city for its sins. Jonah had no fear of this, however, and so far sets a noble example of heroism.
2. The sphere was uncongenial. These Ninevites were dreaded and hated by the people of Israel. Even under the Christian dispensation we see frequent evidences of national jealousy and antipathy, which prevent willingness to benefit other nations; and many a man would be rebuked as unpatriotic who earnestly sought the well being of foreigners. How much more intense was such a feeling under the former dispensation! But God had room in his Fatherly heart for other peoples besides the race he had chosen for a peculiar purpose. Whenever the elect nation came into contact with others, God gave to those others some revelation of himself. He revealed himself to the Egyptians through Joseph and Moses; to the Philistines, through the sacred ark; to the Assyrians, through Elisha; and to Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, through Daniel. Those who are inspired by God's Spirit overlook the barriers of race. The apostles did so, and were glad that God had given even to the Gentiles repentance unto life. Personal prejudices and dislikes may also sometimes hinder us in carrying on our divinely appointed work. Let us pray for willing minds and obedient hearts, that uncongenial spheres may be bravely filled.
III. THE PROPHET'S DUTY.
1. He was to denounce the wickedness of the people. Both Nahum and Zephaniah refer to the sins of Nineveh. Its inhabitants were luxurious, riotous, addicted to witchcraft, cruel, and idolatrous. Sins vary in form, but not in nature. The vices of our own time we should specially denounce with unsparing courage.
2. He was to proclaim the nearness of God. They knew not the truth revealed to Jonah: "Their wickedness is come up before me." Similar was the statement made about the murder of Cain and the sin of Sodom. God sets all our sins in the light of his countenance.
3. He was to announce a coming judgment. "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4).
4. He was to be ready to receive and convey every message God gave him. "Preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." This should be the constant attitude of all religious teachers.—A.R.
The prophet's disobedience.
Scripture never seeks to palliate the sins of the saints, but reveals them in all their wickedness. Jonah's disobedience is exhibited in the strongest light, as being resolute and prompt, following immediately on the Divine command. He had been told to make his way to Nineveh, which lay northeast of his home, and he instantly started in the opposite direction, being determined to go as far west as he could. He "went down" from the mountain district of Zebulun, where he bred, "to Joppa"—now known as Jaffa, a port on the Mediterranean. There he found a vessel on the point of sailing for Spain, which was much larger and safer than the ordinary coasters, as we may judges not only from the length of the voyage undertaken, but from such a verse as this: "Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind;" the destruction of these great vessels by storm being evidently considered a special proof of Divine power. Tarshish was an ancient city of Spain, proverbial for its wealth, and was the exporter to Tyre, to Judaea, and other lands, of silver, iron, tin, and lead. It was known to the Greeks and Romans as Tartessus. In that distant place, mingling with the crowds which thronged its streets, occupied by the fresh strange scenes which would surround him, Jonah hoped to escape from his duty and to drown the voice of conscience. His folly and sin are suggestive of warning to all who are tempted to disobey their God.
I. MANY LIKE JONAH, FLEE FROM THE WAY IN WHICH GOD WOULD HAVE THEM GO. The expression, "to flee … from the presence of the Lords" should be rendered "to flee … from being before the Lord," i.e. from standing in his presence as his servant. Jonah knew perfectly well that he would never be beyond the reach of God's sight and power. The truths celebrated in Psalms 139:1-24, he sincerely believed. But he resolved no longer to act as God's messenger and prophet. He felt sure that his message of warning was meant to bring Nineveh to repentance, and that then the merciful God would spare the city, which, with far-seeing prescience, the prophet perceived would be the destroyer of his country. If the sins of its inhabitants were so great, they deserved to die; and if their growing power was shattered, he cared not how, . threatening danger would be averted from his native land. Just as some Englishmen, jealous of the rising power of the United States, would not have lifted a finger to avert its destruction in the late civil war, so Jonah felt about Nineveh. He determined that he at least would not be the messenger to avert its destruction; so he fled as far as he could from the appointed sphere. Examples of similar conduct are to be seen amongst us.
1. God calls men to private prayer. They hear of its benefits; they are conscious that it is a duty and a privilege. Yet they avoid solitude, or they plunge into an interesting book, or they yield themselves to sleep, just when the opportunity comes for praying to the Father who seeth in secret.
2. God calls men to his service. The work requires to be done, but they shut their eyes to it, or they leave it to others, or so absorb their time in business that God's service is neglected.
3. God calls men to give themselves to him. At times they are almost persuaded to be Christians. But they leave the sphere in which good influences surround them, and wander away into the far country as the prodigal did.
II. IT IS NOT ALWAYS EASY TO AVOID THE GOD-APPOINTED WAY. Jonah felt that he could not remain where he was. He wished to divert his mind by travel, and to make it so difficult to journey to Nineveh that he could quiet his conscience in Tarshish by saying, "The distance is too great." Money, time, and trouble were necessary to his disobedience. Every wrong doer has had some such experience. Around most of us God mercifully puts a protecting hedge of holy influences, which it is difficult and painful to break through. Those who are brought up in Christian homes do not find it easy to snap the bonds of love which have held them, and to get rid of the sacred memories of a hopeful childhood. They feel shocked and ashamed when they first witness scenes of vice and hear words of evil. Doubts and fears trouble them, especially at the beginning of a downward course, though all too soon they learn even to rejoice in iniquity. All such feelings and associations are among the God-appointed means for saving us from sin.
III. GOD DOES NOT RESISTLESSLY STOP THOSE WHO ARE DETERMINED TO GO WRONG. Jonah had no accident on his journey down to Joppa. He found the very ship he wanted at anchor in the harbour. He paid the fare and embarked for his destination, and when the anchors were raised and the vessel sailed out to sea, he felt that he had nothing more to do but wait, while the breeze that filled the sails would soon carry him to a distant land. Those who mean to leave the ways of unrighteousness do not meet with insuperable difficulties. They may be sometimes troubled with self-reproach, but meantime outward circumstances may appear even to favour their downward progress. If only they can stifle convictions and cast scruples to the winds while they resolutely make their way to scenes of gaiety and sin, God will work no miracle to prevent them. And the time may come when even the inward monitor is silent; for God's voice has been heard saying, "Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone."—A.R.
The Divine interposition.
When man forsakes God, he who is infinite in mercy does not forsake man. No sooner had Adam fallen than Divine love planned a scheme of redemption. Through all the ages the voice of God has been summoning men to repentance; and in the fulness of time his only begotten Son came to seek and to save that which was lost. He deals as lovingly with individuals as with the race. Jonah was an example of this. Had a favourable voyage taken him to his destination, or had a sudden tempest drowned him in the depths of the sea, we should only have known of him as a disobedient prophet. But God dealt mercifully with him. He sent a temper which aroused him from lethargy, brought his sin before him through the remonstrances of heathen, provided for him a means of escape, and gave him a new commission as his servant. These are the facts we should now consider.
I. GOD SOMETIMES SENDS A STORM TO AROUSE A WRONG DOER. On entering the ship, Jonah went below deck; partly, no doubt, to avoid curious inquiries, and partly to rest after the long and hurried journey he had taken. Soon he sank into a heavy sleep—fit emblem of the lethargy of sin. The tempest, or rather its effect on the sailors, aroused him. Many have experienced tempests within or in their outward life .which have led them afterwards to say, "He restoreth my soul." Anxieties have been so terrible, that in an agony the convicted have cried, "Lord, save, or I perish." Illness has come so suddenly, and death has seemed so near, that the awakened soul has asked, "What shall I do to be saved?" The forsaking of friends, the death of relatives, the failure of business, have been employed by God again and again to arouse moral thoughtfulness, and save the soul from destruction. Let us learn the lessons which such tempests can teach us. "What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, and call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not."
II. GOD EMPLOYS UNLIKELY AGENTS TO BRING A WRONG DOER TO REPENTANCE. The man who uttered the words just quoted was a heathen shipmaster, whom a Jew would despise as a Gentile dog or as an ignorant idolater. Yet but for him Jonah might have slept on till the vessel foundered. It has often been so. Naaman, the distinguished Syrian general, was taught by a slave girl. David was instructed by Abigail. The Pharisees and scribes were rebuked by the hosannas of little children in the temple. God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and weak things to destroy things which are mighty. If we see no reason for fear or for seriousness in the tempest of life, he may arouse us by means we despise. A single phrase in a sermon which is far from eloquent, a leaflet or tract without any pretension to literary charm, an earnest word from an inferior in rank or education, the trustful prayer of a lisping child,—may be used of God, as was the summons which came to Jonah from a superstitious heathen.
III. A MAN MAY BE IN GREAT DANGER WITHOUT BEING CONSCIOUS OF IT. Jonah slept. Perhaps he dreamed of happier days and of distant scenes. These seemed real to him, but the realities actually around him—the storm, the ship, the sailors—were as if they did not exist. He did not know his danger, and had forgotten in sleep his sad disobedience. Even to the sailors his sleep seemed the result of infatuation or of senselessness, and they asked (not, "What meanest thou?"), "What aileth thee, O sleeper?"—as if there was something abnormally wrong with him, as indeed there was. But more strange, more fatal, is the sleep in which so many lie who believe themselves to be awake. Shrewd in business, eager in pleasure seeking, successful in study, all that they see appears for the time to be the only reality. But, like Jonah, they are in dreamland. Heaven and hell, death and judgment, an enemy of souls, and a Saviour from sin, are recognized by others, not by them. Urge all such to awake, and arise from the dead, that Christ may give them light. "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation."
IV. GOD'S WAY OF SALVATION IS THE ONLY ONE. It was useless for the sailors to row hard in the hope of bringing the ship to land, and equally useless for them to cast the cargo overboard. There was no safety for them or for Jonah except by the way ordained by God. Strange as it seemed to them and to us, Jonah, in all his sinfulness and helplessness, was to be cast into the sea, where none but God could save him. If the story has no other lesson, it at least teaches us the impotency of human effort to battle successfully with the storms of life. The struggles some make in their unaided strength to win salvation are vain as the efforts of these who "rowed hard to bring the ship to land." The endeavour to get rid of besetting sins without prayer for grace is as ineffectual as the casting overboard of the burden in the ship. A simpler, stranger, means of salvation is provided for us. As Jonah was cast helpless and alone into the sea, for God to save in his own way, so we are called to such implicit trust as will prompt us to cast ourselves wholly upon Christ, in whom we shall find eternal rest.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
God speaking to man in mercy, and man fleeing from God in disobedience.
"Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me." This is a strange book. It is not the record of a dream, nor the sketch of an allegory, but the history of a man written by himself. True, he speaks in the third person; but so did many of the old prophets, go did the Apostle Paul, and so have many great men. Intellectual children are prone to use the personal pronoun I; great intellectual men prefer writing of themselves in the third person. Speeches and books bristling with I are generally the effusions of little souls. We have here his name and that of his father, the one signifying "Dove," and the other "the Truth of God." Names of old were sometimes commemorative, sometimes predictive. Names now signify little. Men by great and noble deeds can, and often do, throw into the commonest names a meaning that will radiate through centuries. In these words we have two things worthy of attention—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. In times past he spake "unto the fathers by the prophets."
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 he great in sin, for sin is a great thing to God; it is a black cloud in his universe; it is the "abominable thing" which he hates. 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, go down to this city, and "cry against it." Be earnest. The danger is great, near at hand, and approaching every minute. Observe here two things:
(1) Man's distinguishing faculty. What is that? The power to receive, to appreciate, 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 Tar-shish, 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. He merely commanded him to go, and Jonah resisted the Divine command. Man has the 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. He dares to attempt extricating himself, not only from his obligations to God, but from his very "presence." 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. See the 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. But here is a resolution. 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 our day. Though a descent, it was rather a long journey, and would take him two or three days. 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. He continued his journey from his home to Joppa, then he searched on the quays for a vessel; and when he found, as he thought, a suitable vessel, he "paid the fare thereof," Ah! what fares men pay in the career of sin! And when he had paid the fare thereof, he "went down into it," and there he thought himself safe. How inexpressibly foolish was all this, not only in the nature of the case, but according to results! All the efforts, as the sequence shows, not only proved futile, but brought him to the utmost distress.
CONCLUSION. The two things that you have in these verses are always going on—God in mercy speaking to man, and man in terror fleeing from God. Oh, how wrong, how foolish, the attempt to flee from the Infinite! "Whither shall I flee from thy presence?"—D.T.
A rousing voice to moral sleepers.
"What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not." The incident referred to in the text is this—Jonah was sent to Nineveh on a mission of mercy, sent to warn the corrupt population of their impending doom, and to call them to immediate repentance. The Divine message was not to the prophet's mind; he was displeased, and instead of going direct to Nineveh, he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare, embarked, and hasted away. While on the deep a terrible tempest arose. "The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken." As the tempest raged Jonah was asleep, "fast asleep." So the shipmaster came to him and said unto him, "What meanest thou, O sleeper?" etc. Moral indifferentism is the curse of the world. Three practical appeals to the morally indifferent are suggested.
I. JONAH WAS IN IMMINENT PERIL. So are you. It is said that the ship was "like to be broken." The perils of shipwreck have often been graphically depicted; but they surpass the conceptions of all but those who have struggled in their ghastly horrors. But what are the perils of material shipwreck to the perils of a corrupt and disobedient soul? To have the body buried in the depths of the ocean is a trifle compared with the burial of the soul under the black, booming billows of moral depravity and guilt. The buried body becomes unconscious of its position, and sleeps itself into the calm bosom of its mother nature; but the soul becomes burningly conscious of its terrible situation, and struggles in vain to rise from the abyss. What is hell? I know not. I want no rolling thunders of Divine vengeance, no material fires burning on forever, to impress me with its awfulness. A soul buried in the black ocean of its own depravity, with a conscience intensely alive to its hopeless condition, struggling in vain to release itself, is the hell of all hells. Careless sinner, you are in danger of this hell! Your moral circumstances will soon be changed, a tempest is brooding, it increases with every sin. Every star in your heavens will soon be extinguished, and the sea on which you are now gliding along will be lashed into fury and will engulf you in ruin.
II. JONAH WAS UNCONSCIOUS OF HIS PERIL. So are you. Whilst the tempest was raging and the vessel ready to sink, he was "last asleep." Carless sinner, you are unconscious of your danger! 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. But your folly is greater, inasmuch as your peril is more tremendous.
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 the sake of those around you who are in similar peril.
III. JONAH HAD A MESSENGER TO WARN HIM OF HIS PERIL. So have you. "The shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not." 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" Great dangers seldom fail to strike the idea of God into the hearts of men, whatever their creed or character. This man believed, not only that a God existed, but that that God had raised a tempest, and had the power to subdue it. The Christly men that warn you every Sunday from the pulpits also believe in this God.
2. He believed in the efficacy of human prayer. So do they. The shipmaster said to Jonah, "Call upon thy God." Whatsoever speculative scientists may say about prayer, one thing is clear—that it is an instinct of the soul, not a mere doctrine of the Bible; it is a law of nature, not a mere ceremony of religion. 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. What right had he to interfere with the sleeping prophet, to break his slumber, and to summon him to prayer? The instincts of nature authorized him, nay, bound him to do so. Your ministers have a right to warn you; they are bound to warn you. They are commanded to "cry aloud, to lift up their voice 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, Every true man is bound to protest against your conduct, and to demand from you, in the name of God and this universe, an immediate reformation.
CONCLUSION. The following fact, recorded in the 'Biblical Treasury,' is worthy of note as an illustration: "A traveller who was pursuing his journey on the Scotch coast, was thoughtlessly induced to take the road by the sands as the most agreeable. This road, which was safe only at low tides, lay on the beach, between the sea and the lofty cliffs which bound the coast. Pleased with the view of the inrolling waves on the one hand and the abrupt and precipitous rocks on the other, he loitered on the way, unmindful of the sea which was gradually encroaching upon the intervening sands. A man, observing from the lofty cliffs the danger he was incurring, benevolently descended, and arresting his attention by a loud halloa, warned him not to proceed. 'If you pass this spot, you will lose your last chance of escape. The tides are rising. They have already covered the road you have passed, and they are near the foot of the cliffs before you; and by this ascent alone you can escape.' The traveller disregarded the warning. He felt sure he could make the turn in the coast in good time; and, leaving his volunteer guide, he went more rapidly on his way. Soon, however, he discovered the real danger of his position. His onward journey was arrested by the sea; he turned in haste, but to his amazement he found that the rising waters had cut off his retreat. He looked up to the cliffs; but they were inaccesible. The waters were already at his feet. He sought higher ground, but was soon driven off. His last refuge was a projecting rock; but the relentless waters rose higher and higher; they reached him; they rose to his neck; he uttered a despairing shriek for help, but no help was near, as he bad neglected his last opportunity for escape. The sea closed over. It was the closing in upon him of the night of death."—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jonah 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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