Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SPIRITUAL DESERTER'S RETURN IS FOLLOWED BY HIS RE-ENGAGEMENT. Jonah had discarded much and been stripped of more. He had refused to act, and had ipso facto forfeited his commission. Now with a return to his right mind there is reinstatement in his lost calling, and re-employment in his forsaken work. We account for this on the principle that:
1. There is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared. There is a forgiveness that only encourages transgression. Such is weak forgiveness, implying a want of firmness in the forgiver, on which there is the temptation to make further aggressions. Such is careless forgiveness, that takes no hostages for the future, nor even makes terms. Such is inequitable forgiveness, in which principle is ignored, and the offence hushed up without regard to the claims of justice. But the Divine "more excellent way" of pardon is at once equitable and defined and strong. Amends for the past and amendment for the future are both exacted sternly. God forgives when he has punished, and on the unbending condition that the offence cease. Then punishment is mingled with so much of mercy, and requirement is sweetened by such]promise of grace, that gratitude mates with reverence, and obedience is the firstborn issue of the happy tie. The insubordinate, mutinous Jonahs having been ironed and subdued, are at length released, that in after action they may exemplify obedience unquestioning and without a semblance of the old self-will.
2. Spitual office attaches to existing spiritual relation. The Divine government is paternal God's officers are first, of all his children. Their fitness for the discharge of spiritual functions is due to their previous endowment, with spiritual gifts. If unspiritual men and whilst unspiritual they may be formally in office, but are incapable of spiritual work. When Jonah fell for the time being out of the spiritual connection, he ceased to be a prophet of God. He could not be at once a recruiter and a deserter, an ambassador and a rebel. Now he has come back, and in resumed spiritual relations he finds the condition of restored religious functions. He may again speak for God now that again he is on God's side. No man goes legitimately on God's errand who cannot do it con amore. Spiritual officers are to be sought exclusively by promotion from the spiritual ranks. Every true shepherd has been first of all a sheep in God's fold, and to each relation has come in by Christ, the Door.
II. GOD'S PROGRAMME IS STEREOTYPED, WHATEVER ELSE MAY CHANGE. (Ver. 2.) God has not changed, although Jonah has. The prophet's mutinous outbreak has not moved him a hairbreadth from his purpose. What he meant at first he means still, and will have. So the prophet is brought back exactly to the point at which he had broken away, and told to begin where he had left off.
1. God is moved still by the same compassion for the doomed. "That great city." The repetition of these words on each occasion of the mention of Nineveh is significant. It shows that God had regard to the tact of its size; that all through the arrangement of measures for its warning he was moved by the thought of its teeming population given over to death. Hence it is styled in ver. 3 "a great city to God," i.e. in his estimation, and in Jonah 4:11 the Divine compunction is directly connected with the existence of its hundred and twenty thousand children, not yet responsible, but bound to perish with it. The Divine compassion is a glorious factor in human life. Its attitude is catholic. It embraces in wide paternal arms the heathen that knows not God, the infant that could not know him if revealed. Its outflow is unstinted, averting myriad evils altogether, softening the inevitable, indemnifying the past by the amends of rich compensatory good. Believe in God's pity. It is a splendid fact. It is hunger's provision, and pain's anaesthetic, and misery's comforter, and humanity's good Samaritan in the darkest reaches of its Jericho journey, and the most calamitous experiences by the way.
2. God's prescribed step remains the fitting one to take. What other methods it was within the resources of Divine omnipotence to use for the conversion of the Ninevites, we cannot tell. What we know is that the proclamation of the truth was the ordinary method, and that God keeps to it. "The sword of the Spirit," with which he pierces the soul and kills its sin, is the "Word of God." "The foolishness of preaching" is that special presentment of the Word by which in all ages it has pleased God to save them that believe. And there is, if we could see it, the perfection of fitness in this ordinance. Truth is light revealing things as they are and as they ought to be. Truth is motive, presenting considerations that move intelligence to seek that better state. Truth is force, conveying to the soul and constituting in it the Divine omnipotent energy in the strength of which the new man arises, and the new life is lived. Truth is comfort, unfolding the soul rest and joy of the free which climb the throne of being when the new regime of righteousness begins. Then truth preached with the living voice and personal element is all this and more. To the influence proper to the abstract truth is added its influence as concreted in a human life. As light it is intensified by the added ray of an illustrative experience. As power it is reinforced by the impulse of a cooperant human will. As comfort it is at once confirmed and sweetened by personal testimony and fellow feeling. There is no conceivable substitute in the enginery of grace for the personal preaching to sinners of the word of life.
3. Repentance is best proved by obedience in the matter at which there was stumbling before. Jonah had passed through a severe discipline for the conquest of his self-will. Whether or not it was really overcome, this reiterated commission would test. And there was a needs be that the point should be settled. All judgment is "unto righteousness;" to bring us to it if afar from it, to restore us to it if we have strayed. And it is this not in the general, but in the particular. It is to check particular faults and produce the opposite virtues. In this object God will see that it succeeds... He cannot fail as men fail. His chains must bind. He gives no disputable instructions, nor moves to their observance by futile action. In tow of his disciplinary privataeers when they return to port, will be formal, as a prize of war, every skulking craft that had been trying to do the enemy's work. The proof that his measures have not been nugatory is the circumstantial realization of their purpose. The iniquity he visits with the rod he must see put away. The forsworn task he enforces with the strong arm he must see done. "God looks upon men when he has afflicted them and has delivered them out of their affliction, to see whether they will mend of that fault particularly for which they were corrected; and therefore in that thing we are concerned to see to it that we receive not the grace of God in vain" (Matthew Henry).
III. THE DISCIPLINED SERVANT IS AN IMPROVED SERVANT. (Ver. 3.) The stern discipline has done its work at last. The rebellious fit is over, and the unruly servant is pliant to his Master's will. What evils of terror and pain and agony he might have escaped if he had only done this at first! But God bends all things to his purpose, and Jonah's rebellious freak among the rest. His message to Nineveh is not only done, but better done than it could possibly have been at first.
1. Jonah is better prepared for it than he was. He has sinned and been forgiven, has suffered and been delivered, has prayed and received an answer. And each experience is of the nature of a qualification for the better doing of his work. "Rejoicing in the sweetness of a fresh and full reconciliation; lightened in spirit by tasting in God a mercy larger than he could formerly have thought of; cleansed from the darkness that brooded over his soul, and the countless images of terror and of evil which rose up before him while be was fleeing from his God in rebellion, and his God was pursuing him in wrath" (Martin), he would approach his Master's work as never before. Reverence for a God so great and good, and gratitude to a God so merciful and kind, would spring together and work together the new mind and way. Affliction, moreover, had left its mark on him. He was subdued and chastened. He knew experimentally his impotence and God's omnipotence. He could speak by book of the terrors of the Lord, and the fatuity of hoping to defy him and escape. And his preaching would have a reality and vividness about it attainable only by way of his late experience. Then "he had called upon the Lord in circumstances almost fitted to shut out the possibility of hope." If there be a case on record pre-eminently fitted to confirm the declaration, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint," it is his. Would he not resume his post with livelier loyalty and implicit sense of duty, when he could resume it with the blessed protestation, "I love the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplication: because he hath inclined his ear unto me, I will call upon him as long as I live"? (Martin).
2. He does it implicitly. (Ver. 3.) "So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh: Submission is now as thorough as at first self-will was resolute. The change is excellent, and its occurrence a vindication of the treatment that has brought it about. An infinitely wise and holy will is God's. The ideal of a man's life is to believe in that will, and will it, and find his joy in doing it. From irreconcilable variance to absolute harmony with that ideal is Jonah's change, a change that means his spiritual readjustment. It will mean no less to us all "The felicity of heaven greatly consists in perfect submission in all things to the government of Jehovah the Saviour. The misery of this world is the want of that temper of mind; the very end and desert of grace is to restore us to it; and so far as we are under the influence of the grace of life, we are brought back to it; the more grace the more submission; and grace will not cease its operation in the saints till every thought is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (Jones). A man following absolutely the lines of the infinitely perfect will; a man moving thereon with fullest faith and sympathy and zest; a man starting therein as a child starts for the haven of a mother's arms; a man incapable of other thought than following them to the highest good, and till his life's end; - that is a man in the highest sense, and to the highest spiritual effect.
3. He goes closely by his instructions. (Ver. 3.) According to the word of the Lord. This terse record is instinct with suggestiveness. He went because he was told, and where he was told, and when he was told, and as he was told, and to do the thing he was told, and in the way he was told. His conduct now was exemplary as before it was intolerable. And his case is typical. His instructions were the preacher's instructions for all lands and times. "Preach the preaching that I bid thee." It was this Moses preached (Deuteronomy 18:18), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:7), and Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23), and Christ himself (John 7:16; John 12:50). It is this we must preach. What else is worth preaching, or can or dare be preached? As to the substance of his message, the preacher has no discretionary power. He is not to preach science, nor philosophy, nor sentiment, nor his own notions, nor human knowledge. He is rightly to divide the Word of life. That is all, "There is not the greatest minister, not the most learned or acute, But must observe this rule; not James, not John, not Peter, not all the troop of the apostles, my once vary from this: he who shall bring other doctrine, let him be accursed by us; he who speaketh of himself, let him be refused by us; howsoever godly or holy he do pretend himself, yet if he decline that word which should be his direction, let him be declined by us" (Abbot). Here is an admirable maxim for universal use, "according to the Word of the Lord." It is good, and wise, and true, and pertinent to every case, the key to every puzzle of life. Are you a sinner? there is salvation for you, full, and free, and present, and "according to the Word of the Lord." Are you a seeker? expect to find, for salvation is in Christ, and of those that come to him there are none cast out, "according to the Word of the Lord." Are you a saint? then fight and persist and hope; for that you are "kept by the power of God," and will yet "reap if you faint not," is "according to the Word of the Lord." - J.E.H.
I. REINSTATEMENT OF THE PROPHET. "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time." Jonah's rebellion had had a twofold effect on his relations to God - broken up his personal fellowship with him, and suspended his official function as a prophet. God's grace restored him both personally and officially, as afterwards in the case of Peter; but, as in this case, the restoration of the first did not necessarily include that of the second. Servants of God who have fallen need a second call to public service; it needs to be shown that God trusts them with his work again. It is natural for ministers who have been publicly dealt with and censured to desire to be reponed; but this cannot be rightly done without some token that God again calls them.
II. THE NEW COMMISSION. "Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." We know not where Jonah was - where he had been landed - what had happened in the interval. Imagination can picture the prophet on the shore making for Gath-hepher, and probably arriving there. Again the message is preceded by the word of stimulation, "Arise;" brace thyself, prepare for arduous work; and this time it would bring a lesson of warning - remember how easily you were turned aside before! The work was not to be made easier out of regard to the prophet's proved weakness, but the prophet must seek a higher strength. The greatness of Nineveh is again dwelt on - "Nineveh, that great city" - "an exceeding great city, and great unto God" (ver. 3). "Think of a whole vast city, full of this humanity, of this God-breathed life; and is it surprising that a great city should be great unto God? What flashings of intellectual lights in one day! - as many almost as the separate rays of the sun. What throbbings of moral or immoral purpose, the moral faculty acting in each! What a sighing of wandering spirits, unconsciously or blindly seeking the lost portion! What a swell and heave of the great tide of animated life composed of the blended individual streams I London is like a great and wide sea of life. The daily agitations which stir in her bosom are felt in feebler pulsings even in far off shores; and in multitudes which no man can number her thoughts and acts, and in these her checkered moral history, are going up to God's heaven. Such was Nineveh of old, and for such reasons as we have named, it was still, as at first, a city great to God" (Raleigh). The message is somewhat different from before: "Preach the preaching literally, 'cry the cry'] that I bid thee." This may either mean, "the cry that I will bid thee at the time," or "the cry that I already bade thee." Either Jonah was to go, like an admiral, with sealed orders to be opened at a certain place; or he was to say what he had been ordered to say before, but had shrunk from saying. The latter view is probably correct - a further trial of Jonah's sincerity and submissiveness - in the very matter which had dissatisfied him before, he was called to place himself in God's hands, and to engage to do precisely as God would direct. In all cases, true preaching is "the preaching that I bid thee." It is a simple message from God; it becomes effectual when it is given as such. All very well to be able to reconcile it with reason and commend it to the conscience, and to set it forth with the enrichments of learning and, the embellishments of art; but there is danger lest its true simple nature be thereby disguised; nothing should be allowed which prevents it from being presented as a simple message from God: "the preaching that I bid thee." "How often did our Lord disclaim the authorship of all that he said, and assign it continually to the Father! 'Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me; the words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself' (John 7:16). Himself personally cognizant of all truth, he acts as the Church's Teacher under the responsibility and within the exact limits of his office. Officially ordained the Father's Ambassador, he confines himself to a declaration of the Father's words.... Exactly as the Father had said unto him, so he speaks" (Martin).
III. THE OBEDIENCE OF THE PROPHET. "So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord." "How different every way from what he was when he fled to Tarshish? We see him no more consulting with flesh and blood, but yielding prompt obedience to the heavenly call. No more running away, but asking, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Here am I; send me.' The Lord saith, 'Go to Nineveh;' he instantly goes without gainsaying or resistance" (Jones). "In the present case, Jonah would resume his commission with a new obedience; with a meekness, a faith, a courage, to all of which his punishment and pardon had been the signal means of disciplining him. He would resume his work and mission with another spirit -
(1) as a sinful man, whose sin had been eminently forgiven;
(2) as a prayerful man, whose prayer had been eminently answered;
(3) as an afflicted man, whose affliction had been eminently blessed" (Martin). "The Word says, 'Arise,' and Jonah arose; the Word says, 'Go,' and Jonah went. It is beautiful It is grand. We must not indeed exaggerate. For we know that there is something dark and bitter in this man still, which will break out again. But meantime, and in this act of obedience, so far as we see it, there is a grandeur like that of an angel - a simplicity like that of a child" (Raleigh).
IV. THE MESSAGE DELIVERED. "And Jonah began to enter into the city, a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Jonah in Nineveh - what a contrast to Gath-hepher, Joppa, or even Jerusalem! What temples! what tombs! what monuments! - what new impressions of its vastness and power! Perhaps new impressions of its horrible treatment of those who opposed themselves to it. It was no uncommon sight to witness a row of prisoners, each impaled alive on an iron spike; or men of mark flayed alive; or captives, with hooks in nose, dragged by halters, carrying the bleeding heads of their kings or nobles. Anyhow, pictures of such things abounded. They made no undue impression on Jonah. "Strong in faith," he went boldly forward and delivered the message. "He cried, and said" - lifted up his voice like a trumpet - under the windows of the rich, in the resorts of the poor - before the proud military array - before nobles and judges and all His message was more specific and startling than before. Stern, but faithful and honest preaching; no flattery; no shrinking from exposure of the true mind of God. They might do with him as they pleased; he had not a single friend in that vast multitude - no protection but God's - nevertheless, he would proclaim the message. As John Knox said long afterwards, "I am in the place where I am commanded of God to speak the truth; and the truth I will speak, impugn it whoso list." Contrast the feeling of Jonah now and when he fled to go to Tarshish. His soul tumultuous and agitated then, in peace and serenity now. "He that sayeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." Acknowledge the reality of Divine protection and strength - sense of peace and proof of it, for, after all, fidelity to God is the true policy. "Them that honour me, I will honour" (1 Samuel 2:30). - W.G.B.
I. A GREAT RESTORATION. After his recreancy to duty, who had been surprised if Jonah had been thrust out of the prophet's office? The guilt of his flight, the moral insensibility into which he had sunken, rendered him, many would think, unfit to be God's spokesman to men. But God had mercy on him. And saved, he had presently the assurance of it. He was reinstated in the prophet's office, and solemnly commissioned anew to the prophet's work. A "second time" bidden go, he went. It was a great restoration, and openly marked by the great errand on which he was sent. The work showed that the worker was restored. For that still the backslider is recovered. Not for mere personal enjoyment in religion. Not merely to have the assurance of individual safety. But also to "show" what great things God hath done for him. Was Peter restored? Let him prove it: "Feed my sheep .... my lambs." So was Jonah comforted; restored, he had the assurance of it in the renewed commission, "Go to Nineveh."
II. A GREAT SPHERE FOR WORK. God himself, in giving this commission, spoke of Nineveh as "that great city." Jonah knew from human testimony that the city was great. But God says it is. Then let Jonah be ready for difficulties. It is no little work to which he is bidden. And is the greatness of Nineveh mentioned only to prepare him for the magnitude of the task before him? Is there not implied therein a reason, should the people repent, for the Divine compassion? "Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city?" (Jonah 4:11). In a town, with its many homes, families, cares, virtues, vices, - how much to impress a human imagination, to affect a human heart! But in great cities, throbbing with restless life, each man of the millioned multitude with his own history, his own destiny, how the solemn interest is deepened! Great cities are great to God. Religion is the only protection of city or state. The repentance of the Ninevites averted the doom of Nineveh; its wealth, valour, fame, availed not to effect this. This punishment of nations as such comes in this world. The sins of nations have destroyed them. May our own nation know the time of its visitation, that it perish not!
III. A GREAT EXAMPLE. Jonah is here seen at his best. There is a moral sublimity in his promptitude. "Arise, go." He went. The difficulty of obedience always grows by delay, it may be hard at the beginning, but it will be easier then than ever after. "God loveth a cheerful giver," whatever be the gift. Bold was Jonah. Wisely bold. As soon as Nineveh was reached he began his solemn cry. Bold, though alone. He had no human companion to encourage him, to help him. Bold, to utter the cry of woe. Destruction was the burden of his oft-repeated message. Nothing in that to gather affection to him - loving, joyful attention. May his courage be ours! We have glad tidings to tell; and no such lonely path to tread as he. With such a message, and with the viewless presence of the Messenger, we may well be of good courage. - G.T.C.
1. Not the message of our own imagination.
2. Not what me, desire and what will be palatable to them.
3. But what God bids. To the messenger he gives the message - from his Word; by his Spirit.
His gospel - not altered, not added to, not diminished - is to be preached "to every creature." With faithfulness, simplicity, persistence - whether men hear or whether men forbear. Like Luther, "I can do no other; God help me!" - G.T.C.
I. REPENTANCE COMES READILY TO UNTUTORED MINDS. Never did preacher see better or speedier fruit of his labours than Jonah did in heathen Nineveh. By a single sermon but a few sentences long he sent the entire city into penitence and sackcloth. Granted that there was much to account for this in the preaching itself. It was bold and oracular and explicit, and spoken with the conviction that is most of all contagious. It was enforced by such a narrative of his own recent history as made him nothing less than a sign to the men of Nineveh (Luke 11:80). Granted too "the great susceptibility of Oriental races to emotion, the awe of one Supreme Being which is peculiar to all the heathen religions of Asia, and the great esteem in which soothsaying and oracles were held in Assyria from the very earhest times" (Keil). Yet still the repentance, so widespread, so real, so sadden, has in it something phenomenal in the religious sphere. Not thus did the prophets and their utterances move the Jews. They "beat one, and killed another, and stoned another," and disregarded all as a general rule (Matthew 21:35). A greater than Jonah, the Truth himself, spoke to them, and spoke in vain (Matthew 12:41). Unbelieving and lengthened contact with truth had no doubt produced the exceptional hardness of the Jewish nature. The works done in vain in the gospel hardened Chorazin or Bethsaida would, as we know, have Brought Tyre and Sidon to repentance in dust and ashes. Even filthy Sodom would have cleansed its way, and been spared on earth, had it seen the mighty works by which Capernaum was yet utterly unmoved (Matthew 11:20-24). So when the soil of the Jewish nature, plied with the truth seed till trodden hard by the sowers' feet, refused utterly to produce, the apostles found a fertile seed bed in the virtu soil of the Gentile mind (Acts 13:44-48). An analogous fact is the success of Christ among the common people (Mark 12:37), when the scribes and Pharisees, who were more familiar with revelation, remained uninfluenced almost to a man (John 7:48, 49). It would seem as if Divine truth, like potent drugs with the body, is effective most of all in its first contacts with the soul. Lengthened and frequent contact with truth, if it does not regenerate, only thickens the spiritual skin, and much hearing means little heeding as a general rule.
II. REPENTANCE IMPLIES A RELIEF OF THE TRUTH. (Ver. 5.) Belief of the truth is a logical first step to every religious attainment (Hebrews 11:6). Truth is the revelation of things as they are - of character, of destiny, of duty. Until that has been received there can be no spiritual beginning. While not only danger but the disease itself is disbelieved in, the patient will take no step toward cure. "He that cometh to the Lord must believe that he is." This is the least modicum of knowledge conceivable in any intelligent comer. So he that comes away from sin must believe that sin is. Unless he does, and until he does, he has no reason for moving. He that comes by repentance and faith, moreover, must believe in the propriety and dutifulness of these acts. Forecasting the possible result of Timothy's ministry in the turning of the wicked, Paul says, "If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." This aspiration brings out the point exactly. Repentance and the acknowledging of the truth imply and involve each other. Impenitence is largely the result of incredulity. If a man really believed what God says about sin - its demerit, deformity, and destroying character - the grief and hatred and turning which constitute repentance must arise. The impenitent man either does not believe God at all, or he gives him a weak and heedless credence that is never acted on, and so is practical disbelief. Let God's word of dogma, God's word of promise, be truly and adequately believed, and God's word of precept will be infallibly obeyed. A man may contemplate his sin indifferently and commit it with even pulse, but the power to do so means that the Scripture testimony against it has been silenced, or the witness put out of the court of conscience altogether. "It is to be observed that faith operates differently according to the matter believed, When faith looks to the redeeming love of Christ, faith worketh by love. 'We love him who first loved us.' When faith looks to the infinite wrath of God, faith worketh fear, and we 'flee for refuge to the hope set before us.' When faith looks at Christ, beating in his love the wrath from which he calls us to flee, faith worketh by grief; and, 'looking on him whom we have pierced, we mourn.' And all these operations of faith - love, fear, grief - enter into that repentance unto salvation which true faith produces" (Martin).
III. REPENTANCE IS AT ONCE DEEPENED BY FEAR AND SWEETENED BY HOPE. The Ninevites feared to "perish" through the "fierce anger" of God, yet hoped he might "turn away" from it and "repent." Fear is a rather ignoble emotion, but it is not without its place and power in the religious sphere. A man's life, in the widest sense, is his most precious trust. To gain the whole world would not compensate for the loss of it. Hence the universal instinct of self-preservation. "All that a man hath will he give for his life." And by appealing to this instinct, as it so often does, the Scripture assumes its lawfulness (Luke 13:3; Matthew 10:28). The less of soul and body in hell is a loss unparalleled and irreparable, and which it would be madness not to fear. The Ninevites feared it. Their dread of it was a chief cause of the penitence they showed. And naturally so. To a man as yet unspiritual, the bearing of his sin on his own fate is the supreme consideration. When he becomes better he will be amenable to higher motives, but fear as opposed to carnal security, is always a prominent factor in the early stages of the religious life. But the Ninevites repentance did not spring from fear alone; it based on hope as well. "Who can tell," etc.? (ver. 9). The hope here was far from assured. It was a mere glimmer in the soul Yet still it was hope. Escape was deemed not impossible, - that was all And there was a shadow of ground for hope, which the keen eye of the doomed did not fail to detect. They had an intuitive idea that God would make some difference between a penitent city and an impenitent one. Then the catastrophe was not to come for forty days, and, in the granting of so long a respite, they would see the door left open for a possible change before its close. Besides, Jonah's own deliverance in's more dire extremity still, and of which he evidently told them in his preaching (Luke 11:80),would suggest the possibility of a like escape to them with like repentance. If the preacher had been saved in tits very moment of imminent death, the fact was ground of hope to the people who had forty days' reprieve. Thus the faith in which the Ninevites' repentance originated "wrought by fear and hope combined. The evil dreaded was sufficient to break and humble all their pride. And the hope they entertained was sufficient to prevent their fear from turning into mere despair" (Martin). It is the element of hope in it that marks off the sorrow which worketh only death from the sorrow which worketh repentance to salvation. There is a persuasion of men which bases on the terrors of the Lord, and a beseeching of them also by the mercies he has shown. And what is this but to make fear and hope the limbs of a stable arch to carry the repentance "that needeth not to be repented of"?
IV. REPENTANCE INCLUDES GRIEF FOR THE PAST AND REFORMATION FOR THE FUTURE. The Ninevites "put on sackcloth," etc., and "turned them every one from his evil way." There was Compendious logic in this. Sackcloth and ashes were the conventional livery of abasement and grief (2 Corinthians 7:9, 10), and these have a distinct place in the spiritual connection (Joel 2:13). But they must be spiritual. Not the result of wounded pride, or baffled purpose, or ruined prospects. These things are utterly carnal. They involve no sense of sin's demerit, no horror of its impurity. They are merely aspects and expressions of selfishness. Every detected rogue can see that he has blundered in his sinuing, and from that standpoint grieves. Saul does it, exclaiming, in the bitterness of failure, "I have played the fool exceedingly." But the sorrow "after a godly sort" is a radically different thing, and done in a different spiritual atmosphere altogether. And David crying with contrite and humbled spirit, "I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me," is a perfect moral contrast. His is a sorrow that has God in it. Sin is viewed in its relation to God, from God's standpoint, and with feelings like to God's. Job sorrowed thus with God when he said, "Now mine eye sooth thee; wherefore I abhor myself," etc. Such sorrow has hope in it, and so "the promise and potency" of a reformed life. Under its impulse the Ninevites "turned every one from his evil way." Reformation is the work meet for repentance - the crystalline form revealing the genuine metal. "Numbers will do everything in religion but turning from sin to the Saviour; and where this is not done, all the rest is lost labour - their religion is hypocrisy, their hope is mere delusion, and their latter end is bitterness and woe; for all who refuse to depart from sin must perish in sin. In vain shall we fast for sin, if we do not fast from sin; and what blessings can all our prayers bring down while we refuse to turn from our evil ways?" (Jones).
V. REPENTANCE CRIES TO GOD IN PRAYER. The words of Jonah were like an earthquake in the vast city. From king to beggar there was consternation and dismay. The destroying armies of heaven were at hand. Men can neither disbelieve, nor doubt, nor resist, nor fly, nor survive. What remains but to submit and beg for mercy - the last resort of the sinner, but the very first command of God? And so the king descends from his throne, and the beggar rises from his straw, and a stricken universal cry for help goes up in the ear of Heaven. In such an exercise true repentance is at home. Prayer is the spontaneous, the instinctive expression of the soul's new found need. A true sense of sin, together with an apprehension of God's mercy in Christ which all genuine repentance includes, leads logically to prayer. Given a sick man thoroughly alarmed, and a willing physician accessible, and the application for help will infallibly follow.
"On bender knees, replete with godly grief, VI. REPENTANCE IS TO BE NATIONAL WHEN THE SIN IS NATIONAL. The Ninevites' was a "public, general, royal fast." So when the Divine judgments menaced Jerusalem in the reign of Jehoiakim, all the people proclaimed a fast (Jeremiah 36:9). Then it was observed by all the people in accordance with a royal edict. So Jehoshaphat "feared and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah" (2 Chronicles 20:3) when Moab and Ammon invaded the kingdom. In the nature of the case, the repentance must correspond to the transgression. The people must repent who have sinned, and in the character and relations in which the sin has been committed. That their action in the matter was suggested and shaped by royal edict detracted in nothing from the value of the Ninevites' repentance. The obligations of religion rule every relation of life. Each community ought to be religious, and the rulers of each to consider their office sacred to the accomplishment of this result. Monarchs should reign for the glory of God, and they do so when they "take order" for the observance of religious worship with due regard to the prerogatives of the Church, and to the right of private judgment. "It is an evil and dangerous principle that would exempt the rulers of a kingdom from being in subjection in their public capacity to the Word of Christ, and from being under obligation in their government to rule for the promotion of his kingdom. It strikes at the root of all family as well as national religion; and while it would confine Christ to the separate consciences of individual men, it would refuse him the right to govern the households and communities into which in Providence they are combined" (Martin). The practical lesson of this is read to us by Jesus Christ (Luke 11:32). The existence of saints in the world is a virtual condemnation of all the sinners. With similar privileges and opportunities, why are these spiritually changed, and those not? Unless the believers have done more than their duty, the unbelievers have fallen woefully short. Every saint in a Christian congregation will stand up in the judgment a silent but damning witness against its unconverted members who remain so under equal inducements to repentance. And the case is worse when the balance of privilege was on the unbelievers' side. It was so as between Nineveh and Israel. The one was brought to repentance by means incomparably less than those which had proved entirely inoperative with the other. It will be so as between each of them and us, if we are blind to our greater light, and insensible to our more potent spiritual agencies. "A greater than Jonah is here" -greater in person, greater in office, greater in power, and greater in influence. Have we resisted him? Have we withstood his mightier striving? Then who so inexcusable, who so hopeless, as we? What guilt so deep, what condemnation so great, as ours (Hebrews 10:28)? - J.E.H.
VI. REPENTANCE IS TO BE NATIONAL WHEN THE SIN IS NATIONAL. The Ninevites' was a "public, general, royal fast." So when the Divine judgments menaced Jerusalem in the reign of Jehoiakim, all the people proclaimed a fast (Jeremiah 36:9). Then it was observed by all the people in accordance with a royal edict. So Jehoshaphat "feared and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah" (2 Chronicles 20:3) when Moab and Ammon invaded the kingdom. In the nature of the case, the repentance must correspond to the transgression. The people must repent who have sinned, and in the character and relations in which the sin has been committed. That their action in the matter was suggested and shaped by royal edict detracted in nothing from the value of the Ninevites' repentance. The obligations of religion rule every relation of life. Each community ought to be religious, and the rulers of each to consider their office sacred to the accomplishment of this result. Monarchs should reign for the glory of God, and they do so when they "take order" for the observance of religious worship with due regard to the prerogatives of the Church, and to the right of private judgment. "It is an evil and dangerous principle that would exempt the rulers of a kingdom from being in subjection in their public capacity to the Word of Christ, and from being under obligation in their government to rule for the promotion of his kingdom. It strikes at the root of all family as well as national religion; and while it would confine Christ to the separate consciences of individual men, it would refuse him the right to govern the households and communities into which in Providence they are combined" (Martin). The practical lesson of this is read to us by Jesus Christ (Luke 11:32). The existence of saints in the world is a virtual condemnation of all the sinners. With similar privileges and opportunities, why are these spiritually changed, and those not? Unless the believers have done more than their duty, the unbelievers have fallen woefully short. Every saint in a Christian congregation will stand up in the judgment a silent but damning witness against its unconverted members who remain so under equal inducements to repentance. And the case is worse when the balance of privilege was on the unbelievers' side. It was so as between Nineveh and Israel. The one was brought to repentance by means incomparably less than those which had proved entirely inoperative with the other. It will be so as between each of them and us, if we are blind to our greater light, and insensible to our more potent spiritual agencies. "A greater than Jonah is here" -greater in person, greater in office, greater in power, and greater in influence. Have we resisted him? Have we withstood his mightier striving? Then who so inexcusable, who so hopeless, as we? What guilt so deep, what condemnation so great, as ours (Hebrews 10:28)? - J.E.H.
I. THE PEOPLE OF NINEVEH BELIEVED GOD. (Ver. 5.) Apparently "the people" were first impressed - deep religious impressions commonly begin with them, and rise from them to the upper class - "the common people heard Jesus gladly." There are many hindrances among men of wealth and station to religious impression, but Providence gives compensations - "the poor have the gospel preached unto them." They believed God. They saw in Josiah only a messenger - the messenger of God, who made the earth and the sea. Probably they had heard his history, for "Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites." Before one, in whose person there had been given such tokens of the Divine power, both to punish and to save, they stood in awe. "The busy crowd is by and by arrested; a solemn awe steals over the minds of the people, they press around the preacher to know who and whence he is, and why he utters such an ominous cry in their streets; and hearing as they now do, that, so far from lightly denouncing this doom against them, he had already, at the hazard of his life, shrunk from executing the charge committed to him, that he had been cast out for his wilful resistance into the mighty deep, and miraculously restored only that he might be sent forth anew to utter the cry they now heard of approaching destruction - learning all this concerning Jonah and his burden, how solemn and perilous must their situation have appeared in their eves!" (Kitto). He whom they now heard proclaiming his warning was the messenger of that God who had roused the storm and cast him overboard; who had prepared the great fish to swallow him, keep him alive within its huge body, and then vomit him on the dry land; and who had sent him back to deliver his message, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed." The whole community were actuated by a common feeling. "Word came to the king." All ranks and classes were moved by the message of the strange preacher; all realized that the anger of God and the coming destruction of the city were awful calamities; as of the Pharisees at John's baptism, the question might have been asked, "Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" When God makes his voice heard, he bows the hearts of the people like the heart of one man.
II. PROCLAMATION OF A FAST. An external token of distress is deemed fitting - heathen fasts extended to animals as well as men. "It was a custom among the ancient heathen to withhold food from their cattle as well as from themselves in times of mourning and humiliation; in some instances they cut off the hair of their beasts as well as their own" (Kitto). Attitude of the king, great and noble (ver. 6) - all his pride and vain glory laid aside - he humbles himself openly before God - contrast this with spirit of Sennacherib afterwards (2 Kings 18., 19.) - kings never so great as when they pay honour to him by whom kings reign - the King of Nineveh rose above all shame and vanity, saw only the dread reality, and acted accordingly. Kings are in their noblest attitude when leading their people to honour God.
III. PRAYER DEMANDED. "Let them cry mightily unto God." All their own gods are to be set aside - this God only is to be recognized. No one seems to have said a word for the Assyrian gods - "Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Psalm 115:3). Prayer is often derided by the world - in time of pressing danger the praying people are the wise, the patriotic, the true people. Real prayer is no barren form - "let them cry mightily to God" - throw their whole souls into the exercise - pray as for dear life. The true idea of prayer is beseeching God's mercy - beseeching it as the one only resource - what alone can save from misery and ruin.
IV. MORAL REFORMATION DEMANDED. "Let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands." The humiliation of the people more than external - "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts" (Isaiah 55:7) - instinctive recognition of the holiness of God - it is unholy acts and an unholy spirit that excite his displeasure (see Isaiah 58:5-7). Violence specified - the rapacious cruelty which characterized the people, and the cry of which had come up before God. When once conscience was roused, it would condemn these acts of violence very loudly. Interesting and beautiful sight - all classes hastening to put away their evil ways, and reversing them, doing the very opposite to what they had been wont to do.
"Sinners listened to Jonah,
V. REASON FOR THESE STEPS. (Ver. 9.) "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce wrath, that we perish not?" Only a possibility - "Who can tell?" But in time of extreme peril a possibility ought to be acted on. "We cannot plead this on the score of justice, neither can we ply his faithfulness with any specific assurance of mercy, given to meet the necessities of our case; we have nothing to encourage us but the general character of God himself, as manifested in his dealings with men on earth. But still we have that, and the matter is not altogether hopeless. For why should God have sent his prophet to admonish us of sin, and foretell his impending judgment - a prophet too who has himself been the subject of singular mercy and forbearance? If destruction alone had been his object, would he not rather have allowed us to sleep on in our sinfulness? And why in particular should these forty days have been made to run between our doom and our punishment? Surely this bespeaks some thought of mercy in God; it must have been meant to leave the door still open to us for forgiveness and peace" (Fairbairn). The proclamation and the reason for it were not perfect - did not go beyond the spirit of fear and trembling - but the Ninevites acted on their light. "if there be first a ready mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not" (2 Corinthians 8:12). Whoever faithfully follows the light he has may look for more - "to him that hath shall be given." It is interesting to think how Jonah's prophecy would affect the young, and it is the property of childhood to receive testimony with full belief in it. Possibly the emotion of the children may have helped to move the parents. Prospect of speedy death is naturally more terrible to young than old. The following picture of the scene by Ephraem Syrus may be quoted: -
"The children inquired while weeping
And in what day will it be "When the parents listened to these things (1) They had but one preacher, and that a stranger. (2) They heard but one message, and it was wrath. (3) They had but a vague hope of mercy. - W.G.B.
"When the parents listened to these things (1) They had but one preacher, and that a stranger. (2) They heard but one message, and it was wrath. (3) They had but a vague hope of mercy. - W.G.B.
(1) They had but one preacher, and that a stranger.
(2) They heard but one message, and it was wrath.
(3) They had but a vague hope of mercy. - W.G.B.
friend of Jehovah, had been punished, what might the enemies expect? "A sign "also of Jehovah's mercy as well as justice. If he had been saved, might not they? If their case had been utterly hopeless, why had he come at all? So, though they had seen no miracle, they "believed God." That doom was at hand; doom that might - who could tell? - be averted, if they "battered the gates of heaven with storms of prayer." They proclaimed a fast; "the people;" for then, as always, national repentance and reformation worked its way upward. Here, from the people, at length reaching the nobles and the king. He, too, was a man and in peril, and, like his subjects, must repent. And, by royal proclamation, all were bidden fast, be clad in sackcloth; the creatures, too, dependent on them, by their mute misery were to share in the national humiliation. Above all, let the people "cease to do evil," and show a changed heart by an altered life. The humiliation of the Ninevites was -
I. ROOTED IN FAITH. "They believed God." What were Asshur and their many gods to them now? Jehovah was the living God. All else were dead. They believed in his power to punish; and also (though doubt may have mingled with their faith) that if they turned from their evil way, he would turn from the fierceness of his anger, and they should perish not. Not "idle words" were Jonah's. Not heard with critic ear. Not questioned, much less opposed. Jonah - who was he? God's messenger. They believed God. Hence their repentance. Had they not believed, they had been unrepentant. How they rebuke many among us today! Those who have heard many of God's messengers: why turn they not from their evil way? Because they believe not God. This is the capital count in the Divine indictment against man. He makes God a liar. He believes not the testimony God has given in his Son. The terrible testimony against sin as the dark, dreadful evil it is. The gracious testimony to his unutterable love, that only could be truly vocal as it spoke in the sorrow, sufferings, and death agonies of his Son. Did man believe with the heart this, it would be to repentance - to righteousness. "Believe God." Rooted in faith, the conduct of the Ninevites was -
II. FRUITFUL IN REPENTANCE. True belief and true repentance are ever connected as root and fruit.
"If faith produce no works, I see
I. THE CAUSE OF THE CHANGE. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way." He not only heard their professions, but saw from their acts that these were real; they believed God - believed that on account of their sins his "fierce anger" rested on them, and they showed their faith by their works; and the particular kind of works was their turning from their evil way - not resorting to matters of will worship, such as self-mutilation or making children pass through the fire, not stretching forth hands or making many prayers, but abandoning the sin that had offended God; not giving money to build or ornament temples or buy God's favour, but tearing the idol from their hearts - turning from their evil way. The real test of repentance is giving up sin - favourite sin, pleasant sin - sins of sensuality and indulgence and display; giving them up as acts, and trying to give them up as objects of desire; seeking to have the heart cleansed as well as the hands; to have the natural love of them subdued by the thought that they excite against us the fierce wrath of God; and in our case, under the light of the gospel, by all the considerations derived from the cross of Christ, and God's display of love and grace in him. Was the repentance of Nineveh complete, inward, spiritual? This is not said, nor is it necessary to believe it was. Probably it did not last long. It was repentance, however, according to their light and circumstances - the expression of deep national concern for sins that had come up before God, and against which God had sent his prophet to testify. It was an acknowledgment of the God of Jonah as the God of the whole earth - a submission of themselves to him - such submission as would have saved Egypt and Pharaoh, had it been made, in Moses' time, with accompanying tokens of sorrow and sincerity. Higher quality of repentance is demanded from an individual than from a nation; fellowship of reconciled God with the individual is much more intimate and spiritual than with the nation; such fellowship is impossible, save in case of regenerate hearts; in "repentance unto life" there must be genuine hating of what God hates, and loving what he loves.
II. THE CHANGE ON THE PART OF GOD. "God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not." It is frequently objected that this implies fickleness on the part of God, as if he were mutable - as if he were a son of man that he should repent. But fickleness or mutability implies change of action while circumstances remain the same; immutability demands change of action when circumstances change. Immutability is tested by principles on which one acts rather than on the outward actions one performs; hence there is no fickleness on part of God in opposite actions, as when he placed man in Paradise and afterwards drove him forth. When God said by Jonah, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed," he meant that Nineveh - Nineveh if it continued the same, black with guilt, impenitent, unreformed. He did not mean that another Nineveh would be destroyed - Nineveh fasting, penitent, transformed. At the end of forty days old Nineveh did not exist; the corruption that would have drawn down the Divine judgment was removed - in a sense that old Nineveh was destroyed - it had passed away. Consequently, the denunciation ceased to be applicable; the doom threatened was not inflicted. This was the whole amount of the change on the part of God. The phrase, "God repented," is an anthropomorphism; God acted as man would have done if he had repented - regarded it no longer as a case for infliction of judgment. God's denunciations of judgment are directed rather against states of mind and conduct than particular places or communities - implying, usually, a chance of repentance, In some cases the time for repentance had passed, and denunciation of doom became absolute - as in the case of our Lord weeping over Jerusalem. In rejecting him they had filled up the measure of their iniquities. Their house was left desolate. "We are ever to guard against assigning human imperfection to God. But we are equally to guard against assigning to him such a character or nature as would render living, intelligible, friendly intercourse between him and his people impossible. But impossible utterly all such intercourse may be, if I may not speak to God in the same forms and phrases and feelings in which I would offer a request, or state my case to a fellow man, though of course retaining unreserved submission and unlimited adoration of the Mighty One of Israel. My adoration unbounded; my surrender of myself to God unreservedly; - these are tributes to the searchless glory of his Godhead which I may not withhold, and yet profess to worship him. Nevertheless, with these I must be allowed, in condescension to my weakness, to ask God to be 'attentive to the voice of my supplications;' to 'behold and visit me;' to 'stretch out his hand' for my help; to 'shine upon me with the light of his countenance;' to 'awake; ' to 'arise;' to 'draw near; 'to' come and dwell with me.' All these expressions and requests are after the manner of men. I must be allowed to spread out my sorrow and my trial before him, precisely as if my design and expectation were to work on his feelings, and move and induce him in his pity to deliver me" (Martin).
III. NINEVAH IS SPARED. Picture the city as the fortieth day approached; when it dawned; afterwards, when it passed away and Nineveh remained. Picture universal relief and joy - old and young - congratulations - life appearing before them with a new brightness - the day breaks, and the shadows flee away. Symbol of what may be realized when the anger of God due to sin is averted: "In that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, throe anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me" (Isaiah 12:1). "What, then, must we expect will be the sweet surprise and transport of the departed soul on his first entrance into glory; when translated of a sudden from this material world to the world of spirits; from among men into the immediate presence of God? What must be his sensations, delight, and astonishment, when first conducted into the presence of the Saviour reigning on the throne of heaven? What will be his feelings when he sees around the throne a company which no man can number, all arrayed in white robes, and wearing brilliant crowns that never fade; all in transport of joy, singing of redeeming love, and celebrating the praises of the Lamb that was slain, and their voices like the sound of many waters? When the soul first joins this company, and reviews the dangers it has escaped in the world below, its love will kindle into a burning flame, and its song will be eternal." - W.G.B.
1. The heathen are capable of salvation.
2. God purposes their salvation.
3. The Jews were the divinely appointed first preachers of salvation to the Gentile heathens.
Jewish Jonah, the first of the prophets, was sent to heathen Nineveh. A real example thin of the genius of the gospel." And the Jewish apostles were sent to preach Jesus Christ to "every creature? He died for all! - G.T.C.
another people in Nineveh that God now looks down upon. These have "ceased to do evil." "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way." Then is the threatened doom to come? No; "God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." And yet in other Scriptures God is said not to repent. Words can only faintly portray a human friend. How feeble, then, are all words to declare God! Words that seem to us to contradict each other are necessary to convey to us a fuller, clearer view of him. If in one Scripture God is said not to repent, or "change his mind" (as the word means), that is true. If in another he is said to do so, that is also true. The Scripture fearlessly declares both.]t makes no attempt to harmonize them. We may be unable to do so. And yet we may believe both; confident that they are in harmony if we cannot harmonize them. Men repent, or change their mind, in reference to sin. God repents, or changes his mind, in reference to the sinner.
I. IN HIS OWN NATURE GOD IS CHANGELESS. What changes there are in earth and sky, the seasons, human life and experience! "Man continueth not in one stay." With God" is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." He never ceases to be almighty, omniscient, "the only wise God." He says, "I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6). This was the Divine message by Balaam to Balak: "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent; hath he said, and shall he not do it?" etc. (Numbers 23:19, 20). In other words, no enchantment, no divination, could avail against Israel. What were Balak's bribes to God? He could fulfil his promises to Israel - for he was almighty; he would, for he was faithful. Further, in various Scriptures (Genesis 6:3; Jeremiah 18:7; as well as here) we are taught -
II. THAT GOD REPENTS, OR CHANGES HIS MIND. Some would limit this to God's altered dealings with men; to his acts, never to his feelings. They hold that in his feelings he is ever the same to men; that none of the affections found in us have any counterpart in him; that he looks down upon all human changes - sorrows, joys, conflicts, defeats, triumphs - cold, calm, unmoved, immovable! What! a God only thought, only will? No mercy, no pity, no sympathy, no love? Unlovely creed! "God is love." Then he has the feelings of love, without, indeed, the imperfections that may mingle with ours. He is "the Father of our spirits." Our emotions are the image of his; in him "without spot," or defect," or any such thing." It is no mere figure of meaningless speech that speaks of him as "angry with the wicked" as "pitying them that fear him," as rejoicing over his penitent creatures; as repenting concerning Nineveh. With no idle threatening was Jonah sent to the Ninevites. God then meant destruction. And had the people not repented, it would have come. But the very threatening was blessed to them. They saw the greatness of their sin in the greatness of the imminent punishment. And when their state of rebellion and defiance ceased, their city came into a new relation to God, "and room was made for the word to take effect; 'the curse causeless shall not come.'" God knew that the city would be spared. Yes. But he also knew that, when spared, it would be another city - a city not of violent rebels against him, but of penitent subjects. God is righteous in all his ways. He rewards every man according to his works. It was in accordance, then, with his nature, that when the Ninevites turned from their evil courses with true heart sorrow, he should turn from the fierceness of his anger. There is warning here. God's threatenings are not to be trifled with. Remember the destroyed sinners "in the days of Noah;" ultimately these very Ninevites; and the Jew, "tribe of the wandering foot and weary breast," is witness today through all lands to the tact that when a warned nation repents not, God is faithful to his warning. And so with the individual. Let the warned sinner "flee from the wrath to come." What consolation, too, in this narrative! God is "not willing that any should perish; but that all should come to repentance." How willing - how revealed in Christ, who came to "call sinners to repentance"! Turn from sin. God will turn to you. From afar he will see you. He will run to meet you. He will kiss into forgetfulness all your sins. He waits to be gracious. "He delighteth in mercy." - G.T.C.