So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth…
The end of all providential mercies, the theme of all Divine teachers, the indispensable condition of all true human power, dignity, and blessedness, is genuine reformation.
I. ITS METHOD.
1. It was effected through man. Why did the Almighty require the services of Jonah? Why did He not speak with an audible voice to the men of Nineveh Himself? Or why did He not dispatch an angel from His throne? Or still, why did He not write what He had to say to them in red flame above their heads? All we answer is, Such is not God's method with man. He makes man the organ of blessing man. This plan serves several important purposes.
(1) It serves to deepen man's interest in his race.
(2) It stimulates men to seek the improvement of their race. If they are to advance they must look to themselves, etc.
(3) It confers signal honour on the race.
(4) It shows God's wisdom and power in the race. "We have this treasure in earthen Vessels."
2. It was effected through man speaking, Jonah was sent to speak, he was "to preach unto the city." Truth spoken is the converting force. Christianity written, as compared with Christianity spoken, is as the winter to the summer sky. It may give as much light, but not as much heat; and without the summer radiance the landscapes will wither and the fountains freeze.
3. It was effected through man speaking what God said. "Preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." Had he spoken his own thoughts, no valuable effect would have been produced. God's thoughts are the converting forces. God's thoughts are always reasonable and universally benevolent.
II. ITS DEVELOPMENT.
1. This reformation began with the intellect. "So the people of Nineveh believed God." All moral reformation begins with the intellect — the beliefs. Men must believe what God says, or no saving effect can be produced.
2. This reformation proceeded to the heart. "They put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them." As they thought upon what they heard, deep contrition seized them, etc.
3. This reformation extended to the outward life. "They turned from their evil way." They renounced their old habits of wickedness, and adopted a new and virtuous course of life. Such is ever the natural development of true reformation. Divine ideas first enter the intellect, they are believed, they pass to the heart and generate emotions, and these emotions come forth in new actions. True reformation works from the centre to the circumference, from the heart to the extremities.
III. ITS VALUE. "And God repented of the evil that He had said He would do unto them; and He did it not." Though this wonderful language is in accommodation to our modes of thought and action, it has a profound significance. It does not mean that God changed His mind towards them; — this would be impossible.
1. It is God's immutable purpose to pardon repentant sinners. When the impenitent therefore become penitent, God's conduct so far as they are concerned is changed.
Parallel VersesKJV: So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.