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HAVE WE REPENTED AS NINEVEH DID?
plication of this than has yet been made. Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah—have we repented at the preaching of Jonah's Lord, the Saviour of the lost ? Nineveh cried mightily to the Lord—have we learned to be instant in prayer, and to make every trial an errand to the throne ? Nineveh was called on to “turn every one from the error of his ways”—have we been taught that lesson ? Has conscience been quickened, and the heart humbled in the sight of God? Or, will the men of Nineveh rise up to condemn us at the last? Is there some one who has heard the warnings of God, his promises, his entreaties, and yet refused either to turn at his reproof, or be allured by his mercy ? The heart-searching eye of God knows all the truth; and only they are truly blessed who have heard the warning voice of God, who have followed where he led, and been saved as Nineveh was saved.
“Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his
fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."-Jonah iii. 9, 10.
THERE is a simple distinction between the promises of Scripture and its threatenings, to which we should carefully attend. That distinction is, that the promises are recorded that they may be fulfilled, while the threatenings are written to prevent their fulfilment. When we read, in the Word of Him who is love, such terrific announcements as this, “ All the wicked shall be turned into hell,” or this, “ Cursed is he who maketh flesh his arm," flesh and blood are sometimes startled and discomposed, as if by some unexpected jar or incongruity. But did we remember that these are in mercy put on record, to warn us to shun the threatened wo, then all that is strict and unbending in the Word of God would be seen to be only new proofs or new modifications of his love. They are fences erected on the edge of a precipice. They are beacons planted above a hidden rock. They are barriers mercifully thrown across the way which goes
down to the chambers of death. We
e see the right influence of Jehovah's threatenings in the case of Nineveh of old. The prophet Jonah was
ACTION, AND ITS MOTIVES.
sent to proclaim its approaching desolation, for its enormous crimes had cried to Heaven for punishment, and the stroke of correction was about to descend. Only one thing could prevent or retard it. That was repentance; and Jonah was commissioned to announce the impending destruction, that repentance might ensue. It was not meant to hasten desolation and death; for God has no delight in the death of a sinner. Jonah's mission to Nineveh was designed to prevent desolation; and we have seen how far he succeeded. The king, the nobles, and the people put on sackcloth, and put away their sin. The message of God was delivered. The heart of man was touched, sin was abandoned, and misery was, through grace, averted or postponed.
But as we have hitherto seen the external actings, we are now to see the internal thoughts—the hopes, and fears, and agitations of the Ninevites. We are to hear them earnestly exclaiming, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not ?” Conscience has been touched by the Word and Spirit of God. Fear has been excited, and the men of Nineveh did exactly like the men of Joel's time, when they cried, “Who knoweth if he will repent, and leave a blessing behind him ?”
Such is the historical fact, but our business is with the spiritual value of this portion of the truth. And we may observe, in the first place, that this question, though prompted and coloured by hope, is still very vague and indeterminate. The men who put it had no explicit Word of God to guide them. They could, therefore, only balance probabilities, and speculate or conjecture regarding the mercy of God. “Who can
THE ANXIOUS ENCOURAGED.
tell ?" is their affecting language. Escape from destruotion, was a mere peradventure with them. They had something to encourage, but not enough to assure. They had the forty days of respite. These convinced them that God was not merely just, but moreover merciful ; and based upon that, hope, like a rainbow on the bosom of a thunder-cloud, sprang up in the mind—hope, at least, to an extent which is embodied in the question, “Who can tell ?” The voice of Jonah told of Nineveh's overthrow. The voice of the respite told of the Holy One's compassion; and to that compassion the sackclothed city clung, in a spirit which kept men at least from despair. Hope, in short, lay at the root of their feelings; and, encouraged thereby, they proceeded, with great assiduity, in the work of repentance and reformation.
Now, this may be so employed as to shed light and foster hope in any anxious soul who is feeling after the favour of God. For any thing we know, a few hours before the time referred to in this narrative, the men of Nineveh were living in unbridled sin. There was no fear of God before their eyes. They were fast asleep, although it was upon the top of a mast, or above a smouldering volcano which was about to explode and destroy them.
But the prophet appeared in their city. He delivered God's message. It spread from conscience to conscience, from family to family, from street to street.
It invaded the very throne; and Jonah records the result. It is the same, we say, in the case of individual souls. For years, perhaps, they have lived as Nineveh did. No thought of God. No realizing of his nearness, or of their responsibility. To say the least, oblivion of God was
THE DAWNING OF HOPE.
“ Who can
the element in which these souls lived and rejoiced. But some prophet, some messenger is sent. Perhaps it was disease, widowhood, poverty, death; but, whatever it was, God was in it, and then the soul began to think. One of its first feelings, after awaking from the stunning effects of the message, was, tell if God will show mercy?" It begins to feel after
It puts on sackcloth. It sits in the dust. Unclean, unclean," is its conviction. There is an under-current of hope in that soul, or reason would reel and abandon its throne; there is, at least, such a hope as the Ninevites cherished—and by that hope the soul is saved.
But, like every portion of God's truth, the question, “Who can tell but God may show mercy?” admits of countless applications.
There is one who has wandered far from the path in which he had been accustomed to go—he has walked in the way of the destroyer ; but, while walking there, something has come to arrest and solemnize him. He has discovered the danger upon which he was rushing, and found that the pleasures of sin are bought at too costly a price, when the soul, and eternity, and God, must all be bartered for them. And, when roused from his sad infatuation, such a soul may be encouraged or reclaimed by this very question, “Who can tell if God will show mercy?” Conscience is condemning. The whole soul is in confusion or dismay; but the hope derived from such an inquiry may be the means of reclaiming the wanderer, and leading him back to the spot where he found peace at first—beside the cross of Him who died the just for the unjust.