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THE PROVINCE OF HOPE.
God has set before us an open door. We are to enter in; and if we enter when he invites, we shall find peace and rest to our souls. My salvation is not suspended on the solution of difficult questions, or on my ability to explicate certain complex problems regarding man's wondrous moral nature; but it is suspended on my going, when God says “Go," or my coming, when he says “Come;" and that soul is blessed which promptly acts upon the Word of God, by the grace which he is waiting to bestow—the Spirit who strives, and leads, and draws.
And so of every other case. We only farther observe, that this passage of Scripture finely illustrates the power of hope in the mind of man. We
often hear that grace loudly eulogized. It is called the poor man's riches, and the sick man's health- -our sunshine in gloom, and our friend when we are friendless. Fact and fable combine to show that hope alone survived the ruin of the fall; and though it is often only presumption, or destined to end in bitter disappointment, it frequently cheers the oppressed and labouring soul with a ray of light, when all around is dark. And its province in religion is not less important. We are urged to cherish hope. We are even said to be “ saved by hope"—that is, saved from the gloom and the depression which gather round the soul, by cleaving to the great object of hope—the Redeemer. The Ninevites cherished hope, and that threw vigour into their efforts. God saw their works, and they were respited; and if we thus give diligence to the full assurance of hope, the day-star may arise in the heart, while He who is the hope of Israel will be glorified among us.
THE RESPITE OVER-THE EXECUTION.
But bear in mind that Nineveh perished after all. According to another prophet's words, the fire did its work—“She became a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in.” The mercy of God was once experienced, but sin resumed dominion; and the guilty city, when it could be tolerated no longer, or respited no more, was swept, at last, from the face of the earth. Now, these things are recorded for our warning; and they are blessed who hear the voice of God in them, saying, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you.” We sit in a brighter light than Nineveh saw, and hear a more explicit message. We have a more ample gospel, yea, a perfect disclosure of Jehovah's mind, brought from heaven to earth by the brightness of the Father's glory. But brightness will not suffice, unless we rejoice and be glad therein. What so bright as the lightning ? yet it often strikes man blind; nay, lays him in the dust, a skaithed and blackened corpse—and so may it be with Him who is “the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of his person.”
" But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And
he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish : for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”—Jonah iv. 1, 2.
We are now to enter on what is, perhaps, the most instructive portion of the book of Jonah. We have already seen things incredible, except on the divine authority: a prophet fleeing from his God-humbled by heathens-cast into the sea—miraculously delivered -sent to a mighty city—made the instrument of its repentance; and surely all these things should have taught this wayward man to do as David did, after his melancholy fall—to walk softly to his grave before God, like one who had worn the sackcloth, and sat in the dust. But we are now to see the prophet in another aspect of his character, not less strange, and not less instructive. We are to see farther and farther into the depths of the human heart, and hear another and another warning, to this effect—“Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
We read, then, in the prophet's own impartial words, that the mercy extended to Nineveh “displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” The threatening
message which he bore, had been believed. Repentance followed, and the wo was in consequence delayed ; but on that account this prophet took offence. He wished to see the city overwhelmed, and the citizens destroyed; and when he saw that God's thoughts are not like ours, nor his ways like our ways, Jonah felt like an injured man, or like one deprived of his due. The record intimates that this “ displeased Jonah exceedingly,” and, as if that were not enough, it is added that she was very angry.”
Now, various attempts have been made to account for this waywardness on the part of Jonah. Some suppose that he feared the effect of that mercy, in regard to the truth of God. Calamity had been threatened ; but calamity did not come; and the prophet was afraid that the men of Nineveh might regard his God as a changing, or a feeble one, who might safely be despised. If this was the case, then Jonah would appear to be more jealous for Jehovah's truth than even Godhead is. Others suppose that Jonah's anger, or grief, was occasioned by the injury which would be done to his own character by the sparing of Nineveh. He had threatened wo, and, instead of that, mercy came. As the prophet of Jehovah, he had announced the very day when Nineveh should be destroyed; but far from that, a respite of indefinite duration was granted, and Jonah felt that his own character might thereby be injured; he might be regarded as a false prophet, and not as a messenger from the God of truth. Others still suppose, that, as a Jew, Jonah was not willing that any nation but his own should share so largely in the mercy of his God—wo and tribulation were the only
portion of the Gentiles; while all the favours of Heaven were reserved for the children of Abraham. Bigotry, or sectarianism, is thus supposed to explain the most amazing fact, that a prophet of God—nay, that a creature with a human heart beating in his breast was very angry or greatly grieved, because a city had been spared, and its tens of thousands respited, by a merciful God.
But, whatever explanation may be given, here we have to do mainly with the facts of this case. Jonah is now brought before us, offended by the success of his own message, grieved that God should be a God of mercy, and that multitudes of immortal beings should be spared and reprieved. Let us study so strange a case with care.
And the first thing which arrests our attention is the avowed opposition to the will of God which Jonah again displays. He had shown a similar spirit at a former time; and, to subdue his opposition to the Holy One, he had passed through a discipline the most remarkable which ever happened to man. By that discipline he was tamed and subdued; and we have found him like a man of God indeed, pouring out his heart in contrition before Him whom he had offended. When we listened to the prophet's mournful words, and heard him, so like a humbled and subdued sinner, crying from the depths, we might have supposed that from that hour onward to the day when the grave should close upon him, Jonah would have walked humbly with his God: he might well be ashamed and confounded, and not able to open his mouth any more. But far from that, he appears again before us, chal