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The Literature connected with the Book of Jonah is very varied, and belongs to various ages of the Church. The strange vicissitudes in the prophet's lot, and his history, so unique in itself, and so distinct from that of all the men that ever lived, have invested it with an interest which many have not been slow to recognise. Germany has combined with Great Britain in producing commentaries and explanations of this book, but in some of these, opinions are advanced, and theories indulged regarding the prophet, his mission, and his character, with which no sober mind can sympathize. Allegory and parable have been called in to explain or enfeeble the singularly instructive narrative; and a shade of suspicion has thus been cast over one of the most profound and precious portions of the Word of God.
It is chiefly in Germany that such speculations have been carried to an offensive length; but it is no part
of our object to enter into these gratuitous theories, to exhibit either their crudeness, or the unwarranted boldness by which they are characterised, or that perversion of the simple truth on which they are based. That many-minded land, it is well known, has for more than a century past been inundating literature with floods of speculations, which, amid ten thousand vague uncertainties, tend only to demonstrate that the mind of man becomes like a ship in a tempest at sea without a pilot or a helm, when it swerves from that simple Word which endureth for ever. Not a truth of God but has been challenged, explained away, or denied ; for, like the lean kine of the monarch's dream, men have arisen to devour all that is goodly. Not a tenet that bears on salvation but has been systematically reduced to a nullity, as far as man's perverted ingenuity could achieve that result. Nay, the very Cause of causes has been lowered to the rank of an empty name. The proposition that God is every thing and every thing is God, is dignified with the title of profound philosophy, as if Hinduism had not anticipated and systematized the impiety. The Almighty Maker of heaven and earth has been spoken of as a mere “expletive” by men pretending to explain his word—an expletive useful, or necessary, perhaps, to the ignorant or the superstitious, but calling only for pity, or at most for an indulgent or a patronizing toleration, on the part of the learned.
No wonder though men of such a spirit have been perplexed by the book of Jonah. God is so manifestly seen in his almighty power and holy providence there, that the hearts of those whom Paul would describe as “ atheists in the world,” are interested to efface such pre-eminent tokens of his presence—they are constrained to imitate one yet mightier for evil than they, and tell the Sun of Righteousness “how they hate his beams;" and, could their theories be established, they would succeed at least in eclipsing Him. The secret of the antagonism felt by the unrenewed heart against the simple truth of God is, that it confronts men closely with Him, and hence they must either entirely discard it or meekly submit to its control. The former alternative is that which many adopt—and the truth, which was “ given by inspiration of God,” is thus degraded to the level of a myth or a legend, elaborated by ignorance and superstition.
By far the ablest work on Jonah that has appeared in our country, is “ The Life, Character, and Mission' of that prophet, by the Rev. Patrick Fairbairn. He has, with much force and clearness, swept away some of the theories to which we have referred; and done much to vindicate for this book that position which is its due. We are not sure, however, that we can always acquiesce in his views of the prophet's character and mission, ingenious and ably defended as they are. But the study
of the volume is well calculated to prepare us to profit more than could have been done before by this prolific portion of the Word of God.
The design of the following Notes is simply and practically to unfold some of the lessons of wisdom and of warning contained in the record of Jonah, or deducible from it, and that for the edification of the humble student of the Bible. We have looked at the son of Amittai in the light in which his own words and conduct historically present him; and it is not difficult to see how marvellously his history illustrates the difference which exists between man by Nature, and man by Grace; or, between the same individual guided only by natural conscience and egoism on the one hand, and by the light which shines from heaven on the other. It is from this point of view that the prophet of Gath-hepher becomes a very beacon to man; and when to this we add the lessons which He of whom Jonah was in some respects a type has derived from this eventful history, we have enough to encourage the hope that the study of the four brief chapters which form the book, may be found “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness” to the reflective reader.
Other works on this portion of the Word are—“An Exposition on the Prophet Jonah," by George Abbot, D.D., Archbishop of Canterbury—“Prælectiones in Pro
phetiam Jonæ," by Aug. Pfeiffer—" Jonah's Portrait," by the Rev. Thomas Jones, Rector of Creaton—“ Lectures on Jonah," by the Rev. Dr Peddie of Edinburgh, and “ Evening Exercises on the First Chapter of Jonah," by the Rev. James Simpson, Edinburgh. But perhaps the most important work in confirming some portions of the record is, “Nineveh, and its Remains," by Mr Layard. Nahum, Jonah, and others of the Minor Prophets, there receive an illustration which must confound the ingenuity of the unbeliever as much as it tends to demonstrate the wonderful providence of God, and confirm the faith of those who take the Word of the Eternal on earth to guide to the enjoyment of Him for ever in heaven.
EDINBURGH, October 1850.