The waters engulfed me up to the neck; the watery depths overcame me; the seaweed wrapped around my head.
I. THE ESSENTIAL SOLITUDE OF SUFFERING. (Vers. 5, 6.) We find matter around us of different degrees of density, from the light volcanic ash to the heavy metallic ore. But men of science tell us that no material substance is absolutely solid. In the closest-grained rock, in the diamond itself, the ultimate particles are not in actual contact. They approach each other inconceivably close, but when attraction has brought them thus far, a mysterious repulsion intervenes and forbids that they should altogether touch. This fact of the material world has, no doubt, its counterpart in the world of spirit. There is an individuality about the soul that cannot be destroyed. We may be united to others by the closest ties. We may be of one mind, and one heart, and one taste, and one aim. We may thus approach men and be approached by them on many sides, and feel in union, and, to many effects and purposes, be in union with each other. But it is plain that we never coalesce, never actually touch. The shock of personal disaster proves this. Then all ties seem loosened and fall away. Friends drift apart. We are thrown in upon ourselves. Others cannot follow us into the depths. We are in a relation to the event into which no one else can come. In the last appeal we have to meet it alone. It was so with Christ (John 16:31, 32). Disciples, friends, kinsmen, - with none of them could the Redeemer share the pangs of death. He had to die alone. Even the earlier thought, "I am not alone, the Father is with me" gave way in the hour of mortal agony to the question of sore amaze, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It was so with Jonah. He was pressed by a feeling of utter isolation. The depths closed over him. The earth with her bars Was about him. This he felt, and in proportion as he felt it did he realize that he was cut off from his kind, engulled in the horrors of a living grave, and left to face them all alone. "I shall die alone." "Yes; and alone you live. No soul touches another soul except at one or two points, and those chiefly external - a fearful and lonely thought, but one of the truest life. Death only realizes that which has been the fact all along. In the central deeps of our being we are alone" (F.W. Robertson).
II. THREE IS AN ANTICIPATIVE POWER IN ALL TRUE FAITH. (Vers. 7, 9.) Jonah's prayer has really no petition in it. It becomes in the offering a song of praise. Still m the shark's maw, with the sea grass around his head, and going down through the deep sea caves to the foundations of the mountains, he speaks as a man delivered, and knowing only occasion of thanks. This is the grand attitude and achievement of faith. It sees the end from the beginning. It expects the end because them has been a beginning. It anticipates the end at the beginning, and deals with it as an accomplished fact. "Thou hast brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God." "I know nothing more sublime in all the range of recorded human utterances. What could dictate assured and triumphant language like this, but marvellous, miraculous faith? His deliverance is not yet come; yet faith speaks of it as if it were. O noble faith! it is in thy power to bring in the deliverance that is still future, with the sweetness of that which is already present, and the sureness of that which is already past" (Rev. Hugh Martin, D.D.). This quality of Jonah's faith appeared also in that of Paul. Crying for deliverance from indwelling sin, he forestalls the event, and prepays the thanks (Romans 7:24, 25). So surely is prayer answered, so infallibly does needed help accrue, that from an adequate faith the gratitude may go up when as yet the blessing has not come down. And there is this prophetic realizing power in all faith. It "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It carries in its head the jewel of hope; and where the one reaches the other shines. Faith trusts God that he can do all things, and hope looks for the doing of them. The potential deliverance seen by faith becomes actual deliverance in the eye of hope. And so to the believing soul "the things that shall be" already are, and the present is bright with the borrowed light of not yet risen suns.
III. IT IS JUST IN THE MOMENT OF REALIZED HELPLESSNESS THAT THE THOUGHT OF GOD COMES TO A SOUL. (Ver. 7.) Jonah, as is evident, had up till now forgotten God. Not only so, but he had deliberately driven and persistently kept him out of his thoughts. The bursting of a fearful storm impressed him so little that, if left alone, he would have slept it through. The rude piety of the sailors, calling every man upon his god, sent no responsive thrill through him. The captain's reproachful summons to arise and pray was disregarded or ignored. Even the ominous lot casting, on the issue of which his life hung, was watched with apparent calm. His self-possessed and iron obstinacy died hard. But it died. Angry Omnipotence will not be denied; and God took measures that not even Jonah's hardihood could survive. The prophet broke down. Flesh and heart failed together. And then he came back to first principles, and remembered God. God, if they knew it, is the one need of human hearts. "Every finite spirit is inherently related to the Infinite, in him to live, and move, and have its being. It wants the knowledge of God, the society of God, the approbation of God, the internal manifestation of God, a consciousness lighted up by his presence, to receive of his fulness, to be strong in his might, to rest in his love, and be centred everlastingly in his glory" (Horace Bushnell, D.D.). But the natural man has no idea of this. Conscious of incompleteness, he knows not in what it consists. And he prescribes at random for his own case. He absorbs himself in business, he struggles up the path of ambition, he plunges into mad indulgence, he runs breathless from sensation to sensation, seeking rest and satisfaction, and finding none. Everything gets stale and tiresome, and the soul finds itself unprovided for and orphan still. Not seldom the man spends his days thus in feverish search of good, and dies unsatisfied and unfed at last. But sometimes, in the providence of God, disaster comes at this stage. He is losing his idol. He is being robbed of all he loved, or abandoned of all he trusted in. He is being brought to the grave's mouth by a resistless Providence. It becomes with him a question of God's help or none. And shut up to it thus, he chooses it, albeit only as a last resource. "I cried unto the Lord with my voice. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord" (Psalm 116:3, 4). This is the natural history of the soul's resort to God. It is the last resort. All other help has been tried and found wanting before the sinner turns to him. What grace, that he waits till then! that while every conceivable earthly nostrum is being tried, the Balm of Gilead is kept in store, and is available in the extremest hour! Truly a God "long suffering and slow to wrath, and plenteous in mercy," is our God, who wearies not at our long wandering, and welcomes even the latest return.
IV. THE SIGHT OF GOD AND THE SIGHT OF SIN INVOLVE EACH OTHER. (Ver. 8.) Jonah had lost sight of Cod and of his own guiltiness together. In his conduct up to this point we see the most astounding oblivion of both. And now the two matters come to mind together, suggesting a logical connection between them. And so there is. Sin is a conscious offence against God. Its antagonism to him is its essential element. Accordingly, the sense of it will come and go with the thought of God, and will be adequate as this is adequate. You cannot remember the offence and yet forget the offended Being. Neither can you realize God as near and cognizant without a consciousness of your moral attitude toward him. The thought of sin and the thought of God, in fact, bring up each other. And not only is the fact of sin, but the extent and evil of it are revealed in the revelation of God. Contact with the plumb line betrays the curve in the bowing wall. So, side by side with God's ideal holiness, sin looks itself and looks its worst (Job 42:5). When a man sees his sinfulness, he has also, as the condition of it, got a glimpse of God. To Jonah his late conduct seems nothing now but the pursuit of lying vanities. He had no fruit in It. Every promise of good it held out had been falsified. He had not escaped. He had not improved matters in any way. He had only intensified existing evils and involved himself and others in new troubles. And that is a true picture of sin the world over and all history through. It is a following of delusive phantasies, and a running away from our own mercies. Its prospective blessings burst like bubbles in our hands - the hands that, but for it, would have been full of the choicest gifts of God.
V. THE RECEIVING OF SPIRITUAL GOOD IS FOLLOWED BY A DESIRE TO MAKE SOME RETURN. (Ver. 9.) Gratitude is a universal duty, and ought to be a universal grace. All men receive blessing from God, and as a consequence owe him thanks. Of the gratitude due, however, they fall tar short. Some good things come incognito, and are thus received unthankfully. Other good things, God's free gifts, are traced to some earthly source, and so produce no thankful feeling. And then the multitude of life's mercies, so obviously Divine, are yet so common that their origin is forgotten, and they are received as a matter of course. But spiritual gifts can never be ungratefully received. They are too conspicuously gracious to be taken as a matter of right. They are too immeasurably great to be lightly deemed of. They involve the gift of a new heart itself, in which gratitude is a native growth, because grace has made it God-like. There are no thankless Christians. Ingratitude possibly means the spiritual nature absent or in abeyance, and points, where we find it, to previous spiritual deforcement. Such deforcement Jonah had suffered during the continuance of his rebellious freak. Now that religious principle had resumed the sway in his soul, the gratitude is restored that had been exiled during the spiritual interregnum. And everywhere and always the heart that has been blessed to saving effect is one in which infallibly is mooted the question of making grateful return.
VI. DIVINE DELIVERANCE IS ALWAYS TIMED TO ARRIVE WHEN THERE IS RIPENESS FOR IT. (Ver. 10.) Deliverance any sooner would have been too soon. It would have anticipated repentance, and so have left the erring prophet unreclaimed. It would, in fact, have defeated the object for which the entire disciplinary course had been adopted. It could not therefore occur in a divinely ordered life history. God's providence never counterworks his scheme of grace. The one is adjusted to the other. His backsliding Jonahs are converted before his disciplinary whales vomit them forth. See you to the repentance, and God will see to your relief. Refining silver, at a certain stage the molten metal becomes for an instant so still and bright that the refiner can see his image in it as in a glass. And this, it is said, is the moment to pour it out, to anticipate which or delay beyond it is to spoil the whole experiment. In the visitations of his hand, God sits, we read, "as a refiner and purifier of silver," to "purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver" (Malachi 3:3). No fear that he will spoil the process by taking you out of the fire a single moment out of date. He will keep you under discipline till he sees his image in your purified soul, and in that moment precisely will remove his hand.
"He that from dross would win the precious ore, "Thus in God's furnace are his people tried,
"Thus in God's furnace are his people tried,
Yet will I look again toward Thy holy temple.
1. The deepest remorse has its remedy in a return to duty. Jonah's truant flight was a sudden impulse. The backslider often knows that the sin by which he fell away was the result of sudden temptation.
2. Looking again to the covenant of God in Christ is the appointed way of salvation. It is also useful to consider what it was that cast you out of God's sight, in order that you may cast that out of your sight.
(Joseph B. Owen, M. A.)
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