When dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant so that it withered.
Welcome was the broad shadow of the gourd rising round the booth and above it! The great glare in subdued green light streamed through the leaves to the calmed and cooled and comforted prophet. Just now he wished to die. Now
he was willing to live - "exceeding glad of the gourd." Short-lived was his gladness. Worm-smitten, the gourd withered. A day of beauty and value, and then the end of it.
And now, unsheltered by the plant, exposed to branding sun and burning wind, Jonah longed again to die. Note here: Divine discipline.
The gourd, worm, wind, divinely sent, have each a ministry for the prophet. He needs correction
if he is to amend. They are to teach him. But such is the Divine pitifulness that there comes -
I. THE LESSON OF REFRESHMENT. There was sent the gourd "to deliver him from his grief." He needed a shadow. It was given, and the plant shielded him from the oppressive, life-exhausting heat. The gloom of his mind had been increased by the heat of the booth; the outer had aggravated the inner weariness. In the coolness of the gourd he was calmed and soothed. The mind affects the body, and the body the mind. "Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air." Much mental and even spiritual depression must be put to the account of physical causes. Jonah sheltered was cheered and refreshed; gloom became gladness. Did he rejoice in the gourd? How, then, must God rejoice to spare his human creatures! And did Jonah meanwhile, "glad of the gourd," with, we may hope, thankfulness to God for it, think that after all God was favourable to his bitter longing for the punishment if not utter destruction of Nineveh though repentant? If so, he thought wrongly. Outward prosperity is no proof of the Divine approval. In doing wrong, in feeling wrong, all may seem to go well with us; still, it is none the less wrong. Are we in accordance with Divine truth and righteousness - our will in harmony with the Divine? Then all providences are in reality friendly, and "even the night is light about us."
II. THE LESSON OF BEREAVEMENT. Did Jonah pity, miss, and mourn for the gourd? Shall not God have pity on the myriads in Nineveh? That was the lesson of his loss to the prophet. But how reluctant to learn it! We may be bereaved of our strength, competence, loved ones. Ah! how God is bereaved! "Shall a man rob God?" What multitudes do - of their love, loyalty, service! He appeals to each. "How can I give thee up?" he says. He may take away his gifts. It is the more fully to give us himself. All earthly gourds will wither. But for all who will, there is an abiding shelter from every storm; a living shelter - Christ, in him, though the tempests come of sorrow, bereavement, death, we have peace, safety, and eternal life. - G.T.C.
A very awful proof of human depravity, in God's own people, is recorded in the case of Jonah. If Jonah's corruption is very conspicuous, the mercy of God is yet more so, both as it respects Jonah and the Ninevites. See what absolute obedience God requires of all His prophets and people in general This prophecy teaches us that God's dispensations may vary, and be different from His threatening, without any change taking place in His nature or purpose. God so wisely governs His kingdom that even in His very punishment of the rebellions of His people He investeth them with honour, so little is His goodness dependent on human worthiness. Here we find Jonah exceedingly displeased, very angry indeed, at God's merciful conduct towards Nineveh. He reasons with God against His merciful conduct towards that great city. In the heat of his angry impatience he wants to die. God rebukes Jonah's impatience in gentle terms, and the prophet seems to have conceived some hope that God for his sake might yet destroy the city; therefore he fled from it and waited the issue in painful suspense. He made a booth, and rested under its shade, and to make it more comfortable God covered it with a gourd. But as Jonah's grief had been carnal and rebellious, so now his joy was merely sensual, the excess of which it behoved the Almighty to curb. Therefore God suddenly destroyed the gourd. Doctrine — That as mankind in general are apt, like Jonah, to delight to sit under the shadow of a gourd, God hath very wisely, and in great love, ordained a worm at the root of every gourd of creature delight and comfort; by which means He drives His people to a more excellent dwelling-place, and more certain dependence.
But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day.
Just when Jonah had felt the delight of the shadowing foliage, and had begun to promise himself a most comfortable retreat against an Assyrian sun, the broad-leaved gourd withered. What caused this calamity? A worm. No, that is not all. God prepared the worm. But He also prepared the gourd. Does He, then, build up in order to destroy? Does He give comfort to His creatures in order to torment them by its removal?
I. GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF AFFLICTION. God asserts in His Word, that all the losses in the world are sent by Him. By evil is often meant calamity, not wickedness. God is the Author equally of prosperity and adversity to His creatures. He uses agents, but we must not forget that He is behind them. He is the Author of affliction, whatever may be the agencies He uses in the course of His providence.
II. HE USES THE NATURAL LAWS OF THE WORLD AS HIS AGENTS IN AFFLICTING. The worm merely followed the impulses of its nature. That is all science can say. But God has made all things, however great, however small, for Himself. The things which we call laws are only the methods of His activity, Nature is a forlorn object to study unless we find it a mirror to reflect God.
IV. GOD IS JUST IN AFFLICTING US. Simply as the Maker and Owner of His creatures, God has a right to afflict. But He has entered into a covenant with us. lie has said, "Do ye according to My commandments, and ye shall live." What is the record of our race since? Have we obeyed, or have we disobeyed? Surely we have come into the need of affliction. If God would be just in casting us down to hell for our disobedience, surely He is just in laying upon us disciplinary afflictions.
IV. GOD AFFLICTS US IN HIS LOVE. With all Jonah's sins against God, it was not to punish him that God prepared a worm. God's aim in affliction is our restoration, our improvement. There are uses of adversity. However harsh the voice of God may seem to us, it is yet a Father's voice, with a Father's heart behind it. Inferences —
1. If God afflicts, how foolish it is to go to the world for relief.
2. God's worms for us prove an interesting study.
3. When our gourds wither it is proof that God is near.
GOD HAS A RIGHT TO RECALL HIS GIFTS.
II. GOD MAY RECALL AT ANY TIME. He has placed Himself under no obligation.
III. GOD MAY RECALL THE GIFT WHEN IT IS APPARENTLY MOST NEEDED. "When the morning rose " the gourd was smitten.
IV. GOD MAY RECALL THE GIFT WHEN WE ARE BEGINNING TO APPRECIATE IT MOST. When "Jonah was exceeding glad because of the gourd," it withered.
V. GOD MAY RECALL THE GIFT BY ANY INSTRUMENTALITY HE MAY CHOOSE. "A worm" smote the gourd. Some apparently insignificant thing may be God's agent for our deprivation.
VI. GOD, AFTER RECALLING THE GIFT, CAN COMFORT THE SORROWING, AND CAN COMPENSATE FOR THE LOSS.
Jonah's gourd teaches us that the Lord mercifully cares for the comfort of His creatures, and that He is kind even to the unthankful and to the evil. Perhaps Jonah was a little too glad of the temporal refreshment of the gourd. This is the mistake we are all tempted to commit with regard to our temporal comforts and conveniences. We are so glad of them that we pillow our hearts upon them. But are our earthly comforts incorruptible and undecaying? There is a worm at the root of all our earthly comforts. The fashion of this world passeth away. But let a man, through grace, enjoy his comforts soberly, habitually regarding them as transient things; let him look up through the gift unto the Giver, and then, when his gourd is withered, he will still bless and magnify the Hand that withered it.
1. Point out some things in which people are apt to promise themselves great pleasure and satisfaction, but which in the event evidently appear to be no better than Jonah's withered gourd. Such as riches, self-indulgence in food, children, human esteem, connections in social life. Trust in mere outward ordinances. Too high expectations even from relation to a gospel church.
2. At the root of every gourd there is a canker worm, whose envenomed bite smiteth it that it withereth. Apply to the above-mentioned human pleasures. God will by no means have creatures dignified with any dignity besides that with which He Himself is pleased to invest them. Now point out a certain antidote against the poison of this canker-worm which is the thing to be attended to.(1) The vanity, emptiness, and uncertainty of worldly riches.(2) All temporal honours vanish in the grave, where distinctions are no longer known.(3) Children are certain cares, but very uncertain comforts. Cease, then, O believer, cease from temporary gourds. Call back thy wandering affections from transitory objects, and sit down under the "shadow of thy only Lord and Saviour."
()This writer does not, as many foolishly do, banish God from His universe to watch in idle unconcern its workings from afar. This book says, God answered, God commanded, God saved, God bethought, God excited the wind, God made the great fish, God caused a gourd to grow, God made a worm, God repented and God spared. It is God, God, God. He is the explanation of all things, and His existence gives purpose and meaning to all things. Or think again of the character of God as it is here explicitly set forth in words. He is "the gracious God and merciful, long-suffering, abundant in kindness, and repentant of the evil." This is one of the most evangelical writings in the Old Testament. What an expression it gives of the Divine love to all mankind, and how it forespeaks like the first gleam of the dawn that universal brotherhood of men so bound up with the Fatherhood of God as it is proclaimed by Christ. How nobly, too, the doctrine of repentance and its value are stated. Assuredly this is a great book with a great message and high teaching on the nature, character, and purpose of God. And now, keeping all that in view, and distinctly remembering that the God of this book is" the merciful and is a God of purpose, let us think of the statement of the text, "And the Lord prepared a worm." That is a truth before which many people stagger. There are people, some who may be said never to have thought at all, and some who have thought much but mistakenly, who cannot understand the character of a holy God who in any way sends pain, suffering, loss, who, in short, prepares a worm. They can understand the God of the gourd, who provides protection and safety, but they cannot understand a God of discipline and rebuke and chastisement. At such a thought they rebel and stagger, or sulk in unbelief. They are prepared readily and gladly to believe in the God of the gourd, but not in the God of the worm; in the God of the rose, but not in the God of the thorn. Happiness, gifts, and love, these are all marked by His hand, but loss and suffering and sorrow, too, may be His instruments of good. Through the chastisement of His love men may find the best He has to give. And yet we must be careful here to differentiate. Is it not true that a great deal of the sorrow and evil that are in the world are wrongly blamed on God? There is nothing plainer than that a large proportion of the evil that afflicts man and burdens life is a direct outcome of the breach of God's laws of truth and justice and love. They are clearly the fruit of sin, and sin is in man's will. But sin is against God's purpose, and He is ever seeking to destroy it. Ah! "It's man's inhumanity to man that makes countless thousands mourn"; it is the selfishness and the pitilessness, the unscrupulousness and injustice of the human heart, the ignorance and superstition of the human mind that have caused the very creation to groan and travail in pain; it is no will or act of God's. To-day, as then, there is the tendency for people, by ignorance and injustice and moral laziness, to bring upon themselves and their neighbours the ravages of disease, the miseries of unholy social relationships, the shame that crushes the heart with unhealable sorrow, and to blame God for it all, and to preach resignation in the midst of it, when it is our plain duty to rise up and to deal with the causes of such things — to slay the evil, to tear up its roots, to fight "against the wrong that needs resistance and for the cause that needs assistance," and to bring in the Kingdom of God, which is life and health and peace. But after all that has been said, there still remain suffering and evil in the world, and we can do nothing to explain it, and still less to remove it. It is oftentimes a great mystery, and it burdens many hearts with heavy perplexity. The only explanation that can be given of it is that God permits it; yea, that He sends it, and that tie has got a great purpose in it. "Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but he was born blind in order that he might manifest the works of God." The man suffered not only for himself but for others; yea, in his suffering there was a Divine purpose. He illustrated that great principle everywhere present in nature and in life, and which found its sublimest expression in the Cress itself, the deep and precious truth that much suffering is vicarious. Now towards such pain, suffering, sorrow — and which cannot be removed and but little explained — two attitudes may be assumed. In the midst of it men may forget God, or ignore Him altogether, or rebel against Him. There are many people who are not able to see God for their trouble; they are afflicted with the rebellious heart. All this, of course, in no way mitigates the evil or helps them in the day of their suffering; it only twists their nature and warps and stunts their inner life. It is evil added to evil, and no gain anywhere, for the trouble still remains. Rebellion only aggravates the trouble. To have done with God and religion makes matters worse instead of better. The other attitude is that of humble submission and recognition of the truth that God has prepared a worm, and that He, the merciful and the holy, has a purpose in it. Before anyone can have any light on the great mysteries of suffering and sorrow he must first learn and distinctly recognise that the end of life is not happiness, but character; that discipline is necessary to character, that submission and a spirit of devout resignation are the only way to get good by seeking even through pain and suffering — character, holiness, Christ-likeness. It is a truth which all the great teachers of the world have declared. It was taught by Buddhist as it was by the Greek dramatist, by the Stoic as it is by the Christian; but the Christian looks at it from a loftier height than any other, and recognises in it the fatherly purpose of the Eternal God, "who maketh all things work together for good to them that love Him," and causeth "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, to work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Resignation is the attitude of the wise. The distinct recognition of the fact that God made the worm is the wisdom of the holy. But how many mistake what is meant by resignation! Mr. Gladstone, whom Lord Salisbury described as a "great Christian," in writing to his wife, said that "resignation is too often conceived to be merely a submission, not unattended by complaint, to what we have no power to avoid. But that is less than the whole work of a Christian. Our full triumph will be found when we not merely repress inward tendencies to murmur, but when we would not even, though we could, alter what in any matter, God has willed." Here is the great work of religion, here is the test from which sanctity is attained. And surely sanctity is God's greatest gift to men. How many of the saintliest characters that the world has known have been those who have learned this great lesson in the school of God, when they met pain without murmuring, and sorrow with resignation; when through loss they found gain, and so treasured up in themselves that enduring wealth. The greatest instrument that the world has ever known for the shaping of human character is the will of God, and the glad acceptance of it as wisdom and love and life. I read somewhere not long ago an illustration that may help us to understand this truth and seal it on our hearts. The end is not clear, not yet; some day it will become plain, when the tuning is over and the discipline is done. Meanwhile we can trust Him who is the God of the worm as He is of the gourd, the God at once of the rose and thorn.
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