JONAH REPROVED BY THE MARINERS
John 1:6. So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
PERHAPS in all the sacred records there is not to be found a more strange and inconsistent character than the Prophet Jonah. That he was on the whole a good man, we have every reason to believe: but his spirit was on many occasions so contrary to what we might have expected to find in a prophet of the Lord, that, if we did not know from our own hearts what is in man, we should not have conceived it possible that such contrarieties could be combined in the same character. The very first we hear of him is, that he so conducted himself as to bring upon himself a severe and just rebuke from a heathen mariner. Having received from God a commission to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and there to proclaim the indignation of God against them for their impieties, he fled to Joppa, and from thence took ship for Tarshish. hoping that he should thus avoid the necessity that was laid upon him of delivering a message so replete with pain to them, and of danger to himself. But the Lord sent a storm to arrest him in his impious course: and so violent was the storm, that all hope of saving the ship by human efforts was taken away, and no resource remained to the mariners but prayer to God. Whilst all the crew were crying to the gods which they worshipped, Jonah was indifferent and unconcerned, and had fallen fast asleep in the sides of the ship. In this situation he was when the shipmaster came to him, and administered the reproof which we have just heard.
Let us consider this reproof,
I. As addressed to Jonah—
The occasion of the reproof you have already heard in few words. But there are two things which call for more particular attention; namely,
1. The state of Jonah at that time—
[How can we account for his being so supine in the midst of such imminent danger? One would have supposed that he, a prophet of the Lord, would have improved that occasion for the benefit of the mariners, (as the Apostle Paul did afterwards, in similar circumstances,) and that he would have employed himself in directing the poor ignorant heathens to Jehovah, as the true and only source of all good: or if, from the low state of his piety at that time, we might conceive him to be indisposed for such an holy exercise; and that, when in an act of rebellion himself, he would be ill fitted for the office of calling others to repentance; we should at least expect him to be alarmed with a sense of his own guilt, and to be deprecating the Divine displeasure on his own soul. Yet, behold! of all the ship’s company, he alone is unconcerned; and makes that, which was to all others a season of terror and dismay, an occasion for laying himself down quietly to sleep. That Peter was sleeping quietly on the night preceding his expected martyrdom, we do not wonder; because he was suffering for righteousness’ sake, and knew that death would be to him the gate of heaven. But we wonder that Jonah was able to close his eyes in sleep, when death was apparently so near at hand; and he must know, that, if he died, he would be cut off in the very act of wilful transgression. But his insensibility at that time shews us, in a very striking manner, the true effect of sin; which hardens the heart, and stupefies the conscience; brutalizes the soul, and renders it indifferent to all that concerns its eternal welfare. St. Paul tells us this; “Take heed,” says he, “lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin [Note: Hebrews 3:13.].” He speaks also of our “conscience being seared by it, as with a hot iron;” and of our being made “past feeling.” Thus it was with Jonah at this time: and all who are acquainted with their own hearts, will see that this stupidity of his was the proper effect of his wilful transgression. Repentance takes away the heart of stone, and substitutes a heart of flesh: and sin, in proportion as it is indulged, re-converts the heart of flesh to stone.]
2. The sentiments contained in the reproof—
[We are amazed to hear such sentiments proceed from the mouth of a heathen mariner: but we are convinced, that there are much stronger notices of truth remaining in the heart of fallen man, than is commonly supposed. There was not indeed in these people any distinct knowledge of Jehovah: but there was a belief in a superintending Providence, who ordered every thing according to his own sovereign will, and was able to interpose effectually in behalf of those who sought him; yea, moreover, that even though we sought him only in our extremity, there still was reason to hope that he would hear our cry, and vouchsafe to us the desired deliverance. What god the ship-master had an eye to, we do not know: but supposing him, though under some mistaken name, to be looking to Jehovah, his views are precisely such as were avowed and inculcated by the Prophet Joel, when he said, “Rend your heart, and turn unto the Lord your God: for who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him [Note: Joel 2:13-14.]?”
This we consider as encouraging to those who go forth to convert the heathen: we consider it as shewing, that, however obscured by superstition, there are in the minds of the most ignorant heathen some notices of truth, which, if duly improved by an instructor, will greatly facilitate the admission of other truths, which can be known only through the medium of a special revelation. The existence and attributes of a Supreme Being are here acknowledged; and the duty of his intelligent creatures to call upon him is also declared: and whoever diligently improves these more obvious truths, will, we doubt not, be gradually guided into all truth. But when we behold a prophet of the Lord, who should have been a teacher of others, himself thus reproved by a heathen mariner, we blush for him; and blush also for ourselves, well knowing, how much we ourselves need to have these truths impressed more forcibly on our own minds, and how rarely they operate on us to the extent that they did on those uninstructed mariners.]
With these feelings it will be profitable to us to consider the reproof,
As applicable to ourselves—
We are not indeed altogether in the situation of Jonah; yet we approximate more nearly to it than may at first sight be imagined.
We are all in some degree sleeping in the midst of danger—
[God has given to us, as he did to Jonah, a work to do: and it is a work which we do not naturally affect: we are averse to engage in it: there are some considerations operating in our minds to deter us from it: we think it may expose us to difficulties, which we would gladly avoid; and subject us to troubles, which we care not to encounter. Hence we “flee from the presence of the Lord;” and are glad to go any where, and engage in any thing, that may afford us an excuse for our wilful neglect. In this state the curse of God follows us wherever we may go, his judgments hang over us, and “his wrath abides upon us.” The children of disobedience, wherever they are, are objects of his heavy displeasure.
Yet, whilst under these circumstances, what is the state of our minds? Are we striving like the mariners, to obtain mercy at his hands? Are we not rather, for the most part, like Jonah, sunk down into a deep sleep? Yes; this is the case with the generality altogether; with the better part of us, in great measure; and with the best amongst us, in some degree.
Behold the generality, how careless are they and indifferent, though on the brink and precipice of eternity! — — — Even the more considerate part have no such activity and earnestness as the occasion calls for — — — And where is there one amongst us, who does not fluctuate in his zeal for God, and sometimes, like the wise virgins, give way to slumbering and sleeping, when we should be watching for the coming of our Lord? — — —]
To all then may the reproof in our text be well administered—
[What meanest thou, O sleeper, whoever thou art? Art thou not in danger? Search the sacred records; and see, whether the wrath of God be not revealed against all the children of disobedience? What if thou be insensible of this danger? art thou therefore the more safe? Was Jonah’s life the less in jeopardy because he was unconscious of his peril? Neither then is thy ruin a whit the less certain, because thou art not conscious of thine exposure to it.
Is there any way for thine escape, but that of crying mightily to God for mercy? No other way is provided: all your own efforts will be as ineffectual as the mariner’s labour was. Thou must betake thyself to prayer; for none but an omnipotent arm can save thee: there is no deliverance from thy guilt, but through the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, no acceptance with the Father, but through his beloved Son; no other name given under heaven whereby you can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ.
Once more—Is there not abundant encouragement to pray? Look at the promises contained in Holy Writ: see how “exceeding great and precious they are;” and then say, whether thou hast any reason to despond. Hadst thou but a peradventure in thy favour, it were a sufficient reason for all possible earnestness and prayer. That was all the hope which these mariners had. But you have the strongest assurances, of a “God that cannot lie,” that you “shall not seek his face in vain,” but that “whatsoever you shall ask in his Son’s name shall be done for you.”
What meanest thou then, O sleeper? What excuse canst thou offer for thine unreasonable conduct? Art thou dreaming of future opportunities to call upon God, when, for ought thou knowest, the ship may sink with thee the next instant, and thy soul may be plunged into the depths of hell? “Arise,” I say, “and call upon thy God,” and lose not another moment in a concern of such infinite importance.
In the mean time, use all the means that thou canst for thyself. “Cast out all that thou hast” in the world, rather than suffer it to sink thee into perdition. If thou hadst all the wealth of the universe, it would but ill compensate for the loss of thy soul. Nor let it be thought that I speak to those only who are determined rebels against God: no: if there be a Jonah here; a professor of godliness, who is in a state of departure from his God, him I would more especially address. Know, thou unhappy fugitive, that God will not let thee pass unpunished: on the contrary, he will the rather follow thee with some tremendous storm, and send thee into the depths of hell (if I may so speak) in this world, to deliver thee from perdition in the world to come. “Awake then from thy slumber, that Christ may give thee light.” Surely “it is high time for thee to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” Professors, “let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch, and be sober.” With the exception of the terror with which they were agitated, the state of the heathen mariners should be ours; nor should we cease from our pleadings, till we are brought in safety to our desired haven. We must not give occasion for that sarcastic reflection, “In trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them:” no: we must pray without ceasing;” we must “pray and not faint:” and then we may be assured, that, whatever storms or difficulties we have to contend with, “our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.” Only let us think upon God, and God will most tenderly “think on us:” he will maintain towards us “thoughts of good, and not of evil, to give us an expected end.”]