God's Ways in Training His Own for His Service and Testimony: 1

 •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 8
From the German of Worte der Wahrheit in Liebe.” CHAP. I.
It is a well-known truth confirmed by daily experience, that “justification by faith,” and “peace with God,” are not one and the same thing, nor do they take place at the same time, though the latter is the consequence of the former. As soon as one believes, he is safe and justified before God, but it may be some time before the soul enjoys settled peace with God.
It is dangerous for one who has no real solid peace with God, to be engaged in the service of the Lord and the testimony of divine truth, for he is apt, though unintentionally, to preach or teach what he has not experienced in his own soul. And where the conscience has not been purged and set free, and is not kept sweet in the presence of God, an unbroken will generally manifests itself. Such have then, sooner or later, to pass through bone- and heartbreaking experience in the school of God—in the “belly of the fish,” as it were—to learn practically the terrible nature and effects of sin, of self-will and of the desperately wicked heart; and then, when human help and deliverance appear impossible, to throw themselves, like Jacob, upon the Lord, and exclaim, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me!”
There are then two essential requisites for practical fitness and usefulness in the work of the Lord for every believer, especially such whom the Lord will use for His work and testimony. These are:
1. A broken will;
2. A broken heart.
True it is, that every Christian has to make a lifelong humbling experience of the existence and activity of his own will, and of his own evil heart. But it is no less true, that there is a time in the life of every true Christian, where our all-gracious and all-wise God with His mighty hand, in the school of deep trials, breaks our natural will to pieces, that we may learn to say in truth, “Not my will be done, but Thine,” when we shall find, that His hand is as tender as it is mighty.
Every day's experience, even in common life, bears testimony to the necessity of the perverse natural will being kept in with bit and bridle. A young horse, which has not been in due time broken in, will be of no use to its master.
With our will unbroken, we are unable to discern and to prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, whether as to the practical difficulties of daily life, or as to His work and service. As the fog conceals the sun, so our own will hides from us the will of God. But if in the school of deep trials and sorrows, often alas! caused by our self-will, we have learned to judge our evil, foolish, and perverse will, and to abhor it, we shall be able “to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” As with the will, so with the heart. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” And why? Because it “is desperately wicked,” and “deceitful above all things.” None but a fool would trust a wicked man, or believe one who is a thorough deceiver.
In your heart do you confide?
God's heart from yourself you hide.
But when our heart with its perverse or idolatrous inclinations, lusts, designs, and plans, has been broken practically, God can reveal unto us His own heart of grace, love, and tender sympathy. In this world of sin and sorrow there is a saying that such and such have “died of a broken heart.” But God teaches us to “live with a broken heart,” aye, and live very happy with it too. A broken will enables us to serve the Lord, but a broken heart makes us serve Him “after His own heart,” —in spirit and in truth.
Jonah, courageous servant of God though he was, had not yet learned to deny himself, his own will and judgment—to be dependent upon God alone. He was thinking of his own position, his own importance, of his own dignity and character as a prophet, forgetting that he was God's prophet. No sooner does he receive a commandment from God, the carrying out of which, in his opinion, might possibly impair the dignified character of his prophetic ministry, then he goes his own way and attempts to “flee from the presence of the Lord.” But the Lord soon showed him the folly of such an attempt, and Jonah had to learn some crushing lessons, two of them in the belly of the fish at the bottom of the sea, the third under the gourd.
Our meditations on this most instructive little portion of holy writ, therefore, naturally divide themselves into two parts—
1. What Jonah learned in the fish's belly;
2. What he learned under the gourd.
Before entering upon the first part of our meditations, I would direct the attention of the reader to the various characters of the instruments employed by the Lord, to train and fit each one for His service. What a difference between the mighty storm and the sultry, silent, east wind; between the huge fish and the little worm and the gourd! Further, what a difference of the scenes! In the first chapter the deafening roar of the tempest, and the howling uproar of the elements; in the second chapter the silence of the grave in the belly of the fish at the bottom of the sea. Then again, in the third chapter the immense fluctuation, turmoil, cruising and traffic of the capital of the ancient world, compared with the quiet rural scene under the gourd, on the east of Nineveh, presented in the fourth chapter. What contrasts! Jehovah “hurled the storm on the sea,” He “prepared the great fish “; He “prepared the gourd” (or “Palmchrist tree”). It was He again that “prepared the worm,” and He “prepared the sultry (or silent) east wind.” How different these agents and links in the chain of Divine Providence! Yet they must all work together for Jonah's good.
How much more does this hold good for us, Christian reader? “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to purpose.” Blessed be His great and glorious name!
CHAP. II.—Jonah during the Storm.
The first two chapters of the Book of Jonah teach us two all-important truths. In the first we learn, that there is no place, however likely for escape, where God's arm cannot reach us. The second chapter shows us, that there is no prison, however unlikely for escape, from which God's hand cannot deliver us. What place more suitable for escape than the wide endless sea? If the criminal wants to escape from the hands of justice, he embarks for some distant country. God knows how to overtake thee, fugitive, who, Jonah-like, desirest to go thine own way, and to “flee from the presence of the Lord.”
And where in this world could a prison be found from whence escape appears to be more impossible than the fish's belly at the bottom of the sea? Do not despair, prisoner. To God it is but a small thing to deliver thee from the strongest prison, as soon as it seems good to Him, and He has accomplished His purpose in placing thee there.
Perhaps some might say that Jonah, as the Lord's prophet, ought to have been too intelligent, and God-fearing, to make the vain attempt to flee from the Lord's presence. Let us not deal too hardly with the prophet. Have not we like him attempted to go westward, when God has told us to go eastward? Jonah was a prophet of God; but are we not children of God, greater than Jonah, yea, greater than John, the forerunner of the Lord? (Matt. 11:11). And have we not had to experience to our sorrow and shame, how vain such attempts are, but also how near is God's hand in deliverance to those who call on Him out of the prison of self-inflicted distress, as soon as we, in the fish's belly, had learned the lesson God was teaching us there? Alas! how often have we followed, like Jonah, the promptings of our natural will, forgetting that truth so important for the practical life of faith, as expressed in Psa. 139, and which written by David nearly 150 years before Jonah, must surely have been known to, if now forgotten by, him. Let as turn to the first half of that instructive Psalm.
1” O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising,
Thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down,
And art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue,
But, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou has beset me behind and before,
And laid Thine hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall Thy hand lead me,
And Thy right hand shall hold me.
11 “If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me
Even the night shall be light about me.
12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee;
But the night shineth as the day:
The darkness and the night are both alike to Thee.”
It was just these searching truths which Jonah practically forgot, when trying to “flee from the presence of the Lord.”
God, Who willeth not that a sinner should die in his sins but repent and live, had commanded His prophet to go to Nineveh with a message of warning from the wrath to come, Nineveh was then the first and greatest city of the world, before Babylon rose into prominence. Its vices and wickedness had attained such a height, that it had “come up” before God.
It is a solemn truth, reader, that sin has a voice, which cries to heaven for God's righteous retribution. The word of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New, confirms it. God says to Cain, “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” God then pronounces judgment upon Cain. To Abraham the Lord said, “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know.” Further, in the New Testament, “Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (James 5:4).
In the same way the cry of Nineveh's wickedness had “come up” before God, and He had commissioned His prophet with a message of gracious warning to that city. But how did the messenger entrusted with such a gracious charge receive it? He little thought of the weal or woe of those millions of sinners at Nineveh, for whose reproof and salvation that message had been designed. His first thought is of his own position, and whether the consequences of that message might not contribute to impugn his character as a prophet of God. In the end (Jonah 4) he himself unwittingly betrays his selfish thoughts that led him into disobedience in the foolish attempt to flee from the presence of the Lord. He appears to have reasoned somewhat thus, “God must have gracious intentions toward Nineveh, in charging me with this message of warning. And in thus sending me to them, Jehovah, no doubt, will invest my words with divine power in conviction, and the Ninevites will turn from their evil works and repent. God then on His part will repent of the judgment announced to them by me, His prophet. I know that He is a gracious and pitiful God, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repenteth Himself of the evil (chap. iv. 2). He will pardon the city, and I, Jonah, Jehovah's prophet, shall be exposed as a lying prophet, the judgment announced by me, not having been carried out. Has not Jehovah Himself spoken by Moses thus, 'But the prophet which shall presume to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him.'“
The temptation in Jonah's case was not small; but where was his faith? where his trust in God, and the single eye and heart in simple obedience of faith? Was not God, Who had charged Jonah with the announcement of judgment upon Nineveh, able to take care of the character of His prophet? When the judgment, announced by Jonah, did not take place on account of the repentance of the Ninevites, did they consider Jonah to be a false prophet? Not so. They were but too glad and thankful, that they had been pardoned and spared.
Oh what a wretched and mischievous thing is “self,” wherever it lifts up its ugly head, especially in the Lord's work and service! Rather let Nineveh perish with its millions of souls, than the personal character and ministry and position of a prophet of God be impugned! Alas! worse than this, rather let the flock of God, for whom the good Shepherd died, be scattered to the winds and become a prey to wolves, who do not spare the flock, than a distinguished luminary in the church confess, that he in some important church matter has made a mistake. The history of the church down to the most recent days bears testimony to the sorrowful fruits of such unjudged selfishness, selfwill, and pride in some, who were looked up to as servants of the blessed Lord, Who is meek and lowly of heart. Oh, may we “in the crushing sense of our nothingness,” learn to be small before Him, Who is the great “I am” in God's presence; once the lowliest of all servants, taking the lowest place upon the earth, and therefore exalted to the right hand of God, from whence He will appear as “Lord of lords and King of kings,” to judge this world! May we learn better to understand His ways and to enter upon them! “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not hither, but watereth the earth and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall My word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
Was not Jonah's errand a proof of it? Let us now return to him. God had told Jonah to go to the east, to Nineveh, with that solemn yet gracious message. But Jonah goes just the opposite way. He goes to the west, to Joppa, taking ship for Tarshish to “flee from the presence of the Lord.” Thrice in our chapter (as thrice also in the first) does the Holy Spirit make mention of the prophet's vain attempt to flee from the presence of the Lord, as if to point out the folly of such an attempt.
The town of Joppa has in this sense a very instructive significance. Two servants of the Lord, the one a prophet and the other an apostle, went to that place. Both were entrusted by God with a message to the Gentiles; the prophet of the Old Testament with a warning message of judgment, and the apostle of the New with a message of salvation, grace and peace through Jesus Christ. The prophet went to Joppa in disobedience to the will of God, but the apostle under the guidance of the Spirit. Both of them had in their gracious Master's school to be trained for their service. Hard were the lessons which each of the two had to learn, but those destined for the prophet were the hardest by far, for in his case it was not the consequence of mere ignorance, but of willful disobedience. Peter, on the roof of the house of Simon the tanner, learned by the vessel descending from heaven, like a great sheet knit at the four corners, an all-important lesson from heaven, before he left Joppa for Caesarea, to convey to the first fruits of the Gentiles the heavenly message of peace through Jesus Christ. But for Jonah two much harder though blessed lessons were reserved, which he had to learn at the bottom of the sea in the belly of the fish, after he in disobedience had sailed from Joppa to “flee from the presence of the Lord.” What lessons! How different in their character and locality, and yet so rich in grace and blessing in their intentions and results!
“None can hinder what He will;
Wait and trust in Him, be still;
Go the way which He doth send thee,
Sure and blessed will the end be.”
(To be continued.)