God's Ways in Training His Own for His Service and Testimony: 5

 •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 11
Two important lessons Jonah learned in the fish's belly at the bottom of the sea—
1. “They that observe lying vanities, forsake their own mercy;” and
2. “Salvation is of the Lord.”
What is the vainest and most delusive of all vanities and delusions? Is it the world around us with lying vanities and vain glories? That was not it which Jonah had to learn; for we may well assume that to God's prophet the world's vanities were too well known for him to observe or regard them. No, the most deceptive of all lying vanities we have not to seek in the outer world, but within ourselves. Our natural heart is that most deceptive of all “lying vanities;” for “deceitful above all things is the heart, and desperately wicked:” who knows it? It is the natural heart with its cunning Jacob's places and designs for the satisfaction of its wretched selfishness and self-conceit.
Jonah, amidst the constant claims of his prophetic office, always being occupied with others and his position towards them, had not allowed himself sufficient time to learn, in contemplative solitude, alone with God, and in the light of His presence, the insidious depths of his own evil heart, or he would not have suffered himself to be led away in the vain attempt “to flee from the Lord's presence,” and would not have found himself in the fish's belly. This truth, so hard for us to learn, Jacob had learned after a lifelong humbling experience. Jonah had to learn it at the bottom of the sea, where he had the “sentence of death in himself,” that he “might not trust in himself, but in God which raiseth the death.” He had to make the same experience as the apostle Paul afterward, though not in the higher and deeper Christian measure of the latter. But even to a servant of God like Paul, the apostle of glory, that lesson could not be spared. Paul, unlike Jonah, made it at first on “terra firma” in Asia (2 Cor. 1:8),1 but later on, like the prophet, in the depth of the sea, on his journey to Rome. He, too, had preferred his own way, though not from the same selfish motive as Jonah. He had gone to Jerusalem instead of to Rome. Therefore the Lord put the chain upon his flesh, and he went to Rome a prisoner, though that circumstance, corrective to the flesh as it was, did not in the least detract from his honorable character as a “prisoner in the Lord.” But during that terrible storm Paul no doubt had the “sentence of death” in himself, as he had before in Asia, that he might not trust in himself, but in God, Who raises the dead. He like us, had to spend a second time a season “in the fish's belly,” to learn more thoroughly that which he had learned before, i.e., to renounce his own will, however fair his motives might appear, and commit himself entirely and solely to the will of God, and to His grace in quickening and delivering power. And his prayer, like that of Jonah, came up into God's “holy temple.” Not only he himself, but two hundred and seventy-five souls were delivered “from the fish's belly,” so to speak, and safely deposited on the shore, though not so gently as was Jonah.
Paul, like Jonah, had wrestled with the Lord in fervent prayer, though his conflict of soul was very different from Jonah's in the belly of the fish. The “peace of Christ” was with the apostle during that terrible hurricane—that peace which is the result of true humiliation and broken self-will and of the heart before the Lord, as was the case with Paul. And never was that quiet superiority of the Lord's true servant in the greatest dangers more strikingly manifested than in the demeanor of the great apostle during that terrific tempest, when for several days neither the sun nor the stars did appear, and all human hope had disappeared. The apostle was in fact the captain both of the ship and of the soldiers. Unto all he gave counsel and encouragement, everybody following his directions.
But, as with Jonah, and even with the apostle, so with every one of us, the having “the sentence of death in ourselves” must be experienced, before that victorious triumphant certainty of faith in the quickening power of God can become our happy practical portion, and render us superior to surrounding difficulties. It is not enough to sing
“Created things, though pleasant,
Now bear to us death's stamp.”
It is a very different thing to “have the sentence of death in ourselves.” This we find in the apostle in the first chapter (2 Corinthians). Hence we see in each of the following chapters an increasing sense of the quickening power of God and the life of Christ, until in the fifth chapter it culminates in those words, “that mortality might be swallowed up of life.”
Sooner or later, every one of us has, like Jonah, to spend a season “in the belly of the fish” (often even several seasons), to learn, like him, that hard and yet so important truth, viz., that “they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” There is no greater vanity than our wretched self, our naturally deceitful and desperately wicked heart, which always resists the grace and mercy of God towards us or towards others, as was the case with Jonah; mercy—that tender compassionate, divine pity—which never fails to take up those who fear God, and in the consciousness of their own helplessness and weakness make Him their only refuge. But to him, who trusts, like whilom Jacob, in his own plans and schemes and strength, God says, My mercy is for such as are helpless. My wisdom is for those that have become fools in themselves. He takes up those who have “failed in business,” i.e., have become bankrupt in themselves and their own undertakings. But they who have become wise like those Corinthians, and strong and enterprising like Jacob, “are in need of nothing,” as Laodicea, and therefore need neither the pity nor the mercy of God, which is reserved for Philadelphia's “weakness.” To such God says, Go your own way and see whither it will lead you.
“I dwell in the high and holy place,2 with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
How true it is, that they who trust in “lying vanities,” that is, in their own righteousness, their own character, their own wisdom, strength, and designs, forsake their own grace (as to their inward need), and their own mercies (as to their outward need). Only the grace of our Lord is able to keep and strengthen our inward man, as His power keeps and protects us outwardly. (Compare 2 Tim. 2; 1 Peter 1:5; 4:195Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5)
19Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:19)
; Jude 2424Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, (Jude 24), 25.) The Lord grant us all a deeper, a more constant sense of our entire dependence upon His grace and power, in order that we, in our passage through a cruel and subtle enemy's country towards eternal rest and glory with Christ, quietly and immovably amidst the excitements and commotions of these days, may steadily advance towards the glorious goal of our pilgrimage, in the calm and happy consciousness that for us also Christ's grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in weakness.
But there was another no less important truth, which Jonah had to learn in his prison, before he could be delivered from it—a truth, closely connected with the former, viz., that “Salvation is of the Lord.” On the surface of the sea, during the mighty storm sent by God, Jonah might learn to fear the Lord and own Him as the God of heaven, Who “made the sea and the dry land.” But the great truth, that “Salvation is of the Lord,” had to be learned by him in the depths of the sea, when he had the sentence of death in himself, and, deprived of every human help, had learned that great truth, that they who observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. As soon as Jonah thoroughly had learned that lesson, the second (viz., that salvation is of the Lord) was learned as a matter of course.
When the Israelites had arrived at the Red Sea, with Pharaoh's horsemen and chariots behind, and the Red Sea before them, and every human way of deliverance cut off, then only, for the first time, the words were heard, “Fear not; stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show unto you.” Only when the converted but legal man in Rom. 7, in the “belly of the fish” has entirely come to naught as to his own strength, crying out in despair, “Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death3?” does he perceive that salvation and deliverance must come from the Lord, and exclaim, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord?”
Upon the cry of distress in chap. 14. of Exodus follows the glorious triumphal song in chap. 15. This is divine order.
So it was with Jonah. No sooner had he learned that “they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy,” and that “salvation is of the Lord,” than “Jehovah spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”
How different this vomiting out of Jonah from the “spuing out” of Laodicea, which said, “I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” and knew not that she was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked! The prophet was out of the mouth of the fish vomited upon the shore of safety, but Laodicea will be spued out of the mouth of the Lord for judgment.
May God keep us in mercy from that self-sufficient and therefore lukewarm spirit of Laodicea! As many as He loves He rebukes and chastens, even in the “belly of the fish,” if necessary!