Nineveh's Repentance

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 5
"The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here."—Luke 11:3232The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (Luke 11:32).
Such is the testimony of the Lord Jesus to the effect of the short sermon of the unwilling preacher. "They repented at the preaching of Jonas." If we turn to this sermon, and mark its effects, as narrated by inspiration, following step by step the record, we shall there see both what repentance is, and also how faith did and must precede it. (Road Jonah 3)
Every word in this chapter is striking. Jonah had gone down in figure into death, and come out of the grave of deep waters; the figure of the place the Lord Jesus took for us as our Substitute.
He was sent by the Lord the second time, "saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." Mark, it was not to be a sermon of his own composing, or the suggestion of his own thoughts, but, "preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." Oh, what different sermons we should have in this day, if the preacher's ear was opened to hear that voice saying, "Preach the preaching that I bid thee." Many a preacher would rise up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord; most unwilling would some be to declare the coming judgments on this ungodly world.
"So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord." How shall a man preach according unto the word of the Lord, unless he be sent? How is it there is so little effect from the finely composed and eloquently delivered sermons of this day? Perhaps the answer may be seen in this contrast. Here is the unwilling son of Amittai, sent according to the word of the Lord to preach unto this great city the preaching that the Lord bids him preach. " And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey: and he cried, and said." Now let us listen to Jonah's sermon.
"Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." What a sermon! The English translation is in eight words. Not a word about repentance. Not a hope of mercy, or forgiveness, or sparing. This is the whole sermon, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." The message of Jehovah was coming judgment, speedy overthrow. And the testimony of the Lord Jesus is, "They repented at the preaching of Jonas." But did they repent first, and then believe? or believe first, and this produce repentance? The answer could not be clearer or more decisive. The immediate effect of this sermon of eight words on the scores of thousands of the people of Nineveh was this: "so the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth^ from the greatest of them even to the least of them."
How could they have done this if they had not believed God? Would they have proclaimed a fast? No, they would have treated Jonah as a lying impostor. It does not say they believed Jonah; but they believed God. They believed God, and repented at the preaching of Jonah.
All this, which the Lord calls repentance, is further explained as follows: "For word came unto the king of Nineveh." This is the power,, the instrument, the Holy Ghost uses. "For word, came unto the king." Has the word ever come unto your conscience? Until the word of God comes, man thinks himself king, that is, his own master. No doubt Saul thought himself such, as he rode with his attendants to Damascus. Oh, that word of God, coming judgment came unto the king. And is not the announcement of coming: judgment the word of God to our readers?—we must have to do with God. Think of that book, what would it be to have every sin, of thought, of act, all, all laid bare, unpardoned? Not only that which we justly call vile and sinful; but that which, we may have thought pleasing to God in our carnal state; we find, as Saul found it, to be the deepest enmity to Christ. Oh, that the word of God may come home to the heart and conscience!
Oh, do think of the great white throne, and think of the lake of fire. God hath spoken. Do you believe Him? "For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes."
Yes, the sure effect of the word is to bring man from his throne. Look again at Saul: how helpless he lay, with his face in the dust. He came down from his throne. God has said, "The end of all flesh is come before me." "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." "For when we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Think of those words, "without strength." Oh, how true. Ob, the first step when the word comes to the king is to bring him off his throne. Blessed effect of faith in God, to break one to pieces.
We will now look at the second step, as brought out in this scripture. "And he laid his robe from him." It was so again with Saul. He laid his robe from him. If any man had a robe worth keeping, he was the man. He says, " And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." (Phil. 3:99And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: (Philippians 3:9).) Have you laid your robe, your righteousness, every hope of being able to stand righteous before God by works of law, from you? This is not all.
The third step recorded is this—"and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes." This is deep, deep work in the soul. What an expression of self-abhorrence! Have you taken this place? The whole old man covered with sackcloth. This is not merely sorrow for sins we have committed. Repentance in Job's case was exactly the same. He did not say, I hate the sin I have committed; surely we should do this. But he said, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." God must be known, and believed, to produce this self-abhorrence. When God is thus known, instead of my own fancied righteousness, it is sackcloth and ashes. Which is it, beloved reader, with you? Are you trusting in your prayers, or doings, your own righteousness? or is all sackcloth and ashes? Paul accounted all his blamelessness as to the law as dung, compared with the righteousness of God in Christ. (Phil, iii.)
We will now notice the fourth step. "And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed nor drink water." Was not Saul's repentance again the same? Oh, what a proclamation in his awakened soul! "And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink." Most assuredly a mere assent to the truths of the gospel is not the repentance of the scriptures. Have you thus merely assented? or, have you ever been truly awakened to the awful nature of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment? Has that mighty proclamation been made in every recess of your soul, like the streets of Nineveh, so that your eyes and mouth have been fast closed to everything this world and Satan can present to you? Oh, for a mighty work of the Spirit, to bring souls thus before God in brokenness of heart!
And, further, the fifth step. "But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God." "Behold he prayeth" was another sure sign of Saul's repentance. Hearken to the cry of the awakened jailer, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Oh, have you ever cried out, in the bitterness of your soul, mightily unto God? Be not, oh, be not deceived! These are the inspired marks of repentance.
Neither must we omit the sixth step in the word of the king. "Yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands." Would that have been true repentance, had Saul continued to persecute the saints unto death? or would it have been true repentance in this case, had Nineveh continued to practice the fearful wickedness of an eastern imperial city? Neither is that true repentance in any one, who, whilst assenting to the truths of the gospel, continues to practice iniquity.
Is it not clear, then, that if all this could possibly take place before faith and divine life in the soul, then man would save himself? No, they believed God, faith takes hold of God. Nothing could be more striking than the divine order in this scripture. God sends the word, using His poor weak servant. That word comes in mighty power. It brings man from his throne, strips him of his robe, of all self-righteousness—opens his eyes to see his vileness. He abhors himself in sackcloth and ashes. He judges himself according to that word. He fasts, that is, nothing can satisfy his soul, until Christ is known in His person and work. Everything fails: he now cries out mightily to the Lord. He is heard, and this leads to fruits of repentance in a holy life.
What a witness will this repentance at the eight words of Jonah be in the day of judgment! As we said, there was no hope of mercy held out. But they believed God, they repented, and now they count on God, they trust God. They say, "Who -can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" Thus it was the goodness of God that led them to repentance. And did God disappoint the trust of the vast multitude of Nineveh? No. "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." And Jesus says, " The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here."
Jonas, an unwilling preacher, came from Palestine to Nineveh, and preached eight words, and scores of thousands believed God, and repented The Son of God has come from heaven, and revealed the whole character of God in righteousness, yet love; certain and everlasting wrath coming on all who believe not on Him, yet present repentance and forgiveness of sins preached in His name. It is not now, " Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" Not a shadow of uncertainty remains. "Repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Jesus has been lifted up on the cross—He has died for our sins. God has raised Him from the dead for our justification. God is pledged in righteousness and love. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Yes, God is now fully revealed in Christ. With the scriptures in our hands we can come into His presence, and hear all the words of Christ. We hear God speaking to us in the person of the Son. But do not forget God is now commanding all men to repent. "Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men. in that he hath raised him from the dead." Oh, how gracious of God; not merely announcing judgment, as in Jonah's sermon, but now the atoning work is done, God commands all men everywhere to repent.
It is thus the goodness of God leads to repentance. Oh, be not deceived, sin and self must be judged now in the presence of God in grace, or all must be brought out in judgment. Trust not in a false peace—a mere assent to the truth, without any exercise of soul as to sin, and any giving up the pleasures of a world which is hasting on to judgment. We fear man ν souls are thus deceived. A mere form of godliness, but denying the power. If such should be the case of any of our readers, may the word come to the king, may he come down from his throne, lay aside his robe, clothe himself in self-judgment, and cry mightily to God in prayer—may he proclaim a fast to his soul, and be turned to God from every idol. We need not say that this can only be now by faith in the testimony of God to the person and finished work of His beloved Son; to whom be all praise now and evermore. Amen.