The Instruction of Discipline

Jonah 2  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 11
Jonah 2
The discipline of a soul under the hand of the Lord has many deep lessons in it; lessons such as no theory can teach, and which can only be understood by the light of the infinitely perfect word of God. Without constant self-judgment, it is impossible to say how much of divine truth, about those very exercises of soul, and these living ways of the Lord, as well as about other things, may be held, and taught too, as little more than theories, in regard to their present practical effect upon the heart. It is not that there is designed hypocrisy, but, through the levity of our minds and the unsubduedness of our flesh, the depth of God's truth and ways is not scanned by our souls.
Truth, it should be remembered, is not God; but, if the soul is to fully profit by the lessons of His word, God and His truth must not be disjoined.
Another thing too may be observed, that knowledge is not faith; though advancement in knowledge, and an ability to speak of the truth of God, are often mistaken for faith-or, at least, the heart may not be conscious, in its advancement in knowledge, how much faith and the soul's practical accordance • with the truth, have fallen in the rear.
On this point, the moral of the prophet Jonah's story gives us a striking example. There was a double lesson which the son of Amittai learned (learned, at any rate, as he had never done before) under the Lord's dealings with him for his self-will and for his shrinking from the responsibility connected with the testimony with which he was entrusted. He might often, as a prophet, have enunciated the truths, " They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy;" and " salvation is of the Lord;" which are the burden of his confession when delivered from the fish's belly; (Jonah 2:8, 98They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. 9But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. (Jonah 2:8‑9)) hut what emphasis did they gather in his soul through the Lord's dealings with him in the terrible circumstances, into which his disobedience and self-will had plunged him!
The grace of the Lord is wonderful in the height to which it raises its objects; but it is wonderful also in the depths to which it descends, and in the manner of its working in the hearts of those whose condition makes them need its intervention. God goes along the whole pathway of His people, as well as meets them in mercy at the beginning, and receives them in like mercy at the end of their course. And He will make them learn this, either as they, in obedience, " prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God;" or as, by some discipline of his hand, He teaches them that " they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy." Faith always finds its answer in God, and finds too, in whatever circumstances, that He is "the God of all grace." Even where transgression called for this rebuke, it is said, " They called upon the Lord and he answered them ... Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance on their inventions." Jonah's sorrow, that extorted from him his cry, was self-earned sorrow, and the trouble that made him say, " Yet will I look again towards thy holy temple," was trouble that came directly from the Lord as a chastening for his disobedience, still the grace that met his spirit, now broken by the discipline of the Lord, was unchanged in its character, and made him say, as he had never said before, " Salvation is of the Lord." His cry was by reason of his affliction, still his voice was heard. He says, " Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice." The billows and the waves were rolling over and around him, and he was imprisoned hopelessly as in a living tomb, apparently cast out from God's sight, yet he looks again towards His holy temple, and he finds that GOD is in His holy temple! He finds that He is there to regard the cry of the wretched and to hear the prayer of the destitute! " He cannot deny himself." " The earth with her bars was about him forever," yet his life was brought up from corruption. It was when his soul fainted within him that he remembered the Lord; and it was because he had been heard in these appalling circumstances that he records his prayer.
It is the object of the enemy at such a time to throw the pall of despair over the troubled soul; but God's Spirit leads the heart to look to the hand that corrects for help-to own its misery and in the depth of its sorrow to cry to God for deliverance. The path of disobedience may be trodden in carelessness when outward circumstances are smooth; and it may seem a happier enterprise to be sailing with a fair wind to Tarshish, than to be called to bear an unwelcome testimony to Nineveh; but when the storm arises and the voice of God's reproof is heard in the conscience, and thus He is teaching the truth that " they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy," nothing but the sense of His unfailing grace can sustain the soul.
It was God's complaint by the prophet against Israel. " They have not cried to me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds." Their misery oppressed them and they howled upon their beds in consequence; but there was no cry to the Lord. Nothing is so terrible as the stubbornness of spirit that refuses to look to the Lord when He smites! Better with Jonah to be in " the belly of hell," if even there the cry of anguish is wrung from the soul and addressed to God who alone can deliver—for then deliverance is sure.
Jonah had often prayed to the Lord before, and knew that He was the hearer of prayer; but this truth was much more deeply engraven on the tablets of his heart when he said, " Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice." He had known too, and, as a prophet, had doubtless taught others, in the broad and general sense, that " they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy;" but in the whale's belly he was taught that to pursue nature's path and to choose his own course, however fair it might promise, was a lying vanity-in a word, that every object the heart might choose for its ease in opposition to obedience to the will of God was a lying vanity. The thought of an escape from the disagreeable, humbling, unwelcome work of going to Nineveh, and the ship of Tar-shish, with all that lured his heart from the path of obedience to the Lord, is now seen simply as a " lying vanity." " Salvation is of the Lord," in its application to the guilt and condemnation of sin, the prophet had known before he was cast into the sea; but there he learned that truth in its application to the misery, and sorrow, and danger into which lie had plunged himself by the willfulness of the course he had taken. Like Hezekiah, in his affliction, and sorrow, and chastening from the Lord, he could say, " By these things men live and in all these is the life of my spirit."
The death of the Lord Jesus was everything to the Apostle, in the outset of his career, in relation to his deliverance from sin and his acceptance with God; but there was a practical lesson of " always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus," and of the proofs of His delivering power, which he never learned so effectually as when he had to say, " We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, inso- much that we despaired even of life: but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead; who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver."