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The broadly human features of the book of Jonab are, however, of deeper interest than the merely prophetic story. In the working of Jonah's anger we see the characteristics of all-absorbing selfish passion; and God's mode of curing him is an example of the myriad influences by which he restores the selfabsorbed to true and healthy life.
The weakness of the passionate nature, for instance, is illustrated in Jonah's contempt of life. Nineveh was not to be destroyed as he had prophesied, and his pride is wounded : and he says, “Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” A man's worth
may be measured by the reverence he has for his life. “To live,”-says Sir Thomas Browne,_" to live, indeed, is to be ourselves, which being not only a hope, but an evidence, in noble believers, 'tis all one to lie in St. Innocent's churchyard as in the sands of Egypt, ready to be anything in the ecstasy of being ever, and as content with six foot as the moles of Adrianus.” “Ready to be anything in the ecstasy of being ever,”—they are noble words and breathe the very spirit of the Bible. “ With thee is the fountain of life,” says the Psalmist, in highest adoration of God. Christ, in claiming for himself that he is One with the Father, speaks of the life that is in him, and which he has power to give, as the proof of this. “ As the Father raiseth up the dead, and giveth life to them, even so the Son giveth life to whom he will. As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself, because he is the Son of Man." It is well for Christians to be aware of the real impiety that lurks under a longing for death, and weariness of the life which, day by day, God is bestowing on us here. The Gospel, which delivers us from a coward fear of dying, was never intended to foster an equally coward fear of living.
“My own dim life should teach me this,
That life shall live for evermore." He who brought immortality to light through the Gospel, brought also life to light. He claimed for God this daily being, wherein men toil and sorrow, and are disappointed ; and filled it with a spirit and a purpose, a presence and a power, that make it sacred as any after-life can be. To despise this high gift of God; to set it in the balance against disappointments, or labours, or unwelcome duties, and the common daily demands, because of sadness or weariness, to stretch out hopeless hands and long for death,-is the mark of a coward spirit, and dark impiety. Such a scorn of God's rich blessedness is scorn of God himself.
The unreality of passionate self-absorption is also revealed in, Jonah. Even after he has recognized that God is sparing the city, he still affects to believe that it will be overthrown. He hastens out of it lest he should be partaker of its plagues ; he will not dwell in a builded house, for fear of being crushed under its walls, but makes himself a booth. He sat down he might see what would become of the city;" pretending, that is, that he is awaiting its destruction. He would appear to Nineveh, and would persuade himself, that he is still expectant of the end he had foretold.
What impiety! one is ready to say; what hateful affectation and insincerity! But is it very uncommon? How many continue to cherish expectations that they well know will never be realized ; still pursue an object to which they once gave themselves, conscious all the while that they are living an unreal life! Do we never try to live again in the dreams of our youth? Are we always ready to listen to the voice that tells us that the old hope, the old passion is dead, that urges us to the duty of to-day? Passion becomes an “old hysterical mock disease.” Much of life is wasted because of the refusal to acknowledge that we have outgrown the expectations of the past, or that time and change have swept us far beyond them.
The selfishness of an absorbing passion is illustrated in Jonah's contempt of the men of Nineveh. He will not share in their repentance. He will not encourage their hope that God may yet turn away his fierce anger; nor join them in their gratitude that God has spared them. He shuts himself up alone to brood over his anger. God has falsified the mere letter of the prophecy which he forced Jonah to utter. That is all he can think of. He knew this ; he thought it would be so, and so it has proved.
All passion tends to arrogance. Self-absorption means scorn of one's fellows. In the eagerness of one desire, men come to despise all ordinary pursuits. Hope puffs them up, so that they look down on others as infinitely little. Nor is it eager passion alone that is arrogant; there are pride, and contempt of others, quite as often in the tear as in the smile. The sufferer sometimes looks, as from a very lofty height, down upon the joyful, and scorns those who are not acquainted with grief. A single passion may arrogate to itself the whole sphere of life, constitute itself the be-all and end-all of existence.
“ Du Heilige, rufe dein kind zurück!
Ich habe gelebt und geliebet." It is well to be aware of this; to know the secret of seclusion from the joys and hopes, the anxieties and dangers, the penitence and gratitude of other men. The holiest emotions may become
overweening. Even friendship, the sorrow of bereavement, that ought to open the heart to all mankind, will, if yielded to as if they were the whole of life, harden us, make us unloving, ungracious, and arrogant. To grow, even through the purest feelings, deaf to the calls of duty, and unfit for human sympathies, is to forsake the fellowship of Christ Jesus for that of the rebellious, selfish prophet Jonah. Neither scorn nor pride ever shut Christ from human life. He trod its common ways; and smiled upon its poorest toils; and comforted its trivial, as well as its deepest, griefs; and shared its daily joys; and men were not little in his sight. Under the “strait of the mightiest purpose that ever constrained a human spirit; engrossed with a passion vast as the intent of the Eternal Will; burdened by the grief and consecration of the world's sacrifice, he never scorned nor despised anything in which men were interested. He calls his people to be like himself. The disciple whose heart is most open, whose sympathies take in most fully alike the lofty and the low, the hopeful and the despondent, the grateful and the sad; he it is who is most like his Lord.
It is with exceeding gentleness that God reproves and seeks to restore the angry prophet. He does not follow him again with terrors, as when he pursued him with shipwreck, and caused the depth to close around him, and wrapped his head about with weeds, and barred the earth about him, and made his soul to faint within him. The disobedient are constrained by a force too strong for them; but even the ungracious doing of duty brings the spirit into fitness for gentler discipline. The Lord cares for Jonah in his self-will : "He prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.” And when he smites the gourd, and sends the vehement east wind and burning sun to beat on Jonah's head, it is that he may speak in words gentler than the gourd-shade, and reveal himself to the stricken spirit as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. How different is this from man! Man would have said, “ Let Jonah experience to the full the barrenness and bitterness he has brought upon himself; let the life he scorns be taken from him.” So we speak, repaying scorn with scorn; glad that the self-absorbed man is his own tormentor. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” “He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench; he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” God seeks to restore the prophet by awakening love in his heart : awakening his interest, and making him tender over the gourd. “Love for a gourd,” some may contemptuously ask; "what weak folly is this ?" But this is the meaning of the history. “Thou hadst pity on the gourd,” are God's own words to Jonah. In poor cottages, looking so destitute one hardly likes to enter them, women nurse flowers, calling them “pets" and " beauties,” and cherishing them as gently as though the flowers could smile on them, and repay them for their care. These know what it is to love the plants; and many a one is bound by this tenderness to a world of men and women, which else she would regard with selfish, bitter scorn. “The little ewe lamb," says Nathan, the prophet, “ that the poor man had, lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter." Over the wretched, gloomy Jonah, sprung up the wondrous plant; and its leaves and tendrils drew off his thoughts from himself; and as he watched it grow, a new interest was awakened in him. His heart softened to the plant; and the man who, a little before, despised his own life and scorned all Nineveh, becomes strangely tender and reverential over a gourd. There is something wonderful in life, even though it be the life of a common weed. Such things speak to us, however faintly we may understand them, of an awful power that forms, and an ever-watchful care that tends them: they are “fearfully and wonderfully made." Around us are manifold influences to wean us from perverse melancholy, and draw men out of themselves. Jonah loves his gourd, and “has pity" on it when it is smitten.
The first result of Jonah's tenderness would seem to be a deeper gloom. Another wrong is added to his suffering; and again he cries for death. “It came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.” But it has not been all in vain : for he is prepared to listen to the voice that once more sounds in his ears. “ And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd ? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.” They were bad and bitter words to speak; but better spoken than hid in his heart. There is yet one thing worse than perverse and sullen speech to God--perverse and sullen silence. No longer brooding over his woe, but uttering it to God, God answers him. He who spoke to Job out of the whirlwind answers Jonah from the withered leaves and stalks of the dying gourd.
How wonderful is what he says; the tenderness that was in Jonah, poor as it was, mingled with selfishness as it was, is yet, in its dim and partial way, an emblem of the tenderness of God for every creature he has made. “Then said the LORD, Thou
hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?" O! sweet and awful words. “Thy care and watchfulness may give thee to understand mine. Thou canst not bear to see wasted life; that even a plant should perish, and its beauty and grace, on which so much skill is lavished, be no more. Thou canst not bear that what has lived, and lived for thee, should die. And shall I be careless of the great city; shall I bear to see the men and women and little children who live, live in me, and live for me; and the poor dumb beasts that I have bound up in fate with man--shall I bear to see them die ?" There is yet this sacred energy in love, that, however poor it may be, however mixed with selfishness, it admits us into the secret of God's counsel, helps us to bear divine mysteries and understand God's ways. “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him."
God has put around us the tokens and witnesses of his divine care and tenderness on every hand. Every blade of grass we tread on has been by him endowed with life; the lilies of the field are clothed, and sparrows numbered, and the fowls of the air fed by him. And so is heard on every hand the voice that calls from absorbing selfish passion; from our griefs, our angers, and our woes.
But most of all, in this great world of men, whom he loves and pities and spares, are to be found the blessed influences by which he would reprove us in all our selfishness and restore us to himself. Rising "from lonely woes that wring the breast;" from "the grief that saps the mind;" from the despondency that sighs, and the rebellion that cries, for death; and moving among men and women, and little children that laugh and cry, and learn and disobey,--the victim of an absorbing passion will meet with his reproving and restoring God. Here he will be convicted of weakness and selfishness, and here he will be healed. The great truth of God's care for all, and care for him, will be taught him here,—that God is not fickle, but in infinite wisdom is doing all things well. Life is worth having, when every human creature is felt worthy of love, and the voice of duty will sweetly beckon into human sympathy and human helpfulness. The dark mystery of life will be read. In God's care for all men, each one will find himself surrounded by God's care for him. The wise and blessed purpose of the individual destiny is seen in the one eternal purpose of love to men.