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There are three things which this chapter leads us to observe in relation to this reformation. Its method, its development, and its value.
I. ITS METHOD. First : It was effected through man. Why did the Almighty require the services of Jonah ? Why did He not speak with an audible voice to the men of Nineveh Himself? Or why did He not dispatch an angel from His throne ? Or still why did He not write what He had to say to them in red flame above their heads ? All we answer is, Such is not God's method with man. He makes man the organ of blessing man. This plan serves several important purposes. (1) It serves to deepen man's interest in his race. (2) It stimulates men to seek the improvement of their race. If they are to advance they must look to them. selves, &c. (3) It confers signal honor on the race. (4) It shows God's wisdom and power in the race. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Secondly: It was effected through man speaking. Jonah was sent to speakhe was “to preach unto the city." We are far enough from depreciating the press; it is a mighty, growing, ubiquitous, power ; but it will never do the work of the pulpit. Truth spoken is the converting force. Christianity written, as compared with Christianity spoken, is as the winter to the summer sky. It may give as much light, but not as much heat; and without the summer radiance, the landscapes will wither and the fountains freeze. Thirdly : It was effected through man speaking what God said. “ Preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” Had he spoken his own thoughts, no valuable effort would have been produced. God's thoughts are the converting forces. God's thoughts are always reasonable and universally benevolent. When men preach their own thoughts--and such preaching, alas! is becoming fearfully popular--they babble. So much for the Divine inethod of human reformation.
II. ITS DEVELOPMENT. First: This reformation began with the intellect. “So the people of Nineveh believed God.”
(iii, 5.) All moral reformation begins with the intellectthe beliefs. Men must believe what God says, or no saving effect can be produced. Secondly : This reformation proceeded to the heart. “They put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” As they thought upon what they heard, deep contrition seized them, &c. Thirdly : This reformation extended to the outward life. “They turned from their evil way.” They renounced their old habits of wickedness, and adopted a new and virtuous course of life. Such is ever the natural development of true reformation. Divine ideas first enter the intellect, they are believed, they pass to the heart and generate emotions, and these emotions come forth in new actions. True reformation works from the centre to the circumference, from the heart to the extremities.
III. ITS VALUE. “And God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not." (iii. x.) Though this wonderful language is in accommodation to our modes of thought and action, it has a profound significance. It does not mean that God changed His mind towards them ;-this would be impossible. Two thoughts may throw light upon this language :-First : It is God's immutable purpose to punish impenitent sinners. Secondly: It is God's immutable purpose to pardon repentant sinners. When the impenitent therefore become penitent, God's conduct so far as they are concerned is changed. It is as if He had repented. The value of reformation is this :- It takes men from under the frown, and places them under the smile, of Heaven.
Brother, did the men of Nineveh repent at the preaching of Jonah, and dost thou remain impenitent under the preaching of Christ ? “THE MEN OF NINEVEH SHALL RISE IN JUDGMENT WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SHALL CONDEMN IT; BECAUSE THEY REPENTED AT THE PREACHING OF JONAS; AND, BEHOLD, A GREATER THAN JONAS IS HERE." “ As debts may be discharged by money, crimes by repentance ;
But there is coin in both, which discharges neither."
SUBJECT :- Death Avoided.
“Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” John xi. 26.
Analysis of Homily the Four Hundred and Thirty-eigbth.
NEVER die! What does this mean? Does it mean (1) Freedom from corporeal death? Nothing does the world dread so much as death, and nothing would it hail with greater exultation than a deliverance from it. Albeit, so long as mankind are sinful, a deliverance from corporeal mortality would be an evil rather than a good. Death serves to arrest the course of sin, and to prevent the world from becoming a pandemonium. Does it mean (2) Freedom from annihilation? We are in no danger of this; and this in itself is no boon :-non-existence is better than a miserable existence. What then does it mean? Generally it means this :- That nothing that gives value to life, nothing that makes life worth having, shall ever die if we truly believe in Christ.
I. THE HEALTHY ACTION OF OUR SPIRITUAL POWERS WILL NEVER CEASE. What is life without activity? Worthless. And what is activity unless it be healthful ? Misery. Faith in Christ secures the healthy action of all our spiritual faculties. The perceptive, reflective, imaginative, recollective, anticipative, will work harmoniously for ever.
II. NOTHING VALUABLE IN OUR SPIRITUAL ACQUISITIONS WILL EVER BE LOST. What is life without ideas, emotions, memories, habits ? A blank. And what is it with these if they are not of a truly virtuous character ? Despicable and wretched. But when these acquisitions are holy, life is blessed. Faith in Christ secures the permanency and perfection of all true ideas, affections, principles, habits, &c. “Our works do follow us." We cannot “labor in vain in the Lord.”
OF TRUE PLEASURE
III. ALL THE SOURCES
What are the sources of true enjoyment? Intellectual :-study, &c. Social :—friendship, useful ness, &c. Religious :-communion with God, worship, &c. Faith in Christ, then;—in Him, not in propositions concerning Him; not in what theologians say about Him; but in Him, as the living, loving, personal, Son of God, and Saviour of mankind, is the condition of a happy immortality.
SUBJECT :--The True Spiritual Life of Man. “I am the true vine, and my father is the husbandman; every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” &c. John xv. 1-5.
Analysis of Homily the four Hundred and Thirty-ninth. This beautiful passage gives us several striking ideas concerning true spiritual life in man.
It teaches :
I. THAT MAN'S SPIRITUAL LIFE IS DERIVED FROM CARÍST. Religion is not a mere creed or form ;—it is a life, and the life is a “branch" of Christ's life. It grows out of Him. The vital sap—the spirit-comes from Christ as the root, and runs through every branch, leaf, and fibre. There is no true spiritual life where Christ's spirit is not the inspiration. “Without me,” &c. It teaches :
II. THAT MAN'S SPIRITUAL LIFE IS DEVELOPED IN FRUITFULNESS. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away,” &c. The production of fruit is what is required; it is not to pass off in foliage, and blossom, -it is to yield fruit. Unless we yield fruit we are worthless and doomed to destruction. What is the fruit ? “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” It teaches :
III. THAT THIS FRUITFULNESS IS PRODUCED BY THE JOINT AGENCY OF GOD AND MAN. First: Man must seek an
abiding vital connexion with Christ in order to produce it. “ The branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine." Cut the branch from the tree, it will wither and rot. “Abide in Him.” Secondly: God must act the part of the great husbandman in order to produce it. The mere abiding in Christ will not do of itself. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every
branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” “He prunes,” &c. “ Unto him that hath shall be
SUBJECT :-Strength flowing from Divine Joy.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”—Neh. viii. 10.
Analysis of Homily the Four Hundred and Fortieth.
THE physical strength of a man as a laborer is not unfrequently regarded as the measure of his worth ; but mental strength is as much superior to the physical as the soul is to the body. Physical weakness often co-exists with mental might; but both bodily and mental strength may be found in combination with the utterest spiritual weakness. Solomon and Samson blended in one produced only the most puny spiritual being, whilst a Hebrew captive maid in Syria stands forth in strength to move a host of valiant warriors. The strength of the captive maid was the strength of faith. And this is within the reach of all, whilst strength of body and mind are independent of human volition. To every human being as to Israel is this declaration addressed, for “ God calleth things that are not as though they were.”
I. HUMAN JOY IS IDENTICAL WITH DIVINE JOY. First: The joy of atonement with God. God and man atoned by Christ's death, de facto as well as de jure, produces joy in God and man. “For the joy that was set before him,” &c.; and “We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ by whom