Brethren Archive
Jonah 1, 2

What Meanest Thou, O Sleeper

by W.T.P. Wolston

We have in Jonah a remarkable illustration of the way in which a soul learns, through deep and terrible exercises, its own nothingness, and that “Salvation is of the Lord;” and you will see he does not get deliverance until he says this.

In the first chapter he illustrates, in a most striking way, what man is as a sinner in departing from God. There is glaring disobedience and sin, and then, as a consequence, he is in a most critical position; but he is profoundly careless and indifferent until he is awakened. There are souls now as careless and indifferent, who have never yet been awakened.

Jonah is told to go east, and he goes west. There is thorough disobedience; and that is what the Apostle Paul says of us all, when he speaks of “the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:2-3). Observe, the “child of disobedience” ripens into a “child of wrath.” And what is that? A man may go on in disobedience and refusal of the claims of God now, but he cannot escape the judgment of God at the last. May you never reach the spot, my dear reader, where the wrath of God abides on you for ever. Believe the Gospel now, for the object of that Gospel is to deliver you from your sins and their consequences, and to bring you to God, that you may be a child of God, and know Him as your Father.

Jonah illustrates, then, the innate disobedience of man. God had said to him, “Arise, go to Nineveh . . . But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish [destruction] from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa [beauty]; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (1:3). Mark how Jonah’s course is downward, like every child of Adam who has not been turned to God. He goes down to Joppa, and what does he find? He finds a ship going to Tarshish. Of course he finds a ship! The devil would be sure to have a ship there that day if there had never been one there before, to meet the disobedient soul as he gets there. And the devil has plenty of Joppas—earth beauties—and plenty of ships for you, my unsaved reader, to help you to get your own way and do as you like. He will pander to your lusts to ensure your destruction. Hell is the Tarshish to which you are surely wending your way.

But Jonah paid his fare, we read. And what is the fare, on his downward road, which the unconverted man pays? He pays his sinful fare to hell, and the price is his own soul. The Christian is on the upward road to heaven, and he has not to pay his own fare. Thank God, it was paid for him by another, even Jesus the Saviour.

Next, Jonah goes down into the ship—another downward step. And don’t you think, my friend, that your course has been a downward one until this very hour? And you have not got to the bottom yet! But the Lord had His eye on Jonah, and, thank God, He has His eye on you too. You have not your eye on Him, but He has His eye on you. God now begins to take Jonah in hand, for He “sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken” (1:4). The effect was great, and all, save one, were alarmed; for we read, “Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, . . . but Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep” (1:5). How often it happens that when God draws near unto a man he is profoundly unconscious of it; he is “fast asleep,”—lulled asleep by Satan. Some are lulled asleep by the pleasures of sin; others by the thought that they are not so bad; that they are better than their neighbours—are orderly, religious, careful, moral people. Oh, if this be your condition, may the Lord arouse you! May he make this paper the shipmaster to you, to rouse you from your sleep of sin.

What roused Jonah? “The shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not” (1:6). And thou, O unsaved reader of these lines, what meanest thou? Arouse! be awakened, for what is the next thing coming? Destruction—sudden destruction! “The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say [as men do more than ever now say], Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape . . . When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (1 Thess. 5:2-3; 2 These. 1:7-9).

You may say that Jonah’s insensibility in the tempest-tossed vessel is but a picture. True; but what is it a picture of? Of the state you are in. Every one in that ship, save Jonah, knew the danger; and every Christian knows your danger, my friend—knows you are in danger of perishing; nay more, knows that perish you must, unless you too are waked up, and led to say, “Salvation is of the Lord.” You are, alas, indifferent now, and indifferent in a day when everything that God can do He has done, and the whole light has come out. Again I cry, “What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise!” See what your state is. The shipmaster could only say, “Call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.” He did not know that God does think on us. He did not know what the Christian knows, nor that God says, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me” (Jer. 29:11-13). God has so thought of us, that He has sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for us, for “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

Jonah’s friends were not sure of any way of escape; but, thank God, I can tell you of a way of escape, through the blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus on the cross. In their extremity, the Gentile mariners “said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah” (1:7). It is a good thing when the lot falls upon a man and he feels that he is the sinner. Then (1:8) they ask Jonah four questions, which I will also ask you: (1) “What is thine occupation?” Sinning. That has been your occupation since you came into the world. Do you say, That is a terrible charge? God says, “The thought of foolishness is sin” (Prov. 24:9). (2) “Whence comest thou?” Oh! it is a terrible thing when the Lord has to say to souls, as He did when on earth, “Ye are from beneath” (John 8:28). (3) “What is thy country?” Ah, my friend, there is no mistake about your country. You belong to the world—“Ye are of this world” (John 8:28). You are in and of the world, and the world loves its own. (4) “And of what people art thou?” The enemies of the Lord. All unbelievers are such, though they may not like to own it.

The Christian’s occupation is pleasing the Lord. Where does he come from? “As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.” His country is heaven, and his people are the children of God.

Jonah, now fairly “come to himself,” in reply to these four queries, says, “I fear the Lord, the God of heaven.” Can you say that? The mark of a converted man is, that he fears the Lord; that of the unconverted, that “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). At Jonah’s reply “were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? for the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?. . . And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you” (1:10-12). Jonah comes to the conviction that he is the guilty one. It is a great moment when the soul gets to this point. I am verily guilty; I am so thoroughly guilty, that I am only fit to die. Others felt that they should perish; Jonah felt that he deserved to perish.

But though many learn that they are guilty, they have still deep lessons to learn, ere they find out what God’s salvation is; for when they have found that they are guilty, oftentimes they begin to try to mend; and here, at first, “the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not.” It was all of no use. “So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea; and the sea ceased from her raging” (1:15). Then he would feel indeed it was all over with him. And so, but for God, it was. The only way of escape now for him was through the life of another.

“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (1:17). It is given us for a figure. Jonah was preserved from these billows swallowing him up by the direct intervention of God. And what can prevent you and me from being swallowed up by the waves and billows of Divine wrath? Nothing but the direct intervention of God. But he has intervened, blessed be His name! The Lord Jesus Christ has come down in grace, given His own blood, taken sins upon Himself, been made sin, died, and has been raised again, and is at the right hand of God, and the Christian’s life is “hid with Christ in God.”

Jonah gets wonderful experiences in the belly of the great fish. He has been convicted, not only of sin and guilt, but of powerlessness too, and that he has a heart opposed to God. The first thing a soul does that is awakened is to pray, and “Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly” (2:1). But I want you to see that it is not his prayer that brings him deliverance. He says, “Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” There is positive agony of soul. Do you say, I know nothing about that? You will know it, then, my friend, one day, when your cry will never be heard. In the history of his soul, Jonah had gone down into the depths of hell, therefore he never went there actually. He now adds, “Thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me” (2:3).

I love to think of this verse, too, as a shadow of the experience of my blessed Saviour, who went through all the waves and billows of Divine wrath that never one of them might fall on me. But the man whom God takes in hand goes through deep exercises of soul, though I want you to see that your exercises, however deep, do not save you.

Every man must, sooner or later, learn what a fearful thing sin is, and how great the holiness of God. He learns there are depths of unbelief and impurity in his heart that he never knew before, and that the more he struggles and strives to restrain these evils, the more they bubble up, for their name is legion. Sin ever distances from God. Hence Jonah says, “I am cast out of thy sight; yet will I look again toward thy holy temple” (2:4). But what now are his experiences? “The waters compassed me about even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the waters were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains” (2:5-6). Three steps, says Jonah, I took myself—down to Joppa, down to the ship, and down into its sides to sleep. But when God took hold of me, I went deeper down still—“down to the bottoms of the mountains.” Here his exercises get deeper still. “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord” (2:7). But, my friend, it will not do to merely remember the Lord. You must believe in Him too.

But the soul that is real before God, is ever led to judge itself and its ways—i.e., it repents. That Jonah did this is evident from his next words, “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy” (2:9). This is the judgment he passes on his former life and the world which had allured him. Repentance, be it never so real and deep, is not deliverance however, and this he sighs for, but seeks to get in a wrong way, when he adds, “I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed” (2:9). Still he is not delivered. Sacrifices and vows cannot deliver. Have you learned this? Jonah did, for he pulls up short, and exclaims, “Salvation is of the Lord” (2:9); and immediately deliverance comes in. Many a soul is in the state of Jonah ere he said, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Such are saying, “I will sacrifice, I will vow, I will pay.” Ah! you are in the belly of hell still, and the soul never gets out that way; the gates are all barred. But the moment self is let go, with its sacrifices, its vows, its prayers, and its paying, and the soul sees that “salvation is of the Lord,” then deliverance comes.

“And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (2:10), not into the mud, but on to dry land. He was saved by a miracle. And that is what the Christian says, “I am saved by a miracle. I was on my road to hell, I had paid my fare and gone down into the ship; but the Lord came in, and took hold of me, and saved me by a miracle.” Yes, it is a greater miracle that saves a soul now than the one that saved Jonah. It was a great miracle certainly that saved Jonah, a wonderful thing that God should prepare a great fish, but not half so wonderful a thing as that He should design and plan such a wondrous scheme as that by which my salvation is secured. I am saved by the life of another, like Jonah, but not till that other has gone down into death for me. My sin was put away by the death of the One who had life in Himself—the One on whom death had no claim. He could offer a sacrifice that could clear the soul from every penalty that could fall upon it. He sweeps away the penalty by bearing it, and He sweeps away the sin by dying; and then He comes up on the resurrection side of the grave, and the Christian’s life is hid in Him.

I look up and see a living Man in glory, and God says, I am “in Him.” There is dry land for you, my friend. Truly “SALVATION IS OF THE LORD!” and those who simply believe in Him can sing with joy—

“The Lord is risen: with Him we also rose,

And in His grave see vanquished all our foes.

The Lord is risen: beyond the judgment land,

In Him, in resurrection-life we stand!”


The Gospel Messenger 1886, p. 93


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