John A. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In the book of Jonah there are more miracles recorded than we are apt to concede. There is the miraculous sleep of Jonah, the landlubber, during a storm that was so violent that seasoned, experienced seamen were frightened, and sleep was impossible for them. There is the miracle of Jonah being snatched from the jaws of death by the jaws of a fish which God prepared and sent, and then used to keep him alive for three days and three nights in a sphere where death, because of lack of oxygen, has come to thousands upon thousands of men. There is the spewing out of Jonah on dry land rather than on the bottom of the sea. Coming yet, in the chapters we purpose, the Lord willing, to treat, is the gourd which in one night sprang up to such proportions that it gave Jonah shade and comfort in the midst of the burning, scorching heat of the sun. And then came its sudden withering, and the removal of this protection.
Sad to say, that is where we are inclined to draw the line. Doing so we ignore and overlook the greatest miracles recorded in the book. There is the conversion of Jonah, followed by the conversion of the Ninevites. We, because of our flesh, think first of material, fleshly advantages. The salvation of our bodies from the curse and its pain is uppermost in our thoughts. But the all-controlling, ever present yearning that ought to be foremost in our souls is salvation from the power of sin. Did Jesus not call us to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness?
We do well to remember that miracles are manifestations, pictures and symbols of the breaking through of God’s grace, so that the curse, which is upon the world because of sin, is pierced, and blessings come down upon God’s people instead. The miracle of all miracles, the wonder of all wonders is the coming of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity into our flesh. Born without a human father the infinite Son became finite, the Creator became a creature, the Independent One came to dwell in a nature that depended upon a father and mother to care for it and provide for it, upon food and drink, oxygen, rain, and sunshine. And He came down piercing the curse and showering down blessings out of heaven upon His church.
This does not mean that each individual who is materially, physically benefited by a miracle receives a blessing out of heaven. All Israel benefited that way in the wilderness through the miracle of manna, which God provided for Israel for forty years. This was not an act of “common grace.” Hebrews 3:7-11 declares that many saw God’s works for forty years, but He was grieved with that generation and said that “they do alway err in their hearts, and have not known my ways.” And He sware in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest. Plainly it was not His grace to this erring people, but an act of providence. He was grieved with most of those Israelites. His grace would have made them thankful, and to know how to walk so that they would be in His way, that is, be in the sphere of His law, rather than be erring in their hearts. And that He swore in His wrath that they would not enter into His rest means that they would not taste the smallest part of His grace. They did not enter into His grace to the slightest degree. He is Jehovah, the Unchangeable One. He did not give a “common grace” for a little while and then change His mind and decide not to give them His rest. His grace is an eternal, unchangeable virtue. And on what legal basis could He Who is holy continue to give His grace for forty years to those that err in their hearts?
Romans 8:7, 8, as pointed out last time, teaches us that the carnal mind cannot be subject to the law of God, and that they that are in the flesh cannot please God. Can the holy God then find pleasure in such, so that He deals with them in grace? He can and does with those who belong to Christ, because Christ’s holiness and righteousness are legally theirs, since they are members of His body by God’s eternal, unchangeable decree of election.
And does He not Himself in His law declare that He will not hold them guiltless that worship anyone but Himself? Yea, He is a jealous God and shows mercy—and thus also grace—only to those that love Him and keep His commandments. And even when His elect turn from His commandments, as Jonah did, He often ceases to show them evidences of His mercy and grace. It is there alright, and it will bring them back. But in that very mercy and grace He, as He did with Jonah, sends distresses and troubles, to teach them and bring them back from their waywardness.
Merely giving material gifts is no sign of grace. Taking these away can be an evidence of His grace. Jonah was stopped in his sinful way by a fierce storm sent in God’s grace. When God polishes us and refines us by afflictions, it is not a suspension of His grace. It is a gracious work on His part. Similarly, when He gives the wicked earthly things which their hearts desire, it is not grace, for it only supplies them with more means wherewith they earn for themselves a deeper place in hell!
The miraculous saving of Jonah’s earthly life was a breaking through of God’s grace. For God did this to bring him to the confession of his sin, of which confession we read in Jonah 2:1-4. Yes, he had already told the mariners that he had tried to flee from God. He had even said that he feared the Lord, the God of heaven which had made the sea and the dry land. But take note of the fact, first of all, that this was forced out of him, and that he could not escape it, because the lots clearly single him out as the one because of whom this terrible storm raged. But also take careful note of the fact that he confessed this to men. And we live in such a dreadful age today that criminals boast of their evil, readily confess it before men, and even want the credit for their vile deeds. Now, however, here in Jonah 2:3, 4 he confesses his sin before God and acknowledges the fact that he deserves this as an evil doer. That means a whole lot more. After all, did not Judas Iscariot confess before men that he had betrayed innocent blood? Jonah now prays to God and acknowledges the fact that God cast him into the deep, and that all His billows and waves passed over him. And this he does without complaint. It is not the most open confession of his sin, but is a confession that God is punishing him for his disobedience, and in that sense it is a confession of his sin.
Still more, Jonah expresses his confidence in the blessedness of the forgiveness of his sins, and of being dealt with in grace. He states, “I shall look again toward thy holy temple.” This was preceded by the confession, “I am cast out of Thy sight.” Saved from death, he is sure that he is saved from his guilt, for he shall look again toward God’s holy temple. He will again enjoy God’s covenant fellowship, as undeserving as he is in himself. Plainly this is what he desires also. And that seals his confession as being sincere. When all we want is to escape the punishment we deserve, we are no more spiritual than the devil. If we do not love God and want to be holy and serve Him in His temple, we are carnal, self-centered and not interested in glorifying God. But Jonah is, and his confession is sincere.
This also explains the statement in Jonah 3:1, “And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.” That too was a breaking through of God’s grace. Indeed, that Jonah is called the second time to do what he would not do, when first commanded to do so, is a miracle. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) and as such He smote Ananias and Sapphira who lied about the money they got for their land. This God had sent that terrible storm, of whose waves and billows Jonah spoke. Yet He saved Jonah from His fierce wrath, and now comes the second time with a call to go to Nineveh.
Jonah is not given a second chance. Our God does not give chances. He is no gambler, nor does He arrange for sinners to gamble with their salvation. He had good works eternally decreed for Jonah in His grace. And He had the salvation of the Ninevites eternally in His mind in His grace. And now that Jonah may do that work, and the Ninevites might be brought to faith, God works His miracle of blessing His elect with sorrow for sin, repentance and confession of sin.
Our old man of sin does not think that conversion is a blessing, and it finds no joy even in the thought of serving God. In fact it hates those who reveal a converted life. Yet man was created to serve God, and the new man in Christ does consider conversion a blessing, yea a miracle of God’s grace. He also understands that man is given life, food and drink, clothing and shelter, not as a gift of “common grace,” but to do as Solomon declares in Ecclesiastes 12:13, namely, “to fear God and keep His commandments.” He understands the truth of Psalm 1:1, 2. Note that the psalmist in this Psalm makes a contrast between the believer and the unbeliever. The believer is blessed. The unbeliever is “like the chaff which the wind driveth.” Plainly the psalmist knows no grace that God shows to the wicked.
Asaph in Psalm 73 likewise saw no “common grace” upon the wicked. It looked that way to him for a time. He saw that their eyes stood out with fatness. They prospered materially because God sent them an abundance of rain, and the right amount of sunshine to make them prosper materially. O, it seemed that God was so good to them. He sent them such a measure of “common grace” that Asaph became envious of them, so much so that his feet were almost gone, his steps had well-nigh slipped. He had big questions about God’s grace, because it looked to him as though he had cleansed his heart in vain, and washed his hands in innocency. Imagine! There is a grace that God gives to the wicked and keeps from His church! The believers do not prosper materially. They are often in trouble and plagued (verse 5). God has a grace that is only for the wicked!
Not so, Asaph finds when he goes to God’s house. For then he understood their end. He saw that instead of being the objects of God’s grace, the wicked were set on slippery places BY GOD! (See verse 18.) And surely grace does not do that!
We do well then to listen to what John wrote in John 1:16, “And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.” We, the believers, receive grace, and mind you, receive grace for grace. We even need grace to receive grace. The Greek preposition is anti, which can mean over against, in opposition to, as it does in such words as antichrist and antichristian. But here it means in addition to, grace in addition to grace already received. It does not mean grace that displaces grace, grace that takes away grace, but grace and more grace, an abundance of grace. New mercies and new grace are ours every day.
And it simply is a fact that we need grace to receive grace. We need grace not only to know that we are the objects of God’s grace. We need grace to be able to confess that we are saved one hundred percent by grace. Without God’s grace we will boast to one degree or another of our works and abilities. It takes grace to reject the theory of a “free offer” that maintains—or at least implies—that we can act beforewe have received the beginning of salvation in us, in the sense that we can desire to be born again before we have received such a birth in God’s grace.
No, grace must be there before we hear the preaching, or we will not receive it as God’s word. And it was God’s grace that brought Jonah to confession of his sin, and unto willingness to go to Nineveh. God’s grace turned him; and he did not turn of himself in order to obtain grace. God made him, and makes us, say that all of our salvation, from the desire for it to the fullness of it in heavenly glory, is of the Lord.