Nineveh Repentant

Jonah 3:5.---' So the people of Nineveh believed God.'

Under every form and character of human life, beneath all needs and all habits, deeper than despair and more native to man than sin itself, lies the power of the heart to turn. It was this and not hope that remained at the bottom of Pandora's Box when every other gift had fled. For this is the indispensable secret of hope. It lies in every heart, needing indeed some dream of Divine mercy, however far and vague, to rouse it; but when roused, neither ignorance of God, nor pride, nor long obduracy of evil may withstand it. It takes command of the whole nature of a man, and speeds from heart to heart with a violence, that, like pain and death, spares neither age nor rank nor degree of culture. This primal human right is all that is claimed here for the men of Nineveh.

The writer of the Book makes no attempt to record an historical conversion of this vast heathen city. For its people he claims only the primary human possibility of repentance; expressing himself not in this general abstract way, but as Orientals, to whom an illustration is ever a proof, love to have it done---by story or parable. With magnificent reserve he has not gone further; but only told into the prejudiced faces of his people, that out there, beyond the Covenant,in the great world lying in darkness, there live, not beings created for ignorance and hostility to God, elect for destruction, but men with consciences and hearts, able to turn at His Word and to hope in His Mercy---that to the farthest ends of the world, and even on the high places of unrighteousness, Word and Mercy work just as they do within the Covenant.

How did Nineveh return to God? The movement began with the people and spread to the throne; it was the heart of a nation, clutching at the one hope of escape from an approaching doom. An alien prophet had brought the word. For a whole day he passed through the lanes and streets threatening the city with God's judgment upon its sins---one man among a million who alone knew the true God. Five words were all he spoke---'Forty days and Nineveh overthrown.' And the words, we read, went straight to every heart. Silence fell upon all the songs; the buying and the selling ceased; the bright colors were hidden; feasting gave place to hunger. The tidings came to the king, and he stepped down from his throne and led the lamentations of his people. A proclamation was issued that none should fail to take his part. By all the means known and sacred in that age they drew near to God.

To the author of the Book of Jonah the Word of God was so convincing that only to hear it might lead even Nineveh, that heathen city, to repentance. The record is set forth in the prophet, not as a deed accomplished, or an experience already won, but as a daring forecast of faith, one day to be claimed. Some Nineveh would yet repent; some nation would come back with its ranks unbroken to God; till that day the vision should be written and wait.

The world waits for a city to repent as this Nineveh repented. It is a new experience to be appropriated; it is reserved for some nation, as a place of honor; it has been partially known, but never perfectly. In cities before now the righteous men have prayed and won their fellows from doom; but no Nineveh has cried with all its voices in unison to the Almighty. But nothing less than that is the ideal of a nation on its knees.

If a nation is to return to God, there must be a voice of the prophet with the Word of God upon his lips. There is still need for the prophet or a prophetic Church; and the mark of the prophet is to be found in his supreme faith in his word as the word of the most High God; it is a word which bears upon the situation in which the nation is found, but it is always the counsel of the Just and Holy God which burns within his heart so that he cannot contain. That burden may still be laid upon one solitary being, or it may be shared; there may be a lonely Amos coming from his wilderness to preach the word; or there may be a group, or a Church, using many approaches for the same proclamation. No one can say of any method that it is ruled out beforehand, no one can assume that, because one method was followed in Israel, it must be followed still. One thing is clear; without the Word of God there will be no new life in a nation; there must be the Word of God proclaimed by His prophet.

But can it be delivered in any sense with the hope that a nation, as a nation, may hear and readjust all its life to the new Word of God, which is the new fact? In other ages it might be possible, it is urged, but not now. The ancient states were more compact. One voice might be heard throughout the length and breadth of a Nineveh; but how can there be any one issue set before a vast nation like ours? How can it act as one mighty being? How can it be made to hear the same word and face the same situation?

Has not the very size of our modern nations ruled out anything like a common repentance? Yet there are other things than vastness to be considered. There are the new and swifter ways from soul to soul; there are new lines of communication between separated lives; so that one great voice, if it were here to speak, could still reach almost in a moment all the nations. One emotion can be experienced by all the scattered members. The change of mind which is called in the New Testament 'repentance' is not inconceivable, even when we speak of vast peoples. What if there is a call more imperative---a need more urgent? What if this, too, were proclaimed in the ears of all men? Before that is done there will be no return to God.

Again, it may begin with the people, and the cry rise in a crescendo till all are swept into it, from the greatest to the least; or it may begin with those entrusted with power and leadership. These may be the first, and the vast multitudes may follow. There is no way whereby we may standardize the Divine method.

What, then, is the relevant fact that needs to be proclaimed? What is the Word of God for a nation in its collective life? How can it repent and return to its Lord, and in Him find its true life?

It was doom on the lips of Jonah. There is the note of doom in the Word; but there is more. It is not the cry to the nation---'Forty days and America shall be destroyed!' There is always judgment in the prophetic voice, but in no such dramatic form does the word come to us. No new message of judgment is needed but the old one which we have had from the beginning; for it is plain as history can make it that doom rests upon the nation which will not adjust itself to the spiritual situation when that is set forth. The nation that ignores God must perish. No prophet is needed to tell nations today that certain ways, if they are followed, lead to the decay and fall of nations. Europe and America is beginning to discover for itself that it cannot afford not to be Christian.

It is not in the word of doom that the characteristic message of God comes. Christ came not, and comes not, to condemn the world, but to save. His Word to the nation is not a warning of death, but a call to the nation to serve His purpose---a call to bring all treasures into the commonwealth of mankind; a call to the nation to die unto its egotism and adjust itself to the Cross of Christ, by which nations no less than individual souls find a world crucified to them. The word of the Cross is still the word to bring nations to their true life.

When the Cross is proclaimed as the burning center of the Divine Revelation to a people, what it means must be this. There in the Cross is the Word and Act of God; there are His values; there is the measure of all natural aims; there is the call to all who love their nation. To recognize that Word of the Cross as the very heart of eternity; to interpret its call in terms of service---of sacrificial service; to lay down all ambitions that are out of place there; to face the new world with His kingdom---the kingdom of Just and Holy Love, supreme in thought and in purpose--- that would be to repent.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha