Jonah 3:1-10; Matt. 12:38-41.
CHAPTER 9 — JONAH'S FORTY DAYS.
FAITH AND REPENTANCE; OR, GOD'S MESSAGE AND NINEVEH'S RESPONSE.
There is a very great difference, beloved friends, between God and man, and God and His servants. The contrast between the Master and the servant in the book of Jonah is very wonderful. The opening of the book tells us that the Lord said to Jonah, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me" (Jonah 1:2). God took notice of the wickedness of the men of Nineveh, just, beloved friend, as He takes notice of your wickedness. Do not think that His eye is not on you. It is. His hand may not be on you yet, but His eye is on you.
Now Jonah was a very wilful man, and instead of at once going to do what God told him, he does the very opposite. Do you know why Jonah did not go at once to Nineveh? That comes out in chapter 4. When the mercy of God to this guilty and doomed city was manifested, Jonah was very displeased. He said: "I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil" (Jonah 4:2).
He said, in effect, "If I go and tell them that judgment is coming, I know that there is so much goodness in the heart of my God that, if they repent, He will spare them, and I shall lose my character." Yes, that was it. And then when two millions of souls were repentant before his eyes, he was out of temper. Ah, it would not put me out of temper, if you repented. It would be the very opposite. If you were to repent and get converted, I should be thankful, not out of temper. That is what I seek tonight, and I can tell you something more, all heaven would go into ecstasy over it. Is not that wonderful? Look at the fifteenth chapter of Luke. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents" (Luke 15:10). The whole of heaven is moved from centre to circumference, from the heart of God to the angel in the most illimitable distance, all rejoicing over one sinner's salvation. Now, my friend, let heaven rejoice over your salvation tonight.
But here is a man, and how like he is to us, absolutely upset when he found that God had spared this mighty mass of people. There was never such an effect produced by a short sermon before or since. Two millions were bowed down by one preaching. Oh, may God raise up preachers like that! Oh for men whose preaching is after that stamp! But poor Jonah says, "If I go and preach coming judgment, I know God so well, that, if they repent, He will spare them, and then they will laugh at me, and I shall lose my character." Poor Jonah! He did not like the message that God gave him to deliver, and therefore took his own way, going due west to Joppa instead of east to Nineveh.
And now, please notice, what took place. Follow Jonah closely, and see what came out in connection with God's dealings with him, and how remarkably the Lord Jesus in the Gospels utilises his history. He says, "Jonas: was a sign to the Ninevites" (Luke 11:30); and again: "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas: was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish" (see R.V.), "so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 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" (Matt. 12:39-41). Jonas: was a sign to the Ninevites, of death and resurrection, and that only God could save man. That was the sign. None but the hand of God can deliver, whether Jonah or the Ninevite then, or you and me today.
God said to Jonah, "Go to Nineveh," which lay due east. What does he do? He packs up his traps and goes west. He makes straight for Joppa because he wants to fly to Tarshish. The meaning of the word Tarshish is "destruction." We have a striking picture of what man is in the early part of this book. What is the end of the road you are on, unsaved friend? "Destruction." I quite admit you are passing down by Joppa which means "pleasant." Of course the devil will make things as comfortable as he can for you in this world. But mark, my friend, there is. no comfort in hell, and there is no way out of it, Do not forget this, there are ten thousand roads to hell, but there is only one road to heaven. You can go down to hell either on the clean or the dirty side of the road, either the careless or religious side of the road. You can go down polished or unpolished. You can go down through the tap-room, the billiard-room, or the gambling saloon. I cannot tell you all the different ways by which you can go down to hell, but ten thousand would not take them all in, that is my belief. The point is, there is only one end to the pathway of man in his sins, and once a man gets there he cannot return. Again, there is only one road to heaven, and Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
Well, down goes Jonah to Joppa and there he finds a ship going to Tarshish. I am certain of this, that if there never had been a ship in port at Joppa before, that was going to Tarshish, the devil would have had one there that day in order to help this man on his wilful course. Next, we find that he pays his fare. And you are paying your fare, my friend. I am going to glory, I am thankful to say, and my fare is paid for me. I am going there through the sovereign grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the atoning work that He has accomplished. Do I make light of it? God forbid! The price of my fare to everlasting glory includes all the dying agonies and atoning sufferings of God's eternal Son, become a man that He might die, and redeem me to God by His blood. A priceless ransom I know mine to be, for that ransom was Himself — Jesus — my own blessed Saviour. I would to God He were yours also.
I repeat Jonah paid his fare, and, unsaved friend, you are paying your fare. You are on the downward way. Everybody knows it if you do not know it. God knows it, and the devil knows it. Jonah's downward steps were more than one. You will find he takes four steps down, for man's course, till God touches him, is always downward. He goes down to Joppa then down to the ship, and then down the sides of the ship. And what then? God steps in. He sends a storm, and the ship is like to go to pieces, but Jonah is fast asleep. He can sleep through the storm quite unconscious of his danger. So is it often with sinners. Does it not strike you that you have slept all this time? You never yet spent a night in prayer and tears, because of your lost condition. Alas, you may yet shed plenty of tears in hell, when there will be no hand to wipe them away.
But I think I see Jonah's ship as it is tossed about. The storm is raging, and they pitch the wares overboard to lighten the ship, but it is to no purpose, and the ship is in utter jeopardy. But they know they have Jonah on board, and the shipmaster comes to him, and oh, what a shake he gives him as he says, "What meanest thou, O sleeper?" (ver. 6). He needed a good waking up. So very likely do you, but at length he was waked up. And then he has to tell the truth. He is bound to tell the truth. He has to own: "I ran away from God. I am a wicked man. I took my own way."
But, first, lots were cast to discern the sinner on board that ship. They said, "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" (Jonah 1:7). Then they ask him: "What is thine occupation, and whence comest thou? What is thy country, and of what people art thou?" (Jonah 1:8). You have Jonah's whole history marked out here. And then he tells them what had taken place. "Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said to him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them" (Jonah 1:10). When he got on board the ship going to Tarshish he evidently said, "The Lord told me to go east to Nineveh and preach a sermon I did not care to preach, so I took my own way." The truth came out. The truth has always to come out sooner or later.
When the mariners learned this, they were the more afraid. And Jonah said, "Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm to you; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you" (Jonah 1:12). His judgment was just, but "nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not" (Jonah 1:13). And now what about you, my friend? You cannot row yourself to land. You cannot save yourself. What will you do? You had better accept and own the truth of your state. What is it? Utterly lost; and absolutely helpless in yourself.
Then they took Jonah and pitched him overboard, and as he went down they doubtless said, "He is lost." That was what they thought, but it was the moment of his salvation, for just then God stepped in. He had prepared a great fish, and the fish swallowed Jonah. In the belly of that fish he went down to the bottom of the mountains, as he says further on, and went also through some terrible exercises. The first chapter gives us the wilfulness of Jonah, and the second chapter describes the deep soul exercises he passed through ere he learned salvation.
Note his experiences: "I cried by reason of mine affliction to the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice" (Jonah 2:2). He is writing this story long afterwards. He never forgot these three days and three nights; and I tell you what it is, a man who gets into the belly of hell, in his experience on earth, will never get into the belly of hell in actuality for eternity. A man who has never been broken down by the sense of his sin and guilt here, nor has morally tasted the affliction of the belly of hell which he thinks he does not deserve, will have to taste it in a day when it is too late to escape its awful realities. I think you will easily see what I mean. Jonah's feelings, as described in this second chapter, are interesting in the extreme. They were the legitimate fruit of his own sin and wilfulness, but doubtless by them God prepared that man to give his message. "I went down to the bottoms of the mountains," he says (Jonah 2:6). Three steps Jonah took in self-will, and the fourth God made him take.
Then he begins to pray and to promise, but that does not deliver him, and at length he justly says, "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy" (Jonah 2:8, 9). He was the illustration of his doctrine. Then he says, "I will sacrifice to thee with the voice of thanksgiving," but that does not save him. Then he adds, "I will pay that that I have vowed," but that does not save him. You too may say, I have prayed, promised, and vowed, but I am no better. God has waked me up, and since then I have never had any peace day or night. Thank God, my friend. Why am I thankful? Because, I believe that before any great time goes by, you will enjoy God's salvation. The man that has never known the misery never tastes the mercy, but the man who cries to God in distress of soul is sure to be heard. Till a man knows he is lost, he never knows what it is to be saved, and that is the reason why many never know it. They do not think that they are lost, hence they never get saved.
But Jonah has to drop his vows. They do not take him out. Prayer does not take him out, and tears do not take him out of the belly of hell. You say, I will give up everything. That will not take you out. Though you gave all that you had for the salvation of your soul, that would not do. Look at Jonah again. There he is, closed up in the darkness, when all of a sudden he says, "Salvation is of the Lord," and, before he knows where he is, he is on dry ground. It is God only that can save you, my friend. Not your prayers or tears. Your prayers can no more save you than your sins. You must take the Saviour. Thank God, what you need you may have. That which you want as a sinner, the love of God has supplied in the Person of His Son. All connected with yourself is hopeless. And so it was with Jonah. But the moment he says, "Salvation is of the Lord," the Lord spake to the fish, and it "vomited out Jonah upon the dry land" (Jonah 2:10). Not into the mud. Lots of folk get into the mud, I think. They are in uncertainty. They take up permanent quarters in "Doubting Castle." They go about with doubts and fears. What, then, is dry land? The sunny shores of resurrection, the knowledge of a risen Christ, a triumphant Saviour. Jonah was on dry land, everything speaking of deliverance and safety.
Now he is fitted for the message God has for him. "And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid thee" (Jonah 3:1, 2). That is a great point for preachers. Get your orders from the top. People say to me sometimes, Why do you not preach this and that, and after this style, and that manner? Because I have got no orders, my friend. You have just to get your orders and to obey them, and I have to get mine. "Go and preach the preaching that I bid thee," says God. That is the great point for each servant. It is a great principle, and if we miss it our service is spoiled.
"So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey" (Jonah 3:3). All that has come out in late years, as the result of the digging up of the ruins of Nineveh, proves absolutely the truth of Scripture here. "An exceeding great city of three days' journey" indicates its vast size. Apparently it must have covered an area of sixty miles square. It was a remarkable city also as to its defences. The walls were an hundred feet high, and three chariots could drive abreast on its ramparts. On these, too, were built some fifteen hundred towers, each two hundred feet high, rendering the advance of a foe easily seen on every quarter. It was a sort of impregnable place. And yet it has been so overwhelmed, that those who have sought to find out its site have had difficulty till very lately. God first sent the word of warning to Nineveh by the lips of Jonah. Perhaps, my friend, He is warning you by my lips. Heed His word.
And now we will go to that mighty city. "And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey." He goes through one of the massive gates. God had given him a message, that we might think would occupy him three days in delivery, but he goes only one day's journey. Why did he not go three days' journey? There was no need. If you get a work of God begun one end of the city, it will soon spread to the other end. Oh, how the tidings went like wildfire through Nineveh. This weird man, with a resurrection light in his eye, enters that city, and when inside his voice is heard crying, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jonah 3:4). What, Nineveh destroyed? Never was the like heard before. Never. And what heed did the Ninevites pay to this message of mingled mercy and judgment? Did they sneer? Did they treat that warning word like many a sinner in Edinburgh and elsewhere today treats the gospel? No, my friends. It is one of the most striking instances in all the Word of God, of men heeding God's message and bowing down before Him in true repentance.
I do not know whether Jonah went up one street and down another, but it was enough that once from the lips of God's servant, typically risen from the dead, fell this word of God, in resurrection power, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Why forty days? Oh, thank God, that He gave them forty days; He gave them space to repent. Had He said, "Ere the sun sets tonight, Nineveh shall be overthrown," they would not have had much time to repent. But those promised "forty days" were the breathings of mercy, rejoicing against judgment. God is never in a hurry to judge. He is slow in judgment, but always in haste to meet an anxious sinner. Luke 15 shows us that: of the prodigal we read: "And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). God is in a hurry to meet an anxious sinner, but He is very slow to judge this godless world.
If God had been in a hurry to judge man's sin, do you think the world would have lain so long stained with the murder of His Son? God has not drawn the sword of retributive judgment from the scabbard yet. He is full of mercy. "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown," was indeed the voice of mercy. It had its effect And what do I read? "So the people of Nineveh believed Jonah? No. "So the people of Nineveh believed God" (Jonah 3:5). A most wonderful statement this. Our Lord Jesus Christ says, "They repented at the preaching of Jonas: Look at the people who hear this warning, this solemn word of God; what is the effect on their souls? Does it go in at the one ear and out at the other? By no means. I read this: "So the people of Nineveh believed God." The word was mixed with faith in them that heard it.
There are two unspeakably important effects of Jonah's short sermon in Nineveh. Faith and repentance. What was their faith? They believed God. Do you know what faith is? Faith is the soul's reception of a divine testimony, and repentance is the result in the soul of the reception of that testimony. Jonah's was a very solemn testimony. I am not here today to say," Yet forty days, and Edinburgh shall be overthrown." I am not here to tell you that you have yet forty days in which to turn to God. No man in this hall can be sure of forty days, or forty hours, or even forty minutes. I can tell you that you are a sinner in your sins, and I bring you the blessed tidings that where you are there is mercy, grace, and pardon for you through faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you believed the Word of God there would also be repentance, for repentance is the result of faith. Repentance is the tear-drop in the eye of faith.
Were these Ninevites told to repent? They were not. Manifestly, however, they repented. Though the word may not have been used by Jonah with regard to them, their whole course was altered when they got hold of the solemn fact that God was going to deal with them because of their sins. Have you, my friend, not heard this word? — "But now God commands all men everywhere to repent: because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained: whereof he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:30, 31). What was Jonah? Typically and personally a risen man. What is Jesus now? A risen Man. And what do we therefore read now? God commands all men everywhere to repent. Why? Because the day of judgment is appointed, and the judge ordained, even the One who died and rose again. Nineveh had forty days in which to repent. It seems to have repented the very first day. Faith sprang up at once in their hearts, and they did repent. Our Lord says, "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas: Tell me this, Have you repented yet?
That they repented was manifest. We read, "So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them" (Jonah 3:5). Sackcloth is the Old Testament expression of repentance. Where did it begin? You know it is very difficult to get the gospel brought to the throne nowadays. The remarkable thing in Nineveh was this, it began at the top and came down. The word somehow reached the King of Nineveh, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." He and all other subordinate hearers were so impressed that they repented. Why, sinner, is it you are not impressed? Why, with the knowledge that judgment is certain, the end of things drawing near, do you not repent? Another hour and everything may be over for ever. The Lord may have come, His Church have been called to glory, and the world left to the desolating judgments which God has assured it are coming, and which the denizens thereof have richly earned.
Why have you not turned to the Lord? The Ninevites listened, believed, and repented. Imitate them. Even their king repented. I think I see that proud man bowed down before God. The King of Assyria was the ruling power on earth at that moment. The mightiest monarch on the earth bows down before God. Wise man! Look at him. "For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth and sat in ashes" (Jonah 3:6). He seems to say, "What avails my kingly robe if the judgment of God is upon me, and if in forty days I am a corpse?" Wise man, sensible man, humbled man, repentant man. Why? Because believing man.
Now note the next thing he did. "And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything: let them not feed nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands" (Jonah 3:7, 8). The life was to be changed. Mind that. When a man gets converted, his life is always altered afterwards. What he has been in he comes out of. He shuns sin, and loves holiness.
The king further says very pathetically, "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger that we perish not" (Jonah 3:9). What he felt was this — We are bound to perish if we go on as we are doing, but, if we repent, perhaps God will turn and repent, and we may be spared and perish not Now, beloved friend, have you any doubt on that point? Did you never hear this," For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life"? (John 3:16). I do not think that there rose in the King of Nineveh's soul the thought of everlasting life, but was there any possibility of escaping the solemn doom of which God had warned him, and with which He had threatened him. He saw one doorway. And what was that? Repentance. So he covered himself with sackcloth, sat in ashes, and cried mightily to God.
And now let us go into Nineveh. What do we find? The king robed in sackcloth, and sitting in ashes. What would the men of the world have said to this? They would have thought little of it. Observe what the Lord Jesus Christ says of their action, "The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas: yes, they believed and repented. Again I ask you, Have you repented? Have you been brought down? Has there ever come a moment in your soul's history when you have put on moral sackcloth? Have you ever been like Job, as he says: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye sees thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5, 6). Job and the Ninevites occupied the same ground morally.
Had you gone into Nineveh at that moment, what would you have heard? The lowing of the cattle, saying, "Oh, lead us to water." But no man led them. And the sheep bleating to be led out to grass. But no man led them. There was an awful quiet over the men of that city, broken only by the voice of prayer. They were under the sense of the impending judgment of God. Oh that sinners might be seen now in a similar state, bowed down and repentant before God. It was an amazing sight. Nothing like it was ever known before, or since, that I know of. And yet what we see in Nineveh is just what goes on in the history of every soul of man, when that man is first awakened, and is about to be blessed of God. He gets the knowledge and the sense of sin. He is brought to repentance, even though he perhaps does not understand fully what the meaning of the word is. What does it mean? It means something very precious. The apostle Paul says, "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). These are the two vital things which always go together. "So the people of Nineveh believed God." There was faith. How was it evinced? They "proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them" (Jonah 3:5). There was repentance. Friend, do you believe God? If you do, you will bow down in repentance before Him, and you will get blessing. "Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," are the sure precursors of deep soul-blessing.
But you may ask this question, What is faith? It is believing God. It is taking God at His word. That is what an old woman said in the early hours of the morning when she was dying. She had been a professing Christian, and her friends sent for her minister. When he came in he said: "Well, my good friend, I see you are very ill. What are you resting on for eternity?" With gasping utterance she feebly replied, "Sir, I have taken God at His word." That was faith. Have you taken God at His word? To do so is to show that you are the possessor of divinely produced faith. I repeat — Faith is the soul's reception of a divine testimony. "He that has received his testimony has set to his seal that God is true" (John 3:33). That verse is a divine definition of faith. I think the little girl at the Canongate Sunday school had got hold of it very clearly. The question was asked, "What is faith?" Her answer was this, "It is believing what God says in the Bible about Jesus, and asking no questions."
Take God at His word. He always speaks the truth. Men can tell lies, for "they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Ps. 58:3). But God is true, and always speaks the truth, though He is not the Truth. What is the Truth? Christ. The truth is the absolute and perfect expression of that which is. Christ is that. God is love. God is gracious, holy, tender, and merciful. How do I know it? Because it has all come out to man in the Person of the Son of God, for He was the Truth. To have "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" is to credit Him with being what He says He is. Abraham illustrates this. We read that "Abraham believed God." God showed him the stars, and said, "So shall thy seed be." Abraham took Him at His word, and was a justified man on the spot.
Friend, why cannot you believe God? You tell me that you find it so difficult to believe Him. Why do you find it difficult to believe? I meet you tomorrow, going to the station. "Where are you going?" I ask. "I am going to London by the two o'clock train." "How do you know it is at two o'clock?" "I bought a Bradshaw's time-table." "And are you actually going to believe Bradshaw?" "Well, I am not such a fool as to go at ten minutes past two, when the timetable says two o'clock." This is passing strange. You can absolutely believe Bradshaw regarding a two o'clock train, and you cannot believe God for eternal life, "which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2). It shows what a heart you have. You can believe fallible man, and you cannot believe Him of whom it is written that it is "impossible for God to lie" (Heb. 6:18).
Friend, God makes no mistakes in His Word. There are no mistakes in Scripture. I know that some of our wise men say there are mistakes therein. Not so; the mistakes are all in the hearts and heads of these writers and speakers. You make a great mistake by not believing God simply when He addresses you as He does now in grace. "So the people of Nineveh believed God" is a striking record. And will not you believe God? Do you remember what Paul says about believing God, when passing through a great storm? "There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul: thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God has given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me" (Acts 27:23-25). That was faith.
Now then, my friend, if you also believe God, you will get saved where you sit tonight. Believe Him where you are this night. Believe His love. Believe His grace. Believe in the mercy of His heart. Do not forget this, it is not your repentance that leads God to goodness, but "the goodness of God leads thee to repentance" (Rom. 2:4).
The King of Nineveh said, "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" (Jonah 3:9). You and I cannot say, "Who can tell?" God's Son has come and told us. His Son has come down and told us all the truth — that He loves mercy and not sacrifice. "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 John 4:14). "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). God has told out His heart, He has given from His bosom His best Beloved — the best thing in heaven for the worst thing on earth. And what is that? It is a sinner in his sins. Yes, Jesus has given Himself for us. The love of God is declared, and now, as much for us as for Jonah or Nineveh in days gone by, we have to learn the blessed fact that "salvation is of the Lord."
Blessing comes truly from God without money and without price. A little boy came up to me once in the Waverley Station, and said," This month's Murray, sir? "offering me a well-known railway guide book. "How much is it?" "Threepence." "I thought you were going to give it to me for nothing." "Oh, no, sir," said he, "there's nothing for nothing in this world." "Are you sure there's nothing for nothing, my little man?" I shall never forget how he blushed up, and said, "Something." "What is it?" "If you please, sir, salvation and the Lord Jesus." That is right; how long since you found that out? "Almost six months; the Lord saved me at one of Mr Moody's meetings," was his happy reply.
There are two reasons why you can only get salvation as a gift. God is too rich to sell it, and you are far too poor to buy it. How then can you get it? Receive it as God's free gift. Do you want salvation? God will give it to you. Can you buy it? Never. Do you deserve it? Oh, no. How can I get it? By simply taking it. If you are bowed down and repentant before God, you will get it. Repentance is the result in my soul of the reception of God's testimony. I am crushed by the sense of my sin and His goodness. It is not, however, a pair of steps by which I can go up to the platform of salvation. Repentance is the divine movement in the soul that follows in the footsteps of faith. If your soul were moved and bowed with the sense of your sin on the one hand, and on the other your heart were melted by the love of the Son of God who died on Calvary for your sins, and there bore the judgment of God due to you, and your tears fell fast, would all this wash away your sins? No. But once see that Jesus' precious blood washes away all your sins, and then your tears of gratitude may flow freely, because you can say, like the apostle, "The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
I press this question of repentance, for it has a big place in Scripture. John the Baptist cried through the land, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). Men were mightily moved, and the devil quickly got Herod to put him in prison, and then cut his head off. Depend upon it, Satan rejoiced to get rid of that man. just then John's Master appeared on the scene, and immediately His voice is heard. Hear what the Master has to say. The murdered man cannot say more, but his divine Master reiterates his cry. Almost His first word is, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17). God is about to assert His rights. What is the next thing? The Lord Jesus selected twelve men, "And they went out, and preached that men should repent" (Mark 6:12). I find the Lord Jesus Himself saying presently, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mark 2:17). By-and-by they come and tell Him of certain people on whom a wall fell, and He says, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5). Later He takes us down to the very depths of hell to hear the prayer of a formerly rich man, and what does he say? "I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment." Abraham says: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will repent" (Luke 16:27-30). Even the damned in hell know that there must be repentance.
Further, when Christ rose from the dead, do you know what He said? "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46, 47). Repentance and remission of sins always go together. If a man hears the Word of God and believes it, he is brought to repentance. And what is the next thing? There is faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ, and immediately there is remission of sins? When Peter preached in the second of Acts, what said he? To those men thoroughly aroused, wakened up, and pricked to the heart, he exclaimed, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). When you come to the next chapter, he says, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). Further on we find him saying, "Him has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31).
Repentance is the fruit of God's goodness, with the view that you may know your sins forgiven, and your soul saved, just where you are. If we pass along in the Acts we find the same thing. I have already quoted tonight, "God now commands all men everywhere to repent: Because he has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead" (chap. 17:30 and 31). What do I learn there? The judgment day is fixed, and the judge appointed. Solemn consideration for every unsaved hearer. When will it be? I do not know. It may be tomorrow. Tonight may find the Church rapt to glory, and tomorrow you will find the great Assize has come. And what about the man that is judged? He can only be damned. My friend, you repent tonight and get blessing.
"Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," were largely preached by the apostle, Paul. When telling the story of his conversion to King Agrippa, he says: "Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision: but showed first to them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:19, 20). This thought goes all through Scripture. It is very simple. I get the light of the testimony of God, I believe it, and then judge myself and my ways, and lead a new life. I hear of a testimony with regard to judgment. I bow to it. It may be, on the other hand, testimony as to the work of Christ. I bow to it. And as I bow I see my need: I believe the love that seeks my blessing, and I judge myself. The prodigal son was brought to repentance. He says, I am perishing, and there is goodness in the heart of my father. How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger. "I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee," that is confession, "and am no more worthy to be called thy son," that is repentance — He judges himself. That causes joy in heaven, for when man repents heaven rejoices.
Now the Ninevites very wisely repented at the preaching of Jonah. And what was the result? They were blessed; they were spared. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do to them; and he did it not" (Jonah 3:10). Our blessed Lord says, "They repented at the preaching of Jonas: and, behold, a greater than Jonas: is here." If these men repented at the preaching of this risen man who brought the Word of God to them, my friend, what shall be the effect on you that hear of Jesus, God's only Son, who has died for sinners such as you? He went into death that He might redeem us to God. And now he is risen from the dead the triumphant Victor. Tell me, will you not believe in Him who is greater than Jonas: Will you not turn to the Lord tonight? Say in your heart now, "Christ for me; I see that I am a lost, ruined sinner, but 'Salvation is of the Lord,' and if it is for the sinner, I will have it."
Simply take him as your Saviour tonight, and then go on your way and witness for Christ.