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Jonah's Prayer: The Conflict of Faith and Sense 


An extract from Hugh Martin's commentary on the book of Jonah


Hugh Martin (1822-1885) was a Scottish Presbyterian minister renowned for his preaching and literary works and for his defence of the truth of Scripture in a time of decline in the Church. Some of his ageless works include The Atonement, The Shadow of Calvary, Christ's Presence in the Gospel History and a commentary on the book of Jonah. 


Jonah ii. 1-9

“Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly, and said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.  For 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.  Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.  The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.  I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.  When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.  They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.  But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”  



Deep calleth unto deep . . . Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness; . . . and my prayer shall be unto the God of my life.” – Ps. xliii. 7, 8.



I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” – Ps. xxvii. 13.

The prayer of Jonah is an illustrious instance of the conflict between sense and faith.  And it will give unity to our meditations on it, if we keep this in view, and use this as the key to its interpretation; namely, that it discloses the action and reaction in the prophet’s soul, of sense and faith; – sense prompting to despair; faith pleading for hope, and procuring victory.

To the unawakened soul, that knows nothing of the anxieties and anguish of the spiritual mind, this whole contemplation may be altogether uninviting.  At best, it will be to such an one merely a very curious theme; but one in which he can discover nothing in common with his own heart-history or feelings.

The poor and contrite, on the other hand, who know something of the terrors of the Lord, the trials of an awakened spirit, the haunting anxieties of their own disobedience, and the great power of their own sins, will look on this wonderful prayer with lively interest, and find in it much to encourage, to rebuke, and to instruct them.  The essential feature of the prayer – as a prayer of faith in circumstances that, save for faith, were altogether desperate – will commend it to every exercised believer, as a prayer to the proper understanding of which he will derive some light from his own experience, and which, when properly understood, will in its turn reflect light on his own experience back again, and tend to purify and strengthen that experience too.

For this prayer of faith, though in unparalleled circumstances, and spiritually noble in a marvellous degree, contains in it nothing but the ordinary principles of all believing prayer; and though we may not equal it in degree, if our prayers are not the same in kind, they are false.

Is not this the very trial of faith; namely, to have circumstances to contend with which appear to extinguish hope, yea, which viewed in themselves, not only appear to, but actually do shut out all hope whatever?  Take the case of Abraham, and the character and commendation of his faith.  And do so, bearing in mind that he is the father of the faithful, and that all believers walk in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham.  And what is the brief view given of the nature and action of his faith?  It is as vanquishing and outliving the contradictory influence of sense.  “Against hope he believed in hope” (Rom. iv. 18).  Appearances were all against him.  Sensible realities all contradicted, and in themselves alone, destroyed his expectation.  Had his hope rested on sense, on reason, on nature, on time, it must have failed and sunk for ever.  But he did not rest on nature; he did not draw upon the region of sense; he did not lean on the power of reason.  He believed.  He did not perceive.  He did not argue.  He believed.  “He believed in hope.”  And so strongly did he believe in hope, that his faith destroyed the hope-destroying power of sense.  For sense would have destroyed his hope; but this hope-destroying power of sense, his faith destroyed.  “Against hope he believed in hope.”

This is the true place and action of faith.  This is the victory which faith has to achieve.  Surrounded by incidents, events, circumstances, influences, powers, all adverse to your deliverance and salvation; and with your hope, as far as this region of the things seen and temporal is concerned, utterly cut off; your faith discovers another region, a realm and kingdom unseen, “the heavenly places,” the sphere of “the things that are unseen and eternal.”  Your faith draws upon them.  Faith finds them all good and true, precious and powerful, suitable and superior.  For these unseen things are of God.  They are the promises and pledges of God, and of His Word.  For their truth, you have no evidence of sense.  The evidence of sense is supposed to be all the other way.   But you have the evidence of your Creator’s word.  You receive that as good and sufficient, as the very highest evidence possible.  You receive it as simply true.  You prove that you receive it as true, by actually proceeding on it, and perilling precious issues on it.  You peril your hope, and happiness, and peace upon it.  You peril your soul upon it for ever.  You believe in hope, when you see no ground of hope.  You believe in hope, even when all you see is against your hope.  Circumstances, nature, creation, sight, sense, plead for the giving up of all hope: and their pleas are strong; their statements, in themselves, are true.  But over against all these you place, in solitary, unapproachable, surpassing majesty, – God.  You say: “The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken.”  And inclining your ear and hearing Him, you believe Him, in opposition to all.  “You hear, and your soul doth live.”  You outlive – you live down – your despair.  “Against hope you believe in hope.”

This common principle of the conflict between sense and faith, Paul states in a series of striking contrasts in a passage with which every believer is familiar.  “We are troubled on every side (according to sense); yet (by faith) not distressed: (as to sense) we are perplexed; but (through faith) not in despair; persecuted; but not forsaken: cast down; but not destroyed: always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our body.  For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. iv. 8-11).  In another passage, he speaks of the opposition to all hope which sense presents, as designed to compel us to draw on the supports of faith: the region of sense becoming as it were perfectly intolerable, that the soul may be constrained to flee into the realm of faith, the heavenly places, as its own and only congenial home.  “We have the sentence of death in ourselves, that we may not trust in ourselves, but in Him that quickeneth the dead” (2 Cor. i. 9).  And if any lesson is to be learnt from the matchless story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, it is this: that God may clothe all circumstances, and all His dispensation towards us, with appearances of opposition and hostility, in order that we may flee to the anchor of His pure and simple Word, and lean on it without any other help, or rather against all adverse power.  The Angel of the covenant Himself wrestled with His servant and opposed him.  The Lord put forth His strength against Jacob, to refuse him his desire.  If Jacob would believe nothing more, nothing different, nothing higher, than he saw and felt, and had experience of, he must have fainted, and failed, and let the Angel go without leaving the blessing behind.  He must have succumbed; been conquered; been no prevailing prince with God.  But, like his father Abraham, “against hope he believed in hope.”  He felt the pain of the Lord’s opposition.  He saw the resoluteness of the Lord’s efforts against him.  He felt the blow that struck the hollow of his thigh out of joint; and millions in all future ages would have justified him as having yielded with a good grace indeed, had he at that point resigned the conflict, giving up the palm of victory to his opponent.  But Jacob believed.  He had ground for believing.  He had the covenant promise for the ground and warrant of his faith.  That word of God was the authorised exponent and explanation of the mind of God.  It had been given him that he might read the heart of God by means of it.  Outward events and dispensations are not given for that purpose.  The written Word is.  By it, therefore, we ought ever more to hold.  By the word and covenant Jacob held – the covenant word – “I will bless thee and make thee a blessing.”  Because of that word did he exclaim “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.”  “And he blessed him there” (Gen. xxxii. 24-29). Thus faith triumphs over sense.  This is the victory that overcometh.

Now, in examining the operation of this in the illustrious case of Jonah, let us first view his position from the side of sense, and, secondly, from the side of faith.

I. On the side of sense.  And was ever a case so fitted to call forth utter despair?  The facts are stated so quietly, and with such simplicity, and with so little comment, that we are apt to miss the impression which a story so singular should produce.  “So they took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea.  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.”

But to acquire some deeper sense of his dreadful condition, let us learn of himself, as he speaks in his marvellous prayer; and let the three following things be attended to.

Mark (1.) the case in which he finds himself; (2.) the hand to which he traces it; and (3.) the immediate effects produced by it on his mind.

1. Mark the case in which Jonah finds himself.  He calls it generally one of affliction: – “I cried by reason of mine affliction.”  And then, to specify the affliction, and to indicate its absolute extremity, he uses unparalleled language like this: – “Out of the belly of hell, or of the grave, cried I.”  Then, entering more minutely on the description of his awful position, he says: – “Thou hast 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.”  Nor does he stop at general expressions of the fact that he is submerged in the mighty deep.  His descriptions become so particular as almost to fill us with horror while we read them: – “The waters compassed me about even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the seaweeds were wrapped about my head.”  Nor hath he rest in his living grave: – “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains.”  And nowhere in all this matchless monstrous journeying is any path of escape discovered: all doors of hope are barred: – “The earth, with her bars, is about me for ever.”

Who can imagine the terrors of this unheard-of-grave?  Oh! if he found courage or composure amidst circumstances like these to address his soul in prayer, and that, too, believing prayer, to the Lord, how great a marvel or miracle of grace must that prayer be!  But it is far more so, if we consider –

2. In the second place, that the mere circumstances constitute a very small part of the hindrance to the prayer of faith which Jonah now had to overcome.  Consider the hand to which he traced his unparalleled calamity.  He saw the Lord’s hand in this judgment that was come upon him; and he felt that, sore and terrifying as his position was, it was a hundredfold more so as assigned to him by an angry God.

Had his present wretched case befallen him by what is usually called accident, or in the ordinary course of Providence in a world of trial, it would have been sufficiently alarming and staggering.   All the dark and dreadful circumstances which imagination finds it so difficult to realise, might still, without much wonder, have produced a shock above which his faith might only with the greatest difficulty have risen.  But the matter was far otherwise and far worse.  God had clothed Himself towards Jonah in all the insignia of a judge, – an incensed judge.  He had followed out, with His erring servant, a solemn judicial process.  He had summoned him to His tribunal, and witnessed against him.  He had sentenced him to death, and seen to the execution of the sentence.  His God was indeed pursuing him as an enemy.  And though He had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah, the terrified prophet might naturally in the meantime have preferred death itself to the world of horrors of the deep, amidst which he was now tumultuously and helplessly hurried up and down.

A mere accident, which may fall on a believer with crushing weight, at the very time when his soul is prospering and in health, and while the light of his Father’s countenance is upon him, may be borne.  But alas! when terrors like those Jonah now suffers are inflicted in the following up of an angry controversy on God’s part with His servant!  Thou” hast cast me into the deep: all “Thy” billows and “Thy” waves are gone over me, – it is this that aggravates them unutterably.  Terrible in themselves, they are a hundredfold more so, coming as messengers of the Divine anger, – executioners of the sentence of God’s displeasure.  The soul cannot be alive to its relation to God, without feeling them to be intolerable when regarded as proofs of His indignation.  The blow may be very painful in itself; but as the blow of Thy hand, I am consumed by it.  The stroke may be sore: but as Thy stroke – oh! remove it.  If this is come upon me, well may I mourn; but if Thou didst it, I am dumb.  “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because Thou didst it.  Remove Thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of Thy hand” (Ps. xxxix. 9, 10).

3. Consider the effect which all this produced in his soul; the state of spirit into which all this cast him, and above which his faith had to rise superior.  The dispiriting influence and effect of his dreadful condition is indicated particularly by two expressions in the fourth and seventh verses: – “I said I am cast out of Thy sight:” “My soul fainteth within me.”

(1.) “I said I am cast out of Thy sight.” Such was the impression, the despondency, – the almost despair produced in the agitated prophet’s soul.  My heart was hot within me: while I was musing, the fire burned; then spake I with my tongue: my anguish overflowed whether I would or no, and I said, “I am cast out of Thy presence.”  Such is the dictate of the flesh, triumphing for a moment in the varying turns of this sore inward conflict.  And what feeling could be more dreadful?  To be cast out of God’s sight; to be cast away; thrust away from him; how terrible to a really awakened soul!  To be banished from the light of the sun; shut up in the depths of ocean, among the roots of the everlasting hills; is terrible beyond description.  Yet if God is still propitious, forgiving, favourable, in due time all shall yet be well.  But if that can no longer be hoped for; if God is mine enemy; if He and I are separated and put asunder; if He finally has done with me, and has “cast me out of His sight;” then infinite darkness begins to settle down on my soul – irretrievable wreck for eternity is befalling me.  In Thy presence is fulness of joy; out of Thy presence, is the second death for evermore.

Ah! if you are asleep in sin, you may think it no terrible calamity to have to dwell away from the presence of God; but if you have aught of the light of life in you, you will feel that to be cast out of God’s sight is unutterable and everlasting ruin.  Why, it is promised as the only thing that can sustain and support an awakened soul: – “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.

(2.) But Jonah expresses the extremity of his despondency in other terms.  He says, “My soul fainted within me.”  Literally, “My soul infolded itself in me.”  Thought rolled on thought.  No outward prop, no sign or token for good could I discover.  My soul collapsed and fell in upon itself; and rolling itself up in its sorrow and anxiety, having nothing to look to without, and nothing to lean on within, – “without were fightings, within were fears,” – my soul fainted in me!

Such were the circumstances in which Jonah’s agitated soul had to fight the good fight of faith.  (1.) Outwardly he was begirt with terrors unspeakable.  (2.) These were the tokens of the anger of God.  (3.) His soul under these calamities was brought to the verge of despair.  He had to struggle, first, against horrors in their own nature unparalleled.  He had to struggle, secondly, against these, regarded as the messengers of an angry God.  And he had to struggle, thirdly, against the faintness, the heart-sick faintness of spirit, which they could not fail to produce.

II. It was in these circumstances that Jonah’s faith rose in its strength and triumph – that “faith, not of himself, but the gift of God.”  For however tossed and afflicted we may be, even tossed and afflicted inwardly, which is far the worst, we ought still to pray: to pray of course in faith, for there is no other kind of prayer binding on us; no other kind of prayer allowable; no other kind of prayer, real prayer.  The very verge of destruction is ground for prayer – and that not random exclamation, but believing and assured petition.  And it is expressly in such a case that the Hearer of prayer receives the true pure glory due to His name, – the glory due to His omnipotence, His all-sufficiency, His infinite wisdom, His amazing grace, His faithfulness which is in the heavens. 

And indeed, what can stand us in any stead in such an hour, but the prayer of faith?  The case is supposed to be in every light desperate.  The circumstances are altogether hopeless.  They indicate an angry God.  They dry up the soul’s springs of strength.  There is no entrance of any light, any hope, any relieving influence, except from a new world or region, different from sense, and far transcending it, – yet equally near, or rather nearer.  That region is the region of faith.  Let it be opened: “Oh! set ye open unto me the gates of it.”  Let it be entered.  Let its truths, and powers, and promises, and hopes, tell upon the soul.  Let the Word of God, in short, come in.  Let God by His word, His believed word, command the tempest of the soul; forbid the destruction threatened and feared: and a new power comes to bear upon the case, fitted to carry it almightily through to a happy issue; fitted in the meantime to sustain the heart, till an issue of peace and of deliverance comes.  Such a time is the very crisis for faith.  It is of all times the best for making a clear, thorough, unmistakable experiment in the line and direction of true faith.  When every prop is driven out from beneath your feet; when you see not your signs; when all you know is that God is infinitely holy and you are wholly sinful; when your marks and tokens of grace seem to have misgiven, and you are left without one single trustworthy feature in your case to lean upon, or keep company with, or draw hope from till the day should dawn; when inwardly all strength is gone, and outwardly all things are against you: then is the time for the trial whether God’s solitary unsupported word alone be enough; whether God’s unattested word, – certificated and countersigned by no one, by nothing in the world without, and nothing in the world within; yea, contradicted by trembling conscience within, and by terrific providence without – whether that word of your God be still true and tried, and to be depended on.  It was easy for you to believe in Christ’s promise when you did not see the evil of sin; – when you felt not the rigour and righteousness of God’s law; – when you knew not the deceit and wickedness of your own heart; – when you had no insight into, no experience of, the masterful, unconquerable power of your own corruptions.  But now is the time for faith, for the trial of your faith; and, when assaulted, baffled, overwhelmed by besetting sin; laden and agitated in conscience, by the guilt of it; seeing the frown of the Lord’s displeasure, because of it; feeling the pursuit of the Lord’s anger, in His avenging of it; and reading its hatefulness in the mirror of God’s pure and holy law, of God’s pure and holy nature, of God’s dear Son’s pure and holy character and example – and above all, of that dear Son’s cross.  Now is the time for the proof of your faith’s genuineness, your faith’s truth and power.  Now is the need for a faith that shall be “not of yourself, but the gift of God.”

It was thus that Jonah’s faith was tried, and it stood the test.

The hinge of this conflict between sense and faith, and of faith’s triumph in it, is in the fourth verse: “I said, I am cast out of Thy sight; yet I will look again towards Thy holy temple.”  Here is the turning point.  But let us trace faith’s victory step by step.

1. In the first place, then, we see the truth and power of Jonah’s faith in this conflict, in that he betook himself to prayer at all.  He cried unto the Lord.  Not only so; but “he prayed unto the Lord his God” (ver. 1).  He gave not up his covenant interest in God.  He still maintained that the Lord was his God.  He knew that the Lord hateth putting away.  Shall we say, he knew that God, on the contrary, was bringing him back?  This indeed was what the Lord designed by His whole procedure: and this design he was securing.  And he said: “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord; out of the belly of hell cried I” (ver. 2).

Yes! his affliction constrained him to pray.  And how often after backsliding or disobedience is the true tone of prayerfulness restored only through the aid of affliction.  For, oh, how grievously does known or special sin derange the power of prayer and the principle of faith!  It induces hardness and insensibility of heart.  It seals up the heart and lips from God.  It tends to produce coldness, artificiality, distance, and estrangedness of feeling in the believer towards his Father in heaven.  There is a sort of proud shame that dislikes to come to the point; it rather deals in vague generalities.  Immediately there is guile in the soul.  The eye of the child falters and quails before its Father’s eye.  There is misunderstanding.  Cordiality is gone.  Intercourse is constrained: the sweetness and refreshing power of prayer is departed from it.  The Spirit of adoption is grieved.  Formality takes the place of living, heart-breathing supplication.

But the stroke of affliction comes. Anguish overflows the spirit.  The child cannot, will not, brace up its own strength against a Father’s rod.  It breaks down rather.  Formality now is gone.  Necessity constrains truth and earnestness.  Necessity impels to seek a near approach; a full confession; a free and thorough reconciliation.  Prayer again becomes real; the cry of the poor and needy; an appeal of exquisite and touching power that always tells on the heart of the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

Thus it was with Jonah.  The adverse and terrific aspect of affairs; the too clearly announced anger of his God; the fainting of his soul within him; – under all these his spirit at last breaks down at his Father’s feet.  Oh! then comes the true prayer of faith.  Out of weakness the child is made strong.  Back from unbelief he comes afresh – a believer as before.

2. Jonah set before himself the certainty of Jehovah’s reconcileableness, his promised forgiveness, his sure accessibility.  It is this that is twice indicated by the expressions: – “I will look again towards thy holy temple;” “My prayer came in unto Thee, into thine holy temple” (verses 4 and 7).

For, why this reference to the temple?  Is it in the infantile absurdity of ritualism or formalism, building its churches and saying its prayers – facing to the East?  I trow not.  Away with the carnality that ties the mind down to earth and sense, precisely when only by rising to the things that are unseen and eternal can any relief, refreshment, or any re-invigorating power come!  Jonah thought of “the temple;” and why?  Because God had placed His name there.  Because there He gave the symbol of His presence as a God of love, and especially a God of propitiated favour; a God dwelling between the cherubim, – God on the blood-sprinkled seat of mercy, on the throne of grace.  Not as confined to temples made with hands did Jonah think of his God.  “I fear the God of heaven, that made the sea and the dry land” (i. 9). But this God everywhere present, Jonah knew, from the revelation of Him in the temple, as a God of grace; a “God waiting to be gracious, exalted to have mercy; a God of judgment: giving his blessing to all that wait upon him” (Isa. xxx. 18).

And if the symbol of Jehovah’s reconcileableness was so precious to Jonah, how ought our faith to rise triumphant over all evil, and amid all affliction, – now that Christ, by the temple of His body, hath effected the perfect reconciliation for ever.  In that temple God is now Immanuel, God with us.  There is nothing deeper, nothing truer, nothing more abundantly, finally, conclusively proved, than that God is reconcileable, accessible, forgiving; – gracious to all that will come to Him in the way of His appointment.  He has sealed no other truth as He has sealed this.  He has proved no other fact as He has proved this.  And the proof and seal are permanent.  In the midst of the throne there stands “a Lamb as it had been slain.”  There is “an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins.”  While this is true, God’s holy temple, the most holy place, is the place of free and open access to a sinner as a sinner, with all the weight and all the weariness, with all the guilt and shame and pollution, that attach to him.  “I said, I am cast out of Thy sight; yet will I look again towards Thy holy temple.”

Let faith, then, conquer sense: faith, pleading the proved and the eternal.  It has a conflict to carry on.  But, in the treasury of heaven, it has the true sinews of the war.  A few hours of terrific trial; a few years of weary, vexing care; a limited amount of light affliction, which is but for a moment; a temporary combination of providences, sorely afflicting my body and my spirit; – these may be the proof to flesh and sense that God is displeased at mine iniquity, and will by no means clear the guilty.  But the permanent abiding of the Lamb in the midst of the throne; the ever-living and unchangeable priesthood of Him who is at the Father’s right hand; is to my faith the surpassing, all-conquering proof that He forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.  “I said, I am cast out of Thy sight, yet will I look again toward Thy holy temple:” “and my prayer came in unto Thee, into Thine holy temple.”  Let the Holy Spirit only reveal and apply the truth; and, in the promise of the Father and the righteousness of the Son, there is enough to be the ground of a faith that shall rise in its unflinching and unbounded triumph above all billows and floods – above the blazing deluge yet to come, the final deluge of fire itself. 

Oh, to be exercised in the holy place within the veil!  Oh, to direct our prayer to God’s holy temple!  “For, seeing that we have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God,” we may well “hold fast our profession.  For we have not an High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. iv. 14-16).  Thus did Jonah.

3. And, thirdly, he did not do this in vain.  For observe how he is answered in the progressive strengthening of his faith, even while his trial lasts.  Hear the noble language of faith, while he still remains, to the feeling of sense, in his horrid grave: “Thou hast brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.”  I know nothing more sublime in all the range of recorded human utterances.  What could dictate assured and triumphant language like this, but marvellous, miraculous faith?  His deliverance is not yet come; yet faith speaks of it as if it were.  O noble faith! it is in thy power to bring in the deliverance that is still future, with the sweetness of that which is already present, and the sureness of that which is already past.  Weltering still in anguish unspeakable, in dangers and distresses inconceivable, a soul in which thy power dwells, gives glory to God for deliverance from them all.

And is not this of the essence of the life of faith?  “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  Who shall deliver me?  The deliverance is future.  It is only on the way.  But it is surely on the way.  Therefore, though the deliverance is future, my gratitude should be present.  Not; I will: but; I do thank God through Jesus Christ; – “Who shall deliver me?”  “I thank God through Jesus Christ.”  “For we are saved – already saved – in hope.  But that which is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?  But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it;” – and already do we with joy give thanks for it.

4. And now this, in fact, is the last step in Jonah’s victory of faith: “I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed.  Salvation is of the Lord.”  Thus Jonah, delivered from his guiltiness and evil conscience; reconciled to God in peace; washed from his sins, and made again a recognised king and priest, and so recognising and presenting himself before God in His holy temple by faith; offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Shut up still in his darksome grave, in the deep in the shadow of death, we hear him nevertheless singing marvellously – far more marvellously than Paul and Silas in the prison – singing in the darkness, as if he said: “God is the Lord, who has shown me light: I will bind the sacrifice with cords, unto the horns of the altar” (Ps. cxviii. 27).  Light!  What light has Jonah?  He has the light of faith; – the light that shineth in the darkness; – that lighteth up the shadow of death.  And amidst the light, he cometh to God’s altar to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  He cometh unto God, – unto God, his exceeding joy.

You will praise God joyfully, O downcast and disquieted believer, when once he shall have given you the deliverance you desire?  Your song will begin when God hath done for you all that you ask?  Ah! your song in that case shall be grounded in sense, not springing from faith.  For observe: while your trial still lasts; while your vexing thorn still goads you; while your much-loved hope seems plunged in the depths of the ocean, and no sensible sign yet appears of its being restored; while there is need of patience, and still there is need of faith; if God give you warrant for faith, even His promise, is that not ground of immediate thanksgiving?  And if this warrant of faith beget faith; will your gratitude tarry all the time till the promise be fulfilled?  What would that mean?  You will not praise God till the actual accomplishment?  Why?  Would it be cutting before the point?  Would it be giving vent to your feelings of relief too soon? – dangerously soon?  Ah! what is that but unbelief? – unbelief, with its maxim, uttered or unexpressed, – a maxim not known in the kingdom of Christ , – “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”  Your gratitude and praise would be premature!  You distrust the issue!  Are you not in the snare of unbelief?

But, be it that the trial lasts; and that, to sense and reason, all is dark.  Let in the light of faith.  Let Jehovah’s word be true, and every man a liar.  “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light?  Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon His God.”  Let in the light of trust; of faith; of God’s promise – God’s promise all-sufficient, free, eternal; – and ought not praise to spring up immediately?  Will not praise spring up immediately?  Will there not be “peace and joy in believing”?  The man that walks by sense can sing when the deliverance has come.  It is faith’s prerogative, and faith’s peculiarity, to sing before that: – faith’s all-distinguishing peculiarity; faith’s all-surpassing prerogative; faith’s all-vanquishing power.  O most noble grace of faith!  “Thou art not of ourselves; thou art the gift of God”!

And then, according to our faith – our faith proved by our thanksgiving – according to our faith it is done unto us.  “And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”



"A Commentary on Jonah" by Hugh Martin. Banner of Truth, 1995. pp188-204.