Crying From The Belly of Hell
However low Jonah sank in trouble, he lost not his acquaintance with divine teachings. Did he go to Joppa? He did not lose them there. Did he fall asleep in the sides of the ship? He did not lose them there. Did the storm rage, the winds blow, and was Jonah cast into the billows? He did not lose his faith there; yea, when he was come into the very “belly of hell,” he did not lose it even there. The LORD had given him living faith; and He who first kindled the divine spark in his soul, kept it secretly alive, brought it forth into fresh exercise, and never let the holy flame expire. This living faith keeps the soul from utter despair, however low it may sink in distress and trouble. Faith, hope and love, formerly kindled and realised in the soul, held it up from utterly sinking in the deep waters. And thus, in the midst of the soul’s despondency, and of its sharpest exercises, there is often a blessed “Yet I will look again toward Thy holy temple” (Jonah 2:4).
Now this word “again,” shows that Jonah had looked there before; that it was not the first time his eye had been fixed by faith on the Person and work of the Mediator; and that it was not the first time his soul had received benefit from Jesus’ blessed mediation.
But what is contained in the expression “look”? There are various kinds of looking. There is, for instance, the look of mere speculation; but that will not profit us. There is the looking on Him as revealed in the letter of God’s Word, a seeing the name of Jesus in the Scripture, and a reading of many texts that speak of the efficacy of His atoning blood and righteousness; but that will not profit us. All this is merely a looking after the flesh; but the apostle says, “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more” (2nd Corinthians 5:16).
But the looking that profits the soul, that saves it, delivers it, and brings it out of every hole into which it may be sunk, is the look by faith.
Jonah’s look was indeed a believing look; but it was rather a longing, lingering, and almost despairing glance, that did not bring him out of the distress into which he was sunk, nor relieve him from the despondency with which he was overwhelmed. It was as though he would take one last look, as though he could not entirely sink into despair; and as if one look more would keep him from being entirely swallowed up, from being altogether a castaway. It was not then such a confident look as could deliver him out of “the belly of hell”; it was but just sufficient to bring into his heart a little support, and to keep hope and love alive in his soul.
Now, I believe many of God’s people are just in that state; they have not sufficient faith to bring them out of their trouble; the LORD does not sufficiently make known the riches of His grace to burst asunder every chain and fetter in which they are entangled. He does not see good to break the neck of every temptation, and bring the soul out of the despondency in which it is lying; but He gives just sufficient faith to preserve alive His own work in the soul, and thus keeps it looking again and again toward “His holy temple.” By this look strength indeed is imparted to support the soul, yet not sufficient completely to deliver it out of the exercises, temptations and distresses that it may be burdened with.
Now “a full soul” who knows nothing of this inward experience, will not value such a look as this. To be kept on a low diet cannot suit those who would turn away from every table not spread with delicacies: and so the idea of being preserved barely alive will not suit those who know nothing of vital godliness. But when a soul is really taught the grand difference there is between faith and presumption; and the eternal and awful distinction between what a man can do for himself, and what God does in and for him; when it feels the amazing difference between what comes from God as a free gift, and what is stolen by the pilfering hands of the creature – then it begins to find that the communication of God’s mercy and grace is not a thing constantly enjoyed in everyday profusion; that the table is not daily loaded with luxuries, but that the soul is kept alive from day to day, and preserved from actual starvation only by those crumbs and drops that God may be pleased to bless it with.
And, my friends, nothing but passing through a measure of soul exercises, temptations and trials, will teach a man this lesson. There is no means so effectual naturally to teach a man what good food is, as to put him for some time on a starving system: to keep him on a low diet, to shut him up for awhile in a prison, or confine him within the walls of a workhouse. And so, spiritual hunger makes a man value gospel food, when he receives it as an answer to his prayers. When one is kept on short allowance; when God will not smile on the soul when we desire it; when He will not apply His promises when we want them; when one gets only a little here and a little there (according to the Scripture definition, “line upon line, and precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little”), I say, when a man is brought to this point, he begins to value and enjoy those things which before he thought little of.
Nothing, I believe, can really comfort a God-taught soul, but the consolations that God alone can bless him with; the only food that can really satisfy a living man, is the bread of life that the Holy Ghost from time to time brings down into his heart; and his heart can only be established and kept at anchor, just as the LORD is pleased from time to time to favour him with testimonies. And these realities are very rare, while counterfeits abound. False Christs, notional religion, carnal security, may be had at every shop, and be picked up in every street; but real testimonies from God, gracious smiles of His favour, gospel food brought down from heaven, you may depend upon it, my friends, that those who know these things experimentally, will say that they are very rare indeed. It is only occasionally that the LORD bestows these favours; it is only when we have been long toiling, and can catch nothing, that we are enabled to cast our net on the right side of the ship.
And the LORD’s people learn two things in this school: their own wretchedness without them, and the rarity and infrequency of them. They are unable to procure them for themselves; and yet they are unable to live comfortably and die happily without them. Thus they are brought to see that much that passes for religion is no religion at all; that much that goes for true evidences and real hopes is nothing but lying refuges; that much is palmed upon men for the teaching of the Spirit which is nothing but delusion; that vital godliness is very rare; that there are very few persons spiritually taught of God; that there are very few ministers who really preach the truth; and that Satan is thus daily deceiving thousands, and tens of thousands.
A living soul, however weak and feeble in himself, cannot be satisfied, except with God’s own testimony to his heart. He cannot take up with a religion in the flesh; he cannot rest on the opinions of men, nor be deceived long by Satan’s delusions. There is a principle of divine discernment in a God-taught soul. However carnal he may be, however buried in the world, he cannot rest long contented without God’s blessing. If the LORD does not communicate some token and blessed testimony to his soul, he can have no solid happiness.