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CHARACTERISTICS.

No. IX.

SELFISHNESS.

With Jonah and his gourd every spiritual person bas become familiar. They have been written upon, preached upon, commented on, and probably prayed over, among Christians, as conveying the liveliest type of those earthly enjoyments, those perishing good things on which we are too prone to rest, and the removal of which makes us, if not angry, yet often sorrowful almost unto death. That the passage may very allowably be so accommodated, and very profitably too, there can be no doubt: nevertheless, the lesson which God was pleased to design for Jonah, and through him for us, appears to be quite different from this prevalent interpretation.

Convenient as it is for reference, and for measured portions to be publicly read, the existing division of the inspired books into chapters and verses is often most ruinous of the sense. No such division originally existed : a Romish cardinal broke the word into chapters, and a French printer sub-divided those chapters into verses. In this state we find the Bible; taking such arbitrary allotment as though God himself had parcelled it out; perhaps also admitting without any question the accuracy of the no less

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arbitrary summary of contents at the head of each
chapter; and so, following blind leaders with our
own eyes obsequiously closed, we never attain to any
better understanding of the right arrangement of
subjects than the aforesaid Romish cardinal and
French printer possessed. For instance, in seeking
the beautiful prophecy of Isaiah concerning the
Lord's incarnation, probably ninety-nine readers out
of a hundred will begin at the first verse of the fifty.
third chapter, so losing the actual commencement,
the unspeakably important declaration and predic-
tion of Jehovah, beginning where the subject opens,
at the thirteenth verse of the fifty-second chapter.
To pass over a vast number of similar instances in
the Old Testament, and to cite but one out of many
in the New, let us see the tenth of St. John's gospel,
the commencement of which is often very perplexing
to young Christians, for lack of that connection
which it bears, inseparably, with the preceding
verses-the last two of the ninth chapter; and in-
deed, with the whole of that chapter. I might no-
tice one which, when a child, afforded me no small
share of profane merriment. The reader of the day,
in a cathedral, having to read the twenty-first chap-
ter of the Acts, did so according to the standing divi-
sion, and pointing ; by which means be thus closed
it: “Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with
his hand anto the people. And when there was
made a great silence, he spake unto them in the
Hebrew tongue, saying, here endeth the second
lesson.” A comma is the pause duly marked at the
end of that chapter; and the pause of a comma this
reader allowed, and no more.

But in reference to Jonah, the whole beautiful

story comprises only forty-eigbt verses, being considerably shorter than many chapters in the Bible, that are regularly read in our churches, and it is much to be regretted that the breaking-up process has so marred it, and obscured its meaning. Two things are set forth in very striking contrast; the cruelty of man's selfishness, and the loving-kindness of the Lord's tender compassion: and to these two we may refer every sentence in the book.

God will warn Nineveh - of impending destruction, provoked by the general iniquity; he purposes to bestow on them the gift of repentance, and commissions the prophet to go and startle them from their sinful repose. Jonah is afraid to venture himself among so fierce and mighty a people, with a message likely enough to exasperate rather than to alarm them: he would sooner that the many thousánds of Nineveh should perish unprepared, without room given for repentance, than that his personal safety should be endangered. So, blinded by self, he betakes himself to a ship of Tarshish, and flies, as he thinks, from the presence of the Lord. This however, no man can do: the runaway is arrested, imprisoned, and finally sent on his message with a spirit so far humbled before God, that he will rather face the Ninevites than abide a second time the consequences of disobedience.

The warning is given; the people repent, and the Lord-our gracious, loving, long-suffering Lord, whom we daily provoke by our rebellion and grieve by our desperate unbelief-the LORD vouchsafes to represent himself to our weak intellect as repenting of the evils that he had proclaimed his purpose of inflicting on them. They are pardoned, and Jonah's selfishness takes a new turn. One can but marvel at his impudence when he tells the Lord that the reason of his former flight was not, as he had truly told the shipmen, a dread of God's wrath, but a calculation on his great mercy! He is hurt at being made a false prophet: he who would before have delivered up the Ninevites to unlooked-for ruin to save his own body, would now fain see them overwhelmed in unrelenting wrath to preserve his own credit. He sits down outside the city, in a booth of his own constructing, not to rejoice over the monument of God's sparing mercy, but to fret at the seeming falsification of his prediction. Alas for man! Truly this is a humiliating view of his natural self-idolizing character.

Jonah must be rebuked ; and oh, how sweetly does bis Master reprove him! It is enough to melt the heart to trace that lovely patient work of divine wisdom and goodness. Jonah had a booth ; but the Lord adds to it a plant, the rapid growth of which, with its broad over-lapping leaves, gave beauty and refreshment to his shelter. He was exceedingly glad of the gourd-he who grudged the poor Ninevites, those unbroken roofs which he had expected to see 'crumbling about their ears in a general crash, was much comforted by this addition to his own spag bower. There he sat, and grumbled at his ease; very much as we are accustomed to do, when, having all we can possibly want for ourselves, some neigbbouring Nineveh, which in our own minds we had doomed to mishap, is allowed to flourish under the long-suffering mercy of God, who purposes to save, where we think he is fixed on destroying the sinner.

Next, God prepared a worm, and placed it at the

gourd's root; the plant fell, and Jonah's slender booth probably fell also before the first blast of the east wind that was likewise prepared to beat upon his head. Now Jonah was angry indeed : a little while before he had requested to die, that he might not outlive his credit: now, he is in danger of being killed by the storm and beat, and his displeasure knows no bounds. What a word is that which the rebel dares to address to his heavenly king! “I do well to be angry, even unto death.” Then follows the sublime climax, the grovelling selfishness of the creature is shewn in all its blighted deformity under the broad rich light of the Creator's unbounded mercy.

“Thou bast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow ; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” The margin reads, “Sparest the gourd,” the meaning obviously is that Jonah, in the indulgence of pure selfishness, would have jealously guarded from injury a mere worthless insensible thing, a vegetable that sprang up without any care of his, but which he found for the moment useful to him: he resented its destruction, be raged against the hand that smote it; and the fit of anger under the operation of wbich he desired to die, was now for the downfal of the little gourd, as it had before been for the continued up-standing of the great city. His very compassion was the offspring of gross selfishness: he had pity on the gourd, lying withered and torn at his feet: be bestowed on it a lamentation that all the bleeding corpses of Nineveh would

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