Preachers sometimes delude themselves that it is their own persuasiveness that leads people to repent—if they could only set out the message more clearly, with more feeling and conviction, then multitudes would be saved. This is not the lesson of Scripture. It is the goodness of God alone that leads to repentance (see Rom. 2: 4)—and there is no better illustration of this than the preaching of Jonah.
Jonah went to Nineveh a stranger and his message was not calculated, humanly speaking, to assure him a favourable reception: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3: 4). Yet no messenger with such unwelcome news ever met with the reception that Jonah did! He “began to enter into the city a day’s journey” (v4), and in that one day his work was done. The word told on the people, and hearts were bowed. What caused this remarkable result—a result unparalleled in the history of mankind? Was it some peculiar personal influence exercised by the preacher? The prophet had only covered about one third of the city, and most in it could not as yet have heard him. Was it the attractiveness of what he said? He announced imminent destruction—and that without even one flicker of hope. Or perhaps the Ninevites were struck with the appearance or manner of the prophet? This seems doubtful, for it was when “the word reached the King of Nineveh” (v6) that he issued his decree for fasting, sackcloth and penitence. He heard of the prophet but had not seen him and yet was still powerfully affected by what Jonah had said. Everywhere hearts were bowed as reeds before the wind. What had done it? The prophet was alone when he began to preach, but others soon joined in passing on the Word. The king heard through one of these intermediates, and swelled the number of workers in the cause himself, for “he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 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 any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water; and let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God; and let them turn everyone from his evil way” (Jonah 3: 6–8).
Humanly speaking, everything was against Jonah. Who was he? A native of a country that had so recently paid tribute to Assyria! This fact, unnoticed in Scripture, but recorded on the famous Black Obelisk, was likely known to the Ninevites. Why listen to one from such a place? And, as they considered their “exceeding great city” (v3), how ridiculous his message would seem! What could that despised foreigner know that they did not? Had they not their own wise men to forecast the future? Yet despite all this, Jonah preached the preaching which God had commanded him and the Ninevites “believed God” (Jonah 3: 5). What more marked illustration of the simple power of the Word could be conceived? Jonah preached, consciences were reached, all hearkened. Never before, and never since, has such a spectacle been witnessed—a whole city bowed down by the Word, and all its inhabitants casting themselves on the sovereign mercy of a God they did not know. Though every circumstance seemed adverse to success, all were bowed in humiliation and fasting before God! All signs of merriment vanished, lightness and frivolity fled away—all were in earnest, for they believed the message. Who, after reading this, will put a limit to the power of the Word? If the human instrument is looked at, we might say it was hopeless work—Jonah himself was an unfaithful and flawed individual. But what limit can be set to the Word of God? God spoke and a huge city fell prostrate at His feet! What confidence this should give to those engaged in the preaching of God’s Word today! Let the preachers therefore put their confidence, not in their own preaching, but in God and His Word.