THE stories of the "fathers" of the Old Testament were "written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Cor. 10:1, 11). However, we should not conclude that modern pastors who refuse to do the work of an evangelist, will be swallowed up by a great fish as was Jonah. Some pastors, however, enter the evangelistic campaign with so much anxiety, nervousness, and fear that the onlooking laity may wonder whether the pastor is being swallowed up by something. Paradoxically, such reluctant evangelists are campaigning more from a sense of duty than of love.
It would appear that the Nineveh campaign holds lessons for the personal preparation of today's evangelist, and there is real merit in the psychology of the method of approach that Jonah used.
Insight Into Jonah's Failure
At the command of Jehovah to "Arise, go to Nineveh, . . . and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me" (Jonah 1:2), Jonah began to think of the "difficulties and seeming impossibilities of this commission, he was tempted to question the wisdom of the call. . . . It seemed as if nothing could be gained by proclaiming such a message in that proud city. He forgot . . . that God . . . was all-wise and all-powerful. While he hesitated, still doubting, Satan overwhelmed him with discouragement. The prophet was seized with a great dread, and he 'rose up to flee.' "—Prophets and Kings, p. 266.
Men often covet esteem and position, but seldom if ever do you find one yearning for the burden of responsibility. Responsibility carries with it certain apparent consequences, certain hazards, if all should not go well. Evangelism is like that. If the Ninevites are a hostile group, the evangelist malr have genuine cause for concern about his physical well-being. But this did not cause Jonah to turn tail. He cowered under something far more subtle than fear of bodily harm. If the evangelist does not produce results that his contemporaries regard as meritorious, then he receives no credit. This was where Jonah fell. He was "jealous of his reputation" (ibid., p. 271). He was more concerned for his prestige as a prophet than in averting the doom of perishing souls.
Who Needed Saving the Most?
Down inside that fish's belly Jonah received a different outlook. He needed saving as much as Nineveh. Now he was just as submissive as he had been indomitably stubborn before. Being in the fish was better than being in a roaring angry sea. He was alive. And when that fish spewed Jonah clear up onto the dry land, there wasn't a doubt nor a question nor a breath of hesitation left in that evangelist. He was ready to fire. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Heb. 12:6). Those who endure the scourging become subject to the "Father of spirits." Every Jonah who has a Nineveh on his schedule should leap without reservation into the sea of prayer and search his soul till every vestige of self-esteem is washed away and only submission and dedication to the heavenly Evangelist remain.
Jonah sounding the note of warning.
No Working Staff
Today the man who realizes the call from God to go and evangelize, and who knows his target town, usually begins to formulate an exhaustive set of plans previous to launching the meetings. We wonder how Jonah could have possibly succeeded in that large metropolis of the ancient world without having flooded the area with literature to plant the seed of present truth, without having organized a series of health lectures to prepare the minds of a depraved populace to receive the pure message, or at least having had some kind of a basic better-living approach. Why, he did not even organize a working staff to handle all the obvious necessities — music director, ushers, receptionist, book saleslady, platform chairman, business manager, visitation teams, projectionist, and all the rest. The man with dimmest vision might predict dismal failure for Jonah.
Began With Testing Truth
Jonah organized nothing unless it was his thoughts, and in response to "go" he "went" unhesitatingly (Jonah 3:3). There was no organization at the campaign site either. "As Jonah entered the city, he began at once to 'cry against' it the message, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.' "—Ibid., p. 270. He didn't preach two weeks to gain their confidence and then present the "testing truths." He passed out the examination papers the first time he opened his mouth, "Listen or languish—only forty days till probation ceases. Get ready for the judgment day." "From street to street he went, sounding the note of warning"; a kind of door-to-door approach designed to take the message to them instead of waiting for them to come and hear it. All indications are that Jonah worked hard, not sparing himself in order to assure the giving of a complete warning. All by himself, without divine assistance, he could not possibly, even then, reach the 120,000 (Jonah 4:11) mentioned.
The warning given was not heralded in vain. It aroused the whole city. It was the talk of the town. It was passed from lip to lip "until all the inhabitants had heard the startling announcement" (ibid.). Sinners were preaching to sinners, and God's Spirit pressed the message home to every heart. "The Spirit of God. . . caused multitudes to tremble because of their sins, and to repent in deep humiliation. 'The people of Nineveh . . . put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.' . . . He [God] 'saw their works, that they turned from their evil way.' ... Their doom was averted, the God of Israel was exalted and honored throughout the heathen world."—Ibid., pp. 270, 271.
Contrast Between Christ and Jonah
Thus what was probably the most poorly planned evangelistic campaign in history, or nearly so, turned out to be one of the most successful. Might we not conclude that if Jonah warned a city the size of Nineveh all by himself, our modern day methods are so much needless expense? I think not. Times change and people with time. "As the preaching of Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so Christ's preaching was a sign to His generation. But what a contrast in the reception of the word! Yet in the face of indifference and scorn, the Saviour labored on and on, until He had accomplished His mission"—Ibid., p. 274.
One Thing Never Changes
Jonah did not preach better than did the Lord Jesus. Christ's parabolic presentations and allegoric comparisons were a necessity to meet the prejudiced mind of His day. In like manner new and different approaches are needed today because of increased barriers set up by the evil one to distract from the message, and the almost universal "depravity which they [the workers] are called upon to face while endeavoring to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation" (ibid., p. 277). In the light of this necessary adjustment to meet the needs of the listening throng, there is one aspect of evangelism that never changes. "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee" (Acts 18:9, 10). That speech must always incorporate the warning principle, "Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" (Matt. 24:44). The burden of delivering such a message of escape from coming wrath must rest on those who understand what salvation from wrath means, who see in Christ the "Salvation of the Lord," as did Jonah, and who place their cases in His care and keeping, relying on His power to use them to reach others with the same blessed message of hope and surety.
The undeniably evident conviction on the part of the evangelist and his colaborers is of paramount import in public work. Jonah had that kind of conviction. We must also have it, but even conviction cannot erase the counsel given by the Lord through His last-day messenger. Ellen G. White, in the book Evangelism, tells us of methods and procedures to use in the big cities of today. The Lord told Jonah, "Preach . . . the preaching that I bid thee" (Jonah 3:2). As we hear the divine commission here in the end of the world to do the work of an evangelist let us in accordance with the instruction in the Word and in the Spirit of Prophecy search every aspect of our work to be sure it conforms to the plan of the Servant, and Sovereign, and Saviour of all souls. When our ways have become His ways, evangelism will have become an eminent and an imminent success. Whether it be a savour of death unto death" or "life unto life," we shall always "triumph in Christ," and make manifest the savour of his knowledge . . . in every place" (2 Cor. 2:14-17).