And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.
~ 1 Kings 21:27-29
He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.
~ Job 33:27-28
I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the LORD.
~ Jeremiah 31:18-20
The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
~ Luke 11:32
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
~ Luke 15:20
And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
~ Jonah 4:2
If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
~ Jeremiah 18:8
And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
~ Joel 2:13
The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.
~ Amos 7:3
Impending Judgments Averted Only by Reformation, by Jonathan Edwards.
Jonah 3:10. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.
We have here an account of God’s mercy to an heathen people that were got to a great degree of wickedness; and though their sin was so great that the cry of it came up before God, yet God before he destroyed them was willing to give them warning of it, that they might have opportunity of reforming, that there might be a possibility of their escape. He therefore sent Jonah to warn them of it. Jonah 1:2, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against (it); for their wickedness is come up before me.”
Jonah, after he endeavored to avoid doing of the errand and was swallowed by a whale and vomited upon dry land, when he came to the city and declared that in forty days Nineveh should be destroyed, they were mightily awakened by it; they “believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” And the king of Nineveh upon the news of it arose from his throne, and put off his robe from him, and put on sackcloth and sat in ashes; and “caused it to be proclaimed through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles” that no creature, neither man nor beast, should taste anything, neither meat nor drink, and should all be covered with sackcloth, and should cry mightily to God; and everyone “turn from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” For who can tell, say they, but that “God will turn and repent, and turn from his fierce anger that we perish not?” (Jonah 3:5–9).
In our text, we have on account of their success in their thus doings. And,
1. You may observe how God’s mercy towards them is expressed both in the inward exercise of it—”and God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them,” which is spoken after the manner of men; which signifies no more than God’s determination not to do as he has threatened, as men are wont to do when they repent of their threatening—and then in the outward exercise of it, which is the averting of the threatened destruction. “And he did it not.” And, —
2. You may observe what it was that God had respect to in them that occasioned his showing this mercy to them: their turning from their evil way. They kept a fast, and would not suffer man nor beast to eat nor drink; they put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. But it was their works that God looked at; he observed they turned from their evil way, and that moved God to spare them.
When God gives a sinful people warning of impending judgments, the only way to have them averted is by reformation.
Prop. I. God oftentimes before he brings great judgments upon a sinful people, gives them warning of it.
And that he doth these several ways:
First. There is God’s general threatening, that if a people grow corrupt, God will bring judgments upon them. God threatens that if a people depart away from him and will not be reclaimed by him by the means of reclaiming them which he uses with them, and won’t hearken to his calls and reproofs, and prove obstinate, that he will then pour out his fury upon them; and if lesser corrections won’t reclaim ’em, that he will at last utterly consume ’em. See the twenty-sixth (chapter) of Leviticus, from the fourteenth verse to the end; and in the twenty-eighth (chapter) of Deuteronomy, and other places in Deuteronomy. And if a nation or people are very corrupt and prove obstinate in their evil ways, God generally, if not universally, executes these threatenings. God is more strict in punishing of a wicked people in this world than a wicked person. God often suffers particular persons that are wicked to prosper in the world and refers them to judgment in the world to come; but a people as a people are punished only in this world. Therefore God will not suffer a people that grow very corrupt and refuse to be reclaimed to go unpunished in this world, though sometimes he waits long to be gracious.
We have a great many instances of God’s executing these threatenings upon one sinful nation and another in his Word: once upon the whole world by the general deluge, and upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah; upon the Egyptians and upon the Canaanites, and oftentimes upon the children of Israel; upon the city of Jerusalem; upon old and new Babylon.
This is a general warning to all nations or countries that corrupt themselves. And from hence they have reason to expect that if they continue corrupt, God will in an awful manner pour out his wrath upon them. When wickedness begins to grow open and barefaced, and is a general infection, and it begins to get into the throne and to be openly pleaded for and defended, then it looks as if that people were nigh to destruction.
Second. God sometimes warns a people of impending judgments by threatening aspects of providence. The circumstances of affairs look very threatening, so that there appears evident danger of great calamities. God sometimes threatens a country with pestilence by bringing of it very near to ’em—maybe into a neighboring nation—so there appears great danger of its being brought into the land. Sometimes the circumstances of affairs in a nation look very threatening of the calamities of war, and it may be of being subdued and brought into a state of captivity and slavery. Jerusalem was threatened and warned this way before its destruction by the Romans. Luke 21:20, “And when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” And in the twenty-fourth (chapter) of Matthew, at the sixth verse, “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars”; that is, “Ye shall hear rumors of the design of the Romans against Jerusalem; you will see things a-preparing for its destruction sometime beforehand, which shall be a warning to you.”
So when other nations are plotting and laying their heads together to contrive the ruin of a particular nation or people, such a thing is a warning of God to that nation.
Third. God generally gives a people warning of great judgments by lesser judgments. He makes them to feel something of his rod from time to time, to let them know what it is they must expect if they don’t reform. God first pours only some drops of the vials of his anger. Thus he did to the ten tribes of Israel by first sending the king of Assyria to destroy and captivate the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, before he carried captive the rest of the ten tribes. The first lesser captivity of which we read, 1 Chronicles 5:26, was a forerunner of their utter destruction by Salmanesser.
So God gave warning to Pharaoh of his ruin in the Red Sea by the ten plagues that God exercised the land of Egypt with. So God forewarned the people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem of their destruction by many lesser judgments. God chastised in a more gentle manner till he was weary Isaiah 1:5, “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more.” He therefore tells them in the seventh verse that their country is desolate and their cities burnt with fire. So warning will be given to Antichrist of his utter destruction by the pouring out of the former vials.
God tries them first with lesser judgments to see whether that won’t reclaim ’em, and then if that won’t do, if they rather wax worse under his corrections than better, he causes his fury to burn against (’em) and rises against ’em as their enemy.
Fourth. God sometimes gives warning to a people by bringing judgments upon a neighboring people. When God’s judgments are abroad in the earth, there is God’s voice in it to the inhabitants of the world. So the captivity of Ephraim and Israel was a warning to Judah and Jerusalem. And when Judah would not reform upon the sight of what God had done to their brethren, God at last overthrew them also. And a little before Jerusalem was destroyed, not only Samaria but abundance of the neighboring nations were subdued and desolated by the kings of Assyria and Babylon; as Rabshakeh makes his boast, 2 Kings 19:11, “Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done unto all lands, by destroying them.”
Fifth. Another way whereby God gives people warning of impending judgments, is by his messengers that he sends on this errand. Noah gave warning to the old world; he was a preacher of righteousness to them, and God waited an hundred and twenty years while the ark was in building. So Jonah was sent to forewarn Nineveh of the speedy destruction they were in danger of. He abundantly warned Judah and Israel by the prophets. They were very frequently told of the dreadful destruction that was coming upon them. God sent them daily, rising early and sending them, though they refused to believe them and would not reform.
Jerusalem’s second destruction was foretold by Christ and his apostles. Christ waited to be gracious to them, and many a time would have gathered them as a hen doth her chickens under her wings, and they would not. So we find almost all the heathen nations that were round about Canaan had their destruction foretold by the prophets of Israel.
And at this day God warns people by his ministers, though not by prophecy and foretelling of the particular time and manner of the judgments, yet by setting home and applying those warnings which God gives in his Word and providence.
Sixth, and lastly. God sometimes threatens and warns a people by extraordinary things in providence, sometimes by strange sights in the heavens, and sometimes by earthquakes, as it was before the destruction of Jerusalem, and were sent for signs of it. Luke 21:11, “And great earthquakes shall be in diverse places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” Histories give us an account of strange sights at Jerusalem a little before its destruction: armies of men fighting in the air; and a sword was seen hanging over the city for several days together; and other fearful sights.
We have accounts in histories of such things seen in other places before great calamities; and though earthquakes and signs in the heavens may often have natural causes, yet they may nevertheless be ordered to fall out so as to be forerunners of great changes and threatenings of judgments—earthquakes more especially, because they very often are means of great calamities. Those countries where they happen, sometimes multitudes are sunk into the earth by them; this upper shell of the earth that we live upon by the shaking is broken and falls down, great part of it, and sinks into the subterraneous water. Or if they don’t sink, sometimes cities are shaken down and many thousands are crushed to death in the ruins as at one blow, as it was the last year in Palermo, a great city in Sicily.5 And if the being in danger of any ordinary calamity ought to be taken as a warning, much more that which is so extraordinary.
Such unusual things are commonly some of the last warnings that God sends, when other warnings have proved ineffectual to awaken men.6
Prop. II. Upon a people’s reformation and turning from their evil ways, God is wont to avert the threatened judgments. Thus God has taught us. Jeremiah 18:7–8, “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn their evil, I will repent of the evil I thought to do unto them.”
God has no pleasure in the destruction or calamity of persons or people; he had rather they should turn and continue in peace. He is well-pleased if they forsake their evil ways, that he may not have occasion to execute his wrath upon ’em. He is a God that delights in mercy, and judgment is his strange work. With how many relentings, to speak after the manner of men, was it that he gave up Ephraim, that is, the ten tribes who go under the name of that principal tribe. Hosea 11:8, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? and set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” (In) Psalms 80, where the Psalmist speaks of the calamities the children of Israel suffered, this is again and again repeated: “Turn us again, and so shall we be saved.”
God don’t usually give up a people to dreadful judgments except they are irreclaimable; though they have grievously sinned, yet he is ready upon repentance to forgive. If calls and warnings and threatenings, or corrections, will reclaim them, he is ready to pardon and will turn away from his fierce anger.
‘Tis for this very end that God gives them warning, that they may have opportunity of repentance. God warns that they may be awakened and so turn from their evil way.
(Prop.) III. ‘Tis only their reformation that will prevent them other things; without it, (God) will not do it.
First. A people’s praying that judgments may be averted is insufficient. For a people to pray to God that he would not punish them for their sins, and all the while to go on sinning and provoking God as much as ever, is a piece of mockery, and we can’t expect but that God by such prayers will be more provoked and his anger enflamed instead of being turned away.7
Indeed, the intercession and prayers of good men will do wonders with God, and oftentimes prevails with God to delay his judgments upon a people. But if the people still continue wicked and corrupt, and don’t reform, God will not wholly avert them. God by the prayers and intercession of Moses more than once spared his people Israel in the wilderness when he was about to consume them in a moment. But yet God did not lay aside his anger; he consumed all of them but Caleb and Joshua; their carcasses fell in the wilderness and they never saw the land of promise.
So God heard the prayer of Hezekiah for Jerusalem when Rabshakeh and his army encamped against (it), so that its destruction was delayed and there was peace and truth in Hezekiah’s days. But the people yet corrupting themselves, ’twas destroyed not long after.
And doubtless the prayers of godly people have kept off judgments from this land. God has many people in it that are dear to him and whose prayers are therefore mighty with him; and oftentimes when God’s hand has been stretched out, ’tis probable that upon occasion of their prayers he has repented and drawn it back. But we have reason to fear that God is weary of repenting, as it was with Israel. Jeremiah 15:6, “Thou hast forsaken me, saith the Lord, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee and destroy thee; I am weary of repenting.” And he says in the first verse of the chapter, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth.”8
Second. Keeping days of fasting and humiliation without reformation won’t keep off threatened judgments. The Ninevites fasted exceeding strictly and universally; neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, were to taste of anything, and there was a great outward appearance of humiliation. The king of Nineveh, who was a great monarch, rose up from his throne, and laid aside his robes, and covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes, and man and beast were covered with sackcloth. But yet when we have an account why God did not bring the threatened destruction upon them, there is no mention of all this, but only that they turned from their evil ways. God saw their works; he looked at them and he saw that they turned from their evil ways, and he did it not.
The Jews before their captivity into Babylon kept days of fasting; but that did not keep off their destruction, because it was not attended with reformation. Isaiah 58:3, “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labors.” See the fifth, sixth and seventh verses.
Third. No outward worship will do it without reformation. Our keeping of sabbaths and attending on sacraments, or hearing the Word and singing God’s praise, will not be regarded as long as we continue otherwise a wicked people. So God reasoned with Judah and Jerusalem not long before their destruction, in the first chapter of Isaiah, from the eleventh verse:
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
From this doctrine we may argue both the mercy and justice of God:
I. God’s mercy, in that he is ready to avert and not to inflict threatened judgments upon a people upon their reformation. Though they have greatly provoked him and done abundance of evil in his sight, yet if they will but turn, he buries all that is past and has mercy upon them. He don’t lay up their affronts and injuries if they thoroughly reform, and don’t return again as a dog to his vomit and as the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
His mercy is to be seen in the warnings which he gives. He warns them for this end, that they may have opportunity to repent, to see if that will awaken them and reclaim them.
II. The justice of God, in executing judgments upon a people when they will not reform. ‘Tis principally this way that God shows his vindictive justice, in punishing9 the wicked here in this world. He shows it more remarkably in another world, but he shows his punishing justice on the wicked in nothing so much in this world as by his judgments upon countries and nations. God hereby in a very awful manner sometimes shows that he is the just judge and sovereign king of all the earth. What an idea does it give of the greatness, the awfulness of God’s just wrath, if we consider his judgments upon Sodom and Gomorrah, upon Pharaoh and Egypt, and upon Jerusalem in its first and especially its second destruction. How the angels and the holy apostles and prophets in heaven glorify God upon the account of the fall of antichristian Babylon, as in the eighteenth (chapter) of Revelation, and So doubtless in the destruction of other wicked kingdoms and communities. But,
(III.) Thirdly, from this doctrine we may learn what we are to look for upon this land, if there ben’t a reformation of the corruption and wickedness that is found therein. God has a long time borne our manners and has been waiting to be gracious to us. This great many years that has been the talk, what need there was of reformation, and to find out some method for the reforming the land, and what danger there is of judgments if the country did not reform; but yet there has been no general reformation.
We have kept many days of fasting and humiliation to beg of God the pardon of our sins, and have pretended to humble ourselves for our backslidings, but yet have: not grown any better. Thus many a time has God been mocked. We have not fasted and mourned unto God, inasmuch as we have not put away the evil of our doings.
God has used many means to reclaim us: he has favored us with the means of grace above almost any people in the world; he has tried us with mercies and with afflictions; has warned us by his ministers. Multitudes of sermons have been preached about reformation and the danger we are in of the judgments of God. God has warned by corrections, which if we turn not, will be forerunners of more dreadful calamities. We have been exercised with the calamities of war, of scarcity, of mortality, from time to, time, and God has waited from time (to time) to see how we should behave ourselves. And now at last God has warned us by shaking the earth under us, by shaking the whole land, and some parts of it more frequently and in a more awful manner.
Therefore we have reason to think that if we turn not, that God hath whet his sword, and bent his bow, and made ready the arrow upon the string.
We need not to seek far the wickedness that God is angry with us for. Gross and scandalous iniquities come in like a flood into many parts of the country. There is abundance of cheating, injustice and oppression.
Many places are full of swearing and cursing, especially amongst the young people. Intemperance, drunkenness, prevails from one end of the land to the other. Abundantly more frequent are the outbreakings of lasciviousness and whoredom of late years than before. The sabbath is observed, by the accounts our fathers give us, with abundantly less strictness. So that our land is very much defiled, and no wonder it groans and trembles under us.
God has the more reason to be provoked with us for these things, because he had been so very merciful to us. He has (been) a father to us from our beginning. If Sodom and Gomorrah had enjoyed the same advantages as we, ’tis probable ‘twould have awakened ’em and reformed them. We have sinned with abundantly more provoking circumstances than they.
So that if God had not sent this earthquake, yet we could not reasonably expect that the thunder of God’s anger would lie still and behold iniquity thus riding in triumph in the midst of us.
God shows us that we are in his hand every moment by this shaking the foundations of the earth, and that he don’t stand in want of means to send us down to the pit when he pleases. He can send mortal sickness if he pleases; he can give us into the hands of our enemies if he pleases; he can slay us with famine; or, if he pleases, he can make the earth open her mouth and swallow us up.
Men are secure in ways of wickedness because they ben’t sensible that they are in any danger, but it is God that they provoke and in God’s hands they are. He yearly makes many thousands of ’em sensible by experience that they are in his hands and that it is a dreadful thing to dare the Almighty; and if nothing else don’t convince the land of the danger of their wickedness, we may soon expect that it will be made sure of it by fatal experience.
Therefore we will improve this doctrine, in the —
(IV.) Fourth place, by way of Exhortation to every one to reform his own sins. For us to talk about reformation and amuse ourselves about it, While we don’t in good earnest set about it, will be to no purpose. Let every one consider his ways and break off his evil practices. There are some that now hear me this day that doubtless are sensible that they live in ways of wickedness, are going on in wicked courses, and many whose hearts told them so when they heard the earthquake.
And how can you expect, whoever you are that does thus, that you can endure the wrath of that God that can shake a whole land and make the earth to tremble? Or how can you expect to escape if such a dispensation won’t awaken you? What do you expect will, unless it be the cold arms of death and the hot flames of hell?
Do you flatter yourself that God may bring judgments upon the land, yet you shall escape? that public calamities don’t reach every particular person? But who is more likely to be reached by it than the that stop their ears to all warnings, and nevertheless presume to go on in ways of provocation? God gives encouragement that in time of general calamity the righteous shall be delivered (Psalms 91:7–8, Psalms 91:10), but the curse of God will enter into the house of the wicked. Zechariah 5:2–4, “And he said unto me, What seest thou? And I answered, I see a flying roll; the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof ten cubits. Then said he unto me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth: for everyone that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and everyone that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it. I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name: and it shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof.” If we don’t reform, we may expect that Zechariah’s flying roll will go through this country and it will be most likely to enter into the houses of (the) unjust, of drunkards, of lascivious and profane persons.
If the calamity that God brings upon us should be a dreadful war, or some great mortality, let those wicked men that won’t reform look to it: they may have occasion to think of ministers’ warnings and God’s warnings when it will be too late. And as your sin will be the (more) aggravated for your having these warnings and despising them, so will your punishment. If warnings won’t do, God’s wrath will be much more hot than it was before, and will be the more dreadful when it comes, the longer it is in coming.
Here particularly, let those that are in youth be exhorted to reform loose, profane or unclean practices. Many things are practiced and pleaded for by many young people that they can’t doubt in their own hearts but that if Jesus Christ was now upon earth, as once he was, he would disallow, and that God is of purer eyes than to look upon.
Be warned to forsake your evening and night wickedness by that earthquake that lately terrified you in the night. And especially reform the ill-spending of sabbath-day nights. ‘Tis the very probable opinion of some that the earthquake was sent as a token of God’s anger against not only the wickedness of the land in general, but more especially the sin that is committed on a sabbath-day night.
Therefore speedily forsake your evil ways; set God before your eyes and consider that he beholds you when other eyes see you not, and that he remembers the sin you commit in secret. Avoid therefore such works of darkness, as you would not feel God’s judgments in this world and hereafter suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.
1. Works, 4, 146.
2. See above, pp. 32–33, and McDermott, One Happy and Holy Society, ch. 1.
3. Work, 13, 86.
4. JE labeled this sermon, “Upon the fast for the earthquake.” The Northampton symbol also appears at the top of the first page, as does a repreaching note reading “Jan. 56.”
5. A source for this reference may have been The Boston Gazette’s story in the Dec. 26, 1726–Jan. 2, 1727 issue (no. 370) on the Palermo earthquake. Occurring in the evening of Sept. 1, it “continued with great Violence for the space of 24 or 25 Minutes,” throwing down many churches and a large portion of the city and causing widespread fires, forcing inhabitants to flee “to the Ships that lay in the Port.” A subsequent communication dated Sept. 6 reported that “about 3000 Persons have been taken from under the Ruins of the Houses already.”
6. JE later wrote in shorthand: “Preached from (indecipherable symbol) three leaves the second time.”
7. In revising for repreaching, JE added: “What says Christ in Matthew 23:14, ‘Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.'”
8. In revising for repreaching, JE added references to Ezekiel 24:13–14 and Ezekiel 24:19–21.
9. MS: “punished.”