In our evening service I am preaching through Jonah, and this coming Lord’s Day we will look at Jonah 2. In my studies and preparation for this sermon, I have been reading John Calvin’s lectures (which you can obtain digitally for a meager price here). There is much gold in what Calvin has written, but I would like to share one paragraph concerning the struggle of faith in the midst of affliction. If anyone in the Scriptures had opportunity to fall into the deepest despair, it certainly was Jonah cast into the raging sea and swallowed by a great fish!
“This then is the casting away of which he speaks: for it is said that God casts us away, when He allows us no access to Him. Hence Jonah thought that he was wholly alienated from God. Were any to object and say, that then his faith must have been extinct; the obvious answer is,–that in the struggle of faith there are internal conflicts; one thought is suggested, and then another of an opposite character meets it; there would be indeed no trial of our faith, except there were such internal conflicts; for when, with appeased minds, we can feel assured that God is propitious to us, what is the trial of faith?
But when the flesh tells us that God is opposed to us, and that there is no more hope of pardon, faith at length sets up its shield, and repels this onset of temptation, and entertains hope of pardon: whenever God for a time appears implacable, then faith indeed is tried. Such then was the condition of Jonah; for, according to the judgment of the flesh, he thought that he was utterly cast away by God, so that he came to Him in vain. Jonah, then, having not yet putt off flesh and blood, could not immediately lay hold on the grace of God, but difficulties met him in his course.”
In other words, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10) leads to “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).