"Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God."
I intend, my friends, according as God shall help me, to preach to you, between this time and Christmas, a few sermons on some of the saints and worthies of the Old Testament; and I will begin this day with Noah.
Now you must bear in mind that the histories of these ancient men were, as St. Paul says, written for our example. If these men in old times had been different from us, they would not be examples to us; but they were like us--men of like passions, says St. James, as ourselves; they had each of them in them a corrupt NATURE, which was continually ready to drag them down, and make beasts of them, and make them slaves to their own lusts--slaves to eating and drinking, and covetousness, and cowardice, and laziness, and love for the things which they could see and handle--just such a nature, in short, as we have. And they had also a spirit in each of them which was longing to be free, and strong, and holy, and wise--such a spirit as we have. And to them, just as to us, God was revealing himself; God was saying to their consciences, as He does to ours, 'This is right, that is wrong; do this, and be free and clear- hearted; do that, and be dark and discontented, and afraid of thy own thoughts.' And they too, like us, had to live by faith, by continual belief that they owed a DUTY to the great God whom they could not see, by continual belief that He loved them, and was guiding and leading them through every thing which happened, good or ill.
This is faith in God, by which alone we, or any man, can live worthily,--by which these old heroes lived. We read, in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, that it was by faith these elders obtained a good report; and the whole history of the Old-Testament saints is the history of God speaking to the hearts of one man after another, teaching them each more and more about Himself, and the history also of these men listening to the voice of God in their hearts, and BELIEVING that voice, and acting faithfully upon it, into whatever strange circumstances or deeds it might lead them. "By faith," we read in this same chapter,--"by faith Noah, being warned of God, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."
Now, to understand this last sentence, you must remember that Noah was not under the law of Moses. St. Paul has a whole chapter (the third chapter of Galatians) to shew that these old saints had nothing to do with Moses' law any more than we have, that it was given to the Jews many hundred years afterwards. So these histories of the Old-Testament saints are, in fact, histories of men who conquered by faith--histories of the power which faith in God has to conquer temptation, and doubt, and false appearances, and fear, and danger, and all which besets us and keeps us down from being free and holy, and children of the day, walking cheerfully forward on our heavenward road in the light of our Father's loving smile.
Noah, we read, "was a just man, and perfect in his generations;" and why? Because he was a faithful man--faithful to God, as it is written, "The just shall live by his faith;" not by trusting in what he does himself, in his own works or deservings, but trusting in God who made him, believing that God is perfectly righteous, perfectly wise, perfectly loving; and that, because He is perfectly loving, He will accept and save sinful man when He sees in sinful man the earnest wish to be His faithful, obedient servant, and to give himself up to the rule and guidance of God. This, then, was Noah's justice in God's sight, as it was Abraham's. They believed God, and so became heirs of the righteousness which is by faith; not their own righteousness, not growing out of their own character, but given them by God, who puts His righteous Spirit into those who trust in Him.
But, moreover, we read that Noah "was perfect in his generations;" that is, he was perfect in all the relations and duties of life,--a good son, a good husband, a good father: these were the fruits of his faith. He believed that the unseen God had given him these ties, had given him his parents, his children, and that to love them was to love God, to do his duty to them was to do his duty to God. This was part of his walking with God, continually under his great Taskmaster's eye,--walking about his daily business with the belief that a great loving Father was above him, whatever he did; ready to strengthen, and guide, and bless him if he did well, ready to avenge Himself on him if he did ill. These were the fruits of Noah's faith.
But you may think this nothing very wonderful. Many a man in England does this every day, and yet no one ever hears of him; he attends to all his family ties, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, like one who knows he is redeemed by Christ's blood; he lives, he dies, he is buried, and out of his own parish his name is never known; while Noah has earned for himself a worldwide fame; for four thousand years his name has been spreading over the whole earth as one of the greatest men who ever lived. Mighty nations have worshipped Noah as a God; many heathen nations worship him under strange and confused names and traditions to this day; and the wisest and holiest men among Christians now reverence Noah, write of him, preach on him, thank God for him, look up to him as, next to Abraham, their greatest example in the Old Testament.
Well, my friends, to understand what made Noah so great, we must understand in what times Noah lived. "The wickedness of men was great in the earth in those days, and every imagination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil continually, and the earth was filled with violence through them." And we must remember that the wickedness of men before the flood was not outwardly like wickedness now; it was not petty, mean, contemptible wickedness of silly and stupid men, such as could be despised and laughed down; it was like the wickedness of fallen angels. Men were then strong and beautiful, cunning and active, to a degree of which we can form no conception. Their enormous length of life (six, seven, and eight hundred years commonly) must have given them an experience and daring far beyond any man in these days. Their bodily size and strength were in many cases enormous. We read that "there were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." Their powers of invention seem to have been proportionably great. We read, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, how, within a few years after Adam was driven out of Paradise, they had learned to build cities, to tame the wild beasts, and live upon their milk and flesh; that they had invented all sorts of music and musical instruments; that they had discovered the art of working in metals. We read among them of Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every workman in brass and iron; and the old traditions in the East, where these men dwelt, are full of strange and awful tales of their power.
Again, we must remember that there was no law in Noah's days before the flood, no Bible to guide them, no constitutions and acts of parliament to bind men in the beaten track by the awful majesty of law, whether they will or no, as we have.
This is the picture which the Bible gives us of the old world before the flood--a world of men mighty in body and mind, fierce and busy, conquering the world round them, in continual war and turmoil; with all the wild passions of youth, and yet all the cunning and experience of enormous old age; with the strength and the courage of young men to carry out the iniquity of old ones; every one guided only by self-will, having cast off God and conscience, and doing every man that which was right in the sight of his own eyes. And amidst all this, while men, as wise, as old, as strong, as great as himself, whirled away round him in this raging sea of sin, Noah was stedfast; he, at least, knew his way,--"he walked with God, a just man, and perfect in his generations."
To Noah, living in such a world as this, among temptation, and violence, and insult, no doubt, there came this command from God: "The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them, and I will destroy them with the earth. And behold I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life; but with thee will I establish my covenant, and thou shalt make thee an ark of wood after the fashion which I tell thee; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou and thy family, and of every living thing, two of every sort, male and female, shalt thou bring into the ark, and keep them alive with thee; and take thou of all food that is eaten into the ark, for thee and for them." What a message, my friends! If we wish to see a little of the greatness of Noah's faith, conceive such a message coming from God to one of us! Should we believe it--much less act upon it? But NOAH believed God, says the Scripture; and "according as God commanded him, so did he." Now, in whatever way this command came from God to Noah, it is equally wonderful. Some of you, perhaps, will say in your hearts, 'No! when God spoke to him, how could he help obeying Him?' But, my friends, ask yourselves seriously,--for, believe me, it is a most important question for the soul and inner life of you and me, and every man-- how did Noah know that it was God who spoke to him? It is easy to say God appeared to him; but no man hath seen God at any time. It is easy, again, to say that an angel appeared to him, or that God appeared to him in the form of a man; but still the same question is left to be answered, how did he know that this appearance came from God, and that its words were true? Why should not Noah have said, 'This was an evil spirit which appeared to me, trying to frighten and ruin me, and stir up all my neighbours to mock me, perhaps to murder me?' Or, again; suppose that you or I saw some glorious apparition this day, which told us on such and such a day such and such a town will be destroyed, what should WE think of it? Should we not say, I must have been dreaming--I must have been ill, and so my brain and eyes must have been disordered, and treat the whole thing as a mere fancy of ill-health; now why did not Noah do the same?
Why do I say this? To shew you, my friends, that it is not apparitions and visions which can make a man believe. As it is written, "If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe though one rose from the dead." No; a man must have faith in his heart already. A man must first be accustomed to discern right from wrong--to listen to and to obey the voice of God within him; THAT word of God of which it is said, "the word is nigh thee, in thy heart, and in thy mind," before he can hear God's word from without; else he will only explain away miracles, and call visions and apparitions sick men's dreams.
But there was something yet more wonderful and divine in Noah's faith,--I mean his patience. He knew that a flood was to come--he set to work in faith to build his ark--and that ark was in building for one hundred and twenty years,--one hundred and twenty years! It seems at first past all belief. For all that time he built; and all the while the world went on just as usual; and, before he had finished, old men had died, and children grown into years; and great cities had sprung up perhaps where there was not a cottage before; and trees which were but a yard high when that ark was begun had grown into mighty forest-timber; and men had multiplied and spread, and yet Noah built and built on stedfastly, believing that what God had said would surely one day or other come to pass. For one hundred and twenty years he saw the world go on as usual, and yet he never forgot that it was a doomed world. He endured the laughter and mockery of all his neighbours, and every fresh child who was born grew up to laugh at the foolish old man who had been toiling for a hundred years past on his mad scheme, as they thought it; and yet Noah never lost faith, and he never lost LOVE either--for all those years, we read, he preached righteousness to the very men who mocked him, and preached in vain--one hundred and twenty years he warned those sinners of God's wrath, of righteousness and judgment to come, and no man listened to him! That, I believe, must have been, after all, the hardest of all his trials.
And, doubtless, Noah had his inward temptation many a time; no doubt he was ready now and then to believe God's message all a dream--to laugh at himself for his fears of a flood which seemed never coming, but in his heart was "the still small voice" of God, warning him that God was not a man that he should lie, or repent, or deceive those who walked faithfully with him; and around him he saw men growing and growing in iniquity, filling up the cup of their own damnation; and he said to himself, 'Verily there is a God who judgeth the earth--for all this a reckoning day will surely come;' and he worked stedfastly on, and the ark was finished. And then at last there came a second call from God, "Come thou and all thy house into the ark, for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth, and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the earth." And Noah entered into the ark, and seven days he waited; and louder than ever laughed the scoffers round him, at the old man and his family shut into his ark safe on dry land, while day and night went on as quietly as ever, and the world ran its usual round; for seven days more their mad game lasted--they ate, they drank, they married, they gave in marriage, they planted, they builded; and on the seventh day it came--the rain fell day after day, and week after week--and the windows of heaven were opened, and the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the flood arose, and swept them all away!