Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 021. A Recipient of Grace

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 021. A Recipient of Grace

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A Recipient of Grace

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, and perfect in his generations: Noah walked with God.- Gen_6:8-9.

1. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” This was the foundation of his life as it is the foundation of every true life to-day. “By grace are ye saved.” Grace, in the Bible sense of the word, means God's unmerited favour, and it was this alone that gave Noah his spiritual position before God. He was “saved by grace alone.”

I often asked myself why God had preferences, why all souls did not receive an equal measure of grace. I was filled with wonder when I saw extraordinary favours showered on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Mary Magdalen, and many others, whom He forced, so to speak, to receive His grace. In reading the lives of the Saints I was surprised to see that there were certain privileged souls, whom Our Lord favoured from the cradle to the grave, allowing no obstacle in their path which might keep them from mounting towards Him. Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord's living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection. I understood this also, that God's Love is made manifest as well in a simple soul which does not resist His grace as in one more highly endowed.1 [Note: Sœur Thérèse of Lisieux, 16.]

2. “Noah was a righteous man.” From grace comes righteousness, and whether we think of its Old Testament meaning of genuineness and sincerity, or of its New Testament fuller meaning of being right with God, we can see its necessity and importance for every one of us. As applied to Noah, it means that he was an earnest, thoughtful, religious, spiritual man. Amidst abounding ungodliness he cleaved to Jehovah, serving Him with his whole heart, holding constant communion with Him; and he lived in the realization of the presence of an unseen Father and Friend, whose precepts he implicitly obeyed, and to whom he carried habitually the tale of his trials and sorrows. In his personal life he was pure. His household, with the one wife at the head of it, with its order and decency and regularity of behaviour, offered a marked contrast to the licentious manners of the age and to the coarse indulgence of the lowest passions of human nature by which he was everywhere surrounded. His habits were simple. He was noticeable for self-control and self-restraint. And when it came to dealings with his neighbours, although he was, as it would appear, the chief of a powerful clan, we never find him taking advantage of his position to grasp at another's possessions, or in any way to use his strength and influence for unrighteous ends. He was fair and just in every transaction, honourable, upright, truthful, conscientious, trustworthy. And this is all the more remarkable when we remember that for a considerable part of his career he must have stood in these respects almost entirely alone.

What men call simple goodness is, under very complex conditions of work, not so simple or obvious a matter as it sounds. Behind the simplicity of the result there are qualities, both moral and intellectual, which are among the greatest attainments of a human nature. They may be attained through moral discipline; but none the less may they outstrip in a common field of exercise the mental gifts which men rate highest. The unembarrassed insight which goes straight to the real character of an action or suggestion; the just imagination which can enter into another's position, and transpose without altering the parts of a transaction where one's self is interested; the kindly shrewdness which is never credulous and never cynical; the strength of mind that can resist the temptation to be clever; and, above all, that sense of things unseen which makes palpable the folly of ever fancying that there can be through evil a short cut to good;-these are some of the faculties which are required and exerted and developed in that simple goodness which is enlightened and sustained by trust in God; that consistent and unwearied doing good, that purity both of purpose and of method, which is the distinction of the souls that humbly and sincerely rest on Him.1 [Note: Francis Paget, Bishop of Oxford, 183.]

3. Noah's personal piety is described by the same phrase as Enoch's: he “walked with God.” This expression denotes even more than that which is used in a Divine command to Abraham, and in Abraham's description of his own life. Abraham was to “walk,” and did “walk before God.” Still more carefully should it be distinguished from “walking after God,” a phrase by which Moses enjoins obedience to the Law in one age, and Josiah renews it in another. To walk after God is to lead a life of obedience to the commands given in the Divine law; to walk before Him is to be constantly conscious of His overshadowing and searching Presence. But to walk with God is something higher and more blessed even than this; it is to be, as it were, constantly at His side, and in His confidence; it is to be admitted to close and intimate communion with Him as with a most cherished Friend; it is to be in spirit what the Apostles were in the flesh, when they shared, day by day, in the streets and lanes of Galilee, the Divine companionship of the Incarnate Son. Under the Gospel, it is St. John's “fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ”; it is the equivalent to St. Paul's “being quickened and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Only once besides does the phrase occur in the Old Testament, when the prophet Malachi applies it, not to the conduct of the Israelites generally, but to that of the priests, who stood in a closer relation to God than the rest of the people, and could enter the Holy of Holies, and hold intercourse with the Presence which was veiled from the public eye.

(1) The expression implies companionship-constant and habitual; for as God is everywhere present and at all times, so the saint is never parted from Him. United once, we are united for ever, by a companionship as constant as the omnipresence of God, and as long continued as the immortal life of man's soul. It is not the mere fact of God's guardian presence that is stated, it is Noah's consciousness of that presence. His vivid faith realized God, as if the soul's inward eye saw the invisible, till His presence became as real as when the eye sees, and when the hand touches, some human companion of our walk.

(2) The expression also implies concurrence of will. To walk together implies movement toward the same object, along the same road. Where two persons take different roads, companionship must cease. “How can two walk together except they be agreed?” There must be the same will in companions. Man's will must be changed to suit God's, and thus all the varying wishes of mankind be harmonized in one adoring submission to the Divine mind.

(3) The expression implies affectionate and delightful intercourse. Do you not choose as a companion one whom you love? and if your choice is well placed, and there is thorough sympathy between you and your friend, is not companionship delightful? Indeed, do you not walk with him for the sake of being alone with the loved one and enjoying his society? God is infinite and omnipresent, and can walk at the same time with all the countless company of the redeemed saints, and yet be with each one as really, as completely, in every glorious attribute, as if He and that one individual were alone together. And what must be the unutterable delights of such companionship, when perfect love casteth out fear!

Madame Guyon speaks of the early part of her residence at Gex as characterized by sweet and happy peace of mind and most intimate communion with God. Many times she awoke at midnight with such a presence of God in her soul that she could no longer sleep, but arose and spent hours in prayer and praise and Divine communion. On one occasion her exercises were connected with the Scripture, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God”; which was brought to her mind very forcibly, and so applied to her own situation and feelings as to cause the most devout and pleasing reflections. “It was accompanied,” she says, “with the most pure, penetrating, and powerful communication of grace that I had ever experienced. And here I may remark, that, although my soul was truly renovated, as to know nothing but God alone, yet it was not in that strength and immutability in which it has since been.”1 [Note: T. C. Upham, Life of Madame Guyon, 153.]

“How little,” says Bushnell, “do we know as yet of what is contained in the word of God! We put on great magnifiers in the form of adjectives, and they are true; but the measures they ascribe, certified by the judgment, are not realized, or only dimly realized, in our experience. I see this proved to me, now and then, by the capacity I have to think and feel greater things concerning God. It is as if my soul were shut in within a vast orb made up of concentric shells of brass or iron. I could hear, even when I was a child, the faint ring of a stroke on the one that is outmost and largest of them all; but I began to break through one shell after another, bursting every time into a kind of new, and wondrous, and vastly enlarged heaven, hearing no more the dull, close ring of the nearest casement, but the ring, as it were, of concave firmaments and third heavens set with stars; till now, so gloriously has my experience of God opened His greatness to me, I seem to have gotten quite beyond all physical images and measures, even those of astronomy, and simply to think God is to find and bring into my feeling more than even the imagination can reach. I bless God that it is so. I am cheered by it, encouraged, sent onward, and, in what He gives me, begin to have some very faint impression of the glory yet to be revealed.”1 [Note: T. T. Munger, Horace Bushnell, 177.]