By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.- Heb_11:7.
1. In the narrative in Genesis the righteousness of Noah is attributed to the grace of God. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is also concerned with Noah's righteousness, but he looks at it from the human side. It is the consequence of Noah's faith. As a man of faith, who has his place in the great roll of the faithful ones of the earth-in that aspect is the patriarch regarded in this Epistle. It is therefore as a man of faith that we are most accustomed to think of him and to profit by the lesson of his life.
2. In what respects was Noah conspicuous for his faith?
(1) He had an earnest conviction of the sanctity and greatness of moral truth, a conviction which, beyond any other, is the basis of the religious character. He was surrounded by populations which had broken altogether with the laws of God; impiety, impurity, lawlessness were the order of the day. “Every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually”; the corruption was universal, internal, profound. To a great many men a surrounding atmosphere of moral evil would be destructive of the moral sight.
It was against this silent and fatal influence of a corrupt moral and social atmosphere that Noah's life was a protest and a resistance. Scripture says he was “perfect in (or among) his generations,” and those generations were altogether corrupt. He was a preacher of righteousness when righteousness was at a discount and unpopular. He walked with God when mankind at large had forgotten Him. He did not think the better of sin, of its real nature or of its future prospects, only because it was practised on a large scale, and with considerable apparent impunity. To Noah the eternal truths were more certain than the surface-appearances of life; he was certain that evil was evil, and that it could not but be followed by chastisement, because God is God.
Intense in his theological convictions, based, as he held them to be, on the Infallible Word, my father was also intense in his spirituality of mind. With him, spiritual interests were primary, spiritual considerations predominant, spiritual standards supreme. No man was ever less influenced by worldly motives and worldly ambitions. They were mere ciphers in his arithmetic of life. I do not believe he ever allowed himself to be moved by the thought of monetary gain or loss in anything he said or did; he was ruled by principle, not by pocket. Nor do I believe that he was ever affected by the subtler appeal of popularity; he coveted the approval of God, not the applause of men. If, for the sake of truth and righteousness, he gave offence and made enemies, it was with real regret and sorrow. He was no fire-eater. But in so sacred a cause, sooner than trim and compromise, and admit that though, indeed, black is not white, it may still possibly be grey, the offence must be given, and the enemies made. The one question was, Was he doing what he believed his Lord would have him do? If the answer of his conscience and his heart was Yes, then, irrespective of all worldly considerations, he must unfalteringly go on.1 [Note: H. Varley, Henry Varley's Life-Story (1913), 245.]
(2) He believed God when the warning came of an approaching calamity.-He was warned of “things not seen as yet.” These things were almost to him as if he did see them, just because God had somehow whispered into his heart beforehand that they were actually coming. Unless we think of Noah as a man with our own faculties and feelings, it will be impossible for us-and even then it will be difficult for us-to get close up to him and realize that gigantic catastrophe which he was anticipating, but which had not as yet, in the least item of it, come to pass. It is hard for us so to rid our mind of a great event, after we have become familiar with it, as to take our stand by the side of those to whom it was a thing not yet happened, and to see with their eyes, or to believe with their faith, or to feel as if we knew no more than they knew. “Things not seen as yet”-it is an immensely different matter from things which now are seen as commonplace sights. Yet Noah's whole conduct, in his heart and in his life, was controlled for a hundred years by “things not seen” by him, even in the faintest measure, “as yet.”
How few of us realize that faith is the truest foresight. It is very likely that the least wicked people in Noah's time, if asked what they thought of him, would have said, “A good sort of man, but weak-minded.” No one gave him credit for being longheaded; but it is not the simple who “foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.” The deluge was contrary to the world's experience. There never had been a flood. Had there ever been in that part of the world a single shower? We know that the flowers of Eden were never spoiled by rain (Gen_2:6), and it is more than likely that to Noah the idea of a flood was as a great surprise; but it was enough for him that God said it.1 [Note: T. Champness.]
(3) He was moved with godly fear.-By “fear” here we are not merely to understand-though possibly it is not to be excluded-a dread of personal consequences, but much rather the sweet and lofty emotion which is described in another part of this same book by the same word: “Let us serve him with reverence and with godly fear.” It is the fear of pious regard, of religious awe, of reverence which has love blended inseparably with it, and is not merely a tremulous apprehension of some mischief coming to us. Noah had no need for that self-regarding “fear,” inasmuch as one-half of his knowledge of the future was the knowledge of his own absolute safety. But reverence, the dread of going against his Father's will, lowly submission, and all analogous and kindred sentiments, are expressed by the word.
Especially did his fear make him obedient. He learnt exactly as God taught. “According to all that God commanded him, so did he.” It was the “allness” that ensured the ark. We are so ready to adopt parts of God's plan, and fit them in with parts of our own plan: and so we often forfeit all. Length and height, window and door-he took God's specifications as they were, and built his ark to the plan-“moved with fear.”
In the earlier period of Dr. Duncan's course, his view of the Divine glory was often the same as Isaiah's, “Woe is me, because I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts”; and as Job's, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself.” Latterly this holy fear was modified, but it continued to the end; and the enviable epitaph found on some of our old gravestones might most fittingly have been written on his, “Deceased in the fear of God.”1 [Note: A. Moody Stuart, Recollections of the late John Duncan, 40.]
(4) He persevered under difficulties.-His faith was a practical principle, and it upheld him in the face of serious discouragements. He had to begin his work, and to continue it, not merely without active support and sympathy, but under the eye of a public opinion, not so much hostile as contemptuously cynical. What was this extraordinary outlay of labour and skill? What was its purpose and meaning? How was it other than the crotchet of a visionary and a fanatic?
If I were asked to photograph the life of Noah in one expression, I would say that its characteristic is solitary waiting. From beginning to end this is its leading feature. As with the life of Enoch, there are three risings and fallings of the curtain. We first see the man in the midst of the world, lifting a solitary protest against the life of that world. It is the lonely vigil of a single human soul through the watches of a night lit up by the lamps of revelry and heated by the fires of licence; it is Faith watching and waiting for the dawn. Then the scene changes. The man is lifted above the world-almost translated like Enoch. He is floated in the air on a lonely sea-a sea whose waters have covered every rood of land and have buried in their depths that giant strength of which earth was so proud. But even in this vast solitude this human soul is waiting-waiting for an earth renewed, waiting for the green leaf to reappear, waiting for the emergence of the mountain's brow. He is sending forth the raven and the dove as his messengers to bring him tidings of the reappearing land. Then comes the third vision, and it is different from both. The night is gone and the waters are gone. The world has risen baptized from its corruption, but with the weariness of a weaned child. The old life is past, but the new is not yet come. And there stands Noah-solitary, waiting still! For the first time in his vigil he waits under a rainbow. The new life has not come, but hope has dawned. Light is in the east; morning is in the air; the breath of spring is pulsating in the ground. Everywhere there is the joy of a fresh start in life. Everywhere there is the proclamation of a second chance for Man-a chance of emancipation from the old heredity, of liberation from the yoke of yesterday, of freedom from the ancestral stain. When the last curtain falls it leaves Noah waiting; but he is waiting under the rainbow.2 [Note: G. Matheson.]