Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 025. A Sinner

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 025. A Sinner

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A Sinner

And Noah began to be an husbandman, and planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him.- Gen_9:20-24.

1. What remains to be told of Noah is full of moral significance. Rare indeed is a wholly good man; and happy indeed is he who throughout his youth, his manhood, and his age lets principle govern all his actions. The righteous and rescued Noah lying drunk on his tent-floor is a sorrowful spectacle. God had given him the earth, and this was the use he made of the gift; melancholy presage of the fashion of his posterity. He had God to help him to bear his responsibilities, to refresh and gladden him; but he preferred the fruit of his vineyard. Can the most sacred or impressive memories secure a man against sin? Noah had the memory of a race drowned for sin and of a year in solitude with God. Can the dignity and weight of responsibility steady a man? This man knew that to him God had declared His purpose and that he alone could carry it forward to fulfilment. In that heavy, helpless figure, fallen insensible in his tent, is as significant a warning as in the Flood.

It might be thought that one such flood as this would keep the world in order for ever, whereas men now doubt whether there ever was such a flood, and repeat all the sins of which the age of Noah was guilty. You would think that to see a man hanged would put an end to ruffianism for ever, whereas history goes to show that within the very shadow of the gallows men hatch the most detestable and alarming crimes. Set it down as a fact that punishment, though necessary, even in its severest forms can never regenerate the heart of Man_1:1 [Note: Joseph Parker.]

2. It must be admitted that the protraiture of Noah would hardly have been so human as it is, without the relation of some inconsistencies, even some grievous sins. The truth of it shines out the more for this apparent flaw, in contrast with all the lying epitaphs and false panegyrics which later and more artificial ages have loved to heap upon pious mediocrity. And it is more consonant with reason to account for the falls of holy men by the frailty natural to man than to see in the Scriptural records of them an ascription of imperfect morality to the God whose especial favour is declared to have rested upon them. If we are easily shocked at the contemplation of the errors or crimes into which men have fallen, the general course of whose life had been guided and governed by spiritual influence, we should at least remember the saying that “the worst corruption is that which befalls the best.” The falls of great and highly gifted souls are likely to be more terrible than those of smaller natures, to which the strong gusts of passion, the mighty struggles of conflicting impulses, are unknown. We know that the sinful woman in the Gospel was forgiven much, because she loved much. And when we read of an heroic figure like Noah or like David; one who like Noah has shown great boldness for truth and holiness in the face of bitter opposition, and risen in his daily life and practice to levels far above the common morality of his generation; or one who, like David, has kept alive a tender conscience in the vitiated atmosphere of an Oriental Court, and in spite of the guilty plaudits of corrupt companions, in spite of the stolid indifference of a society that custom and use have taught to tolerate the most flagrant wrongs, has agonized under the secret lash of remorse and the bitter pains of self-reproach, has at last in utter self-abasement cast himself down at the Throne of Mercy as a suppliant for that Divine forgiveness which alone can restore peace to his soul-when we read of such transgressions, followed by such voluntary self-humiliation, such profound penitence, can we doubt that He is faithful and just who forgives the sin and restores the sinner to His favour?

(1) Noah's sin brings before us two facts about sin. First, the smaller temptations are often the most effectual. The man who is invulnerable on the field of battle amidst declared and strong enemies falls an easy prey to the assassin in his own home. When all the world was against him, Noah was able to face single-handed both scorn and violence, but in the midst of his vineyard, among his own people, who understood him and needed no preaching or proof of his virtue, he relaxed.

(2) Secondly, we see here how a man may fall into new forms of sin, and are reminded especially of one of the most distressing facts to be observed in the world, viz. that men in their prime and even in their old age are sometimes overtaken in sins of sensuality from which hitherto they have kept themselves pure. We are very ready to think we know the full extent of wickedness to which we may go; that by certain sins we shall never be much tempted. And in some of our predictions we may be correct; our temperament or our circumstances may absolutely preclude some sins from mastering us. Yet who has made but a slight alteration in his circumstances, added a little to his business, made some new family arrangements, or changed his residence, without being astonished to find how many new sources of evil seem to have been opened within him?

Says Bushnell: “Every person of a mature age, and in his right mind, remembers turns or crises in his life, where he met the question of wrong face to face, and by a hard inward struggle broke through the sacred convictions of duty that rose up to fence him back. It was some new sin to which he had not become familiar, so much worse perhaps in degree as to be the entrance to him consciously of a new stage of guilt. He remembers how it shook his soul and even his body; how he shrunk in guilty anticipation from the new step of wrong; the sublime misgiving that seized him, the awkward and but half-possessed manner in which it was taken, and then afterward, perhaps even after years have passed away, how, in some quiet hour of the day or wakeful hour of night, as the recollection of that deed-not a public crime, but a wrong, or an act of vice-returned upon him, the blood rushed back for the moment on his fluttering heart, the pores of his skin opened and a kind of agony of shame and self-condemnation, in one word of remorse, seized his whole person. This is the consciousness, the guilty pang, of sin; every man knows what it is. We have also observed this peculiarity in such experiences; that it makes no difference at all what temptations we were under; we probably enough do not think of them; our soul appears to scorn apology, as if some higher nature within, speaking out of its eternity, were asserting its violated rights, chastising the insult done to its inborn affinities with immutable order and divinity, and refusing to be further humbled by the low pleadings of excuse and disingenuous guilt. To say, at such a time, the woman tempted me, I was weak, I was beguiled, I was compelled by fear and overcome, signifies nothing. The wrong was understood, and that suffices.”1 [Note: T. T. Munger, Horace Bushnell, 218.]