by Edward Griffin (1770—1837)
"By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith." Hebrews 11:7
The ark is admitted by the apostle to have been a distinguished type of Christ.
"HE wiped out every living thing that was on the surface of the ground, from mankind to livestock, to creatures that crawl, to the birds of the sky, and they were wiped off the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark!" Genesis 7:23
In that period before the flood, when the age of man was more than 900 years, the temptation to put death out of view was great. A Church there was—but by intermarrying with the wicked world it had become corrupt, and at last almost extinct. This was the first illustration of the fatal consequence of too close a connection between the Church and the world. By these means the Spirit of God was provoked to depart, and general licentiousness ensued. The Church became reduced to a single family, and the rest of the world sunk into infidelity and vice. "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." Genesis 6:5
Thus the universal and complete effect of the fall was publicly ascertained. This done, God determined to cast away the world as ruined, and to make a new beginning on the foundation of grace, commencing a new stock in the family which included the whole church. This rejection of the world is expressed in the following strong eastern figure, "The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain! So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." Genesis 6:6-7
For a hundred and twenty years, "God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved." The history leads us to suppose that the whole of this period was taken up in building the ark. In the infancy of the 'building arts' such a vessel must have cost immense labor, and it was so unpopular an undertaking, that few if any besides the family of Noah would be induced to engage in the the work. His sons were born about twenty years after the building commenced, and for a long time they could afford him no assistance. Cheered by the society and counsel of his venerable father and grandfather, he wore out the hundred and twenty years in patiently waiting for the fulfillment of the prediction. When the ark was finished, God brought all the creatures into it and shut Noah and his family inside.
The old world is devoted to destruction. The waters are to rise and rage above the highest mountains. No vessel had yet been invented to ride the waves. How can any escape? God only can find out the way. He causes an ark to be constructed, in which his friends find refuge, while the waves of wrath sweep away a wicked world. Who that turns his eye towards this frightful scene, is not reminded of that spiritual ark in which the friends of God are sheltered while the floods of vengeance sweep away an unbelieving world?
This prepares the way for us to meditate on the conduct of Noah while laboring for that refuge, and the conduct of that profligate generation who cast contempt on him. The things most worthy of notice in respect to Noah, are his faith, his obedience, his patience, his self-denial, and his fortitude.
(1.) Noah's FAITH. While he sat at rest in his house, pursuing a life of devotion, and mourning over the abounding wickedness of the times, he heard a voice—a voice declaring that the end of all flesh was at hand—a voice which fixed the event and the manner, but concealed the time. The voice assured him that the wicked would be destroyed, and that the only safety for him was in an ark, which he must at once set about preparing. All this was strange, and different from anything he had experienced. Yet the patriarch believed God. He did not doubt because he had never seen such a thing before, nor because the events predicted might be at a considerable distance. He admitted a realizing belief that the wicked would be destroyed, and that his only safety was in an ark. His faith was sufficient to influence his conduct and to lead him to the labor of 120 years. Not knowing how near the deluge might be, and contemplating so vast a work before him, he saw that he had no time to lose. He felt the urgent call for haste, apprehending that if he delayed, the deluge might come before he was ready; at the same time trusting in God that if he was diligent, that the judgment would be deferred until he was prepared. Here were all the trials of faith which good men experience now. O that they could as fully believe the threats and promises of God; and while they feel the pressing need of haste, could trust in him to connect their diligence with the promised salvation. Let them not doubt because the events foretold differ from their past experience, nor because they are many years distant.
Noah believed God, because his mind was not blinded by sin; but his contemporaries were blinded. This was the difference between them. He believed God's threatenings and promises, and they believed not. Hence he could consume the labor of 120 years in building an ark, and they could spend that solemn time in mocking at his sacred toil. They could not have acted thus, had they really believed that a flood was coming on the world. This is the difficulty with sinners now. Though God has foretold the destruction of the wicked—they do not really believe it. Did they truly believe that the destruction would come, and that there is no safety but in the spiritual ark—they could not thus reject a Savior, and sleep out life in worldliness and vain security!
(2.) Noah's OBEDIENCE. God ordained him to provide for his safety by constructing an ark; he did not hesitate a moment—he entered on the work at once, and consumed 120 years in one unbroken course of obedience. And let us who are commanded to secure the spiritual ark, obey, and devote our whole lives to the attainment of this end.
(3.) Noah's PATIENCE. Consider his patience under labors and sufferings, the length of which he could not foresee. There is no account of his impatience under the hardships of 120 years, nor of his complaining that the time was long, though it probably proved much longer than he had expected. Possibly at no time during the whole period did he look upon the flood as far distant; and yet deliverance continued to fly. But his patience never failed. O that Christians could now as patiently submit to the labors and trials of the spiritual warfare half as long, without complaining that their hardships have no end.
(4.) Noah's SELF-DENIAL. He possessed great wealth, or he could not have built such an immense ark. Before this command came, he was probably engaged in extensive business, and found his wealth flowing in from every quarter. But at the command of God he gave up all other employments, and consumed his wealth upon that immense building, which could be of no other use than to save him and his family and the animal tribes from the threatened destruction. He forsook all, and was content to wait for his remuneration in the new world—in the world that followed the flood. This was as great a self-denial as for Christians now to abandon all their possessions for Christ, and to wait for the recompense of the eternal world.
(5.) Noah's FORTITUDE. Except for his father and grandfather and the rest of his own family, he stood alone against a frowning world. It is hard for Christians now, with millions on their side, to stem the torrent of angry opposition, especially in places where that opposition triumphs. How hard then for the patriarch, who had all the sensibilities of a man—to encounter, single-handed, a contending and ridiculing world. He submitted to the scoffs of his acquaintances, his superiors in rank and fortune, his inferiors, his relations, and his enemies! He heard, undismayed, their endless charges of bigotry, superstition, intolerance, and the like. He was a preacher of righteousness; but he preached without success, and drew taunts instead of tears. He never seems to have made a single convert in 120 years! The uniform tenor of his address must have been that of warning and condemnation. The case admitted of no other.
His daily labor upon the ark carried also the strong language of reprobation, "By his faith he condemned the world." He constantly proclaimed the approaching destruction of the world, for their wickedness.
Such an unheard of enterprise as the construction of an enormous vessel to ride the waves—the construction of it in the midst of the dry land—under the idea that a flood was coming upon the world—was an oddity abounding with apparent folly, and calculated to excite men's scorn as well as their anger; and could not fail to call forth the highest contempt and indignation from the ungodly world. How often was he called a madman and a fool! Those who passed by, would insultingly wag their heads. Others would curse him. The children would mock at him as he walked the streets, and load him with the epithets which they had heard their parents use. All the wit and raillery of the age would be leveled against him! The news of his foolish undertaking would travel to remote nations—and from all quarters derision and reproaches would come in.
All this time he had no man beyond the bounds of his own family to whom he could impart his cares, or on whose bosom he could repose. He could ask no counsel. He could go no where, he could look no where, without meeting the blasting frown of the ungodly world. His character and reputation were totally ruined with every person on earth, except his own family. He was shut out from all society, except what he found at home. The question would often be asked, "Who made YOU wiser and better than all of us?" That question, had he not been supported by faith as well as fortitude, would have crushed him. Losing sight of the divine testimony and commission, and looking only at himself, he would shrink into nothing, and say, "Who am I—to be the reprover of the whole world?"
But faith joined to fortitude, supported him. His unconquered mind rose above the opinion of the united ungodly race. He would not think that sterling which all men approved, nor that vile which all men condemned. He rested on a higher decision.
The reproaches of the wicked would become more and more triumphant and insufferable, the longer the event was delayed! To see 'the madman', as they would call him, foretelling destruction year after year, without any prospect of a fulfillment; to see him laboring to build an enormous vessel for ten, twenty, forty, eighty, a hundred years, without any sign of a deluge, though he might have expected it long before, and might have intimated that expectation; how great must their contempt and triumph have arisen! How often would they load him with the titles of 'false prophet', 'impostor', and 'liar'! How often would they tauntingly ask, "Where is the destruction which you have so long foretold? Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly the same since the world was first created!" But this heroic saint, far from being conquered by reproaches, resolved to believe and obey God, rather than man. With astonishing fortitude, he held fast his integrity for 120 years.
At length, the long expected day arrived which was to show that his labors and hopes were not in vain—which was to put an eternal end to the scoffs and exultations of his enemies.
Finally, the frightful morning began! The heavens gathered blackness. Angry tempests conflicted in the skies. The lightnings flashed in the skies! Word was spread, that Noah and his family had entered into the ark. The ungodly then began to fear!
Before long, floods of water poured from the sky. Some now began to turn their eyes towards the ark; others stood doubting; others still dared to scoff!
The waters go on to increase. The rivers fill—and start to overflow. The waters begin to rise in the streets. Some flee into their houses; others, more intimidated, hasten to the hills! Others are now convinced, and with dreadful fright, are seen wading towards the ark!
The fountains of the great deep are now broken up. The waters rise more rapidly, and begin to rush with impetuous force. With difficulty they stand against the stream. They struggle for their lives to reach the ark! Thousands come—some wading, some swimming, some sinking, some hanging onto the ark with the grasp of death—all screaming for admission!
But it is too late! Time was, when the ark was open and they might have entered in—but that time is past! Where are now those tongues which derided the enormous vessel and the man who built it? Now what do you think of him—who for more than a century has borne the character of a fool and madman! They would give a thousand worlds—to be in his condition now!
Those nearest to the ark, cry and plead for admission, but in vain! The waters roar! The ark is lifted up! They sink and are seen no more!
By this time, every wretch on earth is thoroughly convinced. Hear their cries from the tops of the houses, which are answered by wails from those on the hills. See the multitudes who have fled to the mountains. How like frightened sheep they crowd together! Now the waters, roaring and foaming, have reached their feet! They flee up to the highest ridge—but the floods pursue them there! Some are able to climb the lofty oaks—and the waves overtake them there! They flee to the highest branches, and for a moment have time to reflect on their former madness: "How could I disbelieve the Lord's prophet? Where is now the ark which I scorned? Where am I going? O eternity! eternity! What a dreadful God have I despised!" On the topmost bough, the impetuous torrent sweeps them. Their hold is broken—and they sink to rise no more!
The ark floats by—and sails over the heads of the revilers and persecutors! Only that blessed family in the ark, are safe!
The same terrors will seize an unbelieving world when Jesus comes again! "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and swept them all away! That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man!" Matthew 24:37-39
When we reflect on the wretched antediluvians, we perceive their folly in not believing God, and are ready to say with the Jews, "If we had lived in their days—we would not have done thus!" But sinners repeat the same folly now! God has told them that he will destroy the world—that shortly, all the wicked of the present generation shall be overwhelmed in a flood of wrath! To convince them that the destruction is coming, he has set forth a spiritual ark. He has sent out preachers of righteousness to warn them. Every circumstance is the same. The destruction is as certain—it is as near—and there is no escape but in the ark! But sinners will not believe. They spend their time perhaps in scoffing at the serious apprehensions of Christians, and in despising the ark. Greater madness never existed before the flood!
The time is coming when Christians will not be deemed mad men for their concern to secure a saving interest in Christ; when it will appear that they did not believe and labor and bear reproaches in vain. The time is coming when those who are now as secure, as healthy, as those foolish wretches before the flood, would give ten thousand worlds—for the place of the lowest Christian whom they now despise. When the door of the kingdom shall be shut, and there is no more entering in; when they shall stand outside and say, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" and he shall answer, "I never knew you!" when the sluices of infinite vengeance shall be unstopped; when the heavens shall be on fire above their heads, and the earth shall rock beneath their feet; when the sea shall rage and rise and flood the distant land; when all the elements shall make war on man; when they shall flee from the waves—and the flames shall devour them; when they shall flee from the wonders in the heavens—and the opening earth shall engulf them; when they shall stretch out their hands to God—and find him only a consuming fire; when more piteous shrieks shall be heard from every quarter—than were heard in the days of the flood; when they shall see the Noahs whom they despised riding above their heads—and themselves sinking in an ocean of fire!
Ah, what will be their dread then!
O sinners—believe God's Word! Now is your time to avoid the terrors of that dreadful day. Enter the ark—Jesus Christ! By all the solemnities of that coming scene—I entreat, I beseech you to hasten into the ark! Come, for the floods are rising! Come quickly, or the next hour may be too late!
"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and swept them all away! That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man!" Matthew 24:37-39