F. B. Hole.
(Extracted from Scripture Truth Vol. 31, 1939, page 156.)
In the book of Genesis the history of Noah extends over four chapters, and in this there is quite a contrast with Enoch, whose history is compressed into four short verses. Several additional facts concerning Noah come to light in the New Testament, yet in Hebrews 11 one verse suffices to give the inspired commentary on the remarkable faith that he manifested. Let us remind ourselves that what faith gives us is, "'the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (New Trans.).
When Noah was born, over a thousand years, at the lowest computation, had passed since sin entered the world, and six hundred years later the flood was to sweep away the world of the ungodly. If those six hundred years be divided into five equal parts, then four out of the five passed without anything being put on record save the all-important fact that he was "a just man and perfect in his generation," and that ho "walked with God." We are not told when this walk began, nor for how long precisely it continued, but we can see here a very definite moral link with his great-grandfather Enoch, who was translated about seventy years before his birth.
But if four-fifths of the period were comparatively uneventful, there was laid during their course, by this steady walk with God, the foundation on which was reared the activity and the witness that occupied the final fifth — the one hundred and twenty years that immediately preceded the flood. Then was the period of "the longsuffering of God … while the ark was a preparing," (1 Peter 3:20), and also of the witness which Noah rendered as "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5). When he thus preached righteousness, it was the Spirit of Christ who addressed those disobedient men through his lips. They continued in their disobedience, and as the result of that their spirits are now in prison. This is, we believe, the meaning of those difficult verses, 1 Peter 3:18 - 20; and it agrees with what is said, in 1 Peter 1:31, as to the Spirit of Christ testifying through the other Old Testament prophets.
Noah's witness as a preacher is passed over in silence, just as Enoch's witness as a preacher is not mentioned in verse 5. Our attention is directed to what he did — the great work in which his faith found its expression — rather than what he said.
As ever, God made the first move, He spoke to Noah, warning him of "things not seen as yet." They were seen with awful vividness and destructive effect when the one hundred and twenty years had expired, but at the beginning of the period there was not the smallest sign of them. Indeed it is quite probable that what is stated in Genesis 2:5, as to the absence of rain, applied to the whole antediluvian period, and if so the announcement to Noah of the great flood of waters must have sounded to him strange, unprecedented and unbelievable from any human standpoint. However, the warning came from God, and that settled the matter as far as Noah was concerned. Here, then, is an excellent illustration of the dictum that "Faith is believing what God says, because God says it."
It is well that we should realize that we are in just this position today as regards the second coming of our Lord. On two occasions did Jesus speak of "the days of Noe," comparing them to "the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37-41), and again to "the days of the Son of Man" (Luke 17:22-28). That which He has predicted as to His coming intervention in power, which will mean a far greater overthrow for evil men than that accomplished by the flood, is something entirely unprecedented. We believe it and expect it because He has said it. We too have been warned of God.
Having been warned of God as to these coming, unseen things, and having received the warning in faith, Noah was "moved with fear." His faith substantiated the warning, and conviction of the coming flood moved him. The Apostle James has told us in his epistle that there is a "faith" which is dead, inasmuch as it does not move a man to any works; whereas living faith moves people to actions appropriate to that which they believe. James cites both Abraham and Rahab in proof of this. We may cite Noah with equal propriety. It moved him sufficiently to start him on a colossal task which lasted one hundred and twenty years.
It is plainly stated that what moved Noah was fear. The goodness of God, expressed in His forbearance and longsuffering with guilty man, does indeed lead to repentance, as is stated in Romans 2:4, yet very often fear of coming judgment has acted powerfully, and Noah's case is an example of this. It was fear of the right kind; not the abject alarm and fright which the rest of the antediluvians doubtless knew when the flood came and swept them all away, but the fear which sprang from faith in God's warning word. The gospel we preach to-day carries with it a very definite word of warning as to the judgment which will fall at the end of this age, when Christ appears in glory: we find the Apostle Paul giving that warning in Acts 17:31, and it is recorded that a few believed and consequently attached themselves to Paul. They too were moved in the right direction.
Noah's faith in God's warning produced the fear that moved him to action according to the Divine instructions. Had there been no action there would have been no salvation for him and his house; and in that case the question asked by James would have been very much to the point — "What doth it profit … though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" Noah acted in obedience, and so we can apply to him those other words of James, "by works was faith made perfect." In that way he yielded the obedience of faith.
Thus Noah started on his great work of preparing an ark for the saving of his house. God was the Architect, so he had no need to be concerned as to the matter of its design. His only concern must have been to carry out rightly what God had designed. A single man receives a commission to build a gigantic ship, and that, apparently, in the midst of dry land! It was an extraordinary command, and must have called forth faith of no ordinary character in Noah. If we assume the cubit to have equalled eighteen inches, which is the lowest figure suggested, the ark must have been four hundred and fifty feet long, seventy-five feet broad, forty-five feet high.
In the whole history of the world up to about a century ago, every other ship constructed was a mere cockle-shell in comparison with this. Only in quite recent years have these dimensions been surpassed. But, what God said, Noah did, and he proved that God's command was his enabling.
It is not difficult to see how very naturally his building and his preaching must have been linked together. His preaching must have explained his building operations: his building must have shown very impressively that he did really believe what he preached. Yet in spite of this he made no converts outside his own immediate household: such was the hardness of heart that marked men at the close of the antediluvian age.
When the Lord said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years" (Gen. 6:3), the reference is, we believe, to Noah's preaching. The Spirit of Jehovah, in Genesis, and the Spirit of Christ, in 1 Peter 1:11 and 1 Peter 3:18, are identical. Being a Divine Person, the Holy Spirit can be characterized in these different ways, and in many other ways besides. Through Noah's words the Spirit was striving with men, and there was not only the warning of the coming flood but also the preaching of positive "righteousness." The earth in those days was filled with flagrant unrighteousness, which expressed itself in both violence and corruption of a most fearful sort. Noah might very well have been tempted to spend all his time declaiming against the evil, which would have involved him in a negative kind of testimony. Instead of this he preached what was positive.
In that he is a great example to us upon whom the ends of the ages are come. The times of the Gentiles are going to end with conditions similar to the days of Noah, only with an accentuated ungodliness. Many good Christian folk seem to have been tempted to spend their choicest energies in protesting against various evils. We know quite well that we should "reprove" the "unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph. 5:11), but all the same our choicest energies should be expended in preaching the gospel, wherein the righteousness of God is made known. In this age the evangelist is a preacher of righteousness in a sense altogether unknown in the days of Noah.
Had Noah merely denounced the unrighteousness of his age, he would have condemned the existing state of things without indicating what was right. As it was, he condemned it by the simple preaching of righteousness. In the light of what was right, the wrongness of existing things was plainly seen. Yet our verse in Hebrews 11 does not tell of how he "condemned the world" by what he said, but rather by what he did. Men are more impressed by our actions than by our words.
We read, "God said to Noah, The end of all flesh is come before Me" (Gen. 6:13). These words clearly intimated that God had condemned the world, and it was only a matter of time for the judgment to fall. Noah realized that the sentence of doom had gone forth from God's lips: he accepted it, and in his turn he condemned the world by building the ark as a refuge from the coming disaster. Every nail, as he drove it home, was a token of salvation for himself and his house, but a token of condemnation for the world: it made the cleavage between himself and the world more pronounced. Has not this a great voice for our hearts to-day?
The gospel is "the power of God to salvation," but only "to every one that believes." In it "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith," but this cannot be rightly declared without making it plain that, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom. 1:16-18). We fear that all too often the gospel is not declared as it should be, inasmuch as this revealed wrath is left unmentioned. It is really the dark background to the picture, and if it is not allowed to appear, the brightness of the gospel is not thrown properly into relief. The salvation of Noah's house is only appreciated as we view it against the condemnation of the antediluvian world. We have been saved with a far greater salvation, but ours too is from a condemned world.
Noah did not shrink from condemning the world. Do we? Alas! it looks as if very often we do. It brings a considerable amount of obloquy on our heads, and we shrink from it. As an illustration we may cite the popularity of the idea that the gospel is to be preached in order that bit by bit the world may be converted, and conditions thus made so favourable that the return of Christ may be made possible. There is not the slightest sign of the gospel winning the world: on the contrary it is losing ground in nearly all the nations where longest it has been known. But in spite of that the idea persists. And why? Because, we believe, it enables people to eliminate from their minds the ugly thought of total world catastrophe and judgment, and to think that after all appearances must be deceptive, and that somehow, even if long delayed, the gospel must triumph and painlessly introduce the golden age.
Those who think thus have, of course, no need to condemn the world at all: they merely have to tell it that at present it is not up to the standard — not sufficiently Christianized — but that as the gospel is given right of way things will improve and the goal of an approved and accepted world be reached. Moreover those who carry the gospel with this thought in their minds cannot of necessity cut their links with the world. They must strengthen their links, in order that the more effectually they may improve it.
On the other hand, when we know with Peter how that "God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14); and when we remember that God is not capricious and changeable, but that what He does at the first in any dispensation He does consistently throughout that dispensation; then we realize that the gospel has been, and is, separating a people from the nations. When that separated people is completed they will be removed by the coming of the Lord for them, and the nations will pass on to judgment. Each one of that separated people by their faith in Christ condemns the world. The world condemned Christ. God has vindicated Christ and condemned the world. If we repose our faith in Christ, we must in the very nature of things condemn the world too.
The last clause of our verse is remarkable, and specially so if it be read in connection with its opening words. "By faith … became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." Verse 4 has told us that, "By faith Abel … obtained witness that he was righteous"; that is to say, he was then and there accounted righteous by God. He was righteous, and not merely an heir of righteousness. Noah too was righteous; we are told so in Genesis 7:1; yet this does not clash with what we are told here. There could be no revelation of "the righteousness which is by faith" until Christ had died and risen again, as we see in Romans 3:21-22, and Philippians 3:9. Hence this righteousness is here viewed as a future thing, and Noah by his faith became heir to it; and in the rich inheritance that it entails for all who participate in it, Noah will be found standing in the age to come.
In this closing point a considerable measure of contrast exists between Noah and ourselves. We are indeed heirs of the coming inheritance, but the righteousness which is by faith is ours the moment we believe the gospel. Standing in this righteousness, how clearly ought we to condemn the world, and how manifestly show that we are heirs of a heavenly kingdom which cannot be moved.