Archibald G. Brown, February 12, 1888, East London Tabernacle
"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
I shall deal mainly with the words, 'things not yet seen.' There is nothing more convincing than sight. When a man sees a thing, it is superfluous to enter into an argument with him to prove that it exists. If we do so, he will probably reply, 'My dear friend, your logic is not wanted; that which I see needs no proof.' When sight comes in — doubt goes out. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, sight banishes skepticism and makes a matter realistic. It is hard work to argue a man out of the belief of anything that he has seen. He will meet you with the utterance, 'It is no use to talk. Seeing is believing. Do you think that I am going to doubt my own eyes?' Half a minute's glimpse, is worth many hours of proof and argument. I think that none of you will doubt that the most conclusive evidence possible is that of sight. Do you think that after I saw the leaning tower of Pisa I could doubt the existence of such a structure? Impossible. I have seen it, and that is an end of the matter.
Now, there is another power which makes a thing as certain and real to us as sight, and that is faith. The word 'faith' has become a theological term. I am not sure that there is an absolute gain in that. When I use the word 'faith', you think of it only in the religious sense; but, while it is a theological term, it also signifies one of the commonest principles of life. If you believe thoroughly concerning anything, that thing is just as real to you as if you saw it.
Now, the whole of this chapter is a splendid argument concerning faith being the eye of the soul. Faith does for a man precisely what sight does: it makes things plain, palpable, real, indisputable. You have a number of instances recorded in the chapter.
There is Enoch. 'No man has seen God at any time' — that is to say, with the natural eye; but Enoch so believed God that God became a real, living personality to him; and I read that 'Enoch walked with God.'
Abraham is called to go out to inhabit a land that he has never seen; and, as geography books were not published in those days, I greatly question whether he had any idea whatever of the locality of that land. But I read, 'By faith Abraham went out, not knowing where he went.' The land was not seen as yet; but then, he believed what God said, and to him faith was the same as sight.
Look at that grand man Moses. I read, 'By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter.' Why? 'Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.' And then I read in the next verse, 'He endured as seeing him who is invisible.' Yes; invisible to these eyes — but plain enough to the eye of faith.
I read again, that they 'saw the promises afar off'. Faith does for reason, just what the telescope does for the bodily eye. You look up tonight at one of the stars, and all that you can see is just a point of light, seemingly infinitely removed from you. But let the astronomer look through his telescope. That instrument does not add anything to the star — but it reveals what is already there. It brings close to hand that which is far off.
It may be interesting to some of you to know that, positively, at the present time there is a published map of the planet Mars in which you can see that there are seas and islands, and mountains covered with snow. A wondrous power is that of the telescope; it makes apparent that which is 'not seen as yet'. Here is our subject. Faith brings the distant near, for 'By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark.'
Let us first note Noah's telescope;
and then, secondly, the action that followed his looking through it;
and then I shall close by trying to put the same telescope to your eye.
Let us note, then, Noah's telescope. He saw a hundred and twenty years ahead. What was it that he saw? 'Things not yet seen.' I find them in the 6th chapter of Genesis: 'Behold, I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish!' God said it; Noah believed it, and his faith became to him the equivalent of sight.
Let us carry out the idea. He puts up his telescope to his eye, and he looks one hundred and twenty years ahead; and what a sight meets his view! He can see the black clouds rolling up, and they pass not away before the breeze. He can see the blackness constantly intensifying. He sees now the commencement of that awful downpour. He gazes through that telescope, and he sees a sight that chills the very marrow of his bones. He beholds the waves of the ocean tossing to and fro, and now they burst their bounds. As he watches, he sees the waters, roaring over the earth, and death and desolation reigning everywhere. Looking through the telescope of faith, he was moved with fear because he beheld 'things not seen as yet'.
Now, observe that Noah could see these things only by faith. Let him put the telescope down, and he sees no more than any other man. Apart from the simple words of God, he had no ground whatever for anticipating a deluge. Morning after morning the sun rose as it only can rise in an eastern climate. Some of you have seen it when you have been on voyages in the east. The sun climbed up from the horizon, blazing in all its brilliancy, and walked its kingly course through the azure, until at night it set again in a blaze of glory. Day after day, it rose and set, and not so much as a fleecy cloud was apparent.
I almost imagine that Noah would sometimes imagine, 'Dear, dear, was not that an ugly dream that I had?' Month after month passed. Sometimes the clouds would gather, and there would be a smart shower, and then they would melt again into light; and I daresay that some of the scoffers would say, 'I say, old Noah, it has not come off yet, has it? You thought that when that rain began, you were going to have your prediction fulfilled. Why, it is just as fine now as ever.'
And year after year passed on, and Noah had nothing but the word of God on which to ground his conviction. It might be said that he had a great deal to make it easy for him to doubt. Such a thing had never happened before. The world was not as grey-headed then as it is tonight; but in Noah's day seventeen hundred years had rolled by, and there had never been a deluge or any sign of one; and he might have said, 'Is it not preposterous to think that what never has happened, will occur?' The very regularity in the operations of Nature might have suggested a doubt. Spring, summer, autumn, winter followed one another then with just the same beautiful regularity that they succeed one another now. The tides rose and fell, just as they are doing upon our shores today; and it must have been a difficult thing to grasp the idea that a day would come when all this regularity would be broken up.
Methinks that if a doubt ever came into Noah's mind, he just took up the telescope and looked again at the 'things not seen as yet'. Yes, there they were. To the eye of faith the heavens were black, and the downpour had commenced, and the floods were rising. Faith was his telescope; and if anyone had said to him, 'Do you not think that, after all, you are mistaken?', he would have replied, 'Do you think that I can doubt my own eyes?' If the skeptic of the day had said, 'Do you not think it is an hallucination after all? Have you not, eaten something that has disagreed with you and made you take a distorted view of things?' I can imagine the old man saying, 'Seeing is believing: and when I look through this telescope which God has put into my hand, I can see the deluge as if it had already begun.'
Now what was the action produced in him by his looking through the telescope? You read it in my text. '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. This proved the reality of the whole thing.
I think, if I had been alive in those days, I should have said, 'Look, Noah, I believe that you are an old liar.' But Noah proved the reality of his faith by his actions. I am not going to work out this point — but I will leave it with you.
The faith that leads to no corresponding action is a sham! I will use an illustration which will show this to you in a moment. I rush upstairs to a man who is lying half asleep in bed, and I say to him, 'That cupboard under the staircase, where you keep your old newspapers and rubbish, is on fire, and the stairs are just catching. Quick! you have not a moment to spare!' He looks up from under the bedclothes, and says, 'My dear Mr Brown, I believe every word you say; I would not doubt any statement of yours for anything. Good-night.'
Would he really have believed me? I should say at once, 'Man, you are insulting me. If you did believe that the staircase was on fire, I know what would be the corresponding actions: you would leap at once from your bed and escape for your life.'
When Noah looked through his telescope and saw the deluge coming, he did not hesitate; he did not cavil; he did not suggest to God some other method of deliverance. What did he do? Oh, I wish that I could lead some of you to do the same! He did just what God told him. He fell in with the divine plan and accepted God's method of salvation.
And then Noah became a preacher of righteousness. Why? Because, believing the reality of what he had seen, he would have been something less than a man if he had not warned others. I know that the general idea is that men who preach do so because they are such poor fools that they could not get on at anything else. Let Tom go into the army, and Harry go into the navy, and let Joseph go to the lawyer's bench — but as for young Archibald, let him go into the ministry, as that is all he is fit for. Now as the Lord lives, there are hundreds of men who can say before God that they only preach for the same reason that Noah preached. They have looked through the telescope, and they have seen that there is an impending judgment; they have seen that there is a doom hanging over a guilty world!
And I put this to you, dear men: granted that you believed what I believe, would you not do what I am doing? If you honestly believed in your soul that there was a day of divine wrath coming, in which all unbelievers will be condemned, would you not, out of love to your fellows, do precisely the same as Noah did ages back, and as many of us are attempting to do at the present time? Of course you would.
We are not told what Noah's sermon was — but suppose that it was something after this sort: 'Oh, my dear friends, believe me, this sky is not always going to be blue. The day is coming when this sun will not rise and set as it does today. I have looked through my telescope, and I can see that there is a day coming when the waves, like mad race-horses, shall course over the earth, and when God's judgments shall be let loose. Prepare, prepare for the coming danger!'
He was not very successful. He preached for one hundred and twenty years, and he was the means of the salvation of only seven people. He rang the bell of warning for a century, and only a handful of people received his testimony. But O that God would give us such a handful! He was the means of the salvation of all his own family. If he did not win anybody else, he won those who were nearest and dearest to him.
Have you ever noticed the order? 'The LORD then said to Noah, Go into the ark, you and your whole family.' And I read, 'And Noah went in.' It was quite right that he should be the first. The husband ought to be the leader of the family. The father ought to be the first to accept Christ Jesus. Then the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth went in with him. If it were so with hundreds of fathers who hear me, how happy they would be! Then Noah's wife followed him into the ark. And then I can imagine what an expression of gladness overspread Noah's face as his three daughters-in-law entered next; for mark, these women must have left their own relations in order to cast in their lot with their husbands in the ark.
It must have been a tremendous trial to the faith of Noah when the Lord said, 'Go into the ark', for at that moment there was no sign of the deluge. The day was, perhaps, as fine a day as ever God made. But Noah enters the ark, and his family go with him; the Lord shuts the door: and then what happens? They stayed a whole week in that ark before the deluge came.
It does not require a very imaginative mind to conceive what a roar of laughter there must have been. I think I can hear the mob saying, 'Look at the old fellow cooped up there. Does he see any deluge coming? What is the old man doing in that great ship built on dry land?' I can imagine their calling out, 'I say, Noah, do you feel your boat rocking much? Are you beginning to feel sea-sick yet?'
The man who takes God at his word will often look very ridiculous in the eyes of worldlings. Faith is always a thing that is misunderstood. I can imagine that as Noah heard their ridicule, he himself sometimes felt almost ready to doubt — until he took up that old telescope that I have mentioned, and had a look through the window, and saw that the flood was awfully near. Then he felt that he could afford to bear their laughter. The seventh day passes by, and now comes to pass that which Noah had seen by faith. The heavens are black; the sea forgets its bounds; the waters rise; the ark begins to move, and at last it floats upon the breast of the deep ocean. God has kept his word — but Noah, by faith having been moved with holy fear of things not seen as yet, is a saved man.
Now, my brethren, I want to try to put the telescope to your eyes for a few moments. 'Things not seen as yet.' There are a good many things not seen as yet — but you would see them directly if you would only use this telescope.
How many of you can see yourselves as OLD MEN? There is not a man among all who read this, who can see himself as an old man without this telescope. Old age is a thing 'not seen as yet'; but, do you know, there is a passage in the word of God by which if you just look through it, you will be able to see yourself as you will appear some few years hence if you live so long. Look at the 12th chapter of Ecclesiastes, and see a picture of your own old age.
'The day when the keepers of the house shall tremble.' Those are the hands. They are not steady like the thousands of hands that are here this evening. The old man's hands do greatly shake.
'And the strong men shall bow themselves.' That is the bent back when so many years have passed over the old man that he stoops by reason of their weight, and has lost the elasticity that he once possessed.
'And the grinders cease because they are few.' The teeth are missing.
'And those that look out of the windows be darkened.' The eyes are not so bright and keen as the thousands, that gaze upon me now.
'And he shall rise up at the voice of the bird.' You can sleep for ten hours now; but how often the old man says, 'Oh, I wish that I could sleep as I used to do!' How light now are the old man's slumbers!
'And all the daughters of music are brought low.' He does not sing now as he once did. All his notes are 'quavers.'
'Also they shall be afraid of that which is high.' The young man smiles at that which is high. Tomorrow he will be mounting the church steeple, or standing up high on the scaffolding, with no swimming sensations in his head. Fear of that kind is one of the things not seen as yet.
Why is this? 'Because man goes to his long home.' These are things not seen as yet. It will not do any of you dear young fellows any harm if you put that telescope of the 12th of Ecclesiastes to your eye and take a good long look through its lens.
There is another thing 'not seen as yet' — that is DEATH. How few men meditate on their own death! 'All men think all men mortal, but themselves.' I was talking with a friend only this afternoon about the continual procession of funerals that goes past my house on a Sunday afternoon; and as we were talking I could not help saying to myself, 'I find it so difficult to realize that I may be looking on the very hearse which before long will carry me!'
Have you ever tried to look at your own death? It will do you no harm; so take up the word of God, and read, 'It is appointed unto men once to die.' Now you know no sickness and no pain. But put your eye to this telescope. Do you see that man lying there on that bed? Do you hear how labored his breathing is? Do you see what big drops of sweat stand upon his brow? You take him by the hand, and he tries to speak to you — but he cannot. And there in the corner of the room you hear the suppressed sobbing of the wife as she folds her little child to her bosom. The dying man's breath gets heavier, and the doctor says, 'There is nothing more that I can do.' Do you know that man? Why, it is yourself, man! You are only looking through the telescope at one of the things not seen as yet.
And does not that 3rd chapter of the 2nd Epistle of Peter show you another of the things not seen as yet? The day shall come when the Lord in power will come to JUDGE a guilty world, and the heavens shall be set ablaze. "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare!" You say, 'Well, I do not realize that.' No, nor did the men and women in the days of Noah. They thought that Noah was an old croaker; but then he had looked through his telescope and had seen what was coming.
My brethren, in all love I say that I should be less than a man, and utterly unworthy of a gathering like this, if I were not honest about this matter. Before God, I believe that there is a judgment coming upon a guilty world. If I did not believe it I would not preach it. I am as assured as if I had seen the heavens set ablaze that it will come to pass — the day of the perdition of ungodly men; and it is because I believe it that, like Noah, I want to warn you.
Look through the telescope, man. Do you not see the rocks rending and the heavens melting? Can you not see the judgment of God being poured out?
Do you say, 'What must I do to be saved?' I will tell you. There is one respect in which you are not to do what Noah did. Noah had to prepare an ark. You have not to do that. Thank God, that is all done. The ark was prepared in the great navy yard of God's sovereign grace. It was prepared by a divine workman. He laid down the keel with many a sigh and many a groan, and he built up the ark of salvation at the cost of his own life. He never ceased until he was able to say, 'It is finished.' He has left the door wide open, and God says to each of you dear fellows tonight, 'Come into the ark.'
It would not have been any good for Noah to walk all round the ark. No, he must come in. Suppose that Noah had said, as some of you may be saying, 'Well, I will stand close by the door, with one foot on the ark and the other on the ground. I do not want to be pronounced on either side. I will wait until I see the deluge coming, and then I will just step in.' He would have found that he was too late. No, God told Noah that he was to enter the ark a whole week before the deluge came. If any of you are found standing just outside, you will be as much lost as if you were a hundred miles off. The word is, 'Come in.'
Ah, then God is inside. It is not, 'Go in.' God himself is in the ark, and he says, 'Come in unto me.' And what is faith? Faith is just taking God at his word, and stepping into the ark, Christ Jesus. As a poor guilty sinner — for that is what you are — you must accept God's plan of salvation. Do not hesitate or cavil or disbelieve.
Put the telescope to your eye once more. Turn it towards CALVARY. Now look through it. How near is the distant cross! Do you see, hanging on that tree, in agonies and blood, the Man, the God-Man? Gaze into those glassy eyes. Behold him marred and heart-broken. Look and look again. The sight ought to fill your eyes with tears, and make you say, 'Lord, did you bear all this for me? Did you die on Golgotha's cross for me? Are you my ark of safety? Then, Lord Jesus, as a sinner I come to you.'
Oh, do not go and lose your own souls, when you may be saved. Do not go out of this building and say, 'Well, I do not believe a word of it.' Do you want me to doubt my own eyes? I have looked through the telescope, and I have seen that which I have tried to tell you. I have seen a certain doom coming for the sinner. I have seen God's ark of salvation — a Christ who died and a Christ who lives.
I believe that I am in the ark, or I would not dare to speak to you. Dear readers, may God bring you also just where he has put me. Oh, it is a grand thing to be saved. Do not look upon me as if I were a 'professional'. Do not say, 'Oh, well, this is only a prepared part of his sermon.' I assure you that it is not. I write to you as a man among men — as one who may be preaching his last 'sermon to men'. I want to be able to say to my God in Heaven, 'Lord, if those dear fellows are lost at last, put not their blood down to my account.' It is all real. God is real; Heaven is real; Hell is real; Christ is real; sin is real; the impending doom is real. I have looked through the telescope for myself, and, being moved with holy fear, I have fled for refuge to the hope set before me, and God has received me. I want you to be saved.
Do not say that you are too old or too far gone to come to Jesus. Whatever the past — though you may have sent your mother down to a premature grave with a broken heart; though you may have dragged a fair name in the mud and mire — I tell you, as God lives, he is able and willing to save every one of you. If you will reject the offer of the gospel, then your doom lies at your own door. May God add his blessing to the testimony. God's doom on sin is coming! Fly to Christ! God save you for Jesus' sake!