Pastor Brown

Noah's Ark

Dr. Charles Reynold Brown

November 13, 1910

Scriptures for today:  Genesis 7:1

Other Sermons from Dr. Charles Reynold Brown

November 20, 1910 50 YEARS {Anniversary Sermon}
November 13, 1910 Noah's Ark


A Sermon by Chas. R. Brown

The Lord said unto Noah, “Come thou and all thy house into the ark.” Genesis 7:1.

Thoughtful people no longer become agitated over the details of this story. In almost every branch of the race some tradition of a great deluge is found. In the Aryan, in the Semite, in the Cushite, the three main branches of the civilized races in that ancient world, we find these traditions and in the main they are in agreement as to the number of human beings saved, as to the sending out of the birds and as to the duration of the flood. They are also in substantial agreement with the narrative recorded in Genesis.

The fact that this tradition is present in these various branches of the race, indicates that some event which could not be forgotten, occurred; that it happened before the race had become widely scattered; that it was practically co-extensive with the portion of the globe then inhabited. And there are many indications that such a cataclysm may have occurred somewhere in that region made up of the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates giving rise to the more elaborate tradition which we find worked out here.

But I am not concerned with the physical but with the n1oral aspects of this narrative. It is to the credit of the insight of that far—off time that the line was drawn between those who should be saved from the flood and those who should be left to perish, on moral grounds. Noah was spared not because he was the favorite of the» gods not because he was more punctilious in his attention to ritual—he was saved because he was an upright man. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord because he was just and straight and clean in his generation.” He was not an angel from heaven—we find serious fault ascribed. to him here——but he was, all round, the best man of his time. On moral lines he was deemed worth saving.

But the moral limitations of the narrative appear in the lack of sympathy in the outlook here expressed. The story of Noah and his ark is drawn out through four chapters, yet we find not a single word of pity for the men and women who were being wiped off the slate. We find no echo of their cries of despair when they saw the waters rising. We find no compassionate word uttered touching the sorrow of parents as they saw their children submerged beneath the cruel waters or the anguish of husband and wife torn apart by the angry flood, it is all related as placidly as one might relate the story of the building of a fence around his back yard.

How far from that whole mood and attitude we have come! The heartlessness of those eight people who went quietly to work saving themselves without a word or a look of pity, so far as the record shows, for the wicked unfortunates who were to be destroyed, would be impossible today in any quarter of the civilized world. Christ could not die that cruel death upon the cross and commit his soul to the Father without uttering a prayer for the blind and evil men who were putting him to death. Christ could not enter Paradise without carrying a penitent robber in his arms whom he had rescued at the last moment from his life of wrong. And Jane Addams in Chicago cannot go apart and build an ark of intelligence, of culture and of character for herself and eight congenial friends where they might find comfort and pleasure—she must go down to Halsted street where all the forms of wickedness current in Noah´s day. are still in active operation and there attempt a great. brave work of compassion, of sympathy and of recovery. We have come a long way from Noah’s ark in time and in miles and in moral attitude.

Let me speak to you then of the modern significance of such a narrative as we find here recorded. First, the note of compassion for the unfit there wanting. is now everywhere in evidence. In the old narrative no pity is expressed for those who were to be submerged. Grant that they were unspeakably wicked—they were human beings. Yet if they had been so many fleas to be drowned, and good riddance to them, the absence of compassion could not have been more complete.

Today, if Jack London, a Socialist, writing from a secular standpoint, describes “The People of the Abyss,” in the poorer parts of London, we find pity in every line. If General Booth, an ardent, believing, consecrated Christian of the Salvation Army type, writes “In Darkest England,” the note of compassion is found in every word. If Charles Booth, a scientific man, sets forth the “Life and Labor of the People of London,” in seventeen elaborate volumes with maps, charts, statistics and conclusions galore we discover the note of tender sympathy in every syllable. Every man cares how the other half lives and how it is fated to die.

One of the early church fathers, Tertullian, undertook in glowing terms to picture the future world. He represented the redeemed as coming out in the cool of the evening on one of the battlements of heaven. From that vantage ground they looked over into the abyss and saw lost souls suffering the torments of hell. And they were so moved by this sight as to think afresh upon the infinite mercy of God in saving them from that horror that they burst forth into an ardent hymn of praise. What a terrible picture! How far we have moved from all that! Whatever may be our belief as to the allotments in the world to come, we cannot conceive of a company of upright, self-respecting people being moved to sing by the sight of hopeless and helpless suffering. An overwhelming sense of compassion would smother the impulse to sing.

There is no white man on earth — and by that term I am not referring to the color of the skin b11t to a color and quality of life more than skin deep — who can walk through the slums of a city and look upon the pain, the poverty, the moral degradation there, though it be repulsive as that upon which Noah looked, without being moved with compassion. He cannot speak of it or write of it or think of it without such a feeling of pity -as we nowhere detect in this ancient narrative. “Like as a father pitieth his children so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him”—aye and pitieth those who are so blind morally as not to fear Him. “Like as a father pitieth his children,” so all those who have in any wise caught the spirit of the Lord, feel a profound compassion for all the less fortunate of earth. Sympathy which feels for and with another, robs many a man of his strength, but it is the salvation of his soul: whereas selfish indifference to the need and the fate of others is the damnation of the soul.

In the second place this universal feeling of compassion finds expression in an effort to rescue the unfortunate. “The Lord said unto Noah, ‘Come thou and all thy house into the ark’. And Noah went in, and his wife and his three sons and their wives.” And that was all! It was strictly a family affair. They went in and shut the door and said, “Let it rain!”

Was any wicked man entreated to forsake his way or any unrighteous man his thoughts and turn to the Lord to receive abundant pardon and. then come into the ark of safety? Nothing is said of any such effort. We are not to attach too much significance to the silences of scripture but if during the long years—and the narrative indicates that they weren't any—when the ark was building, that had been the leading thought in Noah‘s mind it would have found some mention. The desire for personal security seemed to overtop all other considerations.

There have been long periods of Christian history when that personal appeal, “Believe and be baptized and you will be saved’ from hell here and hereafter,” was strong enough to lift men out of their pews, to lift them out of their sins, to lift them into newness of life. It is not the strongest form of appeal today. On many at life thoughtful and morally sensitive, this appeal falls dead. Not the personal security which goes up into the ark and leaves the world to its fate, but the idea of investing one´s life usefully for that world, ignorant and sinful though it may be in great sections, is today the mightier form of appeal. You cannot conceive of any righteous and well—to—de family going contentedly into their own ark of safety, closing the door and saying, “Let it rain.” They would rather go down to their less fortunate fellows who are being submerged because they do not know how to build an ark, because they have no materials in themselves or in their environment for an ark, and be found there engaged in an effort. at rescue when the rain began to fall.

Ian McLaren, author of “The Bonny Brier Bush,” used to say that in the earlier years of his ministry he would visit sick men on their death beds and find them agonizing with God over their past sins, searching themselves to see if they had saving faith, their very souls intent upon their own future destiny. But in the later years of his ministry, when he visited men equally thoughtful and conscientious upon their death-beds, he found them asking, “Have I provided a home and adequate support for my wife? Is there life insurance money sufficient to educate the children until they can stand on their own feet and care for themselves?” The change is significant and it is wholesome. The latter is the more profitable line of inquiry. We have it upon the highest authority that if any man is eagerly and solely intent upon saving his soul, he will lose it. We have it on the same authority that the man who invests and forgets his self-interest in that larger task of serving the common good will find his life and keep it unto life eternal.

In the third place the race has come under the power of a more daring hope—the hope not of escaping from the evil world but of saving it. In Noah´s day the Earth was not a flat place for clean men to live in; it was not a fit place in which to rear a family. Every imagination of their hearts was evil and. the fearful unnatural forms of wickedness prevalent are unprintable. In the face of the appalling moral disaster which had befallen the race of men nothing seemed possible but for this family of eight who were gripped by nobler principles to escape in their ark of safety and then when the earth had been washed clean by the flood of Divine judgment to begin again. It may be that nothing else at that time was feasible. God. knows! But what a confession of hopelessness the action of Noah was!

In these days men of vision still hear the Divine voice say, “Make thee an ark.” But the ark is not built of gopher wood, pitched without and within. It is an ark not made with hands. It is an ark eternal in the realm of moral and spiritual realities. It is an ark shaped up out of those conventions, aspirations. resolves, which become controlling in individual lives and in society.

It is an ark whose vast outlines are meant to rescue and to house, two by two, all the teeming interests of this modern life. In the work of education and in industry, in social intercourse and in civic affairs, men of vision and purpose are toiling ceaselessly upon this finer moral structure which will save not eight people out of the flood of wickedness, but will save the race. And they look ahead to that high how when these better moral conditions have come to obtain and the divine voice will say to every family on earth, “Coin-: thou and thy house into this ark.”

Today the literal and visible Noah‘s ark is a child‘s toy. He gets it from the Christmas tree. He sits down and arranges the animals two by two in as long procession across the parlor carpet, with Noah and his wife, with Shem, Ham and Japheth and their wives marching at the head. He puts them all into the ark through the door and then plays that a flood is coming to drown everybody save himself and the contents of his ark. The child lives in a kind of fairyland where wonders are wrought in a moment by a magic wand‘. He desires swift and visible results.

But the mature man has learned to wait and to study the unseen. His vital interest is in vast and far reaching processes. He is desirous of building his own moral material and his own measure of consecration into that finer spiritual structure which shall save 11ot one family of eight out of the general wreck but shall recover a race redeemed through such Christian effort. 111 lives renewed and in institutions ennobled, in society permeated by finer principles and in the exaltation of certain august ideals to illumine and command, in the quickening of the whole body of human existence by the incoming of the Divine Spirit, he sees that vaster structure taking shape when the living God shall say to every human interest, “Come thou into this ark and be forever safe!”

Water does not destroy the human race even though it comes in a flood. It was not water that destroyed that ancient world, but wickedness. Here and there a handful out of the teeming millions may be drowned, but it is not water we fear. Injustice, uncleanness, moral indifference, these destroy whole races. These enemies of well-being seek out men and women though they climb to the house tops. to the tree tops and to the summit of the loftiest mountains. Families are engulfed; whole nations are engulfed, by injustice, uncleanness, moral indifference and thus go down in defeat. It is against these that we need to build a11 ark of justice, purity and aspiration. And it is to the gradual rearing of that finer, vaster, more enduring structure that serious men of vision are giving today of their best strength.

What was the matter with that Greco-Roman civilization which accomplished so much on the shores of the Mediterranean and then suddenly went to pieces like some rotten building? It had wealth; it had learning; it had art; it had political organization brought well up toward tl1e point of perfection. Why was it submerged and replaced by the rule of those rude barbarians from the north?

It had not learned to build an ark. It did not understand the rearing of that structure of safety whose ribs are taken from the moral command given of old on Sinai, whose planks are taken from that platform of righteousness laid down in the Sermon on the Mount, whose propelling power comes from the resident energy of the Spirit of the living God. Great fortunes were made in that ancient world, but distress was constant; education was applauded, but culture declined; a strong centralized government developed at Rome to keep the unhappy provinces in order, but there was continual unrest; moralists declaimed, but morals went down. And when the deluge came there was no ark of safety. The wind blew. the rain descended, the floods came and beat upon that old world and it fell!

And if here by this wider sea and in this newer land we as a. nation ever fail it will be for the same cause. Not for lack of wealth or learning or art or political organization. shall we fail; if we go down in defeat it will be because the people absorbed in business and in pleasure have become in-different to the high. stern. long task of building here a vast structure of protection, putting into it the best of their strength, shaping it up by that which every joint supplieth, framing it in harmony with the will and command of Almighty God until in the time of storm we shall find all these domestic a11d social interests, all these economic and civic affairs kept safe.

Let me put it in a single concrete case! Here is a group of men who are overworked and underpaid. Children are begotten in their homes in a state of physical exhaustion and thus robbed of their proper inheritance of vigor. Children are reared in homes where the supply of nourishing food is inadequate. Children because of necessity are put to work when they should be using their surplus strength for growth and for the gaining of an education. They are thus stunted and dwarfed to add to the profits of those who have too much already for their soul´s good.

Now what we want in the face of conditions like that — and it is only a sample caught up out of a vast section of human existence—is not to take a few of these defeated people, eight perhaps out of a whole community, and make them comfortable in some ark of refuge; we Want to build into that industry a place of refuge, we want to build into it. the great beams of moral purpose, the mighty ribs of right principle and cover it with an over-arching roof of sheltering sympathy for the human values there at stake. Then and only then will our industry outride the storms which are already gathering.

The great procession faced toward this ark of safety is now forming. I ca11 see the dim outlines of it yonder on the horizon. A11d what it contemplates through the daring hope of the Christian men of this generation makes Noah and his family of eight and their animals coming two by two into the ark of gopher wood, seem indeed like child´s play on the parlor carpet. We are brave enough to believe that the world in its entirety is to become the subject of redemption. We cherish the hope that all these interests and activities of men shall become regenerate. We look ahead to the time when the rearing of that mighty spiritual edifice of moral safety shall shelter every section of this 111odern life from the storms which beat upon it. This will be indeed a veritable ark of safety such as the patriarch of old never dreamed.

In the last analysis Jesus Christ is the ark of safety. But Jesus Christ not standing apart inviting a few select souls to take refuge in Him! Jesus Christ 11ot standing yonder in the skies holding the door open to some heavenly mansion for the few who may flee to that place of safety! This is not the Almighty Savior in whom we believe! Jesus Christ is here! “Lord, I am with you always.” He said to those men as they set forth to make the world better, “even unto the consummation of this great hope, even unto the end of the age.” He is here, a redemptive Energy, a life-giving Spirit, an almighty and ever present Person reproducing in other persons the quality of His own life. He is here and you may, if you will by committing your life to Him in loyal obedience and in loving consecration, enter at once into the ark of safety to go no more out. And here in fellowship with Him you will have your part in building that vast structure of recovery and protection into which all the interests of men are finally to be brought.

Sermon delivered at First Congregational Church, Oakland, California
on November 13, 1910

Published in "The Pacific", November 22, 1910