Preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on Friday, March 11, 1870, as part of a course on "Typical Persons of the Pentateuch."
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
THE great servants of God, generally speaking, share in a common stock of thought, feelings, resolves, efforts, sacrifices, which lifts them, as a class, above the ordinary level of men, and makes them what they are. They live in the world without being of it; they look beyond its narrow frontiers for their main interests and ruling motives; in some shape or other they give up what they see for what they do not see. They feel, and feel practically, that human life is at once blessed and awful; blessed in its opportunities, awful in its possibilities. They act as men who are in possession of the clew to its real meaning; they know and feel why they are here, and whither they are going. And thus, in communion with the Author and Object of their existence, and in doing His Will, so far as they know it, by themselves and among their fellow-creatures, they realise the true scope and dignity of their being, and they fertilise the lives of all around them. "Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law will he exercise himself day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of waters, that shall bring forth his fruit in due season. His leaf also shall not wither, and look, whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper.":
But each among the servants of God has some distinguishing characteristic over and above those which are common to them as a body. As in nature no two flowers, no two animals, no two human countenances are exactly alike, so in grace this reflection among the creatures of the Creator's exhaustless resources is even more apparent. Each who has a part, still more each who is eminent in the kingdom of grace, has in it a place, a form, a work, which belongs to no other; his character or his circumstances make him, at least in some respects, unlike any who have preceded or who follow him.
The great patriarchal figures who move before us in the sacred record of the antediluvian age are naturally shrouded in the dimness of a remote antiquity. Of the seven names which connect Seth with Noah, one only attracts a specific moral and religious interest; we pause at the holy life and the glorious translation of Enoch. With this exception there is little to arrest the attention beyond the length of years which was granted to those earliest generations of men. Strange, almost inconceivable, such longevity may perhaps appear when we contrast it with the existing limit of human life; but it is in harmony with the general scale of gigantic power to which all the most reliable evidence relating to the old world consistently points as characterising it. Life in that early age was comparatively simple, regular, free from the social mischiefs and the weakness which came with a more highly organised society. The climate, the weather, the natural conditions under which man found himself were probably different from those which succeeded the Deluge. And Paradise was still recent, so that, although its great prerogatives had been immediately forfeited, the endowments of which man had been originally possessed, such as immortality, would die out only gradually, and as if by a process of progressive exhaustion. [Delitzsch.] Thus it was that when Enoch was translated into eternal life with God, without passing through disease and death, five generations of ancestors must still have been living, Jared, Mahalaleel, Cainan, Enos, even Seth; while Enoch's son Methuselah, and his grandson Lamech, had already attained an age far beyond that of modern man; Lamech was 113 years old. Of that antediluvian line, at the date in question, only Adam had been taken to his rest; only Noah was not yet born.
Sixty-nine years elapsed between the translation of Enoch and the birth of Noah, and during that period the moral atmosphere of human history had very rapidly darkened. This result appears to have been due to two main causes beyond the constantly self-aggravating effects of the Fall. In the fourth and fifth chapters of Genesis the development of the human race is traced through two entirely different lines-that of Cain and that of Seth. It would seem that, notwithstanding the sense of the phrase elsewhere in Scripture, the Sethites, and not any beings of a higher world, are in this connection meant by the august title "sons of God;" and the intermarriage between the Sethites, who had preserved the higher and better traditions of Eden, and the Cainites, who had entirely lost them, issued in the rapid moral degradation of the posterity of Seth. Distinct from this, but contemporaneous with it, was the appearance of the Nephilim, the "giants" of the English Bible. They seem to have been social tyrants rather than physically unnatural monsters; they made the law of might the ruling force of that primitive society. The corruption of the old world was therefore mainly traceable to two factors, each fatal to the moral well-being of man;--it was due to social oppression, or cruelty, accompanied by a reckless sensuality.
Lamech felt the evils of his time; all seemed to him to flow, as it did flow, from the sin which had been perpetrated and from the curse which had been pronounced in Eden. He felt the burden of his labour upon the soil, and when his son was born, we read a proof of the father's melancholy, together with the prophetic presentiment of a brighter future, in the name of the infant: "And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed."
Noah's personal piety is described by the same phrase as Enoch's: he "walked with God." This expression denotes even more than that which is used in a divine command to Abraham, and in Abraham's description of his own life. Abraham was to "walk," and did "walk before God." Still more carefully should it be distinguished from "walking after God," a phrase by which Moses enjoins obedience to the law in one age, and Josiah renews it in another. To walk after God is to lead a life of obedience to the commands given in the Divine law; to walk before Him is to be constantly conscious of His overshadowing and searching Presence; but to walk with God is something higher and more blessed even than this; it is to be, as it were, constantly at His side, and in His confidence; it is to be admitted to close and intimate communion with Him as with a most cherished Friend; it is to be in spirit what the Apostles were in the flesh, when they shared, day by day, in the streets and lanes of Galilee, the Divine companionship of the Incarnate Son. Under the Gospel, it is St. John's "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ;" it is the equivalent to St. Paul's "being quickened and made sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Once only besides does the phrase occur in the Old Testament, when the Prophet Malachi applies it, not to the conduct of the Israelites generally, but to that of the priests, who stood in a closer relation to God than the rest of the people, and could enter the Holy of Holies, and hold intercourse with the Presence Which was veiled from the public eye.
Noah's piety, then, was of an exceptionally lofty kind. He is said expressly to "have been a just man, and perfect in his generations," and in the midst of the general corruption he "found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Of this general temper, his thankfulness after his deliverance is a sample; in order to express it, he sacrifices some of the little store which he had saved from the general wreck; and a sentence in Ezekiel implies that he had especial power as an intercessor with God. Yet his intercession is classed with that of Job and Daniel, and his thankfulness was in the form, as in the spirit of its manifestation, an anticipation, to cite no other instances, of that of Moses. Holy Scripture, with its wonted simplicity and truthfulness, describes his fall, in his old age, into an error, whether of inadvertence or of weakness. It does not generally place him above the level of other servants of God. We have, then, still to ask what it was wherein Noah's specific and typical excellence more particularly showed itself? And this question is answered by the passage we are considering in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Omitting all else-and there is much-which the history of this great Patriarch suggests, it bids us observe that "by faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."
Indeed, it is to this period of the life of Noah that all the allusions to him in the New Testament, with the exception of that in St. Luke's genealogy of our Lord, refer. In the mind not only of St. Peter but of our Lord Himself, "the days of Noah" were especially that most critical period of 120 years which preceded the Deluge.
It is possible that the social or political interest of his life may have been greater at earlier or at later periods; it is certain that the intensity of its moral interest centred in this.
In Noah's building the ark at the command of God there are three main points to be considered.
I. It implies, first of all, that he had an earnest conviction of the sanctity and greatness of moral truth; a conviction which, beyond any other, is the basis of the religious character. He was surrounded by populations which had broken altogether with the laws of God; impiety, impurity, lawlessness were the order of the day. "Every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually;" the corruption was universal, internal, profound. To a great many men a surrounding atmosphere of moral evil would be destructive of the moral sight. Those of us who know anything of our own hearts must know this; how easily we get accustomed to the sight of what is wrong, how soon we feel complacency, or something like complacency, towards it; how it undermines our sense of its malignity, and makes us, if not its captives, yet almost its tolerant apologists. "Neither doth he abhor everything that is evil," is a severe and exceptional condemnation in the mouth of the Psalmist. But how widely is it applicable! It is not that evil, triumphant as in Babylon, crushes us into acquiescence: the remnant of the Canaanites that is in the land suffices for the corruption of Israel. There it is; and we take it for granted, in ourselves and in others. It is part of the actual sum of human life and activity, nay, it is a very large part. Within our own hearts, perhaps, it finds something like countenance and sympathy. What is the good, we say to ourselves, of always finding fault with the weather or with an epidemic? We may wish that things were otherwise, but we resign ourselves philosophically to take them as they are.
This acquiescence in evil as inevitable, involves something beyond it. It leads us to shut our eyes to what the deepest and truest of all human presentiments-apart from the Revelation of God-points to as its certain consequence. It blinds us to the fact that evil is, must be, followed, at some time or other, in some way or other, by punishment. Could it be otherwise, God would not be God-a necessarily and intrinsically Moral Being; could it be otherwise, the first and most earnest affirmation of a healthy conscience would be untrustworthy. And yet we may, by familiarity-tolerant, indolent, sympathetic familiarity-with evil, learn first to forget that evil leads to punishment, and next, not improbably, to deny it. It is inconceivable, we say, that a world-embracing mass of evil should be punished; its very universality is its safeguard and protection; it might be punished if it were an exception; it must escape, simply as being the rule. This is what we tacitly say to ourselves; we shut our eyes to a first truth of morals, and we natter ourselves that we are only recognising facts.
It was against this silent and fatal influence of a corrupt moral and social atmosphere that Noah's life was a protest and a resistance. Scripture says, he was "perfect in or among his generations," and those generations were altogether corrupt. He was a preacher of righteousness when righteousness was at a discount and unpopular. He walked with God when mankind at large had forgotten Him. He did not think the better of sin, of its real nature or of its future prospects, only because it was practised on a large scale, and with considerable apparent impunity. To Noah the eternal truths were more certain than the surface-appearances of life; he was certain that evil was evil, and that it could not but be followed by chastisement, because God is God.
2. Such a moral conviction, it must have been, which fitted Noah to listen to the Divine prediction of a coming deluge. God does not take the morally deaf and blind into His confidence. The words of Jesus Christ sound through all the ages of human history as the voice of a Divine Providence: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." He whose moral senses are alive, let him listen to the proclamation of God's Truth; to others it will only be meaningless. "He that willeth to do the will of God shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." Noah was "warned" of God " of things not seen as yet:" he was the subject in some way-we cannot determine in what way-of a supernatural communication. It may have been some sensible voice from without; it may have been an unmistakably Divine assertion, yet from within. "God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them: and behold, I will destroy them from the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher-wood. . . . Behold I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven: and everything that is in the earth shall die. . . . But with thee will I establish My Covenant."
Why should Noah believe this prediction sufficiently to act upon that command? Because God had spoken. That was his reason; that was his conviction. It was enough for him, he needed no more. But his conviction of the unchangeableness and truth of the moral laws of God would have rendered such an announcement, under the circumstances, to him at least morally intelligible. It mattered not that what was foretold was altogether unratified by any past experience. In the burning plains of Central Asia, the idea of au universal Deluge may well have seemed the wildest of imaginations; a thousand years, at least, of human history had already passed, and there had been nothing like it. Nature seemed to be unvarying in her movements: the sun rose and set, the seasons succeeded each other, the generations of living beings appeared and passed away: there was a limited, and so to call it, a regulated variety, traversing this reign of a discernible and pervading order; but as yet there was nothing that met the senses to warrant the expectation of a vast and overwhelming shock or catastrophe. Why should it be otherwise hereafter? Why should this accumulated experience go for nothing? why should the sense of security which it so amply warranted be succeeded by apprehensions of a disaster to which, as yet, the annals of the world afforded no parallel?
The answer was, Because God had spoken. Who that believes in a really Living God can plead the observed invariability of nature against the declared Will of the Author of nature? After all, this invariability, so to call it, appeals rather to the imagination than to the reason. The imagination becomes so accustomed to it, so moulded by it, that it undergoes a certain distress at the thought of its violent interruption; but reason, true reason, is ever mindful of the limits which bound even her widest observations. Because we observe a continuing sequence of similar effects, it does not follow as a certainty, it is only a high presumption, strong in proportion to the range of our observation, that these effects will continue indefinitely. We are not really in possession of knowledge respecting any secret necessity rooted in the nature of things, which makes it certain that they must continue; and if we believe that the Mighty Author of nature is really alive, and that He is a Moral Being, and not merely a Force, or an Intelligence; and that as a Moral Being He may have grave reasons for disturbing all this physical and social symmetry which encircles us, we shall not distrust Him if He tells us that He means to do so. So it was with Noah: he was moved with fear, with a reasonable and a religious fear. He did not treat the warning he had received as if it had been only an omen, appealing to his superstition: he "prepared an ark to the saving of his house."
The event in which Noah believed before it came was appealed to in a later age by St. Peter, as furnishing a reason for believing in a still future and greater catastrophe. St. Peter is writing at the very close of his life, and already a sufficient time had elapsed since the Ascension of our Lord to allow for the formation of doubts respecting His Second Coming, doubts which were based upon the seeming unchangeableness of the world and of the laws of life. "Where is the promise of His Coming, for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the Creation?" The Apostle reminds those who argued thus that time has no meaning for the Eternal God, and that to apply our notions of the difference between greater and less portions of it to His Majestic Providences is to forget that there is simply no such thing as succession in His unbegun, unending Life. "Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." But if Christ's delay meant nothing but His long-suffering, the unchanging order of the world could not be urged as a reason for disbelief in the catastrophe of a future judgment, because the past history of the world already contained at least one eminent example of such a catastrophe. "By the word of the Lord the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." In other words, water had been the instrument by which the surface of the earth was moulded, and one of the constituent elements of its well-being and productiveness; yet at the creative word of God, from being a servant and a blessing, it became an overmastering force and scourge. What had been, might yet be; another element had yet a work to do in God's providence; and neither the lapse of years nor the regularity of the observed order of nature were any real reasons for presuming that the final catastrophe would not come at last. "The heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men."
Nay, it is very possible that, with a larger knowledge than that which we at present possess, we might be able to extend the argument by additional illustrations. Some years ago it was usual to refer solely to the period of the Deluge the animal remains which have been discovered in caverns or beneath the surface of the earth. But more recent science urges that they imply a higher antiquity, and are found under circumstances for which no universal flood would sufficiently account. It may be so. Is there anything in the text of the Bible which obliges us to narrow down to six thousand years, or in any way to stint the measure of the world's antiquity, short of admitting its absolute eternity? On the contrary, between the record of the original creative act and the subsequent description of a gradual process by which, through successive periods,-"days" they are called,-the world was brought into its present state, there is room for a measureless interval or series of intervals. And if this be so, who shall say that many of the animal-it may be some of the "human"-remains which are now pointed to as hostile or at least embarrassing to the faith of Christians, are, after all, proofs and relics of some bygone catastrophes, of which, previous to the creation of the present order of things, this globe has been the scene, and by which ages of probation accorded to moral beings who have preceded us men, were, by the sentence of the Great Judge, violently closed? It is true that we are here altogether in the region of pure hypothesis; but, I submit that there is at least nothing in Revelation which necessarily contradicts it; while, if it be true, it yields support to the argument of the Apostle, and it justifies the generous faith of the Patriarch.
Not that Noah's faith had anything to do with such cosmical speculations. Religious men may be glad to harmonise their convictions with the advancing but shifting and often inconsistent conclusions of human knowledge. But the foundation of their faith is one and invariable. They believe that He Who made the world can control it; and when His purpose is clear to them, they do not allow themselves to lose sight of it only because their imaginations are powerfully impressed by the spectacle of a settled and common order of phenomena or institutions. They are therefore independent of scientific arguments, without being indifferent to them; they walk by faith and not by sight. They are quite certain that, whatever difficulties may be urged against His declared Will at the moment, God will in the long-run justify Himself to man, and will vindicate the wisdom of those who in a day of trial and darkness have taken Him at His Word.
3. For a third point to be observed in Noah is his perseverance under difficulties. His faith was a practical principle, and it upheld him in the face of serious discouragements.
(a.) To begin with, he might easily have said to himself that there could be no real necessity for his personally exerting himself; that the threatened disaster would scarcely touch one who was already 480 years of age; that it would be enough to warn his children of what was coming when he himself would probably have entered upon his rest. Why should he rouse himself in advanced life to so great an effort as that which was required of him, instead of leaving it to be undertaken by younger hands? The answer in his conscience was, that God had said, not to others but to him: "Build thou an ark of
(b.) Again, he might naturally have dwelt upon the great mechanical and constructive difficulties of the undertaking. It is not to be supposed that these were left to be discovered for the first time by modern criticism. How could such an ark be built, so as to secure at once space and safety? How could it be provisioned, lighted, warmed? How would the several animals be gathered so as to enter it? how would it be possible to preserve them under conditions of weather and temperature so unlike their own? And then when would the scourge have passed? and how would it be possible to enter again upon the earth as a solitary colonist, amid the traces of so gigantic a desolation? Well may Noah's heart have sunk within him. Yet, he knew, God had said to him, "Build thou an ark of gopher-wood," and he had only to obey.
(g.) Once more. Noah had to begin his work, and to continue it, not merely without active support and sympathy, but under the eye of a public opinion, not so much hostile as contemptuously cynical. What was this extraordinary outlay of labour and skill? what was its purpose and meaning? how was it other than the crotchet of a visionary and a fanatic? Did he really think that his fancies would become true, and that the settled order of nature as well as the civilisation and progress of human life were going to be buried beneath the flood which he dreamt of navigating? Was every one else wrong while he was right? was his private information (if such it was) to be weighed against the collective experience and judgment of mankind? How they must have mocked at the entire undertaking! how naturally must they, in their aversion to the idea and object, have revenged themselves on the form and appearance! What airy criticisms must have been lavished on it in its earliest rudimentary shape, on each detail which was supplied to it, on its complete structure! what delicate and yet bitter comments on its uselessness, its ugliness, its utter opposition to the whole current of contemporary thought and feeling! How, too, some of the more liberal critics would have endeavoured, as if in scornful and condescending pity, to enter, although remotely and for a moment, into the strange hallucinations that could have produced it,-as if surveying from afar a mental curiosity, which only did not move their anger because it ministered so abundantly to their amusement! And then with what satisfaction and complacency would they have betaken themselves anew to the life against which it was a protest and a warning, as to that which was warranted by the common sense and judgment of the time, and by a force of custom and sentiment which, as the world grew older, was daily gathering new strength and empire. Our Lord has said that what took place then is an anticipation of what will be on the eve of the Last Judgment: "As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man. They did eat, they drank, they married and were given in marriage, until .the day came that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all."
Yes, there was a delay of 120 years, but the threatened judgment came at last. "The flood came and destroyed them all." Whether it was strictly universal or something less than universal; whether it covered Ararat without covering, for instance, the Himalayas; whether it can be explained by any combination of known causes or only by supernatural ones;-these are important questions, but they do not touch the moral interest of the narrative, they would only lead us away from it. The judgment came. It came to vindicate the Morality and Sovereignty of God; it came to justify Noah, and to condemn the generation which rejected him. It came to demonstrate the folly and emptiness of all the glitter and order of that ancient civilisation; the irreverence and falsehood of that opinion which seemed at the time so well founded and so strong. There must have been a day-an hour of uttered surprise, alarm, struggle, agony, despair-when this was realised. Poets and painters have endeavoured to portray it. But as the mind dwells on any vast picture of human agony, the heart grows sick and the head giddy. In that buried multitude, no doubt, there were degrees of responsibility and guilt, known to and weighed by the Eternal Justice. The Apostle hints as much in a significant expression, which apparently implies that on the descent of our Lord's Human Soul into the place of the departed there was a compensatory preaching at least to some of the imprisoned spirits of the antediluvian world. But, the general result is a contrast between an overwhelming judgment and a signal mercy-a judgment provoked by forgetfulness of the law and knowledge of God, and a mercy awarded to faith in His word, which was not sacrificed to false and narrow views of duty, or to baseless misgivings, or to the corrupt and corrupting opinion of the day.
What Noah's work really and mainly foreshadowed would have been obscure at the time; but we look back upon it from a vantage ground, which enables us to do it justice. Every Christian must see, in the labour and temporal salvation of Noah, the shadow of a greater toil and a more complete deliverance. Looking to Jesus Christ, humanity in its wretchedness and yet in its hope might use in a deeper sense the words of Lamech: "This Same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands." Like Noah, Jesus Christ was a preacher of Righteousness; He preached a higher and broader Righteousness than man knew before; but then, by His Passion and Death and gifts of grace, He robed man in it, and made His Revelation tolerable to human weakness by making its substance a gift to faith. And as Noah built an ark for the saving of his house, so did our Lord build His Church to be the home of His followers, with the promise that against it "the gates of Hell should not finally prevail." His teaching, His example, His works of mercy and of grace, His bitter Passion and Death, His Resurrection from the tomb and Ascent to Heaven, were all steps in this mighty work; the Divine Architect shed His very life-blood in the labour of construction. And at length Pentecost came, and the Eternal Spirit welded all into a consistent and enduring whole; and as the races and sexes and degrees of men passed within it at the heavenly call, lo! there was neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ was all and in all. And although, since those earlier days, the passions and errors of men have raised walls of partition within the Divine Fabric over and above the "stories" which He ordered to be made in it, yet these most assuredly will not always last; they are human, while the Ark itself is Divine. Even now it floats upon the waters, upon the vast ocean of human opinion and society; and we, without any merit of our own, but of His free grace and mercy, have been permitted to enter it. Over us was uttered the prayer that "the Everlasting God, Who of His Great Mercy did save Noah and his family in the Ark from perishing by water," would look upon, wash, and sanctify us; that being delivered from His wrath we might be "received into the Ark of Christ's Church, and being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, might so pass through the waves of this troublesome world, that finally we might come to the land of Everlasting Life." [Baptismal Service.] We may, of course, if we will, plunge again into the waters; but we have only ourselves to thank if the Ark of the true Noah does not land us at the last on the Mount of God.
It may be useful to insist upon one or two practical conclusions which are suggested to us by the life and work of Noah.
It suggests, first of all, a particular form of duty, which at certain times in the world's history may press very heavily on the conscience of public men whether in Church or State; and, at certain turns in life, upon all of us, however private and retired our place and work may be. I mean the duty which may arise upon our seeing, or believing that we see, more or less clearly into a future which has to be provided for, or provided against. Indeed, to endeavour to look forward and provide is a part of the work of those who are charged with the maintenance and support of large public interests. It is their business to observe the direction in which things are moving, the forces which are coming to the front, the combinations or separations of forces which may be fairly anticipated, the general result that will emerge from and succeed the state of things with which they are actually conversant. Here, as elsewhere, to seek knowledge is to learn, at any rate, something; and God teaches us through our natural powers of observation and reflection, as well as in other and higher ways. Here, as elsewhere, to pray to know enough to be able to do God's Will in our day and generation, is to be answered; and, it may be, to have to anticipate deliberately much to which we would willingly be blind. Such a habit of looking forward, if its motive be higher than a speculative curiosity, will not interfere with the duties of the present hour; nor will it militate against the general temper of trustful resignation, which, in those who see furthest and deepest, is ever ready to leave its hopes and fears in the Hands of God. In private and worldly concerns, such foresight is not often either undervalued or neglected. No man continues to invest his money in an undertaking recommended by an imposing prospectus and board of directors, if beneath its fair promises and apparent prosperity he can clearly see at work the causes of coming bankruptcy. But where the interests of others are only or chiefly concerned, it being probable that the man himself will have passed from the scene before his anticipations are realised, it is possible for him to find himself in Noah's position thus far;-that he guesses a danger, a catastrophe, which is hidden from the sight of his contemporaries, and which imposes on him the plain duty of preparing to meet it.
Then comes his trial. Will he bestir himself to obey the behests of his conviction, or will he indolently fold his hands and let things take their course? Will he say to himself, "After all, this is no particular concern of mine; it is the concern of everybody. Why should I be compelled to put myself out of my way in a matter that interests hundreds of other people as much as it interests me? Why should I be taxed, heavily taxed, on the score of my farsightedness, while others can go on easily and quietly, with a perfectly good conscience, only because they are too unobservant or too inert to see, or to try to see, beyond the next turn in the road? I will let things take their course; there is no necessity on my part for a chivalry which will be mocked at till it is justified by events, and which, even if events do justify it, will soon be forgotten."
Will he reason thus, or will he reflect that knowledge, insight, farsightedness, if they really exist and are felt to exist, constitute responsibility; that, even if he would, a man who sees further and knows more than others cannot be as others, morally, and before God or before men; that together with knowledge there comes, to a certain extent, and within the area which it covers, a forfeiture of that particular species of liberty which is a moral right of ignorance? Will he reason thus, and act upon his reasoning? My brethren, it is a critical question; possibly for the generation, the country, the Church to which he belongs, but certainly and under any circumstances for himself.
Can any one with a heart think without sorrow of that King of Prance whose reign covers the greater part of the last century, and who spans the interval which connects the Court of the Great Monarch with the reign of the Bourbon who died upon the scaffold? Few things in history are more piteous than the contrast between a boyhood of much interest and promise and an advanced life of abject, systematised dissipation. Yet Louis XV. was not wanting in penetration; and the gay revelries of Versailles did not wholly blind or deafen him to sights and sounds which might have convinced a less observant ruler that the fountains of the great deep of national life were breaking up, and that a new order of things was imminent. Allowing for the difficulties of a traditional position such as his, may we not believe that an earnest and well-considered effort to improve the condition and assert the rights of the people, in the middle of the century, might have saved France from the torrents of blood in which the inevitable Revolution was baptized? Yet Louis XV. passed away, enervated morally and physically by pleasures which ministered only to the satisfaction of the hour, while the mutterings of the approaching storm were falling on his dying ear, and his last and deepest convictions became embodied in words which were too surely verified: "After us the deluge."
Nor can we walk the streets of Oxford, and know anything of the history of the buildings which meet our eyes, without encountering another illustration of the matter before us. During the two centuries which preceded the Reformation there were men in England who felt that a change of some kind was corning, and that it was their duty to prepare for it. They could not read history with our eyes; they could not look into the future as we look back upon the past; they knew not whether Reform or Revolution was before them. But at least, come what might, it could not but be well to gather and cultivate the highest learning of the time under the guidance and stimulus of Religion; and it was to this provident care of theirs that we owe the foundation of some of the noblest colleges in Oxford. It may be feared that the highest aim and desire of their great legacy will not be handed on to the generations that will follow us; and yet it may be the duty and privilege of our day, under other yet not altogether unlike circumstances, and on a humbler scale, to leave at least one modern institution in Oxford where human learning will still be blessed by Christ, when we of this century shall have gone to our account.
From the State and Education it is natural to pass to the Church. Nearly forty years have now elapsed since a few of the purest and loftiest spirits that ever breathed the air of this place saw in the suppression of some Irish Sees a warning to prepare for more serious emergencies. They, too, might have said, that as private clergymen and teachers they might well let things take their course, or leave the work of struggle and of protest to those who were set in the high places of the Church. But their insight into the future, such as it was, was their own; and they could not transfer to others the responsibility of possessing it. They knew that the real cause of present disaster, and the most serious menace of future danger, lay not in any exceptional irreligion on the part of the State, but in the fact that Churchmen were at best half-hearted in professing their Creed: Samson's locks had been shorn, and who could wonder that the Philistines were upon him? If the Church of England was to be loved and worked for in the years to come, it must be by men who recognised in her something nobler than the plaything and creature of Parliaments and Statesmen, something more than one of many human organisations, designed to promote co-operation among believers in Christ. If she was not a Branch of Christ's Body, her sacred language was a studied unreality; if her Sacraments were not channels of Divine Grace, were not their administrators like the heathen augurs of old, who could not but smile as they passed each other in the Forum? These men understood that a Church, to be upheld, must be believed in; but they would have failed, and deservedly, if they had endeavoured to re-invigorate a faith which they themselves held to be untrue. In their belief that, whatever came of it, they must go forward, in their simple sincerity, lay the secret of their strength. Out of the old materials which were ready to their hands, they set themselves to build an ark of fresh and strong convictions; they laboured, by all the avenues to public thought and feeling that they could command, to persuade their contemporaries to mean the Creed which daily passed their lips, and to act upon it.
It may be true that that Movement has been pushed to some unwarranted and lamentable consequences; that its original principle has been, in some cases, caricatured or perverted; that it has indirectly created some bewilderment and confusion. What is this but to say that its originators and conductors were human, and that they have enjoyed no guaranteed exemption from human liability to error? But look at it generously and as a whole,-look at it as its opponents, I venture to say, will look at it, when in the clear daylight of history it can be viewed without any disturbing rays of intervening passion; and it will, it must be said to have saved the Church of England from impending death, cither by spiritual hysteria or by spiritual atrophy. It has poured a tide of life-the life of earnest conviction and of earnest work-through all the arteries and veins of the Church of this land; and it is year by year adding to the spiritual force which alone can enable Christians to face the speculative or political anxieties of the future. He who exclaimed from Bagley, forty years ago-
"The flood is round thee, but thy towers as yet
at the sight of Oxford, foresaw clearly what was coming. [Lyra Apostolica, No. cl. "Oxford," by the Rev. J. Keble.] And now that he is gone to his rest, it is not too much to say that he has done more perhaps than any in these last times to enable us of a younger generation to look forward to the rising flood, if not without fear on the score of our own possible disloyalty, yet certainly without misgiving as to the general and final issue to the Kingdom of Christ in England.
It is easy to exaggerate the importance of the age we live in; it is a subtle inclination of self-love which leads us to do so. Yet after allowing for this propensity or weakness, we can scarcely doubt that the present is a period of exceptional importance, whether to the State or to Religion, both in England and Europe. Scarcely a year passes without the crash of some old throne or constitution; and around us are taking place, silently but with astonishing rapidity, vast political and social changes, which cannot but lead to much besides in the years immediately to come. To be entering on the full powers of life in such days as these may be a privilege or a misery, as a man has or has not the heart to feel their moral solemnity. Alas! for those whose conduct at such a time exposes noble names and ancient institutions to a condemnation, which will make it at least difficult to link the past with the future. Alas! for those who can see clearly and far into that which is hidden from most of us, yet who enjoy their keensightedness, if not with a reckless levity, yet without feeling any generous desire to lend a hand towards making an Ark of safety for truth and goodness. For, on a great scale or a small, there will be, there is, some share in the work of Noah to be taken by all of us; and they who work most in silence and unobserved, may have at the last the largest share in the blessing of the great Patriarch.
And, leaving public interests and duties, there is one sense in which each one of us must build his Ark, and that quickly. To every man death is the Deluge, and life is the time given him wherein to prepare to meet it. If we would not sink beneath the waters, we must build our Ark; and we have much less than the 120 years of Noah in which to build it. What if this brief and precious period is passing from us while we stand aside, watching the efforts of others, either in moody indifference, or in scornful contempt! What if-as St. Augustine said of some Christians in his day, whose natural energy furthered Christ's kingdom, while their hearts were not enlisted in His cause-our part is only that of the mercenary Cainites, whose services the Patriarch enlisted to build the Ark, into which, when the day of trouble came, they would not enter! Let us look into this matter, if it be for the first time, this Lent. Let us lose no more days in setting to work, and let us take heed how we set to work. The ark of Salvation, says St. Augustine again, must be built by the Christian out of the wood of Christ's Cross. We cannot ourselves furnish either the design or the material; but if God will not save us by ourselves, He certainly will not save us without ourselves, without our corresponding, that is to say, with His purposes of grace and mercy. Yet if He is with us, it matters little, although the clouds are sensibly darker than they were, and the fountains of the great deep are already breaking up. It matters little, though all be submerged before our eyes beneath the rising tide, if we know and are sure, upon the strength of His Word, that after a brief voyage upon the waters, our feet will rest upon the Eternal Mountain, and we shall have our part in that mighty Thanksgiving which will never end.