Forty Days: 1. The Forty Days of the Flood

 •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 6
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The subject before us now is the moment when God for the first time judged the world for sin. An awful, resistless, overwhelming judgment fell upon the earth, washing away every trace of the violence and corruption which filled the scene, by the waters of the flood.
This scene is alluded to nine times in scripture, by patriarchs, prophets, evangelists, and apostles, and by the Son of God Himself, more than once. It is used as a type also, though only a type, a faint shadow, of that awful moment of judgment which must overtake the world — a greater judgment than that of water, of the fierceness of the wrath of the Almighty. It is not the judgment of the dead that is here before us, but of the living, those who are taken in the avocations of life — eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage; pursuing the ordinary course of things, but sinning, sinning, sinning, till that awful moment comes, when resistless judgment falls on the world that God, in longsuffering, has borne with for six thousand years.
What, then, was it that caused God to judge the world in this way in Noah’s time? The answer is, “SIN.” Sin caused God to resolve on judgment the most awful that ever yet came from the hands of perfect love. And yet how faint is it the shadow of that eternal judgment which must come, when mercy is past, when the day of grace is over, when no cry for mercy will receive an answer of peace.
I think it is a common human expression — which is not to be found in the word of God — that “in the midst of judgment He remembers mercy.” There is nothing in the word of God, that I have discovered, which would carry out such a thought. When judgment falls, it falls with resistless power, and mercy then has ceased. Mercy and judgment cannot go together. No doubt “mercy glorieth against judgment” (James 2:1313For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. (James 2:13)) — that is blessedly true now; and the cry of faith is, “In wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:22O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)); but the moment that judgment — God’s strange act — begins, then mercy, in which God delights, has closed; judgment will then accomplish its solemn mission.
How awful is the delusion under which men lie as to this! They think that God is too merciful to damn them. Oh, do not so delude yourselves — do not suppose you can cry for mercy in that day, and be heard. Mercy waits in long-suffering now; but that solemn day will not come till mercy’s day is past forever.
A flood of “SIN” filled the earth; violence and corruption characterized that fair world that God had made “very good.” It began in individual hearts, it spread in families, it corrupted homes and communities with its leavening power. God describes the state of things by these well-chosen, weighty words (Gen. 6:55And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)): “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” How comprehensive are those words! — “every,” “only,” “continually.” “Every” means without exception. One would have thought, perhaps, that that conscience which God took care man should receive when he fell (Gen. 3:5,225For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5)
22And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: (Genesis 3:22)
) might have retained some trace of longing after “good,” even though powerless to “perform” it. Nay, “every” imagination of his heart was “evil.” But this might not have been always so: surely there were some traces of God’s handy-work left, and some mixture of good. Nay, we read again, these imaginations were “only evil” — that is, evil without admixture or trace of good. And they were “continually”; morning, noon, and night the aggregate of his heart’s thoughts were only evil, without exception, without admixture, without intermission! Sin, without restraint, thus came forth in its hideous deformity.
Is the world better now? It is just the same. We have moral, social, religious, political restraints on man; sin cannot break forth unhindered, nor do in broad day what it can when the world’s eye cannot gaze upon it. But remove these restraints, let them stand in abeyance for an hour, put the world on its trial, and see how it would behave itself. The result would be, that every peaceful home in the land would be filled with bloodshed and abomination.
Man’s heart is man’s heart, and there it is. Much more responsible, I grant you, now than in the days of the flood; and that tide of evil is swelling, till it breaks forth again, and is met once more by the resistless judgment of God.
“The world of the ungodly” was once judged by the waters of the flood, and “as it was in the days that were before the flood, so shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until!” — no warning for aught but faith — “the flood came, and took them all away.”
No wonder, then, that “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth,” and it “grieved him to his heart.” We should not like our handy-work corrupted; nor does He; He resolves, therefore, to destroy it. But before He strikes the blow, He will give time, and a testimony to man’s heart, “whether he will hear, or whether he will forbear.”
Thrice forty years, then, were the days of respite. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” Yet when judgment is resolved upon, God says, I will give them time! The “long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” It “is salvation.” But more: He will send them a preacher. Noah was a preacher of righteousness to the world of the ungodly. I do not think that God told Noah the length of time He had accorded to the world to repent: this one hundred and twenty years. To have done so would have been to break the threefold cord of faith, hope, and love. All three were in exercise in the patriarch’s heart while he preached and testified, and the ark was a-preparing. God knew Himself the allotted time, as He knows all. During that strange one hundred and twenty years there were four testimonies going on, side by side, to man’s conscience.
1st. God’s Spirit was striving with man. He would not always strive. Where, in many a heart, are the strivings of God’s Spirit which found a voice there, time after time, in years gone by? “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” tells its solemn tale.
2nd. Noah was preaching. Christ’s blessed Spirit was in him, as we read of the Spirit of Christ being in the prophets (1 Peter 1:1111Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. (1 Peter 1:11)). By that Spirit of Christ Noah testified to the spirits of the lost now in prison, while once the
3rd. Long-suffering of God waited; and we learn in another place that that “long-suffering is salvation.” Has it been so with my readers, or have they forgotten that every day or hour of that blessed trait of God’s character adds to their condemnation? Are you an unbeliever still? — a man with whom God has been striving — one on whom His long-suffering waits?
4th. There was a silent, eloquent appeal, too, going on for that one hundred and twenty years. Noah’s ark was a-preparing; its strange superstructure rearing itself daily before their eyes. It appealed to his inmost soul. It proved the reality of the preacher’s faith — he was governed by the word he announced — it formed himself. To others it was, perhaps, a jest, something to be laughed at by the old-world wits in their humor. Perhaps science, too, would pronounce that it could not float, could not bear its burden, or weather the storm. The construction was faulty, the “lines” were not laid down according to the world’s then best skill.
These four testimonies spake, day by day, in the ears of men, with the results of which now we have to do. How many heard and believed them? I am bold enough to say, Not one! The blessed Lord’s own words, which said, “They knew not, until the flood came, and took them all away,” decide me in believing this; nevertheless they perished not without God’s testimony, but they believed not after all.
At last the one hundred and twenty years ran to their close. The seasons had gone on as before. The sun had shone as brightly, and the earth had yielded her increase, and corruption ripened for judgment in the sight of Him who cannot look upon sin, and coalesce with it. The one hundred and twentieth year drew to its close, and no sign was seen. Unbelief grew bold in its wickedness. But “because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:1111Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. (Ecclesiastes 8:11)).
And now the blow of judgment is about to fall, when God (none but He is worthy of such a deed) stayed the blow! How we read and recall such a word as this — He is “not willing that any should perish.” And the voice of mercy is again heard: “Yet seven days!” — seven days more of the long-suffering of God — seven days of the strivings of God’s Spirit — seven days for the preacher to preach — seven days for one last sermon, one last appeal — an appeal that none ever heard the like before; seven days for the beasts that perish to preach their sermon to unbelieving man — more obedient to a Creator’s voice than he! They trooped in by twos and twos, and by sevens, into the ark!
The seven days became six — five — four — three — two — one; and still no sign of impending wrath; unbelief could triumph its short triumph still. The ox knew his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, better than man his Creator’s voice. The stupor of death is over men’s souls! There are times when the frenzy of despair is seen; and even, at times, when hope is gone, and the soul has settled into dark despair; and dull sense of ruin falls on men’s hearts in a shipwreck at sea, and men anticipate the judgment, and plunge into the seething waters. Worse stupor here on men’s souls, for no sign of a relenting heart or a troubled conscience is to be found. The stupor of death has fallen on man, and God’s long-suffering is past. “The Lord shut him [Noah] in,” we read, and then went back to heaven.
Now came a strange sight —unknown in “the world that then was.” From paradise, and onwards, we read of no rain — “a mist came up, and watered the earth,” before the flood. Now the rain began to descend, and the waters began to rise, and rise, and rise. Then the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were unstopped: God’s controversy waxes fiercer and fiercer, and it rained upon the earth forty days and forty nights. The ark was lifted up above the earth: and the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered: the mountains too were covered, and all flesh died. Every living substance was destroyed, man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowls of heaven. In these few short days the world’s life was gone! Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. The pall of mighty waters shrouded the scene, wrapping all living in its folds of death and judgment. One man remained, and they who were with him, saved by that which was death and judgment to all the rest.
God has drawn a veil over the scene; the cries for mercy are not recorded: the sense in men’s souls, in which despair now filled, and the details of all that passed, are not told us. We may well believe the terrors of despair which filled their hearts, as one by one dropped down into the flood of waters; but this has not been recorded. Enough for Him to say that they were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not till the flood came, and took them all away.”
Of Noah we read that he possessed two things, which made him to differ from all the world around: reverent faith in God’s way of escape; and holy fear of that mighty judgment of which he had heard. “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 fear of God — who, if He be God, must vindicate His outraged name by judgment, the faith of Him who, before that day comes, has sent the Judge first to be the Savior. To know Him as a Savior is never to know Him as a Judge; to know Him as a Judge is never to know Him as a Savior. He has already been at the cross, where, in holy and righteous judgment against sin in Him who was made sin for us, He has fully dealt with the whole question, and settled it forever! There He bore the wrath — there He drank the cup — there He bore our sins — and there He died, accomplishing redemption for all who come unto God by Him.
But He is not there now. Mark the crucifix that is presented religiously to man — Christ is there. Man’s thought gets no further than Christ upon the cross, and unaccomplished redemption! Christ is not there. He was there — He is not there now. God’s thought is not a crucifix with Christ upon it, but off it, and in the glory! He did not carry the sins He bore there; they were purged before He left the cross, and blotted out forever for those who are His. He settled that question before ever there was a Christian on the earth. All the sins of every Christian were future when He bore them. Then, having purged them, He went on high, and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. The conscience is purged when we believe; the sins were purged at the cross. Faith knows this; God knows this. “The righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise” (that of which Noah became heir): “Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven?” — God wants no great thing of you — “or who shall descend into the deep?” Nay, “The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart. That is the word of faith which we preach: that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in shine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” And again: “Whosoever believeth in him shall not be ashamed.”
Does your heart, my reader, rejoice that He is longsuffering, and waits upon sinners? Well, have you bowed to this, and believed? That His Spirit still strives with man? Yes, but He has also said, He “shall not always strive.” Say, then, have His strivings found an answer in your soul? If so, how blessed is your lot!
But you may still be uncertain — still a doubting one. How often has it been preached that that is a healthful state of soul! How often have souls doubted, and doubted their lives through, until they found themselves in heaven, and then they could doubt no more! Faith was mingled with fear too long, but now is passed away. Faith has changed to sight, and fear is cast out by His perfect love forever!
Words of Faith, 1882, pp. 123-132.