Article of the Month
by Jonathan Edwards
“Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he” (Genesis 6:22).
CONCERNING these words, I would observe three things:
I. What it was that God commanded Noah, to which these words refer. It was the building of an ark according to the particular direction of God, against the time when the flood of waters should come; and the laying up of food for himself, his family, and the other animals, which were to be preserved in the ark. We have the particular commands which God gave him respecting this affair, from the 14th verse, “Make thee an ark of gopher wood,” &c
2. We may observe the special design of the work which God had enjoined upon Noah: it was to save himself and his family, when the rest of the world should be drowned. See ver. 17, 18.
We should be willing to engage in and go through great undertakings, in order to our own salvation.
The building of the ark, which was enjoined upon Noah, that he and his family might be saved, was a great undertaking: the ark was a building of vast size; the length of it being three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A cubit, till of late, was by learned men reckoned to be equal to a foot and a half of our measure. But lately some learned men of our nation have travelled into Egypt, and other ancient countries, and have measured some ancient buildings there, which are of several thousand years standing, and of which ancient histories give us the dimensions in cubits; particularly the pyramids of Egypt, which are standing entire at this day. By measuring these, and by comparing the measure in feet with the ancient accounts of their measure in cubits, a cubit is found to be almost two and twenty inches. Therefore learned men more lately reckon a cubit much larger than they did formerly. So that the ark, reckoned so much larger every way, will appear to be almost of double the bulk which was formerly ascribed to it According to this computation of the cubit, it was more than five hundred and fifty feet long, about ninety feet broad, and about fifty feet in height.
To build such a structure, with all those apartments and divisions in it which were necessary, and in such a manner as to be fit to float upon the water for so long a time, was then a great undertaking. It took Noah, with all the workmen he employed, a hundred and twenty years, or thereabouts, to build it For so long it was, that the Spirit of God strove, and the long-suffering God waited on the old world, as you may see in Gen. vi. 3: “My Spirit shall I not always strive with man; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” All this while the ark was a preparing, as appears by 1 Pet. iii. 20: “When once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.” It was a long time that Noah constantly employed himself in this business. Men would esteem that undertaking very great, which should keep them constantly employed even for one half of that time. Noah must have had a great and constant care upon his mind for these one hundred and twenty years, in superintending this work, and in seeing that all was done exactly according to the directions which God had given him.
Not only was Noah himself continually employed, but it required a great number of workmen to be constantly employed, during all that time, in procuring, and collecting, and fitting the materials, and in putting them together in due form. How great a thing was it for Noah to undertake such a work! For beside the continual care and labor, it was a work of vast expense. It is not probable that any of that wicked generation would put to a finger to help forward such a work, which doubtless they believed was merely the fruit of Noah’s folly, without full wages. Noah must needs have been very rich, to be able to bear the expense of such a work, and to pay so many workmen for so long a time. It would have been a very great expense for a prince; and doubtless Noah was very rich, as Abraham and Job were afterwards. But it is probable that Noah spent all his worldly substance in this work, thus manifesting his faith in the word of God, by selling all he had, as believing there would surely come a flood, which would destroy all; so that if he should keep what he had, it would be of no service to him. Herein he has set us an example, showing us how we ought to sell all for our salvation.
Noah’s undertaking was of great difficulty, as it exposed him to the continual reproaches of all his neighbors, for that whole one hundred and twenty years. None of them believed what he told them of a flood which was about to drown the world. For a man to undertake such a vast piece of work, under notion that it should be the means of saving him when the world should be destroyed, it made him the continual laughing-stock of the world. When he was about to hire workmen, doubtless all laughed at him, and we may suppose, that though the workmen consented to work for wages, yet they laughed at the folly of him who employed them. When the ark was begun, we may suppose that every one that passed by and saw such a huge bulk stand there, laughed at, it, calling it Noah’s folly.
In these days, men are with difficulty brought to do or submit to that which makes them the objects of the reproach of all their neighbors. Indeed if while some reproach them, others stand by them and honor them, this will support them. But it is very difficult for a man to go on in a way wherein he makes himself the laughing stock of the whole world, and wherein he can find none who do not despise him. Where is the man that can stand the shock of such a trial for twenty years?
But in such an undertaking as this, Noah at the divine direction, engaged and went through it, that himself and his family might be saved from the common destruction which was shortly about to come on the world. He began, and also made an end: “According to all that God commanded him, so did he.” Length of time did not weary him: he did not grow weary of his vast expense. He stood the shock of the derision of all his neighbors; and of all the world year after year: he did not grow weary of being their laughing-stock, so as to give over his enterprise; but persevered in it till the ark was finished. After this, he was at the trouble and charge of procuring stores for the maintenance of his family, and of all the various kinds of creatures, for so long a time. Such an undertaking he engaged in and went through in order to a temporal salvation. How great an undertaking then should men be willing to engage in and go through in order to their eternal salvation! A salvation from an eternal deluge; from being overwhelmed with the billows of God’s wrath of which Noah’s flood was but a shadow.
I shall particularly handle this doctrine under the three following propositions.
I. There is a work or business which must be undertaken and accomplished by men, if they would be saved.
Proposition. There is a work or business which men must enter upon and accomplish, in order to their salvation.—Men have no reason to expect to be saved in idleness, or to go to heaven in a way of doing nothing. No; in order to it, there is a great work, which must be not only begun, but finished—I shall speak upon this proposition, in answer to two inquiries.
I. What is this work or business which must be undertaken and accomplished in order to the salvation of men?
Answer. It is the work of seeking salvation in a way of constant observance of all the duty to which God directs its in his word. If we would be saved, we must seek salvation. For although men do not obtain heaven of themselves; they do not go thither accidentally, or without any intention or endeavors of their own. God, in his word, hath directed men to seek their salvation as they would hope to obtain it. There is a race that is set before them, which they must run, and in that race come off victors, in order to their winning the prize.
The Scriptures have told us what particular duties must be performed by us in order to our salvation. It is not sufficient that men seek their salvation on in the observance of some of those duties; but they must be observed universally. The work we have to do is not an obedience only to some, but to all the commands of God; a compliance with every institution of worship; a diligent use of all the appointed means of grace; a doing of all duty towards God and towards man.—It is not sufficient that men have some respect to all the commands of God, and that they may be said to seek their salvation in some sort of observance of all the commands; but they must be devoted to it.
They must not make this a business by the by, or a thing in which they are negligent and careless, or which they do with a slack hand; but it must be their great business, being attended to as their great concern. They must not only seek, but strive; they must do what their hand findeth to do with their might, as men thoroughly engaged in their minds, and influenced and set forward by great desire and strong resolution. They must act as those that see so much of the importance of religion above all other things, that every thing else must be as an occasional affair, and nothing must stand in competition with its duties. This must be the one thing they do; Phil. iii. 13, “This one thing I do.”—It must be the business to which they make all other affairs give place, and to which they are ready to make other things a sacrifice. They must be ready to part with pleasures and honor, estate and life, and to sell all, that they may successfully accomplish this business.
It is required of every man, that he not only do something in this business, but that he should devote himself to it; which implies that he should give up himself to it, all his affairs, and all his temporal enjoyments. This is the import of taking up the cross, of taking Christ’s yoke upon us, and of denying ourselves to follow Christ. The rich young man, who came kneeling to Christ to know what he should do to he saved, Mark x. 17, in some sense sought salvation but did not obtain it. In some sense he kept all the commands from his youth up; but was not cordially devoted to this business. He had not made a sacrifice to it of all his enjoyments, as appeared when Christ came to try him; he would not part with his estate for him.
It is not only necessary that men should seem to be very much engaged, and appear as if they were devoted to their duty for a little while; but there must be a constant devotedness, in a persevering way, as Noah was to the business of the building the ark, going on with that great, difficult, and expensive affair, till it was finished, and till the flood came. Men must not only be diligent in the use of the means of grace, and be anxiously engaged to escape eternal ruin, till they obtain hope and comfort; but afterwards they must persevere in the duties of religion, till the flood come, the flood of death. Not only must the faculties, strength, and possessions of men be devoted to this work, but also their time and their lives; they must give up their whole lives to it, even to the very day when God causes the storms and floods to come. This is the work or business which men have to do in order to their salvation.
Inquiry 2. Why is it needful that men should undertake to go through such a work in order to their salvation?
Answer 1. Not to merit salvation, or to recommend them to the saving mercy of God. Men are not saved on the account of any work of theirs, and yet they are not saved without works. If we merely consider what it is for which, or on the account of which, men are saved, no work at all in men is necessary to their salvation. In this respect they are saved wholly without any work of theirs: Tit. iii. 5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” We must indeed be saved on the account of works; but not our own. It is on account of the works which Christ hath done for us. Works are the fixed price of eternal life; it is fixed by an eternal, unalterable rule of righteousness. But since the fall there is no hope of our doing these works, without salvation offered freely without money and without price. But,
2. Though it be not needful that we do any thing to merit salvation, which Christ hath fully merited for all who believe in him; yet God, for wise and holy ends, hath appointed, that we should come to final salvation in no other way, but that of good works done by us.
God did not save Noah on account of the labor and expense he was at in building the ark. Noah’s salvation from the flood was an instance of the free and distinguishing mercy of God. Nor did God stand in need of Noah’s care, or cost, or labor, to build an ark. The same power which created the world, and which brought the flood of waters upon the earth, could have made the ark in an instant, without any care or cost to Noah, or any of the labor of those workmen who were employed for so long a time. Yet God was pleased to appoint, that Noah should be saved in this way. So God hath appointed that man should not be saved without his undertaking and doing this work of which I have been speaking; and therefore we are commanded “to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” Philip. ii. 12.
There are many wise ends to be answered by the establishment of such a work as prerequisite to salvation. The glory of God requires it. For although God stand in no need of any thing that men do to recommend them to his saving mercy, yet it would reflect much on the glory of God’s wisdom and holiness, to bestow salvation on men in such a way as tends to encourage them in sloth and wickedness; or in any other way than that which tends to promote diligence and holiness. Man was made capable of action, with many powers of both body and mind fitting him for it. He was made for business and not idleness and the main business for which he was made, was that of religion. Therefore it becomes the wisdom of God to bestow salvation and happiness on man in such a way as tends most to promote his end in this respect, and, to stir him up to a diligent use of his faculties and talents.
It becomes the wisdom of God so to order it, that things of great value and importance should not be obtained without great labor and diligence. Much human learning and great moral accomplishments are not to be obtained without care and labor. It is wisely so ordered, in order to maintain in man a due sense of the value of those things which are excellent. If great things were in common easily obtained, it would have a tendency to cause men to slight and undervalue them. Men commonly despise those things which are cheap, and which are obtained without difficulty.
Although the work of obedience performed by men, be not necessary in order to merit salvation; yet it is necessary in order to their being prepared for it. Men cannot be prepared for salvation without seeking it in such a way as hath been described. This is necessary in order that they have a proper sense of their own necessities, and unworthiness; and in order that they be prepared and disposed to prize salvation when bestowed, and be properly thankful to God for it. The requisition of so great a work in order to our salvation is no way inconsistent with the freedom of the offer of salvation; as after all it is both offered and bestowed without any respect to our work, as the price or meritorious cause of our salvation, as I have already explained. Besides, salvation bestowed in this way is better for us, more for our advantage and happiness both in this and the future world, than if it were given without this requisition.
II. Proposition. This work or business, which must be done in order to the salvation of men, is a great undertaking. It often appears so to men upon whom it is urged. Utterly to break off from all their sins, and to give up themselves forever to the business of religion, without making a reserve of any one lust, submitting to and complying with every command of God, in all cases, and persevering therein, appears to many so great a thing, that they are in vain urged to undertake it. In so doing it seems to them, that they should give up themselves to a perpetual bondage. The greater part of men therefore choose to put it off, and keep it at as great a distance as they can. They cannot bear to think of entering immediately on such a hard service, and rather than do it, they will run the risk of eternal damnation, by putting it off to an uncertain future opportunity.
Although the business of religion is far from really being as it appears to such men, or the devil will be sure, if he can, to represent it in false colors to sinners, and make it appear as black and as terrible as he can; yet it is indeed a great business, a great undertaking, and it is fit that all who are urged to it should count the cost beforehand, and be sensible of the difficulty attending it. For though the devil discourages many from this undertaking, by representing it to be more difficult than it really is; yet with others he takes a contrary course and flatters them it is a very easy thing, a trivial business, which may be done at any time when they please, and so emboldens them to defer it from that consideration. But let none conceive any other notion of that business of religion, which is absolutely necessary to their salvation, than that it is a great undertaking. It is so on the following accounts.
1. It is a business of great labor and care. There are many commands to be obeyed, many duties to be done, duties to God, duties to our neighbor, and duties, to ourselves. There is much opposition in the way of these duties from without. There is a subtle and powerful adversary laying all manner of blocks in the way. There are innumerable temptations of Satan to be resisted and repelled. There is great opposition from the world, innumerable snares laid, on every side, many rocks and mountains to be passed over, many streams to be passed through, and many flatteries and enticements from a vain world to be resisted. There is a great opposition from within; a dull and sluggish heart, which is exceedingly averse from that activity in religion which is necessary; a carnal heart, which is averse from religion and spiritual exercises, and continually drawing the contrary way; and a proud and a deceitful heart, in which corruption will be exerting itself in all manner of ways. So that nothing can be done to any effect without a most strict and careful watch, great labor and strife.
2. It is a constant in business.—In that business which requires great labor, men love now and then to have a space of relaxation, that they may rest from their extraordinary labor. But this is a business which must be followed every day. Luke ix. 23, “ If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” We must never give ourselves any relaxation from this business; it must be continually prosecuted day after day. If sometimes we make a great stir and bustle concerning religion, but then lay all aside to take our ease, and do so from time to time, it will be of no good effect; we had even as good do nothing at all. The business of religion so followed is never like to come to any good issue, nor is the work ever like to be accomplished to any good purpose.
3. It is a great undertaking, as it is an undertaking of great expense.—We must, therein sell all: we must follow this business at the expense of all our unlawful pleasures and delights, at the expense of our carnal ease, often at the expense of our substance, of our credit among men, the good will of our neighbors, at the expense of all our earthly friends, and even at the expense of life itself. Herein it is like Noah’s undertaking to build the ark, which, as hath been shown was a costly undertaking: it was expensive to his reputation among men, exposing him to be the continual laughing-stock of all his neighbors and of the whole world: and it was expensive to his estate, and probably cost him all that he had.
4. Sometimes the fear, trouble, and exercise of mind, which are undergone respecting this business, and the salvation of the soul, are great and long continued, before any comfort is obtained. Sometimes persons in this situation labor long in the dark, and sometimes, as it were, in the very fire, they having great distress of conscience, great fears, and many perplexing temptations, before they obtain light and comfort to make their care and labor more easy to them. They sometimes earnestly, and for a long time, seek comfort, but find it not, because they seek it not in a right manner, nor in the right objects. God therefore hides his face. They cry, but God doth not answer their prayers. They strive, but all seems in vain. They seem to themselves not at all to get forward, or nearer to a deliverance from sin: but to go backward, rather than forward. They see no glimmerings of light: things rather appear darker and darker. Insomuch that they are often ready to be discouraged, and to sink under the weight of their present distress, and under the prospect of future misery. In this situation, and under these views, some are almost driven to despair.
Many, after they have obtained some saving comfort, are again involved in darkness and trouble. It is with them as it was with the Christian Hebrews, Heb. x. 32, “After ye were illuminated ye endured a great fight of afflictions. Some through a melancholy habit and distemper of body, together with Satan’s temptations, spend a great part of their lives in distress and darkness, even after they have had some saving comfort.
5. It is a business which, by reason of the many difficulties, snares, and dangers that attend it, requires much instruction, consideration, and counsel. There is no business wherein men stand in need of counsel more than in this. It is a difficult undertaking, a hard matter to proceed aright in it. There are ten thousand wrong ways, which men may take; there are many labyrinths wherein many poor souls are entangled and never find the way out ; there are many rocks on which thousands of souls have suffered shipwreck, for want of, having steered aright.
Men of themselves know not how to proceed in this business, any more than the children of Israel in the wilderness knew where to go without the guidance, of the pillar of cloud and fire. There is great need that they search the Scriptures, and give diligent heed to the instructions and directions contained in them, as to a light shining in a dark place and that they ask counsel of those skilled in these matters. And there is no business in which men have so much need of seeking to God by prayer, for his counsel, and that he would lead them in the right way, and show them the strait gate. “ For strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it;” yea, there are none that find it without direction from heaven.
The building of the ark was a work of great difficulty on this account, that Noah’s wisdom was not sufficient to direct him how to make such a building as should be a sufficient security against such a flood, and which should be a convenient dwelling-place for himself, his family, and all the various kinds of beasts and birds, and creeping things. Nor could he ever have known how to construct this building, had not God directed him.
6. This business never ends till life ends. They that undertake this laborious, careful, expensive, self-denying business, must not expect to rest from their labors, till death shall have put an end to them. The long continuance of the work which Noah undertook was what especially made it a great undertaking. This also was what made the travel of the children of Israel through the wilderness appear so great to them, that it was continued for so long a time. Their spirits failed, they were discouraged, and had not a heart to go through with so great an undertaking.
But such is this business that it runs parallel with life, whether it be longer or shorter. Although we should live to a great age, our race and warfare will not be finished till death shall come. We must not expect that an end will be put to our labor, and care, and strife, by any hope of a good estate which we may obtain. Past attainments and past success will not excuse us from what remains for the future, nor will they make future constant labor and care unnecessary to our salvation.
III. Men should be willing to engage in and go through this business, however great and difficult it may seem to them, seeing it is for their own salvation. Because,
1. A deluge of wrath will surely come. The inhabitants of the old world would not believe that there would come such a flood of waters upon the earth as that of which Noah told them, though he told them often; neither would they take any care to avoid the destruction. Yet such a deluge did come; nothing of all those things of which Noah had forewarned them, failed.
So there will surely come a more dreadful deluge of divine wrath on this wicked world. We are often forewarned of it in the Scriptures, and the world, as then, doth not believe any such thing. Yet the threatening will as certainly be accomplished, as the threatening denounced against the old world. A day of wrath is coming; it will come at its appointed season; it will not tarry, it
2. All such as do not seasonably undertake and go through the great work mentioned will surely be swallowed up in this deluge. When the floods of wrath shall come, they will universally overwhelm the wicked world: all such as shall not have taken care to prepare an ark, will surely be swallowed up in it; they will find no other way of escape. In vain shall salvation be expected from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains; for the flood shall be above the tops of all the mountains. Or if they shall hide themselves in the caves and dens of the mountains, there the waters of the flood will find them out, and there shall they miserably perish.
As those of the old world who were not in the ark perished, Gen. vii. 21, 23, so all who shall not have secured to themselves a place in the spiritual ark of the gospel, shall perish much more miserably than the old world. Doubtless the inhabitants of the old world had many contrivances to save themselves. Some, we may suppose, ascended to the tops of their houses, being driven out of one story to another, till at last they perished. Others climbed to the tops of high towers; who yet were washed thence by the boisterous waves of the rising flood. Some climbed to the tops of trees; others to the tops of mountains, and especially of the highest mountains. But all was in vain; the flood sooner or later swallowed them all up; only Noah and his family, who had taken care to prepare an ark, remained alive.
So it will doubtless be at the end of the world, when Christ shall dome to judge the world in righteousness. Some, when they shall look up and see him coming in the clouds of heaven, shall hide themselves in closets, and secret places in their houses. Others flying to the caves and dens of the earth, shall attempt to hide themselves there. Others shall call upon the rocks and mountains to fall on them, and cover them from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.—So it will be after the sentence is pronounced, and wicked men see that terrible fire coming, which is to burn this world forever, and which will be a deluge of fire, and will burn the earth even to the bottoms of the mountains, and to its very centre. Deut. xxxii. 22, “For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn to the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” I say, when the wicked shall, after the sentence, see this great fire beginning to kindle, and to take hold of this earth; there will be many contrivances devised by them to escape, some flying to caves and holes in the earth, some hiding themselves in one place, and some in another. But let them hide themselves where they will, or let them do what they will, it will be utterly in vain. Every cave shall burn as an oven, the rocks and mountains shall melt with fervent heat, and if they could creep down to the very centre of the earth, still the heat would follow them, and rage with as much vehemence there, as on the very surface.
3. The destruction, when it shall come, will be infinitely terrible. The destruction of the old world by the flood was terrible; but that eternal destruction which is coming on the wicked is infinitely more so. That flood of waters was but an image of this awful flood of divine vengeance. When the waters poured down, more like spouts or cataracts, or the fall of a great river, than like rain; what an awful appearance was there of the wrath of God! This however but an image of that terrible outpouring of the wrath of God which shall be forever, yea forever and ever, on wicked men. And when the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the waters burst forth out of the ground though they had issued out of the womb (Job xxxviii. 8), this was an image of the mighty breakings forth of God’s wrath, which shall be, when the flood gates of wrath shall be drawn up. How may we suppose that the wicked of the old world repented that they had not hearkened to the warnings which Noah had given them, when they saw these dreadful things, and saw that they must perish! How much more will you repent your refusing to hearken to the gracious warnings of the gospel, when you shall see the fire of God’s wrath against you, pouring down from heaven, and bursting on all sides out of bowels of the earth!
4. Though the work which is necessary in order to man’s salvation be a great work, yet it is not impossible. What was required of Noah, doubtless appeared a very great and difficult undertaking. Yet he undertook it with resolution, and he was carried through it. So if we undertake this work with the same good will and resolution, we shall undoubtedly be successful. However difficult it be, yet multitudes have gone through it, and have obtained salvation by the means. It is not a work beyond the faculties of our nature, nor beyond the opportunities which God giveth us. If men will but take warning, and hearken to counsel, if they will but be sincere and in good earnest, be seasonable in their work, take their opportunities, use their advantages be steadfast, and not wavering; they shall not fail.
The use I would make of this doctrine, is to exhort all to undertake and go through this great work, which they have to do in order to their salvation, and this let the work seem ever so great and difficult. If your nature be averse to it, and there seems to be very frightful things in the way, so that your heart is ready to fail at the prospect; yet seriously consider what has been said, and act a wise part. Seeing it is for yourselves, for your own salvation; seeing it is for so great a salvation, for your deliverance from eternal destruction; and seeing it is of such absolute necessity in order to your salvation, that the deluge of divine wrath will come, and there will be no escaping it without preparing an ark; is it not best for you to undertake the work, engage in it with your might, and go through it, though this cannot be done without great labor, care, and difficulty, and expense?
I would by no means flatter you concerning this work, or go about to make you believe, that you shall find an easy light business of it: no, I would not have you expect any such thing. I would have you sit down and count the cost; and if you cannot find it in your hearts to engage in a great, hard, laborious, and expensive undertaking, and to persevere in it to the end of life, pretend not to be religious. Indulge yourselves in your ease; follow your pleasures; eat, drink, and be merry; even conclude to go to hell in that way, and never make any more pretenses of seeking your salvation. Here consider several things in particular.
1. How often you have been warned of the approaching flood of God’s wrath. How frequently you have been told of hell, heard the threatenings of the word of God set before you, and been warned to flee from the wrath to come. It is with you as it was with the inhabitants of the old world. Noah warned them abundantly of the approaching flood, and counseled them to take care for their safety, 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20. Noah warned them in words; and he preached to them. He warned them also in his actions. His building the ark, which took him so long a time, and in which he employed so many hands, was a standing warning to them. All the blows of the hammer and axe, during the progress of that building, were so many calls and warnings to the old world, to take care for their preservation from the approaching destruction. Every knock of the workmen was a knock of Jesus Christ at the door of their hearts: but they would not hearken. All these warnings, though repeated every day, and continued for so long a time, availed nothing.
Now, is it not much so with you, as it was with them? How often have you been warned! How have you heard the warning knocks of the gospel, Sabbath after Sabbath, for these many years! Yet how have some of you no more regarded them than the inhabitants of the old world regarded the noise of the workmen’s tools in Noah’s ark!
Objection. But here possibly it may be objected by some, that though it be true they have often been told of hell, yet they never saw any thing of it, and therefore they cannot realize it that there is any such place. They have often heard of hell, and are told that wicked men, when they die, go to a most dreadful place of torment; that hereafter there will be a day of judgment, and that the world will be consumed by fire. But how do they know that it is really so? How do they know what becomes of those wicked men that die? None of them come back to tell them. They have nothing to depend on but the word which they hear. And how do they know that all is not a cunningly-devised fable?
Answer. The sinners of the old world had the very same objection against what Noah told them of a flood about to drown the world. Yet the bare word of God proved to be sufficient evidence that such a thing was coming. What was the reason that none of the many millions then upon earth believed what Noah said, but this, that it was a strange thing, that no such thing had ever before been known? And what a strange story must that of Noah have appeared to them, wherein he told them of a deluge of waters above the tops of the mountains! Therefore it. is said, Heb. xi. 7, that “Noah was warned of God of things not seen as yet.” It is probable, none could conceive how it could be that the whole world should be drowned in a flood of waters; and all were ready to ask, where there was water enough for it; and by what means it should be brought upon the earth. Noah did not tell them how it should be brought to pass; he only told them that God had said that it should be: and that proved to be enough. The event showed their folly in not depending on the mere word of God, who was able, who knew how to bring it to pass, and who could not lie.
In like manner the word of God will prove true, in threatening a flood of eternal wrath to overwhelm all the wicked. You will believe it when the event shall prove it, when it shall be too late to profit by the belief. The word of God will never fail; nothing is so sure as that: heaven and earth shall pass away, but the word of God shall not pass away. It is firmer than mountains of brass. At the end, the vision will speak and not lie. The decree shall bring forth, and all wicked men shall know that God is the Lord, that he is a God of truth, and that they are fools who will not depend on his word. The wicked of the old world counted Noah a fool for depending so much on the word of God, as to put himself to all the fatigue and expense of building the ark; but the event showed that they themselves were the fools, and that he was wise.
2. Consider that the Spirit of God will not always strive with you; nor will his long suffering always wait upon you. So God said concerning the inhabitants of the old world, Gen. vi. 3 “My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” All this while God was striving with them. It was a day of grace with them, and God’s long-suffering all this while waited upon them: 1 Peter iii. 20, “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.” All this while they had an opportunity to escape, if they would but hearken and believe God.
Even after the ark was finished, which seems to have been but little before the flood came, still there was an opportunity; the door of the ark stood open for some time. There was some time during which Noah was employed in laying up stores in the ark. Even then it was not too late; the door of the ark yet stood open.—About a week before the flood came, Noah was commanded to begin to gather in the beasts and birds. During this last week still the door of the ark stood open. But on the very day that the flood began to come, while the rain was yet withheld, Noah and his wife, his three sons, and their wives, went into the ark; and we are told, Gen. vii. 16, that “God shut him in. Then the day of God’s patience was past; the door of the ark was shut; God himself, who shuts and no man opens, shut the door. Then all hope of their escaping the flood was past; it was too late to repent that they had not hearkened to Noah’s warnings, and had not entered into the ark while the door stood open.
After Noah and his family had entered into the ark, and God had shut them in, after the windows of heaven were opened, and they saw how the waters were poured down out of heaven, we may suppose that many of those who were near came running to the door of the ark, knocking, and crying most piteously for entrance. But it was too late; God himself had shut the door, and Noah had no license, and probably no power, to open it. We may suppose, they stood knocking and calling, Open to us, open to us; O let us in; we beg that we may be let in. And probably some of them pleaded old acquaintance with Noah; that they had always been his neighbors, and had even helped him to build the ark. But all was in vain. There they stood till the waters of the flood came, and without mercy swept them away from the door of the ark.
God hath set your bounds, which you cannot pass. Though now warnings are continued in plenty, yet there will be last knocks and last calls, the last that ever you shall hear. When the appointed time shall be elapsed, God will shut the door, and you shall never see it open again; for God shutteth, and no man openeth.—If you improve not your opportunity before that time, you will cry in vain, “Lord, Lord, open to us,” Matt. xxv. 11, and Luke xiii. 25, &c. While you shall stand at the door with your piteous cries, the flood of God’s wrath will come upon you, overwhelm you, and you shall not escape. The tempest shall carry you away without mercy, and you shall be forever swallowed up and lost.
3. Consider how mighty the billows of divine wrath will be when they shall come. The waters of Noah’s flood were very great. The deluge was vast; it was very deep; the billows reached fifteen cubits above the highest mountains; and it was an ocean which had no shore; signifying the greatness of that wrath which is coming on wicked men in another world, which will be like a mighty flood of waters overwhelming them, and rising vastly high over their heads, with billows reaching to the very heavens. Those billows will be higher and heavier than mountains on their poor souls. The wrath of God will be an ocean without shores, as Noah’s flood was: it will be misery that will have no end.
The misery of the damned in hell can be better represented by nothing, than by a deluge of misery, a mighty deluge of wrath, which will be ten thousand times worse than a deluge of waters; for it will be a deluge of liquid fire, as in the Scriptures it is called a lake of fire and brimstone.—At the end of the world all the wicked shall be swallowed up in a vast deluge of fire, which shall be as great and as mighty as Noah’s deluge of water. See 2 Pet. iii. 5, 6, 7. After that the wicked will have mighty billows of fire and brimstone eternally rolling over their poor souls, and their miserable tormented bodies. Those billows may be called vast liquid mountains of fire and brimstone. And when one billow shall have gone over their heads, another shall follow, without intermission, giving them no rest day nor night to all eternity.
4. This flood of wrath will probably come upon you suddenly, when you all think little of it, and it shall seem far from you. So the flood came upon the old world. See Matt. xxiv. 36, &c. Probably many of them were surprised in the night by the waters bursting suddenly in at their doors, or under the foundations of their houses, coming in upon them in their beds. For when the fountains of the great deep were broken up, the waters, as observed before, burst forth in mighty torrents. To such a sudden surprise of the wicked of the old world in the night, probably that alludes in Job xxvii. 20, “Terrors take hold on him as waters; a tempest stealeth him away in the night.”
So destruction is wont to come on wicked men, who hear many warnings of approaching destruction, and yet will not be influenced by them. For “he that is often reproved, and hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Prov. xxix. 1. And “when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape,” 1 Thess. v. 3.
5. If you will not hearken to the many warnings which are given you of approaching destruction, you will be guilty of more than brutish madness. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.” They know upon whom they are dependent, and whom they must obey, and act accordingly. But you, so long as you neglect your own salvation, act as if you knew not God, your Creator and Proprietor, nor your dependence upon him. The very beasts, when they see signs of an approaching storm, will betake themselves to their dens for shelter. Yet you, when abundantly warned of the approaching storm of divine vengeance, will not fly to the hiding-place from the storm, and the covert from the tempest. The sparrow, the swallow, and other birds, when they are forewarned of approaching winter, will betake themselves to a safer climate. Yet you who have been often forewarned of the piercing blasts of divine wrath, will not, in order to escape them, enter into the New Jerusalem, of most mild and salubrious air, though the gate stands wide open to receive you. The very ants will be diligent in summer to lay up for winter: yet you will do nothing to lay up in store a good foundation against the time to come. Balaam’s ass would not run upon a drawn sword, though his master, for the sake of gain, would expose himself to the sword of God’s wrath; and so God made the dumb ass, both in words and actions, to rebuke the madness of the prophet, 1 Pet. ii. 16. In like manner, you, although you have been oft warned that the sword of God’s wrath is drawn against you, and will certainly be thrust through you, if you proceed in your present course, still proceed, regardless of the consequence.
So God made the very beasts and birds of the old world to rebuke the madness of the men of that day: for they, even all sorts of them, fled to the ark while the door was yet open: which the men of that day refused to do; God hereby, thus signifying, that their folly was greater than that of the very brute creatures.—Such folly and madness are you guilty of; who refuse to hearken to the warnings that are given you of the approaching flood of the wrath of God.
Author Jonathan Edwards, the great American Puritan theologian, was born at Windsor Farms, Connecticut, where his father was a Congregational minister for over sixty years. His mother’s father was Solomon Stoddard, who pastored the church at Northfield, Massachusetts, for fifty-seven years. With this heritage, Edwards began studying Latin at age six, tutored by his father and four older sisters. When he entered Yale College just before turning thirteen, he already knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He graduated with highest honors just before his seventeenth birthday. He was converted while seventeen and two years later became a preacher in a small Presbyterian church in New York. In the fall of 1723, Edwards became a tutor at Yale, but four years later he was ordained at the Northampton church and became his celebrated grandfather’s assistant. Edwards’s preaching was rhetorically neither powerful nor dynamic, but it did exhibit deep thought and strong feeling. After Stoddard’s death, Edwards succeeded him as pastor of the church, and it was during his tenure there that the Great Awakening began in 1734. Edwards’s strong Calvinistic sermons led to many conversions, overwhelming his listeners with their spiritual power. During this awakening Edwards became a close friend of George Whitefield, a Calvinistic evangelist. During the Northampton years his writings included “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence” (1731), “A Divine and Supernatural Light Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God” (1734), “A Narrative of Surprising Conversions” (1736), “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741), “Thoughts on the Revival in New England” (1742), “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections” (1745), and “The Life and Diary of the Rev. David Brainerd” (1749). An old controversy arose in the church over the requirements for admission to membership and to the Lord’s Supper. Edwards opposed what had been Stoddard’s practice, that of giving communion to people who were moral but unconverted. As a result of his faithfulness to the Scriptures, Edwards was dismissed in June 1750 after twenty-three years of service. His principles eventually prevailed among American evangelical churches, however. Left with no congregation and no income to provide for his large family, Edwards lived on gifts from friends until he was called to pastor the small Congregational church at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1751. Here he also preached, through an interpreter, to the Housatonic Indians. During these years he became ill with fever from the uncivilized conditions of the wilderness. In 1754 he published his most controversial work, Essay on the Freedom of the Will. It was a defense of the doctrines, of divine foreordination, original sin, and eternal punishment. In 1757 Edwards was elected president of Princeton College in New Jersey, beginning to exercise his office in January and being inaugurated on 16 February 1758. On 23 February he was inoculated for small pox, and on 22 March he died from a resulting fever. His father and son-in-law had died only months before, and his wife died just six months later. Thus, the sharpest philosophical and theological mind in colonial America was silenced—except for his written legacy.
DISCUSS THIS TOPIC
Please join others who have commented upon this and other topics in our Discussion Group.