"And God spake unto Noah, and his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you."
In my last sermon on Noah I spoke of the flood and of Noah's faith before the flood; I now go on to speak of the covenant which God made with Noah after the flood. Now, Noah stood on that newly-dried earth as the head of mankind; he and his family, in all eight souls, saved by God's mercy from the general ruin, were the only human beings left alive, and had laid on them the wonderful and glorious duty of renewing the race of man, and replenishing the vast world around them. From that little knot of human beings were to spring all the nations of the earth.
And because this calling and destiny of theirs was a great and all- important one -- because so much of the happiness or misery of the new race of mankind depended on the teaching which they would get from their forefathers, the sons of Noah, therefore God thought fit to make with Noah and his sons a solemn covenant, as soon as they came out of the ark.
Let us solemnly consider this covenant, for it stands good now as much as ever. God made it "with Noah, and his seed after him," for perpetual generations. And WE are the seed of Noah; every man, woman, and child of us here were in the loins of Noah when the great absolute God gave him that pledge and promise. We must earnestly consider that covenant, for in it lies the very ground and meaning of man's life and business on this earth.
"And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth; and the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every living creature. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you, even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of men; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man."
Now, to understand this covenant, consider what thoughts would have been likely to grow up in the mind of Noah's children after the flood. Would they not have been something of this kind: 'God does not love men; He has drowned all but us, and we are men of like passions with the world who perished, may we not expect the like ruin at any moment? Then what use to plough and sow, and build and plant, and work for those who shall come after us?' 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.'
And again, they would have been ready to say, 'This God, whom our forefather Noah said sent floods, we cannot see Him; but the floods themselves we can see. All these clouds and tempests, lightning, sun, and stars, are we STRONGER than them? No! They may crush us, drown us, strike us dead at any moment. They seem, too, to go by certain wonderful rules and laws; perhaps they have a will and understanding in them. Instead of praying to a God whom we never saw, why not pray to the thunderclouds not to strike us dead, and to the seas and rivers not to sweep us away? For this great, wonderful, awful world in which we are, however beautiful may be its flowers, and its fruits, and its sunshine, there is no trusting it; we are sitting upon a painted sepulchre, a beautiful monster, a gulf of flood and fire, which may burst up any moment, and sweep us away, as it did our forefathers.'
Again, Noah's children would have begun to say, 'These beasts here round us, they are so many of them larger than us, stronger than us, able to tear us to atoms, eat us up as they would eat a lamb. They are self-sufficient, too; they want no clothes, nor houses, nor fire, like us poor, weak, naked, soft human creatures. They can run faster than we, see farther than we; their scent, too, what a wonderful, mysterious power that is, like a miracle to us! And, besides all their cunning ways of getting food and building nests, they never do WRONG; they never do horrible things contrary to their nature; they all abide as God has made them, obeying the law of their kind. Are not these beasts, then, much wiser and better than we? We will honour them, and pray to them not to devour us -- to make us cunning and powerful as they are themselves. And if they are no better than us, surely they are no worse than us. After all, what difference is there between a man and a beast? The flood which drowned the beasts drowned the men too. A beast is flesh and blood, what more is a man? If you kill him, he dies, just as a beast dies; and why should not a man's carcase be just as good to eat as a beast's, and better?' And so there would have been a free opening at once into all the horrors of cannibalism!
Again, Noah's descendants would have said, 'Our forefathers offered sacrifices to the unseen God, as a sign that all they had belonged to Him, and that they had forfeited their own souls by sin, and were therefore ready to give up the most precious things they had -- their cattle, as a sign that they owed all to that very God whom they had offended. But are not human creatures much more precious than cattle? Will it not be a much greater sign of repentance and willingness to give up all to God if we offer Him the best things which we have -- human creatures? If we kill and sacrifice to Him our most beautiful and innocent things -- little children -- noble young men -- beautiful young girls?'
My friends, these are very strange and shocking thoughts, but they have been in the hearts and minds of all nations. The heathens do such things now. Our own forefathers used to do such things once; they were tempted to worship the sun and the moon, and the rivers, and the thunder, and to look with superstitious terror at the bears, and the wolves, and the snakes, round them, and to kill their young children and maidens, and offer them up as sacrifices to the dark powers of this world, which they thought were ready to swallow them up. And God is my witness, my friends, when one goes through some parts of England now, and sees the mine-children and factory- children, and all the sin and misery, and the people wearying themselves in the fire for very vanity, we seem not to be so very far from the same dark superstition now, though we may call it by a different name. England has been sacrificing her sons and her daughters to the devil of covetousness of late years, just as much as our forefathers offered theirs to the devil of selfish and cowardly superstition.
But see, now, how this covenant which God made with Noah was intended just to remedy every one of those temptations which I just mentioned, into which Noah's children's children would have been certain to fall, and into which so many of them did fall. They might have become reckless, I said, from fear of a flood at any moment. God promises them -- and confirms it with the sign of the rainbow -- never again to destroy the earth by water. They would have been likely to take to praying to the rain and the thunder, the sun and the stars; God declares in this covenant that it is HE alone who sends the rain and thunder, that He brings the clouds over the earth, that He rules the great, awful world; that men are to look up and believe in God as a loving and thinking PERSON, who has a will of His own, and that a faithful, and true, and loving, and merciful will; that their lives and safety depend not on blind chance, or the stern necessity of certain laws of nature, but on the covenant of an almighty and all-loving person.
Again, I said, that Noah's sons would have been ready to fear, and, at last, to worship the dumb beasts; God's covenant says, "No; these beasts are not your equals -- they are your slaves -- you may freely kill them for your food; the fear of you shall be upon them. The huge elephant and the swift horse shall become your obedient servants; the lion and the tiger shall tremble and flee before you. Only claim your rights as men; believe that the invisible God who made the earth is your strength and your protector, and that He to whom the earth belongs has made you lords of the earth and all that therein is. But," said God's covenant to Noah's sons, "you did not MAKE these beasts -- you did not give them life, therefore I forbid you to eat their blood wherein their life lies; that you may never forget that all the power you have over these beasts was given you by God, who made and preserves that wonderful, mysterious, holy thing called life, which you can never imitate." Again, I said, that Noah's children, having been accustomed to the violence and bloodshed on the earth before the flood, might hold man's life cheap; that, having seen in the flood men perish just like the beasts around them, they might have begun to think that man's life was not more precious than the beasts'. They might have all gone on at last, as some of them did, to those horrors of cannibalism and human sacrifice of which I just now spoke. Now, here, again comes in God's covenant, "Surely the blood of your lives will I require. At the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of every man's brother will I require it. Whoso sheddeth man's blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man." This, then, is the covenant which God made with Noah for perpetual generations, and therefore with us, the children of Noah. In this covenant you see certain truths come out into light; some, of which you read nothing before in the Bible, and other truths which, though they were given to Adam, yet had been utterly lost sight of before the flood. This has been God's method, we find from the Bible, ever since the creation, -- to lead man step by step up into more and more light, up to this very day, and to make each sin and each madness of men an occasion for revealing to Him more and more of truth and of the living God. And so each and every chapter in the Bible is built upon all that has gone before it; and he that neglects to understand what has gone before will never come to the understanding of what follows after. Why do I say this? Because men are continually picking out those scraps of the Bible which suit their own fancy, and pinning their whole faith on them, and trying to make them serve to explain every thing in heaven and earth; whereas no man can understand the Epistles unless he first understand the Gospels. No man will understand the New Testament unless he first understands the pith and marrow of the Old. No man will understand the Psalms and the Prophets unless he first understands the first ten chapters of Genesis; and, lastly, no one will ever understand any thing about the Bible at all, who, instead of taking it simply as it is written, is always trying to twist it into proofs of his own favourite doctrines, and make Abraham a high Calvinist, or Noah a member of the Church of England. Why do I say this? To make you all think seriously that this covenant on which I have been preaching is your covenant; that as sure as the rainbow stands in heaven, as sure as you and I are sprung out of the loins of Noah, so surely this covenant which binds us is part of our Christian covenant, and woe to us if we break it!
This covenant tells us that we are made in God's likeness, and, therefore, that all sin is unworthy of us and unnatural to us. It tells us that God means us bravely and industriously to subdue the earth and the living things upon it; that we are to be the masters of the pleasant things about us, and not their slaves, as sots and idlers are; that we are stewards and tenants of this world for the great God who made it, to whom we are to look up in confidence for help and protection. It tells us that our family relationships, the blessed duties of a husband and a father, are sacred things; that God has created them, that the great God of heaven Himself respects them, that the covenant which He makes with the father He makes with the children; that He commands marriage, and that He blesses it with fruitfulness; that it is He who has told us "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth;" that the tie of brotherhood is His making also; that HE will require the blood of the murdered man AT HIS BROTHER'S HAND; that a man's brothers, his nearest relations, are bound to protect and right him if he is injured; so that we all are to be, in the deepest sense of the word, what Cain refused to be, our BROTHERS' KEEPERS, and each member of a family is more or less answerable for the welfare and safety of all his relations. Herein lies the ground of all religion and of all society -- in the covenant which God made with Noah; and just as it is in vain for a man to pretend to be a scholar when he does not even know his letters, so it is mockery for a man to pretend to be a converted Christian man who knows not even so much as was commanded to Noah and his sons. He who has not learnt to love, honour, and succour his own family -- he who has not learnt to work in honest and manful industry -- he who has not learnt to look beyond this earth, and its chance, and its customs, and its glittering outside, and see and trust in a great, wise, loving God, by whose will every tree grows and every shower falls, what is Christianity to him? He has to learn the first principles which were delivered to Noah, and which not even the heathen and the savage have utterly forgotten.