“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.” —Hebrews 11:7
The following is an excerpt from a sermon titled Noah’s Faith, Fear, Obedience, and Salvation, which C.H. Spurgeon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, on June 1, 1890.
Secondly, FEAR WAS THE MOVING FORCE. Faith was the living principle, but fear was the moving power; for the text puts it, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear.” Faith moulded him, but fear moved him. How was this? “I thought,” says one, “that perfect love casteth out fear.” Yes, fear of a certain sort; but there is another fear which perfect love embraces and nourishes.
Noah had no evil fear. He had not a servile fear: he was not afraid of God as a culprit is afraid of a judge, or a convict of the hangman. He knew whom he believed, and was persuaded that he had a favour towards him. Noah had not a careless fear, as some here have. Fools say, “We never shall be saved, and therefore it would be useless to care about it. We may as well gather the rosebuds while we may. There is no heaven for us hereafter, let us make the best of the present.” No, Noah was a witness against such sensual carelessness. He so believed, that fear came upon him, and that fear made him act as God bade him. Beware of the unbelief which enables you to trifle; for trifling with eternal things is the suicide of the soul. Noah, on the other hand, had not a despairing fear, as some have. They say, “There is no hope. We have gone too far in sin already to dream of pardon and favour. We may as well let things take their course.” Beware of the poison-cup of despair. While life lasts hope lasts; and we beseech you not to lie down in sullen hopelessness. Noah was a stranger to this paralyzing fear: he bestirred himself, and built an ark. Some allow a presuming fear: “If I am to be saved,” say they, “I shall be saved; and if I am to be lost, I shall be lost. I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and so I will have my fling, and go into sin even as I please.” Noah never spoke thus; for with his fear he had a good hope. He prepared an ark. He knew that none could save him but God; but as God bade him prepare an ark, an ark he prepared, and thus he was saved and his house.
What kind of fear was that of Noah? Well, Noah had a loyal reverence of God. He feared him as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and when he went about through the wicked world Noah often said to himself, “I wonder the Judge of all the earth does not destroy these rebels, who dare to be so vile and violent.” When he saw their gluttony, their infidelity, their lasciviousness, their oppression of one another, the preacher of righteousness had a holy fear of judgment. Often his righteous spirit indignantly cried, “Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?” He wondered how God could be so long-suffering. When it was revealed to him that God was going to destroy the whole race from off the face of the earth by a flood, he said to himself, “I thought he would.” He felt exceedingly afraid; for he knew that when God once makes bare his arm for vengeance, the pillars of the earth must shake, and the stars of heaven cease their shining. Thus the holy man of God passed the time of his sojourning here in fear. Who among us would not fear if we were to consider at this time the holiness of God, and the provocations inflicted upon him by our guilty race? What sin defiles this earth! Oh, the wrath to come! How awful will the judgment be! It has not come yet; it may not come for years; but, when the Lord begins to deal with men in justice, how will that day burn as an oven! “Who may abide the day of his coming?” Noah by faith heard the cries of men and women swept from their feet by the torrent. He heard the cries of strong swimmers in their agony yielding to the overflowing death, and sinking to their doom. Do you wonder that his heart sank within him, and that he was moved with fear? He had a holy awe of God, and a solemn dread of the judgments which sin was drawing down upon the giddy world.
Noah had a very humble distrust of himself. I wish we all had such a fear. Let us fear God because of his greatness; let us fear ourselves because of our sinfulness. Let us fear lest we should fall into sin, and perish with the rest of the sinners. Let no man say, “I shall never fall.” Alas! those are the most likely to slip. Did you never note that those who seem least likely to fall into a sin are the very people who commit it? You would not have dreamed that sober Noah should be found drunk; nor that righteous Lot should commit incest; nor that David, whose heart smote him when he only cut off the lap of Saul’s garment, should be guilty of murder; nor that Peter, who said, “Though all men should forsake thee, yet will not I,” would have denied his Master with oaths and cursing. Ah, friends! we may not trust ourselves; but we ought to stand in daily fear lest we be guilty before God. Here was Noah filled with such a holy fear of himself, that he took care to do what the Lord bade him, even to the most minute particular. He did not choose another sort of wood, nor alter the shape of the vessel, nor make more stories, nor more windows, nor more doors; but he distrusted his own judgment, and leaned not to his own understanding. He did exactly what he was told to do, and thus left the consequences with the Lord who commanded him. He feared his own wisdom: for he knew that man is like to vanity, and no more to be relied upon than the mist of the morning.
Fear made Noah hew the trees and square the timbers, and wield the axe and the hammer. Fear wrought in him diligence and speed. It made him despise the observations of onlookers, and build for his life in brave defiance of the spirit of the age, and the judgment of the wise. Perhaps I speak to persons who are in fear of the wrath to come. I rejoice that you have faith enough to fear. By the way of that faith which brings you unto fear, you will be brought out of it. Believe God in justice till you tremble; then see that justice vindicated in the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and rest in the mercy of God, which, through the cross, comes justly down to guilty men. A holy fear will put wings upon your heels, and help you to fly to Jesus. Moved by fear, may you be drawn and driven to the Lord Jesus!