The Flood Came and Took Them All Away: A Sermon on the Holmfirth Flood (1852) by Rev. Joshua Fawcett
“And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away.” (St. Matthew xxiv. 39.)
Brethren, it seems to me the bounden duty of the Christian minister to endeavour to turn to spiritual account, them any and diversified circumstances of life. To an eye of common observation, the daily events which occur, are pregnant with lessons of stirring interest and importance; and he loses the advantage to be derived from God’s dealings with men, who' does not view in everything the hand of God, and as such intended for our instruction and improvement.
An event has happened a few days ago, (February 5, 1852,) not far distant from us, which has formed the subject of universal remark, and excited universal sympathy; I refer to the bursting of a Reservoir near Holmfirth, and the destruction of human life and property which followed it; a summary account of which will be found in the appendix to this Sermon.
The very mention of this circumstance, will at once show you the propriety of the selection of the words of the text for our present meditation, and their remarkable adaptation to that event. — “And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away.”
In the verses connected with these words, our Lord had been declaring that Jerusalem’s overthrow and the world’s final desolation at the last great day, would be much like the destruction of the old world; and that in two respects :— 1, in regard of its unexpectedness; and 2, in regard of its security and sensuality. “As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark; and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away ; so shall also the comma of the Son of man be.”† 37–39.
My object is not to enlarge upon the whole subject embraced by these words; but simply to confine myself to a few practical remarks upon the coming of death and judgment, as strikingly illustrated by the destruction of the old world in the days of Noah.
I. — When “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 ;— the Lord said I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Gen. vi. 5–7.) Sad and sore though this judgment of the Lord was, yet, even here, we may see mercy mingling with judgment. This His threatened punishment was not declared, until the Lord had said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” God had striven with men in those early days, by inspiring Enoch and Noah, and perhaps others, to preach to them; bearing with them, and waiting to be gracious, notwithstanding their rebellion. Yea, God had long striven; and thereby proved how merciful He was; and it was only when His striving was in vain, that He declared He would strive no more. None are ruined by the justice of God, but those that hate to be reformed by the grace of God.
II. — In proof that God was very unwilling to destroy the people of that day, He gave them a long warning: He needed not to have given them any warning of His judgment; they gave Him no warning of their sins, no respite; yet, that He might approve His mercies to the very wicked, He gave them, probably an hundred years respite and warning for repenting. How loath is God to strike that threatens so long! He that delights in revenge, surprises his adversary; whereas, he that gives long warnings, desires to be prevented. If we were not wilful we should never smart; and if we were not determined to do so, we should never perish. So long as an hundred years did God give that people an opportunity to repent and turn. By this means He shut their mouths against saying that they had not time and space enough for this great work. If they had had only the grace of repentance as they had the season of repentance, all had been well: but it was not so. These are two very different things. No season without grace will ever be long enough to work out in the sinner “repentance unto life.” And where there is true grace there will always be found the season to repent in.
III. — Nor was this all, — God not only gave the people time, but also a faithful teacher, and such a teacher as taught both with his lips and by his life. Whilst every word which he spoke would be a word of warning — not less so the daily work to which he was called in building the ark. If the people doubted the truth of his preaching, they could not doubt the sincerity of his belief that the threatened judgment would in due time begin. His business in building the ark was a real sermon to the world, wherein at once were taught mercy and life to the believers, — and to the rebellious, destruction.
St. Peter tells us that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness ;” and no doubt his preaching would embrace the two grand doctrines of ruin and redemption, of sin and salvation, of destruction by the coming deluge, and deliverance by the rising ark. In this sense, Noah preached the same gospel in type which we do in reality, — the same in shadow, which we do in substance, — the same in figure, which we do in fact.
But whilst Noah was thus faithful and diligent, what was the reception which his warning message met with? Methinks the sons of Lamech would come to Noah and ask him what he meant by that strange work? Why he built an ark, when they could see no waters to float it? Doubtless they would think that “too much holiness had made this preacher mad.” Doubtless they would laugh at him for his work, but without doubt they could not laugh him out of it. Noah, spite of all, preaches, and builds, and finishes.
Brethren, the treatment which Noah received is precisely that which every faithful minister must make his account for. The preacher of righteousness, now-a-days, must expect no fairer dealing, must look for no more ready belief of the truth. If men in that day laughed at the thought of a coming deluge, men in this day ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter iii. 4.)
As God sent His servant Noah to the people of the old world, so He commissions His ministering servants now to tell, and to foretell, both the judgment that is coming, and the means of escaping it. There was safety in the ark, and only there; there is safety in the Church of Christ, whilst out of it there is none. To look for it elsewhere will be as futile and vain, as the people before the flood found it, when once the waters began to flow.
IV. — Doubtless many hands besides Noah’s would help to carry up the ark. Many a one wrought upon the ark, which yet was not saved by it. Our outward works cannot save us, without our inward faith; we may help to save others, and after all perish ourselves; like the scaffolding help to rear the building, and when the building is completed, be removed, as forming no part of it. In this age of outward profession, and much open-handed liberality, this is a point which cannot be too earnestly pressed home upon our consciences, not to check the flow of Christian charity, or the ardour of Christian zeal, but to put us upon our guard lest we mistake these estrinsic works for that intrinsic faith, without which all works are worthless and vain. To be of the church by profession is one thing, to be in the church by vital union with its living Head is another; and without the latter, the former is worth nothing at all as to salvation.
V. — Is it asked, what was it which led Noah to act as he did? I answer, it was faith. Thus it is written, “by faith Noah, warned of God of things not seen as yet, being moved with fear prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” (Heb. xi. 7.) In full persuasion that God would fulfil His word, Noah complained not of the arduous task assigned him, but in good earnest set about the work he was required to do. He knew that God had said it; and therefore it was not more his duty than it was his interest to obey. He knew that the doing of that work would expose him to the taunts and reproaches of the world around him; but what of these, so long as he was satisfied in his own mind that he was doing the Master’s bidding? In like manner, the same spirit of faith will enable us to pass through the same trying ordeal as he did.
Brethren, is it not wise to trust or serve the Lord? Let us pause and admire His grace and faithfulness in the instance before us. Did He leave this righteous man to the insults of his enemies? or did He leave him to share the doom of his enemies ? Oh, no! Did He not fulfil His word both of judgment and mercy; of judgment to the world, and of mercy to Noah?
The ark was a lively type of salvation by Christ.
1. The ark was not a building of man’s device, it came directly from God “Christ came forth from the Father.” (John xvi. 28.)
2. The ark was built on purpose to save men’s lives. Christ was sent into the world “that men might live through Him.” (John iii. 17.)
3. The ark was the only means of safety; Christ is the only Saviour. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts iv. 12.)
4. There was a door into the axk: this points to Him, who saith, “I am the door: if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” (John x, 9.)
5. There was a window in the ark, and that window was above. Christ saith, “I am the Light of the world.”
But though the ark be so significant as a type, it fails and falls infinitely short of the anti-type and the blessed reality. It cannot fully set forth the salvation that is by Christ, though it may help us some little in our conceptions of it.
And now that the ark is completed, the Lord invites Noah to enter in. “Come thou and all thy house into the ark” (Gen. vii. 1.) He does not say to him “Go into the ark;” but “Come thou, &c.” May we not have here an early intimation of the Gospel call which thus runs, “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden” “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come, &c.” (Matt. xi. 28; Rev. xxii. 17.)
And then when Noah had entered in, the Lord, loath to punish, granted a further seven days reprieve. “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth.” (Gen. vii. 4.) How slow is God to take vengeance, how ready to forgive. But, alas, they who would not take the longer warning, now refuse the shorter; a sure token this of the conduct of men in all ages. They who will not be persuaded by God’s long-continued forbearance, will not when His forbearance is drawing to a close.
One thing is deserving of notice in this history, and it is this:— It is written, “and the Lord shut him in” (Gen. vii. 16.) This is most blessed indeed! Noah could not have shut himself in; neither could he have been preserved there if the Lord had not shut him in. And herein is magnified both the freedom and the riches of sovereign grace; for the same Almighty hand which shut him in, shut the rest out.
Before Noah entered in, we may imagine to ourselves the scene which would be depicted when he took his last farewell of the old world and its guilty inhabitants, to see them again no more for ever. Soon “the fountains of the great deep were broken up,” “and every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground” Oh the lamentable and bitter cries of thousands perishing by that very calamity, the warning notices of which they had refused to attend to, or had presumptuously derided! Many of Noah’s relations must have been of the number of the lost. What distress must he have felt for them; but “Noah could deliver but his own soul!” (Exek. xiv. 14.) His distress was useless; they had despised his warning, and now “repentance” was too late, it was “hid from their eyes.” “Now as they formerly rejected God, so were they justly rejected of God. Ere judgment begins, repentance is seasonable; but if judgment once begins, men cry too late.”
VI. — Let us now turn to consider how the threatened visitation at last came down upon that impenitent people.
1. — It came upon them when they felt themselves secure. They neither felt nor feared evil. True, Noah had been long forewarning them, but they believed him not; they treated his work of building as the folly of a madman, and his work of preaching as no better. And it is even the same now. It may be, men will tell you they believe that there is a judgment to come; but their belief has but little, if any practical effect upon them. The truth is, men are by profession, rather than by practice, Christians. There is a secret lurking of an unbelieving, if not of a direct infidel spirit within them, which keeps them from giving that hearty and practical attention to religion which they ought to do. Hence their fatal security. Hence they cry, “Peace! peace!” when “sudden detraction cometh” and is “hard at the door.”
In the case of that awful visitation which has lately occurred at Holmfirth, we have a painfully correct instance of all this. Though there had been a general impression abroad that danger was in all probability near at hand, and though some, with more foresight and prudence than others, prepared for the worst which might happen, yet the major part of the inhabitants went to rest as secure as usual, expecting to rise on the morrow to the discharge of the duties which the morrow would impose. And thus it will be at the end of the world. Security will seal men’s eyes to the awful reality of the coming judgment, and that judgment will overtake them “as a thief in the night.” “So will also the coming of the Son of man be.”
2. — The destruction came suddenly upon the old world. Though the warning had been long, the event when it happened, happened in a moment. And so it is, brethren, at death. To the most wakeful servant, the master’s coming is always a sudden, though not a sad surprise; but to those who are tempted to say, “My Lord, delayeth his coming,” that coming will prove not more sudden than sad.
In the case of the sufferers at Holm-firth, we have an apt illustration of this truth. Whilst many of them “knew not of it” but were fast locked in the arms of sleep; when they were awaked from their secure repose, how sudden the destruction that awaited them.
3. — When the destruction came upon the old world, there was no escape, it “took them all away." The boldest, hoping to outrun the judgment, climbed up to the high mountains, and looked down upon the rising waters with more hope than fear. And when they saw the hills, one after another, disappear, they climbed the tallest trees; and, doubtless, while they saw their own wickedness and folly, they envied that ark and its inhabitants which before they had beheld with scorn. But in vain did they fly when God pursued. Brethren, there is no way to fly from divine judgment, but to fly to divine mercy for repentance. — In a minor sense, we may see in the melancholy catastrophe which has occasioned this address, an illustration of this awful truth, that when judgment has begun, then deliverance is too late.
4. — But whilst the great mass of the world felt the severity of God’s punishment, the ark proved a place of safety and refuge to Noah and his family. Securely did he outride the uproar of heaven, and earth, and waters. He knew that He who owned the waters would steer him; that He who shut him in would preserve him. How happy a thing is faith! what a quiet safety, what an heavenly peace does it work in the soul, in the midst of all the inundation of evil. — In like manner in the case before referred to, whilst some were swept away, and there was no escape; others were saved from the devouring element, monuments of God’s sparing mercy, let us hope, to become monuments of his saving grace.
Let us now turn to consider, in conclusion, the practical application of this whole subject.
1. — It tells us of danger to be appreheaded. There is a deluge of wrath coming upon the whole world of the ungodly. That which produced the flood in Noah’s time, will bring a more dreadful punishment upon every unpardoned soul. You and I, brethren, know nothing, except as a matter of history, of the former deluge; but if unpardoned, and unsaved, we shall know something as a matter of painful experience of that fire which will consume all the adversaries of the Lord. Let then this subject furnish us with a lesson of warning.
2. — But let it also furnish us with a lesson of encouragement. If it speaks of danger to be apprehended, it speaks no less of a defence and refuge from that danger. What the ark was to Noah and his family, that Christ is to us. All who took refuge in the ark were saved, and none but they; in like manner, there is salvation in Christ, and no other.
When the ark was completed, and all things ready for the reception of its inhabitants, “The Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark." Who sees not here the gospel call, the merciful invitation of infinite, and unspeakable love?
See here how God made a distinction between Noah’s family and the rest of the world. Till they were safely housed, the waters could not flow down; and the moment they were safe, the waters could not be kept within their natural boundaries. A lesson this, alike of encouragement to the Church of God, teaching them that they shall not share the doom of the world; and at the same time, a lesson of warning to the ungodly, teaching them that they shall not share the safe protection of the righteous.
Lastly, let this subject instruct us in our duty. If there be danger to be avoided, and a defence provided, our duty lies in availing ourselves of that defence. That duty is briefly expressed on this wise; “Come thou and all thy house into the ark.” There must be something more than mere looking on, there must be entering in. Too many content themselves with the former, and neglect the latter.
Many no doubt helped to build the ark who were not saved in it; yea, many of Noah’s relations in the flesh were not saved with Noah; in like manner, the mere fact of outward kinship with God’s people, and helping to carry on God’s cause, will not avail any who are not one in Christ, and one with Christ.
Next, and only next, in importance to our own soul’s salvation, should be our diligence in promoting the salvation of our families and households. “Come thou and all thy house into the ark.” To meet as one united family at the last day, what more delightful! to find those who were united in time, disunited and separated for eternity, what more heart-rending! And yet it is to be feared that such will be the case with too many. Being warned beforehand of the possibility of such a peradventure, may God give us all grace to strive to promote, next to personal, family religion; so that in the day of Christ’s appearing, we and those whom we love may be found encircled within one embrace, and hear the joyous note of that voice which shall cry, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matt. xxv. 34.)