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The Lesson of the Tower
The form of this story belongs to the early stages of an ascending scale of civilization. The soul of the narrative is for all time. Take one obvious aspect of that soul. The builders of city and tower were men of great ambition. They would dare high things and they would do them. This is well, for God made us all for ambition. But it is part of the tragedy of our humanity that each day we are tempted to sully ambition with some phase of latent or expressed selfishness. Ambition tainted by egotism ever makes for futility.
I. A Theological Application This is an age of controversy. Controversy means movement, not always spiritual movement, but still movement, and all movement wisely directed becomes progress. When with the vision that trembles not because it has focused itself upon the living Christ we look out upon the area of theological controversy, what see we? We see many things, and among them we discern a mighty building of Towers. All the builders are our brethren; and we can afford to look at them with the eyes of love, and to bestow upon them the discriminating criticism that brothers ever offer to one another.
II. The Spirit of Empire. In the light of that lesson, let us look at our Empire beyond the seas and let us glance at things at home. We can only expect to justify empire by rising to the level of the duties it suggests. As certainly as a mere race selfishness dominates our colonial policy the plans of God will be thwarted, and later centuries will see this nation fall Babel-like to confusion and the dust. Let the tower teach us that you cannot build selfishly and also build permanently.
III. Individual Spirituality. We are sincere in our efforts after the spiritual life. Yet the tower totters, and is in danger of falling, because at the centre of our high desires there is often so much of subtle egotism. There are people whose desire for heaven is merely self-preservation veneered with seeming spirituality. The fact remains that so long as in our religious life we are seeking something for ourselves rather than something for Christ and the people, we are in danger of repeating the experience of Babel. Learn from Babel that he only builds well who builds unselfishly.
The Sinfulness of Sin (for Sexagesima Sunday)
We have four passages of Scripture put before us on Sexagesima Sunday which teach us the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
First of all we have the Gospel, which is the parable of the sower. It teaches us how much it matters whether the seed, the Word of God, sinks into our souls. It teaches us how serious the hinderances are which interfere with the sinking in of the seed, the Word of God, into our hearts. And that teaching, I am sure, is much needed, because one of the terrible signs of today is that so many people are going about saying and thinking that nothing very much matters sin does not matter, it will be all the same a thousand years hence. But it does very much matter, and I want you to apply it to yourself. What are the hinderances in your heart to the seed, the Word of God, sinking in and becoming fruitful?
And then there is the Epistle, and that, you remember, is the account of St. Paul's sufferings. What does that great list of sufferings tell us? It speaks of the fact of what St. Paul felt about our Lord Jesus Christ and the great deliverance that He had wrought for him. St. Paul was a man who felt down to the depths of his inmost soul that to Jesus Christ he owed his salvation, that he owed to Him a great deliverance deliverance from sin, deliverance from eternal death. Why do we lead such easy lives? Why is it that we dislike the least pain or the least trouble we have to endure for our religion? Because we do not realize, as St. Paul did, the great deliverance that is offered us in Jesus Christ. We have nothing approaching to St. Paul's sense of sin.
And then to fill up this lesson we have God's judgment on sin given to us in the first lesson for the, morning and the first lesson for this evening, the third and sixth chapters of Genesis. The third chapter, you will remember, is the account of the Fall and God's punishment of our first parents; and this evening's lesson is the picture of the Flood, the great judgment of God upon the world of the ungodly, a picture intended, beyond question, by God to teach us the awfulness of sin and God's anger against it, and the awful consequences of sin.
I. Do we Fear Sin? Now do we fear sin as we ought? I do not think so. I think that we are much more inclined to believe that sin does not matter, and that it will be all right in the end. We have to remember the awful possibility which hangs over every man and woman of hardening themselves into habits which become incompatible with God and God's Presence, which become eternal sin, and therefore eternally excluding from the Presence of God.
II. The Greatness of the Deliverance. The seriousness of sin is shown again by the greatness of God's means for deliverance from sin. In the Old Testament we have His picture of the Ark, the building of the Ark, the tremendous labour that the work must have cost. The greatness of God's work for our deliverance is the measure of the greatness of sin from which He works to deliver. But if that picture in the Old Testament of the means that God takes to deliver us is great, what shall we say of the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ? Could any greater means be imagined than the sending of the only Begotten Son from the bosom of the Father to be a man amongst men, to live the life and die the death on the Cross? Could any means be imagined greater? The supreme greatness of Calvary is always and must be the measure to the world of the terrible greatness and awfulness of sin which crucified the Son of God. It is impossible when we think of it like that to treat sin lightly, as so many do in the present day. Never say 'I cannot help it,' and 'it does not matter'. You can help it, and it does matter. The sins that you give way to habitually matter terribly. I know they matter because sin has made me other than God meant me to be. If I had never sinned I should have been much better, more useful in the world. And I not only see sin in myself, but I see its ravages in others. I see how sin has pulled down other people; I see it all about me, and I can not underrate it, and think it does not matter it does matter. Pray, then, for godly fear, and deal with sin in yourselves, so that you may be able to help others.
III. Lead to the Saviour. Surely that is the ambition of every man and woman, to be able to help their fellows, and to guide them to the Saviour. And the first step in leading people to the Saviour is to make them feel their need of that Saviour; and they never will feel the need of the Saviour unless they feel how terrible sin is.
References. VI. 5. J. Laidlaw, Bible Doctrine of Man, p. 138. C. Perren, Outlines of Sermons, p. 306. VI. 6. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, pp. 293 and 302. VI. 8. R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i. p. 108.
Noah the Renewer
For the first time we are confronted with the idea of reform. Noah is not the first to protest, but he is the first to reform. With Noah, there begins the first of a series of efforts to save the world to translate, not the man, but the earth. He is the sad spectator of a scene of moral corruption. His heart is heavy with the burden of a degenerate race.
I. What was this vision of corruption which Noah saw? The greatest danger that can meet a human soul the danger of mistaking evil for good. This race had fixed upon the physical development as the one end in life. They had enthroned in their imagination the men of bone and sinew. They had come to look upon meekness, mercy, compassion, as unmanly things.
II. The original aim of Noah was to avert the Flood. He was not a prophet in any other sense than Jonah was a prophet. He was not magically to foretell the evitable occurrence of an event. Rather was he to proclaim that its occurrence was not inevitable that it might or might not happen according to the righteousness of the community. The ark of safety which he proposed to build for the world was at no time the ark of gopher wood. The ark of gopher wood was never meant for the safety of the world, but, as the writer to the Hebrews says: 'For the saving of his own house'. It was only to be used when the world refused to be saved."
III. The characteristic of the life of Noah is solitary waiting.
( a ) We first see the man in the midst of the world, lifting a solitary protest against the life of that world. His faith watching and waiting for the dawn.
( b ) The man is lifted above the world. He is floated in the air in a lively sea. But even in this vast solitude this human soul is waiting for an earth renewed.
( c ) The world has arisen baptized from its corruption. The old life is past but the new is not yet come. And there stands Noah solitary, waiting still. The new life has not come, but hope has dawned.
G. Matheson, The Representative Men of the Bible, p. 89.
References. VI. 9. C. Kingsley, Village Sermons, p. 74. R. S. Candlish, The Book of Genesis. VI. 9-22. A. Maclaren, Expositions Genesis, p. 48, vol. i. p. 127. VI. 13. J. Parker, Adam, Noah, and Abraham, p. 35.
The Obedience of Faith
God told Noah how He was going to punish the sin of man by a flood, and told him also of the means by which he should be saved.
I. God seldom punishes without warning us of the punishment which is coming.
II. Noah believed God's words, and showed that he believed them by setting to work at once to build the ark. It would be very difficult to find any greater lesson than the importance of acting on our belief.
III. This will lead us especially to three things:
( a ) To take great pains to keep all the rules of the Church.
( b ) To pray with faith and to act on our prayers.
( c ) To repent of our sins. Repentance requires an act of will. A repentance which stops short at being sorry for what we have done wrong is as useless as a faith which does not lead us to act upon our belief.
IV. We learn from Noah the importance of a life in which our actions really represent our convictions.
( a ) Its importance to ourselves since it was by building the Ark that Noah found a refuge and was saved.
( b ) Its importance to others since it was by building the Ark that Noah witnessed to the world that he believed God's message of warning.
A. G. Mortimer, Stories from Genesis, p. 81.
Reference. VI. 22. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 883.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 6". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany