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.
Are you diligently seeking God and living lives that please Him? Are you actively, consciously, and diligently living by the faith that abounds in all good works? Are you encouraging fellow believers to do good works by what you say and what you do? The goal of God through the inspired writer of Hebrews is not only to prompt us to say and answer a resounding “Yes” to these questions, but also to have us continue by faith abounding in and doing these good works ourselves unto the praise and glory of His great Name.
His unquestioning faith
Noah built the ark by faith, an unquestioning faith. True faith never questions God and His Word! What a wonder true faith is! In order to understand the wonderful, unquestioning character of faith, we need to understand what faith is.
There are three things we say about faith.
First, faith is the bond that grafts us into Jesus Christ and all the blessings of salvation in Him. Jesus is the Vine and we the branches are graciously joined to Jesus by the bond of faith (cf. Lord’s Day 7, Q&A 20; John 15). Through this bond the wonderful resurrection life of Jesus Christ flows to believers, to a people who in and of themselves are dead in their trespasses and sins. Christ’s life becomes ours through faith.
Second, faith is God’s gift to His people by His amazing grace, so that they repent and believe in Jesus and lead lives abounding in good works. It is God’s gracious work in them by which He saves them from their sins. That salvation and faith is all of God’s work and grace, to the exclusion of anything we are or do, is the clear testimony of every page of Scripture and a point concisely and powerfully set forth in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Accordingly, and third, Christ in all His fullness is the one cause and explanation for believers being able to lead lives that please God. And faith is the instrument that enables us to do what pleases God because it clings to Christ and draws from His fullness all that we need. The inspired writer of Hebrews had written this in a negative way in the previous verse, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” True faith alone accounts for Enoch obeying God, living unto God, and thereby pleasing Him (v. 5). And true faith alone accounts for Noah not questioning the Word of God but receiving it, for being moved with godly reverence unto that Word and building the ark, thereby pleasing Him.
Dear reader, are you living each day of your life by faith? Whom do you live to please: God or man? And what is your attitude toward the Word of God, including His commands and admonitions? Is it to receive and obey them without question, or is it to question them?
Noah had and demonstrated an unquestioning faith! When God told him to build the ark (cf. Gen. 6:14), he built the ark and did so in exactly the manner that God required (cf. Gen. 6:15-16). He did not question God. He could have easily done that when God told him that He would “bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh.” He could have so easily said, “How could God do that?” especially since the world at that time knew not what rain was. For at that time “a mist from the earth…watered the whole face of the ground” (cf. Gen. 2:6). Noah could have appealed to man’s understanding of the laws of nature and empirical science and asked God, “How is this flood of waters going to come about?” Though Noah did not understand how the flood would come about, he did not question God. He did not doubt that God was able and ready to do all that He had said.
What explains this unquestioning character of Noah’s faith? A concise answer is that it is the very nature of true faith that it does not question the Word of God but receives all of it. True faith “holds for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word” (cf. Lord’s Day 7, Q&A 21). In the context of Hebrews 11:1, we say, faith “sees” God! It “sees” the invisible, spiritual God for all that He is, and according to the revelation of Himself in His Word: that He is holy, that He is glorious, that He is righteous, that He is love. And seeing Him for who He is, faith embraces Him and all that He says—including His commands.
But there is more. True faith does not stop with “seeing” Him and “embracing” His Word. It is followed and evidenced by godly obedience and action! Having “seen” God and embraced all that He had spoken, the faith of Noah moved him to godly fear and action. True faith is such that it, having received the Word, always results in action according to that Word. In a sermon on this text, Herman Hoeksema1 states,
By faith Noah received and accepted the Word of God. He believed that Word, and acted accordingly. Had Noah not possessed the faith which is an evidence of things not seen and the substance of things hoped for, he would not have received the Word of God in his heart and would not have acted upon it [emphasis added].
True faith is not passive but active. It does not merely talk, it also works (cf. James 2:18-20)! The believer is not one who insists that God “must do it all” when it comes to the good works that he (not God) has been called, foreordained, and saved in order to do (cf. Eph. 2:10). That would be a gross misunderstanding of the doctrines of grace and the Reformed faith as they concern the work of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in the hearts of true believers! No, he who embraces the Word of God by faith must and will act according to that Word in true obedience. Thus, Hoeksema states, “By that same faith he had respect unto the command of God that told him to build the ark. And that faith, filling him with godly fear, culminated in an act of obedience: he built the ark.”
In a word, true and unquestioning faith obeys. It does all that God’s Word calls him to do! And what a colossal work of faith Noah performed: he built the ark! The ark was about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. It had three levels and doors. It was sealed with pitch, being made of gopher wood. For 120 long years and without a hint of any rain or flood, Noah pressed on and built the ark by faith. It was a faith that did not question God, but obeyed Him. It was a faith that was completely committed to what God had called him to do. It was a faith that persevered unto the very end. After 120 years of toiling, Noah completed the building of the ark. Dear reader, is your faith like Noah’s faith?
His faithful witness
Still more, let us understand that by building the ark, Noah gave a faithful witness of God—of His Word of judgment and also of His one way of salvation and mercy. And we are further told that by this witness Noah “condemned the world.”
To be sure, the converse would also be true: the world condemned Noah by his act of building the ark. That is not so hard for us to understand. It is not so hard for us to picture the reproach, the ridicule, and the mockery Noah must surely have endured for all his toiling and constructing of the ark, is it? Let us remember that God’s judgment at this time was that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (cf. Gen. 6:5). Do you not hear the voices of the impenitent wicked mocking Noah for being so committed to building the ark when there was not a drop of rain or flood waters in sight?
While the world undoubtedly condemned Noah, the Holy Spirit is pleased instead to direct our attention to Noah’s faithful deed of building the ark that condemned the world. Simply by walking by faith and obeying God, Noah’s faithful deed of building the ark showed clearly to the wicked the judgment of sin that awaits all who are impenitent, and the one way of God’s salvation and mercy in Jesus Christ. It showed them plainly the kind of godly lives of faith that God requires them and all men to live, and that they were not living. It showed them powerfully their need for the coming Messiah whom they rejected. For Noah’s faithful witness comprised both his faithful deed of building the ark and also his faithful speech of the perfect righteousness of God in Christ imputed to all believers through faith. This is what is meant when inspired Peter tells us that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” (II Pet. 2:4-5).
As with Noah, so it is also with all who love Jesus and would live by faith in Him today. The faithful witness of the believer—both in his life and speech—condemns the world! Do you love Jesus? Do you seek to live lives of faith that please God? Do you purpose in true thankfulness to abound in good works from a life of faith? Understand that you do not have to be a “preacher of righteousness” nor perform spectacular deeds such as building the ark. All you have to do is what God calls you to do in the office of believer by that very faith He has graciously worked in you. Like Noah, give a faithful, antithetical witness of your God and your Christ by your mouths and your lives! “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”! (I Peter 3:15). By faith, warn others of the coming final judgment. By faith, live godly, antithetical lives of faith personally, in singlehood and marriage, in the family, at work, in school, and in society!
His gracious reward
Hoeksema informs us that “the significance of this faith for Noah himself is that he became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” This is Noah’s gracious reward. What does this mean? This does not mean that Noah obtained righteousness from God in part or whole because he built the ark, nor because of the worthiness and strength of his faith, nor because of his faith. No, Noah, like all true believers, was justified by faith alone in Christ alone—a justification that begins from all eternity in the counsel of God and that was also realized objectively in and through Jesus Christ. Through the death of the cross, Christ washed away our sins once and for all. In this connection, Hoeksema states, “And when God raised Him from the dead, that He as the Head of His people, was eternally righteous. And all those that are in Him are forever justified before God.”
Then Hoeksema gets to the heart of the matter:
But how shall we know this? How shall we become righteous and justified before God in our consciousness? The answer is: by faith. Only by a living faith in Christ Jesus our Lord, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification, can we be and are we forever righteous before God. As soon as we believers, as soon as we possess that true and living faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, by which we dare say, “My sins are forgiven me,” we are heirs, possessors, of the righteousness which is by faith.
Indeed! Noah enjoyed the gracious reward of becoming heir of the righteousness which is by faith. And so will we, who by faith diligently seek Him, who give a faithful witness of Him and who live antithetical, faithful, even if unspectacular lives of faith before the face of our Jehovah and unto His glory! Praise Him from whom all blessings flow!
1 All quotations in this meditation of the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema are taken from a sermon he preached on this text (“Noah By Faith Building the Ark”) sometime during 1954-1956 and recorded at that time. The transcription of this sermon is by Mr. Nanning Klaver, and has been, to the best of the writer’s knowledge, transcribed just as Rev. Hoeksema had delivered it, with a minimum of editing.