Noah was the only one in the OT who is called a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2: 5), yet, judged by outward results and appearances, his preaching was a failure. This tells us that in our witness for God, faithfulness is the one great requisite, and the one great measure as to success. We are not commissioned to accomplish this or that, but we are commanded to be faithful in our testimony.
We are commissioned to “proclaim the word” (2 Tim. 4: 2), whether men will “hear” it, or “whether they will forbear” (Ez. 2: 5), whether they will listen to it or whether they will not. If men will not “hear”, we are not to seek something else to which they will listen, but simply to “speak my words unto them” (Ez. 2: 7). Looked at from this point of view, Noah’s faith exhibits one of the greatest examples of witness for God that the world has ever seen.
People today look for results, and unless we are able to show some, or make up some report, our work is considered a failure. But we have nothing whatever to do with results. What we have to do with is our faithfulness. Results are in the hands of the Lord; but we are alone responsible for our faithfulness. And what is it that we look upon and regard as results? Something that we have laid down for ourselves? Some ends that we have set before ourselves to accomplish? For whom are we witnessing, if not for the Lord? For whom are we working, if not for the Master? If so, then surely it is for Him to know what His purposes and counsels are and it is for Him to decide what the results are to be. He knew what the result of Noah’s preaching was to be. Yet He commissioned Noah to continue. The Master does not always explain what His servant is to do, or what ends are to be obtained (see John 15: 15). He does not need to make known why He wishes this or that to be done. He simply gives His command and it is for the servant to obey.
Truly, this is faith’s own sphere. There is no room for sight in this department of service. If we walk by sight and judge by outward appearances, or by the things that are seen (see Heb. 11: 3) we shall certainly fail, even as Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and other of the eminent servants of God failed. By contrast the “leader and completer of faith” (Heb. 12: 2) was perfect in this as in all beside.
In Matthew 11 we see the perfect Servant of Jehovah: in vs 2–6, He was doubted by John; in vs 16–19, He was rejected by the common people who said that John was possessed by a demon, and Christ was a glutton and a drunkard; in vs 20–24, He was rejected by the cities where most of His mighty works had been done; then we read, “At that time, Jesus answering said, I praise thee, Father ….Yea Father, for thus has it been well–pleasing in thy sight” (vs 25–27, my emphasis). Is this what we see around us today? Or do we see the opposite spirit? Where does all the sadness and sorrow, the disappointment and the complaining come from? Is it not because we have made our own plans, and laid out our own work. Or is it because the Lord has laid out our work for us, and we have failed in doing it? Might it not be because we have regarded even the Lord’s work as our own?
When a meeting has been arranged and only a few persons are present, we regard that as a failure: but there may be one there, “whose heart the Lord opened” (Acts 16: 14). What does it matter to us how many are present so long as there has been faithfulness in making that meeting known? It matters who is there—whether a prepared heart is there—but not how many others.
It did not matter to a true servant like Philip whether he ministered to crowds in Samaria, or, whether he was to leave that work at its height and be sent on a long journey to minister to one lone sheep bleating in the desert (see Acts 8: 5–8, 26). How many servants today are ready for service after this sort, or to preach to any except a large audience?
Oh! to learn the lesson of Noah’s faith, and Noah’s faithfulness. It would revolutionise much that we see around us. We should not see one servant being used of God, and then, regarding it as his own work, to be perpetuated by his family, or by a society. There is not always an Elisha, where there has been an Elijah. That was a remarkable exception. The rule is all the other way. Noah was a great “preacher” (2 Pet. 2: 5), but the flood was his successor. Paul, though in his own sight, “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15: 9), held a unique place among them, but “grievous wolves” were to be his apostolic successors (Acts 20: 29). If the Lord raises up a servant to do an important work, we must not jump to the conclusion that he wishes that work to be perpetuated. He may have other servants, and other work for them to do.
May the lesson of Noah’s faith be written on our hearts, and bear precious fruit in our service. May we also remember, and apply another lesson which, though the interpretation may belong to others, has a solemn application for us, and reminds us that it will be one day said of certain servants, “Well, good and faithful bondman”, not good and successful. Many will speak of what they have done and of all their wonderful works, but it is only faith in God, and faithfulness in testimony for Him that will find an entrance into “the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25: 21, my emphasis).