Last month we saw how God took home Enoch, one of the mighty warriors of the church militant as she defended the faith and cut down with the preaching of God’s word the pride of the ungodly. God took him in such a way that he inspired great hope in the church, but fear and consternation among the ungodly. That event marked a high point in the history of God’s people. It was a spiritual victory of the seed of the woman, and as such it reveals a facet of Christ’s victory.
It was in the afterglow of this victory that God gave a son to Lamech, a grandson of Enoch. “And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed” (Gen. 5:29). This name, Noah, means “rest,” and God reveals that this name was given in connection with a measure of ease in the area of manual labor. It would seem that the church had a bit of a “break” now from the unrelenting pressure of the ungodly as they staggered under the blow God gave them through Enoch. Perhaps the people of the church could finally devote some attention to some of the luxuries of life—like those in the city of Enoch had been enjoying for some time already. It was a time when belonging to the church meant a measure of respect and even prestige.
History has demonstrated over and over that such a time in the church is but a peak that is followed by a steep slope. The minute God’s people relax their grip upon the sword of God’s word and lay down their shield of faith, the Devil latches on from some direction that is largely unseen or felt by the church. Slowly at first perhaps, but then with ever increasing acceleration, the church finds itself facing spiritual destruction as the sinful world develops in sin. It is then, just when it is clear to everyone that the situation is hopeless for man, that the mighty grace of God shines forth and we are given another view of God’s love in the victory of Christ.
Noah lived to experience the slide from this spiritual peak, all the way down to the horrifying depth of being the only man with three of his sons and wives left in the church! Do you think Noah during the first fifty years of his life imagined that he would be the only one left of the then prosperous church in which he lived? What happened to all his other children? (We are not told about all the children of these Old Testament saints, but of every one we are told that they begat sons and daughters. There is no reason to think that Noah did not have many other children.) What happened to all his relatives, fellow believers, and friends between this time and the years before the Flood? We will discuss the development of apostasy in future articles, but we must note that the seeds of apostasy were there in the church with Noah in his early years.
A sense of pride in human accomplishment, a spiritual lethargy, the toleration of false doctrine, laxity in church discipline, an obsessive pursuit of earthly treasurers and pleasures, a disinterest in heavenly treasures, deafness to the vanity of life apart from God; all these are seeds of apostasy—the gradual dying of a body of people that calls itself a church. These seeds are swelled by the showers of ungodly people who have some interest in this or that aspect of church life, but really are not interested in the sound preaching of God’s word. A good work ethic applied to the pursuit of wealth quickly bears fruit and the seeds of greed and pride overtake some in the church. Under such circumstances, those who bring words of admonition are frequently ignored or scorned.
We never know at any moment in time exactly how many people living on earth are children of God. Some may appear to be, but turn out to be hypocrites. Some claim to be, but as our Lord’s parable of the sower bringing God’s word reveals, only some are good soil hearers. We don’t know exact numbers, and we don’t know who, but we do know that the church militant is never described as being large. Sometimes the church looks to be large, but when it really comes down to those who are fighting the battle of faith, the number is always small. In the Old Testament, the church appeared large at the time of Solomon, but later God says of her, “And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city” (Isa. 1:8). And in the New Testament, Jesus calls the church a “little flock” saying, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Throughout Scripture the church is but a “remnant” (Rom. 11:5). Only when the church is gathered as the victorious body of Christ through all ages is it referred to as large and without number.
These people of God, whether they are surrounded by millions who call themselves Christians or alone in a spiritual wasteland are always found gathered around a faithful shepherd where they hear the voice of Christ. Where the preaching is, there we find the church. If the preaching is not the voice of Christ, you might find millions of people listening, but they are not the sheep.
Many in the church world today would vehemently object to the idea that the church is small, or that the world is developing in sin. They see a future of better understanding between different denominations, reconciliation, and eventually a world composed mainly of Christians and ready for Christ to reign over it. They cite passages like Habbakkuk 2:14: “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” I would imagine that most of the people living with Noah in the early part of his life were very optimistic about the church’s future as well.
But what is the reality about the true church that God reveals to us? The church is a little flock of sheep, a cottage in a garden of cucumbers, and a remnant. Its members are grafted by faith into a sturdy vine that has grown through the ages. There are times when millions cling with their own strength to the vine because it is the popular thing to do, but they bear no fruit, wither, and are cast into the fire. When we think the church is large and invincible, God reminds us that we are but a weak and helpless flock of sheep. When we like Elijah think we are the only ones left, God reminds us that he always has his 7000, that is, the exact number of his elect alive, growing in faith and serving him in his kingdom. “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1Ki 19:18).
When Jesus’ disciples asked him about the future for the church, he did not describe a glorious earthly kingdom with all the billions of people living on earth living like one big flock of sheep eagerly eating the preaching of the word. He told them that the gospel would be preached throughout the whole world, but mostly he spoke about the increase in wickedness in the world and trouble for the church. Eventually the power of the wicked will become so great that the people of God will be spiritually hungry and scattered. Once again, and for the last time, when all appears hopeless, God will make a final display of Christ’s victory. In fact, the situation of the church is so similar today to that in the days of Noah, that Jesus makes a direct comparison between the days of Noah and the days in which we live. We read, “But 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 coming of the Son of man be (Matt. 24:37-39).
We live in a day when anyone who attaches any hope and merit in the strength, wisdom, and works of man is blinded to reality just as they were in the days of Noah. When we cling by faith alone to Christ, we see that this earth is not our home. We willingly and joyfully serve him in this life and obediently follow the path he lays before us here, but our eyes are fixed upon our eternal covenant life with God. Like Noah, we are found in this life “walking with God,” not pursuing all the joys and pleasures of this world. “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). We willingly and joyfully pay tuition for Christian education and put the money God has given to us in the collection plate. We do all we can to grow in our knowledge of God, for “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Where the church enjoys growth, financial resources, sound preaching, schools, etc. let us not become complacent, but rather reach out to fellow believers scattered throughout the world. Let us preach the word far and near and invest our resources in providing for the preaching of the word.