by T. Austin-Sparks
"These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, and perfect in his generations: Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9).
"God... spared not the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others" (2 Pet. 2:5).
In the way of life by the Cross, we have before us at this time, Noah. I am assuming that you are fitting what is said into the diagram in front of the book (click here for diagram), I am not turning to explain it, it is self-explanatory.
You can clearly perceive the two ways: the way of the natural man who repudiates God's verdict and seeks to enlarge himself in independence of God, but ever and anon meets God's verdict all the same. I think that has been perfectly patent in what we have already said. And the way of the spiritual man who does accept God's verdict and goes right on... the way of the Cross reaching right back to the very beginning of things in human history, saying from the beginning to the natural man that his destiny is zero, an end, death. The Cross reaches back to the beginning, saying that it is the way of life for those who accept its verdict, and that way is focused down, as you see, to a line which represents the links of a chain from Abel to Christ. The red line of the Cross followed a long succession through past generations, centuries, but it is the way that goes right through.
The Completion of a Cycle of Human History
We come to this link in the chain represented by Noah, and with Noah we come to the completion of a cycle of human history. Both in fact and in figure, Noah represents that. I suppose if anybody should be asked, "What do you know about Noah?" the answer would undoubtedly be, "Well, he built an ark." That is about all that you would say. There are other things about him, but that is how it is summed up - Noah's ark. We always link the two together. They are associated, and in a sense quite rightly so, because as I have said, here we come to the completion of a cycle of human history. The flood ended the first cycle of human history. The Lord Jesus in the first instance linked Noah's days with the day of His own coming, "As were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man" (Matt. 24:37). And Peter makes that perfectly clear by linking Noah and Noah's day with the Day of Judgment, so that it was a figure of a cycle; the end of a cycle of human history but a much greater, fuller end than ever Noah's was.
Someone has said that prophecy is history written beforehand, and there is very little doubt about it that there is a prophetic element in the story of Noah. It is history written beforehand. It is that history culminating in the great deluge, not of water, but of fire to which Peter refers when he says, "These things are... all to be dissolved... the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat" (2 Pet. 3:11,12). That is the final flood to which Noah points prophetically.
The Full Growth and Development of Cain
Well, when we come to the days of Noah, what do we see? We just have the full growth and development of Cain. We saw Cain and what he represented: the man who, ignoring the great verdict of God that the door was closed upon all of Adam's race, that death by one man had passed upon all, assumed that by his own works and efforts - the embodiment of the best in himself in the fruit that he produced - assumed that he could get through with God. He came up against the fact that the door was firmly closed and there was no way through. In the individual, right at the beginning (of greater significance in this than I have time to stay with) in a single man, all the elements of that vast history of man's pride, man's self-assurance, man's self-sufficiency, man's conceit, man's self-righteousness, man's unwillingness to accept the verdict of Calvary; in a single man all that was summed up.
Cain went out from the presence of God unrepentant, although God had pointed out the way and said, 'Yes, but even for you, Cain, if you will have it, the sin offering is at the door.' But he refused God's way and went out from the presence of God unrepentant, bitter, resentful, rebellious, recalcitrant. "Am I my brother's keeper?" he insolently answered God. He went out like that. Anything like that just leads to the abandoning of God - choosing a course of independence and abandonment to selfish gratification and pleasure. That was the history of Cain as you follow it, and of his civilisation.
Reaching the days of Noah some hundreds of years afterwards, that is found in full development. The whole world is a collective embodiment and expression of what was resident in one man at the beginning. The spirit of Noah's day was that of just flouting God, indifference to anything that would in any way interfere with their self-interest or their own natural pursuits; just indifference to it. There is the collective expression of Cain, and this is our point for the moment. When you come to Noah, you get a collective expression of Abel.
The Collective Principle of the Cross in Noah
In Noah you have the collective principle of the Cross represented. It may be comparatively small... seeing the great, great world that will not have it. That is why we read the fragment from 2 Pet. 2:5 - "Noah and seven others". I am not going to make anything of the number at the moment. There may be something in it. Seven and one, and seven in one. You can make of that what you like, but you know quite well that these numbers in Scripture do not stand for nothing, they are always significant, and here is something which represents a complete spiritual testimony in a corporate way. And it is that which, resting upon the Cross, goes through at the end. Oh, how much is wrapped up in that statement!
I cannot expect you to be in my head, but I am seeing a very great deal in that simple statement - a collective testimony to the Cross going through at the end. That sums up the book of the Revelation which is the end. The end-time situation with Noah was an almost universal repudiation of the principle of the Cross. It was not just drift: it was deliberate in the face of a testimony which was present long enough and was practical enough to challenge everybody. Noah's testimony covered a long time and Noah's work was a very tangible form of testimony. It was very concrete; it was no mere doctrine or theory. This is something present in a practical and tangible and palpable form, and it was present throughout that long time. And in the face of it, in spite of it, the repudiation was well-nigh universal which, of course, led to a well-nigh universal engulfing and involving in judgment in the verdict of God which had already been pronounced in Adam upon all such.
It is not difficult to see, standing alongside of Noah in his day, our own day and the end of this dispensation. Say what we will, and let men say what they do about the good in human nature and in mankind, the fact is that God does not judge upon a comparative basis at all of more or less good in men. God judges upon an absolute basis, and God's absolute basis is: 'What is your attitude toward the Cross of Jesus Christ? What have you done with the Lamb of God? It is not whether you are more or less good, whether you are very bad naturally, or, as men would account, very good. That is not the ground of judgment at all. It is that there is the Cross standing right at the centre of history, the testimony of God; holding in it God's verdict upon the whole world: "As in Adam all die." What is your attitude towards that?'
It is not difficult to see that when it comes really to the acceptance of God's verdict that all men without any exception at all are dead so far as God is concerned, lying under judgment, and have no way with God apart from the Cross; how many of the entire human race accept it and believe it? There is a well-nigh universal ignoring or repudiating of it. It is true. I say 'well-nigh' because in that we have the exception. Noah and seven others - they represent the exception. In them the principle of the Cross is found to be accepted and capitulated to. Noah and the seven others would have been drowned with all the rest if they had not accepted God's verdict upon the race and taken God's only way through.
That opens up another subject, that of their faith. Hebrews 11, "By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet... prepared an ark." We are not dealing with that at the moment. We are keeping to this single principle of the Cross as the only way of life. These eight accepted the principle of the Cross, that is, the closed door except by one way: God's provided way. And it was a collective thing, it was a collective testimony. It was a corporate thing that was there. The eight represented collective salvation, and that is a point that has been seriously overlooked. The sooner we recover that, get that back and get that established, the better. With God, while salvation reaches the individual and becomes a personal and individual thing, with God salvation is collective. God is saving a people, not just individuals, and what I do want to impress upon you is this: that the very fact of salvation means that you are not saved alone, you are saved in a related way.
You are saved in connection with something more than yourself. It is in salvation, collective salvation. Salvation is a collective thing, and you deny the very element of salvation when you allow division to come between you and other children of God or another child of God. You deny your very salvation. You know that word translated into our English – 'together'. Now, you have a look at 'together' in the New Testament: "We were planted together in the likeness of his death" (Rom. 6:5). "Made us alive together with Christ" (Eph. 2:5). "We are seated together with Him in the heavenlies" and so on. That word "together" is the figure of the human body being made a corporate organic whole by sinews and tissues.
Together - A BodyFrom God's standpoint ours is a "together" salvation. It is a collective or together life. God's life is not broken up into fragments. The testimony of the Lord's people is not that there are as many lives as there are Christians. There is one life, a together life.
They were to give, in that collective testimony, that the Cross - the acceptance of God's verdict, the acceptance of death - is the way out of death when the death is that of a substitute. I am not staying with the typology of the ark as symbolising Christ in Whom we are sheltered from judgment, safe from death; but they entered together into the ark. That is the point: it was a together testimony.
And it was a collective or together victory. You have moved on from the individual, from Cain, and Abel, to that which is collective when you come to Noah.
Now, that is very important. It is a tremendous thing, and it carries with it quite a lot of very practical values. Was it collective? Well, it says "Noah with seven others". At any rate, they were at close quarters for forty days and forty nights and could not get away from it. No, you see the very law of their being together in that ark was the law that they had to learn (if they had not already done so) to live together and to live at close quarters, and their salvation depended upon it. If one of them flew out of the door, they were lost! If one said, 'I have had enough of this, I am going', where would that one have gone? If one had broken away, you see, well, the thing is obvious. Their salvation was collective, there was no getting away from it: they had to settle down to it. Their settling down to the collective, corporate life was the way of life for them. It was the practical application of the principle of the Cross.
Dear friends, it takes us a long time to learn the ABC's of corporate life. Plenty there are who have the teaching, the doctrine and tell you all about the church, the Body of Christ. They give long dissertations and addresses upon it. They have all the theory. Many there are who are very zealous to have the New Testament order set up with all its technique, and many who have all that knowledge and zeal have not learned the ABC's of corporate life.
Now, that is not said carelessly. It is said from much observation, and not a little experience. It is a tremendous thing in the purpose of God to learn that lesson as soon as you can, that your full salvation is a related thing. You may have salvation in bits, in the parts, partially, but you will never get full salvation as any individual, nor as any number of individuals. Fulness of salvation relates to this corporate Body of Christ. It is to be "glory in the church by Christ Jesus unto all ages for ever and ever" (Eph. 3:21). You have heard that so often, but this message of Noah comes with tremendous importance and emphasis just now.
You are tired of hearing such words as independence, unrelatedness, and so on, but you know that is one of the things which fundamentally needs the Cross as much as anything else. It comes out, it just comes out all the time in different ways and different forms. We 'fly off the handle' because of some provocation, because of the rub of related life. We want to get away out of it and throw it all up; we cannot bear this corporate life. Yes, it is the most difficult thing to the flesh that you can imagine. That proves that the Cross is very much needed, and this individualistic element in us comes up in numerous ways all the way along.
The Cross in Relation to Ministry
It not only comes up in our Christian relationships, it comes up in our work; our Christian work, our ministry, and jealousies over other ministries and what not. Oh, it is the awful thing that is in Christianity. I remember Dr. Meyer once told me that he had a terrible battle right on the Keswick platform. He was well known, he had a large and foremost place in Christian ministry, and he was invited to the Keswick Convention to speak. And then other men of less fame and importance and reputation were put in front of him. He said, 'I had my first Keswick battle actually on the Keswick platform where I had to learn the Cross in relation to ministry.' Oh, could we cover the whole ground if we tried? But there it is. It is this Self in one form or another of its countless forms. You cannot compass all the fibres of this root of Self, from one extreme of self-assertiveness and self-importance and self-advertising, to the other extreme of self-pity. There is a lot between the two! It is still Self. Oh, that we could forget ourselves:
"Oh, to be saved from myself,
Oh, to be lost in Thee!
Oh, that it may be no more I,
But Christ Who lives in me."
How can it be done? It can only be done by the revelation to us that our salvation, our life, our testimony and our work, is corporate; it is related. That means that in every phase and aspect of our Christian life we are depending upon others. We are not the whole thing by any means. Our growth depends upon others, our life depends upon others, and our fulness depends upon others.
You see, it is all there: life, light, love, liberty, purity, power, purpose, prospect, and glory. It is all collective; it is all corporate. It is the church. You can test it. Your life... what do you owe to others for your spiritual life? Do you mean to say that you have got it all firsthand, independently, unrelatedly? You have not got very much, if you have any at all. Our light... what do we owe to others for the light that has come to us? Light is a related thing. And so right the way through it is like that. That is the emphasis.
I repeat, so much time is taken in learning just the ABC's of corporate life, and until we have done so, there is limitation and there is defeat. It is true. Noah and seven others... You and all the rest in Christ, and for that life, for that testimony, for that victory, we need one another. We cannot do without one another, and in order to have it, some deep work of the Cross has got to be done in us. Let Cain into this, and it spoils the whole thing. Independence - "I can get through on my own, by myself, I do not need any help" - that is Cain. "Am I my brother's keeper?" What is corporate about repudiating any responsibility for your brother? Let Cain in, and the whole thing is spoiled. Let the Cross in - that is Abel, the principle of the Cross - and you have a collective life and a collective testimony and right through to a collective victory and collective glory, and it is full!
The Difficulty of Corporate Life
What is it that emerges from this nucleus, from this 'togetherness'? A new world.
The word to Noah afterward was "Be fruitful and multiply", the same words as addressed to Adam and Eve before the fall: "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth." New prospects, new vocation, new fulnesses, a new world, a new creation that opens up to those who have learned the meaning of the Cross together in a practical way.
Now do not be misunderstanding me in this matter. I think I hardly need to stress it at all. This kind of life together with Christians is not always an easy thing. You say, 'That is a terrible thing to say! Not easy for Christians to live together?' Difficulty over Christians living together! It sounds terrible, does it not? Of course you know it is true. Is it true? But why is it true? Because it is Christians in whom the truth is being made manifest.
You see, a lot of worldly people can get on together very much better than a lot of Christians can sometimes, and that is a thing you cannot understand, and that offends you. You say, 'Well, it is better to be out in the world. There is really good comradeship out there; we get on fine together out in the world. But look at these Christians! It is so difficult to live with these Christians!' Yes, quite true. But recognize the meaning of that. It is in Christians that there is being made manifest the need of the Cross.
We are no better in ourselves than the world. The same is in us as is in the world: a human nature. This has to be made manifest in order that the victory of the Cross should be a practical thing, not a theoretical thing. And if you get men and women who are of the same infirmities as anybody else, who have just the same human nature, the same Adam inheritance as all the rest, and you get them together, that is a testimony. That says something for the Cross of the Lord Jesus. You see, this matter of a testimony is a very practical matter. Oh, I beg of you to be careful how you use that phrase, 'the testimony'. My soul is sick to death of people talking about "the testimony", meaning some teaching, some form of doctrine, some system of truth, something that you stand for as a statement. That is not the testimony.
The testimony is this: that there, in you with others, there is a work of the Cross done that absolutely overcomes what is true of nature where you are concerned. It is like that: that is the testimony - something that can be seen in a company of people, in a number of people. God has done something there. Now you take those people, two, three or more, and look at them naturally and see whether under all the strain and the pressure that is brought to bear upon them, they would naturally go on together. Not a bit of it! You know many of you, that your going on with others is all a matter of the grace of God, and a lot of grace, and that is only another way of saying a deep work of the Cross.
An End-time Thing
This is the important thing I want to say: this is an end-time thing. It was in Noah's case, the testimony was collective at the end of that first cycle of human history. You turn to the book of the Revelation, and you find it is like that. The end is near, the tremendous universal cataclysm. Judgment is about to fall, all heaven is in ferment and agitation, the climax is in view. "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11). And when you look to see who the 'they' is, it is plural. The 'they' is called a son, a man-child. It is a plural. It is a company who have entered so deeply into the meaning of the Cross that they in the end, with all this tremendous upheaval in heaven and earth, go through in absolute victory. They go through, they do not succumb. It is a 'they', mark you.
Now, if the great dragon is going to have any success at all, or if he hopes for any success, it lies in one direction and he will concentrate all his force upon that point: the mutual love of the Lord's people and the corporate life of the Lord's people. He will stop at nothing. If he cannot make a true cause for division - something that is real and that is positive and that is actual to bring about a break in relationship - then he will create phantoms and ideas and suggestions and smoke and fog and lies and misrepresentation to make you feel separated, that there is something between you. It is in the atmosphere, you can feel it all the time; something trying to get in and make you feel that other people do not want you, to isolate you in spirit, anything! And it is a tremendous working up of that thing at the end, to break up this corporate life because it is a 'they' that will overcome him. It is a 'they', and they is - forgive my bad grammar - they is so corporate that it is represented by one name, a man-child, as though it were one individual. So one that it is like one individual. Satan's hopes are lost if that can be maintained.
And how can that be? "They overcame because of the Blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life even unto death." Is not that the Cross? You see, the Cross is not just something at the beginning of the Christian life. It comes right out at the end. The final phase of the church's pilgrimage on this earth, and warfare in the heavenlies, is marked by the Cross and the Cross runs all the way through.
But here in this message it is the Cross as this collective aspect which is something which we must take note of, we really must. Ask the Lord to teach you, to reveal to you and teach you the meaning of corporate life, and strengthen you and gird you to resist everything that works against it.
Oh, it is an awful battle! I know of no battle more terrible than that battle for the relationships between us as the Lord's people, because the methods of the enemy are so subtle and so varied, so numerous, and his pressure is so terrible and intense in this matter that he will not stop until he has divided the last two of God's people, if he can.
Well, let us ask the Lord to very definitely cover us, and cover His word, and to get all that He is aiming at getting at this time. This is not just teaching, not just Bible truth. These are grim realities. Terrible issues, but glorious issues hang upon this - the testimony of Noah and seven others at the end of a dispensation.