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“Walking With God.”

A Sermon, by the Rev. Henry S. Jacobs, Minister of the Congregation Neve Shalom, Spanish-Town, Jamaica.

את האלהים התהלך נח

“Noah walked with God.”—Genesis vi. 9.

The annals of the world too surely inform us that one false step generally leads to the commission of many iniquities. The <<496>>first act of disobedience by our primeval parents was followed by others of a yet more heinous nature on the part of their posterity. No sooner had they begun to propagate on the surface of the earth, than they evinced an antagonistic spirit to the cause of virtue, cast off all allegiance to their heavenly King, and debased themselves by investing senseless objects with the attributes and power of the Deity, till at last they arrived at a point of corruption which called for condign retribution. Unexampled for irreligion and impiety must have been the era to which the text bears reference, since amidst a succession of ages only two indi­viduals, between whom intervened a period of several hundred years, are recorded in Scripture, whose characters were at all redeemed from the awful depravity which then reigned paramount. The first was Enoch, whose earthly career was of brief duration; of the second, we are emphatically informed in the passage which has been chosen for exhortation this day, “Noah walked with God.”

These words follow so immediately the description of the patriarch’s general character, that we are involuntarily induced to pause and reflect thereon, as they are evidently intended to convey a signification replete with wholesome information.

If there be a virtue which calls forth more ardent admiration than another, it is the steadfast attachment and devotedness to God, when all around have apostatized from his ways. It argues a strength of mind, an abnegation of self, and a fidelity to religion, far beyond the usual characteristics of human nature. There are not many, indeed, who have sufficient firmness and self-reliance to disregard the scoffs and sneers of their companions at their so-called bigotry and over delicacy. But how few are there, who will brave actual danger, when imminent peril attends the practice of a proscribed creed? This stability of faith and contempt of personal danger can only be inspired by Him who is “wonderful in counsel, excellent in working.” But Noah was of the truly pious. “When all flesh had corrupted their way on earth,” he was untainted by the general corruption. He stood forward as the fearless advocate of God’s cause, when that cause was derided by his fellowmen. Mark the result: when the justly merited punishment on the human race descended from on high, and by the mighty deluge they were swept from off the face of the <<497>>earth, “then were left only Noah and those who were with him in the ark.” His undiminished faith produced its own reward, and sheds yet a halo round his memory. The record which is left of his character is one which every individual should strive to attain. The sacred historian, after having informed us that “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations,” adds the significant, though concise sentence, which has been selected as the text, את האלהים הלך נח  “Noah walked with God.”

It is to refer to this emphatic designation, that I have particularly in view in addressing you on the present occasion, and to offer for your consideration a few remarks illustrative of the man “who walks with God.”

The first point which it implies, is being under an habitual sense of God’s presence, that we are walking constantly in his sight, and that He perceives all our actions. There is no thought which comes home with more peculiar force to the heart of the good man than that all his acts are perceptible to Him who dwells on high; that He is cognizant of his inward feelings and desires; that He views his struggles with the world, and beholds the sufferings which momentarily beset him. Nothing is better calculated to meliorate the condition of man than this feeling, when properly directed. It encourages him in the path of virtue, notwithstanding the privations which he endures, the pangs he continually suffers. It overcomes all the difficulties which beset his path, when harassing care would bow him down beneath an accumulated burden of wo; it teaches him to bear up cheerfully, to press forward undespondingly, and to trust firmly in the promises of that all-merciful Being, who has declared unto such as confide in Him, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah xli. 10.) He knows that there is an ever-watchful Providence above him, and he feels stimulated to renewed exertions, being aware that he labours in the cause of virtue, in the presence of Him who will not desert him in the hour of need and adversity.

To the irreligious man, the knowledge of God’s omnipresence, when awakened, serves as an inward monitor, to prevent, or at least check, his continuation in those depraved courses to which <<498>>he has been accustomed. The truth must eventually break on him; it is impossible that he can for ever gloss over his impious acts, and fancy that they are unnoticed or unobserved. When he considers the boundlessness of nature, the infinite variety of beings rising from the hardly perceptible insect to man; the masterpiece of creative wisdom, that fill this teeming world; when he glances above, and sees the sparkling luminaries, which, though apparently smaller than the gem which he prizes more than his faith, yet are worlds in themselves, nay, but the centres of worlds which occupy the infinity of space,—can he then avoid acknowledging that an all seeing Eye beholds his minutest action, that an omniscient Being is aware of his very thoughts, that an all-righteous Judge treasures up in the records of eternity every deed of his misspent life?

Indeed, brethren, the truth must claim an inward, though perhaps an outwardly unacknowledged belief. God is to be seen in all his works; He is as perceptible in each green tree as He was of yore to Moses, although not in so mani­fest and awful a manner. That admitted, it necessarily follows that He must be cognizant of what he is the Originator, the Sustainer, the Supporter. It is He, indeed, whose presence enlightens, animates, and pervades all things. Wherever we may be, to whatever quarter or object we turn our wondering eyes, we behold the traces of His goodness; His greatness, and His perfection. We recognise his voice in the loud mutterings of the storm, in the thunder’s echoing peal, in the terrific roaring of the striving elements. With clearer vision we behold Him in those faculties of the soul which so demonstrably show the wisdom, and power, and goodness of their great Original. But it is in the great and solemn promises to his people, which we behold daily fulfilled, devised by Him who “neither slumbereth nor sleepeth,” that we may obtain the clearest manifestations and most endearing views of God’s truth, eternity, and glory. Conceiving this of God, as a being present in all His works, to whom he is accountable for all his actions, and who is possessed of power to punish the violation, as well as to reward the “keeping of His commandments,” the pious Israelite will ever walk under an habitual sense of his presence, and endeavour to conduct himself in all circumstances and situations as impressed with the belief and knowledge that all his thoughts and actions are manifest before the great <<499>>Omniscient. The belief of this doctrine will prove a powerful restraint on the corrupt propensities of his nature; for, though he is not free from the intrusion of evil thoughts and the influence of sin, yet in the hour of temptation his faith will raise him superior to his internal evil propensities, and enable him to say with the patriarch, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

“To walk with God” likewise implies to walk in the ways He has pointed out to us for our observance, and to abstain from all such as are not in consonance therewith. In doing this, we must ever be sensible of our own weakness and of His omnipotence. Our whole lives must be spent in His service, and no duties considered too heavy or too onerous which devolve on us to perform. But, alas! brethren, however painful the admission, there is no denying that the ways of the world are by too many of us more regarded than these obligations. The performance of our real duties clashes too much with our coincidence with the ways of the world; and these latter, being more valued, the former naturally suffers, and from being at first neglected, eventually becomes totally discarded, contemned, and forgotten. A little reflection must show the impropriety of this measure. A great writer has declared, and the words are applicable to the present occasion, “Dire effects from trivial causes spring.” Thus, by overlooking duties which may be considered of subordinate consequence, we at length neglect obligations of paramount importance.

You must be aware that there is no medium course to be pursued. There is but one road which leads to the attainment of enduring happiness, and that is the path indicated in the text as the one trod by the patriarch, whose virtues saved him from the universal destruction, and whose piety secured to him the exalted reward of being the founder of a new race. That you will experience disquietudes and discomforts in the course of conduct which I now strive to impress on you to follow, is a truth which is too palpable to be denied. You will have frequently to look for your sole consolation in the rectitude of your motives. Life is at best but a toilsome journey, and the asperities of the road will often create despondency in your bosoms. In the pursuit of the undeviating path of virtue, you will be obstructed by many difficulties; you will meet with many possessed of less rigid notions <<500>of right and wrong; you will perhaps find some who sneer and rail at revealed religion, who profess a freedom from its restraints and self-denials, who are would-be liberals in the extreme; yet be assured that within themselves, in the dark, deep, and hidden receptacles of their hearts, they feel the impotence of their creed, they know the fallacy of their opinions, they foresee the dread blank which the future presents. Before the world, whose applause is their highest ambition, their most coveted glory, they may affect a well-studied, a calm indifference; publicly they may laugh at all the sacred ties of religion, the holiest duties enjoined by the Supreme; yet they are the first to tremble at the approach of danger, and fly to the opposite extremes in the moments of adversity. Let misfortune but attack them, let calamity but assail them, they become the most rigid and scrupulous observers of all the minutia of their before slandered creed.

But I would ask you, brethren, if you would for a moment place any value on such revulsions of feeling?—if you would consider any stability of faith in such individuals, who are only to be thus convinced of the truth of revelation in the time of need and trouble, but who, so soon as prosperity returns, are again the confident scorners of its dogmas? No; God values not, regards not this mode of service; this is not what He requires of us; these are not His ways; these are not the ways so highly applauded in Scripture as having been those which Enoch, Noah, and others followed. If we would, like these patriarchs, be considered as truly “walking with God,” we must study to be more and more acquainted with our own hearts, that we may thereby know our own weakness, and the grandeur of that holy code which distinctly points out the path in which we are exhorted to walk.

Like pilgrims, our journey may be impeded by difficulties whose strength we have not yet fairly calculated, or which, in the self-deceits of the heart, we may flatter ourselves we are, unaided, able to overcome. But let us not trust in our own strength, or in our present feelings and impressions, which are often deceptive, and at all times an unsafe reed to lean upon; neither let us put confidence in our own resolutions, and safely sleep with the confidence that our intentions are just, holy, and sincere. It is in the practice of our obligations to our God and to ourselves that our best safeguard lies; it is this, and this only, <<501>>which will prove our greatest consolation, our most stable hope, when the time shall arrive when “we must shuffle off this mortal coil,” “and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.”

To a pious individual, there is no action so pleasing as that of performing the will of his Maker. The duty is attended with so much pleasure, that we ought to indulge in it, if it were only for the gratification which the consciousness of obedience to the decrees of Heaven inspire. Abstaining therefrom may be easier and less toilsome; but it will be attended, sooner or later, with dire punishment, which will be enhanced and aggravated by the pangs of conscience.

Bitter remorse is always sure to attend our neglect of walking in God’s ways, which is synonymous with leading a righteous life, and of being the performers of the commands of the All-wise. You can have no better examples of the opposite effects which the obedience or neglect thereof produces, than those the sacred volume presents. Turn to the Bible, and in the life of the pious individual that is therein held up to succeeding ages as a pattern to be imitated, behold the final benefit which results to every one who is, like him, “A righteous man, perfect in his generations.” This embraces also the essential duty of training up those with whom God hath blessed you in the paths of rectitude, of instilling into their youthful breasts early lessons of morality, and, above all, of exhibiting before them a model of that piety and virtue, which, be assured, is more powerful than precept, and will make a lasting and ineffaceable impression. It is indisputably necessary that every one should not only himself act in a right and proper manner, but also take effectual means of inducing his family to do the same. It is the duty, as well as the interest of the parent, to train them up in accordance with God’s commands; for in teaching them to reverence the will of their heavenly Father, he strengthens the link which unites him with his offspring, cements the bond of union which nature intended should exist between them, and causes them to recognise as a matter of course the sacred obligation of paying him that obedience, love, and reverence to which the authors of their being are entitled.

In closing this brief review of the life of Noah, we must be forcibly struck with the conviction that no good deed is suffered <<502>>to pass by unnoticed by the eye of Omnipotence. Often the reward follows not immediately on the action; yet the many occurrences of his eventful life strongly remind us that every righteous act will be remembered at a time when we most need the interposing aid of the Almighty,—when from amidst the general wreck we shall shine forth, as did Noah, special evidences of the majesty, power, and glory of the Supreme. Let us not hesitate in choosing which road we will pursue in our career through life. The paths of irreligion are enticing and flowery, while those of virtue are rugged and difficult of attainment; but in the end we will find “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are those of peace.” Let no obstacles, how great soever, oppose our progress; for they will not prove insurmountable, when we exert our energies to overcome them. The power accompanies the will. Even when we have, for a time, been seduced into the easy, though destructive road of sin, we have it in our power to retrace our steps, and return to the glorious path which eventually conducts to the mansions of peace, contentment, and eternal felicity. Let no false sense of shame at the scoffs of the profane, or a senseless compliance with the ways of the world, induce us to neglect those paramount duties which Almighty God hath enjoined on us.

We may be told by many that to act honestly and justly with our fellows is quite sufficient, and comprises all that is required of us, and is as much as we can be expected to attend to, amidst the many pursuits of consequence which must occupy a paramount degree of consideration. They who argue in this manner may think they entertain a higher notion of the greatness and majesty of the Supreme. They may say that He, the All-wise, the Omnipotent, the Infinite, deigns not to trouble himself with the doings of man —man, so small a speck in the boundlessness of creation. To think otherwise is blasphemy; to imagine differently is to lessen the awfulness, the holiness, and the glory of the Almighty. But what!—after God hath created man in such perfection, hath bestowed on him faculties of which no other creature can boast, hath infused into him an immortal soul, hath formed him after his own moral image, and placed him at the very apex of creation,—what! is he then set at large, free from all superior obligations yet slave to his own passions? So far from ag<<503>>grandizing the Eternal, it is detracting from his wisdom and goodness, to suppose that He would abandon his creatures to their evil ways, and impose on them no requirements, no active duties  by which they might merit his love and favour. No, brethren, guard against this false doctrine; let it be your constant wish to pay obedience to the sacred laws of Heaven. The duties of religion are active ones, and are practical in their nature. In these consist, and on these depend what is termed in Sacred Writ, “Walking With God.”

We approach Thee, O Eternal and Almighty God! with hearts over flowing with gratitude for the manifold mercies of which we have been  the recipients. Great have been thy kindness and love unto us, the creatures of thy bounty; and these have been enhanced by our having been undeserving of so many manifestations of thy divine favour. Lord! when we reflect how oft we have transgressed, how frequently we have departed from thy ways, and pursued the opposite course to that indicated in Thy holy word, we are filled with shame at our impiety. We know not how to come before Thee with our supplications, for we are not so hardened of heart as to say, “We have not sinned.” Yea, we have by our own acts forfeited all right to thy favour. Yet we beseech Thee, O merciful Father! neither to look on our transgressions, nor to regard our iniquities, but accord to us Thy pardon for the past, and strengthen us to act rightly for the future. May it be Thy will, O God! to deal bountifully with all who have assembled here to render Thee thanks for all the good derived from Thy merciful hand, and who have congregated in this, Thy holy sanctuary, to worship Thee in spirit and in truth. When we enter its portals, may we be endued with the knowledge “that this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Grant that our prayers may ascend on high to Thy throne of grace, and be favourably received by Thee, and let thy blessing rest on us all, according to thy promise, “In whatsoever place cause my name to be remembered, will I come unto thee and bless thee.” Amen.