But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee. (Genesis 6:18, KJV)
And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly (2 Peter 2:5, KJV)
We arrive now at the story of Noah. Noah was called a just, righteous man in his time (v.9). On what basis did he receive that judgment? On the basis of God’s grace (v.8). Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord; on that basis, he was just and did as the Lord commanded. Here we see displayed what the Westminster Confession tells us about the relationship between law and gospel. We do not conflate the two; such that the gospel is law and the law is gospel. Neither do we separate law from gospel, such that some parts of Scripture are “law” and others are “gospel”; for we believe that Scripture witnesses to both the justice and the mercy of God from Genesis to revelation. Instead, we see the relationship in this way:
Neither are the…uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requires to be done. – Westminster Confession of Faith, 19.7
The gospel transforms us into a new person, one who seeks to do the will of God cheerfully as a loving response to the grace that God has given. Even then, it is grace upon grace, as the Spirit of Christ moves in our hearts to humble us before the Father and to do what he has commanded. Without that humbling, our hearts are hardened both to God’s character and to God’s will. We are slaves to the flesh, rather than to righteousness (Rom. 6:18). Richard Sibbes comments in his masterful work, The Bruised Reed, that it is the work of Christ to humble us, to bruise us, that we may be transformed more into His likeness. He says:
“But if we have this for a foundation truth, that there is no more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing. It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell. Therefore, let us no take off ourselves too soon, nor pull off the plaster before the cure be wrought, but keep ourselves under this work till sin be the sourest, and Christ the sweetest, of all things.” pp. 12-13
Since Scripture is all written by the inspiration of God, we must deal not only with those passages in the Old Testament that tell us about Noah but also those in the New Testament. The Apostle Peter, in both of his letters, found in Noah a model for God’s mercy.
For many today, the idea that God would punish sin is difficult to imagine. The reason it is difficult for us to imagine is because we do not understand the sinfulness of sin and the depth to which our rebellion grieves God. It says in this chapter that God “repented” (v.6) that he had made man. As Calvin comments, we should not understand God to be like a man with passions, who changes emotions or will on the basis of what man does. God is a se and impassible; meaning, he is self-sufficient, unmoved by externals, and without change. What we see in these words is God demonstrating by means that we can understand the horror of our sin and the just punishment it deserves.
The other thing that Peter tells us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Also, that Christ preached to the Spirits which were disobedient in the times of Noah. This led some of the early church fathers to believe that Christ preached in hell to those who were disobedient in Noah’s time. However, many Reformed commentators have noted that what Peter refers to is the Spirit of Christ preaching to men’s souls in the time of Noah to repent and believe. However, men were disobedient and did not listen. Herman Witsius comments:
“The Lord Christ, says he, who was raised from the dead by the infinite power of his Spirit, formerly went, came out of heaven, not indeed in the flesh assumed, and personally united to himself, but in the demonstration of his Spirit, by which he formed the prophets and among them also Noah. By the ministry of these prophets, who were stirred up by his Spirit, he himself preached. For not so much the prophets, as the “Spirit of Christ, which was in them, spake,” 1 Pet. 1:11… Peter therefore declares, that Christ formerly, and especially in the days of Noah, preached by his Spirit by the prophets; and what else did he preach, but himself, and faith and repentance, whereby they might come to him?” – The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, p. 1512-1513 (Kindle Edition)
William Perkins notes that Noah preached repentance to the carpenters who built the ark but that they were ultimately lost. He takes this as an example for preachers, stating “like judgment will befall unfaithful ministers, though they have the name of such as should season others, yet because of their unfaithfulness, they become unsavory.” (Works, vol.1, p. 228)
The preaching of the word is one way that the Spirit moves in us to repent and trust in Christ, not just for our salvation but for our sanctification. Are you attending to the word of God in your church? Are you discussing the sermon preached with your family on the Lord’s Day? Are you meditating upon your preacher’s words throughout the week? Let Christ, by the means he has established, work in your hearts. Do not be like those in Noah’s time who did not listen to the preaching of God’s word.