Men strive for mastery. But God IS King.
When men strive, one must always be defeated. Both in a conflict cannot win. And even when they fight to a standstill, or there is a tie, a draw, then there still is failure. The man who attacked did not attain to his goal; and the man attacked failed to destroy his adversary. But God is King, and He does not strive either to be king, or to maintain Himself as king. Nor is He caused any distress to any degree.
God has enemies. He has those who hate Him and fight against Him. He has those who say that He is dead, and who want Him dead. But God does not strive as men strive. He does not have enemies as men have enemies, and God, as the Almighty, is never hurt by those who attack Him His enemies have no strength apart from him In Him they live and move and have all their being. And though, according to His own sovereign, eternal counsel, men do deeds which displease Him, they never hurt or embarrass Him, or even for a moment frustrate Him They give Him not the slightest moment of worry. That is why Paul in his epistle to the Philippians can speak of the peace of God that passeth all understanding. For God constantly not only has perfect peace in Himself, as a triune God, but He has perfect peace of mind in regard to all that which takes place in the world. He planned it all. And as the Almighty He is constantly executing that plan without frustration or delay, without being forced to change that plan, or to be one split second behind in the execution of the smallest detail in that plan.
All this we had better bear in mind when we read inGenesis 6:3, 5, “And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh; yet his days shall, be an hundred and twenty years. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
There are three elements in particular that we should note here. The Spirit of God is said to be striving with man. God declares that His Spirit will not always do so, and at the end of one hundred twenty years He will bring an end to man’s days. The evil of man is pictured as being so great that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart are only evil continually. Thus, to state it differently, we have the three elements of the Spirit striving, the Spirit ceasing to strive, and a thoroughly corrupt man with whom that Spirit has been striving and with whom that striving will at a set time come to an end.
Two interesting questions arise. What did the Spirit strive to do? Was He for one hundred twenty years striving to convert the world before the flood, and did He succeed only in having the mastery over eight souls? Or was He by a certain “common grace” seeking only in “the individual and in the community” and that “without renewing the, heart” to restrain “the unimpeded breaking out off sin, by which human life in society remains possible?” The other question is, “Did God find, after the Spirit had been striving for some time, that NOW every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart were only evil continually? It was not so the moment. that Adam fell, and depravity is total in the sense that it is carried down to every human being, but it is not absolute in that there is still by that “common grace” and by striving of the Spirit some glimmerings of natural light that enable man to do some spiritualgood?” For make no mistake about it, when you speak of “civil righteousness,” you are speaking of that which is spiritually good, that which is right in God’s sight and judgment. It is that which He says is right according to His law. It is then a deed which contains in its love towards God. For the whole law is summed up in one word: that we love God. Anything less than this God does not call righteousness. He does say of Jehu that he did well, for he did all that which God commanded him to do to the house of Ahab. And in that sense it can also be said that the devil did well in that he did nothing more to Job than that which God said he might do to him. But at once Scripture declares in the very next verse that “Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin.” II Kings 10:30, 31.
It ought to be evident to anyone who will approach the matter with an open mind that if Genesis 6:3 means that the Spirit strove to convert men, He failed miserably. And we have to go back and rewrite our first few lines, and confess that God can be defeated. O, He gains a little bit. It is not an utter disaster and complete rout. He manages to convert one man and his family. But the vast majority have frustrated Him and made it necessary for Him now to drop the bomb of the flood to save His face and to escape unspeakable shame, both before these men and the fallen as well as righteous angel world, who likewise witness the up-to-that moment defeat.
It ought also, then, to be evident that if the Spirit were striving only by a “common grace” to restrain “the unimpeded breaking out of sin” so that “human life in society remains possible,” this “common grace” was a total failure, and today likewise reveals itself’ wholly inadequate to stem the rising tide of crime, even in our streets, and of lawlessness and disorder. There seems to be something about that “common grace” that, although it seems to work for a while, it suffers severe defeat at the polls of man’s choosing. It failed at the time of the flood. It is failing today; and bigger and bigger sections of our cities become dangerous even in broad daylight. It cannot cope with the growing drug addiction. It has failed to stem the desire to kill the helpless infant before it is born, while with crocodile tears men cry of the thousands of women and children killed in the path of war. That, too, shows that everyimagination of the thoughts of man’s heart, as he is by nature, is only evil continually. Killing by war is brutal, that heart of man says, but killing the defenseless babe, before it has seen the light of day, is one of the advancements of our civilization whereby we are improving our society.
The other truth is that Scripture makes very clear here that the doctrine of total depravity is a doctrine of absolute depravity. And after all, to try to distinguish between a total and an absolute depravity is quibbling with words, and against this Paul warns Timothy when he says, “Strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” II Timothy 2:14. There is nothing relative in this every . . . only . . continually of Genesis 6:5. Men subvert their hearers when they try to teach a total depravity which simply means that every man is depraved, but every man is not completely corrupt. It is not, we insist, a case of every apple being spotted, but of every apple being thoroughly corrupt. Read it once! Every imagination of the thoughts of the heart—that gets down to the heart of the matter, does it not?—is only evil and that continually. And not every man, but every imagination of the thought of his heart is evil. Not most of these imaginations of his heart are evil, but every one. His heart is only evil. The Hebrew word is an adverb of limitation and restriction. There is nothing relative in it. The “every” is so all-inclusive that it excludes no imagination of the thought of man’s heart. The “only” is restrictive declaring that you will not find any imagination in that heart that is anything but evil. It declares that a righteous imagination of the thoughts of the heart cannot be found therein, its actions are restricted only to those of imagination of its thoughts that are evil. The “continually” indicates that this is a constant process. Not for certain periods of time, not at certain moments are the imaginations of the thoughts of man’s heart evil so that only these are found therein, but always, at any given moment you will find in the natural heart every imagination to be evil, and to be nothing but evil.
This is not something the Spirit found after striving with man. This is what happened to man the moment he fell in Adam We come into this world that way. And as history unfolds, man receives more and more opportunity to develop in sin, driven by his evil nature and the leadership of Satan. Every imagination is evil, and his heart never beats even once with the desire to love and serve God. But even as a poisonous plant that—as the poison ivy, for example—can only make life miserable for man by its touch, can grow from a small plant which does not reach above your shoe line to one so big that you are sure to be touched and to be poisoned when once again you walk that same way, so evil men with evil natures not only grow themselves in their own personal sins, but coming in contact with other sinners, develop in their combined efforts to defy God and to seek to rob Him of His glory. There comes a time, then, when the measure of iniquity is full, and God comes to destroy, not because He has to come with something, stronger to maintain Himself over against an enemy growing more and more powerful, and becoming more of a threat to God himself, but because they have reached the point He decreed, to come to the line which He has drawn as to where and when He will show them that all along He is King.
The Spirit strove through the preaching of Noah. And He strove not in the sense of seeking either to convert that world that in one hundred twenty years would be destroyed by the flood, nor to restrain their sin in order to make life possible for these wicked, whose lives God is going to take away after those one hundred twenty years. Had either been the aim of that striving, the world would, to the last man, have been converted, and it would not have been said that “every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually.” There would instead of a flood have been the most wonderful reformation this world ever saw.
The Spirit testified to these ungodly through Noah, and before that through Enoch. He opposed their wickedness by the preaching of the Word. There was no unsuccessful attempt to convert them, or to restrain them from further development in sin, but it was to leave a witness concerning Himself that He is God. Over against the ungodly speeches which they ungodly spoke, He spoke to them of His sovereignty and their calling to serve and love Him.
And the “always” in “My Spirit shall not always strive” simply means that God is going to bring an end to thiswitness by the preaching which His Spirit gave Enoch and Noah to proclaim and instead He is going to witness in a different way. He is not going to cease striving in the sense of bringing an end to the testimony that He is God and must be obeyed. He is going to do it in a different way, not by words but by the work of the flood. And thus, instead of being an act of God’s grace to these ungodly, it is an act of wrath when God strives by His Spirit with man. And the evidence is that His new way of striving, namely, with that terrible flood, reveals His attitude also in the striving by the Word. It was His declaration of His righteous indignation and unchangeable intention to destroy the wicked.
In this He succeeded, for He destroyed every last one of those who would seek no refuge in Christ and His cross, would have nothing to do with the ark and the building of it. Nor do we read that either Enoch or Noah urged these ungodly to come into the ark. The Spirit strove with a preaching of judgment upon the evil doers.