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MAN’S DEPRAVITY AND CHRIST’S ATONEMENT
(SERMON #54 ON THE BOOK OF GENESIS)
A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., Pastor Emeritus
“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done” (Genesis 8:21; p. 16 Scofield).
The Apostle Peter tells us that Noah’s Ark and baptism are types and pictures of salvation. He puts the two together (the Ark and baptism) to illustrate the way we are saved (I Peter 3:20-21). Noah had to leave the world and go into the Ark. The Flood descended from above while Noah was buried in the Ark, buried between waters below the Ark and the waters from above. Then, after a time, Noah came out of the Ark into a new world, resurrected to life. In the same way, a person who is saved is baptized. First, he leaves the world and comes in to Christ. He is buried with Christ and then rises to newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
Baptism is a type or figure of the same thing that Noah experienced in the Ark – that salvation is by death, burial and resurrection. Noah left the world. He entered the Ark. There is a distinct time when a convert leaves the world and enters in to Christ. Then Noah was shut in. He was “sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). Noah went into the Ark, “and the Lord shut him in” (Genesis 7:16). He could not come out until God opened the door. The Flood beat outside, but Noah found that he was safe in the Ark. So it is with a new Christian. There is a time, after he comes in to Christ, that floods of attacks come, but the Christian finds that he is safe in Christ. Then there is a time when God opens the door, and the Christian goes out into a new world as a witness and servant of God. He is not a perfect man, for he is still “evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21), but he remembers Christ’s sacrifice for him. He is accepted because of Christ, “Wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). And God says, “I will not again curse…neither…again smite” (Genesis 8:21).
The Book of Genesis is a book of dispensational truth, full of types and shadows of the coming Christ, and salvation through His sacrifice on the Cross. If you read Genesis with these thoughts in mind, you will see by faith many of the deep things of God. But now we come to the text itself,
“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).
In this verse we see two great truths.
I. First, man’s nature is depraved.
“For the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”
You will remember, before the Flood, that
“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” (Genesis 6:5; p. 13).
But the Flood did not change human nature. After the Flood man’s heart was just the same. You might think that such a horrible disaster would change men, at least change the ones who escaped in the Ark. But the Bible tells us it did not change man’s nature at all. And so, as Noah offers up burnt-offerings to the Lord, God says again,
“the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”
This is the way man is described by God throughout the Bible.
“There is no man which sinneth not” (II Chronicles 6:36; p. 495).
“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20; p. 701).
“The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3; p. 702).
“We have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6; p. 760).
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9; p. 790).
“They are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10; p. 1194).
Thus, we are told that all men are
“dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1; p. 1251).
It is necessary for God to convert us, since our Adamic nature is so evil and dead that even the Flood of judgment could not cure its evil imaginations! Spurgeon said,
Oh God! how hopeless is human nature! How impossible it is that the carnal mind should be reconciled to God! How needful it is that thou shouldst give us new hearts and right spirits, seeing that the [Adamic] nature is so evil that even the floods of judgment cannot cure it of its evil imaginations! (C. H. Spurgeon, “Human Depravity and Divine Mercy,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1979 reprint, volume XI, p. 99).
II. Second, Christ’s atonement appeases God’s wrath.
God cursed the earth with the Flood because of man’s wicked heart (Genesis 6:5-7), but now He says,
“I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done”
What brought about this reversal? Why did God now say He would not “curse the ground” again, even though He had just done so because of man’s evil heart? It cannot be anything in man that changed. It cannot be Noah’s piety and godliness that appeased the wrath of God. Luther said,
It is a pity that this passage has been translated [in Latin in the Catholic Bible, and now in the modern “decisionist” translations] in such a way that it gave occasion to the sophists [the medieval Catholic teachers] to interpret it as though man’s imagination were itself not evil but only inclined to evil [as today the NIV translates “imagination” as “inclination,” and the NASB has it “the intent”]…In connection with our text (Genesis 8:21) they seemed to say that while man is “inclined” to sin yet his inclination [or intent] is subject to the power of free will, and so man is not obliged to sin. Yet though these sophists [or “decisionists”] denied the corruption of human nature, they showed that they were not clear in their confused thinking, for they said that there must be added (to man’s will) divine grace, which makes man pleasing to God. That is to say that God is not satisfied with such natural piety and perfection of man (as they claim). But it is not necessary to argue with them since Moses clearly says that the “imagination” of man’s heart is evil. By “imagination” Moses means human reason and will and wisdom even when it meditates upon God and strives to perform the very best works…Reason is always opposed to the divine law, always under sin, always under divine wrath, and [always] unable to free itself from this great misery in its own powers, for Christ says in John 8:36, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” From this [we see that man’s powers] are not uncorrupt but corrupt [and man cannot free himself] (Martin Luther, Th.D., Luther’s Commentary on Genesis, Zondervan Publishing House, 1958 reprint, volume I, page 459).
From Luther’s exegesis of the Scriptures, we see that man is “dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5). We see that it is not the “inclination” or “intent” of man to sin, but that, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Man’s nature is entirely depraved. There is no “spark” of goodness left in it since the Fall to enable man’s heart to cooperate with God’s grace (as the synergists, Catholics and modern “decisionists” proclaim), but within man there is nothing but spiritual death. When man tries to please God he always fails, because he is “dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5). And, so, man must give up on his own abilities entirely, and say with the Apostle Paul,
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24; p. 1200).
Thus, it was not any “spark” of goodness in Adam that commended him to God and freed him from a further curse on the earth. We must look elsewhere to discover the reason God cursed the earth with a Flood because of man’s evil imagination, but now decided not to do it again for the same reason – namely that “the imagination of man’s heart” (before the Flood) was as equally corrupt after the Flood.
How can this seeming paradox, this seeming contradiction, be explained and understood? The early rabbis and Christian authors were puzzled over why God’s mind changed regarding man’s sinful condition, which remained the same as ever after the Flood. Matthew Henry gives the answer to that puzzle when he says,
Hereupon, He took up a resolution never to drown the world again. Herein he had an eye, not so much to Noah’s sacrifice as to Christ’s sacrifice of himself [on the Cross]. Which was typified and represented by it, and which was indeed an offering of a sweet smelling savour, Ephesians 5:2. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 reprint, volume I, p. 55).
Dr. Leupold said,
The Spirit of revelation makes it known that this resolve of God [never again to curse the world with a Flood] was an answer to…the sacrifice (H. C. Leupold, D.D., Exposition of Genesis, Baker Book House, 1984 reprint, volume I, p. 323).
And it was on the basis of Noah’s offerings that God changed His previous action and now said He would not destroy the world again for “man's sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Arthur W. Pink said that,
The end of God’s curse by a Flood was based on the burnt-offerings that Noah sacrificed…The basis of this “blessing” was the burnt offering; the design of it was to show the divine favor that was extended to Adam and Eve should rest upon the new progenitors of the [renewed] human race (Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in Genesis, Moody Press, 1981 reprint, volume I, p. 111).
God’s grace toward Noah was based, then, not on Noah’s goodness, but on the mercy of Christ, extended to him and his family through the “sweet smelling sacrifice” Noah offered on that altar. As I have said, in previous sermons on Genesis, Noah’s sacrificial offering was a foreshadow and prophetic type of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, fulfilled in Christ, as the Apostle Paul said,
“Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour”
(Ephesians 5:2; p. 1254).
It was Christ’s crucifixion, typified in Noah’s offerings, which pacified the wrath of God and made it possible for God to smell a sweet savour, a savour of rest, which propitiated His wrath, and made it possible for Him to forgive and “pass over” the sins of man’s heart. Thus, the offerings that Noah burned were a clear type and portrait of Christ offering Himself on the Cross to justify and save sinful man. It was Christ in the sacrifice that turned away the wrath of God, and absorbed His anger against man’s sinful heart. As the Book of Hebrews says,
“It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4; p. 1300).
But we are
“sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10; p. 1300).
And it was Noah’s sacrifice that pointed to the body of Jesus on the Cross. Noah’s offerings typified the crucifixion, which pacified the wrath of God, that man should never again be “cursed” by a Flood.
“And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done” (Genesis 8:20-21; p. 16).
III. Third, how this applies to you.
You are a sinner by nature. Your sin brings down the wrath of God upon you. Nothing you can do or say will turn away His anger for the evil imagination of your heart. You will have to be cast down into the flames of Hell for your sin. One thing, and one thing alone, stands between you and Hell, and that is the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross. That is why the Bible says,
“Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 15:3; p. 1225).
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18; p. 1314).
Just as Noah’s sacrificial offerings were accepted by God, and He promised never again to curse the earth; so also, the death of Christ on the Cross is accepted by God, and if you come to Christ through simple faith, as Noah did when he brought those sacrifices – if you come to Christ through simple trust and faith, God will pardon your sins for Christ’s sake, and you will be saved from the wrath to come by Jesus, who loved you enough to atone for your sins on the Cross, so that God can pass over your sins and not “curse” you any more for the evil imagination of your heart.
And so, we end this sermon with a simple plea – come to Jesus and be washed clean in His Blood! Come to Jesus, who loves you so, and be saved from the wrath of God for ever and ever, world without end! Listen to the words of this old Gospel song,
Christ our Redeemer died on the cross,
Died for the sinner, paid all his due.
All who receive Him need never fear,
Yes, He will pass, will pass over you.
When I see the blood, when I see the blood,
When I see the blood, I will pass, I will pass over you.
Chiefest of sinners, Jesus will save;
As He has promised, so He will do;
Oh, sinner, hear Him, trust in His Word,
Then He will pass, will pass over you.
When I see the blood, when I see the blood,
When I see the blood, I will pass, I will pass over you.
(“When I See the Blood” by John G. Foote, 19th century).