The NATURE of the Covenant of Grace: We learn how God saves sinners
A) Salvation is by GRACE alone:
Most of us tend to misunderstand the meaning of Genesis 6:8-9. We read that Noah was “a righteous man,” (v9), and so we draw the conclusion that it must have been for that reason that he “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v8). We tend to think that Noah found favor with God because he was a righteous man. But is that why Noah found favor with God? Is that why anyone finds favor with God? No way.1 Noah wasn't saved from the flood because of his righteousness—but by God's grace. Noah was a sinner saved by grace just like you and me.2
How do we know that? Look with me how carefully Scripture preserves what it says in Genesis 6:8-9. The first thing we notice is the order of verses 8-9. Scripture records that Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (in verse 8) before it records that Noah was a righteous man (in verse 9).3 Noah found favor with God before he was a righteous man. And we don't just see it in the chronological order of verses 8-9, but in the structure of the passage. Scripture emphatically puts a great chasm of separation between verses 8 and 9. Look at how verse 9 begins: “These are the records of the generations of Noah.” This is the phrase that the author of Genesis uses for chapter divisions—to start a new chapter (Compare 2:4; 5:1; 10:1; 11:27; 25:19). Genesis 6:8 is the end of the “chapter of Adam,” and Genesis 6:9 is the beginning of a completely new chapter.
Scripture is telling us that Noah didn't find favor with God because he was a righteous man—God's favor found Noah long before he was a righteous man. The only reason Noah was a righteous man in verse 9 was that God had first drawn Noah by His grace in verse 8.4 So often people read Genesis 6 and think that Noah wasn't a sinner—or at least not that bad of a sinner—and that's why God saved him. But the truth is, Noah was just as sinful as everyone else. “Noah was with the rest of the world under the wrath of God.”5 But instead of getting wrath, Noah got grace. And then that same grace that saved him began also to sanctify him—that's why he was a righteous man—after saving him God began to change him, just as He does with us. Noah wasn't saved because he was a righteous man. Noah was a righteous man because he had been saved.
B) Salvation is through FAITH alone:
This is made clear in the account in Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
What does this verse tell us? Something quite significant: “[These] last words, 'he became heir of the righteousness which is by faith,' . . . [show] us that Noah had. . .the very same righteousness for the object of his faith, which our gospel now proposes to us, and which our faith does lay hold upon. . .Now it was that righteousness Noah had an eye upon. . .And in sign and token that yet he had his eye upon this righteousness out of himself to save him, it was through the same faith he betook himself to that ark, a means wholly out of himself, to save him from the waters, which otherwise all his own righteousness would never have done. . .[thus] the righteousness he believed on, and was made heir of, was this gospel righteousness, signified to him by the ark. . .”6
Noah was saved by grace alone—and he was saved through faith alone—and that faith was not just a faith in God in general—but faith in the coming Savior who had been promised in Genesis 3:15.
C) Salvation is in CHRIST alone:
We are pointed to Christ in a number of ways in the account of Noah. . .
I) Noah's NAME: Noah's name means, “rest,” and we are told that Noah's father, Lamech, named his son Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed” (5:29). In one sense, the words were fulfilled in Noah—the old earth, which the Lord had cursed, would be flooded over with water—recreated, as it were. But though the Lord promised after the flood to never again curse the earth (8:21), presumably by flooding it against with water, the original curse was still there. We still live in a fallen world. Lamech's prophecy about his son looked backward to the promise the Lord had given in Genesis 3:15, and forward to Christ, the true fulfillment of that promise, who would come forth as a seed of Noah, and bring rest and re-creation to redeemed humanity in the fullest sense.7 So, Lamech's words find partial fulfillment in Noah, but full fulfillment in Christ.8
II) Noah's ARK: Noah's ark is a type of Jesus our Savior.9 When God's wrath fell upon all mankind, it was only those who were in the ark that were saved from judgment. Further, the ark not only protected all those inside, but did so in particular by absorbing the full force of the wrath of God brought upon it in the flood, just as Jesus on the cross saved His people by absorbing God's wrath in their place.10 Noah wasn't saved from the flood of God's wrath because he didn't sin or even because his sin wasn't so bad; he was saved because he was inside the ark when the waters came.11 And just as there was only one ark in the days of Noah, and only one door on that ark; so too the Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus is not just one way of salvation, but the only way. If men are to be saved from the judgment to come, they must be saved in Christ alone.
III) Noah's HEADSHIP: Noah himself is a type of Christ, the second Adam, who functions as the covenant head for his whole family.12 Even though the covenant God makes with Noah in Genesis 6 is exclusively with Noah (Genesis 6:18), Noah's entire family—his wife, and his sons, and his sons' wives—along with the animals—are saved from the flood through Noah. We see this in Genesis 6:18-19: The Lord said to Noah, “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons' wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you. . .” In the Hebrew text, it's clear that the covenant is with Noah alone (all the pronouns here are singular); but Noah's whole family is saved in and through and by their relation to him. Later, we read in Genesis 7:1: “Then the Lord said to Noah, 'Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.' ” Again, the pronouns here are in the singular tense. Noah alone was seen as righteous, but Noah's entire family (or household) was saved on account of Noah. We continue to see the same pattern throughout chapters 7-8. We read in Genesis 7:23: “only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.” Genesis 8:1 tells us: “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark.” And in Genesis 8:16-18, it's emphasized over and over again that everything in the ark was only there on account of their relation to Noah: They were in the ark with him.13
This points us back to the truths we learned in Romans 5:12-21. Scripture is portraying Noah as the covenant head of his people. It is his righteousness that serves as the basis for including the rest of his family. In this respect, Noah typifies Christ, the second Adam, and founder of a new humanity. In the flood, God poured out His wrath upon the world, but all those who belonged to Noah were spared on account of Noah. So too, on the coming day of wrath, all those who belong to Christ will be spared on account of Christ: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). So if you belong to Jesus, you can rest knowing that your salvation doesn't depend upon you. Just as Noah's family was saved on account of Noah's righteousness and not their own (7:1), you are saved on account of Christ's righteousness and not your own (Romans 5:12-21): “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).
IV) Noah's OFFERING: We are also pointed to Christ in the sacrifice made by Noah after the waters of the flood had subsided. Noah took of every clean bird and every clean animal and offered them up as a burnt offering on the alter he had built.14 “The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, 'I will never again curse the ground on account of man. . .” (Genesis 8:21).15 This imagery of a soothing aroma is echoed in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” The sweet-smelling offering here in Noah's sacrifice is a fore-picturing of the offering up of Christ on our behalf.16
V) Noah's PROPHECY: A prophecy of the coming of Christ is hinted at—not only at the beginning of the story of Noah, but at the end of the story. Noah's father had made a prophecy about his son in Genesis 5:29; later Noah would make a prophecy about his sons in Genesis 9:26-27. After cursing his grandson Canaan (because of what Ham, his father, had done), Noah goes on to bless his son Shem: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.” Noah put the blessing upon his son Shem. And it would be through Shem that the seed of the Messiah, who had been promised back in Genesis 3:15, would come. It would be through Shem that Abraham would later come (11:10-32), and through Abraham would one day come Christ.
1 “If you look up this expression 'X found grace,' you will discover it in situations like David and Mephibosheth, or in Genesis 19 in the case of Lot being rescued from Sodom. Every time this expression occurs, it focusses attention as far as the receiving end is concerned on a meritless situation. If a person testifies 'I have found grace,' he is saying, There is nothing about me that could have earned or prompted this.' When, therefore, we read in Genesis 6.8 [that] 'Noah found grace', the scriptural understanding of that phrase is that 'grace found Noah'.” (Alec Motyer, Covenant and Promise).
2 “But pure and unmixed grace. . .is made the total and only cause of that matter [that Noah walked with God]. . .He was first found the object of God's grace and favor, and not grace first found in him; thereby plainly to insinuate, that for no righteousness in him it was that God did first absolutely pitch his grace upon him, abstractly from the consideration of his holiness, and that was the fruit of that grace of God's” (Thomas Goodwin, Works, Volume 9).
3 “Notice how carefully Genesis safeguards this truth. . .We are not permitted by Genesis to reverse the order of verses 8 and 9. . .What we must say when we come to verse 9 is not 'Now we see why Noah was chosen,' but 'Now we see that Noah was chosen.' ” (Alec Motyer, Covenant and Promise).
4 Again, as Alec Motyer had so beautifully styled it (see above): “What we must say when we come to verse 9 is not: 'Now we see why Noah was chosen' — But: 'Now we see that Noah was chosen.'” (Covenant and Promise).
5 Alec Motyer, Covenant and Promise.
6 Thomas Goodwin, Works, V9, p44 (emphasis mine). This is especially evident when comparing this phrase at the end of this verse with the same phrase as found in Romans 4:13 and 9:30. Francis Roberts echoes Goodwin: “This righteousness by faith is that perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, which God of His mere grace imputes to them that by faith accept and receive the same, having renounced all self-righteousness, and all other ways of sinners' justification whatsoever. . .Hence therefore it is evident, that Noah, in all this federal transaction betwixt God and him, had a special eye to Christ by faith, and that beyond the temporal salvation of his house in the ark by waters from the general deluge, he beheld and apprehended the spiritual salvation of Christ's house the Church, and peculiarly of himself from the wrath of God by Jesus Christ and his blood; otherwise how could this act of his faith have made him heir of Christ's righteousness?” (Roberts, pp264-65).
7 See Matthew 11:28 and Galatians 3:13. This is similar to the Davidic covenant, where the Lord made promises to David about his descendant after him, who would build Him a house; in one sense these are fulfilled in Solomon; but in a fuller sense, they are clearly pointing to a more distant descendant of David, Jesus the Messiah, who would fulfill the promises in the truest sense. See also Haggai 2:23 for a similar occurrence, as Christ would come forth from Zerubbabel.
8 “[Noah was] the beginner and founder of a new world; and, in that respect, a type of the second Adam, yea, and the father of him, namely, Christ according to the flesh.” (Thomas Goodwin, Works Volume 9).
9 Explicit from 1 Peter 3:18-22: “The ark, that was the refuge and hiding-place of the church in this time of storm and flood, was a type of Christ, the true hiding-place of the church from the storms and floods of God’s wrath” (Jonathan Edwards).
10 “[Noah and his family] would be preserved through this judgment, and not from it, by being brought into the bosom of the ark, where he would be safe. This deliverance, then, was not by being taken entirely out of God's judgment, but by being preserved through it, because of that which he was in: God did not save Noah and his family by simply overlooking them, or forbearing to pour out his wrath upon them alone in all the world; but rather, when he poured out all his wrath upon them, as he did upon the rest of the world, because they were in the ark, the ark itself bore the brunt of the wrath. . .just as we today are delivered from God's wrath, not by being plucked up from it entirely, but by being taken through it and yet preserved, because we are in Christ, who bore the entire brunt of God's wrath.” (Nathan Pitchford, Images of Christ).
11 See 1 Peter 3:20-21; 2 Peter 3:3-10; Hebrews 11:7 in light of 12:2. I absolutely love how Goodwin puts it: “All Noah's holiness would not have saved him from the waters, but his being in the ark saved him from the waters. . .” (Works, V9, p72).
12 As Roberts explains it: “Noah was a singular type of Christ. . .and the temporal saving of his house with himself in the ark by water, a special type of the salvation of Christ's elect in the Church by Jesus Christ. Consequently God's Covenant with Noah touching the saving of him and his family in the ark by water. . .intended herein to signify the elect's salvation by Christ through faith. . .Noah built a material ark, for the saving of his natural posterity therein from the general deluge of waters, according to God's Covenant. So Jesus Christ builds a spiritual ark. . .for the saving of all his elect, his supernatural posterity therein, from the deluge of God's wrath. . .They that were saved in the ark were saved therein with Noah, who forsook his own habitation to dwell with them in the ark and with them to be tossed up and down with winds and waves that they might be saved with him. . .So they that are saved in the ark of the Church, are saved by Christ's gracious and powerful presence. . . Thus Christ endangers himself with us, for our safety. While Christ is in the ship, in the ark, all is safe” (pp265-66, 271-72).
13 As Alec Motyer puts it: “When Noah is to gather his family and the animals into the ark, it is specified more than once, they are in the ark with you. They are not there in their own right, but only in a derived right.” (Covenant and Promise).
14 That Noah took of every clean bird and every clean animal for his burnt offering is a detail we pass over quickly without giving much thought to. But doubtless, this must have been the most extensive burnt offering in the history of the world.
15 “The Hebrew term for 'pleasing,' nikhoakh, conveys the idea of rest and tranquility. It is related to the name 'Noah' (Hb. Noakh) and is probably used here in order to remind the reader of Lamech's remarks in Gen.5:29.” (ESV Study Bible).
16 “Here it is the godward [aspect] that is brought before us. Blessed indeed is it to learn what the sacrifice of Christ obtained for His people—deliverance from the wrath to come, securing an inheritance in Heaven forever; but far more blessed is it to know what that sacrifice meant unto Him to whom it was offered. In the sacrifice of Christ, God Himself found that which was "a sweet savor," with which He was well pleased” (A.W. Pink, Divine Covenants).