Here is, I. Noah’s thankful acknowledgment of God’s favour to him, in completing the mercy of his deliverance, Gen. 8:20. 1. He built an altar. Hitherto he had done nothing without particular instructions and commands from God. He had a particular call into the ark, and another out of it; but, altars and sacrifices being already of divine institution for religious worship, he did not stay for a particular command thus to express his thankfulness. Those that have received mercy from God should be forward in returning thanks, and do it not of constraint, but willingly. God is pleased with free-will offerings, and praises that wait for him. Noah was now turned out into a cold and desolate world, where, one would have thought, his first care would have been to build a house for himself; but, behold, he begins with an altar for God: God, that is the first, must be first served; and he begins well that begins with God. 2. He offered a sacrifice upon his altar, of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl—one, the odd seventh that we read of, Gen. 7:2, 3. Here observe, (1.) He offered only those that were clean; for it is not enough that we sacrifice, but we must sacrifice that which God appoints, according to the law of sacrifice, and not a corrupt thing. (2.) Though his stock of cattle was so small, and that rescued from ruin at so great an expense of care and pains, yet he did not grudge to give God his dues out of it. He might have said, “Have I but seven sheep to begin the world with, and must one of these seven be killed and burnt for sacrifice? Were it not better to defer it till we have greater plenty?” No, to prove the sincerity of his love and gratitude, he cheerfully gives the seventh to his God, as an acknowledgment that all was his, and owing to him. Serving God with our little is the way to make it more; and we must never think that wasted with which God is honoured. (3.) See here the antiquity of religion: the first thing we find done in the new world was an act of worship, Jer. 6:16. We are now to express our thankfulness, not by burnt-offerings, but by the sacrifices of praise and the sacrifices of righteousness, by pious devotions and a pious conversation.
II. God’s gracious acceptance of Noah’s thankfulness. It was a settled rule in the patriarchal age: If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? Noah was so. For,
1. God was well pleased with the performance, Gen. 8:21. He smelt a sweet savour, or, as it is in the Hebrew, a savour of rest, from it. As, when he had made the world at first on the seventh day, he rested and was refreshed, so, now that he had new-made it, in the sacrifice of the seventh he rested. He was well pleased with Noah’s pious zeal, and these hopeful beginnings of the new world, as men are with fragrant and agreeable smells; though his offering was small, it was according to his ability, and God accepted it. Having caused his anger to rest upon the world of sinners, he here caused his love to rest upon this little remnant of believers.
2. 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, which was typified and represented by it, and which was indeed an offering of a sweet-smelling savour, Eph. 5:2. Good security is here given, and that which may be relied upon,
(1.) That this judgment should never be repeated. Noah might think, “To what purpose should the world be repaired, when, in all probability, for the wickedness of it, it will quickly be in like manner ruined again?” “No,” says God, “it never shall.” It was said (Gen. 6:6), It repented the Lord that he had made man; now here he speaks as if it repented him that he had destroyed man: neither means a change of his mind, but both a change of his way. It repented him concerning his servants, Deut. 32:36. Two ways this resolve is expressed:—[1.] I will not again curse the ground, Heb. I will not add to curse the ground any more. God had cursed the ground upon the first entrance of sin (Gen. 3:17), when he drowned it he added to that curse; but now he determines not to add to it any more. [2.] Neither will I again smite any more every living thing; that is, it was determined that whatever ruin God might bring upon particular persons, or families, or countries, he would never again destroy the whole world till the day shall come when time shall be no more. But the reason of this resolve is very surprising, for it seems the same in effect with the reason given for the destruction of the world: Because the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, Gen. 6:5. But there is this difference—there it is said, The imagination of man’s heart is evil continually, that is, “his actual transgressions continually cry against him;” here it is said, It is evil from his youth or childhood. It is bred in the bone; he brought it into the world with him; he was shapen and conceived in it. Now, one would think it should follow, “Therefore that guilty race shall be wholly extinguished, and I will make a full end.” No, “Therefore I will no more take this severe method; for,” First, “He is rather to be pitied, for it is all the effect of sin dwelling in him; and it is but what might be expected from such a degenerate race: he is called a transgressor from the womb, and therefore it is not strange that he deals so very treacherously,” Isa. 48:8. Thus God remembers that he is flesh, corrupt and sinful, Ps. 78:39. Secondly, “He will be utterly ruined; for, if he be dealt with according to his deserts, one flood must succeed another till all be destroyed.” See here, 1. That outward judgments, though they may terrify and restrain men, yet cannot of themselves sanctify and renew them; the grace of God must work with those judgments. Man’s nature was as sinful after the deluge as it had been before. 2. That God’s goodness takes occasion from man’s sinfulness to magnify itself the more; his reasons of mercy are all drawn from himself, not from any thing in us.
(2.) That the course of nature should never be discontinued (Gen. 8:22): “While the earth remaineth, and man upon it, there shall be summer and winter (not all winter as had been this last year), day and night,” not all night, as probably it was while the rain was descending. Here, [1.] It is plainly intimated that this earth is not to remain always; it, and all the works in it, must shortly be burnt up; and we look for new heavens and a new earth, when all these things must be dissolved. But, [2.] As long as it does remain God’s providence will carefully preserve the regular succession of times and seasons, and cause each to know its place. To this we owe it that the world stands, and the wheel of nature keeps it track. See here how changeable the times are and yet how unchangeable. First, The course of nature always changing. As it is with the times, so it is with the events of time, they are subject to vicissitudes—day and night, summer and winter, counterchanged. In heaven and hell it is not so, but on earth God hath set the one over against the other. Secondly, Yet never changed. It is constant in this inconstancy. These seasons have never ceased, nor shall cease, while the sun continued such a steady measurer of time and the moon such a faithful witness in heaven. This is God’s covenant of the day and of the night, the stability of which is mentioned for the confirming of our faith in the covenant of grace, which is no less inviolable, Jer. 33:20, 21. We see God’s promises to the creatures made good, and thence may infer that his promises to all believers shall be so.