16 March, 2016

Genesis 9:8–9—Was the Covenant with Noah a “Common Grace” Covenant?

And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you (Genesis 9:8–9 KJV).


Rev. Robert C Harbach

[Source: Studies in the Book of Genesis, pp. 180–182]

In verse 1, Noah and his sons are blessed; here they are in the covenant! Dr. A. Kuyper maintained that this was a common grace covenant, so that then it would include the reprobate. He conceived of it that in this covenant man stands to God in the relation of friendship not as the Mediator of redemption, but as Mediator of creation. So the covenant is established with man, including the reprobate. God implants in man a common grace which restrains his sin and enables him to do works worthy of reward. The benefits of this covenant are the good things such as man’s fecundity, dominance over the animal world, and continuance of the race in perpetual generations. These are said to be bestowed on the reprobate in love to them. But this love can only be upon them in time, so that the covenant endures only for time, as long as the earth remaineth. But see verses 12 and 16, where it is called “the everlasting covenant.”

This common grace covenant has for its purpose the furnishing of elect and reprobate a common ground on which both may stand and work together to develop the natural resources of the earth for the betterment of the world. So runs the Kuyperian view of common grace. Dr. Cornelius Van Til, professor of Apologetics in Westminster Theological Seminary, disagrees with Kuyper at this point. He denies that common grace is a common ground between believers and non-believers. He says,

“It should be clear then that we cannot use what has been called the doctrine of common grace in order to find in it a common ground or common area of knowledge. Common grace does not effect (sic) the deadness of the sinner. If it did it would not be common grace; it would be special grace. If the doctrine of common grace has any significance for the question of the point of contact between believers and non-believers it cannot belie the fact that it, to some degree tones down the absolute antithesis in the ethical sphere between those who are dead in trespasses and sins and those who have been made alive through the Spirit of God.

“In fact there is no need for such common ground as men sometimes think they find in common grace. There is no need for anything but a formal point of contact between believers and unbelievers. . . (as viz.) the image of God in man. . . (which furnishes a formal point of contact and nothing more is needed for the purpose of argument. It enables men to have an intellectual understanding of the truth. Satan has an intellectual understanding of the truth. . . without really having the truth. . . .”7

The reason why Van Til will not have common grace as a common ground between believers and unbelievers is that common grace tones down the absolute antithesis, so that men dead in sin are not as absolutely depraved as the Bible says they are. He does not like the implication that common grace so affects the deadness of the sinner as to make his works worthy of reward. He denies this. So do we. He does not want any view of common grace which destroys the antithesis. He wants a view of common grace which does not do this. He claims to have such a view. But it is infinitely better to have the entire pure Reformed truth without the adulterations of common grace views of any sort.

As Reformed believers, we must be very careful about the matter of a so-called common ground, even though that ground is not “common grace.” We must not see God’s special grace resting on a foundation of common grace, even though this common grace, which by the way is a non-saving grace, does not affect the deadness of the sinner. Kuyperian common grace sees this foundation of non-saving, common grace as that on which the whole of nature rests and without which the earth would have become a hell, making it impossible for the covenant of special grace on that foundation to be perfected. This puts the Cross off its own base, making it depends on “other ground” for its efficacy. This makes not only good gifts but also “blessings” to flow to men independently of the Cross of Christ. This is a denial of Reformed soteriology, and is the very essence of Modernism.

As pointed out by the Revs. Ophoff and Hoeksema, in volume 2 of The Standard Bearer, Kuyper’s support for common grace in the covenant is in his interpretation of Genesis 9:8, 9, “I will establish My covenant with you (plur.), and with your seed after you.” The covenant is said to be made with Noah and his sons, not just with Noah alone. That is, God includes in this covenant all the future generations of Noah, so not with believing elect alone, but with all Shemites, Hamites, etc., in fact with the whole human race without exception. Had it been a covenant of special grace, it would have been established with Noah in the line of Shem, and so with Noah’s spiritual seed alone.

But when we interpret “with your seed after you” in the light of other scripture, we learn that “they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom. 9:8). Therefore, “your seed” means “the holy seed.” It also follows that the words “every one of you” (Acts 2:38) do not mean all the generations in the sphere of the covenant without exception, but are limited to “as many as the Lord our God shall call” (v. 39). This thought also is to be kept in mind, as namely that “with your seed after you” includes infants in the covenant as the infant seed comes forth, as the covenant itself proceeds, in the line of generations.

Genesis 9:10 is appealed to by Kuyper, and by other adherents to common grace who greatly differ from Kuyper, in order to prove that this covenant was no covenant of grace, was no particular covenant, because it was established “with every living creature that is with you.” Verse 12 speaks of “the covenant which I made between Me and you and every living creature that is with you;” and verse 13 has, “a covenant between Me and the earth.” There are three similar additional references in verses 15, 16, 17, so that six times in one chapter it is made plain, so the theory goes, that this is a general covenant, made with every individual of man. But this is language that an Arminian would gladly accept. The truth is, there is no more a general covenant here than there is a general atonement in view in John 3:16. It used to be that the adherents of common grace, such as Prof. L. Berkhof and his followers, in the interest of maintaining the Reformed Faith, would interpret John 3:16 as teaching a particular election and a limited atonement. They never taught from such a text as teaching a common grace attitude in God of love to all men. What Berkhof taught is never seen or heard of any more.

But these verses, 10-13, 15-17 are to be viewed as teaching that the particular covenant of saving grace embraces the whole earth and all creation, “because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). The earth and the whole created universe cannot be delivered from the curse except in connection with the final redemption and glorification of God’s people. That will be in “the regeneration,” in “the restitution of all things.”



Prof. Ronald L. Cammenga

(An excerpt from "The Covenant with Noah: Common Grace or Cosmic Grace?"

A number of weighty objections must be lodged against the view that God’s covenant with Noah was a covenant of common grace, altogether distinct both in its recipients and promises from God’s covenant of grace in Jesus Christ.

First, the account in Genesis makes plain that it is God alone who establishes the covenant. The covenant is no bargain or mutual agreement entered into by God and Noah. Repeatedly the language that is used is language that underscores divine sovereignty in the establishment of the covenant. Consistently the language that is used is “I will establish my covenant” (Gen. 6:18; 9:9, 11, 12, 16). This is unilateral and unconditional covenant language. God alone establishes the covenant. The covenant that He establishes is His (“my”) covenant. It was not God and Noah who established the covenant, so that the covenant that was established was “their” covenant. God established the covenant, and therefore the covenant is His covenant. The very form of the Hebrew verb that is used throughout the passage, and for that matter is used throughout the Old Testament, for the establishment of the covenant emphasizes God’s sovereignty in establishing the covenant. The Hebrew verb is the Hiphil of קוםּ (qum), which in the Hiphil (the causative verbal pattern) means “to cause to stand, to establish.” The very form of the verb underscores the truth that God and God alone establishes the covenant. The covenant exists because He causes it to stand.

Second, the fact that the Genesis account speaks throughout of “my covenant” (Gen. 6:18; 9:9, 11, 15) and “the covenant” (Gen. 9:12, 16, 17), along with the fact that “covenant” is throughout singular, implies that the covenant established with Noah is a manifestation of the one covenant of God. This is the language used throughout Scripture to refer to the covenant of grace. That this language is used in regard to God’s covenant with Noah indicates that the Noahic covenant, unique to be sure in certain features, was nevertheless as to its essential character of one piece with the covenant of grace established by God with His people in Christ.

Third, what confirms the view that the Noahic covenant is only a manifestation of the one covenant of grace is the fact that the covenant with Noah is referred to as a covenant “for perpetual generations” (Gen. 9:12) and “the everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:16). Although the covenant with Noah does certainly concern this earth and the life of God’s covenant people in the midst of this earth as they are gathered and as the covenant comes to manifestation in the history of the world, nevertheless the covenant with Noah is not essentially a temporal covenant whose benefits are limited to this earth. It is rather an everlasting covenant. Not only does that emphasize that God establishes and realizes the covenant, inasmuch as God alone is eternal, but that also underscores the truth that the blessings of the Noahic covenant are not just temporal blessings attached to earthly life. They are in reality blessings that originate in eternity past and extend to eternity future. They are nothing less, therefore, than the blessings of salvation, the spiritual salvation of God in Jesus Christ.

A fourth objection to the common grace view of the covenant with Noah is that it does not do justice to the original establishment of that covenant as recorded in Genesis 6:18. The proponents of common grace focus on the establishment of the covenant as it is recorded in Genesis 9:8-17, the account of the establishment of the covenant with Noah after the Flood. But what they fail to take into due consideration is the fact that the first establishment of God’s covenant with Noah is recorded in Genesis 6:18 before the Flood. God’s covenant with Noah after the Flood may not be divorced from His covenant established with Noah before the Flood. These, clearly, are not two different covenants, but one and the same covenant. The covenant was first established by God with Noah before the Flood, and then confirmed by God after the Flood. What Genesis 6:18 makes clear is that the Noahic covenant is not a merely temporal covenant with purely earthly benefits. Genesis 6:18 is the explanation as to why Noah and his family will not perish in the Flood. Under the just judgment of God, the wicked world of Noah’s day perished in the deluge, a just judgment of God that ended in the everlasting damnation of those ungodly. In contrast to the wicked world exposed to the awful judgment of God, stood Noah and his family. What marked the difference between that perishing world, on the one hand, and Noah and his family, on the other hand? The difference was the grace of God. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). According to that grace, God established His covenant with Noah. Clearly, the significance of God’s covenant with Noah, therefore, cannot be reduced to that which is purely temporal and earthly—not, at least, if full justice is done to the light that Genesis 6:18 sheds on God’s confirmation of the covenant in Genesis 9:8-17.

What strengthens the objection against the common grace understanding of the Noahic covenant, in the fifth place, is the subsequent reference to this history and covenant in Scripture. In three passages in the Old Testament, reference is made to God’s covenant with Noah: Isaiah 54:9-10, Jeremiah 33:20-22 and Hosea 2:18. In all three instances, the covenant with Noah is compared to God’s covenant with His elect people in Christ. In the Isaiah 54 passage, the Noahic covenant is compared to “the covenant of my peace”; in the Jeremiah passage the Noahic covenant is compared to God’s covenant with David, which covenant is ultimately with Christ, the great son of David, and all who are in Jesus Christ; in the Hosea passage the Noahic covenant is compared to God’s covenant with Israel, according to which He will break the bow and the sword of their enemies and make Israel to lie down safely. That the Noahic covenant can be compared to God’s covenant of grace in these passages of the Old Testament is possible, in the final analysis, only if the Noahic covenant itself is a manifestation of the covenant of grace.

In the sixth place, it simply is not true that the Noahic covenant is established by God with all men, elect and reprobate alike. This is at best to misread Genesis 9 and at worst deliberately to corrupt the teaching of the passage. Noah does not stand as the head of the whole human race in Genesis 9, although unquestionably the whole human race derives from him. But Noah emerges from the ark as the head of the church, the church as it was manifested in that day, the church that had been saved through the watery destruction of the Flood. He is the prophet, priest, and king of the people of God who have been delivered, not merely from, but by the Flood [I Pet. 3:20]. With the head and representative of the church, who stands therefore as a type of Christ Himself, God establishes His covenant. The whole history of Genesis 6-9 proclaims the truth, proclaims it loudly and clearly, that not all men are included in God’s covenant. The covenant, the grace and salvation of the covenant, are particular, for some only.



More to come! (DV)


Q. 1. “If the rainbow is not a sign of common grace, what is it a sign of?”
[The rainbow is] the sign of the promise of God to the heirs of the promise that they shall be heirs of the world, a sign of the breaking through of His all-conquering grace, a sign of the holy gospel. (Herman Hoeksema, “The Gospel, Or, The Most Recent Attack Upon the Truth of Sovereign Grace,” p. 89)

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