“It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”—Gen. 6:6.
“The Lord is not a man, that he should repent.”—1 Sam. 15:29.
The seeming contradiction in these passages arises from the same term being used in the one metaphorically, and in the other literally. It is literally true that repentance is not predicable of the Divine nature, inasmuch as it implies mutability and imperfection in knowledge and wisdom, neither of which can be applied to the infinitely blessed God. But, in order to address himself impressively to us, he frequently personates a creature, or speaks to us after the manner of men. It may be doubted whether the displeasure of God against the wickedness of men could have been fully expressed in literal terms, or with any thing like the effect produced by metaphorical language. To evince this, I shall take the liberty to introduce a few brief expository notes which I have by me on the six preceding verses in Genesis:—This chapter gives us an account of the corruption which preceded the flood, and which moved an infinitely good and merciful Being to bring it upon the earth. We may notice,
- The occasion of this corruption, viz. the increase of population: it was “when men began to multiply on the face of the earth” that they began to corrupt one another. Population is itself a good; but it often becomes the occasion of evil; because men, when numbers of them assemble together, excite and provoke one another to sin. Hence it is that sin commonly grows rankest in populous places. We are originally made to be helpers of one another; but sin perverts the course of things, and renders us tempters of one another. We draw and are drawn into innumerable evils. “O draw me not with the workers of iniquity!”
- The first step towards this corrupt state of things was the mixing of the church and the world in marriages. “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all whom they chose.” “The sons of God” were those of the family of Seth, of whom we read lately that they “called upon the name of the Lord,” 4:16. “The daughters of men” were of the race of Cain, whose parents, having gone forth “from the presence of the Lord,” or turned their back on religion, were a kind of athiests. This was a conjunction between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, which must needs be unnatural and mischievous. The object of a good man’s choice should be a “help-meet.” We need to be helped in our way to heaven, and not hindered and corrupted. Hence God forbade all such alliances with idolaters (Deut. 7:3, 4); and hence also Christian marriages were limited to those “only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39): the examples which we have seen to the contrary have, by their lamentable effects, fully justified these restrictions. They corrupt and ruin many a promising character; and we see by this history that they were the first cause of the ruin of a world!
- The great offence which God took at this conduct, and what grew out of it. “The Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” Had the sons of God kept themselves to themselves, and preserved their purity, God, it may be supposed, would have spared the world for their sakes; but they mingled together, and became one people. This he considered as a heinous crime. The name by which they are called is worthy of notice—man. Seeing the sons of God have become one people with the daughters of men, they have lost their honourable distinction, and are called by the common name of the species. The special notice taken of the conduct of professors, rather than of others, is likewise observable. He also, or they also, as some read it, namely, the sons of God, are flesh; viz. they, as well as the others, are become corrupt. By the Spirit of God is meant the Holy Spirit in the prophets, by which he preached and contended with the wicked.—See Neh. 9:30; 1 Pet. 3:19, 20. But now, seeing the professedly righteous, who should have stood firm, had, as it were, joined the standard of the enemy, God resolved to give them all up together, or to decline any further strivings with them. “The ploughman will not plough all day to sow—bread-corn is bruised, because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.” Yet amidst all this displeasure there is great long-suffering. “His days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” God would wait that time ere he brought the flood upon them, 1 Pet. 3:20. All this time God did strive or contend with them; but, that proving ineffectual, they were at last given up.
- Observe the fruits of these unlawful mixtures; a sort of monstrous beings, whose figures were but emblems of their minds. They seem to have been fierce and cruel men. The word giants signifies fellers, or men who caused others to fall before them like trees before an axe. So far as respects character, this was the natural effect of such intermarriages: family religion is subverted; and the fear of God has a greater connexion with a proper regard to man than many are willing to allow.
- Observe the estimate which God makes of things. “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.” Such is the case when the church is gone and lost in the world. There were some hopeful appearances when the “sons of God began to call upon the name of the Lord;” but now, a very few excepted, they are all gone. What a picture is here given of what the world naturally is! It is evil; without mixture—only evil; without cessation—evil continually; from the very fountain-head of action—“the thoughts of the heart;” and all this is not the exaggerated language of creatures—“God saw it!”
- Notice the amazing displeasure of God against sin. “It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart?”—Was ever such language uttered! What words, besides them, could convey to us such an idea of the evil of sin? It is true we are not to understand them literally; but they convey to us an idea that the sin of man is so heinous, and so mischievous, as to mar all the works of God, and to render them worse than if there were none. So that, if God had not counteracted it, there had better have been no world! Any created being, on seeing all his works thus perverted, would repent, and wish he had never made them. Oh the exceedingly provoking nature of sin! What must be that grace which could give his only-begotten Son to die for it, and could find in his heart, for his sake, freely to forgive it! Be it our great concern, that, like Noah in the ark, we may be found in him.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 667–684). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.