And the Lord said, my Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
It will be necessary, in order to understand the sense of this text, to inquire,
I. Who is meant by the Spirit of God; and whether the Holy Ghost, the third Person in the Trinity, is designed or not.
1. Some of the Jewish writers think, that the soul of man is intended; which is called not only the spirit of man, but also the Spirit of God; as in those words of Job, All the while my breath is in me, and the Spirit of God is in my nostrils. (Job 27:3). Some of them derive the word dg translated strive, from zry, which signifies the scabbard of a sword, and say, what the scabbard is to the sword, that the body is to the soul; and give this as the sense of the words; "My Spirit, or the soul which I have put into man, shall not always abide in him as a sword in its scabbard; I will unsheath it, I will draw it out; he shall not live always, seeing he is flesh, corrupt, given up to carnal lusts; yet his days, or term of life, which I will now shorten, shall be one hundred and twenty years." Another of them delivers the sense of the words to this purpose; "My Spirit, which I have breathed into man, shall not be any more in contention with the body; for it does not delight in nor receive profit from the desires of the body; for the body is drawn after beastly desires, and that because it is flesh, and its desires are plunged and fixed in the propagation of the flesh; however, I will prolong their days one hundred and twenty years; and if they return by repentance, very well; but if not, I will destroy them from the world. The Targum paraphrases the words thus, "This wicked generation shall not be established before me for ever."
2. Others, as Sol Jarchi, understand it of God himself, thus saying, within himself, "My Spirit, which is within me, shall not always be, as it were, in a tumult, or contention about man, whether I shall spare him, or destroy him, as it has been a long time, but it shall be no longer so; I will let man know that I am not fluctuating between mercy and judgment, but am at a point, being determined to punish him, since he is wholly given up to carnal pleasures, when I have spared him an hundred and twenty years more." This sense of the words much obtains among learned men. And if either of these senses be received, the reasonings of the Arminians from these words, in favor of any branch of their scheme, fall to the ground; but I am willing to allow,
3. That by the Spirit of God, we are to understand the Holy Ghost; so Jonathan Ben Uzziel, in his Targum, expressly calls him; and I am the rather induced to believe this to be the meaning of the phrase; since the apostle Peter, when he speaks of Christ being put to death in the flesh, and quickened by the Spirit, which is to be understood of the Holy Spirit, adds, by which, that is, by which Spirit, also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometimes were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, (1 Pet. 3:18-20.) which words refer to those in Genesis, and are the best key unto them, and comment on them. I proceed to consider,
II. Whether the Holy Spirit was in the men of the old world, since, as it is observed, the words may be rendered, My Spirit shall not always strive in man; and whether it may be concluded from hence, that the Spirit of God is in every man, from whom he may wholly remove through man’s misconduct.
1. The Spirit of God is every where, in every creature, and so in every man, as he is the omnipresent God; hence says the Psalmist, Whither shall I fly from thy Spirit? (Ps. 139:7.) He may also be in some persons by his gifts natural or divine, and that either in an ordinary or in an extraordinary way, or by some operations of his on the mind; which are not of a saving nature, nor designed to a saving purpose; and in one or other of these senses, the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal; (1 Cor. 12:7); and the Spirit may be said to be both in the men of the old world, and of this. But,
2. That he is in every man in a way of special grace, and to saving purposes, provided they behave well, must be denied; for every unconverted man is destitute of the Spirit; were the Spirit, in this sense, in every man, the indwelling of the Spirit would be no evidence of regeneration; the difference between a regenerate and an unregenerate man lying in this, the one has, the other has not the Spirit of God. Hence,
3. It is easy to judge in what sense the Spirit of God does, and does not depart where he once is. Where he is only by his gifts or external operations, he may wholly remove, he may take away those gifts, or cease from those works; and men, notwithstanding these, may be everlastingly lost; but where he is by his special grace, he never totally departs, though he may withdraw his gracious presence for a time; his people may not be indulged with his joys and comforts, and in their apprehension he may seem to be taken away from them, yet he always abides in them; otherwise Christ’s prayers for his perpetual continuance with his people would not be answered; nor would the Spirit’s indwelling be a security of the saints’ perseverance nor any certain pledge of their future glory. To add no more, the words of the text speak not of the Spirit’s being in the men of the old world, but of his striving with them. Wherefore the next inquiry
III. Is, what is meant by the strivings of the Spirit? and whether through man’s neglect of him, or opposition to him, he may strive to no purpose.
1. The Hebrew word zwd, here used, signifies to judge, to execute judgment, or punish in a righteous way; and so some read the words, My Spirit shall not judge these men for ever; I will not reserve them to everlasting torments; I will punish them here in this world; for they are flesh, frail sinful creatures; I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made; (Isa. 57:16) or rather the sense is according to this version, My Spirit shall not exercise judgment on them for ever, that is, immediately, directly, at this very instant; though they are so corrupt, I will give them the space of one hundred and twenty years to repent in; and after that, if they repent not, I will deliver them up to destruction; which accordingly was the event of things.
2. The word here translated strive, signifies also to litigate a point, or reason in a cause; before it is ripe for judgment, or the execution of it. Now the Spirit of God had been litigating and reasoning with these men in the court and at the bar of their own consciences, about their sins, by one providence or another, and by one minister or another; particularly by Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and that to no purpose; hence he determines to go on no longer in this way, but to proceed to pass and execute the sentence of condemnation on them, since they were so very corrupt, being nothing else but flesh. However, to show his clemency and forbearance, he grants them a reprieve for one hundred and twenty years; which is that longsuffering of God the apostle speaks of, that waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing. (1 Pet. 3:20). Hence it appears, that the strivings of the Spirit of God with these men, were only by the external ministry of the word, and in a way of moral suasion, which came to nothing. This may lead us to observe the insufficiency of moral suasion and the external ministry of the word, without the powerful and efficacious grace of the Spirit.
3. It is now easy to discern in what sense the Spirit of God may be opposed and resisted, and strive to no purpose, and in what sense not. The things of the Spirit of God are disagreeable to a natural man: it is no wonder that the external ministry of the word and ordinances are despised, opposed, and resisted. The external call maybe rejected; yea, some inward motions and convictions may be overruled, stifled, and come to nothing: nay, it will be granted, that there may be and is an opposition and resistance to the work of the Spirit of God in conversion; but then the Spirit cannot be so resisted, in the operations of his grace, as to be obliged to cease from his work, or to be overcome or hindered in it; for he acts with a design which cannot be frustrated, and with a power which is uncontrollable; were it otherwise, the regeneration and conversion of every one must be precarious, and where the grace of the Spirit is effectual, according to the doctrine of free-will, it would be more owing to the will of man than to the Spirit of God.
IV. It may be asked whether the old world had a day of grace, and so all mankind, in which they might be saved if they would; during which time the Spirit strives with man; and when that is expired he strives no longer.
1. The space of one hundred and twenty years allowed the old world for repentance was indeed a favor, and indulgence of divine Providence, a time of God’s long-suffering and forbearance; but it does not follow, that because they had such a space allotted to them, in which, had they repented, they would have been saved from temporal ruin; that therefore all mankind have a day of grace, which if they improve, they may be saved with an everlasting salvation. For,
2. If by a day of grace are meant the means of grace, the external ministry of the word and ordinances, these are insufficient to salvation, without the efficacious grace of God; and besides, these are not enjoyed by all mankind. Every man has not a day of grace in this sense. Sometimes the means of grace, have been confined to one particular nation, and all the rest of the world have been without them for a considerable number of years. This was the case of all the nations of the world whom God suffered to walk in their own ways; overlooked them, took no notice of them, gave them no day of grace; while his worship was only kept up in the land of Judea. And since the coming of Christ; the administration of the word and ordinances has sometimes been in one place, and sometimes in another, when the rest of mankind have been without them: so that every man in this sense has not had a day of grace.
3. The whole Gospel dispensation in general may be called a day of grace; but this day does not expire while men live, or at their death; it reaches from the coming of Christ, unto the end of the world; it will continue until all the elect of God are gathered in: nor can it be said of any man, that, he has outlived or out-sinned this day of grace; for still it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice; Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. (Heb. 3:7; 2 Cor. 6:2)
4. The open special day of grace to God’s elect, begins at their conversion, which will never end, never be over with them; though may have their clouds and darkness, until it is changed into the everlasting day of glory.
 R. Levi Ben Gersom, R. Aben Ezra, etc., in loc.
 So Some in R. Aben Ezra, in loc. R. Hona in Bereshit Rabba, fol. 22, 3.
 R. Joseph. Kimchi in R. David Kimchi, lib. Shorash, rad. ˆwd.
 Vid. Fuller. Miscell. Sacra,1, 5, c. 5; and Vatablus, and Capellus, iu loc.
 Barclay’s Apology, p. 154.
 So Symmachus, Hieron. Trad. Hebrews tom, 3 p. 66; R. Juda Bar Elhai in Bereshit Rabba, fol. 22, 3.
 Vid. Fuller. Miscell. Sacr. 1, 5, c. 5.
 See Barclay in his apology, pp. 153, 154.