Spiritual Hardening

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 45c of 83

17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:17-18).

[We saw, in the previous two installments of our exposition of this text, that God hardened the heart of whom He wills, even the reprobate, sovereignly and actively rather than passively by doing nothing. In this concluding study, we must consider the question that is often posed, namely: How can God condemn the reprobate if He hardened their hearts in the first place? --JJL]

3. How Can God Fault
those He hardens?

a.   In the first place, it is essential for us to be clear that even if we do not fully understand how God could fault those He hardens, yet God does not owe us an explanation.

In particular, God has no need to defend himself against those who wish to charge Him for unfairness.

Paul, as we saw in our last study, is anticipating the charge of unfairness when he asks the question in verse 19— 19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

This sounds like a legitimate question. If God hardens my heart so that I cannot do good, then how can He condemn me?

How does Paul answer? Does he say, “No, no; do not misunderstand me. I do not mean to say that God actually hardens the heart of anyone. If He does so, then of course, no one can resist His will and so it would be unfair for God to find fault with any one”?

Paul could have said that. But does he say that? No, no; he does not apologise. We heard him correctly. God does harden the heart of the reprobate.

So Paul does not at all deny that God hardens the heart of the reprobate. And neither does he deny that no one can resist God’s will. But he denies that this mean that God has no right to find fault with anyone! 

Man is a proud indignant worm. He thinks that God is accountable to him and owes him an explanation for all He does. But this is foolish thinking:

20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

What is man that we should talk back to God? What is man that we should ask God to explain himself? How can the creature question His Creator, “Why hast thou made me thus?

21  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

God is our Creator. We are but creatures of dust! We are just like the clay that potter use to make his vessels. What right does the clay have to question the potter?

What right do we have to charge God for unfairness if He should harden our hearts and then hold us accountable? God does not owe us any explanation.

b.  But God would have us know and understand Him; and so He would have us know and understand that He is not unjust.

And He has revealed sufficiently in His word for us to know and understand that He is not unfair though He hardens the heart of the reprobate and holds them accountable.

How is this so? This is so because while the Scripture tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart; it also tells us that pharaoh hardened his own heart.

God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart does not violate Pharaoh’s will. We must not think that pharaoh wanted to obey God and God stop him from doing so. No, no; God hardened pharaoh’s heart in the way that is consistent with Pharaoh’s own nature.

Thus, Pharaoh knew that he  had sinned against God and that he was responsible. Look at Exodus 9:27—

“And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked” (Ex 9:27).

At no point did Pharaoh think that God was preventing him from obeying. He did not want to obey! In a mysterious way God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh was hardening his own heart.

Pharaoh is like a well-trained dog going for a walk with its master. The master is walking the dog, the dog hates its master, but it is following willingly. It goes where its master wants it to go.

Pharaoh did not know this was happening. He was unconsciously doing God’s secret providential will. But He was consciously opposing God’s revealed will. He was refusing to let the people go. He therefore knew he was sinning against God. And therefore God held him accountable.

c.   This is the case with every reprobate. God hardens the heart of the reprobate in such as way that he hardens his own heart. The reprobate is doing God’s secret will when he hardens his heart against God’s Word. But in so far as He is opposing God’s Revealed Will, he will be held responsible.

Our Lord Jesus teaches the same truth in regard to Judas Iscariot:

“The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born” (Mk 14:21).

What the Lord is saying is that Judas Iscariot did God’s secret will. He fulfilled God’s decree. But in so far as he betrayed the Lord contrary to God’s Revealed Will, he stood accursed for murder of the Prince of Life.

If you are a reprobate, know this that God is hardening your heart even as you hear the Gospel. You will despise this truth. You will hate it. You may even reject God because the truth has been told you, but you must know that you would be doing exactly as God has intended you to do.

Yet, in so far as you are sinning against God’s Revealed Will, you will be held accountable for your sin.


What do we say to this doctrine?

a.   First, let us humble ourselves and receive what God has revealed to us concerning Himself and His work without trying to fit it into what we think is right.

As proud sinful creatures, we often imagine what God should be. We think of what God is by thinking of what God would be if we are God. “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself, but I will reprove thee…” says the LORD (Ps 50:21).

We must humbly receive what God has revealed about Himself and not try to remodel Him in a way that is acceptable to sinful man.

b.  Secondly, let us never belittle God by telling sinners what is not true about Him such as: “God greatly desires for you to be saved. He is waiting anxiously outside the door of your heart. Open your heart’s door to Him that He may come in.”

This is blatantly false. Whether or not the person is an elect or not, this is a false caricature of God. No, no, God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate. He commands men everywhere to repent, but He does not desire the salvation of the reprobate! And in the case of the elect, He does not wait for him to open his heart. He changes His heart and makes him see that Christ is altogether lovely.

c.   Finally, let me call upon you to repent of your sin and unbelief. I don’t know if you are an elect or reprobate. You are either. But one thing I know: God’s elect will obey His Word. They will love Him.

·  They will obey Him. They will hear the voice of the Shepherd and they will follow Him.

·  They will walk gratefully and humbly before Him.

·  They will work out their salvation with fear and trembling.

·  They will make their calling and election sure.

·  They will grieve when they sin against God. Indeed the thing that vexes them most is not the afflictions in their life or even the sin of others, but their own sin.

On the other hand, the reprobate does not care.

·  They are offended by the Word or they are not bothered.

·  They do not believe God’s Word. “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep” says the Lord Jesus (Jn 10:26).

·  They are ready to charge God for unfairness. They are ready to question Him for what He does.

·  They think that God owes it to them to bless and encourage them.

·  They do not feel bad when they sin against God.

·  They do not feel bad when they miss the means of grace, they simply find some excuse for themselves.

Dear reader, I have just described the reprobate. I do not know your heart. And I do not know if you are an elect or a reprobate. Even if you fit the description of the reprobate, I do not know if you are reprobate because there is yet time for you to repent.

But one thing I know: If you continue as you are in hardness of heart, and if you die in that state, then you are a reprobate.

O will you not repent while there is yet time! Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation. Christ is a compassionate saviour. All who comes unto Him He will not cast out. O will you not repent and flee to Him for salvation while He is still calling out to sinners to go to Him that they may have life. Amen.

—JJ Lim