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 45b 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 issue, that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh sovereignly and actively rather than passively by doing nothing. In this follow-up study, we must consider if Pharaoh was an exception, or whether he is representative of those whom God hardens. --JJL]

2.  Who does God Harden
& How?

a.   We know that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Paul cites the example of Pharaoh.

But who else does God harden? Look at verse 18—

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”

What is Paul saying? He is saying that God shows mercy to some and He hardens some. Now, it is clear from what he is saying that God does not harden those whom He shows mercy to.

It is possible that sin can blind and harden the heart of God’s children. But Paul is speaking about God hardening some by His sovereign power.

Is he saying that God shows mercy to some, and hardens some, while He leaves the rest untouched?

It is very unlikely that he is saying that, isn’t it? For if Pharaoh is just an exceptional case, why does Paul bring Him up at all and apparently stir a controversy.

And not only so, but if Paul means to say that God only hardens the heart of some, but leaves the rest alone, then he could have said so when he anticipates the question:

“Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will” (Rom 9:19).

But instead of explaining himself or apologising for any misunderstanding, Paul goes on to assert that God has the potter’s right to make one lump of clay into a vessel of mercy and another into a vessel of wrath!

It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the apostle Paul meant to tell us that God shows mercy to His elect, but hardens the heart of all the rest.

In other words, God hardens the heart of all the reprobate.

b.  This doctrine is suggested in other parts of Scripture too.

The Lord Jesus himself, as we mentioned, taught this truth on several occasions. For example, He told His disciples that He spoke in parables, in order that the reprobate might remain in their blindness:

“That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mk 4:12; cf. Mt 13:13-14).

The apostle John, quoting Isaiah 6:10, tells us the reason why so many of the Jews did not believe in the Lord Jesus despite the many miracles He performed. What was the reason? It was because:

“[God] hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and [He] should heal them” (Jn 12:40).

Why is it that so many people who hear the Gospel do not believe even when it is persuasively preached? It is because God has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts.

God does so in many ways. He does so by His sovereign power. But He does so through many means.

One of the means is the preaching of the Word itself, for the Word of God is like a sharp two-edged sword. Whenever the Word is preached some hearts are pierced so that they repent; while at the same time, others are offended and hardened.

No one remains neutral in the preaching of God’s Word. For some it is a savour of life unto life; for others it is a savour of death unto death (cf. 2 Cor 2:16). God’s Word always accomplishes its purpose.

But there is yet another instrument which the Lord uses to harden the hearts of the reprobate. Turn to 2 Corinthians 4:3-4:

 “3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor 4:3-4).

To blind and to harden are essentially the same. Who, according to Paul, blinds the eyes of the unbelieving? It is the god of this world, or Satan.

The Lord Jesus is essentially teaching the same thing in the Parable of the Sower and the Soil. Remember how He likens the wicked one to the birds that swoop down to eat the seed of the gospel that fall by the wayside?

c.   The Scripture is very clear isn’t it? God hardens the heart of all the reprobate. He does so in many ways. But one of the ways is through the agency of the wicked one. Yes, even the wicked one is in God’s sovereign control.

If you are a reprobate, God would not permit you to know, believe and understand the Gospel! He has even ordained that the wicked one should blind your mind so that you cannot believe.

If you are an unbeliever, do not for a moment think that you are out of God’s reach. Do not think that it is by your own power that you are choosing to reject God.

The Scripture is very clear. You do not have any power of your own. Your very existence is dependent on God, for in Him we live, and move and have our being.

So, if you remain in unbelief, and you die in unbelief, it is not because God is powerless to convert you. It is rather because God has appointed you to be a vessel of dishonour and wrath; and so your heart has been blinded and hardened by His sovereign prerogative so that you cannot believe.

And then what God says to Pharaoh He says to you too:

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.

As a vessel of wrath ordained for destruction, you will forever ever and ever, be a reminder to the people of God and God’s holy angel that God is perfectly just and holy; and that His mercy upon His children is incomprehensible.

But that immediately leads us to the next question, namely: How then can God find fault with those He hardens?

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim