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Sinners are said to be hardened, when they remain in impenitence and unbelief; and especially, when they grow more and more secure in sin. When they go on in the broad way to destruction, unapprehensive of guilt or danger. When neither counsels nor reproofs, mercies nor judgments, are regarded by them, or make any suitable impression on their minds. · When, in addition to the stony heart, common to all natural men, which renders them incapable of all truly virtuous or religious affections; they have lost, in a great measure, the feelings of conscience, of shame, and of fear. The case of such is often described in scripture. See Job xv. 25, 26, “ For he stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty. He runneth upon him, even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers.” Jer. vi. 15, 16 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination ? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush.” Eph. iv. 19, “ Who, being past feeling, have given themselves over unto laciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” And i Tim. iv. 2, “ Speaking lies in hypocrisy ; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.”
But, how are we to understand that God thus hardens men ?
It must be understood, at least, that he leaves them to continue in impenitence, and to grow secure in evil courses. It must be understood, also, that God orders all those outward circumstances and events, which prove the means of making sinners more and more hardened in iniquity. But any thing more, I apprehend, it need not be supposed he ever does, in this matter. . Certainly, there is nothing in his word, or in his Providences, which would thus harden any, were it not for their perverse misimprovement of things good in themselves, and well adapted to do them good, had they an ear to hear, and a heart to understand. Nor need we imagine that God ever infuses hardness of heart, or insensibility of conscience; into any man, by the immediate influence of his Holy Spirit. We are told, indeed, of his making the heart of a people fat, and their ears dull of hearing: but by this nothing more may be meant, than what is expressed in other places, by his leaving people to their own heart-lust; and giving men over to a reprobate mind. The proper idea of hardness of heart, and also of a seared conscience, is only the want of feeling, or of an aptness to feel. To the taking place of either of these, therefore, a mere withdrawment, on God's part, is sufficient. The giving a new sense, must be a work of creation ; but in order to the weakening, or the total loss, of any of our senses, no such positive divine operation is required. Accordingly, men are most commonly said, in scripture, to harden themselves. As every man is tempted to sin, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed ; so, when any one is hardened in sin, it is by his own blinding passions and evil practices.
The history of Pharaoh, alluded to in our text, may help us to understand how far the divine agency is concerned in hardening sinners. God says, indeed, “I will harden Pharaoh's heart." But how was this done ? In the first place by permitting the miracles of Moses and Aaron to be counterfeited by magic art. “The magicians did so with their enchantments, and Pharaoh's heart was hardened." His obduracy was further increased, by the repeated removal of the plagues sent upon him. Thus, as soon as the frogs died, it is said, “ When Pharaoh saw there was respit, he hardened his heart." And when the swarms of flies were taken away at one time, and the thunder and hail ceased at another, “ Pharaoh hardened his heart,” we are told," and sinned yet the more." This is a common case with sinners. “Because sentence against an evil work
is not executed speedily; therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” .
The scriptures do not teach us, I think, nor does reason oblige us to believe, that God ever hardens the impenitent workers of iniquity, except in some such ways as these. By withholding the influences of his Spirit, to awaken their fears, quicken their consciences, and soften their hearts : by permitting Satan or his instruments to deceive and stupify them; and by exercising such goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, as ought in all reason to lead them to repentance; but from which, (through an évil heart of unbelief and ingratitude) they are led to greater boldness and security in sin.
By God's having mercy on men, as it here stands opposed to his hardening them, we are naturally to understand his awakening, convincing, and concerting sinners. More especially, as it is expressed in Ezekiel, his “ taking the stony heart out of their flesh, and giving them a heart of flesh.” Says the apostle to Titus, “ according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." And that this is the mercy spok. en of in our text; appears plainly from its connection. See particularly, ver. 21-24, of the context. * Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory; even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” The apostle is evidently speaking, not merely of an election and reprobation of nations, in regard to external privileges ; but also of God's calling some individuals to the belief and obedience of the gospel, and to the blessings of his kingdom of
glory; while he left others to impenitence and final perdition.
II. Let us now consider how it is to be understood, that God, acts the absolute sovereign, in making men thus to differ.
By divine sovereignty we are never to understand, such groundless arbitrariness, as is often acted by the potentates of the earth. God never acts without reason. He never does things, as men often do, merely because he can, or because he will. To created intelligences, “ his way is in the sea,” many times, " and his path in the deep waters ;" but to himself, “ his footsteps,” are always well known. If " he giveth not account of any of his matters,” it is not because he is unable to give a good account of them all. “ Being predestinated,” says the apos. tle, “ according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Which implies, not only that God asks no advice, and needs none ; but also that he always acts with counsel -with consummate wisdom. Our Saviour, in his prayer on a certain occasion said, “ I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes : even so, Father ; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” In this case, and in all other cases, it seemeth good in the sight of God to do as he does : and, undoubtedly, there is alurays some good reason, why it so seemeth.
But the following things are supposed or implied, in God's sovereignty, relating to the conversion of sinners :
1. That, in point of justice, he is under no obligation, one way or the other. And this is an unquestionable truth. He can be just, and yet have mercy ; and he can be just, and not have mercy, on any unregenerate sinner.
Indeed, had it not been for the mediation and atonement of Christ, saving mercy could not have been exercised towards any of the fallen race of man, consistently with justice. Sin must not go unpun. ished: the guilty must by no means be cleared, without adequate satisfaction. God's righteousness, as governor of the world, would have obliged him to execute deserved indignation and wrath on every soul of man that doth evil, had there been no other possible way than by personal punishment, to manifest his holy displeasure, 'to support his rightful authority, and to make his rational creatures stand in awe, and not sin. But now, since he hath found a ransom—since he hath set forth his own Son to be a propitiation ; he can be just and the justifier of every believer in Jesus; and just in giving repentance and faith to whomsoever he sees fit. Still, however, he is at full liberty to choose the subjects of his renewing mercy, as he thinks proper. Even the obedience and sufferings of Christ, do not lay God the Father under any obligation, which is inconsistent with his most sovereign grace. And certainly no sinner, by his own personal merit, can lay the Most High under such obligation. In this regard, “ there is no difference : for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” No one, therefore, has any just claim upon him, on the ground of merit. Every one hath merited to be for ever cast off, and made an eternal vessel of wrath.
But the honor of God's law and justice, since Christ has died, doth not require that mankind should be dealt with according to the respective merit of each individual. Nor is this now the invariable rule of his procedure with the fallen children of men. He doth not have mercy only on those who deserve mercy, and harden all who deserve to be hardened. If he did, he would harden all : he would have mercy on none. In making the chosen people of Christ, his willing people, in the day of his power,