Turning to the epistle to the Romans, the ninth chapter, and thereof the 18th, 19th, and the first part of the 20th verse, we read, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt then say to me, why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay, but o man, who art thou that repliest against God?”
Let us first concentrate on the statement, “And whom he will he hardeneth.” Just what does it mean that God hardeneth whom He will harden? The statement has reference first of all to Pharaoh. The issue is precisely this: Is God’s will, according to which he hardens Pharaoh and the Pharaohs of all time sovereignly determinative of their unbelief and thus not determined by it, so that in hardening these men, God does exactly what he chooses to do and not what wicked men by their unbelief compel him to do? If so, then God hardens the men, whom he will harden. On the other hand, if the Lord’s will, according to which he hardens Pharaoh and the Pharaoh’s of all time, is determined by their unbelief—an unbelief that God foresaw but could not determinately foreknow, so that God has no other choice but to harden them,—then in this case God is not hardening men whom he will harden, but men whom he must harden because they leave him no other choice. And if this were true, then Pharaoh’s will and not God’s will is sovereignly free, so that Pharaoh, should he so choose, could also will to obey God and thereby compel God to spare him.
But Paul says too, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy.” This statement has reference in the first instance to Jacob, the brother of the profane Esau. The issue here is this: Is God’s will according to which he hath mercy on Jacob and the Jacobs—God’s elect—sovereignly determinative of the faith of the Jacobs, and does this faith accordingly originates in God’s will, His grace; so that in saving the Jacobs God does exactly what he chooses to do and not what the Jacobs by their willingness to be saved determine what he shall do? If so, then God hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. But if, on the other hand, the Lord’s will according to which he saved the Jacobs, is determined by the Jacob’s willingness to believe,—a willingness that God foresaw but could not determinately foreknow, thus a willingness that originated not in God’s will and grace but in the hearts of the Jacobs,—then, in this case, God does not save such men whom He will, but men whom he must save because they leave God no other choice. And if this were true, then not the will of God but the will of the Jacobs is sovereign and morally free, so that they could also choose not to believe in Christ, could thus resist God’s grace and thereby make it impossible for God to save them.
Just what is truth here? It must be plain to all that everything depends on what is truth here. If God does not have mercy on the men on whom He will have mercy, if He does not harden whom He will harden, if the men whom God saves, He saves because they leave Him no choice but to save them, and if the men that He hardens, He does harden because He cannot do anything else with them, what then? Then the question is, whom God really would be saving and whom would He really be hardening, if He could only get His very own way with men? God doesn’t tell us, and therefore nobody knows; and the Jacobs may question whether God really wants them in heaven; and it may be that those men whom God sentences unto eternal damnation, God would have chosen unto life, if only he could save them. The thought that God does not get his very own way with men, is too horrible to contemplate. The issues here are tremendous. Is God the Lord of man’s heart or is man the lord of God’s heart? Does God turn man’s heart to do all His good pleasure or does man turn God’s heart to do all man’s good pleasure. Is God God or is man God? Is salvation out of works or out of grace. Can man resist God, His determinate will, His grace; or is God, His will, His grace, irresistible? Is God’s will in the throne, or the will of man? Do God’s believing people have a God who can save them to the uttermost in Christ Jesus for His name’s sake; or is it actually possible that at any time they can fall from grace and sink back into all their death and sin and miseries, from which they were saved, even in sight of the gates of heaven, so that no believer can ever be certain whether or no he will enter in through those gates? If God does not save whom he will, thus if the only, and supreme and only deciding factor in man’s salvation is the will of man and not the will of God, then, horrible to say, the latter is true; and moreover, then the saved ones in heaven, those who decided to persevere to the end, may sing their anthems of praise to themselves, and all that is due to God is a little credit for the assistance that he afforded them on their way to heaven.
It is really terrible if the Pharaohs and the Esaus are getting their way with God but not God with them; if the reins of God’s moral government are in the hands of the wicked and not in the hands of God; for then it is not true that God can and does so restrain the devil and all our enemies, that without His will they cannot hurt us; then this is true, that the Pharaohs can hurt us as they choose with God standing idly by, unable to do anything about it. Then, woe unto God’s people in Egypt.
So well may we ask, What is truth here? Well, this is truth, for God said it by the mouth of Paul, “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will; and whom He will He hardeneth.” This is truth and fact.
God hardeneth whom He will. The Esau and the Pharaoh are in God’s hands; not God in theirs. And therefore the people of God are safe as the tenants of the hard and cruel Pharaoh. They are safe in Egypt, in the world, that opposes God and persecutes His people. And the Lord can keep them and save them out of Pharaoh’s hand. For He hardeneth whom He will harden. He is the Lord God almighty, who doeth all His good-pleasure.
And so it is just as true that the Lord hath mercy on whom He will have mercy. He hath mercy on the Jacobs in heavy bondage in Egypt according to His will, not according to the good will and determination of the Jacobs to be saved. This cannot be. These Jacobs in Egypt, apart from God’s grace in Christ, will not to be saved. They love Egypt. They love by nature their bondage. They lust after Egypt’s flesh pots. Apart from Christ’s grace, these Jacobs in Egypt are just as dead in sin as are the Esaus and the Pharaohs, just as profane, just as rebellious, perverse and defiant, hateful of God, and unable and unwilling to seek after God and to know God in love, unable and unwilling to utter the smallest and the faintest cry for Christ’s God and His salvation. These Jacobs are by nature dead in sin. How then could there be in these Jacobs a will to be saved, the smallest and faintest desire to be saved, according to which God saves them. These Jacobs apart from God’s grace in Christ ere darkness, children of disobedience, and Satan is their spiritual father. But God, the God and Father of Christ, who hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, saves them, when He enters their hearts and lives by His redeeming grace, that these Jacobs cannot resist; if these Jacobs could resist God’s grace, they would right now still be in Egypt, and in their bondage and not in Canaan, God’s heaven and house. But these Jacobs are in heaven, set there by Christ, according to the good pleasure of Christ’s God and thus also to the praise of His irresistible grace. And these Jacobs may be certain that the Lord wants them there, too, really wants them there; for He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy. And He hath mercy only upon the Jacobs, not also upon the Pharaohs. God’s mercy, His grace is not common. God’s dealing with the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Jacobs in Egypt is flatly against this view, isn’t it? Did God also save Pharaoh and his Pharaohs? Nay for this very purpose did He make Pharaoh to stand that He might make him to see His power and through the revelation of this power destroy him. And that was the only purpose that the Lord had with Pharaoh. Nowhere do we read in the Exodus narrative that the Lord loved Pharaoh too, and that in that love he was first purposed to save him.
Now you would think that everybody would believe and love this doctrine of Paul to the effect that God hath mercy on whom Pie will have mercy and that whom He will He hardeneth. But this is not the case. This doctrine of Paul has many opponents. In fact, absolutely nobody loves this doctrine of Paul, by nature. You do not; I do not. We all hate it to the man. So if you love this doctrine, be very humble. Do not exalt yourself above the Pharaohs, as if you were better than they, and as if God loves you because of some merit original with you. Do not boast therefore except in the cross of Christ. Because by nature, nobody loves this doctrine. We raise objections against it. And these objections are the same old objections—the objections that we have been raising against this doctrine of Paul from time memorial. Well the apostle deals with these objections of ours and the fact that he does so constitutes the absolute proof, that the doctrine that was just presented is actually of Paul and thus of God. To this opponent—and bear in mind, this opponent is you and I as we are by nature—Paul’s God is insufferable. The idea that God should be that sovereign is to this opponent too provoking for words. Pie insists that there is, must be, unrighteousness with a God so absolutely sovereign. The apostle proposes his objection in the form of a question. What shall we then say? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid! exclaims the apostle. Then the apostle goes on to prove from the Old Testament scriptures that the Lord actually claims and does exercise this right and that therefore it is, must be, righteous as with God there can be no unrighteousness.
But this opponent will not be silenced. Approaching the matter from a different angle, he now raises the objection that Paul’s doctrine of God is destructive, conceptionally, of human responsibility and that therefore there is still unrighteousness with Paul’s God. Again the apostle proposes the objection in the form of a question, that this time he presents as put to him by the opponent, “Thou wilt then say unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will?” “Who hath resisted his will, his determinate will, according to which He hath mercy on whom He will and hardeneth whom He will? Who hath resisted that will of God? Nobody hath and can, the opponent means to say. Is he correct ? Absolutely so. No elect of God has ever resisted, can resist, God’s grace, God’s will to save him. And no Esau, no Pharaoh, has ever resisted God’s will according to which He hardens him. It is according to God’s will that the Pharaohs harden themselves, must harden, and do harden themselves. This precisely is Paul’s doctrine. Well then, says this opponent to Paul, “Why doth God yet find fault? with the Pharaohs, he means. For who can resist His will? Let us notice that this opponent with whose objections Paul deals, is speaking against God. He criticizes, slanders, contradicts God to His face. That is what he does. This is evident from the first part of Paul’s reply to this critic of God. Says the apostle to him, “Who art thou o man, that repliest against God.” Just what is this critic of God saying against God anyway. He has the audacity to say to God in substance this, “O God, if it be true that thou hardenest the Pharaoh’s according to thy will, if therefor they are disobedient and rebellious not according to their sovereign will so to be, but according to thy will, which alone is sovereign, so that the Pharaohs and the Esaus are wicked and perverse and rebellious because they must be, then the blame for what these Pharaohs are is wholly thine, O God, and they are blameless, wholly without fault, not accountable for their rebellion, so that it is thyself whom thou shouldest smite and destroy and not thine innocent victims. How atrocious thy doing, O God. How unrighteous thou art.” So this opponent of Paul’s doctrine, so you and I, as we are by nature, speak against God, just because we can’t endure that He is so absolutely sovereign, can’t stand it that He insists that He is God and that not we are God. This opponent contradicts God, God’s word, testimony, concerning His blessed self. God says in His word, “I am righteous and holy God. I am light and in me there is no darkness at all. Also in hardening the Pharaohs according to my good pleasure and not according to theirs, thou beholdest my perfect work.” But this opponent, contradicting God, says to Him, “Nay, God, what we behold in thy hardening whom thou wilt, is a shamefully unrighteous work of thine.” God says in His word to this opponent, “Though the Pharaohs, as thou sayest, cannot resist my determined will, according to which I harden them, they do disobey my commands to let my people go and not to persecute them—commands through which I harden their hearts—disobey my commands do the Pharaohs with all their heart and mind and will and strength; and therefore I may and do hold them responsible, and accountable, find fault with them, and punish them for their disobedience. For the blame is all theirs.” But this opponent, contradicting God, says to him, “True, God, Pharaoh disobeys thy commands to let the people go with all his heart and as the rational willing subject of his rebellion and disobedience. But thou hardenest him according to thy determinate will that no man can resist, so that the blame is indeed thine.” God says in His word to His opponent, “Though I harden whom I will, I am not the author and the fountain of Pharaoh’s sin, of his disobedience and corruption. For I am holy God. My eyes are too pure to behold sin.” Put this opponent, contradicting God, says to him, “As hardening Pharaoh’s heart according to thy will, thou art indeed the author of sin.”
So does this opponent of Paul’s doctrine contradict God, the true God, the Lord of heaven and earth and the God of our salvation. Yet it must not be supposed that this opponent admits that he speaks against the true God. He insists that the God whom he speaks against is Paul’s God, a God of Paul’s own imagination. For, in uttering his contradictions, he is not facing heaven; but he is facing Paul. It is to Paul that he directs his discourse. This is evident from what Paul says, “Thou wilt then say unto me, Paul, why doth he find fault”. It is Paul’s God that he speaks against. He speaks to Paul about Paul’s God. Though he actually contradicts the true God—Paul’s God is the true God —it is nevertheless certain that he says that he would not contradict the true God for anything. He poses as the guardian of the righteousness of the true God. That is why he is so incensed at hearing Paul preach that God hardeneth whom He will. To hear this opponent of Paul’s doctrine cavil with Paul about Paul’s God, one would almost be led to believe that he is more concerned about the righteousness of God than God is Himself, if such a thing were possible. Yet he denies that God hardeneth whom He will and thus also denies that God hath mercy on whom He will have mercy. For it stands to reason that these two truths stand and fall together. The opponent of Paul denies the sovereign character of God’s grace. He denies that God is God and insists that Pharaoh is God. Thus he changes the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto the corruptible creature. Paul rebukes this opponent with these words, “Who art thou O man, that repliest against God.” The shame of it! the horror of it!
But one will say, this opponent of Paul seems to have a case nevertheless. God’s hardening whom He will and at once holding the hardened ones responsible, finding fault with them, and punishing them as He did Pharaoh, when He destroyed him by the waters of the Red Sea,—it just isn’t right. Who says it isn’t right. Does God say that it isn’t right? No, man says that it isn’t right. Paul’s opponent again has the floor. But let us consider that what man says about God does not count, has no value, must needs be a lie. What God says about himself to man, that alone is true, can be true. And He says that it is right. And that settles the matter. Should we not want to understand what He does it always right because He does it? Should we want to measure God with our own yardstick of righteousness as willingly ignorant of the fact that God is His own standard of righteousness and the only standard of righteousness that man may apply to God? True, we deal here with a mystery. And the mystery is this: God’s sovereignly hardening Pharaoh so, that all the blame is Pharaoh’s and God is and remains blameless. But should we imagine that we can comprehend God as not understanding that He is the eternal mystery, the incomprehensible God, who dwelleth in a light unto which no man can approach? Let us not contradict God, but let us stand in awe of Him, worship and adore Him as the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus. Doing so we are saved by His irresistible grace and we taste that the Lord is good.