Categories
Theology

What Happened to Pharaoh’s Heart?

I love the Bible because it does not argue in theological categories. When it comes to God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, it is black and white. The truth is, the Bible makes it clear that man is free and has the ability to choose. At the same time, the Bible is unmistakably clear God is sovereign. If he were not, he would not be “God.”

In this wrestling match, somebody’s freedom has to be contingent on another. Do you want to be the one to say that God’s freedom is contingent upon yours? I don’t think so.

One example of how this plays out is in the life of Pharaoh during the plagues in Egypt. The first mention of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened is in Exodus 4:21. There it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart before Pharaoh did it to himself.

It is sinful and wrong for Pharaoh to harden his heart against God. Furthermore, it would wrong for him (if it were even possible) to harden another human’s heart. Yet, here is God, doing what would be sinful for Pharaoh to do on his own. In fact, Exodus says Pharaoh’s heart was hardened 18 times. Nine of those times, it was Yahweh’s doing (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). Six times it is simply stated as a fact that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, not attributing the hardening to anyone in particular (7:13, 14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35). Only three times is Pharaoh credited with hardening his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34).

This episode clearly shows that God is free in the absolute sense, and Pharaoh is free because he, in fact, did what he wanted to do. In his Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards argues we should think of freedom this way: we are free because we do what we want. In the final analysis, we do what is sinful. Before salvation sin is all we really want to do anyway.

So it is clear that Pharaoh’s freedom was contingent upon the freedom of another, namely God. Lest we shout, “Not fair!” we must remember that God is not a man and we cannot project what we think is appropriate for man upon the all-wise, all-loving, omnipotent, and omniscient Creator God. For his ways are inscrutable (Rom. 11:33). As Edward writes, God is far above “the influence of law or command, promises or threatening, rewards or punishments, counsels or warnings.”[1]

This shouldn’t leave us feeling hopeless or like programmed robots or predetermined cyborgs. It should cause us to cast ourselves upon the grace of God in the cross of Christ, acknowledging our complete lack of ability to do any good. Only then will we really be free to do what God commands, for it was for freedom that Christ set us free to actually pursue holiness (Gal. 5:1).

The one who hardens hearts is also the one who softens hearts so that we might live a soft-heart kind of life. Therefore, let us pray pray as St. Augustine prayed: “Command us to do as you will, O Lord, and will us to do what you command.”

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[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Notion of Liberty, and of Moral Agency,” Freedom of the Will, (accessed February 29, 2012), paragraph 9.

Categories
Life

Spurgeon Sermon Wordle

From Spurgeon’s sermon on John 5:40.

Wordle: Spurgeon Sermon on John 5:40

Categories
Theology

Spurgeon on being “legally dead”

Spurgeon explains what it means to be legally dead before God (from a sermon on John 5:40, “You refuse to come to  me that you may have life”).

No being needs to go after life if he has life in himself. The text speaks very strongly when it says, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” Though it saith it not in words, yet it doth in effect affirm that men need a life more than they have themselves. My hearers, we are all dead unless we have been begotten unto a lively hope. First, we are all of us, by nature, legally dead—”In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt die the death,” said God to Adam; and though Adam did not die in that moment naturally, he died legally; that is to say death was recorded against him. As soon as, at the Old Bailey, the judge puts on the black cap and pronounces the sentence, the man is reckoned to be dead at law. Though perhaps a month may intervene before he is brought on the scaffold to endure the sentence of the law, yet the law looks upon him as a dead man. It is impossible for him to transact anything. He cannot inherit, he cannot bequeath; he is nothing—he is a dead man…We ought all to weep, if we lay this to our souls: that by nature we have no life in God’s sight; we are actually, positively condemned; death is recorded against us, and we are considered in ourselves now, in God’s sight, as much dead as if we were actually cast into hell; we are condemned here by sin, we do not yet suffer the penalty of it, but it is written against us, and we are legally dead, nor can we find life unless we find legal life in the person of Christ, of which more by-and-by.

Read the whole thing.

Categories
Theology

We Pray Because Only God Can Do It

If a Christian really believed that his friend had some ability, power, or goodness within himself to choose Jesus as Lord and Savior apart from the free, sovereign, electing grace of God, he wouldn’t pray that his friend get saved.  He would simply figure out more relevant or strategic ways to draw out what is already inside his friend.

If people had the ability in themselves to be born again, prayer wouldn’t do a thing.  The ability to save your own soul implies spiritual autonomy.  An autonomous soul cannot be influenced by anything.  Alternatively, by definition, prayer is pleading with God for him do something.

The new birth of a sinner is not an exception.  The problem is that people are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-5), and there needs to be more than an mere influence on their stone hearts.  There needs to be an ultimate influence.  There needs to be a complete heart transplant.

So, go to your friends and plead with them to look to Jesus (Rom. 10:13-17).  But plead to God that he might save their souls — by his grace he might grant them repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25).

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Categories
Theology

John Calvin on Mercy

Part 3 of a 4 part series. View series intro and index.

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It’s been said that because John Calvin preached election as a biblical truth, he could not have taught that God is merciful.  Some have written that Calvin’s view of God’s sovereignty distorts his attribute of mercy — that God cannot be sovereign and merciful.  Calvin’s God, people have said, must be an unloving God since he sends people to hell.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  John Calvin taught that the God of the Bible is a God of mercy.  In his commentary on Romans 4:5, he wrote:

This is a very important sentence, in which he expresses the substance and nature both of faith and of righteousness. He indeed clearly shews that faith brings us righteousness, not because it is a meritorious act, but because it obtains for us the favor of God. Nor does he declare only that God is the giver of righteousness, but he also arraigns us of unrighteousness, in order that the bounty of God may come to aid our necessity: in short, no one will seek the righteousness of faith except he who feels that he is ungodly; for this sentence is to be applied to what is said in this passage — that faith adorns us with the righteousness of another, which it seeks as a gift from God. And here again, God is said to justify us when he freely forgives sinners, and favors those, with whom he might justly be angry, with his love, that is, when his mercy obliterates our unrighteousness.

Calvin taught that God’s anger has a “long wick,” so to speak.  God is not quick on the trigger, but rather he is patient and kind and willing to forgive.  He wrote elsewhere, “God tolerates even our stammering, and pardons our ignorance whenever something inadvertently escapes us — as, indeed, without this mercy there would be no freedom to pray.”  Because God is merciful, sinners are welcome before God.

God’s mercy was a rock-solid truth to be depended on for Calvin, and he consistently taught and preached this to his congregation.  “The divine mercy,” Calvin wrote, “is a better foundation of trust than any life fashioned out to ourselves, and than all other supports taken together.”

No matter what life brings, the Christian can trust that “it is well with them, in the best sense of the term, when God is their friend.”  For the believer, God is truly a friend!  “Unbelievers, on the other hand,” he wrote, “must be miserable, even when all the world smile upon them; for God is their enemy, and curse necessarily attaches to their lot.”