Romans 9:18 (2)
(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 6/28/09 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 9, and we'll be reading verses 6 through 24:
Romans 9: (6) Not, however, that God's Word has failed. For not all those of Israel [are] Israel, (7) nor because they are Abraham's seed [are] all children, but in Isaac a Seed shall be called to you. (8) That is: Not the children of flesh [are] children of God, but the children of the promise [are] counted for a seed. (9) For the Word of promise [is] this, According to this time I will come, and a son will be to Sarah. (10) And not only so, but also Rebekah conceiving of one, our father Isaac, (11) for [the children] not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of the [One] calling, (12) it was said to her, The greater shall serve the lesser; (13) even as it has been written, I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau. (14) What then shall we say? [Is there] not unrighteousness with God? Let it not be! (15) For He said to Moses, I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will pity whomever I will pity. (16) So, then, [it is] not of the [one] willing, nor of the [one] running, but of the [One] showing mercy, of God. (17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, For this very thing I raised you up, so that I might display My power in you, and so that My name might be publicized in all the earth. (18) So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens. (19) You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will? (20) Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the [One] forming [it], Why did You make me like this? (21) Or does not the potter have authority over the clay, out of the one lump to make one vessel to honor, and one to dishonor? (22) But if God, desiring to demonstrate His wrath, and to make His power known, endured in much long-suffering vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction, (23) and that He make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory, (24) whom He also called, not only us, of Jews, but also out of nations.
The text from the last sermon I preached was Romans 9:18. Now if you thought I was going to go on to verse 19 today, you were mistaken, because there's still at least two more sermon's worth of material that I still want to get out there. Of course, like many topics, this could go on for many sermons, but I'm trying to condense it into several sermons. I know I've left out a lot of things, a lot of verses, and am going to leave out even more, but that's part of the pain of making sermons that aren't so long that the audience can't sustain attention. I hope I've given enough Scripture to show you without a doubt that God actively causes sin, that there's no question about this among people who truly believe what God says in His Word. I did forget to mention one passage that I wanted us to see related to the circumstances leading up to Christ's crucifixion, so let's turn to that one right now. It's Luke chapter 22, verses 21 and 22:
Luke 22: (21) But, behold, the hand of My betrayer on the table with Me! (22) And, indeed, the Son of Man goes according as was determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!
Here Jesus says that the betrayer, who is Judas, is at the table with him, and indeed, He, Jesus, "goes according as what is determined." This again shows that all events leading up to and including the crucifixion were determined beforehand by God, including Judas's sin. Jesus also pronounces a woe on Judas for being the betrayer. But if God caused Judas to betray Jesus, why would Judas be at fault? Well, that gets into Romans 9:19, and I don't want us to get ahead of ourselves, so that will be for another sermon, the Lord willing.
What I want to do in this sermon is to go over a specific issue related to hardening, which is that God uses the preaching of the gospel as a special means of hardening the reprobate. Let's first look at Isaiah 6, verses 8 through 12:
Isaiah 6: (8) And I heard the voice of Jehovah, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then I said, Behold me. Send me! (9) And He said, Go and say to this people, Hearing you hear, but do not understand; and seeing you see, but do not know. (10) Make the heart of this people fat, and make his ears heavy, and shut his eyes, that he not see with his eyes, and hear with his ears, and understand with his heart, and turn back, and one heals him. (11) Then I said, Until when, O Lord? And He said, Until cities lie desolate without [one] living [in them], and the houses without man, and the land is laid waste, a desolation; (12) and [until] Jehovah has sent mankind far away, and the desolation in the midst of the land [is] great.
Here God is commanding Isaiah to go preach the gospel to Israel. For what purpose? So they will repent and believe? No. It is to make their heart fat, make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes. The heart, ears, and eyes are pictures of understanding, regarding, realizing, knowing, and recognizing. The words "fat" and "heavy" mean stupid, insensible, and dull. And the Hebrew word for shutting, as in shutting the eyes, means this, according to Keil and Delitzsch: "to smear thickly, or paste over, i.e., to put upon a person what is usually the result of weak eyes, which become firmly closed by the hardening of the adhesive substance secreted in the night." So Isaiah's mission was to preach the gospel in order to HARDEN the Jews, to make them more stupid and blind and rebellious against the truth. Now how many preachers have you heard who say that this is a purpose of the preaching of the gospel? Most of them would say that the sole purpose of the preaching of the gospel is to show everyone without exception that God loves them and Christ died for them and wants to save them. But that's not what God says. Throughout the Bible, as we will see, the Lord willing, God shows us that one of the purposes of the preaching of the gospel is to harden people AGAINST the gospel.
Look at the last part of verse 10: "that he not see with his eyes, and hear with his ears, and understand with his heart, and turn back, and one heals him." This is such a profound statement. Do you get the weight of this? The Hebrew word pen-rah-AH means "lest he see." Here the KJV and Young's are a better translation than the LITV. To give you an idea of what "lest" means, I'll give an example. If C-Dunc tells me, "Go squash the spider LEST he continue to live and eventually bite me," what is he saying? He's saying that if I DIDN'T squash the spider, the spider WOULD continue to live and COULD bite him. So he's telling me to squash the spider IN ORDER THAT the spider would NOT continue to live, so there would be NO POSSIBILITY of this spider biting him. Okay, do we have an idea of what "lest" means? And the Hebrew word for "turn back" means "return." So God is saying to Isaiah to make the Jews' hearts fat, make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, LEST THEY SEE and HEAR and UNDERSTAND, and RETURN, and BE HEALED! Did God want them see, hear, and understand? Did God want them to return to Him and be healed? No - it's just the opposite, isn't it? God wanted Isaiah to preach the gospel to them in order that they would NOT see, NOT hear, NOT understand, so they would NOT return and NOT be healed! And let me ask you another question: When Isaiah went out and preached the gospel, and the people to whom he preached did not believe the gospel, was Isaiah SUCCESSFUL? Did he SUCCEED at his mission? Here's Isaiah preaching the gospel, and instead of believing the gospel, the Jews didn't understand, regard, realize, know, or recognize the truth; instead, they became more stupid and blind and rebellious against the truth. Would lost religionists today say that this was a SUCCESSFUL ministry? No. But would GOD say that this was a SUCCESSFUL ministry? Yes. And to whom do we pay attention - lost religionists or God?
Was God PLEASED with Isaiah's ministry that hardened people unto destruction? Was he PLEASED that the preaching of the gospel resulted in the Jews' not believing and becoming more rebellious? Let's turn to a passage that clearly shows God's pleasure with such a ministry. Let's turn to 2 Corinthians 2 and read verse 14:
2 Corinthians 2: (14) But thanks [be] to God, the [One] always leading us in triumph in Christ, and [the One] revealing through us the odor of the knowledge of Him in every place.
The Greek word for "odor" is os-MAY, which is a scent - something that is smelled. So Paul is comparing the gospel to a smell. That's an interesting analogy, isn't it? In the second part of the verse, we see what the smell is - it is the smell of the knowledge of Christ. What is the "knowledge of Christ"? In Philippians 3:8, Paul says that he counts all things to be loss because of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. The knowledge of Christ is the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. So this smell is the smell of the gospel. When the gospel is preached, it goes out to people, right? It is heard by all different kinds of people. Just imagine if I lit a candle here from the pulpit, and the smell of the candle drifted to all of you. When I preach, it goes out to all of you. That's the sense of the analogy. And this gospel is not only going out to all of you in this immediate audience, it is going out all over the world. It is going out to the elect, and it is going out to the reprobate. Now let's look at verse 15:
2 Corinthians 2: (15) For we are a sweet smell to God because of Christ in those being saved, and in those being lost;
Look closely at this verse. Does this say that the gospel is a sweet smell to those being saved and a bad smell to those being lost? No - this isn't even talking about the smell going to the hearers of the gospel - it is talking about the smell going to GOD. We who preach the gospel are a sweet smell to GOD. And it is because we are preaching the doctrine of CHRIST - His person and His work. We preach that Christ's work makes the only difference between salvation and damnation. We preach that Christ's work demands and ensures the salvation of everyone whom He represented on the cross. We preach Christ, and Him crucified. This is a sweet smell to God. God is pleased with this smell of the gospel. Now let's look at the second part of the verse. The word "in" can be translated "on" or "upon," which I think gives a better sense of what this means. Now is this gospel we preach a sweet smell to God only upon those who are being saved? No! It is also a sweet smell to God upon those who are being lost! The ones who are being lost are the reprobate! The gospel and those who preach it are a sweet, pleasing smell to God when it is preached to the reprobate! And what is the effect of the gospel when it is preached to the reprobate? Let's read verse 16:
2 Corinthians 2: (16) to the one, an odor of death unto death, and to the other, an odor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
To the reprobate, this sweet smell is an odor of death unto death. The gospel's effect on the reprobate is to harden them for destruction in the second death. They reject this gospel. They hate this gospel. This gospel blinds their eyes, stops up their ears, and hardens their heart. And what does this odor of death unto death REMAIN to God? It REMAINS a SWEET SMELL to GOD. God is PLEASED with the gospel's being an odor of death unto death. God has appointed the gospel to be an odor of life unto life to the elect and an odor of death unto death for the reprobate, and He is well-pleased with BOTH. BOTH accomplish His purpose. Isaiah's preaching was an odor of death unto death to these Jews, and God was PLEASED with it, because it accomplished His purpose of hardening the hearts of these Jews for destruction. God had decreed from before the foundation of the world that these Jews would be hardened and go to hell, and He accomplished His purpose by hardening these Jews through the means of the gospel and then sending them to hell for their blindness, deafness, and rebellion that He caused. Why did God find fault with them and send them to hell for something He caused? After all, who can resist God's will? Again, this is for verses 19 and following, but I wanted to add this because you can see the objection rising up even as we speak about God's sovereign, unconditional, active hardening.
I've been using Isaiah as an example, but we can also see prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel who did the same thing. Now I'd like to turn to a passage in which Jesus Christ Himself quotes from the passage in Isaiah. Let's turn over to Matthew 13 and read verses 10 through 15:
Matthew 13: (10) And coming near, the disciples said to Him, Why do You speak to them in parables? (11) And answering, He said to them, Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but it has not been given to those. (12) For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have overabundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (13) Because of this, I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
Now I was on a forum a while back in which someone articulated a very common explanation as to why Jesus spoke in parables. He said this: "Jesus himself was a teacher that used very understandable easy parables to make his message clear to the common men." I also got an e-mail from someone who said this: "Parables are properly intended for those incapable of comprehending explicit spiritual truths." Really? Well, we don't have to guess as to why Jesus spoke in parables. In this passage, the disciples asked him this very question: "Why do you speak to them in parables?" Did Jesus answer the disciples by saying, "Because I am using very understandable easy parables to make my message clear to the common men"? Did He answer the disciples by saying, "Because the parables are properly intended for those incapable of comprehending explicit spiritual truths"? Not even close! Jesus said that He spoke in parables in order to do exactly what Isaiah's preaching did - to make the reprobates' heart fat, to make their ears heavy, and to shut their eyes. So, instead of the common notion that Christ spoke in parables IN ORDER TO make the certain people understand, the truth is that Christ spoke in parables in order to make certain people NOT UNDERSTAND! That turns the common notion right on its head, doesn't it? Jesus Christ used parables to harden the hearts of the reprobate so they would not believe.
Now let's go to another passage in the gospels that quotes from Isaiah. This time it's in the twelfth chapter of John. Let's start with verse 37 and go through verse 41:
John 12: (37) But [though] He had done so many [miraculous] signs before them, they did not believe into Him, (38) so that the Word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he said, Lord, who has believed our report? And the arm of the Lord, to whom was it revealed? (39) Because of this they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, (40) He has blinded their eyes and has hardened their heart, that they might not see with the eyes and understand with the heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. (41) Isaiah said these things when he saw His glory, and spoke about Him.
Notice something very important. John first quotes from Isaiah 53, which is the most well-known Messianic passage in the Old Testament. And John, writing infallibly under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, interprets Isaiah 53:1. What does "Who has believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" mean? We don't have to guess about the meaning, because we have the Holy Spirit through John to interpret it for us. John says that Isaiah was talking about the people NOT BELIEVING in Jesus. So right at the beginning of Isaiah 53, the most famous Messianic passage in the Old Testament, Isaiah talks of people NOT BELIEVING. That's quite significant, isn't it? Now notice in this passage how John infallibly words things. He says that even though Jesus did many miracles, the people did not believe, IN ORDER THAT the prophecy in Isaiah 53:1 would be fulfilled. God MADE them not believe in order to fulfill Isaiah's prophecy. Now look at the first part of verse 39: "Because of this they could not believe." Because of God's desire to fulfill Isaiah's prophecy, they COULD NOT believe. They COULD NOT believe! Did these people have the "free will" to believe? No - it was IMPOSSIBLE for them to believe, because God WILLED for them NOT to believe and MADE them NOT believe in order that His Word be fulfilled. And then John quotes from the same passage that Jesus quoted in Matthew, which is Isaiah 6. Just in case there was any question as to who was causing their unbelief, John says that it is GOD who has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart so they would not believe in Jesus. And again, it was so they might not see with their eyes and understand with their heart and be converted and healed. God DID NOT WANT them to see and understand and be converted and healed. He ACTIVELY blinded and hardened them so they would NOT believe. So what was the purpose of the miracles in relation to the reprobate? Was it to show them that God wanted them to believe that Jesus was the Messiah? No. It was in order to HARDEN them so they would NOT believe so they would be destroyed. As we saw in our Scripture reading today in John chapter 8, Jesus said, "Why do you not know My speech? It is because you are not able to hear My Word." And why were they not able to hear His Word? Because God had blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts.
Let's turn over to 2 Thessalonians 2. I'll first read verses 7 to 12:
2 Thessalonians 2: (7) For the mystery of lawlessness already is working, only he [is] holding back now, until it comes out of the midst. (8) And then the Lawless One will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume by the spirit of His mouth, and will bring to nought by the brightness of His presence. (9) [His] coming is according to the working of Satan in all power and [miraculous] signs and lying wonders, (10) and in all deceit of unrighteousness in those being lost, because they did not receive the love of the truth in order for them to be saved. (11) And because of this, God will send to them a working of error, for them to believe the lie, (12) that all may be judged, those not believing the truth, but who have delighted in unrighteousness.
We again see the phrase "those being lost," which is talking about the reprobate. The reprobate "did not receive the love of the truth in order for them to be saved." They did not believe the gospel of salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone. Because of this, what will happen? "God will send to them a working of error, for them to believe the lie." Here again we see God's active causation of sin. GOD is the one who sends them a working of error, or, "a strong delusion" or "a working of delusion." GOD is the one who causes them to be deluded, who causes them to believe the lie. Once again, we see that GOD turns their hearts - their thinking, their understanding - to believe a lie, just as we saw last time. And it is in order to do what? Look at verse 12 again:
2 Thessalonians 2: (12) that all may be judged, those not believing the truth, but who have delighted in unrighteousness.
God sent them a strong delusion, a working of error, for them to believe the lie, THAT THOSE WHO DO NOT BELIEVE THE TRUTH MAY BE JUDGED. He caused this in order to justly damn them. God chose them from the beginning to damnation and caused them to believe a lie in order to damn them. Now contrast this with verses 13 and 14:
2 Thessalonians 2: (13) But we ought to thank God always concerning you, brothers, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to salvation in sanctification of [the] Spirit and belief of [the] truth, (14) to which He called you through our gospel, to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the opposite of reprobation. We who are God's elect were chosen from the beginning to salvation. In time, we were regenerated and set apart by the Spirit and caused to believe the truth of the gospel. And we will obtain final glory based not on our own works or efforts, but on the work of Jesus Christ alone, which God had predestined from before the world began.
God commands every single one of you to believe the gospel of salvation based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. To some, this gospel is a smell of death. It will harden you for destruction. To others, this gospel is a smell of life. Which one is it for you? Are you believing the gospel, or are you rejecting it? God's Word is heard by those who believe it and by those who do not believe it, and it has different effects. Let's turn over to a parable that pictures this. Let's turn to Matthew 7, verses 21 through 27:
Matthew 7: (21) Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but the [ones] who do the will of My Father in Heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name do many works of power? (23) And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, those working lawlessness! (24) Then everyone who hears these Words from Me, and does them, I will compare him to a wise man who built his house on the rock; (25) and the rain came down, and the floods came up, and the winds blew, and fell against that house; but it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. (26) And everyone who hears these Words of Mine, and who does not do them, [he] shall be compared to a foolish man who built his house on the sand; (27) and the rain came down, and the floods came up, and the winds blew and beat against that house; and it fell, and great was the collapse of it.
Which one of these describes you? Note that BOTH of these people heard God's Word. Both the wise man and the foolish man heard the gospel. But the wise man's house was built on the rock of Christ as his only foundation, his only hope, his only ground of salvation. And when the rain and the flood and the wind came, his house stood because of its foundation. He is one to whom Christ will say, "Come, the blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." What about the foolish man? He heard the gospel, too, but he didn't believe it. His foundation was not on the rock of Christ but was on the sand of his own works and efforts. And what happened when the rain and the flood and the wind came? Did his house stand? No - "great was the collapse of it." He is the one to whom Christ will say, "Depart from me, I never knew you, you worker of lawlessness." What a dreadful day that will be for the reprobate. I call on you today to repent and believe the gospel. Repent of building your house on the sand of self-righteousness and build your house on the rock of Christ and His righteousness. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Amen.