ROMANS 9:18 (3)
(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 8/9/09 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let's read Romans 9:18:
Romans 9: (18) So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens.
Today I'd like to wrap up this three-part series on the hardening of the reprobate. First I'd like to go over the concept of "free will" in a larger framework than we did when I preached on "free will" in my sermon on Romans 9:16. In that sermon, I focused on one part of the concept of "free will," which is the heresy that every fallen, unsaved man has free will to choose good or evil, free will to choose to believe in the true God or to believe in a false god, free will to choose to believe in Christ or reject Christ, free will to choose to believe the true gospel or a false gospel. And we saw what the Bible says about this, which is that not a single fallen, unsaved man has these abilities. They CANNOT choose good. They CANNOT choose to believe in the true God and the true Christ and the true gospel. Their wills are bound by their total depravity. They are all completely polluted with hatred of the true and living God, and all of their thoughts, words, and deeds - even their kindness, morality, and religion -- are dead works, evil deeds, and fruit unto death. They are all spiritually dead, having no spiritual understanding, lovers of darkness rather than light, slaves of sin, unable and unwilling to obey God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation.
The issue of total depravity as it relates to free will is an essential gospel doctrine, and we don't want to minimize it. But there's also a larger issue of free will that has to do purely with God's sovereignty. Now we've already gone over tons of verses that show that God totally causes and controls all actions and events. In light of this truth, let's think about a wicked person's specific actions. Does a wicked person have the "free will" to do any of the countless possible wicked actions? In other words, if a wicked person is in a certain situation, is he free to choose from any number of wicked acts? Now I hope you see that this is different than the doctrine of total depravity, which says that a wicked person can only do wicked things. In the situation I just put forth, that's granted. The wicked person is only going to do wickedness. But is he free to do ANY wickedness? Does God just leave him to his own wickedness and not control the exact kind of wickedness he will do? Well, of course, if you truly believe in God's sovereign control of every person, then that wicked person is going to do the SPECIFIC wicked thing that God caused him to do, so that person does NOT have the free will go do any wicked thing. He can only do a specific wicked thing that God caused him to do, because God causes all thoughts and actions and events in order for His purpose to be accomplished.
But did you know that most who call themselves "Calvinists" or "Reformed" who say they believe in the absolute sovereignty of God do NOT believe this? They say that God is IN control of all things but does not actively CONTROL all things. Now how's that possible? Well, to anyone with common sense, it's NOT possible. It's a contradiction. But we have Calvinist authors and seminarians who make up all kinds of theories in order to justify their view of their god who doesn't cause everything while remaining sovereign, and none of these theories has any basis in the Bible. They just had to concoct these fables, these fictions, about God, in order to make all their preconceived notions fit into the Bible's clear teaching of God's sovereignty. And they really don't do a very good job of it. They use a lot of seminary-type words and phrases to try to impress people and get people to think they have this special knowledge of God, so we're supposed to just defer to them, because, after all, they're smarter and more well-read and have gone to highly-esteemed seminaries. But if you look at what they're really saying amidst all the rhetoric, you'll see that their house is built on sand. They have no biblical basis for their fabrications.
Now if you ever talk about God's sovereignty, you're probably going to encounter some form of these concoctions, so it's good to recognize them and have an answer for them. So let's briefly go into some of them. I first want to say that if you don't completely understand these concoctions, that's okay, because they really don't make sense. The lie is much more complicated than the truth. So if you listen to these things and say, "That doesn't make any sense," then you're on the right track. They're absurd. These theories come from carnal man's attempt to undermine the truth of God's complete, sovereign control, which is to blaspheme God Himself.
Before I get into some actual quotes, I want to mention some of the high-sounding catch-phrases that you'll hear or read when you get into this subject. So here are some of them: "God withholds His restraining grace." "God withdraws His gracious influences." "God leaves men to their natural blindness, to the hardness and unrestrained tendencies of their hearts, to the corruptions of their nature, to their own depraved wills and desires so they are free to act according to their own inclinations and the free exercise of their evil dispositions." Now you're supposed to say, "Ooh, Aah!" You're supposed to be impressed. Oh, well. What does "withholding or withdrawing restraining grace" mean, anyway? Actually, what does just "restraining grace" mean? Well, we'll get to that later on, the Lord willing.
Okay, now let's go into some quotes that show the lengths that some God-haters go to keep their god from being absolutely sovereign and thus enable man to keep some sovereignty for himself. I can hear the Calvinists say, "Yeah, expose those Arminians! They don't believe in the absolute sovereignty of God - they believe that man still retains some of his own sovereignty. We're behind you a hundred percent!" And my answer to the Calvinists is this: I'm not even going to quote Arminians, whom we all know don't believe in God's absolute sovereignty. I'm going to quote CALVINISTS. See how much you like my exposing your OWN as God-haters who deny God's absolute sovereignty. Now before I read these quotes, I'll preface this by saying that almost every well-known Calvinist author and commentator has something on this subject, and some have a ton, so there's no way I can give you even close to a comprehensive compilation of quotes in this sermon. But these quotes are a good representation of what all of them say.
The first person I want to quote might be a surprise to some, because he's been called a "Hyper-Calvinist" who emphasizes God's sovereignty too much. But I actually have more quotes from him than anyone else that show that he did not believe in God's absolute sovereignty. His name is John Gill. I'll first quote from his Body of Divinity on the verse that we're looking at right now: "... 'Whom he will he hardeneth', Romans 9:18, this he does not by any positive act, by infusing hardness and blindness into the hearts of men; which is contrary to his purity and holiness, and would make him the author of sin; but by leaving men to their natural blindness and hardness of heart; for the understanding is naturally darkened; and there is a natural blindness, hardness, and callousness of heart, through the corruption of nature, and which is increased by habits of sinning; men are in darkness, and choose to walk in it; and therefore God, as he decreed, gives them up to their own wills and desires. ... and also God may be said to harden and blind, by denying them that grace which can only cure them of their hardness and blindness ... not that God infuses any delusion or deceit into them, but ... he suffers their corruptions to break forth and prevail, not giving restraining grace to them ..."
Note the terms "leaving men to their natural blindness and hardness of heart," "gives them up to their own wills and desires," and "suffers their corruptions to break forth and prevail, not giving restraining grace to them." By the way the old English word "suffers" means "allows" or "permits."
Now here's a quote from Gill in his book The Cause of God & Truth regarding John 12:37-40. Part of this quote can also be found in Gill's Bible commentary. Let's first read the Scripture that he's commenting on:
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.
Now here's the quote from Gill: "It is said, that 'this text is cited to prove the decree of reprobation, or preterition; and that the inference made from it, contains this strange and uncomfortable doctrine, viz. That the infidelity of God's own people is to be resolved, not into the perverseness of their wills, or the evil dispositions of their hearts, but into the divine predictions, or into a judicial blindness and obduration, wrought by God upon them; which renders it, though not naturally, yet, morally impossible for them to believe.' But, I do not find that these words are cited by any of our writers to prove the decree of reprobation, or preterition, or any eternal purpose of God to blind the eyes, and harden the hearts of men, by any positive act of his, with a view to hinder their conversion, and that this decree of condemnation might take place. ... It is certain, that the impossibility of their after believing, is to be resolved into the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts, to which they were justly left, having contemned both the doctrines and miracles of Christ. ... Since God, or Christ, blind and harden, not by any positive act, or putting in blindness or hardness, but by leaving and giving men up to the blindness and hardness of their hearts, and denying them grace ... All which is consistent with God's command, and Christ's exhortations to them to believe, which were antecedent to the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts, and were, with the miracles and doctrines of Christ, aggravations of their unbelief; and therefore, they might be justly objected to them by the evangelist as their great crime, as it certainly was; being owing to the perverseness of their wills, and the evil dispositions of their hearts."
Note particularly that Gill says that God's "leaving and giving men up to the blindness and hardness of their hearts" were "antecedent to the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts." What does this mean? It means that God does not harden, even passively, anyone who has not first hardened himself. "Judicial hardening" is a hardening of punishment in reaction to what man has already done. Think about this in light of our text in Romans 9: "So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens." There's a parallel here. So if God's desire to harden depends on that person's hardening himself, then what about God's desire to show mercy? The structure of the sentence and the entire context of the passage do not allow for one to be unconditional and the other to be conditional. Either they are both unconditional, or they are both conditional. Which one is it?
Here's Gill on Exodus 4:21: "but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go; that is, not directly, not for some time, not until all the wonders are wrought, and plagues inflicted to bring him to it: he first hardening his own heart against God, and all remonstrances made unto him, it was but a righteous thing in God to give him up to the hardness of his heart, to deny him his grace, which only could soften it, and to leave him to the corruptions of his nature, and the temptations of Satan; and by leaving him to strong delusions, to believe the lying miracles of his magicians: this the Lord thought fit to acquaint Moses with, lest he should be discouraged by his refusal to dismiss Israel."
Note that Gill more clearly says that God did not harden Pharaoh's heart until Pharaoh hardened his own heart. And by hardening, Gill doesn't mean direct and active hardening, but indirect and passive hardening, as you can see in the terms "give him up to the hardness of his heart" and "leave him to the corruptions of his nature."
Now here's a quote from Robert Haldane's commentary on Romans 9:18: "And whom He will He hardeneth. -- If God hath mercy on whom He will, He hardeneth whom He will. In hardening men, God does no injustice, nor does He act in any degree contrary to the perfection of His character. He does not communicate hardness or perversity to the hearts of men by any positive internal act, as when He communicates His grace. ... Wicked men are not restrained by the holy influences of grace, but by the different restraints under which they are placed by Providence. They are hardened when these restraints
are removed, and when they are left free to act according to the depraved inclinations of their own hearts, to which the Lord gives them up ... When a man is entirely left to himself, the commands, the warnings, the judgments, the deliverances, and all the truths of Scripture become causes of hardness, of insensibility, of pride, and presumption. ... God ... is infinitely just in ... placing them in situations in which, in the free exercise of their evil dispositions, they will do what the Lord has appointed for His own glory. Thus God orders events in such a manner, that, as in the passages above quoted, the sin will, through the wickedness of men: certainly be committed, while He is not the author of evil, but, on the contrary, of good. ... That God does not harden any man in such a way as to be the author of sin, is most certain. But there must be a sense in which He hardens sinners, or the thing would not be asserted. From His conduct with respect to Pharaoh, it is obvious that sinners are hardened by the providence of God bringing them into situations that manifest and excite their corruptions. ... God hardened Pharaoh's heart, as He declared from the beginning of the history He would do; but did not put evil into his mind. There was no need for this, for he was previously wicked like all mankind. God has no occasion to put evil into the heart of any, in order to their destruction, for in consequence of the curse of the broken law (from which God's people alone are delivered), there is in no natural man anything good towards God, Romans 8:7. While He thus punished Pharaoh's wickedness no more than his iniquity deserved, God, in doing so, displayed to His people Israel their security under His protection."
Notice the terms "the restraints are removed," "left free to act according to the depraved inclinations of their own hearts," "man is entirely left to himself," and "the free exercise of their evil dispositions."
Now here is A.A. Hodge in his commentary on the Westminster Confession: "It must be remembered, however, that the purpose of God with respect to the sinful acts of men and wicked angels is in no degree to cause the evil, nor to approve it, but only to permit the wicked agent to perform it, and then to overrule it for his own most wise and holy ends. The same infinitely perfect and self-consistent decree ordains the moral law which forbids and punishes all sin, and at the same time permits its occurrence, limiting and determining the precise channel to which it shall be confined, the precise end to which it shall be directed, and overruling its consequences for good."
Note the term "to permit the wicked agent to perform it."
And here's A.A. Hodge again in his Outlines of Theology: "In what sense is God said to harden men? See Romans 9:18, and John 12:40. This is doubtless a judicial act wherein God withdraws from sinful men, whom he has not elected to life, for the just punishment of their sins, all gracious influences, and leaves them to the unrestrained tendencies of their own hearts, and to the uncounteracted influences of the world and the devil."
Note that Hodge, in agreement with Gill, says that this is "a judicial act wherein God withdraws ... all gracious influences, and leaves them to the unrestrained tendencies of their own hearts."
Now here is Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology: "All events embraced in the purpose of God are equally certain, whether He has determined to bring them to pass by his own power, or simply to permit their occurrence through the agency of his creatures. It was no less certain from eternity that Satan would tempt our first parents, and that they would fall, than that God would send his Son to die for sinners. The distinction in question has reference only to the relation which events bear to the efficiency of God. Some things He purposes to do, others He decrees to permit to be done. He effects good, He permits evil. He is the author of the one, but not of the other."
And another quote from Hodge's Systematic Theology: "The effects produced by common grace, or this influence of the Spirit common to all men, are most important to the individual and to the world. What the external world would be if left to the blind operation of physical causes, without the restraining and guiding influence of God's providential efficiency, that would the world of mind be, in all its moral and religious manifestations, without the restraints and guidance of the Holy Spirit. There are two ways in which we may learn what the effect would be of the withholding the Spirit from the minds of men. The first is, the consideration of the effects of reprobation, as taught in Scripture and by experience, in the case of individual men. Such men have a seared conscience. They are reckless and indifferent, and entirely under the control of the evil passions of their nature. This state is consistent with external decorum and polish. Men may be as whitened sepulchres. But this is a restraint which a wise regard to their greatest selfish gratification places on the evil principles which control them. ... the Scriptures reveal the effect of the entire withdrawal of the Holy Spirit from the control of rational creatures, in the account which they give of the state of the lost, both men and angels. Heaven is a place and state in which the Spirit reigns with absolute control. Hell is a place and state in which the Spirit no longer restrains and controls. The presence or absence of the Spirit makes all the difference between heaven and hell."
This gets into the concept of "common grace," which I'm not going to go into, but I am going to give quotes from two more Calvinists on restraint of sin in the context of common grace. The first is from John Murray's treatise on Common Grace: "It is natural that writers on this subject [which is common grace] should place in the forefront of their discussion the notion of restraint. It is perhaps the most striking and readily granted feature of the non-saving grace that God dispenses to this undeserving and sin-cursed world. God restrains sin and its consequences. ... God places restraint upon the workings of human depravity and thus prevents the unholy affections and principles of men from manifesting all the potentialities inherent in them. He prevents depravity from bursting forth in all its vehemence and violence."
And finally we come to Jonathan Edwards, whose words on restraining grace are often quoted by others. I'm first going to quote from his treatise on the Freedom of the Will, which has more to do with permission versus active causation: So here's the first quote: "[T]here is a great difference between God's being concerned thus, by his permission, in an event and act, which, in the inherent subject and agent of it, is sin, (though the event will certainly follow on his permission,) and his being concerned in it by producing it and exerting the act of sin; or between his being the orderer of its certain existence, by not hindering it, under certain circumstances, and his being the proper actor or author of it, by a positive agency or efficiency. ... So, inasmuch as sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the Most High, but, on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and, under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence ... men never commit sin, but only when God leaves them to themselves, and necessarily sin when he does so ... As it has been demonstrated, that the futurity of all future events is established by previous necessity, either natural or moral, so it is manifest, that the sovereign Creator and Disposer of the world has ordered this necessity, by ordering his own conduct, either in designedly acting, or forbearing to act. For, as the being of the world is from God, so the circumstances in which it had its being at first, both negative and positive, must be ordered by him, in one of these ways; and all the necessary consequences of these circumstances must be ordered by him. And God's active and positive interpositions, after the world was created, and the consequences of these interpositions, also every instance of his forbearing to interpose, and the sure consequences of this forbearance, must all be determined according to his pleasure. And therefore every event, which is the consequence of any thing whatsoever, or that is connected with any foregoing thing, or circumstance, either positive or negative, as the ground or reason of its existence, must be ordered of God, either by a designing efficiency and interposition, or a designed forbearing to operate or interpose. ... God does decisively, in his providence, order all the volitions of moral agents, either by positive influence or permission; and it being, allowed, on all hands, that what God does in the affair of man's virtuous volitions, whether it be more or less, is by some positive influence, and not by mere permission, as in the affair of a sinful volition."
And now for Edwards on common, restraining grace, from two of his sermons and one of his discourses: "There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God's restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell. There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do in them. The souls of the wicked are in scripture compared to the troubled sea, Isaiah 57:20. For the present, God restrains their wickedness by his mighty power, as he does the raging waves of the troubled sea, saying, 'Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;' but if God should withdraw that restraining power, it would soon carry all before it. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God's restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone."
Does anyone recognize that quote? It's from Edwards's most famous sermon, entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
Here's a quote from a sermon entitled "True Grace as Distinguished from the Experience of Devils": "There are many in this world who are wholly destitute of saving grace, who yet have common grace. They have no true holiness, but nevertheless have something of that which is called moral virtue, and are the subjects of some degree of the common influences of the Spirit of God. It is so with those in general that live under the light of the gospel, and are not given up to judicial blindness and hardness. Yea, those that are thus given up, yet have some degree of restraining grace while they live in this world, without which the earth could not bear them, and they would in no measure be tolerable members of human society. But when any are damned, or cast into hell, as the devils are, God wholly withdraws his restraining grace, and all merciful influences of his Spirit whatsoever. They have neither saving grace nor common grace, neither the Grace of the Spirit, nor any of the common gifts of the Spirit, neither true holiness, nor moral virtue of any kind. Hence arises the vast increase of the exercise of wickedness in the hearts of men when they are damned. And herein is the chief difference between the damned in hell, and unregenerate and graceless men in this world. Not that wicked men in this world have any more holiness or true virtue than the damned, or have wicked men, when they leave this world, any principles of wickedness infused into them: but when men are cast into hell, God perfectly takes away his Spirit from them, as to all its merciful common influences, and withdraws from them all restraints of is Spirit and good providence."
And now here is Edwards from his discourse entitled "Men Naturally Are God's Enemies": "Restraining grace a great privilege. If natural men are God's enemies; then hence we may learn, how much we are indebted to God for his restraining grace. If all natural men are God's enemies, what would they not do, if they were not restrained! ... And hence natural men have nothing within them, in their own nature, to restrain them from any thing that is but, and therefore their restraint must not be owing to nature, but to restraining grace. And therefore whatever wickedness we have been kept from, it is not because we have not been bad enough to commit it; but it is God has restrained us, and kept us back from sin. ... If we have seen others do things that we never did; and if they have done worse than we, this is owing to restraining grace. If we have not done as bad as Pharaoh, it is owing to divine restraints. If we have not done as bad as Judas, or as the scribes and Pharisees, or as bad as Herod, or Simon Magus, it is because God has restrained our corruption. If we have ever heard or read of any that have done worse than he; if we have not gone the length in sinning, that the most wicked pirates or carnal persecutors have gone, this is owing to restraining grace. ... The world is full of inhabitants; and almost all are God's enemies, his implacable and mortal enemies. What therefore would they not do, what work would they not make, if God did not restrain them? God's work in the restraint that he exercises over a wicked world, is a glorious work. God's holding the reins upon the corruptions of a wicked world, and setting hounds to their wickedness, is a more glorious work, than his ruling the raving of the sea, and setting bounds to its proud waves, and saying Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further. In hell, God lets the wickedness of wicked spirits have the reins, to rage without restraint; and it would be in a great measure upon earth as it is in hell, did not God restrain the wickedness of the world. But in order to the better understanding how it is owing to the restraining grace of God, that we are kept and withheld from the highest acts of sin, I would here observe several things. 1. Whenever men are withheld from sinning by the common influence of God's Spirit, they are withheld by restraining grace. If sinners are awakened, and are made sensible of the great guilt that sin brings, and that it exposes to a dreadful punishment, under such circumstances they dare not allow themselves in wilful sin: God restrains them by the convictions of his Spirit; and therein their being kept from sin, is owing to restraining grace. And unawakened sinners that live under the gospel, who are in a great measure secure, commonly have some degrees of the influence of God's Spirit, with his ordinances influencing natural conscience. And though they be not sufficient thoroughly to rouse them out of security, or make them reform, yet they keep them from going such lengths in sin, as otherwise they might do. And this is restraining grace. They are indeed very stupid and sottish: yet they would be a great deal more so, if God should let them wholly alone. 2. All the restraints that men are under from the word and ordinances, is from grace. The word and ordinances of God might have some degree of influence on men's natural principles of self-love, to restrain them from sin, without any degree of the influence of God's Spirit: but this would be the restraining grace of God; for God's goodness and mercy to a sinful world appears in his giving his word to be a restraint on the wickedness of the world. When men are restrained by fear of those punishments that the word of God threatens; or by the warnings, the offers, and promises of it; when the word of God works upon hope, or fear, or natural conscience, to restrain men from sin, this is the restraining grace of God and is owing to his mercy. It is an instance of God's mercy that he has revealed hell, to restrain men's wickedness, and that he has revealed a way of salvation, and a possibility of eternal life. This, which has great influence on men to keep them from sin, is the restraining grace of God. 3. When men are restrained from sin, by the light of nature, this also is of grace. ... In all these things, the restraining grace of God appears. -- It is God's mercy to mankind, that he has so ordered their state, that they should have so many things, by fear and a regard to their own interest, to restrain their corruptions. It is God's mercy to the world, that the state of mankind here differs from the state of the damned in hell, where men will have none of these things to restrain them. The wisdom of God, as well as the attributes of his grace, greatly appears in thus disposing things for the restraining of the wickedness of men."
So there we have some Calvinists on hardening, including how it ties in with common grace and common operations of the Spirit. In any of these, did you find the truth that God sovereignly, actively causes people to sin certain sins? No. Instead, we found that they believe that God leaves men to their natural blindness, to the hardness and unrestrained tendencies of their hearts, to the corruptions of their nature, to their own wills and desires, by removing restraining grace, withdrawing gracious influences, leaving them to themselves so they are free to act according to their own depraved inclinations and the free exercise of their evil dispositions. What does this all mean? You won't find any of these ideas in the Bible, either expressed or implied. Well, for one thing, we can see that these Calvinists only deny free will when it comes to a wicked person's inability to do good. When their god removes some of his restraining grace, he does not cause them to act in any particular way; instead, he just leaves them to their own wills and desires so they are free to act according to their own evil hearts.
But let's think about this in light of the passages we've previously read on God's actively causing people to sin in certain ways. We saw Pharaoh not letting the Israelites go, then letting them go, and then pursuing them into the sea. We saw what Joseph's brothers did to Joseph. We saw Sihon refusing to let Israel pass through. We saw the kings coming against Israel in battle during Joshua's time. We saw Eli's sons not listening to their father. We saw Absalom and Rehoboam following bad counsel. We saw wicked people like Pul and the Philistines and Cyrus and the Medes doing specific things. We saw the kings of the earth giving their kingdoms to the beast. Now according to the Calvinists above, God did not actively cause any of these people to sin in these specific ways; instead, God just withdrew some restraining grace from these people and left them to their own depraved desires, to be free to do whatever their desires led them to do. Now let's analyze this. What kind of sense does the concept of God's "restraining grace" make? What in the world is that, anyway? What the advocates of this heresy say is this: First, a totally depraved man, without any restraints, would break out into the worst possible behavior, usually something like the most heinous kinds of murder or rape. Second, most unbelievers do not exhibit the worst possible behavior, so this is evidence that they are graciously restrained by God from going all the way into the depths of depravity. Third, since some unbelievers have worse behavior than others, then this is evidence of different degrees of God's restraining grace. The more God restrains, the better the behavior; the less God restrains, the worse the behavior. But what's wrong with this picture? Does the concept of more and less restraining make any sense in light of the fact that God actively controls everything? How could God restrain sin more or less if He already controls sin? It doesn't make any sense, does it? This kind of restraint can only come into the picture if there is some kind of force outside of God that needs restraining. Think of restraint in relation to control. In this heresy, the more God restrains, the more He actively controls. The less He restrains, the less He actively controls. So as God withdraws his restraining grace more and more, the more the unbeliever controls his own thoughts, words, and actions. Now to those who believe the God of the Bible, it is absurd to think of a god who "leaves" a wicked person or "lets" or "permits" a wicked person control his own wicked thoughts and actions without his active control. Then God wouldn't be God. God would be giving up His sovereignty. There would be people in the world whose wicked actions are outside of God's active control. And thus events would be taking place that are controlled by something or someone other than God. Now if God LETS something happen that He does not CAUSE, then He is letting some other force be in control. There is some other power that is independent of God's power. The heretics can say that God is still in control because this independent power can be increased or decreased by God, but that does not solve the issue that there is still an independent power. And, of course, the whole issue of "grace" comes in here, as we know that God does not show grace to the wicked. So the whole concept of restraining grace is blasphemous, not only because it is a "common grace," but also because it denies God's absolute sovereignty. Did you notice that some of the quotes said that hell is a place where all of God's restraints are removed, and the reprobate and demons are absolutely free from the control of God? So, to them, hell is a place where God completely lets go of His sovereignty! Amazing.
And what about the issue of "judicial hardening" in which God only hardens people in response to their first hardening themselves? Think about what kind of sense this makes even in their own scheme. Remember that their view of hardening is a passive leaving them to the hardness of their own hearts by withdrawing restraint. So in this scheme, how does a person first harden himself? I'm talking about the supposed self-hardening that happens before God responds. Well, it has to be that a person first hardens himself when God withdraws restraint and leaves him to the hardness of his own heart. Uh-oh. We have a problem here. God withdraws restraint and leaves them to the hardness of their own heart in response to God withdrawing restraint and leaving them to the hardness of their own heart. It makes absolutely no sense.
There's another thing I'd like you to think about. Think again of this view in which God does not actively cause people to sin certain sins but merely "gets out of the way" and "lets people go." Think of the passages we previously read on God's causation of certain sins. How would the concept of "withdrawing restraints" make sense when talking about people sinning specific sins? Let's take Pharaoh as an example. If God just "withdrew restraints" and let Pharaoh's depraved will have control, then what's to guarantee that Pharaoh would sin in the specific way that was needed? What if, when God "withdrew the restraints," Pharaoh decided to kill Moses and Aaron? Or even something less heinous? Well, that would have messed up the whole thing, wouldn't it have? Or any of the other examples - what if, when God "withdrew the restraints" of Joseph's brothers, they decided not to follow Reuben's advice? And we can think of all kinds of other "what ifs," couldn't we? But with the Sovereign God of the Bible, His plan is sure and certain, to the minutest detail, because He ACTIVELY CAUSES His plan to come to pass because He ACTIVELY CAUSES all actions and events, INCLUDING the sins of men and angels. It cannot be any other way. If God merely lets an independent power have more or less control, then He is not the Sovereign God of the Bible who can and does carry out His perfect will.
Now remember when we saw the most important event in history in light of God's control of the wicked actions of wicked people? Judas sinned the specific sin of betraying Jesus to the chief priests and elders. The high priest, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders sinned the specific sins of looking for false testimony against Jesus and delivering Him to Pontius Pilate and inciting the crowd to call for His crucifixion. The false witnesses sinned the specific sin of bringing charges against Jesus. The servants and officers of the high priest sinned the specific sins of spitting in Jesus's face, beating Him with their fists, and slapping Him. The Jews sinned the specific sin of calling for Jesus's crucifixion. Pilate sinned the specific sins of setting Barabbas free and delivering Jesus to be flogged and crucified. The soldiers of the governor sinned the specific sins of stripping Jesus, smashing a crown of thorns down on His head, mocking Him, spitting on him, and striking Him. And the soldiers sinned the specific sin of nailing Jesus to a cross to die. And what if they did not sin these specific sins? What if God had just "removed restraints" and "left them to their own wicked inclinations" instead of actively causing these specific wicked actions?
Who would dare say that even one of these specific wicked actions was not absolutely controlled, actively caused by God? Well, I know who would dare say this blasphemy. Here is a quote from Calvinist W.G.T. Shedd, in his book entitled "Calvinism: Pure & Mixed: A Defence of the Westminster Standards," published by the Banner of Truth, which is one of the biggest publishers of Calvinist materials: "When God predetermined from eternity not to restrain and prevent 'Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and all the people of Israel', from crucifying his beloved Son, but to leave them to their own wicked inclination and voluntary action in the case, he made this crucifixion a certainty, but not a necessity as is evinced by the 'woe' pronounced upon them by the Son of God. Luke 22:22. Men with hearts and dispositions full of hatred toward the Saviour of the world, if left to themselves are infallibly certain to cry, 'Crucify him; crucify him'. John 19: 6-15."
There you go. Shedd says that the crucifixion of Christ was "a certainty, but not a necessity." What kind of double-talk is that? And then Shedd says that God did not restrain or prevent them from crucifying Christ but left them to their own wicked inclination and voluntary action. Really? So how then was the crucifixion a certainty? Shedd answers this by saying that men with hearts and dispositions full of hatred toward Christ, if left to themselves, are infallibly certain to want Christ to be crucified. Really? What about the people who tried to stone Christ to death in John chapters 8 and 10? Is wanting to stone someone to death evidence of "more restraining grace" than wanting to crucify someone to death? This is just so patently stupid, it defies description. Calvinists like Shedd cannot bring themselves to say that God actively caused any specific wicked action, including the crucifixion of Christ. Why is that? Why is it so hard for them to admit what is so obvious from Scripture? Well, on the surface, they want to protect God from being the so-called "author of sin." But what does this really show? It shows that they believe in a god who is like them, who must conform to their own extra-biblical standard of what is just and right.
Some listeners might ask, "Do you believe that God is the author of sin?" And my answer would depend on the definition of "author." If by "author," you mean that God commits the sin that He causes, then my answer would be "no." Interestingly, most who use this definition will say that God is the author of good, so if they were consistent, they would have to say that God actually does the good work that He causes. For example, if God is the author of a person's faith in this sense, then God is the one who actually has faith. Or if God is the author of a person's writing a sermon, then it is God who actually wrote the sermon. That's ridiculous, of course. Causing someone to perform an action is not the same thing as performing the action. Others would say that "author" means that, although God does not commit the actual sin that He causes, God does sin when He causes a person to sin. Again, my answer would be "no" to the question if God is the author of sin. But if by "author," you mean that God actively causes sin, actively turns people's hearts to sin, then my answer is "yes." Some would reply, "Well, then, how can He find fault for sin that He causes?" And this would confirm that my view is correct, because this is the objection that arises when the doctrine is put forth correctly, as we will see in Romans 9:19, the Lord willing.
So contrary to the Calvinists we've mentioned, we believe what the Bible plainly says and don't have to make up fictitious, absurd, blasphemous theories to make God conform to some man-made standard of righteousness. We believe that God has unconditional mercy on whomever He desires, and He unconditionally hardens whomever He desires. The mercy involves active causation, and the hardening involves active causation. Anything less than this, and God isn't absolutely sovereign. May we bow before the sovereign creator and sustainer and controller of the universe, the God who decreed everything before He created the universe and the God who actively carries out His decree in time. He is the God who promises salvation to all His people based solely on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice that we have a God who is able and faithful to keep every single one of His promises, because He is a righteous God who is in absolute control. Amen.