God has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens
The apostle Paul says to the Romans:
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).
Now, according to the apostle Paul, those whom God foreknew were predestinated to be justified. But what does this expression ‘God foreknew some and predestinated them to be justified’ mean? Does it mean, perhaps, merely that God knew that these people would repent and believe in Christ, and thus they would be justified? No, otherwise what would be the point of talking of predestination with regard to them? Is it not true that the verb ‘to predestinate’ means ‘to appoint beforehand’? Let me give you an example to explain this concept. If I decide to buy a certain field in order to appoint a certain part of it, let us suppose a tenth of it, to the building of a house; and another part, the rest of the field, to the citrus fruits growing; don’t I determine the destiny of that field beforehand? And when I have bought it and accomplished my purpose, cannot we say that that field was predestinated by me to be used in that way? Of course, we can. Therefore, if God predestinated us to be justified that means that even before we knew Him (that is, before we believed in Him) He purposed to cause us to believe in His Son Jesus Christ. In other words, He purposed to call us from all men He created. And therefore, at His appointed time, He overpowered us and prevailed, He persuaded us and we were persuaded, without us knowing absolutely anything about His divine plan for us. Perhaps you will say: ‘It was I who wanted to repent and believe in Jesus, it was I who made this choice?’ Then I would like to ask you some questions: ‘Who gave you repentance?’ Was it not God who gave you repentance, as it is written: “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18 – NKJV). And who gave you faith? Was it not God who gave you faith, for Paul calls faith “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) and says that it is not of ourselves? What do you have that you did not receive from God then? Nothing.
Therefore, if you repented and believed it was because God gave you repentance and faith. He had ordained you to eternal life, that’s why you believed; just as the believers at Antioch in Pisidia believed in the Lord because they had been ordained to eternal life, as it is written:
“And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48 – NKJV).
But at this point you may say: ‘But it was I who decided to come to Jesus!’ Well, you came to Jesus because you wanted to come to Jesus, that’s true; but it is also true that you came to Jesus because God wanted to draw you to Christ without you knowing anything about His will. Have you not read these words of Jesus:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him …. no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” (John 6:44,65)?
Please, note that Jesus said ‘except’ twice. Therefore, I tell you that you would not have come to Christ UNLESS it had been granted to you by the Father. So you came to Jesus because God drew you to Christ, that is to say, because It was granted to you by God to come to Christ.
At this point you may say: ‘Then, do those who don’t repent and believe in Jesus go to perdition because of a decree of God toward them? Yes, that’s the reason why they go to perdition. You may say then: ‘This is an injustice, thus you make people believe that God is an unrighteous God, a merciless God, who makes fun of His creatures!’ Hear what the Scripture teaches and you will see that what you say is wrong. The apostle Paul, in order to explain why only a remnant of the Israelites has accepted God’s salvation while most of the Jews have rejected it, speaks of the birth of Esau and Jacob. He says that
“(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her [Rebecca], The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:11-13).
The words of Paul show that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau even before they were born or had done anything good or bad. Their destiny had already been determined by God before they were born. Obviously, after their birth what God had foretold came to pass, for the older served the younger. But why did those things happen? Simply because Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, and Jacob deceitfully took away the blessing of Esau? In other words, did the older serve the younger simply because Esau and Jacob decided to act in that way (both Jacob and Esau acted wrongly)? Yes, of course, the fact that the older served the younger was the outcome of the behaviour of both brothers; however, behind all things there was the hand of God who directed all things, so that the word He had spoken to Rebecca might be fulfilled. Was God unjust by acting in that way toward Esau and Jacob? Certainly not. Is it not written that God does whatever pleases him in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths (Psalm 135:6)? Is it not written that God is proved right when He speaks and blameless when He judges (Psalm 51:4)?
The apostle Paul, foreseeing that somebody would say that God is unjust, defended what God does, saying:
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid [Certainly not!]. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:14-18).
The words of Paul are clear, very clear, and certainly this clearness disturbs many people. Please, note that Paul takes the example of Pharaoh in order to state that God hardens whom He wants to harden. You will ask me then, ‘Do you believe then that God hardens some people? Yes, I do believe this, God hardens whom He wants to harden, just as the Scripture declares. However, in the Scriptures there is another example of hardening caused by God. For in the days of Jesus most of the Jews were hardened by God so that they might not believe in Jesus. Here is what John says:
“But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:37-40).
Why didn’t those Jews believe in Jesus? Because they could not believe. The reason is clear, for God had hardened their heart and had blinded their eyes. In other words, because it was not granted to them to believe in Jesus or to come to Him. It was necessary that the words of Isaiah should be fulfilled, therefore those Jews could not believe. Whose are the words spoken by Isaiah? They are God’s. Therefore, God had purposed not to allow most of the Jews to believe. Jesus knew this, that’s why He spoke to the crowds in parables. One day His disciples asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables and He answered and said to them:
“Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:11-13).
Nevertheless, Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it had rejected Him and He said that they did not want to turn to the Lord. Here are His words:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).
“Ye would not”, said Jesus. Yet He knew that they were not willing to accept Him because God had hardened their heart and blinded their eyes. That shows that those who reject the Gospel are held responsible for refusing the Gospel, even though they reject the Gospel because they were appointed by God to be disobedient to the Word of God.
It was necessary for the Jews to reject Christ, so that Christ might die for our sins; that is to say, God had purposed to cause the Jews to persecute Jesus and to put Him to death, through the Gentiles, by nailing Him to the cross for our sake. For Peter said to the Jews:
“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:22-24 – NIV).
Please note carefully the words “by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge”. Evidently the Jews did not know that by their conduct they would fulfil the words of the prophets according to which Jesus had to die for the unjust, yet God used their wickedness and unbelief so that Christ might die for our sins. Therefore, should we not recognize that God is wise and use those who have been hardened by Him to accomplish what He has purposed to do? And should we not also recognize that God gains glory for Himself by hardening the hearts of people? For both in the case of Pharaoh (I mentioned before) and of the Jews, who crucified Jesus, God gained very much glory for Himself. As to Pharaoh, he was deeply humbled by God through all kinds of signs and wonders first, and then he and his army were thrown into the Red Sea, and when the Israelites saw what God had done to the Egyptians they praised God for His greatness (Exodus 15:1-19). As to the Jews who killed Jesus, they were put to shame by God for He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and when His disciples saw Him alive in their midst they rejoiced in the Lord, and from that time on all those who have believed in the Lord have rejoiced in the Lord for God raised His Son from the dead. At that time God gained very much glory for Himself through the resurrection of His Son (Luke 24:53) and He is still gaining very much glory for Himself through it.
First Paul said that God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy and He hardens whom He wants to harden, then he said:
“Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24).
Once again the words of Paul are clear. God reigns and He prepared in advance some men for destruction and some others for glory. Who are we to reply against God?