So Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD had commanded them.
Exodus 4:21. The present seems an appropriate place for a somewhat fuller treatment.
I. HARDENING AS PROCEEDING FROM GOD. "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." This, assuredly, is more than simple permission. God hardens the heart -
1. Through the operation of the laws of our moral constitution, These laws, of which God is the author, and through which he operates in the soul, ordain hardening as the penalty of evil conduct, of resistance to truth, and of all misimprovement and abuse of privilege.
2. Through his providence - as when God, in the execution of his judgments, places a wicked man in situations which he knows can only have a hardening effect upon him. He does this in righteousness. "God, having permitted evil to exist, must thereafter of necessity permit it also to run its whole course in the way of showing itself to be what it really is, as that which aims at the defeat of the Divine purpose, and the consequent dissolution of the universe." This involves hardening.
3. Through a direct judgment in the soul of the individual, God smiting him with a spirit of blindness and infatuation in punishment of obstinate resistance to the truth. This is the most difficult of all aspects of hardening, but it only cuts the knot, does not untie it, to put superficial meanings upon the scriptures which allege the reality of the judgment (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). It is to be viewed as connected with what may be called the internal providence of God in the workings of the human mind; his government of the mind in the wide and obscure regions of its involuntary activities. The direction taken by these activities, seeing that they do not spring from man's own will, must be as truly under the regulation of Providence, and be determined in quite as special a manner, as are the outward circumstances of our lot, or those so-called fortuities concerning which we are assured: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matthew 10:29). It is a significant fact that, as sin advances, the sinner becomes less and less a free agent, falls increasingly under the dominion of necessity. The involuntary activities of the soul gain ground upon the voluntary. The hardening may be conceived of, partly as the result of a withdrawal of light and restraining grace; partly as a giving of the sou] up to the delusions of the adversary, "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2), whose will gradually occupies the region in the moral life vacated by the human will, and asserts there a correspondingly greater power of control; and partly as the result of a direct Divine ordering of the course of thought, feeling, and imagination. Hengstenberg acutely remarks: "It appears to proceed from design, that the hardening at the beginning of the plagues is attributed, in a preponderating degree, to Pharaoh, and towards the end to God. The higher the plagues rise, so much the more does Pharaoh's hardening assume a supernatural character, so much the more obvious is it to refer it to its supernatural causality."
II. HARDENING IN ITSELF CONSIDERED. The heart is the centre of personality, the source of moral life, the seat of the will, the conscience, and the affections (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:18). The hardening of the heart may be viewed under two aspects:
1. More generally as the result of growth in sin, with consequent loss of moral and religious susceptibility; and
2. As hardening against God, the author of its moral life. We have but to put these two things together - the heart, the seat of moral life, hardening itself against the Author of its moral life - to see that such hardening is of necessity fatal, an act of moral suicide. It may elucidate the subject to remark that in every process of hardening there is something which the heart parts with, something which it resists, and something which it becomes. There is, in other words
(1) That which the heart hardens itself in, viz. some evil quality, say injustice, cruelty, lust, hate, secret enmity to God, which quality gradually becomes a fixed element in character;
(2) that which the heart hardens itself against, viz. the influences of truth, love, and righteousness, in whatever ways these are brought to bear upon it, whether in the promptings of conscience, the movements of natural sensibility, the remonstrances of parents and friends, the Word of God, the internal strivings of the Spirit; and
(3) that which the heart parts with in hardening, viz. with its original susceptibility to truth, with its sensitiveness to moral influences, with its religious feeling, with its natural generosity, etc. The result is blindness, callousness, lostness to the feeling of right, to the sense of shame, to the authority of God, to the voice of truth, even to true self-interest. All hardening is thus double-sided; hardening in hate, e.g., being at the same time hardening against love, with a loss of the capacity of love; hardening in injustice being a hardening against justice, with a loss of the capacity for moral discernment; hardening in cruelty being a hardening against kindliness, with a corresponding destruction of the benevolent sensibilities; hardening against God being at the same time hardening in self-hood, in egoism, with a loss of the capacity of faith. We hence conclude:
1. All evil hardens, and all hardening in moral evil is in principle hardening against God. The hardening may begin at the circumference of the moral nature, and involve the centre, or it may begin at the centre, and work out to the circumference. Men may be enemies to God in their mind by wicked works (Colossians 1:21), they may have "the understanding darkened," and be "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness (marg. hardness) of their hearts," and being "past feeling" may give "themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:17-19), and yet be strangers to God's revealed truth. All sin, all resistance to light, all disobedience to conscience, has this hardening effect (cf. Romans 1:19-32). But it is a will which has broken from God which is thus in various ways hardening itself, and enmity to God is latent in the process. The moment the truth of God is brought to bear on such a nature, this latent enmity is made manifest, and, as in the case of Pharaoh, further hardening is the result. Conversely,
2. Hardening against God is hardening in moral evil. The hardening may begin at the centre, in resistance to God's known will, and to the strivings of his Spirit, and thence spread through the whole moral nature. This is the deepest and fundamental hardening, and of itself gives a character to the being. A heart hardened in its interior against its Maker would be entitled to be called hard, no matter what superficial qualities of a pleasant kind remained to it, and no matter how correct the moral conduct.
3. Hardening results in a very special degree from resistance to the Word of God, to Divine revelation. This is the type of hardening which is chiefly spoken of in Scripture, and which gives rise to what it specially calls "the hard and impenitent heart" (Romans 2:5). All revelation of God, especially his revelation in Christ, has a testing power, and if resisted produces a hardness which speedily becomes obduracy. God may be resisted in his Word, his Spirit, his servants, his chastisements, and in the testimony to his existence and authority written on the soul itself. But the highest form of resistance - the worst and deadliest - is resistance to the Spirit drawing to Christ.
III. THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH COMPARED WITH HARDENING UNDER THE GOSPEL. Pharaoh stands out in Scripture as the typical instance of hardening of the heart.
1. He and Jehovah stood in direct opposition to each other.
2. God's will was made known to him in a way he could not mistake. He pretended at first to doubt, but doubt soon became impossible.
3. He resisted to the last. And the longer he resisted, his heart grew harder.
4. His resistance was his ruin. In considering the case of this monarch, however, and comparing it with our own, we have to remember -
1. That Pharaoh was a heathen king. He was naturally prejudiced in favour of the gods of Egypt. He had at first no knowledge of Jehovah. But we have had from infancy the advantage of a knowledge of the true God, of his existence, his attributes, and his demands.
2. Pharaoh had a heathen upbringing. His moral training was vastly inferior to that which most have enjoyed who hear the Gospel.
3. The influences he resisted were outward influences - strokes of judgment. The hardening produced by resistance to the inward influences of Christianity, strivings of the Spirit, etc., is necessarily of a deeper kind.
4. What was demanded of Pharaoh was the liberation of a nation of slaves - in our case it is required that we part with sins, and yield up heart and will to the Creator and Redeemer. Outward compliance would have sufficed in his case; in ours, the Compliance must be inward and spiritual. Here, again, inasmuch as the demand goes deeper, the hardening produced by resistance is of necessity deeper also. There is now possible to man the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 6:4 6).
5. The motives in the two eases are not comparable. In the one case, God revealed in judgments; in the other, in transcendent love and mercy. Conclusion: - "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Hebrews 3:7, 8, 13, 15, 4:7). Beware, in Connection with this hardening, of "the deceitfulness of sin," The heart has many ways of disguising from itself the fact that it is resisting God, and hardening itself in opposition to him. One form is procrastination. Not yet - a more convenient season. A second is compromise. We shall find attempts at this with Pharaoh. By Conceding part of what is asked-giving up some sin to which the heart is less attached - we hide from ourselves the fact that we are resisting the chief demand. Herod observed John the Baptist, and "when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly' (Mark 6:20). The forms of godliness, as in the Pharisees, may Conceal from the heart its denial of the power thereof. Conscience is quieted by church-membership, by a religious profession. There is disguised resistance in all insincere repentance. This is seen in Pharaoh's relentings. Even when the resistance becomes more avowed, there are ways of partially disguising the fact that it is indeed God we are resisting. Possibly the heart tries to wriggle out of the duty of submission by cavilling at the evidence of revelation. Or, objection is perhaps taken to something in the manner or form in which the truth has been presented; some alleged defect of taste, or infelicity of illustration, or rashness of statement, or blunder in science, or possibly a slip in grammar. Any straw will serve which admits of being clutched at. So conviction is pushed off, decision is delayed, resistance is kept up, and all the while the heart is getting harder - less sensible of the truth, more ensnared in error. It is well also to remember that even failure to profit by the word, without active resistance to it (if such a thing is possible) - simple want of care in the cherishing of good impressions, and too rash an exposure to the influences which tend to dissipate and destroy them - will result in their disappearance, and in a consequent hardening of the heart. The impressions will not readily return with the same vividness. To-day, then, and now, hear and obey the voice of God. - J.O.
So did they.I. IT MUST BE RENDERED BY THE SERVANTS OF GOD. "Moses and Aaron." All men who are called to moral service by God must obey Him.
1. Because He gives them their commands.
2. Because He gives them the power to do so.
3. Because He rewards obedience.
II. IT MUST BE CO-EXTENSIVE WITH THEIR MISSION.
1. It must be entire.
2. It must be cheerful.
3. It must be holy.
III. IT WILL RENDER THEIR MISSION EFFECTIVE —
1. Because it will lead to the best mode of service.
2. Because God will delight to honour it. The Divine commands:
(1) (2) (3) (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(2) (3) (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(3) (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
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