Romans 9:17

But was not this free election of God an unrighteous thing? Nay, verily. For, if they would think of it, the very antithesis of character which stood out so boldly at the threshold of their natural history, and in its results had made them what they were, was a conspicuous example, even according to God's own showing, of this electing liberty. Moses, the man after God's own heart, was chosen by God freely for the salvation of Israel from Egypt, and the consequent salvation of the world; and Pharaoh, the great antagonist of Moses, was chosen as freely by God for the working out of his purposes.

I. MOSES. Next to the Christ, perhaps none has played so conspicuous a part in the history of the world's salvation as Moses. Prepared from his birth for the great work of his life: trace his history with this in view. Called forth at last to step into the arena; and, when the antagonism was past, set forth by God as the great legislator for his race. And here, for his inauguration into the great work, the vision of God's goodness (Exodus 33:19). But, while God would thus equip him and make him strong, had he a claim upon God's call and fashioning and favour? No; it was all of God's free choice. Another might have been chosen - another called, equipped, and blessed. God had his reasons, doubtless, but these are in the background here. The question is one of freedom. Can God select whom he will for his saving purposes, or is he tied by any supposed claims on the part of individuals or of peoples? There is only one answer that God is perfectly free in this matter: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," etc. Surely, if God showed this freedom in the case of Moses, he might show it equally in the case of the "remnant," and of the Gentiles.

II. PHARAOH. God's great purposes were to be wrought out the more effectually by antithesis; even as all his purposes are wrought out by the antithesis of good and evil. Moses was the great deliverer; Pharaoh was the great resister.' And as Moses set forth judgment and mercy from God, Pharaoh set himself against God, and hardened his heart yet more and more. And at last his own conspicuous overthrow must publish abroad to all nations and all time that with a mighty hand God had set his people free. And could Pharaoh rightly complain that God made him play this conspicuous part, against his own will, in the salvation-purposes of God for the world? No, in truth. As an individual, he had perfect liberty of choice, and God undoubtedly willed his salvation; his sinful resistance of God was not ordained by God. But God, foreseeing the sin, determined to make even the wrath of man to praise him; and though Pharaoh's co-operation with Moses would have achieved the object well, yet his resistance of Moses, as God's messenger, was so overruled as to redound to the effectuation of God's will. God certainly had the liberty to make his self-hardening tributary to the fulfilling of his own designs. And if he had the right to reprobate Pharaoh from a voluntary co-operation, and yet control his resistance to the same end, might he not equally reprobate unbelieving Israel from a voluntary co-operation now, and - for this truth now comes into the foreground in their case - make even their reprobation to subserve his designs? Let us remember that God will use us, whether we will or not, for the work of his kingdom. But let us seek to be used as willing instruments, and, as we have no claim to be used in this way or that, seeing that God's purposes are sovereign, let us pray, "What wilt thou have me to do?" T.F.L.

For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up.
1. How can we reconcile it with the Divine justice and mercy that a man should be brought upon the stage of life to illustrate the powerlessness of the creature who presumes to measure himself against the will of the Creator? The truth is, that such passages of Holy Scripture state only one side of the complete truth, viz., God's sovereignty. They do not notice, as other passages, man's persistent free-will and entire responsibility. God raises up men like Pharaoh to be what he became by their own resolve and rejection of the light which might have saved them.

2. Pharaoh was not without means of shrewdly suspecting something of the true character and mission of Israel. His bearing before Moses implies this, and it may be gathered from independent considerations. The earliest religion of Egypt had belief in one supreme power, and this had only become degraded into idolatry in the course of long ages. The secret of the ancient truth was still preserved by the priestly colleges attached to the temples, and each monarch could, if he wished, be initiated into it. This was the wisdom of the Egyptians in which Moses was learned. Then in the dynasty which immediately preceded, the king had actually endeavoured to restore the worship of one God under the crude form of devotion to the sun's disc. When Moses stood before Pharaoh, he therefore touched a chord, if not of sympathy, at least of apprehension, in the conscience of his royal hearer, and the conduct of Pharaoh was of a man who wishes not only to awe an opponent, but to crush his personal misgiving. Thus it was that he was by turns obdurate and yielding, until at last he engaged in the enterprise which led to the triumph of Israel. The event, indeed, is not mentioned in the inscriptions on the monuments — no national disasters ever are, but its effects are written on the face of history, and Pharaoh's name is remembered as that of one whose destiny it was to show forth the power of Him whose will he resisted. Note: —


1. No man becomes utterly evil all at once; he is only, perhaps, half conscious of the change which is slowly but surely going on within him. There was a time, no doubt, when Pharaoh was a bright, thoughtless boy, with a kind mother, and, as he grew up, he was probably, at first, and generally, well-meaning according to his lights, and his actions might have been at any rate first shaped in part by the traditions of his family, or the necessities of his position. But these were not irresistible, and at last the work of hardening was complete, and by a well-known licence of language God is said to have done that which He permitted — to have hardened Pharaoh's heart.

2. Throughout the ages of Jewish history no name more represents emphatic hostility to the honour of God, or the discomfiture which, sooner or later, awaits that hostility, than that of Pharaoh. As the Jew passed in review the names of the enemies of his people, none seemed to loom so large. And as the Christian looks back, he, too, sees in the enemies of God's people that which the Jews saw. But with his clearer faith he knows that they are dark shadows on earth of that invisible spirit who can mould man into being his instrument. Isaiah's description of the descent of the King of Babylon into the world of the dead melts insensibly into the more awful picture of the fall of Satan. "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" And in the same way the words which Moses addressed to Pharaoh are less true of mortal man than the fallen archangel. Satan had his time of trial, he was not forced to be the Prince of Evil, he became it in the abuse of his free will. But having chosen to be the first-born of rebellion, he was not simply a disturbing force: the evil which God could not have created He might control; in the vast universe there was a function assigned to the apostle of universal revolt. "For that cause have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee," etc., a power exhibited when our Lord by His Cross spoiled principalities and powers, and destroyed him that had the power of death.

3. And Satan is only an instance of that which takes place in human experience. And the gradual growth of the spirit of resistance culminates at last, not in the triumph of the rebel, but in his being assigned an awful place in the plans of the Divine providence, in which he is to illustrate the justice of the Omnipotent.


1. There is a bust of Pharaoh in the museum at Cairo, and as we stand before the grave, but by no means unkindly Coptic face, it is difficult to think that it represents a human being to whom these stern words were addressed in the name of the All-Merciful. And yet that this is possible is a matter of experience. A man may be respectable, and even interesting, and yet throughout his life opposed to God through some warp in the will or lack of sensitiveness in the conscience. And this is much more dreadful than when a thoroughly bad man is opposed to God. That Nero should burn the Christians in order to amuse the Roman populace and divert public attention from his own wrong-doing, seems to be quite natural, considering who Nero was. But contrast Nero with Julian. Julian was a man whom to know was to respect. It is true that he had advantages which were unknown to Nero; he knew what the Christian life was, and what it could be, and yet he devoted his great powers to uprooting Christianity and restoring Paganism. But he died, owning that the Galilean had been too strong for him. If he had been an idle, profligate sensualist, his case would have been less pathetic. Julian seems like Pharaoh to have been raised up, that the crucified and risen Redeemer might show in him His power, and His name might be declared in all the earth.

2. These examples apply on a smaller scale. Good natural qualities — industry, justice, temperance, kindliness, etc. — are consistent with a general drift of life which is opposed to God's will; they are no guarantee that a man has that tenderness and sensitiveness of conscience which will enable him to see the line of duty in difficult circumstances, which will save him from the misery of finding himself at the last among those who have fought against God. Have we not, perhaps, reason to fear lest we ourselves should be of the number of petty Pharaohs who will illustrate God's power rather than His mercy on the Day of Judgment?

III. HOW EASILY THOSE WHO ARE IN SUPERIOR AND ENGROSSING POSITIONS MAY BE FATALLY BLINDED TO THE HIGHEST AND BEST INTERESTS OF OTHERS WHO ARE DEPENDENT UPON THEM. Pharaoh, no doubt, had his head and hands full of great affairs of state — too full, he may have thought, to give much time to the complaints of a troublesome tribe of Asiatic bondsmen. He closed his eyes, ears, and heart when he ought to have kept them wide open to all the indications of God's will and human needs round him, and so he drifted on to his ruin. May not something of the same kind occur to any who are entrusted by Providence with the care of others — not only the rulers of nations and churches, but the great employers of labour, and the heads of educational institutions, and the fathers and mothers of families? An Israel may be close round them, to whose real wants they are insensible, but of which they have had ample warning, and meanwhile time is passing, and they are approaching some catastrophe: the ruin of families, societies, institutions may be due to some fatal insensibility on the part of those who direct them, some inability to enter into their moral and spiritual requirements.

IV. THERE IS HERE GREAT COMFORT FOR THOSE WHO DESIRE TO SERVE GOD IN THE CONVICTION THAT IN THE END HE WILL TRIUMPH OVER ALL HIS OPPONENTS, HOWEVER LONG THE TRIUMPH BE DELAYED. Pharaoh was sitting on his throne in all the pride of the Egyptian monarchy's brightest days when Moses dared to tell him that he was raised up to set forth the power of God. God allows much evil to exist. This is a distress and perplexity to His servants. Wait, and you will see. If God is patient, it is because He is eternal. Pharaoh for a while was borne with, remonstrated with, before the Red Sea closed upon him and his army. Still more sure of this should we Christians be who can gaze into the empty sepulchre, and who know that He who has left it holds the keys of hell and of death. Sin may still be strong, death may still be terrible, Satan still a standing menace, but these enemies will only illustrate our Redeemer's power.

(Canon Liddon.)

The subject in question is not the wicked disposition which animates Pharaoh, but the entire situation in which he finds himself providentially placed. God might have caused Pharaoh to be born in a cabin, where his proud obstinacy would have been displayed with no less self-will, but without any notable historical consequence; on the other hand, He might have placed on the throne of Egypt at that time a weak, easy-going man, who would have yielded at the first shock. What would have happened? Pharaoh in his obscure position would not have been less arrogant and perverse; but Israel would have gone forth from Egypt without eclat. No plagues one upon another, no Red Sea miraculously crossed, no Egyptian army destroyed; nothing of all that made so deep a furrow in the Israelitish conscience, and which remained for the elect people the immovable foundation of their relation to Jehovah. And thereafter also no influence pronounced on the surrounding nations. The entire history would have taken another direction. God did not therefore create the indomitable pride of Pharaoh, as it were, to gain a point of resistance and reflect His glory; He was content to use it for this purpose. This is what is expressed by the following words: "that thus," not simply "that" (cf. Exodus 15:14, 15; Joshua 2:9, 10; Joshua 9:9). What is meant by the term "hardening," and what leads the apostle to use the expression in ver. 18? It signifies to take from a man the sense of the true, the just, and even the useful, so that he is no longer open to the wise admonitions and significant circumstances which should turn him aside from the evil way on which he has entered. The word cannot signify in Exodus 4:14, anything else, as God's act, than it signifies as the act of Pharaoh, when it is said that he hardened himself. Note carefully that Pharaoh's hardening was at first his own act. Five times it is said of him that he himself hardened or made heavy his heart (Romans 8:13, 14, 22, 32; Romans 9:7; we do not speak here of Romans 4:21 and Romans 7:3, which are a prophecy), before the time when it is at last said that God hardened him (Romans 9:12); and even after that, as if a remnant of liberty still remained to him, it is said for a last time that he hardened himself (Romans 9:34, 35). It was a parallel act to that of Judas closing his heart to the last appeal. Then, at length, as if by way of a terrible retribution, God hardened him five times (Romans 10:1 and Romans 10:20, Romans 10:27, Romans 11:10, and Romans 11:14.). Thus he at first closed his heart obstinately against the influence exercised on him by the summonses of Moses and the first chastisements which overtook him; that was his sin. And thereafter, but still within limits, God rendered him deaf not merely to the voice of justice, but to that of sound sense and simple prudence: that was his punishment. Far, then, from its having been God who urged him to evil, God punished him with the most terrible chastisements for the evil to which he voluntarily gave himself up. In this expression we find the same idea as in παραδιδόναι (God gave them up), by which the apostle expressed God's judgment on the Gentiles for their refusal to welcome the revelation which He gave of Himself in nature and conscience (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). When man has wilfully quenched the light he has received and the first rebukes of Divine mercy, and when he persists in giving himself up to his evil instincts, there comes a time when God withdraws from him the beneficent actions of His grace. Then man becomes insensible even to the counsels of prudence. He is thenceforth like a horse with the bit in his teeth, running blindly to his destruction. He has rejected salvation for himself; he was free to do so; but he cannot prevent God from now making use of him and of his ruin to advance the salvation of others. From being an end, he is degraded to the rank of means. Such was the lot of Pharaoh. Everybody in Egypt saw clearly whither his mad resistance tended. His magicians told him, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19). His servants told him, "Let these people go" (Exodus 10:7). He himself, after every plague, felt his heart relent. He once went the length of crying out, "I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous " (Romans 9:27). Now was the decisive instant; for the last time, after his moment of softening, he hardened himself (Romans 9:33). Then the righteousness of God took hold of him. He had refused to glorify God actively, he must glorify Him passively. The Jews did not at all disapprove of this conduct on God's part as long as it concerned only Pharaoh or the Gentiles; but what they affirmed, in virtue of their Divine election, was, that never, and on no condition, could they themselves be the objects of such a judgment. They restricted the liberty of Divine judgment on themselves, as they restricted the liberty of grace toward the Gentiles. Paul in our verse re-establishes both liberties, vindicating God's sole right to judge whether this or that man possesses the conditions on which He will think fit to show him favour, or those which will make it suitable for Him to punish by hardening him. Thus understood — and we do not think that either the context of the apostle or that of Exodus allows it to be understood otherwise — it offers nothing to shock the conscience; it is entirely to the glory of the Divine character.

(Prof. Godet.)

Note the present tense, "the Scripture says." It is not a thing of the past; there is an element of timelessness in the utterance. If the Scripture ever spoke at all, it continues to speak. It speaks to the autocrat of Egypt in no faltering tone. Greater than He was at work, who indeed had raised him up — not merely to the throne of Egypt, nor from the sickness of boils and blains; for no mention is made of illness but (see also Zechariah 11:16; Matthew 11:11; John 7:52) in the sense of among men, on the stage of the world. God said, "Let him be, and he was." He became a man and a monarch. He had a place in the Divine plan — to display the Divine power. In those idolatrous days the minds of thoughtful men were perplexed by the "gods many "whose reality was assumed by less considerate minds. Pharaoh scorned the authority of the God of the Hebrews (Exodus 5:2). who now appealed to various demonstrations of His peerless power — a kind of proof readiest for argument, and most adapted to the spirit of the age and that of the tyrant. It requires, in some measure, a wise mind or a benevolent heart to appreciate exhibitions of wisdom or benevolence; but it requires little more than a capacity for terror to appreciate exhibitions of power. Pharaoh was compelled time after time to pause and reflect, but continued unsubdued, and the voice of retribution is first heard in the words, "that I may display," etc., pointing ultimately to the catastrophe of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:9-11). But the Hebrew says, "That I might show thee — conveying the idea of mercifulness which goes before retribution which is to be reluctantly resorted to only in the sad event of mercy being spurned. The LXX., however, show in thee," uses a liberty in harmony with the acknowledged principles of the Divine government, and so Paul held himself justified in adopting it. The display of peerless power was in the first place for the instruction of Pharaoh; and it was only when that was repelled that the Lord turned to the dread alternative which runs onward, "and that My name might be published in all the earth," i.e., "failing thy repentance." The intervenience of latent conditional clauses is common in both promises and threatenings — e.g., in "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," there is a latent condition, "and if thou persevere in thy faith." In the reverse threat, "He that believeth not shall be condemned," there is a corresponding intervenience, "and persisteth in his unbelief." Jonah's message to the Ninevites is a case in point: and on this principle we are to interpret this solemn warning to Pharaoh. "I raised thee up that I might show thee (Hebrews) My power, and failing thine improvement of this instruction that by thy overthrow My name may be magnified, all the world over, above all the gods."

(J. Morison, D.D.)

However clearly we may perceive the correctness and force of any abstract truth, it will usually make a more deep and definite impression when illustrated by some example. We are assured, for instance, of the omnipotence of God; but who does not find his own conceptions of it more definite and impressive when he turns to its illustrations in his own frame or in the wonders of creation? It is as adapted to this tendency that the Scriptures supply us with so many illustrative examples of their sentiments and requirements. This observation will be found applicable to the present subject — the sovereignty of God in dispensing the blessings of His saving grace. He tells us that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and He illustrates this by the cases of Saul of Tarsus and the dying thief. He tells us that "whom He will He hardeneth," and illustrates it in the case of the proud Egyptian monarch. Note —


1. His bold and impious defiance of Divine authority. "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice, to let Israel go?" This spirit is too often evinced still in those who meet the appeals of God with, "What is the Almighty that we should serve Him?" "Our lips are our own: who is Lord over us?"

2. The severe and repeated discipline to which he was subjected in order to humble and subdue this feeling. It is needless to repeat the ten plagues. These were not only most afflictive in themselves, but marked in the mode of their occurrence, a line of separation being so strikingly drawn between the Israelites and the Egyptians. How frequent are the instances in which God, to humble the sinner's pride, subjects him to providential visitation!

3. The powerful but still defective impressions of which he was the subject. Of this the narrative supplies repeated evidence in the various compromises into which he seeks to enter, which were revoked as soon as the visitation was withdrawn. And so sinners, while Divine judgments press upon them, what sorrow will they express, and what salutary purposes they will form; and though, like Herod, they would do many things, yet, like him, they refuse compliance on some, and fail to give up the heart to God.

4. The persevering hostility he continued to discover. If his heart somewhat relented under suffering, it seemed in every quiet interval to become increasingly determined (Exodus 10:10-28). All this does but illustrate what is still going on in many a sinner, who having been for a time alarmed, discovers, as the sense of danger gradually subsides, a mind rendered only the more callous.

5. The striking but awful visitation by which Pharaoh was at last overthrown. None hath hardened himself against God and prospered.


1. God placed him in a situation adapted to develop the peculiar tendency of his sinful disposition, which appears to have been proud superiority. God afforded scope for the special display of this feeling by placing him on a despotic throne. God may still act toward some on the same principle, but it should be remembered that the very circumstances which expose to greater danger will only render superiority to them the more striking and honourable: and that where, as in the case of Pharaoh, an individual fails, he does so by his own act.

2. God afforded to him the most ample evidence of the folly and danger of his continued resistance.(1) He had the plainest proof that Moses and Aaron were the accredited messengers of God.(2) The displays of the Divine power were such as must have forced on his mind the consciousness of his own impotence.(3) He was made to perceive how plainly all these exercises of Divine wrath were entirely and only in consequence of his own determined obduracy.

3. God designed in this case to exhibit an impressible example of the fearful danger of a proud and impious defiance of Divine authority.Conclusion:

1. How proper and important the prayer which Christ has taught us — "Lead us not into temptation."

2. How fatally defective and delusive those religious impressions and purposes which are founded on present alarming apprehensions of danger, while the heart remains unhumbled and in love with sin.

3. How vain and hopeless ultimate resistance to Divine authority.

4. How earnestly should we deprecate the thought of being abandoned to a hardened state of mind.

5. Let no humble and penitent sinner be discouraged by this illustration of God's righteous justice.

(H. Bromley.)

I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IS A GREAT FACT. Deity is the one primal cause, of which all secondary causes are but effects. All things owe their existence to Him. What are called laws of nature, are but the modes by which God works. Not a sparrow can fall to the ground without His permission. God rules among men as certainly as among suns and stars. The destinies of nations as surely obey His will as the revolutions of planets.

II. GOD'S DECREES ARE IRRESPECTIVE OF THE ACTIONS OF MEN (vers.10-13). The strong Hebraistic expression means, Jacob have I chosen, and Esau have I rejected, which was contrary to the usual law of primogeniture. There is no injustice in this. Our Lord has told us that "Offences must needs come, but woe to the man by whom they come." The crucifixion of Christ was "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," brought about: yet it was "by wicked hands" that Christ was "crucified and slain." Happy are we if we do God's will; but the work will be done whether we do it or not. God is independent of human agency, though He employs it to accomplish His purposes.

III. GOD'S DOINGS MUST ALWAYS BE CHARACTERISED BY JUSTICE, TRUTH, MERCY, AND LOVE. If Pharaoh was created only to be damned, and if God all along intended he should not let the people go, such conduct would be —

1. Unjust and cruel on the part of God. To turn the heart of any one to hate is a dreadful act, even in a man, where the influence may be resisted. How much more so where an Omnipotent Being is operating! Upon this principle all the plagues of Egypt were shocking cruelties. The doctrine that some men are predestinated to eternal life and others to damnation, regardless of the actions of either, is monstrously unjust.

2. Not in harmony with His truth. For upon this principle God deliberately deceived the Egyptians. The message was, "Let My people go," etc. On the Calvinistic theory, Moses was either aware of God's purpose or he was not. If he knew that Pharaoh was secretly influenced by God, so that he could not let the Israelites go, then the whole thing is a solemn mockery, the leading characteristic of which is deception. But if he did not know, then he was himself deceived by God, an idea which is too shocking to be thought of. A God of truth could not thus act.

3. Opposed to God's mercy and love. "The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all His works." Here, however, we should have a terrible exception.

IV. IN ELECTION AND THE HARDENING OF MEN'S HEARTS GOD DOES NOT DESTROY THEIR FREEDOM. This hardening is of different kinds, and has reference to various subjects.

1. Great national events. The whole of this chapter refers to the state of the Jews. Paul expresses great sorrow for his people, that they were in danger of being cut off from their long enjoyed blessings. He then goes on to show that their privileges no longer specially appertained to them. God had now determined to elect a Church for Himself out of all nations. The Jews prided themselves greatly on being the seed of Abraham. Paul shows them from their own history that only a portion of that seed had enjoyed the boasted privileges (vers. 6, 7, 10, etc.). And even in the case of these all had not equally shared the blessing. "For they are not all Israel which are of Israel." A great part of the ten tribes who had been carried into captivity had never returned. There are therefore three exclusions, and the argument is that there might be yet another. The whole affair is one of peoples, not individuals. The election of Isaac and Jacob and the rejection of Ishmael and Esau had nothing to do personally with any one of them. A reference, in the case of the elder serving the younger, is made to Genesis 25:23, but Esau never did serve Jacob personally. The other quotation is from Malachi 1:2, 3, and certainly refers to the Edomites. Was there then unrighteousness, i.e., unfaithfulness, with God? By no means, because it was a general principle laid down in the Mosaic law, and one which consequently they were bound to acknowledge, "I will have mercy," etc. These words are from Exodus 33:19, a reference to which will show that they have no relation whatever to the pardon of sin, but applying to the granting of special privileges. And how true they are! In our time we see one nation or people favoured with blessings which are denied to another. "So then it is not of him that willeth," etc.

2. The position of individuals in society. God gives to us all different places and work. One man rolls in wealth, another has to struggle with poverty. This man is endowed with a genius which shalt cause his name to ride down the ages; and that, just the necessary brain power to play his lowly part on life's stage. In this there is no injustice. God dispenses His favours as He will. Our business is to play the part allotted to us, consistently, conscientiously, and energetically.

3. Life and death. These also are in the hands of the Lord. The infant dies almost before it has begun to live. The youth full of promise passes away in "life's green spring." Men die in the prime of life, and in the decrepitude of age. Is this unjust? No. Death is no respecter of persons or of ages. And He who was dead and liveth for evermore, holds the keys of Hades and of death. We shall each live our appointed time, and then no power on earth can save us.

4. Salvation. In some places it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and in others that God hardened it. Both are strictly correct. The rejection of truth and the abuse of our privileges ever tend to harden the heart. This is a spiritual law as certain in its operation as the law of gravitation. As soon as Pharaoh saw a respite from his afflictions, his heart was hardened. And how often do men make all kinds of promises, but no sooner does relief come than we fall back again into a state worse than the first. "The sun," says , "by the force of its heat, moistens the wax and dries the clay, softening the one and hardening the other; and as this produces opposite effects by the same power, so through the long-suffering of God, which reaches to all, some receive good and others evil; some are softened and others hardened."

V. MAN IS THEREFORE RESPONSIBLE, AND IS LEFT WITHOUT EXCUSE. The freedom of the will is a fact testified to by the consciousness of every man. When, in accordance with this freedom, we depart from God, the fact is a terrible one. And the difficulty of returning becomes greater day by day. The remorse that we experience testifies to the fact that we feel our responsibility. Necessitarians at every moment of their lives give the lie to their faith. As we are free, then, our business is to use our freedom aright. Our duty is to love God and keep His commandments. "Father Eternal! Thine is to decree; mine, both in heaven and earth, to do Thy will."

(G. Sexton, LL.D.)

I. THE BENEFIT OR INDULGENCE OFFERED BY GOD UNTO PHARAOH time after time, UPON CONDITION OF HIS REPENTANCE and dismission of his people, as, viz., his immunity from further plagues or judgments from God, SHOW THAT THE MEANS VOUCHSAFED WERE EFFECTUAL, AND SUFFICIENT TO HAVE WROUGHT HIM TO REPENTANCE. The proffer or promise of a benefit upon the performance of such or such a condition supposeth a sufficiency of power to perform this condition. To promise anything upon other terms is rather an insultation over the weakness of him to whom the promise is made, than any matter of kindness which the nature of a promise still imports. The promise of a reward of a thousand pounds made unto a cripple upon condition he will run twenty miles within an hour's space, is merely to deride such a man in his misery. Therefore certainly Pharaoh, God by many promissory intimations signifying that upon his repentance the judgments threatened should not come upon him, is hereby shown to have had power to fulfil the condition.

II. PHARAOH, BY THE MEANS VOUCHSAFED, DID SEVERAL TIMES TRULY REPENT of his obstinancy, and gave order for the dismission of the people (Exodus 10:16 17; 12:31, 32, etc.). Therefore he was — questionless — in a sufficient capacity to have repented and dismissed the people. That afterwards he repented of this repentance, and returned to his former obdurateness, is no argument that his former repentance was not true. Yea, if this repentance had been hollow or counterfeit, his repenting of it had been no sin. And besides, if the tree — as our Saviour saith — be known by the fruit, that repentance of Pharaoh, which produced —

1. Confession of sin committed both against God and men (Exodus 10:16).

2. Application by way of entreaty unto the saints to pray unto God for him (Exodus 10:16).

3. An express order with encouragement unto Moses and Aaron, to expedite the departure of their people according to the commandment of God, and this in as ample manner as themselves desired it (Exodus 12:31, 32); that repentance must needs be conceived to have been a true repentance. And, doubtless, had Pharaoh persisted in that repentance, and not relapsed into his former provocation — which he was no ways necessitated unto — he had escaped that dreadful stroke from Heaven, which he met with in the Red Sea.

(John Goodwin.)

Powerfully does Paul, in this chapter, argue down the narrow predestinarianism of the Jews. They concluded that, being the lineal descendants of Abraham, they were predestinated to the mercy of God. The apostle's method of combating this dogma may be briefly stated: —

1. He assures them of the deep interest he felt in them, and of the high estimation which he had formed of their privileges.

2. He affirms that God did not dispense His mercy on the principle of patriarchal descent.

3. That God's mercy is ever bestowed on the principle of sovereignty alone. This he illustrates —(1) By God's declaration to Moses (ver. 15). This language does not mean —

(a)That He does not show mercy to all men; this would be contrary to fact.

(b)Nor that He gives to some favours which He does not bestow on others. This is true, but this is not the truth here.

(c)Nor that He bestows all His mercies irrespective of conduct. This is always true of existence, with all its native attributes and talents, sometimes true of temporal circumstances, but never true of mental and spiritual excellence.

(d)Nor that He is not disposed to save all. This would be contrary both to His positive assurances and remedial measures.

(e)But it means simply that the reason of mercy is ever in Himself, and not in the creature (ver. 16).(2) By God's declaration to Pharaoh. The passage leads us to consider an impenitent sinner: —

I. AS RAISED UP FROM AFFLICTION BY THE MERCY OF GOD. Pharaoh and his people had just been visited with the distressing plague of "the boils." Jehovah condescends to restore the monarch to health. It is in relation to this recovery that these words were spoken. It was mercy that was dealing with this man. Why else was his probationary day lengthened out after the first warning had been delivered? Why else were there so many and varied influences employed to subdue his rebellious will? With one volition of the Almighty mind he would have ceased to be. What hindered that volition? Nothing but mercy. This is but a striking example of God's ordinary dealing with all sinners here. Mercy afflicts and restores. This fact is testified —

(1)By the Scriptures.

(2)By every sinner's consciousness.

II. AS MORALLY IMPRESSED BY THE MERCY OF GOD. There are two kinds of power — physical and moral. These differ not in source; each has its source in mind. But their objects differ: the one acts on matter, and the other on intelligent natures. Which did Jehovah purpose showing forth in Pharaoh? Undoubtedly the moral. His physical power could be seen far more gloriously in earthquakes and storms, etc., than in alternately afflicting and restoring the body of Pharaoh, or in any of the plagues. Besides, a man does not require a higher manifestation of physical power than he has everywhere around him. It was moral power — power over the monarch's mind and heart — that the Almighty sought now to exercise. "In thee." It was everywhere out of him, But why show this power in him? It must have been either to promote holiness in him, or sin, and who will dare say it was the latter? It was to turn Pharaoh from the error of his ways that this power was employed; and this is ever God's aim with the impenitent sinner. There were two things connected with this power in Pharaoh which always characterise its operations —(1) It was sin-convicting. Several times, when this power was working in him, did he exclaim, "I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." Cain, Belshazzar, Felix, Judas, and others, have felt the same. The great aim of God in thus making His power bear on the sinful world is to "convince it of sin, of righteousness," etc.(2) It was resistible. Pharaoh resisted it: it would not be moral, and man would not be responsible were it otherwise. We cannot resist the physical power of God, but we can His moral. The Jews did always resist the Holy Ghost.

III. AS STRIKINGLY MANIFESTING THE MERCY OF GOD. "That My name might be declared," etc. The name of God is frequently employed as expressive of His goodness. God's dealing with Pharaoh declares throughout all times that it is —

1. Longsuffering. How long the Almighty condescended to strive with this man!

2. Earnest. See how numerous and varied the means employed.

3. Terminable. Mercy at last took her wing, delivered him up to justice, and you know his fate. I know no more impressive commentary than God's dealing with Pharaoh on "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner," etc.

IV. AS INCIDENTALLY HARDENED BY THE MERCY OF GOD. Ver. 18 is Paul's conclusion from God's declaration. It is nothing more than a strong method of reasserting the principle that the reason of mercy is not in the creature, but in the Creator. How did God harden Pharaoh's heart?

1. Not by intention. This is contrary to the purpose stated, which was to "show " His sin-convicting and soul-saving power in him; and this, too, is repugnant to all our highest and most truthful notions of God's purity and benevolence.

2. Not by fitness of instrumentality. Examine the means employed, and you will discover a wonderful adaptation to an opposite end.

3. Not by any positive agency for the purpose. This is unnecessary. The sinner is hardened, and harder he will become, if he be ]eft alone. Divine agency is required not to harden, but refine — not to destroy, but to save.

4. How, then? In the same way as He hardens the heart of that man who year after year listens to the most powerful sermons, and still remains in his sin. Pharaoh's hardening is a typal fact. The ministry of the prophets had its Pharaohs; so had that of Christ, and of the apostles. The gospel proves the savour of death unto death, as well as of life unto life.Conclusion: This solemn fact is suggestive of two things:

1. The native energy of soul. It can get good out of evil, and evil out of good; transmute food into poison, and poison into food. It is made to be not the servant, but the sovereign of circumstances.

2. The moral perverseness of soul. Instead of using this power to subordinate evil to good, it does so to subordinate good to evil — makes mercy a destroyer.

(D. Thomas, D.D.)

First to the right, then to the left, the road was ever ascending but always twisting, and thus, by easy marches, we were able to reach the summit of the pass; a straight line would have been shorter for the eagle's wing, but no human foot could have followed it. Nobody called us inconsistent for thus facing about; we kept the road, and no one could complain. If we honestly desire to gain the heights of Divine truth, we shall find many zigzags in the road: here our face will front Divine sovereignty with all its lofty grandeur, and anon we shall turn in the opposite direction, towards the frowning peaks of human responsibility. What matters it if we appear to be inconsistent, so long as we keep the highway of Scripture, which is our only safe road to knowledge! Angels may, perhaps, be systematic divines; for men it should be enough to follow the Word of God, let its teachings wind as they may.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth
I. ITS DISPLAY in the exercise of —

1. Mercy.

2. Justice.



1. For conviction and conversion.

2. He might have hardened you — may yet do it if you repent not.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

Since God is not baffled by men's infatuation, but can turn to account even obdurate Pharaohs, we may rest assured that He will either pardon or harden. The English "on whom He will" is fitted to bring out a volitional idea, but this is not quite so prominent in the Greek. It is "wish" rather than "will" that is expressed (see 2 Corinthians 11:12, 32; 2 Corinthians 12:6; Galatians 4:9; Galatians 6:12; Galatians 4:20). God has mercy on whom He "desires" to have (vers. 15, 16) pardoning mercy. The great alternative is "and whom He desires He hardens." There is a sphere of things in which God does not desire to have any recourse to this dread alternative (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). In that sphere judgment is "His strange act," but there are assuredly circumstances which make it right for God to desire to brand with His hardest stigma persisted-in iniquity. Paul speaks of "hardness" manifestly because his mind had been brooding over the career of Pharaoh. Hardness when predicated of the neck denotes unyieldingness, but when predicated of the heart, as here, insensibility. This insensibility might be predicated either in respect of the duty of permitting Israel to depart; or in respect of the danger that was impending over him in case of his refusal; or of an interblending of both. Which is the insensibility affirmed of Pharaoh? Before determining the answer it may be noted that whichever it was there can be no real difficulty as to God's action on the monarch's heart. It is psychologically impossible that such determined impenitence as his can be cherished, and yet produce no effect on the sensibilities of the heart. Faith and penitence always work; so do unbelief and disbelief. In such necessary working God's hand must needs be imminent, but all the blame must be attached to the man himself. He alone furnished the reason why God hardened him, and hence he is sometimes said to have hardened his own heart, just as believers are said to purify theirs. Whether the induration, then, was such a penal condition as consisted of insensibility to duty, or to danger, or to the two intertwined there is no difficulty in supposing it to be by the hand of God.

1. But there is a critical reason why we give the preference to insensibility to danger. There are three words in Hebrew employed in this case. One is employed twice (Exodus 7:3; Exodus 13:15), another seven times (Exodus 8:15, 32 (28), 9:7, 34, 10:1; 1 Samuel 11:6; see also Exodus 7:14). The third occurs twelve times (Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:13, 22; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:12, 35; Exodus 10:20, 27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:4, 8, 17). Now the latter is a term that naturally suggests insensibility to danger, for in its intransitive form it properly means to be strong, and is translated (Joshua 23. 6; 2 Samuel 10:12; 2 Samuel 13:28; 1 Chronicles 19:13; Ezra 10:4; Psalm 27:14; Psalm 31:24 (25); Isaiah 41:6) to be of good courage, to be courageous; while in its transitive form, it properly means to make strong, and is actually translated (Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 3:28; 2 Samuel 11:25; 2 Chronicles 35:2; Psalm 64:5 (6); Isaiah 41:7) to encourage. When such a term is used to denote penal induration, it is natural to suppose that the hardness will be somewhat allied to a spirit of courage, and consequently that it will consist of a kind of dreadnaught spirit. There will be something of hardiness in it; indeed some strong accentuation of foolhardiness.

2. Exegesis warrants the same conclusion. The passages which deal with the monarch's obduracy are more easily explicable on the hypothesis that his hardness was infatuated hardness and insensibility to danger. Look, e.g., at Exodus 14:2-9, 16, 17. Pharaoh was intoxicated with his own high sufficiency. A penal blight had fallen on his reason. Rushing onward in daring recklessness, he and his chivalry were penally swept into destruction. And thus the Lord, by inflicting on them, first the most insensitive obduracy, and secondly the most tragical termination of their career, got Him honour upon Pharaoh and upon all his host. "Pharaoh," says Fry, "had not, in immediate consequence of his hardiness, any more sinfulness in his heart than he had previously; but he dared to do more." In selecting the word "hardens" the apostle suggests a parallel between Pharaoh and the Israelites. There was something ominously Pharaonic in the spirit of the unbelieving Jews.

(J. Morison, D.D.)

(text, vers. 19-21, and Romans 5:5-8): —

1. The former of these two passages read by itself, without anything to qualify it, sounds like a naked assertion of the sovereignty of God; and as based on mere power. It seems as if St. Paul were saving that the might of God is the measure of His right; that, having made us, He is perfectly at liberty to do what He pleases with us. I say, "It seems so"; because we know that St. Paul cannot mean to assert this, for otherwise he must have forgotten what he had written in our second text.

2. In a passage like this a great deal depends upon the tone which one reads into it, and the feeling with which one reads it. Now this ninth chapter must not be separated from the tenth and the eleventh, which together form one indivisible section, and ought to be, and must be read together, if we are to understand them at all. The tone of the whole is then easily discoverable from its commencement in Romans 9:1-5, and from its conclusion in Romans 11:30-33.

3. The commentators seem generally to take it for granted that, in my first text, St. Paul is arguing with captious objectors and presumptuous cavillers, whom he is putting down with a high hand. But it is, to say the least, worth our while to consider whether St. Paul is not stating frankly his own difficulties and solving them as best he can, and really working his own way, painfully and laboriously, through the darkness into the light. Viewed in this aspect the passage becomes infinitely more interesting, instructive, and pathetic. We should be sorry to think that St. Paul had set an example of that high-handed dealing with doubts and difficulties which has always proved so disastrous. But if he knew, as he seems to have known, what it was not to stifle, but to face and fight, his doubts; then his example may be of the greatest possible service to us, even though his difficulties were not ours.

4. Yet are they not ours? If God's will acts in this sovereign, arbitrary way — hardening this heart, softening that, as chance or caprice may direct — what then? Is not the ground of human responsibility cut from beneath us? What room is there, then, for moral disapproval, and for retributive justice? Nor do we evade the difficulty by throwing the difficulty back one step, and saying, "It is by the operation of a law of man's nature as God created it, that he who will not turn at last cannot. And God, who established that law of man's nature, is said in Scripture to do that which occurs under it, or results from it. He has framed at His pleasure the moral constitution of man, according to which the rebellious sinner is at last obdurate. "This is the old, old puzzle, which has haunted men's minds from the very first — now by one name, now by another: liberty and necessity. The moment we begin to reason upon this problem, we are lost in perplexity. The interplay of the Divine will and the human can never have its path determined by any calculus yet discovered. As soon as it is attempted, one or other of the two forces is sure to be omitted from the calculation, and to disappear altogether. We are left either with a naked sovereignty on the Divine side, accompanied by an absolute bondage on the human side; or else we are left with a Divine will which is no will at all.

5. At this point we feel what a difference it makes in our text, whether we regard it as an endeavour to put down objectors, or whether we regard it as a debate in Paul's mind with doubts and difficulties. In the first case we can all see that it only removes the difficulty to a point at which it ceases to press against the reason only to press more vehemently against the conscience and the moral sense. For it may well be asked, "Is, then, man, with all his capacity of suffering, and his sense of right and wrong, merely as the passionless clay in the potter's hand. If so, what are we to think of the Creator? Does the fact of creation invest the Creator with unlimited rights, unaccompanied by any corresponding responsibilities? Or does it answer most nearly to that earthly relation of parent and child which, whilst establishing the parents' claim to the obedience of the child, establishes also the child's claim to the love and care of the parents?" St. Paul's reply is very different, if we regard it as a caution, addressed to himself, as he goes sounding on his dim and perilous way, through problems which human reason is all incompetent to solve. It is, then, tantamount to saying, "What am I, that I should dare to exercise my speculation upon such a theme as this — I, who am but a finite being in the hands of Infinite power?"

6. Now, this attitude of mind is the true philosophic attitude, for "The foundation of all true philosophy is humility." And this is the attitude which St. Paul is most careful to inculcate elsewhere, e.g., "Now we see through a mirror"; the reflection only, not the object itself — "darkly"; more exactly, "in a riddle" — "but then, face to face." And this is the attitude which our Lord inculcates, bidding us "humble ourselves, and become as little children." And this, indeed, is the attitude which, the more earnestly and seriously we inquire into questions of all kinds, the more do we find ourselves compelled to adopt. The more the circle of our knowledge enlarges, the larger becomes the circumference, at every point of which we feel our ignorance, and have the sense of vastness and mystery forced upon us.

7. St. Paul, however, does not leave the matter so. We can leave many problems unsolved — this of the relation of the human will to the Divine amongst others — when we have settled it clearly in our own minds, how we shall think of God — of His character, of His purpose and feeling towards his human creation: not till then. As we read chaps. 9-11., carefully and as a whole, we feel that St. Paul makes little or no progress towards a solution of his doubts, until we reach Romans 11:32, 33. He rises above his own efforts to reason the thing out, in the strength of a fresh perception of that unsearchable glory of God, which may be safely trusted to do nothing but what is wise, just, and loving. This perception does not come through any process of reasoning, but breaks upon his soul like light. He escapes at one bound from the trammels of his own logic, in the sense of that grace and love of God in Christ, of which he writes in our second text.

8. Very few of us will be able to follow the course of St. Paul's argument in these three chapters. But all of us can seize that point of view of his, which enables him to trust the future of his beloved Israel — to the unsearchable grace and wisdom of God. Where had he learned that trust? Not at the feet of Gamaliel; not through all his vast stores of Greek and Rabbinical learning; not through any exercise of his own quick intelligence and acute reasoning powers; but at the foot of the Cross. It was there and thence that he had learned the boundless charity of God; had learned to trust himself to that charity; had learned (harder lesson!) to trust his loved ones to that charity.

(Dean Vaughan.)

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