Sovereignty in Salvation: God Heals and God Hardens

“Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. 2 For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward.”—Hebrews 2:1-2

“As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 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. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”—Romans 9:13-16

Around the year A.D. 58 from the city of Corinth, the apostle Paul was moved by God the Holy Spirit to take a pen in hand and write to the believers in the city of Rome. The saints of Rome were not extra ordinary men or women according to the world’s standards. “Not many wise men after the flesh not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:26-27). Despite the look of formal sophistication, God granted to the Church of Rome the greatest revelation of His Divine sovereignty. Twenty-six people in a Church Paul had never visited are mentioned by name. Some of them like Priscilla and Aquila are more familiar (Acts 18:18-19) then others.

The purpose of Paul in writing is to set forth the doctrine of justification by faith, and all that it implies in a systematic way. The theme of the epistle is the righteousness of God. In particular Paul is anxious to expound, that in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” The righteousness of God is a serious subject, for the question comes, “How can a holy and righteous God have fellowship with unholy and unrighteous men.”

As Paul declares, love found a way to redeem man without compromising the righteousness or the justice of God. That way is declared in the gospel message. Paul is so convinced of the truth that he proclaims: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

But Paul who will believe? Do you not teach in chapter one that Gentiles are condemned before God due to willful ignorance? Do you not teach in chapter two that Jews are condemned for not keeping the law of God? Paul, do you not set forth in chapter three the condemnation of all men, “As it is written, there is none righteous no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

It is a terrible picture that Paul paints concerning the true plight of man. Imagine for a moment that you are in an airplane flying over the Pacific Ocean. You look out of the cabin window and are shocked by a terrible sight. In the water below float a vast sea of humanity. Obviously there has been a sudden tragic event, for the people are perishing without any provisions for their survival. No life jackets can be seen, no means of rescue and the precious souls are desperately splashing about. They are in the sea, and in their desperate gasping for air, sea water gets into their mouths.

The pilot of the plane has spotted what you see, and he drops the plane for a closer look. Another terrible truth is now apparent. Whatever accident the people experienced left them not only in the sea but blinded their eyes. No one is able to see the plane above, nor even to hear it, for the same tragedy has left all the people deaf. Safe inside the plane you must turn away.

Thousands of doomed souls in the place of certain destruction. Blinded. Deaf. Floundering. No means of rescue. No hope of saving themselves. Every last person helpless, hopeless. The Captain of the plane begins to speak over the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, what you see below is no accident, but the natural result of the willful choice by the Captain of the Ship.

There are icebergs in the area. The Captain of the Ship was warned to slow down, and even to turn back, but he would not listen. He rebelled against established authority, and by so doing destroyed himself and all with him.”

As you meditate on what the Captain has just said you look out the window once again and gaze intently upon individuals in the water. You notice their activity. Surprisingly enough, many seem to be oblivious to their state. It is as if all reason has left them because the sound of laughter comes from their lips. It is obvious that some are telling jokes. They tell each other everything is going to be all right that it is nothing serious.

In a small way, this is exactly the true spiritual state of all mankind who are born into the Devil’s world. From the womb of the mother people plunge into the sea of sin to exist without the Ship of Righteousness. Long ago the Captain of the Ship ignored the warnings of danger, and willfully did things his way. Disaster resulted for him and for all his posterity. The Bible describes it this way: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

In the sea of sin all people flounder. People are in sin, sin is in people, saturating with pollution all the faculties and parts of soul and body. Titus 1:15 explains that, “Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”

“Not true!” cries the unbeliever who is religious. “We know God.” Listen to Scripture in response. “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). “They are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways. And the way of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:12-18).

The true plight of natural man is not pretty. It is gruesome. At one time I was in the sea of sin drowning willfully in the darkness of the hour. Without hope. Without ability to save myself. But God had mercy. One day I heard the voice of God say, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion, and Stan, I will have mercy and compassion on you.”

Then, in matchless grace, God opened my blinded eyes to the Cross of Calvary and I saw Jesus dying as my substitute. I beheld the Righteous One in place of the unrighteousness one. God the Holy Spirit breathed and the spark of life was implanted. I was born from above, regenerated by the Holy Spirit. My ears were unstopped. I heard the outer call of the gospel. “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

I heard the inner call, the Divine summons which said, “Look and live.” A look of faith was cast upon the Lord Jesus Christ and I lived, all the while understanding that is was by grace through faith that I had been saved, and not of myself. My faith was the gift of God, lest I should boast. Even my own natural will received no honor for the Scriptures taught me my natural will was in bondage to sin. I was always unwilling to come to Christ. “So, then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth but of God that showed mercy.”

Since the hour of salvation, I have observed that not all people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, the greater part of the world hates Christ, and the masses declare, “We will not have this man to rule over us.” The thought comes. Perhaps God is not so great. Perhaps God is unable to save all. Perhaps it is possible for the creature to defy the very Creator. Certainly, is seems that way, for the cry goes out from the mouth of the creature: “I am the captain of my soul. I am the master of my fate.”

Elvis Presley sang, “I did it my way” and then he died of drug abuse. As mortal man struts about the stage of life, God reveals something to His own in order to encourage their hearts and keep them humble. What God reveals is that He is absolutely Sovereign. Every work of Creation is an expression of His purpose to manifest either His mercy or His justice. Remember the Pharaoh of the Exodus generation? “I raised him up,” said God, “that I might show my power in him, and so that my name might be declared throughout the earth.”

This concept sounds strange to modern ears. By and large you and I live in a generation that fears neither God nor man, and where every imagination of the heart is only evil continually. For far too many, the Pastor in the pulpit is viewed as a paid employee and not as a prophet of God. The church is a fine social club, but not a community of the chosen called unto salvation and continuing steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers. Jesus Christ is emotionally cried over and then ignored as Lord. He commands His disciples to be baptized but there are some professing Christians who absolutely refuse. They rationalize disobedience. Individuals talk about prayer and the importance of communion with God and then when the Church comes together to strive to be of one heart and one mind, there is a conspicuous absence. When the Word of Truth is opened, the pews are empty, for another spirit has captured the will.

Now understand this. The willful neglect of the means of grace, failure of keeping the Lord’s Day holy, no prayer, forsaking the proclamation of the Bible, boredom in the service, no heart for the work of the ministry may be more than merely exerting a choice. It may very well be the outworking of a judicial Divine judgment to confirm the soul (your soul) in sin. You see, a person may start off by making a decision not to obey Christ. You ignored the pleas of a pastor, the needs of the saints, and the nudging of the heart. The thought is that there will be another opportunity. One can always change their mind. Can they?

Read Matthew 13:13, and tremble (v. 13-15). Read Romans 11:8, and tumble. Sometimes Jesus spoke in parables in order to obscure the gospel message and judge those whom He knew were rejecting the free offer of salvation.

 “Therefore, speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt. 13:13-15).

In Romans 11:8 Paul speaks of God judicial judgment. “(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.”

Do you understand that, in the matter of sanctification, and in the area of service, God is in sovereign control? “So, then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showed mercy.”

And while God shows much mercy, He is even now also hardening hearts. God is even now visiting certain people with judicial judgment. He is even now keeping some from praying. A person thinks they chose not to pray, little do they realize that they cannot pray. God is not letting them lest they be blessed. A person thinks they chose not to obey Christ. God may very well be not letting someone be baptized lest they come to enjoy more of His grace.

A person thinks they chose not to come and learn the path to revival. It may be that God Himself is now working justice against the person lest spiritual renewal comes to their heart. I tell you plainly that unless people repent, they shall perish confirmed in the hardness of a willful heart. A person may do much good, but obedience to Christ is what will be asked for in the Day of Judgment. 1 John 5:3.

You say, “Pastor, if all that you say is true then who can resist the will of God? And why does God find fault with anyone?”

There is an answer to this objection, and it is found in submission to the sovereignty of God.  “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? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 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: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:20-23).

The burning question set before each person is this. Do you know the mercy of God, or has it been revealed that you are moving under the cloud of judicial judgment? When you exercise your will, is it to remember the Lord’s Day and keep it holy? Then you know mercy.

When you think of the Church, is it glorious to you, and do you love the brethren? Mrs. Hazel Hill was an older lady in a congregation I once pastored in Saltsburg, Pa. I remember that she told me many times how much she loved the Church. That is a sign of salvation. She was a trophy of God’s mercy. In the matter of baptism, when you exercised your will and said, “Yes, Lord, I believe”, did you not know Divine mercy?

But, if you exercise your will, and it carries you in another direction, away from the Church, and away from baptism, then beware. Take heed. Your human will is not omnipotent. Time is going to reveal that Almighty God is Sovereign, even over sin. And God cannot be mocked.

How is our salvation so great? It is so great because of selective love for the Lord says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” When I fully understand this I can only say, “Thank you, Father.”

Let it be noted that each of us need to do business with God. Perhaps it may be that the Holy Spirit has brought conviction to your heart in this moment. If you hear His voice, harden not your heart. Ask God for the gift of repentance that you might be saved, and that you might be sanctified so you can be of service to Him.

We stand to judge no one. Neither do we wish any soul to perish. We only observe what the Scriptures proclaim, God heals, and He hardens. He shows mercy and He is also going to show His justice. Of this one thing, I am sure. If anyone will open your mouth and cry out for mercy, He will grant it. My Father loves to show mercy. Right now, as the Spirit enables you, plead for God’s mercy.

Recognize the bondage of the will to sin. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow. Though your heart be willful and even resentful at being exposed, God can humble you, and you will know the absolute pleasure of obedience and righteousness. Is there someone who wants to say, Pastor, pray with me that God will have mercy. I do want to obey Him.

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