Romans 11:7-10: Sovereign Hardening
- An explanation of the hardening
- A description of the hardened
No sober-minded Christian would deny that God is sovereign. Every Christian would affirm that God is sovereign, all powerful and actively in control in the world today. But there are three areas where there are differences of opinion between believers. Christians differ over what extent God controls nature; the extent of God’s control over evil, and the extent of God’s control in salvation and damnation. The verses we are presently studying are driving us into the heart of the differences about who is in control when it comes to salvation and damnation. Today we have to attend again to the matter of God sovereignly hardening sinners. Let us read Romans 11:7-10.
The doctrine of God hardening sinners, the doctrine of reprobation, the doctrine of preterition, this is what is forced upon us this morning. Paul is confronting us with the sovereignty of God in hardening sinners. Calvin versus Arminius; Luther versus Erasmus; Whitefield versus Wesley; Pelagius versus Augustine, this is the fighting arena into which we are now thrust as we seek to come to grips with what the bible says on this issue. Let me point out as we begin that I had no plan to preach on this issue this morning, but that the text determined the topic for us. This is indeed the beauty of following the practice of expository preaching, where we follow the flow of the bible as we preach through it verse by verse. Only those who love the conflict would deliberately choose to preach on such difficult matters, but we are grateful that we are forced to deal with every word of God as good and helpful in equipping as to honour God.
Paul as you well know has been talking about God’s will in saving Israel. He has already knocked our socks off and challenged our assumptions by revealing that God’s perfect will for Israel’s salvation is coming to pass even though many of the first century Jews have rejected their own Messiah because God never intended to save every Jew, but an elect from among them. Paul stresses God’s sovereign prerogative to have mercy on whom He will have mercy and to harden whom He will harden, this is the emphatic teaching of 9:6-23. But Paul also tells us how though God is completely sovereign in who is saved, the Israelites are still very much responsible for their unbelief, this he proves at length in chapter 10. Paul has just alerted as again to the fact that God has a plan for Israel, and it is to save a remnant by grace. 11:7-10, the verses before us act as a type of summary of all that he has said in the last three chapters. This can be deduced from the opening words of v7, ‘what then?’ Paul is saying what should we conclude from what has said so far. Here are his conclusions. Firstly, a general statement that he will later qualify, ‘Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking.’ This is a general statement which makes it appear as if Israel has not been saved because all that it was seeking, in other words, all that it was seeking to do for itself for salvation produced nothing. But Paul makes some clarifying points, ‘the elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.’ Here we have a plain statement of double predestination, where God is actively involved in both salvation and unbelief. We have already explored how God saves a remnant according to grace, today we have to look at the other side of the coin and the issue of hardening. We will look at two things in the text: firstly, the mechanics of hardening, and secondly, the phenomena; an explanation and description.