John Brown (of Edinburgh) on Romans 9:18

The following is John Brown’s (of Edinburgh) take on Romans 9:18, specifically what he thinks it means for God to “harden” someone:

“It may be asked how can God harden men’s hearts? There can be no doubt that it would be utterly inconsistent with the holiness and equity of the Divine nature, by direct influence to produce or excite depraved principle in the mind of man, and then punish him for it. This were to act like a demon rather than a divinity.”

Chris: Just as Paul’s opponets in Acts 17:18 misrepresented his teaching concerning Jesus and the resurrection due to their pernicious presuppositions, so John Brown likewise misrepresents the teaching of God’s Apostle due to his pernicious presupposition that pots are accountable to the Potter, only if they can make themselves. Romans 9:18-19 clearly demonstrates that the “how” of God’s hardening involves the omnipotence of God. The objector objects because the “direct influence” of God to harden (i.e., to “excite [a] depraved principle in the mind of man”) him unconditionally cannot be resisted (Romans 9:19). Paul’s objector in verse 19 understands and does not misrepresent the apostle’s doctrine. He understands that this “excitation” of a depraved principle is done by omnipotent power since he complains that it cannot be resisted by him or anyone else.

Brown shows himself to be the objector in verse 19 when he says that God acts like a “demon rather than a divinity,” if this is the manner or the way in which He hardens. Brown suppresses the truth in unrighteousness by misrepresenting the Biblical doctrine of active hardening. Brown miscontrues the Apostle as teaching that for God to actively harden a person is akin to a demon tempting a man to sin by “exciting” a depraved principle in his mind. Now if a person insists on using the same phrase — “by direct influence to produce or excite depraved principle in the mind of man” — to describe the active hardening of God in Romans 9:18, as well as to describe the “tempting influence” that demons and the flesh can do (cf James 1:13), it ought to be clear that to actively harden in Romans 9:18 is NOT to tempt in James 1:13.

Far be it from God that He should do this injustice, and from the Almighty that He should commit this iniquity.

Chris: In other words, far be it from God that He do the injustice of actively hardening whom He will, and by adding insult to injury by finding fault with those who could not resist His will to omnipotently harden them. For Brown, if God actively hardens men and still finds fault with them — even though they could not resist His omnipotent will — then that would be for God to, “commit…iniquity.” Brown boasts in his own falsely supposed autonomy by setting up a standard that the Almighty Potter must abide by. Brown is a wicked sympathizer of the apostolic critic.

We know that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and the Israelites are cautioned against hardening their hearts: and when God is said to do what men themselves do, and are responsible for doing, the meaning cannot be more than this, that God leaves men to the influence of their own corrupt mind, does not interfere to prevent lust from conceiving, or when it has conceived, from bringing forth sin ; or when it is perfected from bringing forth death ; that instead of interposing by the agency of His Spirit to prevent their thus becoming obstinate. He places them in circumstances which, though naturally fitted to produce a very different effect, are perverted into the means of fostering their obstinacy.

Chris: This is the Calvinistic consensus to be sure — that the Potter does NOT make the pots like this; they make themselves like this.

And? if this be the meaning of the word, the apostle’s assertion is, that God exercises His sovereignty equally in giving and withholding that Divine influence, which, in consequence of the depravity of man, is necessary to true repentance. And, however men may fret and quarrel, it will be difficult to show that there is anything unjust or unreasonable in all this. ‘May not,’ to use the language of a very sober-minded defender of this mode of explication, ‘the Judge of all the earth, when a rebellious creature, from enmity to Him and love of that which He abhors, has closed his own eyes and hardened his own heart, and deliberately preferred the delusions of the wicked one to the truth as it is in Jesus, say to such an one, ‘Take thine own choice and its consequences; may He not do this without being any more the author of sin than the sun is the cause of cold and frost and darkness, because these are the results of the withholding of its influence?'”1
1 Scott—Remarks on Tomline.

Chris: The analogy of the sun put forth is just that, an analogy. But it conveys well the truth that the Calvinistic view of Divine sovereignty as it is popularly taught is both semi-dualistic and semi-deistic.

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