The operative word in human hardening is resolve, and there are two types of hardening. There is the hardening that we do to ourselves within our own heart and there is the hardening that God applies to our heart through various means.
We harden our own heart when we strengthen our resolve to take a particular course of action. In the negative sense, through disobedience, we can make ourselves more resistant to God’s call to turn back to Him. Psalm 95:8-9 states: “‘Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work.’”
God hardens people’s heart when He uses the circumstances of their life to similarly strengthen their resolve, so that by their increased stubbornness, a matter may be advanced to its final conclusion. As such, it is purely a contingent action, meaning that it may not reflect God’s original intentions. Divine hardening is not necessarily efficacious either, since a person can crack under pressure and repent, which God gladly welcomes since He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but would rather have it that they turn from their wicked ways and live. (Ezekiel 18:23) An example of this is found in regard to King Ahab when he humbled himself and repented: “It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.’” (1st Kings 21:27-29)
A classic example of divine hardening is found in the Book of Exodus concerning Pharaoh:
Exodus 3:19-20: “‘But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.’”
Exodus 7:3-4: “‘But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments.’”
Exodus 7:22: “But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.”
Scripture indicates that Pharaoh hardened his own heart several times before God intervened to harden it further, which intervention became necessary in order to accomplish His plan of bringing His people out of Egypt and set on a course to the “Promised Land.” The way in which God hardened Pharaoh’s heart was by allowing his sorcerers to copy Moses’ miracles so he would think that he was able to withstand God.
The point to make is that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart only proves what God was doing in the life of that particular individual, rather than speaking of what God does to everyone. Additionally, the fact that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart proves that there is something present to harden, namely his own will. In other words, if God was already meticulously determining whatsoever Pharaoh desired to do, as per the determinism of Calvinism, then what is there to harden? So the implication of divine hardening is that people have their own free-will for which God may interact with.
As an analogy of a divine hardening, consider a police sting operation. Police want to stop all drug deals but at times they may need to conceal their identity by going undercover in order to use the bad behavior of already corrupt men in order to accomplish the good purpose of halting illegal drug operations.182 Claiming that God secretly and exhaustively brings about all sinful desires and actions based on the unique events involving judicial hardening is like saying that police sting operations cause all of the drug deals that they are working to thwart.
What do Calvinists believe?
James White: “Those who are dead in sin can indeed understand the facts of the gospel message, but they will always respond in the same fashion: with rebellion, rejection, or suppression. Until God takes out the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), or causes His Spirit to make those dead bones come together into living beings (Ezekiel 37:1-14), men are dead in their trespasses, incapable of doing what is pleasing to God.”183
If people are born helpless and hopeless, and could never respond to the gospel apart from an Irresistible Grace, then why would God ever need to harden someone’s heart if they are already irredeemably hardened?
What do Calvinists believe?
Erwin Lutzer: “If the salvation of all men was his overriding priority, he could prevent Satan from blinding the eyes of the unconverted so that more would believe. He would work toward the softening, not hardening, of all men.”184
An unconditional salvation of all men was never God’s overriding priority. Instead, God conditionally desires the salvation of all men by coming to Him freely. God never promised an unconditional salvation. Eternal life is offered upon believing in Jesus. (John 3:16) Secondly, God’s choice to harden someone’s heart or to give them over to Satan is not God’s first choice. God says He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn and live. (Ezekiel 18:23) So the wicked perish, not as God’s first choice, but as His subsequent choice, as a consequence of having rejected the grace that could have been theirs.
Divine hardening can also be evangelical. Unrepentant Israel came under such divine hardening (Isaiah 6:9-10; Romans 11:7-11), and Paul stated that it was not “so as to fall” but instead “to make them jealous” (Romans 11:11) so that the gospel would “save some of them.” In some cases, though, divine hardening is for the purpose of reprobation, when God sends a strong delusion so that the unrepentant would believe what is false, having heard the truth so as to be “saved” but rejected it. (2nd Thessalonians 2:10-12)
Judicial hardening may also be referred to as Reprobation, which is the conditional divine act of judicial hardening of unrepentant sinners. By contrast, Calvinism’s doctrine of Reprobation is unconditional, and fixed by an eternal and unchangeable decree.
According to Isaiah 6:9-10, Israel fell under judicial hardening: “He said, ‘Go, and tell this people: “Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.”’” Jesus later quoted this passage in relation to His manner of speaking in parables: “‘Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.’” (Matthew 13:13) God wanted them to turn back to Him, but because they had persistently refused, He placed them under divine judicial hardening.
Isaiah 65:2: “‘I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.’”
Jeremiah 18:11: “So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.”’”
Ezekiel 18:23: “‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?’”
We see something similar at 2nd Thessalonians 2:8-12 where God judicially hardened people because “they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” The conclusion, therefore, is that God is not some celestial despot, arbitrarily determining certain people for damnation from birth, as part of some eternally reprobated, non-elect class. Rather, God lovingly calls people to salvation, and if they get to a point of selfhardening against God, sometimes He will give them up to their fallen desires and let them have their way.
Can they still be saved? In the case of John 10:26-38, Jesus encouraged those whom He declared were not His sheep/followers to consider the evidence of His miracles in order to believe in Him and become His sheep/followers. Therefore, if one was not one of Jesus’ sheep/followers, they later still could be. Despite Israel’s judicial hardening, Paul believed they could still be saved: “But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:13-15) The “some” means that everyone’s human experience is unique, especially as it relates with people in their life who are praying for them. Ultimately, judicial hardening is neither permanent nor predetermined from birth.
What do Calvinists believe?
John Calvin: “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.”185
John Calvin: “The rest of mortal men who are not of this number,but rather taken out of the common mass and made vessels of wrath, are born for the use of the elect.”186
Joseph R. Nall: “Reprobation is indeed a very sad truth. But how much more reason to be thankful that I am saved.”187
This raises all sorts of difficult questions for Calvinists. Are all men born equal? Are some born for the use of the elect? Is there a universal salvific will on God’s behalf? Did God create the non-elect with the intention that they spend eternity with Him in Heaven, and if not, where did He intend for the non-elect to spend eternity? Is the purpose of the non-elect to glorify God in Hell? Did God hate the non-elect before they were born, that is, before they had ever done anything good or bad?
Hence, while Calvinists are very comfortable when speaking of God’s grace shown toward Calvinism’s elect, they are comparatively less comfortable when speaking about God’s relationship with the non-elect, and often end up changing the subject to man’s fallen perspective.
What do Calvinists believe?
R.C. Sproul: “It is not that God puts his hand on them to create fresh evil in their hearts; he merely removes his holy hand of restraint from them and lets them do their own will.”188
But, if God decreed whatsoever comes to pass, as per Calvinism, then what is left for God to restrain except His own decree? So, is God restraining Himself or is He restraining the independent will of another? The Calvinist notion that God simply taking His hand off of dead, rebel sinners omits the Calvinist decree that predetermined the very rebellion of the dead rebel sinners.
What do Calvinists believe?
Since God is omniscient, why would He choose to create a man whom He knows will never come to Christ and thus perish in Hell forever unless the purpose of his existence was to serve as an eternal Reprobate?
What if God also knows that the same man will have a child who will grow up to love the Lord and become a Christian? If God prevented the birth of the father, then how can the Christian son be born? To explain how people are interconnected this way, consider Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares at Matthew 13:29, in which it was stated that an “enemy” sowed the tares in the field (not God), and the parable instructs the angel not to uproot the tares, because it would otherwise disturb the wheat, and that things will get sorted out in the final harvest. So that’s how that particular conundrum is resolved.189
182 Calvinists will object that God is not like a police officer. However, this is just an analogy, and Jesus often used analogies of Himself in order to convey God’s will.
183 Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004), 69.
184 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 171.
185 The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 21, Section 5 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, translated by Henry Beveridge, 1845), 770, https://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.
186 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster
John Knox Press, 1997), 107.
187 Joseph R. Nall: What is Reprobation? http://thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/40207
188 Chosen By God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1986), 145.
189 See also the discussion on Omniscience and Preterition.