But before we come to any observations from the words, lest the expression should be mistaken, and lest any of our apprehensions should be intermingled with wrong thoughts of the majesty of God, ye should know and consider,
1. That whenever it is said that the Lord hardens, it is not meant that He does so by infusing any sinful qualities into the heart of man: as it is expressed by the apostle, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man: for he is incomprehensibly holy, and infinitely removed from being accessary to anything that is sinful in the creature. But,
2. It is said He hardens when He not only permits and leaves the man to the hardness of his own heart, which is natural unto the sons of fallen Adam, but also when He withholds or withdraws somewhat of that grace given to the creature, on which hardness of heart follows; and the majesty of God being under no obligation to give grace unto the creature, either by a natural necessity of Himself, or yet by merit in the creature, that hardness of heart cannot be charged upon Him, nor yet can He be blamed for the withholding of abused grace from them. Besides this, He may present objects occasionally, which may be good, nay, are good in themselves, and yet by the person's own corruption abusing them, they may harden the heart. For instance, professors may make use of the ordinances of Christ, and their own gifts, unto their own hardening. Also, He may give up a person to his own lusts, and to the power or hand of Satan, to be hardened, as a punishment of his former sins and iniquities. As the Psalmist says, "My people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them tip unto their own hearts lusts; and they walked in their own counsels." And as this may come to a great height in the case of natural men, even so it may be in some degrees incident unto the people and children of God.
Having thus premised these few things for guarding against mistakes, ye must look upon the complaint as not being spoken in a way of proud or ill-natured expostulation laying all the blame upon God, and evading or shifting it off themselves; no, the words intimate the Lord's carriage towards the church-members who are speaking here. Nor are we to think that these words are spoken irreverently in the way of complaining of God; but only in the way of expostulation with themselves; as if they had said, "Lord, what have we done that hath provoked Thee to deal thus with us I" There is an insinuation of a desire to know what sin in them it was that had brought on this plague or stroke of hardness of heart, which was grievous to them beyond anything in their external condition and captivity.
Now having taken the words in this sense, we come shortly to draw some doctrinal observations from them. And,
I. In general, we observe, that a child of God, when in his own proper latitude, will be very diligent in taking notice of God's dispensations about and towards his own heart, and is in some case to make a representation to God how it is with his soul. Oh, how sad is it when God is dealing with our hearts, and yet we are not so much as taking notice what either God or the devil is doing about them! If the Lord reach not the carcase with some extraordinary judgment, heart-maladies never trouble many. It seems to be one of the evils of the time wherein we live, that many, even good folk, are become strangers in a great measure unto their own heart's ease and condition. We are so seldom in our approaches to God, in any case to make a serious representation of the posture of our spiritual affairs, but just as if we were in one country, and our hearts in another, we are become so great strangers unto them. But,
II. And more particularly, I observe, that hardness of heart, or heart-hardening, is an evil incident unto the people of God. It is by such that this complaint is made, "Why hast thou made us to err, and hardened our heart from thy fear ?" And we think that much hardness of heart, or blindness of mind, could not have seen and felt such a weight; and we think it is with much bashfulness uttered; being spoken by those who before were ashamed, that they could not plead an interest in God as their Father, being so much degenerated from their ancestors. Yet they are necessitated to lay claim to God. They are such as give much credit; as if the look of His eye could redress their condition, and they are in case to observe the former dispensations of God, and to compare them with their present case. They likewise take up a great alteration of His kindness towards them. The case of David is a proof of this, who for near the space of a year was bound up under hardness of heart. Solomon is a proof of this, who for some time was inclined unto idolatry. Asa is a proof of this, who imprisoned the prophet, and oppressed some of the people, and under his disease sought unto the physicians, and not unto the Lord. It is probable the time wherein we live affords us likewise many a sad proof of the.truth of it. Oh! hardness in part, and in many degrees is incident even unto the people of God.