Particular vs. General Baptists – Part 2

As the 17th century progressed, General Baptist churches formed a national assembly. This group sought to ensure that its’ churches were not vacillating on the doctrine of the Atonement:

“Several years before 1671 a General Assembly of the churches of the entire connection had been formed, which usually met in London. The General Baptist churches exercised a rigorous discipline over their membership in matters of doctrine and life. Persistence in Calvinistic teaching (as in denial of the universality of the atonement) was a ground of excommunication.”

The General Baptists reached America, and from 1656 to the Great Awakening (1720-1740), they increased impressively.

The English General Baptists did well during the Cromwellian period [mid-1600’s], but “along with other dissenters, they suffered severely under Charles II.”

The report from the late 1600’s into the 1700’s was not so positive:

“After the Revolution (1688-1689), owing in part to the disciplinary system already described and still more to the pervasive influence of Socinianism, disintegration set in. The process was accelerated by their resistance to the evangelical revival led by the Wesleys and Whitefield. By 1770 they had dwindled to small proportions and most of them that remained had become Unitarian.”

Take for example, a typical response of the General Baptists to the Great Awakening:

“The First Church of Boston, under the influence of Jeremy Condy (pastor 1739-1765), had become Arminian (Socinian) in sentiment and strongly opposed the revival. Under the well-educated and eloquent Samuel Stillman (pastor after 1765) the church regained its evangelical zeal . . . In 1769 the membership of the church was more than doubled”

The strength that that the General Baptists exhibited in the 1600’s had all but vanished by the mid-1700’s. “The Arminian position that Christ has earned salvation for all men and God has made provision for man so that all can accept, found further development in the revival of the position that all men will eventually be saved . . .” Thus, the Arminian theology degenerated in full blown Unitarianism, at least among the General Baptists.

The “New Connection” movement “rescued” a portion of General Baptist churches from Universalism in the 1800’s. In this movement, “Socinian views of the person of Christ and hyper-Calvinistic anti-nominism are explicitly condemned.” There was actually a coming together with the Particular Baptists on the part of the General Baptists:

“Until recent times the General Baptists had almost uniformly practiced restricted communion and rigorously excluded Calvinistic Baptists from the Supper. During the nineteenth century their views on this matter became assimilated to those of the great majority of the Particular Baptists.”

Particular Baptists

“Though few men may legitimately be called pioneers, John Spilsbury deserves that title. As the first pastor of the original Particular Baptist Church in London, he stands at the head of a long and worthy line of Calvinistic Baptists.” Spilsbury formed his church in opposition to the all ready established General Baptist thought. “The year 1633 was the formation of the first Particular Calvinistic Baptist Church in England. Hitherto the Baptists had favored Arminian views.” Others Particular Baptist churches followed. “By October 1644, the Calvinistic antipedobaptists of London who had adopted immersion as the exclusively valid form of baptism “had become seven churches.” The earliest English Particular Baptists (c. 1630’s) included Henry Jacob, William Kiffin, Henry Jessey, and Hanserd Knollys. In time, other notable preachers and theologians came to embrace this theology. Among these men were: Bunyan, Keach, Gill, and Ryland.

In 1644, the Particular Baptists produced a Confession of Faith around which their churches could unite. Arminianism and its extreme brother, Socinianism, were belief systems with which churches were struggling. The Particular Baptists formed The London Confession of 1644 as a rallying point for doctrinal protection. “Spilsbury was known as ‘the great Patriarch of the Anabaptist confession,’ and he must have played a prominent part in its preparation.” The London Confession exhibits a “moderate type” of Calvinism, and its’ definition of the church is “not unlike that of the Helwys church of 1611. It includes the concept of the invisible Church.”

Particular Baptists were not entirely united by this Confession. Substantial doctrinal differences existed among these early preachers. For example, William Kiffin and John Bunyan differed on the issue of the Lord’s table:

“Open communion was from the first practiced by most of the churches. Controversy between Kiffin and Bunyan, in which the latter denied that differences of opinion and practice should be allowed to hinder the manifestation of Christian love and brotherhood in the Supper, left the question an open one.”

Despite a lack of complete adherence to it, this Confession had a wide-ranging influence. “Though issued in the name of London Baptists, it served Baptists all over the country at a time when the Particular Baptist stream was becoming the major stream of Baptist life.”

It appears conclusive that Particular Baptist theology was a reaction to the Socinian theology that was gaining traction in Baptist circles; however, among many Particular Baptists, the reaction was an overreaction:

“By way of reaction against the Socinian teachings that were pervading the Established Church and all the dissenting bodies, Particular Baptist theologians like John Gill and John Brine promulgated a high type of Calvinistic teaching that in the minds of the uncultured easily degenerated into fatalism and antinomianism. Many Particular Baptist ministers went to the extreme of considering it an impertinence to preach to the unregenerate or to pray for them, and many churches excluded from fellowship any who dissented from their fatalistic views. By 1753, there had been such a decline that John Ryland, who made a careful inquiry, could find only 4,930 Particular Baptists in England and Wales. They opposed the evangelical revival with almost fanatical zeal.”

The ramifications of “Hyper-Calvinism” among Baptists reeked havoc on their churches. The extremes of the General Baptists led them to Unitarianism, while the direction of the Particular Baptists was pushing them into dead orthodoxy. As the 17th century drew to a close, new birth and spiritual vibrancy among churches of both groups was at low ebb. Soon, however, some intriguing developments sprang forth among the Particular Baptists.

The influence of Jonathan Edwards on the Particular Baptists is immeasurable. “The most decisive evangelical influence on the Particular Baptists was that of Jonathan Edwards.” His ministry and writings affected the life of Andrew Fuller:

“The conversion of Andrew Fuller to evangelical views, chiefly through the reading of a pamphlet by Jonathan Edwards on the importance of a general union of Christians in prayer for a revival of religion, and through the influence of the evangelical revival in England, marks an epoch in the history of the Particular Baptists.”

Particular Baptist thought was spreading in the American colonies. “The Philadelphia Association, being long the only body of the sort among the Calvinistic Baptists, had by 1762 extended its influence so as to embrace churches in New England, New York, Virginia, and Maryland.” The Philadelphia Association of Particular Baptists was modeled on the English and Welsh Baptist Association of the 1600’s. “The Welsh Baptists made much of associations and these were the prototypes of the Philadelphia Association in America.”

By 1792, Englishman William Carey combined his Particular Baptist theology with the goal of world evangelism. “His popular but profound publications disseminated moderate Calvinistic views suffused with missionary enthusiasm.” Carey needed the support of fellow Baptists to carry out his mission. He found such help it the notable character of John Sutcliff:

“Among the Calvinistic Baptist figures of the late eighteenth century one of the most important is also one of the least known – John Sutcliff (1752-1814) . . . An extremely close friend of Andrew Fuller and William Carey and one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society, Sutcliff played a central part in bringing revival to the English Calvinistic Baptists . . .”

No study of Particular Baptists is complete without a mention of the “Prince of Preachers. “The coming of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to the pulpit of New Park Street Church, London, in 1854, marks an epoch in the history of British Baptists.”

The General and Particular Baptists each exhibited strengths, while at the same time struggling with destructive doctrines. The extremes of each movement are frightening: Unitarianism (General) and Hyper-Calvinism (Particular) are both deadly doctrines. The desire to unite in associations crippled the autonomy of their respective churches. The Baptists were simply following the methods of the Reformers in this “association” mentality.

Lastly, it is often claimed that Baptist can trace their origin to the Separatist John Smyth. This is revisionist history at best, although best-selling Baptist history books make this claim (Vedder’s Short History of the Baptists, for example). Thankfully, able defenders of Bible truth and accurate history (such as John Christian) have rebuffed this nonsense. For those who practice their faith sincerely, Baptist truth is Bible truth. One does not need to be a General Baptist or a Particular Baptist. Every new generation of Baptists can and should go straight back to the testimony of scripture to determine doctrine and practice.


Particular vs. General Baptists – Part 1

It is indeed a fascinating study, that of the development of two factions of Baptist belief and practice in the 1600’s. History uncovers a distinct divergence of theology between the General Baptists and the Particular Baptists in this era in England (and correspondingly, Colonial America). In the effort to be as objective as is possible in analyzing an era centuries before this day, the following is an overview of General vs. Particular Baptists, with a brief analysis of both groups.

This history is rooted in the country of England. This land went through several stages in its’ religious progression. The Handbook of Denominations describes England’s religious development in this way: (1) Catholicism, (2) Church of England, (3) Puritanism, and (4) Separatism. “Separatists began to teach that only self-professed believers were eligible for membership in the church. That is, the church is properly made up of only regenerated people. James I begins persecuting these “Separatists”. The Separatist movement poses a real challenge to England’s “state-church” model, causing it to be singled out for governmental persecution.

General Baptists

In the effort to escape religious persecution, some of these “English Separatists” migrated to Holland. John Smyth (c. 1570-1612) led a group of these immigrating Separatists. Upon their arrival in Holland, the Separatists encountered the teaching of the Mennonites. Several similarities in belief were discovered:

“Many of the Mennonites’ principles agreed with their own convictions, including the beliefs that the Scriptures are the sole authority for faith and practice, that church and state should be completely and forever separated, and that church discipline should be rigidly enforced in business, personal, and family affairs.”

Furthermore, Smyth learns the New Testament teaching of credobaptism from the Anabaptist Mennonites:

“Before long the congregation of John Smyth accepted another bedrock Mennonite principle and adopted the practice of ‘believer’s baptism’ – that is, baptism only of adults who make a profession of faith. Smyth rebaptized himself and his followers in 1609.”

Smyth’s influence over his congregation took a hit when he “tried to make Mennonites out of his people” They accepted Baptist truth, but rejected the Mennonite expression of it “because that meant a threat to their British heritage.”

A church split ensued:

“Following a division in the congregation, Smyth [John Smyth] applied for membership with the Mennonites while Thomas Helwys, with ten others, returned to England where ‘they founded in 1612 the first Baptist Church on English soil in Spitalfields outside the walls of the city of London.’ The congregation followed the Arminian belief, holding that in the divine intention Christ died for all men and not, as Calvinists said, only for the elect. Particular Baptists, the Calvinistic branch of the denomination, appeared first in London between 1630 and 1640 as a sect among the Separatists.”

In time, Smyth’s congregation returned also to London, and established a Baptist church there.

Smyth and Helwys’ congregations were categorized as “General Baptist” churches. The word “general” is used in contradistinction to the word “particular”. These terms represent a difference of belief concerning the Atonement of Christ. Simply

stated, General Baptists believed (at least originally) that Christ’s atonement was for all men (general atonement), while Particular Baptists espoused a limited (or, particular) atonement of Christ, a teaching they would have learned from Calvinistic theology of the Reformation.

General Baptists preceded Particular Baptists in England by several decades:

“The first churches were General Baptist churches, which means that they believed in a general atonement for all persons. In the course of time there arose a Particular Baptist Church, which held to the doctrine of predestination associated with the teachings of John Calvin (1509-64). The first British Particular Baptist churches dates back to 1638.”

These two strands of Baptist practice experienced waves of both toleration and persecution, depending on the zealousness of the monarch at the time. For example:

“Both branches of the Baptist denomination prospered under the administration of Cromwell, but, like other dissenters, they suffered persecution after the Restoration when Parliament enacted laws of suppression.”

Both branches of Baptist thought in England faced challenges from novel Reformation era movements. “Many Baptists were attracted to the new movement [Quakerism], and Baptist churches faced a grim task in trying to maintain unity and peace in their fellowship.” Several Baptist confessions of faith resulted from the belief of English Baptist leaders that these would keep their Baptist adherents from being swept away by false doctrine. Both the General Baptists (1611, 1651, 1660) and the Particular Baptists (1644) produced statements/confessions of their faith.

John Smyth, along with his adherents, set forth a one hundred article statement of faith in 1611:

“The confession sets forth just views as to the nature of saving knowledge of God as involving conformity in character to God’s attributes. Arminian views are clearly and moderately set forth with respect to God’s relation to the fall and to human sin.”

Less than fifty years later, the Standard Confession of 1660 was published. A significant addition to the 1660 Confession was the teaching regarding the laying on of hands:

“The laying on of hands prescribed in Article 12 must have been something of an innovation for the Assembly, and there is doubt as to whether most General Baptist churches all ready practiced it upon receiving new members. The practice was named in neither the 1611 nor the 1651 Confessions of General Baptists. The importance of the Ordinance was accentuated by the adoption in some quarters of the Six Principles of Hebrews 6:1-2 as a creedal standard . . . those churches which adopted the practice were usually very strict in its observance, and there is evidence that the issue of laying on hands produced by 1660 a cleavage in the General Baptist fellowship which endangered the life of the young General Assembly.”

General Baptists that viewed the six principles of Hebrews 6:1-2 as “indispensable ordinances” became known as “Six-Principle Baptists”. The distinguishing characteristic of the six principles was the practice of “laying on of hands”, as the other five principles of this passage (repentance, faith, baptism, resurrection, and judgment) would not stand out as unique.

The history and development of Socinian thought is so interwoven with the progression of the General Baptists as to demand a brief account of its’ history and teachings. The Mennonite practice of believer’s baptism was not the only teaching that John Smyth came to adopt. Sadly, he added Socinianism to his beliefs also:

“Shortly before or after the introduction of believer’s baptism, in sympathy with the Arminian movement then current and with the Socinianized Mennonism of the time, Smyth adopted Socinian (Pelagian) views, denying original or hereditary sin and the redemption of infants by Christ.”

Socinianism thought, though not pervasive in Reformation theology (“the teaching of Socinus and his followers was a distinct variant from both the Roman and the Reformed doctrines . . .”), nonetheless was a force to be reckoned with. “Socinianism was an intellectual and rationalist system of Christian doctrine on a supernatural basis. It was a species of Unitarianism.”

“Socinianism was named after its master spirit, Fausto Sozzini (latinized into Socinus), a man of commanding intellect, supreme organizing ability, and unfaltering will.” Fausto’s uncle, who influenced him extensively, was Lelio (1525-1562). Lelio lived only to the age of 38, but in his short life he traveled both to Geneva and Wittenburg, where he made the acquaintance of Calvin and Melachthon, respectively. His thoughts on doctrinal reformation “shocked Calvin”, due to the “audacity of his speculation”.

John Calvin authorized the execution of the anti-trinitarian Servetus. Servetus’ life and testimony was influential in the thoughts of Lelio Socinus. In 1539, Lelio’s nephew, Fausto, was born. Fausto was raised in the Catholic tradition, even producing writings against the Reformation cause (de Jesu Christo Servatore).

Socinus’ writings had reached those of influence in Poland; consequently, he was invited there. Poland was developing into a haven for anti-establishment ideology. There Socinus found a home. Up to this point, Socinus published his anti-trinitarian views (which he adopted from his uncle) anonymously. After his life in Poland became settled, he claimed authorship of his own writings, and the public disputations began. Socinus bravely defended his anti-orthodox teaching until his death at the age of sixty-five.

Socinus rejected the atoning work of Christ on the cross, stating that he was “truly a mortal man while he lived on the earth”, and that “‘the ceremonial ordinances are baptism by immersion’, although Socinus himself remained indifferent to the use of this sacrament, ‘and the Lord’s Supper.’” Socinianism was not some much an effort at denominationalism (the starting of a particular church structure) as it was a philosophy that infected presently existing churches. “ . . . Socinianism was a school rather than a Church. Its congregations were associations for Christian learning rather than communions for Christian worship and service.”

The Socinianism of John Smyth divided the early General Baptists. Helwys (Smyth’s successor) “held to a moderate type of Arminianism, while Smyth had become almost Socinian in his doctrine.”

Always Abounding

Always abounding, as opposed to always complaining or criticizing.

The words to the hymn ‘constantly abiding’ come to mind. There’s a peace in my heart, that the world never gave.

The work always lies ahead, never behind. There is a tendency, in recognizing the dire situation of our economic, political, are religious circumstances, to take only the first part of this verse – Stedfast, unmoveable, and believe that is enough for this day. However, the verse does not end there. It COMBINES the truth of steadfastness with the forward looking always abounding in the work of the Lord.

This is God’s perspective on a Christian’s proper reaction to the state of affairs in this world. His work is to be approached with the mind set of “Always Abounding”. Another hymn, turn your eyes upon Jesus, may help here. Just as Peter’s eyes, when on circumstances, caused him to sink, so it is in today’s work of the Lord. The secularization of public schools, the murder of innocents through abortion, and the recent passing of homosexual marriage laws, are all issues that will cause us to sink if we focus our attention on them. Peter sank in circumstances. He looked around and saw hopelessness and despair. Interestingly enough, a short time later, when he stood to preach at Pentecost, he could just as easily sunk under the circumstances. Yet the truth of always abounding in the work of the Lord drove him to preach in power, and the Lord blessed. Interestingly enough, Stephen preached a very similar message a few chapters later to a similar crowd. Peter saw thousands saved, and Stephen was stoned to death. So, who was stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord – THEY BOTH WERE. Both men came to the realization that they would work the works, and preach the preaching that God gave them to do. The results were then, as now, in the hands of God. Both men came to the point of surrender. Both could have lamented the economic, religious, and political status of their era. But both men knew that the Lord could return at any time. Both committed both to being stedfast and abounding in the work of the Lord. And both were used by God – Peter’s results were immediate – thousands were saved. Stephen died without seeing one key result of his death – the influence on one who at that time hated him with the rest of the crowd – a young man named Saul, who would later become Paul. Maybe Stephen thought his work was done, and in a sense, his work personally was, as the Lord saw fit to take him home, but the Lord’s work was not done. Stephen, Peter, through their surrendered lives, were a part of God’s work, and His work reaches far beyond the days of our lives.

Even if we become experts on the political, religious, and economic scene of today, no one will ever have total control over it. What we can control, however, is the attitude and action we have toward the work of the Lord. May we be steadfast and unmoveable, and may we be always abounding in the work of the Lord. The great work to which we are called lies ahead. The Stewardship of our lives and those we affect is at stake. For the

Christian – the stewardship extends far beyond monetary gain or loss. Our stewardship relates to souls.

Pharoah’s Hard Heart

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . . and Pharaoh hardened his heart. The battle between cause and effect in this passage has been debated for centuries. How a person interprets this passage of scripture reveals less about what they think of this specific passage, and more about the theological system and presuppositions that they import into this passage. What an interpreter says about this account is telling, for it is what they are saying about the character and motives of God Himself. This paper will compare two oppositional viewpoints on the passage.

According to Scripture, Pharaoh’s heart was affected both by himself and by God. Two obvious questions thus arise: In what sense did Pharaoh harden his own heart, and in what sense did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? The real issue arises with how one answers the second question: In what sense did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? This issue lies at the heart of the debate on God’s sovereign dealings with man, and since the result of Pharaoh’s hardened heart was increased rebellion against God, discerning the truth on the point is crucial to a correct understanding of God Himself.

Slight variations notwithstanding, there are two basis viewpoints with God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Noted theologian A. W. Pink expresses the first viewpoint. In the book Gleanings from Exodus, he asserts, “Infidels have argued that if Pharaoh’s subsequent crimes were the result of his heart being hardened by Jehovah, then that makes God the author of his sins; and, furthermore, God must be unrighteous for punishing him.”1 From the outset, Pink is positioning the argument. He states that infidels have argued against God hardening Pharaoh’s heart in the sense that God’s working in Pharaoh deliberately led him to sin. Pink continues:

“Instead of acknowledging with fear and trembling that God’s Word does teach that the Lord actually hardened the heart of Pharaoh, most of the commentators have really argued that He did nothing of the kind, that He simply permitted the Egyptian monarch to harden his own heart. That Pharaoh did harden his own heart the Scriptures expressly affirm, but they also declare that THE LORD hardened his heart too, and clearly this is not one and the same thing, or the two different expressions would not have been employed. Our duty is to believe both statements, but to attempt to show the philosophy of their reconciliation is probably, as another has said, ‘to attempt to fathom infinity.’” 2

Pink is clear in his belief that Pharaoh’s act of hardening his own heart and God’s act of hardening Pharaoh’s heart “clearly . . . not one and the same thing.” To Pink, God was active in a true sense in hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Defending his claim, he hearkens to the patriarch of this philosophy, John Calvin:

“Calvin was right when he represented those as perverting the Scriptures who insist that no more is meant than a bare permission when God is said to harden the hearts of men. Is it nothing more than passive permission on His part when God softens men’s hearts? Is it not, rather, by His active agency?”3

Pink references God hardening the spirit of Sihon, and making his heart obstinate in Deuteronomy 2:30. About this verse he says:

“Clearly it was no mere judicial hardening, instead it was a solemn illustration of what we read in Rom 9:18, whom He will He hardens . . . These verses supply us with one reason why the Lord hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and the Egyptians: it was in order that He might have full opportunity to display His mighty power.”4

Pink displays himself to be an understudy of John Calvin. He embraces Calvin’s theology in its purest form in this passage. He maintains that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to display His mighty power. Once this power was displayed, God would receive glory (which He indeed did). Therefore, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (causing sin and rebellion) in order to bring glory to Himself. One has a difficult time not seeing the “God is the author of sin” belief here in Pink and Calvin.

Pink adds salvation to the theology that has been misconstrued by many Bible professors:

“Man ever reverses the order of God. The carnal mind . . . reasons that a man must believe in order to be born again; the Scriptures teach that a man must first have spiritual life before he can manifest the activities of that life. Those who follow the theologians will conclude that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because the king had first hardened his heart; but those who bow to the authority of the Holy Writ (and there are very few who really do), will acknowledge that Pharaoh hardened his heart because God had first hardened it.”5

Here Pink promotes the curious Calvinistic interpretation that regeneration precedes faith – regeneration being the work of God in bestowing upon man the new birth and faith being man’s response to this salvation. In like manner, Pink equates this to Pharaoh’s response of sin and rebellion based upon God prior working of hardening his heart. To Pink, a man’s act of rejecting God (Pharaoh) and the act of receiving God (salvation) starts with God choosing for that man what he will do. In other words, God’s regeneration is the cause of man’s faith; God’s hardening is the cause of man’s sin.

How can this issue of God causing Pharaoh’s sin be rectified? Pink explains: “Let us then tremble before Him, and if in marvelous grace He has softened our hearts let us magnify His sovereign mercy unceasingly.”6 According to Calvin and Pink, there is no human choice or element involved. God did the work; man simply responds “robotically.” Those that are chosen should “magnify God”, and those that are not chosen were created for destruction anyway – that is how the theology of Pink, Calvin, and ultimately, Augustine plays out.

A viewpoint that is consistent with the character of God and His actions toward men throughout scripture differs significantly from the view of Pink-Calvin-Augustine.

Diligent Bible students, unburdened by theological systems (i.e. Calvinism), have examined the setting of this passage, including each tine that Exodus refers to Pharaoh’s hardened heart. Context gets a fair hearing here:

“The first two references to God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3) were actually predictions that He would do it in the future. Then in the next seven references Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart before God is said to have hardened it. God’s first hardening came after the sixth plague. Pharaoh hardened his own heart six times by his refusals. Then later he hardened it again in response to the seventh plague, and God hardened his heart after each of the plagues 8-10. God confirmed Pharaoh’s defiant willful obstinance by then judicially hardening his heart (Deut. 2:30; Josh. 11:20)7

That is contextual Bible study. R. A. Torrey sheds further light on the issue:

“For God to take a man who really desires to know and do His will, harden his heart and thus incline him not to do His will, would indeed be an action on God’s part that it would be difficult or impossible to justify. But when we read God’s utterances on this matter in their setting, we find this is not at all what God did with Pharaoh. Pharaoh was not a man who wished to obey God. The whole account begins – not with God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart but with Pharaoh’s hardening his own heart.”8

The reason proper interpretation of this passage is critical is because what is said about this issue defines God. Torrey continues:

“This was simply in pursuance of God’s universal method of dealing with men. God’s universal method is, if man chooses error, to give him up to error (II Thessalonians 2:9-12); if with a stout heart they choose sin, at last He gives them over to sin (Romans 1:24-26, 28). This is stern dealing, but it is just dealing.”9

The function of the will of man in relation to the sovereignty of God is on display here. The Pink-Calvin position diminishes the free will of man to nothing more than a pawn in God’s game of electing and reprobating. However:

“The will cannot be coerced by force. The way in which God hardened Pharaoh’s heart was by sending him a series of demonstrations of His own existence and power, and a series of judgments. If Pharaoh had taken the right attitude toward these revelations of God’s existence and power in these judgments that God sent upon him, they would have led to his repentance and salvation. But by willingly and willfully taking the wrong attitude toward them, he was hardened by them. Nothing that God sends us is more merciful than His judgments upon our sins. If we take these judgments right they will soften our hearts . . . But if we rebel against them, they will harden our hearts and bring us eternal ruin.”10

How can one rectify the dueling statements of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardening his own heart? While Pink sees these two statements as completely separate events, the interchanging of the statements repeatedly in the text makes Pink’s assertion untenable:

“Sometimes it is God who is said to do the hardening and sometimes Pharaoh himself, but, to quote The Mosaic Era (Gibson), ‘The two things are really identical. Pharaoh, by his conduct, put himself under the operation of the invariable law, by which a man’s heart becomes harder the longer he resists divine mercy and grace. Inasmuch as the law spoken of was God’s law, God hardened his heart. It is the same process viewed from its two sides. We must not suppose God singled out Pharaoh, or that He singles out any one, and says, ‘I will harden his heart.’ But ‘by the operation of the law according to which the soul becomes less and less susceptible to impressions which have been resisted, God hardens the heart of every one who does not yield to Him.’”11

What led to the hardening in the first place? Was it a random (yet sovereign) act of God, choosing to further Pharaoh along toward the destruction of reprobation? Of course not! John 3:17 states that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. Certainly Jesus did not operate under a different set of rules than did His Father. The truth lies in the fact that “the gospel is the savor of life unto life – unto men who receive it – but it is the savor of death unto death – to those who reject it (II Corinthians 2:15-16)”12 It was not God’s negative working, but His grace and mercy that Pharaoh so hated. “It was in each case God’s clemency and forbearing goodness which produced the hardening. That goodness which ‘leadeth to repentance’ (Romans 2:4): just as the same sun which softens the wax hardens the clay.”13

None other than Pharaoh himself initiated the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart against God:

“Pharaoh had hardened his own heart against the groans and cries of the oppressed Israelites, and shut up the bowels of his compassion from them; and now God, in a way of righteous judgment, hardens his heart against the conviction of the miracles, and the terror of the plagues.”14

It is true that the judgment for hardness against God may be increased hardness, but that is always a punishment for a prior deliberate act of the will against God. When one proclaims himself to be an enemy of God, God is righteous to “fight” against him. “Now God justly gave him up to his own heart’s lusts, to a reprobate mind, and strong delusions, permitting Satan to blind and harden him . . . If men shut their eyes against the light, it is just with God to close their eyes.”15 Paul writes to the church of Rome, issuing a similar warning. “Romans 1:24 reveals that God, in certain cases, allows men to follow the evil desires of their own hearts. God may have simply allowed Pharaoh, in his pride and sinfulness, to do as he desired.”16

Is God’s judgment active or reactive? Does God judge for no reason? God’s judgment is reactive to man’s response to His word. If God’s judgment were active (i.e. punishment meted out for no transgression), God would need to be identified as someone different than Who we see in scripture. God punishes as a result of rejection. This passage gets confused because God gives a short glimpse into his foreknowledge, and men like Pink then try to apply this to all of life.

Pharaoh was the ungodly ruler of Egypt. He did not like to be challenged, especially by a people that he had enslaved. He thought nothing of their God, because He was not a challenge to his (Pharaoh’s) authority. God chose plagues as tools to reveal His power to Pharaoh. With each plague, Pharaoh had opportunity to humble himself at the revelation of God’s power. God sent not one or two, but ten plagues (each a repentance opportunity) to the Egyptian king. Nine times Pharaoh rejected God’s commands. Even when he conceded at the tenth plague, quickly he recanted and pursued his former slaves. Ten plagues, each sent to break the will of an ungodly man; each resulted not in recognition of God, but in an increasing hatred of God. This was Pharaoh’s choice. His choices determined God’s response.