But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.
~ Psalm 81:11
Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!
~ Psalm 81:13
Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
~ Isaiah 55:3
Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?
~ 1 Samuel 6:6
Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.
~ Deuteronomy 6:16
And ye have seen all that the LORD your God hath done unto all these nations because of you; for the LORD your God is he that hath fought for you.
~ Joshua 23:3
And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
~ Genesis 6:6
My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.
~ Hosea 4:12
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word: But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD. Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
~ Numbers 14:20-23
An Exposition On Hebrews 3:7-11, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work.
Hebrews 3:7-11 . Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith, To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation, in the wilderness: where your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their hearts; but my ways they have not known. So sware in my wrath, If they shall enter into my rest.
The exhortation is here pursued which was engaged into at the beginning of the chapter, and which after some diversion is returned unto at the close of the sixth verse. The argument whereby it is confirmed and carried on in these words is taken “ab eventu pernicioso,” from the pernicious event of the alike disobedience in others, which the Hebrews are dehorted from. And this the apostle shows by an eminent instance, or the induction of an example to that purpose. And this was such as those to whom he wrote knew to be so as it was by him reported; which they had especial reason to attend unto and consider, which had formerly been recommended to them, and which was purposely designed to be monitory unto them in their present condition: which things render an example cogent and effectual. Known it was to them, as being recorded in the Scripture, wherewith they were acquainted; and it was likewise of near concernment unto them, so deserving their consideration, inasmuch as it was their own progenitors or forefathers who so miscarried as to be therein proposed unto them for an example of an evil to be avoided. It had also, after the first recording of it in the history of the times wherein it fell out, Numbers 14:0, been resumed and recommended unto their most diligent consideration, Psalms 95:0 . And, as he afterwards informs them, there was a prophecy infolded, or a typical representation made of their present state and condition, with directions for their wise and safe deportment under it. All these things render the example proper, and the exhortation from it cogent.
Now, whereas the example had been twice recorded, once materially, where the fact is first expressed, and then formally, as an example, where it is resumed and improved by the psalmist, our apostle takes it together with its improvement out of the latter place. It lies therefore before us under both considerations, as a fact recorded by Moses, as an example pressed by the psalmist.
FIRST, We may consider in the words,
First, The note of inference wherein the apostle engageth the whole unto his purpose, “Wherefore.”
Secondly, The manner of his introduction of this persuasive example, both as to the fact and its former improvement, “As the Holy Ghost saith.”
Thirdly, The manner of its proposition, in way of exhortation; wherein we have,
First , The general matter of it, which is obedience unto God; expressed,
1. By a supposition, including a positive assertion of the duty especially intended, “If ye will hear his voice.”
2. By a prohibition or removal of the contrary, “Harden not your hearts.”
Secondly , The time or season of its due performance, “To-day.”
SECONDLY, There is in the words the example itself on which the exhortation is built or founded: and this consists of two parts or branches;
First, The sin; and,
Secondly, The punishment of the persons spoken of.
First, The sin: on the account whereof there are mentioned,
1. The persons sinning; they were the “fathers,” the fathers or progenitors of them to whom he wrote; “your fathers,” illustrated by their multitude, they were a whole “generation.”
2. The quality or nature of their sin, which consisted in two things;
(1.) Provocation, “As in the provocation;”
(2.) Temptation of God, “And in the day of temptation they tempted me and proved me.”
3. The aggravation of their sin;
(1.) From the place where it was committed, it was “in the wilderness;”
(2.) From the means of the contrary which they had to have preserved them from it, they saw the works of God, “And saw my works;”
(3.) From the duration and continuance of their sinning, and the means of the contrary, “Forty years.”
Secondly, The punishment of their sin is expressed in the pernicious event that ensued, whence the exhortation is taker,; and therein is expressed,
1. The “causa procatarctica,” or procuring cause, in the sense that God had of their sin: it grieved him, “Wherefore I was grieved with that generation.”
2. The expression that he gave of it, containing a double aggravation of their sin,
(1.) In its principle, “They did err in their hearts;”
(2.) In their continuance in it, they did so always, “And said, They do always err in their hearts;”
(3.) In its effects, “They did not know his ways.”
3. There is the “causa proegoumena,” or “producing cause” of the punishment mentioned, in the resolution that God took and expressed concerning the persons sinning: which also hath a double aggravation:
(1.) From the manner of his declaring this resolution; he did it by an oath, “Unto whom I sware:”
(2.) From the frame of his spirit; it was in his wrath, “Unto whom I sware in my wrath.”
(3.) The punishment of the sin itself, expressed negatively, “If they shall enter into my rest;” that is, they shall not do so. And this also hath a double aggravation:
[1.] From the act denied; they should not “enter,” not so much as enter:
[2.] From the object; that was the rest of God, “They shall not enter into my rest.”
We have so particularly insisted on the opening of the words of this paragraph, that we may be the more brief in the ensuing exposition of the design and sense of them; wherein also we shall interpose the observations that are to be improved in our own practice.
FIRST, the illative, “wherefore,” as was first observed, denotes both the deduction of the ensuing exhortation from the preceding discourse, and the application of it unto the particular duty which he enters upon, Hebrews 3:12. “Wherefore;” that is, ‘Seeing the Lord Christ, who is the author of the gospel, is in his legatine or prophetical office preferred far above Moses in the work of the house of God, as being the son and lord over that house as his own, wherein Moses was a servant only, let us consider what duty is incumbent on us, especially how careful and watchful we ought to be that we be not by any means diverted or turned aside from that obedience which he requires, and which on all accounts is due unto him.’This he pursues unto Hebrews 3:11, where the hyperbaton that is in these words is issued.
Obs. 1. No divine truth ought in its delivery to be passed by, without manifesting its use, and endeavoring its improvement unto holiness and obedience.
So soon as the apostle had evinced his proposition concerning the excellency of Christ in his prophetical office, he turns himself unto the application of it unto them that are concerned in it. Divine knowledge is like a practical science; the end of all whose principles and theorems is in their practice; take that away and it is of no use. It is our wisdom and understanding how to live unto God; to that purpose are all the principles, truths, and doctrines of it to be improved. If this be not done in the teaching and learning of it, we fight uncertainly, as men beating the air.
Obs. 2. In times of temptations and trials, arguments and exhortations unto watchfulness against sin and constancy in obedience are to be multiplied in number, and pressed with wisdom, earnestness, and diligence.
Such was the season now with these Hebrews. They were exposed to great trials and temptations: seduction on the one hand by false teachers, and persecution on the other hand by wrathful adversaries, closely beset them. The apostle, therefore, in his dealing with them adds one argument unto another, and pursues them all with pathetical exhortations. Men are often almost unwilling to be under this advantage, or they quickly grow weary of it. Hence our apostle closeth this hortatory epistle with that entreaty, Hebrews 13:22: “Suffer the word of exhortation.” He was afraid they might have thought themselves overburdened with exhortations. And this befalls men on three accounts:
1. When they are grieved by their multiplication, as if they proceeded from a jealousy concerning their sincerity and integrity; so was it with Peter, John 21:17.
2. On a confidence of their own strength, which they would not have suspected; as with the same Peter, Matthew 26:33.
3. From a secret inclination lying against the thing exhorted unto, or to the thing dehorted from.
But these are the ordinances of God for our preservation in such a condition; and these our necessities in it do call for. And pregnant instances hereof are given by our apostle, especially in this epistle and in that unto the Galatians, whose condition was the same with that of these Hebrews. Both of them were in danger to be seduced from the simplicity of the gospel by inveterate prejudices and the subtilty of false teachers; both of them were encompassed with dangers, and exposed unto persecutions. He understood their temptations and saw their dangers. And with what wisdom, variety of arguments, expostulations, exhortations, and awakening reproofs, doth he deal with them! what care, tenderness, compassion, and love, do appear in them all! In nothing did the excellency of his spirit more evidence itself, than in his jealousy concerning and tender care for them that were in such a condition. And herein the Lord Christ set him forth for an example unto all those to whom the work of the ministry and dispensation of the gospel should afterwards be committed. In this care and watchfulness lie the very life and soul of their ministry. Where this is wanting, whatever else be done, there is but the carcass, the shadow of it.
This, then, is of excellent use, provided,
1. That the arguments in it proceeded on be solid and firm (such as in this case are everywhere laid down by our apostle), that our foundation fail us not in our work. Earnest exhortations on feeble principles have more of noise than weight; when there is an aim of reaching men’s affections, without possessing their minds with the due reasons of the things treated about, it proves mostly evanid, and that justly.
2. That the exhortation itself be grave and weighty, duty ought to be clothed with words of wisdom, such as may not, by their weakness, unfitness, uncomeliness, betray the matter intended, and expose it unto contempt or scorn. Hence the apostle requires a singular ability unto the duty of admonition, Romans 15:14, “Filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”
3. That the love, care, and compassion of them who manage such exhortations and admonitions be in them made to appear. Prejudices are the bane and ruin of mutual warnings. And these nothing can remove but a demonstration of love, tenderness, and compassion, acting themselves in them. Morose, peevish, wrathful admonitions, as they bring guilt upon the admonisher, so they seldom free the admonished from any. This course, therefore, the condition of them that are tempted, who are never in more danger than when they find not a necessity of frequent warnings and exhortations, and the duty of those who watch for the good of the souls of men, require to be diligently attended unto.
SECONDLY, The manner of the introduction of the persuasive example proposed is to be considered, “As saith the Holy Ghost.” The words are the words of the psalmist, but are here ascribed unto the Holy Ghost. Our apostle, as other divine writers of the New Testament, useth his liberty in this matter. Sometimes they ascribe the words they cite out of the Old Testament unto the penmen of them; as to Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the like, Luke 24:27; Matthew 2:17; Matthew 4:14; John 12:41; Acts 2:25, sometimes to the books wherein they are written; as, “It is written in the book of Psalms,” Acts 1:20, and sometimes they ascribe them unto the principal author, namely, the Holy Ghost, as in this place. Now, as they used their liberty therein, so it is not to be supposed that they fixed on any particular expression without some especial reason for it. And the ascribing of the words of the psalmist in this place immediately unto the Holy Ghost, by whom he was inspired and acted, seems to have been to mind the Hebrews directly of his authority. His intention from the words was, to press a practical duty upon them. In reference unto such duties the mind ought to be immediately inflamed by the authority of him that requires it. ‘Consider,’saith he, ‘that these are the words of the Holy Ghost’(that is, of God himself), ‘so that you may submit yourselves to his authority.’Besides, the apostle intends to manifest that those words have respect unto the times of the gospel, and in an especial manner unto that season of it which was then passing over the Hebrews. He therefore minds them that they were given out by the Spirit of prophecy, so that the concernment of the church in all ages must lie in them. “The Holy Ghost saith;” that is, as he spake to them of old in and by David (as it is expressed, Hebrews 4:7), so he continues to speak them unto us in the Scripture, which is not only his word, but his voice, his speaking, living, and powerful voice, for so we may comprise both senses before mentioned.
Obs. 3. Exhortations unto duty ought to be well founded, to be built on a stable foundation, and to be resolved into an authority which may influence the consciences of them to whom they do belong.
Without this they will be weak and enervous, especially if the duties exhorted unto be difficult, burdensome, or any way grievous. Authority is the formal reason of duty. When God gave out his law of commandments, he prefaced it with a signification of his sovereign authority over the people, “I am the LORD thy God.” And this is our duty in giving our exhortations and commands from him. The engagement of his authority in them is to be manifested. “Teach men,” saith our Savior, “to do and observe whatsoever I have commanded,” Matthew 28:20. His commands are to be proposed to them, and his authority in them to be applied unto their souls and consciences. To exhort men in the things of God, and to say, ‘This or that man saith so,’be he the pope or who he will, is of no use or efficacy. That which you are to attend unto is what the Holy Ghost saith, whose authority the souls of men are every way obnoxious unto.
Obs. 4. Whatever was given by inspiration from the Holy Ghost, and is recorded in the Scripture for the use of the church, he continues therein to speak it to us unto this day.
As he lives forever, so he continues to speak forever; that is, whilst his voice or word shall be of use to the church. “As the Holy Ghost saith;” that is, speaks now unto us. And where doth he speak it? In the 95th Psalm; there he says it, or speaks it unto us. Many men have invented several ways to lessen the authority of the Scripture, and few are willing to acknowledge an immediate speaking of God unto them therein. Various pretences are used to sub-duct the consciences of men from a sense of his authority in it. But whatever authority, efficacy, or power the word of God was accompanied withal, whether to evidence itself so to be, or otherwise to affect the minds of men unto obedience, when it was first spoken by the Holy Ghost, the same it retains now it is recorded in Scripture, seeing the same Holy Ghost yet continues to speak therein.
THIRDLY, There is in the words, first, The matter of the exhortation intended, that which it aims at and intends. This in general is obedience unto God, answerable unto the revelation which he makes of himself and his will unto us. And this is,
1. Expressed in a supposition, including a positive assertion of it, “If ye will hear his voice;” ‘It is your duty so to do; and this is that which you are exhorted unto.’
(1.) The voice of God is ordinarily the word of his command, the voice or signification of his will; which is the rule of all our duty or obedience.
(2.) In this place, as commonly elsewhere, not the word of command in general is intended, but an especial call or voice of God in reference unto some especial duty at some especial season. Such was the voice of God to the people in the wilderness at the giving of the law, which the people heard, and saw the effects of. Hence is the command translated into the voice of God, in giving out the gospel by the ministry of his Son Jesus Christ. From the former is the occasion of the words taken in the psalm; and to the latter is the application of it made by the apostle.
(3.) The psalmist speaks to the people as if the voice of God were then sounding in their ears. For that which was once the voice of God unto the church (being recorded in the Scripture) continues still to be so; that is, it is not only materially his revealed will and command, but it is accompanied with that special impression of his authority which it was at first attested withal. And on this ground all the miracles wherewith the word of old was confirmed are of the same validity and efficacy towards us as they were towards them that saw them; namely, because of the sacredness of the means whereby they are communicated to us.
This, then, is the object of the duty exhorted unto, the voice of God:
which, as it is used by the apostle, is extended virtually and consequentially to the whole doctrine of the gospel, but with especial respect to the revelation of it by Christ Jesus; as in the psalm it regards the whole doctrine of the law, but with especial regard unto the delivery of it to Moses on mount Sinai. The act exercised about it is hearing, “If ye will hear his voice.” The meaning of this word hath been before explained. It is an act of the whole soul, in understanding, choosing, and resolving to do, the will of God declared by his voice, that is intended. And this further appears from the ensuing charge: “If ye will hear, harden not your hearts;” that is, ‘If you think meet to obey the voice of God, if you will choose so to do, take heed of that which would certainly be a hinderance thereof.’ Thus dealeth the apostle with the Hebrews; and herein teacheth us that,
Obs. 4. The formal reason of all our obedience consists in its relation to the voice or authority of God.
So, therefore, doth the apostle express it, so is it declared in the whole Scripture. If we do the things that are commanded, but not with respect to the authority of God by whom they are commanded, what we so do is not obedience properly so called. It hath the matter of obedience in it, but the formal reason of it, that which should render it properly so, which is the life and soul of it, it hath not: what is so done is but the carcass of duty, no way acceptable unto God. God is to be regarded as our sovereign Lord and only lawgiver in all that we have to do with him. Hereby are our souls to be influenced unto duty in general, and unto every especial duty in particular. This reason are we to render to ourselves and others of all the acts of our obedience. If it be asked why we do such or such a thing, we answer, Because we must obey the voice of God. And many advantages we have by a constant attendance unto the authority of God in all that we do in his worship and service; for,
(1.) This will keep us unto the due rule and compass of duty, whilst we are steered in all that we do hereby. We cannot undertake or perform any thing as a duty towards God which is not so, and which, therefore, is rejected by him, where he saith, “Who hath required these things at your hand?” This is no small advantage in the course of our obedience. We see many taking a great deal of pains in the performance of such duties as, being not appointed of God, are neither accepted with him, nor will ever turn unto any good account unto their own souls. Had they kept upon their consciences a due sense of the authority of God, so as to do nothing but with respect thereunto, they might have been freed from their laboring in the fire, where all must perish, Micah 6:6-9. Such are most of the works wherein the Papists boast.
(2.) This, also, will not suffer us to omit anything that God requires of us. Men are apt to divide and choose in the commands of God, to take and leave as it seems good unto them, or as serves their present occasion and condition. But this also is inconsistent with the nature of obedience, allowing the formal reason of it to consist in a due respect unto the voice of God; for this extends to all that is so, and only to what is so. So James informs us that all our obedience respects the authority of the Lawgiver, whence a universality of obedience unto all his commands doth necessarily ensue. Nor doth the nature of any particular sin consist so much in respect to this or that particular precept of the law which is transgressed or violated by it, as in a contempt of the Lawgiver himself, whence every sin becomes a transgression of the law, James 2:9-11.
(3.) This will strengthen and fortify the soul against all dangers, difficulties, and temptations that oppose it in the way of its obedience. The mind that is duly affected with a sense of the authority of God in what it is to do will not be “territa monstris.” It will not be frightened or deterred by any thing that lies in its way. It will have in readiness wherewith to answer all objections, and oppose all contradictions. And this sense of the authority of God requiring our obedience is no less a gracious effect of the Spirit, than are that freedom, and cheerfulness, and alacrity of mind which in these things we receive from him.
Obs. 6. Every thing in the commands of God, relating unto the manner of their giving out and communicating unto us, is to be retained in our minds and considered as present unto us.
The psalmist, “after so long a season,” as the apostle speaks, calls the people to hear the voice of God, as it sounded on mount Sinai at the giving of the law. Not only the law itself, and the authority of God therein, but the manner also of its delivery, by the great and terrible voice of God, is to be regarded, as if God did still continue so to speak unto us. So also is it in respect of the gospel. In the first revelation of it God spake immediately “in the Son;” and a reverence of that speaking of God in Christ, of his voice in and by him, are we continually to maintain in our hearts. So in the dispensation of the gospel he continues yet to speak from heaven, Hebrews 12:25. It is his voice and word unto us no less than it was when in his own person he spake on the earth. And God being thus, both in his commands and the manner of his giving them out, rendered present unto us by faith, we shall receive a great incitation unto obedience thereby.
Obs. 7. Consideration and choice are a stable and permanent foundation of obedience.
The command of God is here proposed unto the people, to their understanding to consider it, to their wills to choose and embrace it: “If ye will hear his voice.” ‘Consider all things, all concerns of this matter; whose command it is, in what manner given, what is the matter of it, and what are its ends, and what is our own concernment in all this.’Men that are engaged into some course of obedience or profession as it were by chance, or by their minds being merely pre-occupated with education or custom, will leave it by chance or a powerful diversion at any time. Those who are only compelled unto it by some pungent, galling convictions, so that they yield obedience not because they like it or choose it, but because they dare not do otherwise, do assuredly lose all respect unto it as their convictions do by any means wear off or decay.
A deliberate choice of the ways of God, upon a due consideration of all their concernments, is that which unchangeably fixeth the soul unto obedience. For the strongest obligations that are unto it ought to be in our own wills. And it is the most eminent effect of the grace of Christ, to make his people willing in the day of his power; nor is any other obedience acceptable with God, Romans 12:1.
2. The apostle carries on and enforceth his exhortation unto obedience, in the words of the psalmist, by a caution against or prohibition of the contrary, or that which would utterly prevent it, as having done so formerly in others: “Harden not your hearts.” To clear his intention herein, we must inquire,
(1.) ‘What is intended by “heart;” and,
(2.) What by the “hardening” of it.
(1.) The heart in the Scripture, spoken of in reference unto moral obedience, doth not constantly denote any one especial faculty of the soul; but sometimes one, sometimes another, is intended and expressed thereby. What is peculiarly designed, the subject-matter treated of and the adjuncts of the word will discover. Thus, sometimes the heart is said to be “wise,” “understanding,” to “devise,” to be “filled with counsel;” and, on the other side, to be “ignorant,” “dark,” “foolish,” and the like; in all which places it is evident that the mind, the τὸ ἠγεμονικόν , the guiding, conducting, reasoning faculty is intended. Sometimes it is said to be “soft,” “tender,” “humble,” “melting;” and, on the other side, “hard,” “stubborn,” “obstinate,” and the like; wherein principal regard is had to the will and affections. The word, therefore, is that whereby the principle of all our moral actions, and the respective influence of all the faculties of our souls into them, are expressed.
(2.) By the sense of the object is the meaning of the act prohibited to be regulated: “Harden not.” The expression is metaphorical, and it signifies the unfitness and resistency of any thing to receive a due impression from that which is applied unto it; as wax when it is hard will not receive an impression from the seal that is set unto it, nor mortar from the trowel. The application that is made in the matter of obedience unto the souls of men is by the Spirit of God, in his commands, promises, and threatenings; that is, his voice, the whole revelation of his mind and will. And when a due impression is not made hereby on the soul, to work it to an answerableness in its principles and operations thereunto, men are said to resist the Spirit, Acts 7:51; that is, to disappoint the end of those means which he makes use of in his application to them. By what ways or means soever this is done, men are thereby said to harden their hearts. Prejudices, false principles, ignorance, darkness and deceit in the mind, obstinacy and stubbornness in the will, corruption and cleaving unto earthly and sensual objects in the affections, all concur in this evil. Hence in the application of this example, Acts 7:13, the apostle exhorts the Hebrews to take heed that they be not “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Now, deceit firstly and principally respects the mind, and therein consists the beginning and entrance into the sin of hardening the heart. A brief consideration of the condition of the people in the wilderness upon whom this evil is charged, will give much light into the nature of the sin that here comes under prohibition. What were the dealings of God with them is generally known, and we have elsewhere declared. As he gave them instruction from heaven, in the revelation and delivery of the law, and intrusted them with the singular benefit of the erection of his worship amongst them, so he afforded them all sorts of mercies, protections, deliverances, provision, and guidance; as also made them sensible of his severity and holiness, in great and terrible judgments. All these, at least the most part of them, were also given out unto them in a marvelous and amazing manner. The end of all these dispensations was to teach them his will, to bring them to hearken to his voice, to obey his commands, that it might be well with them and theirs, In this state and condition sundry things are recorded of them; as,
(1.) That they were dull, stupid, and slow of heart in considering the ways, kindness, and works of God. They set not their hearts to them to weigh and ponder them, Deuteronomy 32:28-29.
(2.) What they did observe and were moved at (as such was the astonishing greatness of some of the works of God amongst them, such the overpowering obligations of many of his dealings with them, that they could not but let in some present transient sense of them upon their minds), yet they soon forgot them and regarded them not, Psalms 78:11-12.
(3.) That their affections were so violently set upon earthly, sensual, perishing things, that in comparison of them they despised all the promises and threatenings of God, resolving to pursue their own hearts’ lusts whatever might become of them in this world and to eternity, Psalms 78:18-19. All which are manifest in the whole story of their ways and doings, By this means their minds and spirits were brought into such a frame and condition, that as they did not, so they could not hearken to the voice of God, or yield obedience unto him: they became
“a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God,” Psalms 78:8.
For by these ways and degrees of sin, they contracted a habit of obstinacy, perverseness, and uncircumcision of heart, neither did the Lord, in his sovereign pleasure, see good by his effectual grace to circumcise the hearts of the persons of that generation, that they might fear and serve him, whereby they came to be hardened unto final unbelief and impenitency. It appears, then, that unto this sinful hardening of the heart, which the people in the wilderness were guilty of, and which the apostle here warns the Hebrews to avoid, there are three things that do concur:
(1.) The mind’s sinful inadvertency and neglect, in not taking due notice of the ways and means whereby God calls any unto faith and obedience.
(2.) A sinful forgetfulness and casting out of the heart and mind such convictions as God, by his word and works, his mercies and judgments, deliverances and afflictions, at any time is pleased to cast into them and fasten upon them.
(3.) An obstinate cleaving of the affections unto carnal and sensual objects, practically preferring them above the motives unto obedience that God proposeth to us. Where these things are, the hearts of men are so hardened that in an ordinary way they cannot hearken unto the voice of God. We may hence also take some observations for our instruction.
Obs. 8. Such is the nature, efficacy, and power of the voice or word of God, that men cannot withstand or resist it, without a sinful hardening of themselves against it.
There is a natural hardness in all men before they are dealt withal by the word, or this spiritual hardness is in them by nature. Hardness is an adjunct of that condition, or the corruption of nature, as is darkness, blindness, deadness, and the like; or it is a result or consequent of them. Men being dark and blind, and dead in trespasses and sins, have thence a natural hardness, an unfitness to receive impressions of a contrary kind, and a resistency thereunto. And this frame may be increased and corroborated in men by various vicious and prejudicate habits of mind, contracted by custom, example, education, and the practice of sin. All this may be in men antecedent unto the dispensation or preaching of the word unto them. Now unto the removal or taking away of this hardness, is the voice or the word of God in the dispensation of it designed. It is the instrument and means which God useth unto that end. It is not, I confess, of itself absolutely considered, without the influencing operation of the Spirit of grace, able to produce this effect. But it is able to do it in its own kind and place; and is thence said to be “able to save our souls,” James 1:21;
“able to build us up, and to give us an inheritance among all them which are sanctified,” Acts 20:32;
being also that “immortal seed” whereby we are begotten unto God, 1 Peter 1:23. By this means doth God take away that rural darkness or blindness of men;
“opening the eyes of the blind, turning them from darkness to light,” Acts 26:18;
“shining in their hearts, to give them the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2 Corinthians 4:6;
as also “quickening them who were dead in trespasses and sins;” and thereby he removes that hardness which is a consequent of these things. And God doth not apply a means to any end which is unsuited to it or insufficient for it. There is therefore usually such a concomitancy of the Spirit with every dispensation of the word of God that is according to his mind and will, as is able and sufficient to remove that hardness which is naturally upon the hearts of men.
Everyone, therefore, to whom the word is duly revealed, who is not converted unto God, doth voluntarily oppose his own obstinacy unto its efficacy and operation. Here lies the stop to the progress of the word in its work upon the souls of men. It stays not unless it meets with an actual obstinacy in their wills, refusing, rejecting, and resisting of it. And God, in sending of it, doth accompany his word with that power which is meet to help and save them in the state and condition wherein it finds them. If they will add new obstinacy and hardness to their minds and hearts, if they will fortify themselves against the word with prejudices and dislike, if they will resist its work through a love to their lusts and corrupt affections, God may justly leave them to perish, and to be filled with the fruit of their own ways. And this state of things is variously expressed in the Scripture. As,
(1.) By God’s willingness for the salvation of those unto whom he grants his word as the means of their conversion, Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4.
(2.) By his expostulations with them that reject his word, casting all the cause of their destruction upon themselves, Matthew 23:34. Now, as these things cannot denote an intention in God for their conversion which should be frustrated, which were to ascribe weakness and changeableness unto him; nor can they signify an exercise towards them of that effectual grace whereby the elect are really converted unto God, which would evert the whole nature of effectual grace, and subject it to the corrupt wills of men; so they express more than a mere proposal of the outward means, which men are not able savingly to receive and improve. There is this also in them, that God gives such an efficacy unto these means as that their operation doth proceed on the minds and souls of men in their natural condition, until, by some new acts o£ their wills, they harden themselves against them. And,
(3.) So the gospel is proposed to the wills of men, Isaiah 55:1, Revelation 22:17.
Hence it is that the miscarriage of men under the dispensation of the word, is still charged upon some positive actings of their wills in opposition unto it, Isaiah 30:15, Matthew 23:37, John 3:19; John 5:40. They perish not, they defeat not the end of the word towards themselves, by a mere abode and continuance in the state wherein the word finds them, but by rejecting the counsel of God made known to them for their healing and recovery, Luke 7:30.
Obs. 9. Many previous sins make way for the great sin of finally rejecting the voice or word of God.
The not hearing the voice of God, which is here reproved, is that which is final, which absolutely cuts men off from entering into the rest of God. Unto this men come not without having their hearts hardened by depraved lusts and affections. And that it is their nature so to do shall be afterwards declared. Here we only respect the connection of the things spoken of. Hardening of the heart goes before final impenitency and infidelity, as the means and cause of it. Things do not ordinarily come to an immediate issue between God and them to whom the word is preached. I say ordinarily, because God may immediately cut off any person upon the first refused tender of the gospel; and it may be he deals so with many, but ordinarily he exerciseth much patience towards men in this condition. He finds them in a state of nature; that is, of enmity against him. In this state he offers them terms of peace, and waits thereon, during the season of his good pleasure, to see what the event will be. Many in the meantime attend to their lusts and temptations, and so contract an obdurate senselessness upon their hearts and minds; which, fortifying them against the calls of God, prepares them for final impenitency. And this is the first thing that is considerable, in the general matter of the exhortation in hand. Secondly, The time and season for the performance of the duty exhorted unto is expressed, “ To-day.” “To-day if ye will hear his voice.” The various respects of the limitation of the season of this duty have been spoken to in the opening of the words. The moral sense of it is no more but the present and proper season of any duty; which what is required unto, in this case of yielding obedience to the voice of God, shall be afterwards declared.