Shelby G. Floyd
Concerning those who rejected Christ and his message, the apostle John observed,
“Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him” (John 12: 39-41 NKJV).
As we have observed previously, those who rejected Christ could not believe on him because they would not. They were stubborn in will and steeped in sin.
The reason they did not believe is because they could not, and the reason they could not is because they would not, and therefore the “could not” of John 12:39, is not a physical, absolute or arbitrary impossibility, but rather a moral impossibility because of the state of mind, and attitude of the heart toward God, his Son and his message. And yet, we notice that John quoted Isaiah 6:10 to the effect that God had blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, in order that they should not see with their eyes nor understand with their heart and be converted, and therefore be saved from their sins.
On the surface, this looks like that God is directly responsible for their blindness, hardness of heart, lack of faith and therefore salvation. The statement in Isaiah reads in this fashion:
“9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 “Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed”
(Isaiah 6: 9-10 NKJV).
If God directly blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of those who heard Christ, then those people were not morally responsible for their unbelief and rejection of Christ and his message. But if God hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes by sending Christ with a message of moral and spiritual light and truth, and they closed their eyes to that light, and hardened their hearts to that truth, then God was not directly responsible, but only indirectly by sending the light and the truth.
God gives us physical light through the sun, but if a man closes his eyes and refuses to look upon the light, he then will become blind to the light. In the same way, God sends us the wonderful light of the gospel, but if a man chooses to ignore and to reject that light and truth, then he himself is responsible for his unbelief, and hardness and impenitent heart. But of course, it is true that what is done through an instrument or agent can be attributed to the one who is originally responsible for that agent or instrument. God then is in no way responsible for man’s unbelief and rejection of the gospel. Each man carries his own responsibility in this case because he is a free moral agent with the power of choice between right and wrong.
Isaiah 6:10 has been quoted and applied several times in the New Testament: (1) by John the apostle in our text under consideration (John 12:40); (2) the quotation from Isaiah is applied by Jesus Christ in his parable of the sower to the people who were hearing the word of God. In this connection the disciples of Christ asked why he spoke to the people in parables, and Jesus replied because it was given unto his disciples to know the mysteries the kingdom of heaven, but to others it was not given. Then he explained,
“13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them”
(Matthew 13:13-15 NKJV).
This settles the question as to who is morally responsible for the unbelief and rejection of the truth. Jesus said that they did not see, hear, understand and were not converted because the people themselves had become dull in their hearing of moral truth, and they had closed their own eyes to the blessed light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
Therefore God only hardened their hearts and closed their eyes in the sense that he sent the message of truth and righteousness which was the immediate occasion for their closing their own eyes and hardening their own hearts to this wonderful message of truth. But the disciples of Jesus Christ understood his message because their eyes and ears were open and attentive to see and hear the truth of God: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
The steps by which people then can truly be saved from their sins are these: (1) see the truth with the eye of the mind; (2) hear the truth with the ears of the mind; (3) understand or perceive the truth; (4) to be converted or turned from sin to righteousness; and (5) to be healed of the moral malady of sin by the truth of the gospel. From this we observe that God is not responsible for the hardening of the human heart, but each man is responsible himself for the condition of his heart and the receptiveness of the word of God.
Paul affirms that the god of this world, the devil, old Satan, blinds the minds of men in order that they might not believe the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). God blinds men by sending them the light. The devil blinds the eyes of mankind by sending them darkness, and each person blinds his own eyes by choosing darkness over light. Therefore there is no contradiction in any of these passages, but they are all in harmony with the principle that each person is morally responsible for his choice of actions. May God help all of us to walk in the light as Jesus Christ is in the light?
Copyright © 2019 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142