“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up [allowed you to remain -Ex. 9.16], to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and he hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9.17-18. NASB).
Arminius comments: “The connection of the proposition certainly is firm. For either it will never be free for God to illustrate His power and the glory of His name in the just punishment of anyone, or it will be free for Him to decree by some purpose, in whose just condemnation He will declare His power and the glory of His name (emphasis mine).
“And truly, to take away from God the right and power of making a decree which is ‘according to election’ [9.11] is nothing else than to be unwilling that He should display His power and the glory of His name in the just hardening and punishment of certain persons. For these are joined together, to punish anyone, and to decree the same person liable to punishment. For on no one can punishment be justly inflicted except on him for whom it has been destined by a just purpose and decree (emphasis mine) . . .
“But how God would have been free to excite, harden Pharaoh, &c., will hereafter be shown generally in the refutation of the following objection . . .
“Now follows another objection of the Jews, sprung from the latter part of the conclusion immediately preceding; in the refutation of which those who urge that ‘absolute decree’ of God for simply saving some and damning others, think that they have a great support for their cause . . .
“The objection is of this kind: ‘Why, then, doth He yet find fault?’ (9.19) Which points, propounded in the form of interrogation, will be thus solved: ‘Therefore He cannot with good reason find fault, because no one can resist His will.’ The objection will be completed by the addition of the antecedent from which that consequent is deduced: ‘God hardens whom He will: Therefore He cannot with good reason find fault with those who are hardened.’
“The ratio of connection is this: ‘Because no one can resist His will.’ Hence a connect of this sort exists: ‘If no one can resist God’s will, then He cannot rightfully find fault with those whom He hardens by that will’ . . . This, then, is the objection: now let us examine what strength it has, in order that we may by that examination ascertain by what method it can be refuted, and so may devise a way to its proper refutation . . .
“To the will of God is here attributed omnipotence able to subject all things universally to itself, and in fact so subjecting them whenever the will accompanies it . . . But omnipotence does not always accompany God’s will in whatever way considered. For God wills that His law should be performed by all, which is not done. But it does not thence follow that there are two wills in God, contrary to each other; the one willing that His law be performed by all; the other, that it be not performed by many, when this will armed with omnipotence hinders the other from being done . . .
“But if man has with free will committed what deserves hardening, he incurs guilt, and is worthy of wrath, even though he be hardened by that will which cannot be resisted. For, resisting, and that freely, the will revealed in the word, which can be resisted, he falls into that necessity of the Divine decree, also revealed in the word, which cannot be resisted; and so the will of God is done respecting him, by whom the will of God has not been done. From these considerations I think an answer to that objection can easily be framed . . .
“But let the objection itself with all its foundations be always present to our eyes, compressed into a brief form, so that it may be looked at, as it were, in one moment: on this wise: ‘Can God with reason be angry with those who are hardened by His own irresistible will?’
“We may, for the sake of compendious significance, be allowed to make use of this phrase. But the Apostle’s answer is two-fold: the one, in reproof, respecting the unworthiness of the objector and the objection; the other, in refutation, with regard to the thing objected” (Works of Arminius, Vol. III, 502-507).
Before moving on to Romans 9.20, further comment is needed on the example of God’s hardening the heart of Pharaoh. The first mention concerning Pharaoh’s reaction to Moses’ demands is found in Exodus 3.19: “‘However,’ The LORD said, ‘I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, unless he is forced by a strong hand'” (HCSB). Clearly, at this point, all responsibility is laid upon Pharaoh for his stubborn will in not letting the Jews go.
God said, “‘I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles that I will perform in it. After that, he will let you go'” (Ex. 3.20). We find in Ex. 4.21 that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart “so that he won’t let the people go.” Robert D. Bergen comments: “Egyptian pharaohs believed they were divine, and Pharaoh would never have been inclined to submit to the Israelite’s God. Each time God placed a demand on him, he became more determined to resist. Thus it was both God’s demands and Pharaoh’s own pride-motivated stubbornness (Ex. 8.15, 32; 9.34) that led to his hardened heart. God would use Pharaoh’s stubbornness for a good end, to demonstrate His power and extend His reputation (9.16)” (The Apologetics Study Bible, Holman Bible Publishers, p. 92).
The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, then, must not be seen as some mystical sway over the mind of Pharaoh — as though God acted the part of a puppet master — but that God used the signs He performed to harden the heart of Pharaoh, who had no interest whatsoever in submitting to the God of Israel.
Furthermore, Scofield commented, “God permitted the wicked nature of Pharaoh to be manifested and then, in subduing Pharaoh’s opposition, God revealed His sovereign majesty. Light rejected, rightful obedience refused, inevitably hardens conscience and heart” (The Scofield Study Bible III, Oxford University Press, p. 87).
This will be vitally important when we realize that this hardening is the result of stubbornness against the will and demands of God. Israel has experienced a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11.25) because she refused to trust in God through Christ Jesus. “So then, He shows mercy to whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills” (9.18). The hardening of Israel, those who refuse to trust in Christ Jesus for righteousness, is also possible today to anyone. The warning remains: Trust Christ Jesus so that your heart may not become hardened against God; lest He give you over to a reprobate mind due to your suppression of the truth (Rom. 1.18-32).