For the first part of 2018, in these bulletin articles we have been looking at the subject of suffering. But today we return to our long-term series on the Westminster Larger Catechism, published in the 17th Century. We had started examining the first commandment of the ten commandments: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). We saw the duties of the first commandment and then began to examine the sins forbidden by the commandment, such as unbelief, atheism, self-seeking, despair, loving the world; ignoring, forgetting and hating God. But what other sins are forbidden?
Another sin that demonstrates rebellion against God is hardness of heart, even in the face of judgement.
The Apostle Paul warns Christians against the hardness of heart of those who don’t know God: ‘So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way’ (Ephesians 4:17-20).
In the Old Testament, Pharaoh of Egypt is an example of someone who regularly hardened his heart toward God and would not do what God commanded. For example we read: ‘Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go”’ (Exodus 7:13-14). And even when plague after plague of judgement was poured out on Egypt, Pharaoh continued to remain insensible under God’s wrath.
Jeremiah makes a similar observation about the Jews living in Jerusalem during his day: ‘You struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent’ (Jeremiah 5:3).
Sadly we often see such a response to God’s judgement. When people experience intense pain, instead of their hearts becoming softer towards God, their hearts become even harder. Trauma to human skin can sometimes soften and break it, but other times trauma only brings hardened callous. So it is with the human heart under God’s judgements.
Thus the book of Hebrews warns against the sin of hardening our hearts towards God. ‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion”’ (Hebrews 3:12-15).
So, do you recognise your guilt in hardening your heart against God, even when he is judging you? Have you gone to Christ for forgiveness of your sin and asked for a heart that is soft towards God?