Isaiah 6:8-13 (see also Jeremiah 5:21; Jeremiah 6:10; Jeremiah 18:6; John 12:39; Matt. 13:13)
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, Houses are without people And the land is utterly desolate, “The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. “Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, and it will again be subject to burning, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”
This prophecy was quoted at John 12:37-41 and Acts 28:24-29. See also Luke 13:6-9.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “It must be kept in mind that divine hardening never happens from the beginning, but always follows the rejection of His first act of mercy. It is never unconditional, arbitrary or without first being conditioned upon a person’s willful act of sin. The Calvinist error is to suggest that divine hardening can be something that God decides to do to a person in eternity, and even lasting over a lifetime, and God initiates this before the person has sinned (cf. ‘doomed from the womb’ is a fitting slogan for this).” (SEA, emphasis mine)
Former Calvinist, Steven Hitchcock, writes: “Here then is a principle plainly laid out in the Scriptures. God hardens the hearts of men when they close the door of their hearts to His Holy Spirit.” (Recanting Calvinism, p.206, emphasis mine)
God stated: “Turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.” (Jeremiah 18:11) But the people said: “Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, following our own evil desires.” (Jeremiah 18:12) God was willing, but they were unwilling, and the result was God’s righteous indignation. One important lesson from this is that God determines the consequences of our choices. God’s sovereignty is that He gets the last word.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “First, the prophecy concerns Israel, not all people in general. So the Calvinist interpretation is faulty from the start! Second, Jesus gave the reason why some (obviously, not all) of the Jewish people were being treated thus: ‘For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him’ (Matt. 13:12, NASB). And then Jesus adds: ‘Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand’ (Matt. 13:13). It is painfully obvious that His speaking to the Jewish people in parables was to test them: ‘For whoever has, to him more shall be given.’ Whoever has what? Jesus said earlier: ‘He who has ears, let him hear’ (Matt. 13:9). So, those who are interested in hearing and understanding Jesus’ words, knowledge shall be granted to them (and vice versa). Third, look at Jesus’ conclusion: ‘For the heart of this people [the Jewish people] has become dull [not dull from birth], with their ears they scarcely hear [personal responsibility], and they have closed their eyes [personal responsibility], Otherwise [and here is the key] they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM’ (Matt. 13:15). This runs against everything the Calvinist stands for. The Isaiah passage is one of judgment for Israel’s stubbornness, not some eternal unconditional decree of election and reprobation.” (SEA)
God set a trap for Israel, so that those whose hearts are not right before God, may fall in it, and stumble over the stumbling stone, the cornerstone, Christ. So this was a conditional and temporary decree of Reprobation, through a partial hardening (Romans 11:25), with the condition being Israel’s history of persistent rejection of God’s kindness toward them:
Ezra 9:7: “Our whole history has been one of great sin. That is why we and our kings and our priests have been at the mercy of the pagan kings of the land. We have been killed, captured, robbed, and disgraced, just as we are today.” [NLT]
Acts 7:51: “‘You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.’”
This passage seems to severely challenge the Calvinist doctrine of Total Inability. God stated that He is doing these things as punishment, so that they could not be saved. Obviously, God had wanted them to be saved, which is evident when He stated: “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, a people who continually provoke Me to My face.” (Isaiah 65:2) However, having been spurned, God now turns them over to reprobation, which of course is a temporary condition: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery--so that you will not be wise in your own estimation--that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25)
John Calvin comments: “And it at once adds that they are not able to believe, for it is written again, ‘Blind the heart of this people’ (Isa. 6:10). Christ has the same purpose when He attributes it to the secret counsel of God that the truth of the Gospel is not revealed indiscriminately to all but is put forward under enigmas and remotely so that thicker darkness will cover the minds of the people. I agree it is always true that those whom God blinds deserve this punishment.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, A Harmony of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. II, pp.66-67, emphasis mine)
Regarding whether people deserve punishment, according to Calvinism, God decreed whatsoever comes to pass, with the result that John Calvin had this to say:
John Calvin writes: “When God prefers some to others, choosing some and passing others by, the difference does not depend on human dignity or indignity. It is therefore wrong to say that the reprobate are worthy of eternal destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.120-121, emphasis mine)
Determinism seems to get in the way of, otherwise, accurate theology.
Calvin continues: “But all the reprobate are deprived of the light of life, by God either withdrawing His Word from them or keeping their eyes and ears blocked up so that they may not hear and see.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, A Harmony of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. II, p.67, emphasis mine)
That’s an Arminian-like testament to the power of the living and active Gospel. For if God does not judicially withdraw it, then they may hear and see, and thus return and be healed.
John Calvin adds: “‘He has…deadened their hearts.’ Through these words he intends his Word to be a punishment to the reprobates, that it may make their blindness worse and plunge them into deeper darkness.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.311, emphasis mine)
By the words, “worse” and “deeper,” Calvin recognizes the problem for his theology. Why do they need to be blinded if they are already blind, as Calvinism teaches? Why do they need to be plunged into “deeper darkness” if they are already in total darkness? Notice that if God had not done this, that they might have been “converted” and “healed.” Therefore, they did not have Total Inability to believe in the Gospel upon hearing it, as Calvinism teaches, until God hardened them for their sin of rebellion against His repeated gracious offers in which He held out His hands all day long.
John Calvin comments: “This prophecy differs from the former in that there the prophet says that no one believes except those whom God of his free grace enlightens in his own good pleasure, the reason for which is not apparent. Since everyone is equally ruined, God of his mere goodness distinguishes from the rest some as it seems good to him. But in this passage he speaks of the hardness with which God punished the malice of an ungrateful people. Those who do not notice these steps misunderstand the scriptural passages, which are quite different from each other.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.311, emphasis mine)
When Calvin states, “no one believes except those whom God of his free grace enlightens,” note that this passage is not talking about people that God “enlightens.” They are already enlightened enough such that if God had not “blinded their eyes” and “hardened their heart,” what might happen? The answer is “see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” Again, the prophecy states: “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” Therefore, they had “ability,” but God, in His righteous indignation and wrath, removed their ability to believe in Christ. But this wasn’t always the case. Previously, God had been willing but they were unwilling. Isaiah 65:2-3 states: “‘I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, a people who continually provoke Me to My face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks.’” Furthermore, if they were already totally “ruined” by the Fall, to the extent that they could not receive the Gospel, then why would they even need to have their eyes blinded and hearts hardened? According to Calvinism, everyone is already blind and hardened until God “enlightens” a person.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians states: “I think it is more useful to view grace in terms of relationships and not as a kind of abstract stuff that is won and lost as though each of us has a ‘grace bank account.’ Grace, in my mind, is literally the uncreated efforts of the Holy Spirit to fully reconcile us unto God. In this regard, justification and sanctification are not separated by time and experience, but in terms of relationships. In terms of our relationship with God, God is the Good Shepherd who continues to seek after us all throughout the night. This is to say that I believe that God never ceases giving grace. However, I think it is important that I share how I accommodate in my own theological nexus, the rejection of grace that I’ve built from speaking to people who claim to have once been Christians and from studies. I believe that as a Christian forfeits grace, they move themselves further and further away from God in relational terms. Without repentance at first comes an awareness of remorse but then with continued forfeiture of grace the awareness of remorse turns to guilt which is accompanied by a growing awareness and feeling of a lack of assurance. Beyond those feelings continued forfeiture of grace comes a feeling of resentment toward God and then the final rejection of God where the once-believer moves him or herself to a place where they can no longer believe. At least that is how I understand the Bible because in John 12:39 it is declared of certain people that, ‘they could not believe,’ and in the next verse where John quotes from several verses from Isaiah, we read, ‘He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.’ My view is that God reveals himself to have that person obey what he or she knows about God. If a such a person goes on believing, then God is faithful and continues to reveal more of Himself. But if a person disbelieves and then continues to disbelieve what God has revealed, then the time comes when God no longer reveals truth to him and the eyes of the man are blinded to the truth and his heart is hardened. In 2nd Thessalonians 2:10-12 we read of ‘them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ Deficiencies and shortcomings of the effectualness of grace aren’t due insufficiency of grace but to the corrosive, habitual history of hardening one’s heart, where in God’s voice upon the heart gradually diminishes as a consequence of habitual sin because of the willful inability to listen and hear his voice. Very sad.” (SEA)