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Now, if we look into the history of God's conduct towards Pharaoh, we shall find, that he used all the proper and necessary means, to form him a vessel of wrath, and fit him for that miserable end, to which he was appointed.
1. He raised him up out of nothing into being. He gave him a rational and immortal existence. He endued him with all the intellectual faculties, which were necessary to constitute him a free, moral agent. Pharaoh
appears to have possessed a strong and capacious mind. He was certainly capable of enlarged views, He had an extensive reach in his politics. His designs and measures, with respect to the children of Israel, were deep and well adapted, to answer the purposes of his own personal power and interest. This shows that the Father of spirits gave him superior abilities and placed him high in mental eminence.
2. God raised him up to the throne of Egypt. He girded him, and carried him in the arms of his providence, through infancy, childhood, and youth, up to riper years. He gave him opportunities for cultivating his natural powers, and for qualifying himself for the highest station in life. At length, he placed the crown upon his head, and put the reins of government into his hands. He now stood at the head of a nation which held the first rank among the nations of the earth, in respect to power, wealth, learning, and all the refinements of polished life. In this splendid situation, he was surrounded with every thing, that could please his taste, flatter his vanity, and enflame his ambition. He knew no man in the world, who was able to control either his power, or his pursuits. To such a giddy height God was pleased to raise him in the course of his providence. And this was a natural and necessary step, to prepare him for his final fate. For it is a divine maxim, that "pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
3. God not only raised Pharaoh to the pinnacle of human glory, but also removed from him outward restraints. Barely giving him the power of an unlimited monarch, was virtually setting him above all legal influence and control. But besides this, God removed Moses from his presence and kingdom, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, and thoroughly acquainted with all the arts and intrigues of a court. Had this wise and pious man been permitted to stand near the throne, or even to live in the kingdom, his example and influence might have been a silent and powerful check upon the ambition and cruelty of a lawless tyrant. But it seems God sent him into Midian, on purpose to give Pharaoh ample opportunity of indulging his inhuman and malignant disposition in oppressing and abusing his innocent subjects. Accordingly we find, that it was in the absence of Moses, that he devised and passed those cruel edicts, which were designed to break the spirits and destroy the lives of the unoffending Israelites. God meant, by taking off outward restraints, to give him a fair opportunity of filling up the measure of his sins, and of ripening himself for deserved and predestinated ruin.
4. God endured this vessel of wrath, with much long-suffering and forbearance. Instead of treating him according to his deserts, he waited long to be gracious. He used a variety of means to bring him to repentance. He sent him one solemn message after another, by the mouth of Moses and of Aaron. And to impress those messages the more deeply on his mind, he followed them with one awful judgment after another, until he had spread desolation, terror, and mourning through the land. These dreadful scenes
were too heavy for Pharaoh to bear, and constrained him time after time to stoop, and beg for relief. His cries were heard, and respite was granted. But mercies, as well as judgments, conspired to increase his stupidity and hardness of heart, which prepared him for a more unexpected and more aggravated doom.
But how came Pharaoh to wax worse and worse under both the smiles and frowns of heaven? Mercies and afflictions have a moral tendency to soften and meliorate the hearts of good men. Saints have often derived great benefit from the manurings and cultivations of divine providence. And even obdurate sinners, such as Manasseh, have been brought to humility and repentance, under divine corrections. How, then, did it come to pass, that Pharaoh grew more and more stupid and incorrigible, under all the frowns as well as patience and long-suffering of God? This pertinent question leads to another important obseryation.
5. That God hardened his heart. We read, “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” And we read again, “The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will." Pharaoh, as a man and as a king, was just as much dependent on God, as other men and other kings. His heart, therefore, was in the hand of the Lord, who had a right as well as power, to turn it whithersoever he pleased. And he was pleased to turn it against all good. God told Moses before he sent him to Pharaoh, that he would harden his heart; and he repeatedly told Moses after he had sent him to Phara. oh, that he had hardened his heart. God intended to hinder Pharaoh from granting the request of the children of Israel, until he had prepared him for his
final overthrow. And he foresaw, that nothing short of hardening his heart would fit him for that fatal event. For, the powers and faculties, which he had given him; the exalted dignity, which he had conferred upon him; and all the peculiar circumstances, under which he had placed him; would have mutually conspired to fit him for heaven, if his heart had been tender and benevolent. It is often thought and said, that nothing more was necessary on God's part, in order to fit Pharaoh for destruction, than barely to leave him to himself. But God knew, that no external means and motives would be sufficient of themselves, to form his moral character. He determined, therefore, to operate on his heart itself, and cause him to put forth certain evil exercises, in the view of certain external motives. When Moses called upon him to let the people go; God stood by him, and moved him to refuse. When Moses interceded for him and procured him respite; God stood by him, and moved him to exult in his obstinacy. When the people departed from his kingdom; God stood by him, and moved him to pursue after them, with increased malice and revenge. And what God did on such particular occasions, he did at all times. He continually hardened his heart, and governed all the exercises of his mind, from the day of his birth to the day of his death. This was absolutely necessary, to prepare him for his final state. All other methods, without this, would have failed of fitting him for destruction.
It is now time to make it appear, if possible,
III. That God is to be justified in his treatment of Pharaoh.
We must proceed upon the supposition, that God did treat him in the manner, which has been represented; and especially, that he did, among other things,
actually harden his heart. For, if this be not supposed, there is no occasion to say a single word, to justify the divine conduct, nor so much as to inquire, why it is to be justified. But supposing this to have been sufficiently proved, it may be observed,
1. That better judges, than we can pretend to be, have approved of God's treatment of Pharaoh. We find his own testimony in favor of God and against himself. In the verse before the text, God told him, that he would cut him off from the earth. And in the text, he told him that in very deed he had raised him up for this purpose. But we read afterwards in the twenty seventh verse of the context, “Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: The LORD IS RIGHTEOUS, and I and my people are wicked.” This Pharaoh said, after God had raised him up; after he had taken off restraints from his mind; after he had sent severe judgments upon him; after he had hardened his heart; and after he had told him, that he had raised him up to destroy him. By this time, Pharaoh was nearly ripened for ruin, and properly prepared to judge, whether God had injured him, or whether he had injured God. And he freely acknowledges, that he was wicked, and had injured God, and that God was righteous, and had never injured him. This testimony has every mark of truth and sincerity. And who shall presume to impeach the divine conduct towards Pharaoh, after he himself has publicly and solemnly justified it?
Moses and Aaron were well acquainted with the whole series of God's conduct towards Pharaoh, in the most critical and important stage of his life. God told them his ultimate design with respect to the king of Egypt. They also carried his messages to Pharaoh, and brought back his answers to God. They were