There are Scriptures which contemplate a succession of eras or times all along the course of the earth's history, from the time of the flood, I may say, to the days of Antichrist, when there has been, or is to be, a judicial visitation, under the hand of God, upon the hearts, understandings, and consciences of men.
I might present the following instances: (There are other instances of this judicial hardening; but they are of a private and not of a dispensational nature, and, therefore, I do not put them among these cases.)
The old Gentile world . . Romans 1:28.
Pharaoh or Egypt . . . . . Exodus 9:21.
The kings of Canaan . . . Joshua 11:20.
Israel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Isaiah 6.
Christendom . . . . . . . . .2 Thessalonians 2.
These scriptures show us this judicial dementation of which I am speaking; and they further show us, that the fruit or character of this dementation may be very startling, such as we could not easily have believed or feared.
Under it, men of refinement and intelligence may adopt all kinds of religious vanity; rulers and statesmen may be blinded to the plainest maxims of government. Did not Pharaoh persist in a course which, in the mouth of witness after witness, was sure to be the ruin of his kingdom? Did not the nations of Canaan tremble at the report of the conquests of Israel, and of what God had done for Israel; and yet, in spite of all that, did they not madly resist Israel? (See Joshua) And will not whole communities of intelligent, refined, advanced people, by-and-by, bow to the claims of one who shows himself to be God, setting himself up above all that is worshipped?
This has been thus, and will be thus still, under this judicial dementation; worldly men violate the clearest and most sensible means of their own interests, and religious men depart from the simplest instructions of the truth. We are not to wonder at anything. The very idols which men have taken as spoils of war, they have afterwards bowed down to as their gods. (2 Chron. 25:14.) For what folly, what incredible blindness of understanding, will not the infatuated heart of man betray. But this dementation is never sent forth to visit man until he has righteously exposed himself to judgment. All the cases show this. Pharaoh, for instance, had, in deepest ingratitude, forgotten Joseph. The Amorites of Canaan had filled up the measure of their sins. The old Gentiles had brought this reprobate mind on themselves. (Rom. 1:28.) Israel "had not," Jerusalem "would not." (Matt. 13:12; Matt. 23:37.) And the strong delusion is to be sent, by-and-by, abroad upon Christendom, only because "they loved not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
This hardening precedes destruction; but it comes after man has ripened his iniquity. God endures with all longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, as He fashions by His Spirit His own elect vessels of mercy ere He glorifies them. "Whom He will He hardens," is surely true; but He wills to show His wrath in this way, of hardening, or of prejudicial dementation, only in the case of those whom He has in much longsuffering endured. (Rom. 9:11-22.)
Thus, then, we see there is such a process in the judgment of God as the hardening of the heart - that this is never executed till man has ripened himself in evil - and that the fruit of this may appear in such human folly and blindness as we should never have apprehended, or perhaps conceived.
Let this prepare us for things which not only may shortly come to pass, but which have already appeared. Men of learning and of taste, men of morals and religion, men of skill in the science of government, and whole nations famed for dignity and greatness, each in their generation may be turned to fables and to follies enough to shake the commonest understandings in ordinary times.
I do not say the "strong delusion" has gone forth; but there are symptoms and admonitions of its not being far off. What a voice has this for us, to keep near to the Lord in the assurance of His love, to love His truth, to walk immediately with Himself, and to promise ourselves that His tarrying is not long.