THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD
By Wayne Camp
2 Samuel 7:22 Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.
Titus 2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Revelation 19:17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God.
A study of God is the most sublime study in which we may engage. It seems so insurmountable for a mere creature of God, as I am, to try to expound concerning the Great Creator. Certainly this would not be possible were it not that God has revealed himself in the Bible. When we approach this, we must proceed with reverence and utmost caution, and above all, prayerful humility. We must put off our shoes, for the ground whereon we walk is holy ground.
When we study about God there are some things which we must keep in mind.
First, we must remember that he is the maker and supreme ruler of the heavens and earth and is not answerable to man. Hebrews 3:4 tells us that "He that buildeth all things is God." In Romans 9:20, 21 the apostle Paul says, "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest" against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?" Certainly this lets us know plainly that God is the maker of all things and of all men. Who are we to question his supreme rule and rights as a Creator?
Secondly, when we study about God and his purpose and plan, there will be those things against which we will rebel because of our fleshly nature. As Paul said in Romans 8:7, "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Our fleshly nature will rebel at the complete rulership of God over the universe and of his purpose and plan as revealed in the teachings of the Scripture.
Thirdly, we must beware of figures of speech which, if accepted as not being figures of speech, make God as changeable as man and reacting to the whims of man. They also pose unanswerable contradictions. These figures are called anthropomorphisms. This is a humanization of God. Webster says, "An interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics." In the Bible these attribute human forms, acts, and attributes to God, such as God repenting and so forth.
Fourthly, we must remember that the Bible is the final authority, not human reasoning, not human planning. The Scriptures, as revealed in II Timothy 3:16 & 17, are an all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. In this series we will consult some human authorities, but we must always be sure that their reasoning is in line with the word of God.
Fifthly, we need to remember that the Bible does not contradict itself. Therefore, where the Bible is plain and God says, "I change not," and then there are those Scriptures that seem to indicate that he does change; we must recognize that the plain emphatic statement of God must be accepted, and other statements which appear to contradict will have to be reconciled with those that are plain and without doubt as to their meaning.
Sixthly, we must remember that God cannot make a mistake or commit any act of sin.
Our subject is THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD. Let me say without hesitation that God is immutable, unchangeable! If God is changeable, or mutable, how can we believe that the Bible is still good for today? Perhaps he has had to change because of the actions of man.
THE AFFIRMATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF GOD'S IMMUTABILITY.
First of all let us notice the affirmation of the doctrine of God's immutability.
The first affirmation that I wish to note is found in Numbers 23:19 & 20 where Balaam affirms that God is not a man. After Balaam had made repeated efforts to get God to change his attitude and allow him to curse the nation of Israel because of their sin, God refused to do so because of the covenant that he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Balaam returns to Balak to give him his answer, among other things he says, "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it." "God is not a man that he should repent," Balaam tells us. "God is not a man that he should lie." When God has spoken, he will do what he has said he will do; he will make it good. No man is able to reverse that which God has set in order.
Then we note also that this is affirmed by Samuel, in I Samuel 15:29. Samuel has met King Saul, and King Saul has sinned. Note the words of Samuel as he speaks to Saul: "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man that he should repent."
Again Job tells us in Job 23:13 & 14 that what God purposes to do, He does. Job says, "But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him." Note that description, "He is in one mind, and who can turn him? And what his soul desireth, even that he doeth." In Psalm 33:11, Proverbs 19:21, and Ecclesiastes 3:14 we learn that God's counsel never changes. Psalm 33:11 The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Proverbs 19:21 There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand. Ecclesiastes 3:14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.
Furthermore, Gods own declaration affirms the doctrine of the immutability of God. In Malachi 3:6 he says, "For l am the Lord; I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." Again in Romans 11:25-29 we find that his gifts and callings are without repentance. In this passage the apostle Paul is writing to the Roman Christians concerning the fate of the Jewish nation. Some thought that God had cast them off forever, but listen to Paul as he answers this argument in Romans 11. He says, beginning with verse 25, "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; the blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance"(Rom. 11:25-29). God has made certain promises to the nation of Israel. God has made certain promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Regardless of what has happened to the nation of Israel, Paul tells us that these things happened for our sakes, for the sake of the Gentiles. Even though Israel has been blinded in part [at the time that Paul is writing] he points out that for the gospel's sake, or concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your [Gentiles] sakes. But, concerning the election they are beloved for the fathers' sakes, and "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." Therefore, God will do what He said He will do in the nation of Israel, and they will yet be restored because God is unchangeable. His counsel is immutable or unchangeable. As the writer of the book of Hebrews says, "For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew, unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (Heb. 6:17-18). Yes, God's counsel is immutable. And again James 1:17 tells us that there is no variableness with God, nor even the shadow of turning. James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. God fulfills his plans and purposes. God does not vary from his plan and program, and He doesn't even have the faintest hint, or shadow, of turning from His plans and purposes. Man does not change God's course in the universe. God is going to fulfill his plan. He has never changed his plans and purposes, nor will he ever change his plans and purposes. He is the Lord who emphatically declares, "I change not!"
Then we note also that change or repentance is hidden from the eyes of God. Hosea 13:14 tells us: ". . . repentance shall be hid from thine eyes." Again we note that nothing man can do can change the work that God has purposed to do, for "whatsoever he doeth, it shall be forever," Ecclesiastes 3:14.
E. Y. Mullens in his book, The Christian Religion In Its Doctrinal Expression, says, "By immutability we define God as unchangeable in his nature and purposes."
J. P. Boyce in his Abstract: of Systematic Theology says, "By immutability of God is meant that he is incapable of change, either in duration of life, or in nature, character, will or happiness. In none of these, nor in any other respect is there any possibility of change."
T. P. Simmons, author of A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine, said, "Immutability is implied in infinity and perfection. Any change, either for the better or for the worse, implies either prior or subsequent imperfection and finiteness."
Again we notice that God is immutable but active. Strong says,
Immutability must not be confounded with immobility. Now let us illustrate. The abolition of the Mosaic dispensation does not indicate that God changed his plan, but it is evidence that God was executing his plan. Christ did not come as an afterthought. He came in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4) to fulfill the determinate counsel of God (Acts 2:23).
Christ died just as God had decreed and promised that he would die. Note Acts 3:18, "But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled." Again in Acts 4:24-28, "And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together." And note verse 28, "For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done".
Yes, these people were doing the very thing that God had determined and decreed beforehand. His counsel did not change. His plan was not thwarted in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But, someone says, "What if the Jews had accepted Christ?" Well, it was already settled in prophecy and in God's counsel that they would not accept Christ, and they did not do it.
THE OBJECTIONS TO THE DOCTRINE OF
THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD
Now then, the second thing that we want to note is the objections to the doctrine of the immutability of God. Let me say before I begin to note these objections that I know where some of you may stand today because I have stood there also. I used to believe that there are things which will change God. I used to believe, for instance, the first objection: "Prayer changes God." And I would run hastily to II Kings 2O:1-6 and note that God had changed. But when you read that you'll see that there was not a change in God or his purpose. There was a change in Hezekiah, but not a change in God. God did that which he had purposed and promised to do already, as he points out in verse 6 of II Kings 2O. He says that he did it for his sake and for David's sake. God did what he did in delivering this city and delivering Hezekiah, because of what he had promised to David and to Himself. Our prayers must be in accordance with God's will if we are to receive our request. In I John 5:14 John said, "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." It's not when God comes to our will, but when we so pray that we come into conformity to his will. When we pray with a sincere desire in our heart, we can be assured that we will get that which we need, even when we don't know how to ask for it. We will get that which is in accordance with God's will. How do we know this? Because, first of all, the Holy Spirit causes us to pray. In both Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 we are taught that he hath sent forth his spirit into our hearts crying "Abba Father." This is true of every true believer; every child of God. He causes us to pray is the idea, causes us to cry out to God as our Father. And then we note also that the Holy spirit leads us in our prayers. In Romans 3:26 this is verified. But let us first note verse 14 of Romans 8, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Then in verse 26, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts, [verse 27] knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Therefore, it is not a change on the part of God when we pray. Rather we pray, and through the aid and help of the Spirit, who makes intercession for the saint, according to the will of God, we become conformed to the will of God. The change is in us, not in the immutable God of heaven.
A second objection to the doctrine of the immutability of God is one that I particularly used to believe, and that is "that God reacts to man as man reacts to God." There are at least four things wrong with this theory.
First of all, it is nowhere taught in the Scriptures. In fact, it is a contradiction of several Scriptures. Two particularly I will note: James 1:17 "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." And then Malachi 3:6, "I am the Lord; I change not."
The second thing wrong with this idea is that it is opposed to the independence and sovereignty of God.
J. P. Boyce said of such teachings, "It supposes him [God] to have made beings of such a nature that his own actions and will must depend upon theirs, and that he must await their decision, wherever it will have any influential bearings on anything future, before he can know or purpose what he himself will do."
Dr. A. J. Kirkland says, "Thus is proved the fact that God is the absolute Sovereign rule of power in His kingdom." The doctrine of the sovereignty of God demands this conclusion. If there should be one thing existing anywhere at any time that God could not rule or control, that thing would be bigger than God and would dethrone him as God."
Spurgeon summed up this attitude of God reacting to man as man reacts to God and kindred ideas in this statement: "Men will put God everywhere but on his throne."
A third objection to this idea is that "it makes God a spectator of the universe rather than the supreme ruler of it." The confession of faith found in the Baptist Way Book, and adopted by many of our Missionary Baptist Churches, states, "We believe that there is one, and only one living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, who is Jehovah, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of Heaven and earth; . . ." If God is the supreme ruler of heaven and earth, then he does not have to wait for man to act before he can act, and his actions are not dependent upon the actions of man.
A fourth objection to this idea that God reacts to man as man reacts to God is that. it "limits the knowledge of God." If God must react to man as man reacts to him, he cannot will or purpose anything until man acts.
There is also a third objection that is offered to the immutability of God, It is that "God sometimes repents." Verses that are cited are Genesis 6:5-7; Exodus 32:14. A. W. Pink offers a very clear answer to this when he says,
These words do not mean that God changed his mind or altered his purpose, for he is 'without variableness or shadow of turning' (James 1:17). There never has been and never will be the smallest occasion for the Almighty to effect the slightest deviation from his eternal purpose, for everything was foreknown to him from the beginning, and all his counsels were ordained by infinite wisdom. When the Scripture speaks of God's repenting, it employs a figure of speech, in which the Most High condescends to speak in our language. What is intended by the above expression [that found in Exodus 32:14] is that Jehovah answered the prayer of a typical mediator.
J. P. Boyce says,
It may be stated that these are merely anthropopathic expressions, intended simply to impress upon men His great anger at sin, and His warm approbation of the repentance of those who had sinned against Him. The change of conduct, in men, not in God, had changed the relation between them and God. Sin had made them liable to his just displeasure. Repentance had brought them within the possibilities of his mercy. Had he not treated them differently, then there would have been a change in him. His very unchangeableness makes it necessary that he shall treat differently those who are innocent and those who are guilty, those who harden themselves against him and those who turn toward him for mercy, with repentant hearts.
Samuel verifies what these men have said when he says in I Samuel 15:29: "Strength of Israel is not a man that he should repent." God says in Malachi 3:6, "For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." Paul also substantiates what he says when he says that the "gifts and calling of God are without repentance," (Romans 11:29). James verifies the truth of the above statements when he says that in God there is "no variableness nor shadow of turning" (James 1:17).
THE BLESSING OF THE DOCTRINE OF
Another comfort and blessing of this doctrine of the immutability of God is it sustains us in the storms of life. When problems arise, when death occurs, when sorrows come and things are beyond our comprehension and understanding, what an anchor for the soul when we can flee to such verses as Romans 8:28, "For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." That was true when Paul wrote it. It was true in the time of Joseph when Joseph said to his brethren, "You meant it for evil; God meant it for good." And it is still good today. Oh what an anchor for the soul! If God changed, this might not be true. Perhaps it would not be true, but God does not change!
The doctrine of the immutability of God gives us a solid foundation on which to base our hope. Note when Samuel is speaking to Saul, he says, "The Strength of Israel will not repent." Our God is not a wavering piece of clay; He is not shifting sand; He is not a tumble weed; He is the Strength of Israel. He is the Rock of Ages. He does not change. What an anchor! What an assurance that he is stable as the rock of Ages! He is the Rock of Ages.
In times of our failures we are assured by the faithfulness of God and the unchangeableness of God that those of us who know him as our Saviour will not be consumed. Oh, our sins are great at times. But God says, as he did to the nation of Israel, "I am the Lord, I change not." Paul said to Timothy, "When we are unfaithful, yet he abideth faithful, he cannot deny himself." He changes not. Isn't that marvelous? Isn't that consoling? Isn't that comforting?
I am reminded of the song:
"I've anchored my soul, in the Haven of Rest,
I'll sail the wild seas no more.
The tempest may sweep o'er the wild stormy deep.
With Jesus I'm safe evermore."
And you know, sinner friend, the unchangeableness of God assures me of something else. The Bible is perfectly clear on the matter. "Whosoever will" may come to Jesus Christ. Perhaps today the Holy Spirit is convicting your heart. Perhaps today you see yourself as a sinner before the omnipotent, Holy God of heaven. You realize that you are hopelessly and helplessly lost. Your realize that your only hope lies with the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank God that he has made you realize that. You need to trust him today. Will you come to him right now? Will you trust Jesus as personal Saviour? Whosoever will may come.
And then there is even a greater assurance: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me," Jesus said, "and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Yes, if you will come to Jesus today, if you will believe on him as your personal Saviour, let me assure you he will save you from sins. He will save you for his own sake and for your sake, and heaven's sake. So today I urge you to come.
Then to those who are saved, it is still true that every child of God ought to follow the Lord in Scriptural baptism. Suffer it to be so to fulfill all righteousness. Amen.
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Last updated on Monday, August 01, 2011