The Immutability of God

They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old as a garment; as a vesture shall thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.Psalm 102:26,27

Doctrine

Scripture

Comments

Introduction

Is. 26:4†† Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength:

Deut. 32:4He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.

James 1:17Every 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.

1.       Godís immutability is a perfection in all his other attributes: infinity, goodness, wisdom, and holiness.

2.       Godís immutability is a glory belonging to all the attributes of God.All of His perfections are immutable.

3.       Immutability is a necessary attribute of God.God is a necessary Being; he is necessarily what he is, and, therefore, is unchangeably what he is.Mutability belongs to contingency.If any perfection of his nature could be separated from him, he would cease to be God.Whatsoever is immutable by nature is God; whatsoever is God is immutable by nature.Otherwise, if there were any change in God, he would be sometimes what he was not, and would cease to be what he was, which is against the nature, and, indeed, against the natural notion of a Deity.

In What Respect God is Immutable

God is unchangeable in His essence

Ex.3:14And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

1.        He cannot be ďI Am that I AmĒ if He changes.A name either denotes species or a particular one of the species.†† Godís name is not species, for He is the only like Him;It does not denote particularity, for there are no others from which He needs to be distinguished.Hence, His name shows His uniqueness:He Is Who He Is.Hence, He cannot change, for then He would cease to be, and become something else.What is changed properly is not, because it does not remain to be what it was; that which is changed was something, and will be something.ďI Am that I AmĒ implies an unchanging essence, for His Name is the same forever (1 John 5:13, Ephesians 5:20, and Deuteronomy 14:22).†† Abraham called on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God (Genesis 21:33).†† His name is from everlasting (Isaiah 63:16).His Name denotes His essence, which is unique and eternal.

2.        God is One (Deut. 6:4).In change, something is either taken away or added; sometimes both, as when a white wall is painted blue, or liquid water becomes steam.If God could change in some way without changing His essence, then there would be parts of Him that are accidental, not part of His essence, which destroys His Unity, as well as conceiving of something in God which is not Divine, not God.

3.        He cannot be perfectly and infinitely blessed if He could change;if He changed for the better, then He was not perfect before; if He changed for the worse, He is not perfect now.Our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

4.        He cannot be infinite if He can change;if change added something, then He was not infinite before; if change subtracted, He is not infinite now(Job 35:6,7).If He could change, he would not be eternal, for something in Him would cease, or would have a beginning.If it had a beginning, it is not from eternity; if it had an end, it is not from eternity, and God becomes a mixed being, partly of time, partly of eternity, a monstrosity of manís idolatrous imagination.If God has new knowledge, new purpose, new essence, then He is in time, and not eternal, and his knowledge, purpose, and essence are finite and temporal.


 

5.        He cannot be omnipotent if He can change.Godís greatness is unsearchable (without end or term,Psalm 145:3).What is omnipotent cannot be made worse, and cannot get better, for either implies end or term.That which is changed reaches some end which drives the change; hence, not unsearchable.Change in omnipotence has to come from without or within,It cannot come from without, for that would imply power greater than omnipotence, an absurdity.It cannot come from within, for infinite power is one with perfect goodness and wisdom, so there is no reason to change.

6.        God is of Himself, not from another.He was before all things and causes cannot operate in Him, for He caused all.If He changed it must come from within Him or from without Him.It cannot come from without because He is the cause of all things.It cannot come from within, for He possesses perfect wisdom and blessedness.That which is perfect cannot author its own change, and cannot be changed by that which is not perfect.

7.        Only God is immutable, as He is the only Infinite, Perfect, and Only Wise Being(Heb. 1:10-12).All creatures are vanity, lighter than vanity (Rom. 8:20, Job. 7:3;Ps. 35; Ps. 62:9), especially on this earth because there is no continuing city here (Heb. 13:14).Good and holy beings, like the angels and saints in glory, are good and unchanging by the goodness and power of God, not from themselves.Theywere created from nothing and grow in knowledge and joy throughout eternity

8.        All created things are like a river in a continual flux, a perpetual stream; that which is sometimes this and sometimes that, is not, because it is not always the same; whatsoever is changed is something now which it was not always; but God is ďI Am that I Am.ĒHe stands apart from all that He made, as a mighty fortress, a mighty rock, changing not.

God is unchangeable in His knowledge.

Heb.4:13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

1.       All things are naked and open before Him.Change in knowledge would mean that God either learned something He had not known before, or had forgotten something that He knew before.

2.       God is infinitely wise (1 Timothy 1:17), and has no equal in wisdom, nor can be instructed by anyone. (Isaiah 40:13,14)

3.       God is worthy of our trust, because His knowledge does not change. He never has to deal with unsuspected contingencies:Is. 40:28-31

A.      God knows by His essence.

Deut. 6:4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

God is one, and is not composed of parts.His essence and His knowledge are One God; if so, then there would be a God who Is and a God who knows.Humans learn by observation and experiment of that which is objective.God does not, because He created all things.He knows the sparrowís fall, not because He observes it (though He does), but because He knows His own decree.His knowledge cannot change, because He cannot change.

B.       God knows by one intuitive act.

Hebrews 4:13 See above.

All thing are naked and open to Him.As there is no change in His essence, there can be no change in His understanding.He does not learn, nor forget.He doesnít become aware of things, because time does not pertain to Him.He sees things all at once, even the secrets of menís hearts.†† All of time is included in eternity, so Godís knowledge is infinite (Psalm 145:5) and comprehends past, present, and future all at once.

C.       Godís knowledge and will is the cause of all things and their succession in time.

D.      This knowledgeis too high for us; to worship and bless Him is our part

Acts 15:18†† Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

 

Isaiah 46:9,10Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

.Psalm 139: entirety

1.        Because God is One, there can be no difference between His knowledge and His will, which are linked in Isaiah 46:9,10.He knows what He wills, and He wills what He knows.If God does not know His works, how can He do them;if He does not will what He knows, how is He God, if pushed by events that He does not will?Are there two Gods: one who wills and one who knows?This destroys the unity of God Godhead in which there is one will and one knowledge, one power and glory.

2.        Distinctions of past, present, and future therefore make no change in the knowledge of God.Though there is great variation in the things that are made, yet God sees them all at once in all their variations.This is of great comfort to the saints.Though we do not know what will be in our lives, yet God does and has determined it to be for our good. (Romans 8:28).

 

Godís understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:5) and is greater than the number and names of the stars.Even in heaven we will not know as God knows, for that does not belong to the creature.He does not see one thing with the eyes and another thing with the mind as we do; as the Eternal and Infinite Spirit He sees only with the Mind, the Mind which is Himself, and is as unchangeable as himself.ďAs he is not now another thing than what He was, so He knows not anything now in another manner than as He knew it from eternity;He sees all things in the glass of His own essence; as, therefore, the glass doth not vary, so neither doth His vision.Ē

God is unchangeable in regard of His will and purpose

Is. 55:11So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Isaiah 46:11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Numbers 23:19God 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?

1.       The will of God is the same as His essence.The attributes of God such as infinity, knowledge, will, holiness, wisdom, etc., are abstractions in our minds, not in the essence of God, for God is One.His will is wise and good;His knowledge is infinite; His goodness is unchangeable.The alternative is a form of polytheism.

2.       God is therefore true to His word (Mal. 3:6; Is. 43:13); He cannot deny Himself, for to deny His word is to deny Himself (2Timothy 2:13).The all-wise, all-good, all-willing God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18).

3.       There is a concurrence of God in everything.Man cannot even blaspheme without using the breath, the intelligence, and the physical and mental strength that comes from God.In a moment He can snuff them out, but does not for His Own secret purposes (Romans 9:22-24).He would not have made the devil before He knew what use He would make of him (Paschal).That which happens in time is before willed in eternity (Eph. 1:1-14).

 

Eph. 1:11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

Heb. 6:17Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:

4.       There can be no reason for a change in Godís will.Not because He has received new information; not by our prayers, for He knows before we ask (Matt. 6:7,8); not because he perfects His will; not because of a change in His power.

5.       Godís counsel shall stand, because it is perfectly wise and perfectly just, and He is powerful to perform it.He is not unstable in His will, doing this and doing that willy nilly.His righteousness is like a great mountain (Ps. 36:6); He is not a man that he should lie or repent (Num. 23:19), for a man is often short of wisdom, courage, power, or integrity.If Godís will could change it must change for the better or for the worse;if for the better it was not perfectly wise and good; if for the worse, then it is not now perfectly wise and good.

6.       Godís will cannot change for want of power.The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand (Prov. 19:21).Man can devise and scheme, but only God Who is in Heaven has does whatsoever He has pleased (Ps. 115:3), not like dead gods.†† If God is infinite in wisdom and power and in goodness and holiness, what would move Him to change His mind?

 

Is. 46:10See above.

 

Pro. 19:21 There are many devices in a manís heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.

7.        Though Godís will is unchanging, it does not mean that the things willed are unchanging.He does not will that they be not changed, but all their changes are willed by Him.It was not His will that bloody sacrifices continue to the end, but this does not involve change in His will, for His will was always that Christ should suffer for sins in the fullness of the times.But the sacrifices could not be changed until the time had come in Godís will to change them.We cannot make straight what God has made crooked (Ecc. 7:13).†† The world passes away and the lust thereof, but not until it is the appointed time, which He has placed in His own power (Acts 7:1).God who decrees is unchangeable; His will is unchangeable;what is willed is subject to time and change.

8.        Godís will does not infringe upon the proper liberty of what is willed.†† Godís immutable will is the foundation of liberty, for that which is of change has no liberty, but is subject to vagaries and whims.Manís liberty is to acquiesce in the will of God, for without God we can do nothing. (John 15).

God is unchangeable with regard to place.

Jer. 23:24Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? Saith the LORD.

1.        God fills the heavens and the earth and cannot change place.He cannot leave one place to fill another.His substance fills all places, both real and imaginary.God cannot be divided nor can the universe contain Him (I Kings 8:27;Job 11:8).When He draws nigh to us, or we draw nigh to Him, it is not by motion that changes time and place, but by exciting and supporting grace, removing the spiritual barriers between us and Him.

2.        When God comes down (Gen. 12:5;Ex. 34:5), it is not by change of place, as if He were not there before, but by revelation of His presence, in new mercy or new judgments.Our coming to Him does not imply change in Him, but change in us.

Proof That God is Immutable

1.His Name Jehovah signifies this.

Ex. 3:14And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

1.       I AM signifies his immutability as well as eternity.The reason that men do not stand to their covenants, is because they are not always the same.

2.       The very name Jehovah bears, according to the grammatical order, a mark of Godís unchangeableness; it never hath anything added to it, nor anything take from it; it hath no plural number, no affixes.††

3.       All things that change cease to be what they were, and begin to be what they were not, and therefore cannot have the title truly applied to them, they are; they are, indeed, but like a river in a continual flux, that no man ever sees the same; let his eye be fixed upon one place of it, the water he sees, slides away, and that which he saw not succeeds in its place; let him take his eye off but for the least moment, and fix it there again, and he sees not the same that he saw before.

2.If changeable, God would not most perfect.

Matt. 5:48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

1.        Any change is for the better, or for the worse.In either case, God is not, or was not perfect.

2.        If God is changed, the change is either voluntary or necessary.If voluntary, He must seek a greater perfection; if necessary, it must either arise from within, or from without; in either case He is not a Perfect Being.

3.His simplity required im-mutability.

 

Change must be either by adding something to Godís essence, or by taking something away.In either case, God would not be simple.If something within Him changed Him, then the other part of Him would not be God; if something without Him changed Him then God would be changed either in His essence, or in His qualities.There is nothing in God which is not Himself; hence, he is immutable.

4.His eternity requires im-mutability.

 

Change is a kind of death, for that which is changes ceases to be.The soul of man died which it ceased to be holy and good, alienated from God.†† God cannot be what He eternally was, if he had a new knowledge, a new purpose, a new essence.All changeableness implies a corruptibility.

5.If God could change, he would not be infinite and almighty.

Psalm 145:3Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.

All change implies boundaries and limits, because it involves addition or subtraction.If there should be any change, it must proceed from himself or from another; if from himself, it would be an inability to preserve himself in the perfection of his nature; if from another, he would be inferior in strength, knowledge, and power, to that which changes him, either in his nature, knowledge, or will.

6.If not unchanging, He could not order and govern the world.

 

There cannot be order in anything unless there are fixed principles: either in mathematics; science; economics; or human morality.Without these fixed principles, there can be no knowledge, no morals, and no order.Math depends upon one remaining one throughout all the computations; chemistry depends upon the nature and composition of elements; etc.Unless this is true all knowledge ceases.

Immutability Belongs to God Only

1.     Bodily Creatures are subject to change.

2.     Created Spiritual natures, such as angels, change not from Divine grace.

Heb. 1:10-12And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: 11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

1.        It is obvious that corporeal creature are subject to change.They grow, decay, pass away; suffer from erosion, removal, chemical and physical changes.ďThe creature is subject to vanity.Ē(Rom. 8:20)They are ďlighter than vanity.Ē (Ps. 62:9)

2.        Angelic beings change in knowledge (1Tim. 3:16; Eph. 3:10).They change in joy (Luke 1:10).Such beings cannot be unchangeable in nature, for some of them fell from their first estate.The good angels continue in their goodness by the grace and provident care of God.

3.        No creature can be unchangeable in its nature because:

         All creatures were made from nothing.

         All creatures depend totally upon God for their being and motion.

         No creature is perfect, nor can any ever be perfect.The perfections of creatures are searcheable; those of God are unsearchable. (Job 11:6)

Answers to That Which May Seem Contrary

I.         Creation did not change anything in God.

Eph. 1:9,11Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

4.        There was no change in God because there was no new will in God.If God had willed the creation of the world only at that time when the world was produced, and not before, then, indeed, God had been changeable. [But this would also have placed God in time. CWP]God did not create by a new counsel or new will, but by that which was from eternity.Even Christís sufferings did not imply a new will in God or in Christ (Acts. 2:23)

5.        There was no new power in God at Creation.There can be no more new power in God, than there can be a new will in God; for his will is his power, and what he willeth to effect, that he doth effect: as he was unchangeably holy, so he was unchangeably almighty, ďwhich was, and is, and is to comeĒ (Rev. 4:8).

6.        There is no new relation in God because of Creation.†† If we walk about a tree, its relation to us changes: it is on the right, then on the left, then behind us.But the tree has not changed.In creation, all change is in the Creature.God is always sovereign, eternal, almighty, loving and good.Creation changed nothing in Him.Creator, Lord, Father, and Ruler are titles that belong to God from eternity.

II.       The Incarnation did not change the Divine nature of the Son.

Phil. 2:6-8Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

1.        He did not lose the form of God in taking the form of a servant.He was ďemptiedĒ but did not cease to be God, but was only seen as a man.

2.        The obscuring of His glory did no mean a change in His deity than does the daily obscuring of His glory by sinful men.

3.        The blood that poured from his veins was the ďblood of God,Ē (Acts 20:28), so that even in His agony and suffering as a man, he still continued to be God.

4.        He could not have been a sufficient Mediator, had he ceased to be God: and he had ceased to be God, had he lost any one perfection proper to the divine nature; and losing none, he lost not this of unchangeableness, which is none of the meanest belonging to the Deity.

5.        The divine nature and human remain entire; there was no change of the one into the other, as the water into wine.When he prays ďfor the glory he had with God before the world wasĒ (John 17:5), he prays that a glory he had in his Deity might shine forth in his person as Mediator, and be evidenced in that height and splendor suitable to his dignity, which had been so lately darkened by his abasement; that as he had appeared to be the Son of Man in the infirmity of the flesh, he might appear to be the Son of God in the glory of his person.

6.        Again, there could be no change in this union; for, in a real change, something is acquired which was not possessed before, neither formally nor eminently: but the divinity had from eternity, before the incarnation, all the perfections of the human nature eminently in a nobler manner than they are in themselves, and therefore could not be change by a real union.

III.     It does not imply a change in God when He is said to repent, or to have other affections.

Jer. 18:10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

1.       Such expressions are used improperly, as figures.Properly, repentance shows want of foresight, ignorance of the consequences, etc., is grounded on error, not infallibility.God, who is perfect and blessed forever (Rom. 9:8), cannot grieve or repent according to the proper signification of the words.

2.       In speaking to us, God accommodates Himself to our state.He does not have a body, but speaks of his eyes, hands, arms, etc.

3.       Repentance is God is therefore, only a change in outward conduct, and is according to His infallible foresight, immutable will, and eternal purpose.

 

IV.     Not fulfilling some predictions does not mean a change in God.

2 Kings 20:5Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.

1.        Such predictions must be considered not absolute, but conditional, even though the condition was not expressed.It is certain that such was the prediction of judgment by Jonah upon Nineveh:God would not have sent Jonah had he not intended to spare the city upon repentance.

2.        God is always disposed to mercy; so there is no change in him in sparing Nineveh.He is always just, so there is no change in him in destroying the wicked.He is always patient, so there is no change in him when he is long-suffering.

3.        God always speaks according to our nature and perspective.

V.       God does not change when he becomes angry with those he loves, or is appeased.

Psalm 18:26.With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.

Hebrews 10:7.Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

1.        These cases imply a change in the creature, from a state of offense to God to a case of mercy and grace.God always acts according to the immutable nature of his holiness, and can no more change in his affections to good and evil, than he can in his essence.

2.        It would be a change in God if he still loved the good when they become evil, or was angry with the evil when they repent and become good.The will of God is unchangeably set to love righteousness and hate iniquity, and from this hatred to punish it.

3.        Christ by his death reconciling God to man, did not alter the will of God, but did what was consonant to his eternal will, to execute Godís will.

VI.     A change of laws does not mean a change in God.

 

1.        The mother does not change that feeds milk to the baby, but meat to the child.

2.        The physician does not change who dispenses medicine according to the sickness of the patient.

3.        When God changed the ceremonial law, there was no change in the Dine will, but an execution of his will; for when God commanded the observance of the law he intended not the perpetuity of it; nay, in the prophets he declares the cessation of it; he decreed to command it, but he decreed to command it only for such a time.

4.        The sun is the same, though it shows the grass to be green and the rose to be red.

Major Source:Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God

All rights reserved, 1998.No portion of this chart may be copied by any means, including electronic, without permission of C. W. Powell, New Geneva Theological Seminary, Colorado Springs, CO.