The Immutability of God
Malachi 3:6 ‘I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.’
Whatever troubles we have today, and whatever buckets of regrets that burden us, they must shrink into thimblefuls as we begin to consider God. Whatever are the achievements that make us proud, they will grow less and less in the might of God. Whatever academic success we have known, when we consider God we will say, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.’ Our praise will be greatly increased as we gain a new understanding of God –
Great God, how infinite art Thou!
What worthless worms are we!
But while the theme of the perfections of God humbles our minds it also expands our minds. You may be a specialist in one subject, in librarianship, in indexing, in plant breeding, in geology, in sports science, in medieval Welsh – and how fascinating all those subjects are – but the most excellent study for expanding the mind and the soul is the knowledge of the glorious Godhead, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Nothing can enlarge the intellect or make man’s shrunken soul swell with strength and joy as an investigation of the perfections of God. Here is medicine for every sick condition; here is an ointment that can heal every wound; here is the source of the strength needed to carry every burden. Would you lose your worries and fears this day? Then you must immerse yourself in the immensity of God, and especially today as we consider the immutability of God, in other words, the fact of the changelessness of God. In the prophecy of Malachi God says, ‘I am Jehovah. I do not change.’
We live in a world of change. The weather and the seasons change; the moon waxes and wanes; the planets change their positions in the sky. The public concept of morality has changed. It is no longer shocking to live together before marriage. Fashions change; postmen wear shorts. Hairstyles change, popular music changes, the foods we eat have changed. We had a former student visit us last week-end. He hadn’t been to Aberystwyth for 35 years. ‘Aberystwyth has changed,’ he said. The university buildings on the hill have changed, as well as the hospital in the town. After the great storm six months ago how the promenade has changed. The harbour has changed greatly from 35 years ago. Town landmarks like Seilo and Tabernacle and Woolworths have disappeared. Aberystwyth has changed, and all of us are changing. We are growing older and our hair is whiter, and our eyesight is poorer, and our hearing weaker and we walk more slowly and our shoulders are rounder. We sing in the hymn ‘Abide with me’ those words, ‘Change and decay in all around I see.’
But God is perpetually the same. He never changes. His being, and nature, and perfections can’t be altered. Nothing can be added to the infinite God and nothing can be taken from him. What God is today he always was. What God is today he shall always be. He is immutable; that is his state, and he is eternal; that is the measure of his state. It is essential that God is unchangeable. Without it he could not be God. This is one of the excellencies of God which distinguishes him from all his creatures. It distinguishes him from the angels. Yes, they are as sinless as he is, but they are not omnipotent and there was a time when they were not. They began; they changed from nothingness to something; God never began. He is from eternity to eternity, changeless in his attributes and purposes and character. He is everlastingly, ‘the Father of lights with whom there is no varableness, neither shadow of turning’ (James 1:17)
So because he is immutable then the Scripture calls him the Rock. If I should put a large pebble from the beach into your hands and say to you, ‘Now mould and change the form of that pebble,’ and you began to wrestle with this stone and to press it and twist it and shake it then you would quickly see how impossible it is to change that pebble. Your hands would certainly change; they would quickly become raw and would bleed and then be calloused by the rough stone, but the pebble would remain the same. Christ is the Rock of Ages; the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.
1. IN WHAT DIVINE PERFECTIONS DOES GOD REMAIN THE SAME?
i] God is the same in his being. Everyone who considers this subject of the immutability of God begins there; the Puritan Charnock begins there,1 and the preacher Spurgeon began there in the very first sermon he preached as pastor of New Park Street when he was 20 years of age,2 and Pink in his fine little book on The Attributes of God,3 began there. God did not owe his existence to anyone else; he cannot be but what he is. What God is today he always was. He never began to be. There never was a time when he was not. There never will come a time when he will cease to be. Dogs have evolved remarkably from the first pair that came out of the ark, but God does not evolve or grow and improve. All that God is at this very moment he has ever been and ever will be. He cannot change for the better for he is already perfect, and being perfect he cannot change for the worse. God is neither young nor old. He simply is. When children picture God then they picture him as a very loving old man, and that is a sweet and helpful image, but we can improve it can’t we? We think of God as an old man but he is running as fast as he can along a country lane to hold in his arms a boy who had hurt him so much but who now is coming home. That’s a great picture of God. Or we picture God as a young man kneeling down with a basin of water and washing the feet of his friends. That is another wonderful picture of who God is. And he was like that eternally, in the very beginning and still today he is the very same.
God is utterly unaffected by things that happen outside himself. When some angels rebelled and sought to become the rulers of the universe then God did not panic, and tear his hair. He did not lack the foresight to see that this would happen when he made them the way they were. He did not lack the power to prevent this happening. And after it had happened then the Father didn’t say to the Son, ‘Now we must learn from this and take steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,’ so that then God took new measures to ensure there would never be another rebellion. No! There was nothing like that. ‘The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart throughout all generations’ (Psa. 33:11). There are no temporary changes in God; he does not have to keep up with the times. He does not revert back to what he was. No! Improvement, or deterioration is impossible with deity. He is perpetually the same. He alone can say, ‘I am that I am.’ He is altogether uninfluenced by what happens in heaven or in outer space, or in hell, or anywhere, and in anyone on earth.
Remember the great words of the prophet Isaiah:
Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfil my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do (Isa. 46:8-11).
Job says, ‘He stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases’ (Job 23:13).
The flight of time does not change him. There are no wrinkles on his brow, no memory cells die. His power can never diminish and his glory cannot fade. The God we have worshipped today is the same God that created everything in the beginning, the God who spoke to Adam and Eve, the God of Noah and Abraham and the patriarchs, the God of Elijah and the prophets, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and of all his chosen people through the last 2000 years. This is the God we are having dealings with and who is dealing with us at this very moment. There is simply no change in him whatsoever.
Now let me Christologize this teaching. When the Son of God clothed himself in flesh and blood he did not change anything whatsoever of his deity. He was the same immutable Lord that he had been for ever and ever. Yet at that point 2000 years ago he added to his divine nature human nature. The essence of all that God is remained the same; it could not change. There was no metamorphosis of the flesh so that it became God or that God metamorphosed into man. That is the Metamorphosis of Franz Kafka’s fantasy when a man discovers that he has changed into an enormous insect. That is a horrible fiction that parodies the incarnation of God into man. God did not change so as to lose any of his glorious attributes. He simply added to all of them a true human nature, two distinct natures indivisibly in one person, the God-man. That eternal divinity was the same during Mary’s early pregnancy in her womb. He did not disdain that darkness any more than the birth in Bethlehem and his thirty years in the obscurity of Nazareth. Veiled in flesh see the immutable Godhead! The Lord Christ was the same one who had said, ‘Let there be light and there was light.’ When he hung upon the cross and his blood dripped onto the earth it was the God-man who hung there, the same God who carries the world on his everlasting shoulders, who holds in his hands the keys of death and hell. He has never been changed in his being or essence. He did not change in his incarnation. He remains everlastingly, eternally the one unchanging God.
ii] God is the same in his attributes. Whatever the perfections of God were before the world was called into existence they are exactly the same at this very moment. Each of us can say, ‘As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.’ Was he powerful? Was he God, the mighty God, when he spoke the world into existence by mere thought and fiat? Was he the Omnipotence that separated sky from earth and sea from dry land? Yes, he was powerful then and there is no weakness in his arms today. He is the same giant in his might, the great colossus of the universe. He has no need to exercise and diet to keep strong. He has no personal trainer to keep him fit. He is only limited by his will to do anything at all.
Was God wise when he constituted the cosmos – the sun, planning its size and its distance from us, and the axis on which spun the earth – at the exact speed he had chosen, and the rings of air and ozone around the earth, and the trajectories at which the planets move round the sun, especially our planet earth? Was he wise in his design of the atom and living things, and when he made us just as he did? Had he wisdom when he purposed to allow the fall of man and then planned – through the incarnation and sufferings of his Son as the Lamb of God – to redeem the world, and make a new heavens and earth and a new humanity to fill them? What wisdom mapping all this out from eternity! – yes, and he is wise now, not less skilful, or less knowledgeable. His eyes are undimmed; his ears are open to every thought and sigh and peal of laughter. He is unchanged in his wisdom, knowing today as much as he ever knew, neither more nor less, with the same exact skill as ever.
Was God just when our first parents rebelled? Was God just while waiting at the time of Noah 120 years? Was God just as he considered Sodom and Gomorrah? Was God just when Pharaoh continued to say No? Was God just when his Son hung upon the cross, when he was made sin for us who knew no sin? Did God spare him? No, because the Saviour bore our sins in his own body on the tree and God bruised him that we might be spared. God was just and holy in the past; just and holy he is today.
Was God good when he made skins to clothe Adam and Eve? Was God good when he forgave king David his lust and murder? Was the Lord good when he recommissioned Peter and blessed his preaching at Pentecost 50 days after he had sworn that he did not know his Lord? Was he good in showing mercy to Saul of Tarsus who described himself as the chief of sinners? God is good . . . every day. He is unchangeably good, and generous, and benevolent. The Everlasting Father does not become an everlasting tyrant. His strong love is always there for us like a rock unmoved by the hurricanes of our iniquity.
Was God love when he first covenanted to save a company of sinners more than any man could number and take them all to heaven and transform every one into the image of Jesus Christ? When he knew that it would be at such a cost he still kept loving his own. He did not shun paying such a price, sending his only begotten to bleed and die. He loves as much this moment as he loved at the beginning when he devised salvation’s plan. And when the sun shall cease to shine, or the moon give forth its feeble light he shall love us very, very dearly for ever and ever. You can take any one attribute of God and you can write the words semper idem on it, ‘always the same.’ Whatever perfection of God you can think of then it may be said – whether in the dark past or in the bright future – ‘He is the Lord and he does not change.’ So he does not change in his attributes.
iii] God is the same in his plans. How often do we have a change of plans? Something happens that we hadn’t foreseen and so we make new arrangements. We call and explain and in some ways things are better and in other ways they are worse. God never has to change his plans. There are never unforeseen circumstances that pressurize God into taking another course of action. In other words there is perfect agreement in God between his knowledge and his will. We always read in the Bible of the counsel of God (in the singular), not ‘counsels.’ ‘The counsel of the Lord stands for ever’ (Psa. 33:11).
God never has any reason to change his will about anything. The Prime Minister made an apology this week for appointing a man to high office who turned out to be a crook. He was unaware of the man’s wrongdoing and he was sorry that he had chosen as he had. There was lack of foresight, and lack of discernment. But why should God alter his plans? He is Almighty and all wise. He can never outreach himself or outspend his abilities or resources. He is the everlasting God and so he won’t die before achieving what he desires. Why should God change? What comfort is this to all of us? Consider this, that God has seen the whole file on every one of us. God knew the sub-Christian ways we would behave after he had saved us, the falls that would affect our lives, and God had no regrets on choosing us before the foundation of the world to be his people. He was not mistaken when he loved us. We see people around us who are far nicer and well rounded people than we are. ‘Why didn’t he choose them?’ we think. ‘I’ve let him down so often and lived such an inconsistent life. He would have done so much better in choosing many of them rather than me.’ Did David admire the happy marriages of his brothers, when his own unions were such unmitigated disasters so that finally none of his wives and concubines would share his bed as an old man? A stranger was chosen to keep the old man warm. But there are no regrets in God’s predestinating love. The Lord will ever declare himself to be the God of repentant sinners, the God of David, and Jesus is David’s greater son. So I am safe!
My name from the palm of his hands eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains in marks of indelible grace.
But people grumble at this divine perfection and they say, ‘But liberty to change is the height of perfection.’ It may be for us; stubbornness in folly compounds man’s foolishness. We say, ‘I was wrong,’ and we think again, but God is freely immutable. He doesn’t want to be different from what he is. He doesn’t need to be different because in all he does he is generated by pure goodness. A man began to build a tower but he wasn’t able to finish and so he changed his plans as every wise man does. He became less grandiose. A king prepared for battle but when he saw the strength of opposition he changed his plans and called off the battle. But when did God begin anything and then find he didn’t have the wherewithal to complete his plans? Not once. There are no regrets in heaven, no regrets about choosing Noah who got drunk, Lot who lingered, Eli who failed to rebuke his sons, David who committed adultery, Peter who denied the Lord.
iv] God is the same in his promises. The Bible speaks of the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ of God. If we found one day that one of the promises was suspect then we’d start to wonder about the others. If we thought that God could alter some words of a promise then, ‘Good-bye Scripture.’ But when I turn to Scripture I find that the gospel is not yes and no. It is not promising today and denying tomorrow. The gospel is yes and amen to the glory of God. What would you think if yesterday you read a promise that you found in the Book of Psalms that you thought you hadn’t spotted before. You wondered how you could have missed it, how wonderful it was, but when you turned to it again today it didn’t zap you as it had yesterday. Do you know why? Had that sweet promise changed? No. You had changed. Maybe you’d been tasting the world and that had left some bitterness on your taste buds. You’d been looking at the glittering prizes of the world and the shine has blinded you in part. You’d been standing on your feelings and not on the Word of God. You were doing some building on wood, hay, and stubble and not on God’s truth. That was the structure that was crumbling. I am saying to you that the reality is this, that you’ve been shaken while standing on the rock; the rock under you hasn’t shaken. God’s promises are as firm as a rock.
A man admired one of his workmen whom he considered so strong in the faith while he wobbled as he went through some losses and trials. One day they spoke together and he told the workman how he admired his faith while he himself was often doubting. The workman didn’t want admiration. He told his boss, ‘I cast myself flat on God’s promises. I lie on them. Every part of me touches each promise. But you . . . well, you just stand on the promise and when the wind blows against you then you topple over. I lie flat on the promise and that is why I fear no fall.’ You must appropriate the promises of God for yourself; you must say, ‘This is real and true,’ whether you feel them to be so or not.
So let us make sure we have a promise from God. There is no promise that we are going to be always healthy, or rich, or successful, but there are promises that God will work all things together for our good, and God will make all grace always abound and that his grace will always be sufficient, and that nothing will separate us from God’s love, and that he will supply all our needs richly in Christ. Those promises will never ever change throughout our lives. When we are covered in shame and confusion of face and much regret then God’s word abides; our footsteps it guides; his word to believe is light and joy when we receive it.
His promise is yea and Amen, and never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now, not all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forego, or sever my soul from his love.
2. WHAT OF THE BIBLE TELLING US THAT ‘GOD CHANGED HIS MIND’?
First, I am referring to Jonah chapters 3 and 4 where we are told of God changing his mind about raining his wrath down on the city of Nineveh. How do you reconcile that with the clear biblical affirmations that God is not a man; that he does not lie; that he does not change his mind; he does not promise and then fail to fulfil? How do we reconcile that divine immutability with Jonah first telling the citizens that they were going to be destroyed and then when they repented God changed and he didn’t destroy them?
I answer it like this; God’s threat to wicked Nineveh was not unqualified and unconditional. God did not say to the king on his throne hearing Jonah’s message, and the parliament as it met to discuss what might happen, and the women as they wept at the well, and the beggars as they wondered what to do, ‘It doesn’t matter how you change your ways, and repent deeply, and cry for mercy, and destroy your idols and trust in me, I am still going to nuke you.’ No, God did not say that.
If God had treated them after their repentance in the same way as he was going to treat them in their cruelty and contempt for him and his people, then God would be an implacable and unjust God. Why had he bothered to go to such lengths in getting Jonah, by hook or by crook, by storm or by whale, there to preach the coming judgment to them if he intended just to destroy them? Why not simply kill the lot of them? The unchangeableness of God means that God always does what is right. Always! While all the angels loved and served him, he blessed and supported all of them in heaven. When some of them rebelled against him and tried to throw him off his throne then it was essential for him to change in his attitude to them. They became the objects of his wrath. God cannot let evil reign in heaven and earth.
God’s immutability has to mean that his attitude towards the repentant Jesus-loving believer is different from his attitude towards the rebel who hates him, so when the wicked repent and turn and cry for pardon in Jesus’ name then God’s treatment of them changes. Paul tells us that we were all by nature the children of wrath when we were unbelievers, dead in our trespasses and sins, but when God made us alive and we turned and put all our hopes in Jesus Christ then there is a reversal of God’s will, and we receive blessings from God. We were saved. He no longer declares that punishment lies before us but glory.
In other words God’s immutability is God’s utter consistency. You can depend on God! Your trust in him can be a confident trust because he will not change. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. True! Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. True. God consistently changes from your enemy to being your friend when you have obeyed his gospel, and now nothing will separate you from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. God has made up his mind about that.
Second, I am referring to the death of Hezekiah. The prophet Isaiah came to the king and said, ‘Hezekiah, you must die. Your sin is incurable. Set your house in order.’ Then the king turned his face to the wall and began to pray. By this time the prophet was in the outer court. He was told to go back and say to the king, ‘Hezekiah, you shall live for fifteen more years.’ You may think that that proves that God changes, but I really cannot see in this incident the slightest proof of that. How do you know that God didn’t know that? Oh, but God did know it. He knew that Hezekiah would live and so God did not change. The means of Hezekiah living longer was his awareness that he was going to die and so he cast himself on God’s power and mercy. We are all going to die, and if our lives are going to be a day, a year or a decade longer then we must cast ourselves on God and ask for such a mercy.
Hezekiah lived fifteen more years, and after three of those years he had a son, Manasseh and then he had a son Josiah and out of this line came Jesus of Nazareth. God decreed the birth of Manasseh and foreknew it when he sent the message to Hezekiah via the prophet. ‘Go and tell Hezekiah that his disease was incurable,’ and then to say in the next breath, ‘But I will cure it and you shall live.’ He said that, I say, to awaken the king, like I remind you all that we are mortal men and women facing eternity and an unavoidable encounter with God. We are to put our house in order. We are to cast ourselves on the living God. The disease of sin in incurable; we are all dying men, but cry to God. Cast yourself on him. Who knows whether God will say to you, ‘I will heal you. I will give you fifteen more years of life?’ Why not? God speaks to us all in terms of eternity and the life and death choices that face all of us every day. Choose life and God will grant it to you, however long or short the remainder of your days will be. Choose life!
3. SO JACOB’S DESCENDANTS WILL NOT BE DESTROYED.
I am finally returning to our text, Malachi chapter 3 and verse 6: ‘I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.’ So what are the blessed consequences for me and you of God’s immutability – if we know ourselves to be the descendants of Jacob? How do we know?
i] Jacob was an elect son of God. ‘Jacob have I loved,’ God says. A woman prayed in the prayer meeting this past Tuesday helpfully thanking God that he had chosen us before the foundation of the world. He knew all about us but he set his love on us. How wonderful! What a cause for gratitude. God will not consume in hell those whom he has chosen.
ii] Jacob had great privileges, a new status, the divine blessing, a settled birthright. And so too the descendants of Jacob have been given the right to be called the sons of God. The sons of God will not be destroyed.
iii] Jacob passed through special trials. He had a cheating taskmaster in Laban his father-in-law. He had the threats of his brother Esau. He had heartaches from the behaviour of his sons. But God kept him and God will keep you, not destroy you.
iv] Jacob was not a perfect man. He was a cheat and a liar yet he came to trust in God and he was not destroyed.
v] Jacob was a man of prayer. He wrestled with God and prevailed. ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’ he said.
Jacob’s descendants will not be destroyed. God says that if we believe in Jesus Christ we shall not perish but have everlasting life. May the Lord help us to take home this text! May he help us to digest it well and feed upon it, that he is our unchangeable heavenly Father. Your friends may betray you, your husband may leave you, your minister may be taken away, everything may change, but God does not. He will love you still. Let your station in life change, all you possess be taken from you, let your whole life be shaken and you become weak and frail, yet there is one name that never changes, one place which change cannot touch, one heart that never alters. That heart is God’s. That name is love. Great is his faithfulness!
Malachi 3:6 ‘I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.’ Whatever troubles we have today, and whatever buckets of regrets that burden us, they must shrink into thimblefuls as we begin to consider […]
- This sermon on ‘The Immutability of God’ is in fact the first in the first volume of Spurgeon’s published sermons (New Part Street Pulpit, Volume 1), and was preached on the morning of Sunday, January 7, 1855.
- Available from the Trust in Spanish as Los Atributos de Dios.