The Immutability of God
Immutability is one of the divine perfections which is not sufficiently pondered
It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations. Therefore God is compared to a “Rock” (Deut 32:4, etc.) which remains immovable, when the entire ocean surrounding it is continually in a fluctuating state; even so, though all creatures are subject to change, God is immutable. Because God has no beginning and no ending, He can know no change. He is everlastingly “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
First, God is immutable in His essence. His nature and being are infinite, and so, subject to no mutations. There never was a time when He was not; there never will come a time when He shall cease to be. God has neither evolved, grown, nor improved. All that He is today, He has ever been, and ever will be. “I am the Lord, I do not change” (Mal 3:6) is His own unqualified affirmation. He cannot change for the better, for He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse. Altogether unaffected by anything outside Himself, improvement or deterioration is impossible. He is perpetually the same. He only can say, “I AM THAT I AM” (Ex 3:14). He is altogether uninfluenced by the flight of time. There is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity. Therefore His power can never diminish nor His glory ever fade.
Secondly, God is immutable in His attributes. Whatever the attributes of God were before the universe was called into existence, they are precisely the same now, and will remain so forever. Necessarily so; for they are the very perfections, the essential qualities of His being. Semper idem (always the same) is written across everyone of them. His power is unabated, His wisdom undiminished, His holiness unsullied. The attributes of God can no more change than Deity can cease to be. His veracity is immutable, for His Word is “forever ... settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). His love is eternal: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3) and “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). His mercy ceases not, for it is “everlasting” (Psalm 100:5).
Thirdly, God is immutable in His counsel. His will never varies. Perhaps some are ready to object that we ought to read the following: “And it repented the Lord that He had made man” (Gen 6:6). Our first reply is, then do the Scriptures contradict themselves? No, that cannot be. Numbers 23:19 is plain enough: “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent.” So also in 1 Samuel 15:29, “The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent.” The explanation is very simple. When speaking of Himself, God frequently accommodates His language to our limited capacities. He describes Himself as clothed with bodily members, as eyes, ears, hands, etc. He speaks of Himself as “waking” (Psalm 78:65), as “rising up early” (Jer 7:13); yet He neither slumbers nor sleeps. When He institutes a change in His dealings with men, He describes His course of conduct as “repenting.”
Yes, God is immutable in His counsel. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom 11:29). It must be so, for “He is in one mind, and who can turn from Him? And what His soul desires, even that He does” (Job 23:13).
Change and decay in all around we see, May He who changes not abide with thee.
God’s purpose never alters. One of two things causes a man to change his mind and reverse his plans: lack of foresight to anticipate everything, or lack of power to execute them. But as God is both omniscient and omnipotent there is never any need for Him to revise His decrees. No, “the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:11). Therefore do we read of “His unchangeable purpose” (Heb 6:17).
Herein we may perceive the infinite distance which separates the highest creature from the Creator. Creaturehood and mutability are correlative terms. If the creature was not mutable by nature it would not be a creature; it would be God. By nature we tend toward nothingness, since we came from nothing. Nothing stops our annihilation but the will and sustaining power of God. None can sustain himself a single moment. We are entirely dependent on the Creator for every breath we draw. We gladly own with the Psalmist, You “holds our soul in life” (Psalm 66:9). The realization of this ought to make us lie down under a sense of our own nothingness in the presence of Him in Whom “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
As fallen creatures we are not only mutable, but everything in us is opposed to God. As such we are “wandering stars” (Jude 13), out of our proper orbit. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest” (Isa 57:20). Fallen man is inconstant. The words of Jacob concerning Reuben apply with full force to all of Adam’s descendants: “unstable as water” (Gen 49:4). Thus it is not only a mark of piety, but also the part of wisdom to heed that injunction, “cease from man” (Isa 2:22). No human being is to be depended on. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save” (Psalm 146:3). If I disobey God, then I deserve to be deceived and disappointed by my fellows. People who like you today, may hate you tomorrow. The multitude who cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” speedily changed to “Away with Him, crucify Him!”
Herein is solid comfort. Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If He varied as we do; if He willed one thing today and another tomorrow; if He were controlled by caprice, who could confide in Him? But, all praise to His glorious name, He is ever the same. His purpose is fixed; His will is stable; His word is sure. Here then is a Rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of His promises: “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, says the Lord who has mercy on you” (Isa 54:10).
Herein is encouragement to prayer. “What comfort would it be to pray to a God that, like the chameleon, changed color every moment? Who would put up a petition to an earthly prince that was so mutable as to grant a petition one day, and deny it another?” (Stephen Charnock, 1670).
Should someone ask, but what is the use of praying to One whose will is already fixed? We answer, Because He so requires it. What blessings has God promised without our seeking them? “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14), and He has willed everything that is for His child’s good. To ask for anything contrary to His will is not prayer, but rank rebellion.
Herein is terror for the wicked. Those who defy Him, who break His laws, who have no concern for His glory, but who live their lives as though He existed not, must not suppose that, when at the last they shall cry to Him for mercy, He will alter His will, revoke His word, and rescind His awful threatenings. No, He has declared, “Therefore will I also deal in fury: My eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them” (Ezek 8:18). God will not deny Himself to gratify their lusts. God is holy, unchangingly so. Therefore God hates sin, eternally hates it. Hence the eternality of the punishment of all who die in their sins.
The divine immutability, like the cloud which interposed between the Israelites and the Egyptian army, has a dark as well as a light side. It insures the execution of His threatenings, as well as the performance of His promises; and destroys the hope which the guilty fondly cherish, that He will be all lenity to His frail and erring creatures, and that they will be much more lightly dealt with than the declarations of His own Word would lead us to expect. We oppose to these deceitful and presumptuous speculations the solemn truth – that God is unchanging in veracity and purpose, in faithfulness and justice.