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IMMUTABILITY OF GOD

“Will you give us an article on Jonah 3:10 and Genesis 6:6, and other places where it is said that God repented? Yours in love of the truth, - I. J. C.”


Our dear brother who makes this request will not need to be told that the passages cited cannot be understood to conflict with any other portion of the inspired record. As the whole revelation of Scripture is given by the unerring Spirit of God, it is absolute truth; therefore every portion of it must harmonize perfectly with the whole. The least discrepancy would invalidate all the testimony and disprove the truth of the record. But the witness which the believer has within himself, attests that the record is true. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” - I John 5:10. The truth that God is immutable is clearly declared as the reason why his people are preserved. “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” - Mal. 3:6. If this foundation were destroyed, the hope of every saint must perish with it, and the black pall of despair would cover the sinful race of man. That nothing in the Scriptures can teach such a terrible doctrine is therefore clear, and we shall not stop to consider that false theory. The passages to which our attention is called may be mysterious to finite minds, but in the light of divine truth they testify to the same great fact of the unchanging purpose of God, which is revealed in the whole record of the testimony of Jesus, whose name assures the salvation of his people from their sins. - Matthew 1:21.

“And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” The context shows that this declaration signifies the change in the manifest providence of God, which appeared in the sparing of that city of Nineveh against which Jonah had been directed to prophesy. So far is this text from indicating any change in the purpose of God, that it confirms the immutable declaration which is recorded by another prophet. “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. - Jer. 18:7-10. This was exemplified in the case of Hezekiah, recorded in Isaiah 38:1-8. The messages sent by the prophets had the effect which the Lord designed in these cases, and then was manifested the gracious purpose of God in adding to the days of Hezekiah which he had already lived, fifteen years; and in the case of Nineveh, the effect of Jonah’s preaching was just what God had designed it should be; and the mercy displayed in sparing that idolatrous city was the very purpose for which the message was sent to them. Truly it appeared to them that God had changed his design, since the destruction threatened was not visited upon them at that time; but when that denunciation of judgment had wrought the effect upon them which God had designed it to do, then he manifested his long-suffering mercy in sparing them according to his purpose, as declared in the words above quoted from Jeremiah. The message sent by Jonah denounced the sentence of justice against that wicked city; the forbearing pity afterward displayed in averting that awful calamity manifested the great mercy of our God even in the dispensation of his temporal providence toward the children of men, which is everlasting. - Psalm 100:5.

The inability of finite minds to understand how justice and mercy harmonize in the government of God, is no better ground for doubting that harmony than our inability to gaze upon the meridan sun is evidence that the sun does not exist. The deficiency is alike in either case in our own weakness, and not in any defect in the subject contemplated. Reason is too weak to grasp the wonderful truth that God is just in saving his people from their sins; but as this glorious revelation is made to his saints by faith they are enabled to rejoice in it. In temporal dealings with the fallen race of man the mercy of God displays only absolute sovereignty; but in the revelation of salvation to the subjects of his “grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” his justice and mercy are together manifested. Sin is condemned, and yet sinners are freely justified by his grace. Sovereign power spared the wicked city of Nineveh from temporal destruction; but amazing grace has saved his people from their sins, though they “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” When that grace was manifested in our salvation we did not see that our sin was less sinful in the judgment of God, but we were made to rejoice that we were redeemed and saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanseth us from all sin. - I John 1:7. We did not see that the truth and justice of God were sacrificed in our salvation, but we rejoiced in the revelation of divine grace by which we were washed in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” - Titus 3:7. So, he is “a just God and a Savior.” This is faintly typified in the sparing of Nineveh after the sentence of destruction had gone forth against it. So, it may be said of every ransomed sinner, as it was said of Jerusalem, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” The condemnation of the sinner is just, and yet God is just in justifying the ungodly. - Rom. 4:5. This marvelous work of our God is beyond the understanding of finite intelligence, hidden from the wise and prudent, and yet it is revealed unto babes. As Jonah fretted against the mercy which spared Nineveh, carnal reason may murmur against this more wonderful exhibition of the goodness and mercy of God; but as the prophet was instructed by severe reproof s, so the rebellion of the natural mind in the saints is silenced by the wise judgments of our Lord. As “he giveth not account of any of his matters,” it becomes us to heed his solemn command, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” - Psalm 46:10.

“And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” In this text, as in that on which we have been writing, the words recorded are explained by the connection in which they are written. To understand them as teaching that God ‘‘repented’’ and was “grieved” as men might do under disappointment, is not only at variance with the whole inspired revelation which he has given of himself, but it represents him as destitute of foreknowledge and subject to failure in his designs. This is too preposterously blasphemous to be worthy of argument. The plain meaning of the text will be seen by reference to the command in the first chapter, where after blessing the man whom he had created, “God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” &c. - Verse 28. Until the time referred to in the text, this blessing in his providential dealings with men had prospered them in this respect. In the execution of his righteous judgment against their great wickedness, now this blessing was withdrawn, and instead of multiplying them, God visited awful destruction upon them, saving only Noah and his family of all the inhabitants of the earth.

In the brief and comprehensive language of inspiration this almost universal extermination is expressed in the record as it appeared to created minds; not as authorizing the doctrine of a changeable God, but as showing the dreadful extent of that visitation. That God from the beginning not only knows but declares the end, is expressly stated by himself. “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none like me, 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; 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.” - Isaiah 46:9-11. Then he cannot be subject to disappointment and grief, as finite creatures are. And on his immutability rests the hope of every saved sinner.

The important testimony of this text is the same great truth presented in the text from Jonah, that is, the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of his own chosen people from their sins. The judgment of God has already come upon all men to condemnation, for that all have sinned. There is no deliverance from that judgment by any efforts of the sinner, since all his works are defiled by the sin which reigns in him; nor is there any created power which can render any relief to his hopeless case. As the earth was then covered by the waters of the flood, so all earthly refuge is cut off from the condemned sinner. The special favor of God has provided salvation for his elect in Christ Jesus, the ark of the everlasting covenant of grace. Securely shut in that safe abiding place by the Lord himself, no storms of vengenance can overwhelm them. As there was nothing unforeseen to the omniscient God in the universal corruption of all flesh, by reason of which the flood was brought upon the ungodly world, while a safe refuge was prepared for the preservation of the chosen family of Noah, so, in the entrance of sin by the disobedience of the one man, Adam, the eternal purpose which in his manifold wisdom God purposed in Christ Jesus was by no means frustrated. On the contrary, the very wickedness of sin was overruled to the accomplishment of the purpose of God.

“Here Satan was baffled in what he had done,
For the fall wrought the channel where mercy should run
In streams of salvation which never run dry;
And all for the lifting of Jesus on high.”

Even Balaam was compelled to witness to the truth, “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?” - Numbers 23:19. And Samuel said to Saul, “The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent; for he is not a man that he should repent.” - I Samuel 15:29. This is conclusive evidence that no expression in the Scriptures can be rightly understood as teaching that God is subject to disappointment, grief or repentance, in the sense that these emotions are understood as applied to finite creatures.

While many expressions in the Scriptures, when detached from their connection, may seem to conflict with the great truth of the immutability of God, the disagreement is not real, but is the result of our own blindness to the infinite g1ory of God. So, Israel of old charged that the way of the Lord was not equal, but the Lord proved the fault to be in themselves. - See Ezekiel 18:25-30; 33:17-20. This charge is continually urged upon the tried subjects of grace by the tempter, and their carnal mind readily accepts the falsehood. But the saints cannot afford to lose the comfort of full assurance on this vitally important point. If it were possible that God could change, the hope of every sinner who trusts in sovereign grace must perish; for conscious vileness in themselves would at once sink each of them in despair, even as when the Lord announced that his betrayer was eating with him, every disciple asked, “Lord, is it I?” So every saint would at once feel that there was no possibility of salvation for him if sinfulness could alienate the everlasting love of God from the objects of his choice. But thanks be to his holy name for the sweet assurance given in the revelation that he changes not. Every redeemed sinner is included in the experience recorded by the prophet, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” - Jere. 31:3. This is the abiding witness which he that believeth on the Son of God hath in himself. - I John 5:10. But there would be no comfort in that testimony without full confidence in the immutability of God, and therefore it is written that “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.” - Hebrews 6:17, 18.

In these passages the truth of God is not controverted, but the apparent discrepancy results from the error of separating a single expression from the connection in which it is written. In this way any record may be falsified. The same principle of observing the context is necessary in rightly understanding any portion of Scripture. However obscure the true meaning may be, it is certain that no passage can be correctly construed when it seems to conflict with the clearly revealed truth of the whole inspired testimony. When any passage is not clear to us, it is always safe to wait for the light of that revelation which the Spirit shows to the saints, rather than attempt to search out by the dim light of depraved reason that knowledge which God has hidden. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” - James 1:5-6.

Elder William. L. Beebe
Signs of the Times - Editorial
March 1, 1884

Republished:
Signs of the Times
Vol. 122, No. 5 – May, 1954