We're turning in our Bibles to James chapter 1, James chapter 1. We're looking at our [tenth] study this morning in our series 'Beholding Our God', the character and the attributes of the great God whom we worship. We're looking this morning at 'The Unchangeableness Of God', or to put it in theological terms: 'The Immutability of God' - God does not change. Let's read from chapter 1 of James and verse 17 - just one verse as we begin our study this morning: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above" - we could stop there and preach a sermon on that, couldn't we? How everything that we get in life is good, it comes from God - and we live in a generation today of materialism, and even the church of Jesus Christ tends to forget that, and you can see it in the absence of giving thanks around the table. We believe that we've got the good things - don't we? - they haven't come from God above, but they have as the word of God says! "...and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning".
Many folk read the word of God, and if believers were honest, read the Bible and try to read it as much as they can - but they conclude the word of God to be in the past. What I mean by that is that it's a historical, chronological record of things that happened in a bygone age, thousands of years ago - it's historical. But the time distance, as they read of cultures and practises of old, that time difference seems to make a distance of another kind - a reality distance. We tend, whether consciously or subconsciously, to relegate the word of God to the past. There's a time distance so, we conclude, a reality distance. 'That was what God said then, that was the way God was then, that is the way He behaved to those particular people' - but we ask ourselves, at times, as we read Numbers and Exodus and various other books of the word of God: 'What is the relevance of these pages to my life? How does it relate to me in my personal experience, working 9 to 5, five, six days a week? How does this book speak to me?'.
Because of this failure to bridge this reality gap through the distance of time, many folk resign themselves to following afar-off. They look at these pages and 'That's the Bible' - they make a separation between the spiritual and the secular in their life. Their job is the secular; the church, and the word of God, and the Bible Class, and the prayer meeting is the spiritual - but those two entities seem never to collide or even to assimilate together, but that is where we have to get. We have to get to the position where God is all our life, where God Himself saturates all our being, all our existence until there is no separation, there is no demarcation between the secular and the spiritual, and we begin to find out that the word of God has an awesome relevance within our life.
It is the journey of moving from knowing God's word, to knowing the God of the word. The reason why this God - Abraham's God, Jacob's God, Moses' God, Daniel's God, all the great prophets - minor and major - all the patriarchs of the word of God, the Apostles, the Lord Jesus Christ, all the church fathers - the reason why this God can be known is that He never changes. He is immutable, the unchanging God, He is always the same - and yes, there are cultural differences that we have to account for in the word of God, historical differences and features that these pages bring to us that we cannot bridge. We cannot go back in time to those days, we are in a modern, contemporary world - but the Bible was written, not to show us how these people lived, but to reveal to us the God they knew, for them that know their God shall do exploits.
The miracle of grace, and the miracle of this book that is living before us, is that the God that they knew can be known by us today. We can know Him in the same intimacy, in the same relationship, day by day, simply because He is the immutable God. He never differs from Himself. He never differs from what He used to be - and within the great Godhead there is no concept of growth, development, change. There is no variation within the Trinity, God is the immutable, unchangeable, eternal God - ever the same. So, as we look at such a vast subject as this, we must ask the question: how is God unchangeable?
That brings us to our first point: God's nature doesn't change. Who God, in essence, is never ever changes. The word of God says He is from all eternity: 'From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God'. He is described as the Eternal King, the Immortal God, the One who alone is immortal. Psalm 90 that we read from in our prayer says: 'Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God'. Before creation, before matter came into existence, God was there - unchanged from what He is at this moment in time. The Psalmist in 102:26 says of creation: 'They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed'. Isaiah says: 'He is the first and He is the last' - and that is repeated in the apocalypse: the first and the last, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the unchangeable, eternal, immutable God!
This brings, immediately, the distinction between the Creator and the creature. The Creator is immutable, the creature is mutable. The Creator is unchangeable, the creature is changeable. And all of creation is tarred with the brush of changeability, mutability. All that we see around us is subject to change, simply because it is not eternal, it has a beginning and it will have an ending - but this great Divinity, our great God Jehovah, never changes! He has no beginning, He has no ending, He can't grow any older, He never gains any new strength or loses any abilities that He ever had. He never matures, He never develops, He never grows stronger or weaker or wiser!
It's hard to conceive this, isn't it? The hymnwriter tried to conceive it well, I believe, when he said:
'We blossom and flourish
As leaves on the tree.
We wither and perish,
But naught changeth Thee'.
In the book of Daniel we find that men's kingdoms that they pride themselves in - and our own United Kingdom seems to do it at the moment - they have a head of gold, but they have feet of clay. The heavens, which we look out at at this moment, are the oldest record of God that we have - yet those records, one day, will perish, they will disappear, they will be burnt up in smoke to bring on the new heavens and the new earth. We ourselves, in our own flesh, are subject to change, decay - and even as believers, in our everyday spiritual life we are prone to fainting and, at times, to sprinting. One day we are down in the dumps, depressed by the circumstances of life, and the next day we can be up in the clouds - cloud nine - with great spiritual strength and zeal and enthusiasm. Even our health fluctuates like that, doesn't it? Our moods, our health, our psychological well-being, we're up and down on a spiritual roller coaster at times. But God never changes.
You see, if God changed He would have to change in [one of] two directions. He would either go from better to worse, or from worse to better. He can't go from better to worse because He is perfect - and because He is perfect He cannot go from worse to better. He cannot change in anyway - it's impossible, even when we begin to think about these things, to conceive of it. In fact, when we start thinking of God getting better or God getting worse, we have ceased to think about God! Because God cannot get worse or better - and whatever men hold to, if he can grow, if he can mature, if he can develop, I don't care what you call him, he's not God! God is immutable, and that is why He is God. We say with the church father of old: 'All that God is, He has always been; and all that He has been and is, He will ever be'. Nothing He said about Himself in history, in the biblical record, will ever be changed. Nothing that the prophets revealed of Himself, nothing that they said, will ever fall away - it will always remain! That is why, within the word of God, the Lord is compared to a rock - a rock that is immovable, a rock in the midst of the ocean of His universe. And whilst the whole entire ocean surrounding is continually fluctuating - and as the word of God says, the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest - God is a rock!
You remember what Jacob said concerning Reuben - and I believe it can be applied to all the descendants of Adam's race - they are unstable as water. Thomas Watson, the great puritan, said of men: 'Their minds are like a sick man's pulse which alters every half hour'. That's what creatures are like, that's what all of creation is like - in fact, Jude the apostle, when talking of men (specifically apostates, but we all have that depraved nature within us) he said that they were like waves of the sea, tossed to and fro, they're like wandering stars, wandering forever from one point to another - they're not fixed! That is the reason that we proclaim in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that no man, no matter who he is or where he is, can be depended upon. That's why God says: 'Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man in whom there is no help' - isn't that right? People are fickle. God's creatures change at every whim. We can't put our faith in them, because people like you today and then hate you tomorrow - remember the multitude in the word of God that cried of our Lord: 'Hosanna to the Son of David!', but they quickly changed their mood about Him: 'Away with Him! Crucify Him!'.
But this One we think of today is the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow of turning, or variableness, or change of any kind. What a great comfort, what a great blessing to our souls - as we realise how human nature cannot be relied upon, but to be able to proclaim from the word of God, as a salve to our souls, that God can! God is faithful, God can be relied upon - and no matter what our friends are like, or our relatives, or our fellow human beings in all their fickleness and mutability - there is a God who is stable, there is a God who is always the same, His purpose is fixed, He is there whose word is sure, that we can stand upon it! The permanence of His character assures us that we can trust in Him. Isaiah said: 'For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee; neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee' - what a God! What a fact to let your heart be filled with today: that no matter what changes in this world, the affections of God toward us as His children will never change! He will never love us less, because He cannot love us more. He will never pour His wrath upon us, because His wrath was poured upon His only begotten Son - that is the God who we worship today! That is the God that we come to, that is the God in whom our faith is, and that is the God whom we approach in prayer!
How wonderful to think - isn't it such an encouragement to pray, to come to a God who is unchangeable. As Charnock said in 1670 - and God hasn't changed since then: 'What comfort would it be to pray to a God that, like the chameleon, changed colour every moment? Who would put up a petition to an earthly prince that was so mutable as to grant a petition one day, and then to deny it another?' - but that's not our God, He changeth not. Our God has established His ways, He is set, He is firmly set and established - and He says to us today upon His unchangeableness: 'Come to Me. Come to a God as I. I am unchangeable!', and if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us! He is immutable in His essence. There was never a time when He was not, and He will never cease to be - and because of that we can build everything upon our God! God's nature doesn't change.
Secondly: God's character doesn't change. Creatures are prone to illness, aren't they? Some of them dementia, and all of us when circumstances come in like a flood we find that our human character can be altered in certain ways. To a specific individual we all have different tastes, don't we? Different opinions, different outlooks on life of every kind. Our temper can change radically at times, we seem to take on a 'Jekyll and Hyde' character. But in the book of Exodus we read that God reveals Himself to Moses in chapter 3 and verse 14: 'I AM WHO I AM' - simple, isn't it? Simply profound, when we think of that fact - a shortened version of that statement is the word 'Jehovah', the name of God, 'Yahweh'. The One who was, the One who is, and the One who ever shall be - the eternal, unchangeable God that we know and love! This wasn't a description of Him Himself, but it's a declaration of who He is in self-existence. Not who He is in essence, but how He has continued through all time, is continuing, and will continue forever - self existent, the immutable, eternal, never-changing God.
Now we've been looking at His attributes in the weeks that have gone by, and we have noted many things about them - but one of the things we note today is they will never change. So, if you heard about the love of God a few weeks ago, or the grace of God, or the faithfulness of God, or the mercy of God - and you've gone through a week of absolute turmoil and trial and tribulation, and you're maybe sitting here and [thinking] 'That was last week, and when I was in the emotion and the thrill of that meeting, hearing about the great God that I had - oh, it was great! I could have taken on the world, but now because of what happened this week...' - God's the same! His grace hasn't changed, His attributes haven't died or been diluted - the God that you heard about last week is the God of grace this week! Oh, it's wonderful. Whatever He has been, He will always be - God's character does not change.
Thirdly: God's truth does not change. We're all human here (I hope!), we have met people in our lifetime that don't say what they mean - many of them. Hypocrites and liars, and let's face it: we're all prone to it, we're all prone to bearing false witness, and trying to appear what we aren't really internally. The reason why men and women are like this is because they don't know their own mind at times - they're double-minded, unstable in all their ways, tossed to and fro like the chaff in the storm. They change their mind and they change their opinion - that's why you can get believers who believed in one thing 20 years ago, and they've just done a 360 degree turn the other way, they believe in something totally different. We're all guilty of that, but in Psalm 119 - that great testimony of the word of God - in verse 89 and verse 152 we read this: 'For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever'.
Isn't that so refreshing? In a world that is plagued and poisoned by relativism and political correctness, and 'Whatever you believe, that's truth for you, and what I believe is truth for me - but don't you try and make your truth my truth' - like Pilate as he stood before the Lord Jesus Christ and asked that question that this old dying world is asking at this moment: 'What is truth?'. You hear the Buddhists, you see them all, we hear Islam, we hear the Jehovah's Witnesses that come to my door, Roman Catholicism - what is truth? The world is confused, and God says: 'My word, My truth is settled in heaven! It will never change. I have established My testimonies, My decrees - My word is like Me, it is timeless' - and praise the Lord, it's not a relic of a bygone day, it's not something that we relegate to a certain dispensation, it's alive and it's in heaven today and it will never change! As the Lord said: 'Not one jot, not one tittle will be removed. Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away'.
His nature never changes, His character doesn't change, truth doesn't change, and His purposes don't change. God's plans, God's eternal counsels, are immutable - He never changes His will. The prophet Balaam, in Numbers 23 and [verse] 19, tells us that in the famous verse where 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?'. This is a confusing verse because, if you're familiar with the word of God, many people read the word of God and they turn to Genesis chapter 6 and verse 6, and it says there that God repented that He ever made man. Then they turn to Numbers 23 and it says that God never repents, and then you get the wisecracks that say: 'The Bible contradicts itself'. You turn to the prophet Jonah, chapter 3 and verse 10, and it says: '[The Lord] repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto [Ninevah]' - and there you have it again! God says He doesn't repent, and then He goes and repents - what kind of a God is that?
Some object to these truths within the word of God, but if you're a believer here (and perhaps you've been doubting about these facts) ask yourself, first and foremost, this foundational question: does the word of God contradict itself? No - Amen! (It wasn't loud enough!) No! You should all be saying 'no'! It doesn't, it cannot contradict itself! So, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you've got to set that foundation first of all: God cannot lie. Then, when you do that, there's a simple explanation for the whole thing. We looked at the prophecy of Ezekiel a few weeks ago, and we looked at how God has not an appearance, God is a spirit, God is spirit. He doesn't have a body like you or I, He doesn't have hands and He doesn't have eyes, He doesn't have a head and He doesn't have feet - but yet within the word of God you read about the hand of the Lord, you read about the eye of the Lord being on all His children, you read about the mouth of Lord - 'the mouth of the Lord has spoken'. Now, does God have a mouth? Does God have arms - 'that is not short that it cannot save'? No! Of course He doesn't, but what God does do: in His book He is revealing Himself to us, and because our mind is so poor in grasping the eternal and the infinite, God - if I can say it - deigns and comes down to our linguistic level to communicate Himself to us.
Now, once you establish that, you've no problem when He wants to convey to us that He's looked upon us in grace by saying that He's changed His mind. He's trying to convey to us what He has done: 'It repented the Lord that he had made man' - He looked at their sin, their wickedness, only evil continually, and all their thoughts that were an abomination to Him; and He wanted to convey His anger, His pain for their sin. What about Jonah? 'God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them'. Listen to this very carefully: there may be a change in God's work, but there cannot be a change in God's will. Now please note the difference between those two things: He may will a change, but He cannot change His will. Let me quote a puritan: 'God may change His sentence, but not His decree'. I can illustrate it if you think of a king who causes a sentence to be passed upon a criminal, who he intends to let free - this has happened in law. The king, by his judicial status and by the law of the land, must pass that sentence upon that crime - that is his eternal counsel - but if he wishes, he can let that man free. Do you get the difference?
Here we have [it] in Jonah: God must condemn the Ninevites for their sinfulness and their abomination, God must pronounce judgement and His intention to judge us - but God, in His grace, exercised mercy upon them. Isn't it wonderful? God doesn't change - and though men may say He changed, the reason why His mind cannot change and He does not reverse His plans is that He is not like a man that He should repent. What we do as men and women is: we have a lack of foresight, we don't know what the future holds, we can't anticipate things as we're planning them - and that's why we have to change our plans at times, because something cropped up that we didn't account for. Sometimes it's not a lack of foresight, but it's a lack of power. We want to do a thing, we would like to carry out something in our life, our purposes and our desires, but we haven't got the power to execute our plans. But our God is omniscient, our God knows everything, our God can see into the future with His blessed foreknowledge, our God is omnipotent, all-powerful. He doesn't have a lack of foresight, He doesn't have a lack of power, because He's God omniscient and omnipotent!
'Change and decay in all around I see,
Oh, Thou that changest not, abide with me'.
Could I just digress for a moment to those who are not saved in our meeting? If you're unrepentant, it is a fearful thing to fall into [the hands of] a God who never changes. A God who never changes what He has said about sin, a God who has promised that you will be judged after death and you will stand before the Great White Throne, and He will not change His decree that 'the soul that sinneth, it shall die...and whosoever is not found in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire'. He has declared: 'Therefore will I also deal in fury, mine eyes shall not spare, neither will I have pity - and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them'! What a fearful thing! Some people tell me, as I talk to them about their soul: 'Well, I'll take a chance. I'll get to heaven and I'll hope that the good outweighs the bad - I don't care what the word of God says and what the revealed Christ has said - I'll get to heaven, and maybe this God of love, this God of mercy, will have mercy upon me and He'll let me in!'. This is the God that never changes - is He going to change just for you? Is He going to change His plans, is He going to let His nature be trodden in the dirt for atheists, and agnostics, and false religionists to point the finger and say: 'God changed His mind!'. The only way that God will change His mind toward you is because of the work that He has done at Calvary, in order that He might change that final end for you. And my friend, if you want to get into heaven you're going to have to go by God's way, and you're going to have to trust in the bleeding Lamb of Calvary.
Fifthly: God's Son never changes. I would love to have sung this morning: 'Yesterday, today, forever' - let's sing it:
[Pastor Legge and congregation sing]:
'Yesterday, today, forever,
Jesus is the same.
All may change,
But Jesus never,
Glory to His name.
Glory to His name,
Glory to His name.
All may change,
But Jesus never,
Glory to His name'.
But someone points the finger and says: 'But God did change - the Godhead changed when the word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, was that not a change?'. We look at that, and we say: 'Well, maybe it is a change - did God change? How can the immutable God change in that way?'. Well, the fact is that if God's divine nature had changed to be human nature, it would have been a change. Or if a human being had been changed, as some believe, into a God-man - well then you could say that God had changed. But the fact of the word of God is this: the Lord Jesus had two distinct natures - God and man in one person. That's not a change. There's the sun out there, isn't it? When the cloud comes in front of the sun, the sun hasn't disappeared, has it? The sun hasn't changed. And when the flesh - the holy, sinless, spotless flesh of the Son of God - veiled the word of God, the eternal Son, there was no change in the Godhead!
'Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the Incarnate Deity'.
Oh, it's wonderful, isn't it? That His touch has still its ancient power, and because He never changes He is able - still able - to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession. He never changes.
Sixthly: our world changes. Doesn't it? The world around us...and the best way we can understand the unchangeableness of God is to compare it to the changeableness that we know within our environment. In God, change is impossible, but in man changelessness is impossible! Man's world is in constant flux, as A. W. Tozer said: 'Each man appears for a little time to laugh and to weep, to work and to play, and then to go, to make room for those who shall follow him in the never-ending cycle of life'. If you've ever studied English literature, you'll find this out in some of the great philosophers, intellectuals, and poets: a great deal of their theme is despair. I remember coming out of English classes, at times, depressed at the outlook and the world view that these men and women had! - because all they could see around them was this continual change, and as they contemplated they despaired more and more because they couldn't do anything about it.
What a refreshing thing it is to turn to the holy writers in the word of God, and look at this change in a positive manner. Men and prophets who found that that change that they find in life can be cured! It can be helped by an unchangeable God - and the change that belongs to a fallen world around us, and in our fallen nature, God is able if we trust in Him to change all of that! It's an amazing thing that, for the child of God, change now works for us. Isn't that amazing? We were thinking in the breaking of bread of how death can work for us now to bring us to glory! Our greatest enemy has changed, because God in His great powerfulness can make change work for the believer in his own life, so that - as the apostle says - 'But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord'.
But you know, although God can make change work for us, change is still very distressing, isn't it? It's hard to bear, and it doesn't make us completely happy, and instinctively we seek something that never changes. We are bereaved at the passing of familiar things and familiar people. Faber put it like this:
'Oh, Lord, my heart is sick,
Sick of this everlasting change
And life runs tediously quick
Through its unresting race and varied range.
Change finds no likeness to itself in Thee,
And wakes no echo in Thy mute eternity'.
If we're following after God we will never ever be satisfied with change, and we will never be satisfied with this life. [Seventhly] and finally: God's changelessness requires our change. Although change and decay in all around we see distresses us in a fallen world, it's also a great blessing from God - and this is what I want you to see as we close our meeting. It's a blessing from Almighty, for the possibility of redemption, the possibility of salvation and an eternal home in heaven lies in God's ability to change us and to make a change in us. It lies in the ability of our lives, by the Spirit of God working within us, to change from a liar to someone who is truthful, to change from a thief into an honest person, changing from being filthy into pure, proud to humble - and so radical is that change of conversion that Paul calls what we used to be 'the old man', and what we have become 'the new man'. That's a change! That's a blessed change! A change of God in the inward. Hebrews says, with regard to the covenants - what a great change! - 'He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second'. Praise God that there is change.
As we close today, Thomas Watson said this - and this is what I want you to do: 'Get an interest in the unchangeable God - then thou art, as a rock in the sea, immovable in the midst of all changes'. Do you know what Isaiah said? 'Cease ye from man' - cease ye from man! Be done with men, forget about following men, forget about looking to yourself and look at this God! Stop trusting in a reed and trust in the rock! Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the boat tied to the rock who is God, who says: 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee...I will be with thee even unto the end of the age'. Ach! What else can we trust in? Health leaves us, friends leave us, loved ones leave us - but, like Noah's dove, if we would just flow into the ark of God's unchangeableness. Remember, the dove couldn't put its feet on anything else - everything else was sea, movable - but when he got into Noah's Ark...
They that trust in the Lord shall be like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved. Though our friends and men forget us and forsake us, and you know what it's like - their attitude changes toward us in their affections, they revise their opinion of us with the slightest cause that they have. But how wonderful to know that God says to every one of His children today: 'I AM WHO I AM, I changeth not'. He is always in a receptive mood to receive us, He never changes His affections toward us - today He feels the same toward us as the day He sent His only begotten Son into the world to bleed and to die for us. His attitude toward the sinner is exactly the same today, as His outstretched arm says: 'Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'. He never compromises, He never needs to be coaxed, He is the Lord that changeth not. All we have to do is align ourselves to Him.
'Fountain of being, source of good,
Immutable Thou dost remain,
Nor can the shadow of a change
Obscure the glories of Thy reign.
Earth may with all her powers dissolve,
If such the great Creator will.
But Thou forever art the same:
'I AM' is thy memorial still'.
Let's bow our heads and come to the unchanging God, who is always toward us in grace and mercy and love if we know Him. Let's rest by faith in His unchangeableness. Our Father, we thank Thee that though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, the earth be removed, and the heavens shatter like glass - there is a God in heaven who will never be moved. There is a God whose word will never be changed, there is a God whose Son is always able to save - and, our Father, in the midst of our decay and death, we thank Thee that we have trusted in the One who is the resurrection and the life, and if we believe in Him we shall never die. Father, help us to rest by grace and through faith in Thy unchangeableness, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we ask it. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tenth tape in his 'Behold Your God' series, titled "The Unchangeable God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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