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I. UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD A TRUTH OF NATURAL THEOLOGY
II. SCRIPTURAL DOCTRINE OF THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD
1. Not Lifeless Immobility
2. As Contrasted with the Finite
3. God’s Knowledge, Will and Purpose
4. In His Relation to the World
5. His Relations to Men
The unchangeablehess or immutability of God is that divine attribute which expresses the truth that in His nature and perfections, in His knowledge, will and purpose, He always remains the same in the fullness of His infinite and perfect Being; infinitely exalted above change, becoming and development, which are the specific characteristics of all finite existence. This is one of what theologians have called the incommunicable attributes of God, that is, one of those specific characteristics of the divine nature which make God to be God in distinction from all that is finite. These attributes have also been called negative attributes. By calling them negative, however, it is not meant that they express the nature of God in so far as He is unknowable and incomprehensible by the finite mind, while the positive attributes, such as love and righteousness, express God’s nature as revealed and known. Both kinds of attributes can be known only in so far as God reveals Himself, and furthermore the so-called negative attributes involve a positive idea, while the positive ones in turn imply the negation of all finite limitations. Moreover, since the finite mind cannot comprehend the infinite God, back of all that God has revealed of Himself, back even of His absoluteness, eternity and unchangeability, lies the fullness of His infinite Being, unsearchable, unknowable, and incomprehensible alike in His nature and attributes (
It is these incommunicable attributes, including unchangeableness, which make God to be God, and mark the specific difference between Him and all finite existence. Unchangeableness is, therefore, the characteristic of God’s entire nature and of all His attributes. It cannot be limited to His ethical nature or to His love, and, while it is true that these incommunicable attributes are revealed with especial richness in God’s saving activity, they cannot be limited to marks of God’s saving action or purpose. It is true that God is unchangeable in His love and grace and power to save, but that is only because it is the love and grace and power of the absolute, infinite and immutable God.
I. Unchangeableness of God a Truth of.
As the One infinitely perfect and absolute or self-existent Being, God is exalted far above the possibility of change, because He is independent, self-existent and unlimited by all the causes of change. As uncaused and self-existent, God cannot be changed from without; as infinitely perfect, He cannot suffer change from within; and as eternal and independent of time, which is the "form" of change and mutability, He cannot be subject to any change at all. God’s unchangeablehess, therefore, follows from His self-existence and eternity.
II. Scriptural Doctrine of the Unchangeableness of God.
The Scripture doctrine of God reaffirms this truth. It conceives of God as a living Person in relation to the world and man, and at the same time as absolutely unlimited by the world and man, and as absolutely unchangeable. The God who has revealed Himself in theand the is never identified with, or merged in, the processes of Nature. He is complete and perfect in Himself, and is not the result of any process of self-realization. He is so great that His relations to the created universe cannot begin to exhaust His Being, and yet He stands in the closest relations to man and the world as Creator, Preserver, Governor, and Saviour.
1. Not Lifeless Immobility:
But on the other hand, the Scripture always asserts in unmistakable terms the unchangeableness of God. He is unchangeable in His nature. Although the name ’El Shadday, by which He made Himself known in the patriarchal period of revelation, denotes especially God’s power, this name by no means exhausts the revelation of God in that period. His unchangeableness is involved in His eternity as made known to Abraham (
2. As Contrasted with the Finite:
Not only is the unchangeableness of God’s nature asserted in Scripture, and placed in relation to His dealings with men, but also it is declared to be the distinctive characteristic of God’s nature as contrasted with the entire universe of finite being. While the heavens and the earth change and are passing away, God endures forever and forever the same God (
In accordance with this idea of the unchangeableness of God’s nature, the Scripture, in ascribing life and personality to Him, never regards God as subject to any process of becoming or self-realization, and the views which so conceive of God are unscriptural whether they proceed upon a unitarian or a trinitarian basis.
3. God’s Knowledge, Will and Purpose:
God is also represented in Scripture as unchangeable in His knowledge, will and purpose. He is not a man that He should repent (
Although, therefore, the idea of God as pure abstract Being, out of all relation to the world, is unscriptural, it is no less true that conception of God which represents a reaction from this, and which conceives of God anthropomorphically and as conditioned and determined by the world and man, is also quite contradictory to the Scripture conception of God. This latter tendency goes too far in the opposite direction, and falls into the error of conceiving God’s knowledge, will, purpose and power too anthropomorphically, and as limited by the free acts of man. While the opposite tendency kept God out of all relation to the world, this one erects God’s relation to the world into something which limits Him. This way of conceiving of God, which is the error of Rationalism, Socinianism and Arminianism, is as unscriptural as that which conceives of God as abstract Being, unknowable, and entirely out of relation to the world.
4. In His Relation to the World:
Unchangeable in His nature and attributes, God is likewise unchangeable in His relation to the world, which relation the Scripture represents as creation and providence, and not as emanation. Hence while everything finite changes, God remains ever the same (
In accordance with this idea of the unchangeableness of God’s nature and attributes, the Bible always maintains God’s absoluteness and transcendence of Nature and her processes in all of the relations which He sustains to the finite universe. It came into being by His creative fiat, not by any process of emanation from His Being. He sustains it in existence, and governs it, not by any process of Self-realization in the series of second causes, but from without, by His sovereign will and power. And He intrudes into the series of finite causes miraculously, producing events in Nature which are due solely to His power. When for man’s salvation the
5. His Relations to Men:
It appears, therefore, that the Scripture idea of the unchangeableness of God lays emphasis upon four points. First, it is not lifeless immobility, but the unchangeableness of a living Person. Second, it is, however, a real unchangeableness of God’s nature, attributes and purpose. Third, this unchangeableness is set forth as one of the specific characteristics of Deity in distinction from all that is finite. Fourth, God’s unchangeableness is not dealt with in an abstract or merely theoretic manner, but its religious value is invariably emphasized as constituting God the one true object of religious faith.
Besides the commentaries on appropriate passages, and the discussion of the divine attributes in the general works on systematic theology, see Dillmann, Handbuch der alttest. Theol., 1895, 215-20, 243-44; Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, English translation, 1883, 95, 100; Schultz, Alttest. Theol., 1896, 419; Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, 1904, 45-58, 165. For a fuller discussion see Charhock, "The Immutability of God," Works, volume I, 374-419; Dorner, Ueber die richtige Fassung des dogmatischen Begrifts der Unverdnderlichkeit Gottea, u.s.w.; Article I, "Die neueren Laugnungen der Unveranderlichkeit des personlichen Gottes, u.s.w.," JDT, I, 201-77; II, "Die Geschichte der Lehre von der Unveranderlichkeit Gottea bis auf Schleiermacher," JDT, II, 440-500; III, "Dogmatische Erorterung der Lehre von der Unveranderlichkeit Gottes," JDT, III, 579-660; H. Cremer, Die christliche Lehre von den Eigenschaften Gottea, 1897, pub. in the Beitrage zur Forderung christlicher Theol., I, 7-111; see pp. 10 ff, and especially pp. 102-9.