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The Great Unchangeable
[Adapted from “The Immutability of God,” Sermon 1, Charles H. Spurgeon, 01/07/1855]
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, chapter 3, and follow along as I read verse 6. Hear what the spirit says to us.
“I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
It has been said that “the proper study of mankind is man.” That may be true, but it is equally true that the proper study of God’s people is God, and the proper study of a Christian is Christ. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy that can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the nature and work of the Lord God Almighty. The contemplation of Divinity improves our minds and hearts and souls. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.
Other subjects we can study and know. For example, dinosaurs. We may know that the largest dinosaurs were were over 100 feet (30 m) long and up to 50 feet (15 m) tall (like Argentinosaurus, Seismosaurus, Ultrasauros, Brachiosaurus, and Supersaurus). The smallest dinosaurs, like Compsognathus, were about the size of a chicken. We may know that most dinosaurs were plant-eaters, like Triceratops. Some walked on two legs, some walked on four, some could do both. Some were fast (like Velociraptor), some were slow (like Ankylosaurus). Some were armor-plated, some had horns, crests, spikes, or frills. Some had thick, bumpy skin, and some even had primitive feathers. The dinosaurs dominated the Earth for over 165 million years during the Mesozoic Era, but mysteriously went extinct 65 million years ago. Are you impressed yet with my dinosaur knowledge, or at least with my ability to use an encyclopedia?
I can speak with satisfaction about my knowledge of dinosaurs, but when it comes to knowledge of God, there are always depths where we cannot go and heights that we cannot ascend. When we contemplate God, we are humbled and exalted and comforted. In contemplating Christ, we find a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, we have consolation for every grief. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then lose yourself in God.
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi 3:6 has something to say about God. “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” The verse naturally divides into three parts: an unchanging God; “the sons of Jacob;” and they “are not consumed.”.
I. First, let us consider what might be called the doctrine of the immutability of God.
God’s essence is unchangeable. That may sound profound but it actually is not because we do not know what the essence of God is. We do not know what God is made of. God has an essence, God has being; or rather God is the ground of being, but what that being is, we know not. However, whatever it is, we call it God’s essence, and that essence never changes.
This world is ever changing. The mountains with their snow-white crowns, become green in summer. The ocean loses its water to the sun’s heat, which water goes up as a mist into the sky where it turns into rain. All creatures change. People change constantly. Every cell in the human body is constantly rejuvenated so that in a seven year period every part of you is made new. Not a single particle that is in your body now was in your body seven years ago. Your body is constantly renewing itself, constantly altering itself. And this is true of the whole world. The fabric of which this world is made is ever passing away. But God is perpetually the same. God is not composed of any substance or material, God is spirit. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q4) says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” God is pure, essential, and ethereal spirit; therefore, God remains everlastingly the same. To speak figuratively, God’s face is not lined with age. God’s hands show no age spots. God does not grow frail with the passing years. God is the Great Unchangeable.
God changes not in his characteristics. Whatever the attributes of God were of old, that they are now.
Was God powerful? Was God all-mighty when he spoke the world out of the womb of nonexistence? Was God omnipotent when he piled the mountains and scooped out the hollow places for the oceans? Yes, God was powerful then, and God is powerful now.
Was God wise when he laid the foundations of the universe? Was God wise when from all eternity he planned the way of our salvation? Yes, and God is wise now; God has not less knowledge; his eye which sees all things is undimmed; his ear which hears all, has not grown deaf by the passage of years.
Above all, God is unchanged in his love. God has not become an Almighty tyrant, He was our Father and his fatherly love stands like a granite rock, unmoved by the storms of our iniquity. He proved that when he sent his Son to this earth to bleed and die for us. And God loves us much now as he did then, and when suns ceases to shine, and the universe grows cold God will still love us.
God changes not in his plans. People are always beginning to build, realizing that our plans are not going to work, and changing our plans to make them work. For example, no program written for a computer ever worked when it was run the first time. There is a whole system for writing computer programs that involves writing the program, running it, seeing if fail, rewriting it, or debugging it, as the phrase is, running it again, seeing it fail again, debugging it some more. After going through this process a dozen times or more, you might get a simple computer program to work. That is sort of typical of the way human beings plan and replan and replan again. But it is not typical of God. God never needs to reverse or alter his plans.
It also follows then that God never changes his promises. We love to speak about the sweet promises of God; but if we could suppose that God’s promises could be changed, we would be hesitant to say much about them. The money we have, the dollars we have, is basically the promise of the United States government that we can use this money to buy things. If I thought that all the money could not be used to buy anything next week, I would know that the promise of the government was false, and I would not take any more dollars. And if I thought that God’s promises would never be fulfilled, then I would not have much faith in either God or scripture.
But God’s promises are unchangeable. When I turn to God’s Scripture, I find that the Gospel is not “yea and nay,” it is not promising today, and denying tomorrow; but the gospel is “yea, yea.” The gospel is the same promise yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Thus if we stand on on the scripture, we stand on a rock that cannot be shaken. Spurgeon quotes a story about a slave. The master said to the slave, , “I can’t think how it is you are always so happy in the Lord and I am often downcast.” “Why Massa,” said the slave, “I throw myself flat down on the promise — there I lie; you stand on the promise — you have a little to do with it, and down you go when the wind comes, and then you cry, ‘Oh! I am down;’ whereas I go flat on the promise at once, and that is why I fear no fall.”
That is the only way to live, to go “flat down on the promise” of the Word.
But let us consider the negative side of the promises of an unchanging God. Every promise of God, every decree of God shall be fulfilled. Here is a decree of God: “He that believeth not shall be damned.” That is a decree, and a statute that can never change. Be as good as you can, be as moral as you can, be as honest as you can, walk as uprightly as you can, yet there stands the unchangeable decree: “He that believeth not shall be damned.” We may wish we could alter that. We wish it said, “He that does not live a good moral life shall be damned.” It does not say that; It says, “He that believeth not.” That promise of God—it is a promise thought a negative promise--is as unchangeable as God himself. And when a thousand years of hell’s torments have passed away, unbelievers shall look on high, and see that decree, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” And when a million ages have rolled away, and the unbeliever, exhausted by pains and agonies, shall turn up his eye, he shall still read “SHALL BE DAMNED,” unchanged, unaltered.
That is the warning we are given. That is a promise for the Great Unchangeable. Take heed.
II. Now let us go on to the second part of Malachi 3:6. the “sons of Jacob.”
Who are “the sons of Jacob?” They are the people God has chosen. The scripture says, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated, the children being not yet born neither having done good nor evil.” “The sons of Jacob” are the children of God’s election who through God’s grace believe God. “The sons of Jacob” are those whom God foreknew and fore-ordained to everlasting salvation.
We should note that “the sons of Jacob” are persons who have rights and privileges. Jacob, the son of Isaac, had no rights by birth, but he soon acquired them. He swapped his brother Esau a bowl of soup for a birthright. He impersonated his brother to obtain a blessing. I do not justify the means that Jacob used, but he did obtain rights and privileges. Thus, ‘the sons of Jacob”, are people who have certain rights and privileges. They have the right to be called children of God. They have a right to enter into the gates of the New Jerusalem. They have a promise to everlasting glory.
You may remember that Jacob on a journey lay down to sleep. He had the hedges for his curtains, the sky for his canopy, a stone for his pillow, and the earth for his bed. And he had a vision. He saw a ladder with the angels of God ascending and descending. What he saw was Jesus Christ, the ladder that reaches from earth to heaven, up and down which angels came to bring us mercies. Jacob had another vision at Mahanaim, when the angels of God met him; and still another at Peniel, when he wrestled with God.
Now you may not be much into visions, You may shy away from the notion that God would make his presence known to us. You may say, “that is fanaticism.” Well, it is a blessed fanaticism. The sons of Jacob are people who talk with God as they talk with a friend; the sons of Jacob whisper in the ear of the Lord; Christ invites them to his supper; and the Holy Spirit shines into their souls
The “sons of Jacob” are people of certain character. Some things about Jacob’s character we cannot commend, but one or two things God commends. God commends Jacob’s faith. The question is then are we like Jacob, are we a people of faith? Do we know what it is to walk by faith, and to live by faith. Is faith the rule of our life? if so, we are the “sons of Jacob.”
III. Thirdly, let us talk about the third part of the verse: “Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
Sometimes we feel that we are being consumed by our trials and troubles. The Biblical Jacob was a man of trials. He had to run away from his father’s house to Laban’s; and then surly old Laban cheated him all the years he was there — cheated him of his wife, cheated him of his wages, cheated him of his flocks. Then he had to run away from Laban. Next came Esau with four hundred men to cut him up root and branch. A little further on, Rachael, his beloved wife, died. Then his daughter Dinah was raped, and his sons murdered the Shechemites. Then his favorite son Joseph was sold into Egypt, and a famine comes. At last Benjamin is taken away; and the old man, almost broken-hearted, cries, “Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away.” Things did not go well for Jacob on this earth. And many of us can identify with him. We have our own trials and troubles. But there is yet a good word for us. God says, “I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” God assures us that he is with us and that our troubles will not utterly destroy us.
That is a promise from God. What if we did not have that promise? We would in fact be condemned already, though alive, we would already be dead. Had God left us to our own devices, we would have been lost in sin and lost to God. Had God left us, had God been a changing God, we would have been amongst the filthiest of the filthy, and the vilest of the vile. We remember times in our life when we were on the edge of sin. Some strong temptation took hold of us, and pushed us along. We felt dragged by an awful satanic power to the very edge of some dark cliff, and we looked down and realized that we were on the brink of ruin. Then a strong arm saved us and drew us back from destruction. God saved us and led us away from sins we might have committed and crimes we might have committed. So today we can all say, I am here, unconsumed, because the Lord changes not.
If God changed, we would be consumed by ourselves. In this matter, we are our own worst enemies. Mr. Self is the worst enemy a Christian has. We should have destroyed our own souls; we should have mixed the cup of poison for our own spirits, if the Lord had not been an unchanging God, and dashed the cup out of our hands when we were about to drink it.
We call God Father; but no human father would put up with what God puts up with from his children. God has a pack of unbelieving, ungrateful, disobedient, forgetful, rebellious, wandering, murmuring, and stiffnecked children. The real wonder, the real miracle of human history, is that God has put up with us this long. The miracle is that God loves us anyway. there was nothing in us to love at first, so, there cannot be less now.
John Newton used to tell the story of a Christian lady who said, in order to prove the doctrine of Election, “Ah! sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else he would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.”
John Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a merchant ship captain. When John was eleven, he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him before the elder Newton retired. Eventually Newton became captain of a slave ship. He trafficked in human flesh. But on a voyage home, the ship was caught in a violent storm Newton recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship seemed about to sink, he exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy upon us." The ship was saved. Later in his cabin Newton reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that God’s grace had begun to work in him. Newton called the storm his "great deliverance.” For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of that storm, May 10, 1748, as the day of his conversion. Many years later, he became an Anglican clergyman and wrote our hymn “Amazing Grace.” One verse reads:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That sav'd a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
Newton was well aware that he was about as far from God as is possible for a human being to be. He was the wretch who not only was not saved, he had no intention of being saved. He was lost and had no intention of being found, was blind and did not want to see. Yet by God’s grace, he did see, he was found, he was saved.
When that lady said, “the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else he would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.” Newton knew exactly what she was talking about. He knew that if God had not loved him from all eternity, he certainly would not have found anything to love in an evil slave ship captain.
But the great unchangeable did love him and did save him. He was not consumed.
That is what we need to understand. We are all john Newton, we are all Jacob. We deserved to be consumed. That is what we deserved. But God loves us, and so we are not consumed. We are saved by the grace of God. We are God’s people now and forever. To which we all say, Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 7/23/03