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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 7. Immutability.

The immutability of God is intimately connected with his immensity and eternity, and is frequently included with them in the Scriptural statements concerning his nature. Thus, when it is said, He is the First and the Last; the Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; or when in contrast with the ever changing and perishing world, it is said: “They shall be changed, but thou art the same;” it is not his eternity more than his immutability that is brought into view. As an infinite and absolute Being, self-existent and absolutely independent, God is exalted above all the causes of and even above the possibility of change. Infinite space and infinite duration cannot change. They must ever be what they are. So God is absolutely immutable in his essence and attributes. He can neither increase nor decrease. He is subject to no process of development, or of self-evolution. His knowledge and power can never be greater or less. He can never be wiser or holier, or more righteous or more merciful than He ever has been and ever must be. He is no less immutable in his plans and purposes. Infinite in wisdom, there can be no error in their conception; infinite in power, there can be no failure in their accomplishment. He is “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James i. 17.) “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?” (Num. xxiii. 19.) “I am the LORD, I change not.” (Mal. iii. 6.) “The counsel of the LORD standeth forever; the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” (Ps. xxxiii. 11.) “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” (Prov. xix. 21.) “The Lord of Hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” (Is. xiv. 24.) “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.” (Is. xlvi. 9, 10.) Those passages of Scripture in which God is said to repent, are to be interpreted on the same principle as those in which He is said to ride upon the wings of the wind, or to walk through the earth. These create no difficulty.

Philosophical Statement.

Theologians, in their attempts to state, in philosophical language, the doctrine of the Bible on the unchangeableness of God, are apt to confound immutability with immobility. In denying that God can change, they seem to deny that He can act. Augustine says, on this subject: “Non invenies in Deo aliquid mutabilitatis; non aliquid, quod aliter nunc sit, aliter paulo ante fuerit. Nam ubi invenis aliter et aliter, facta est ibi quædam mors: mors enim est, non esse quod fuit.411411In Joannis Evangelium Tractatus, xxiii. 9, edit. Benedictines, vol. iii. p. 1952, b, c. Quenstedt uses language still more open to objection, when he says that the immutability of God is “Perpetua essentiæ divinæ et omnium ejus perfectionum identitas, negans omnem omnino motum cum physicum, tum ethicum.412412Theologia, I. viii. § I. xx. p. 414. Turrettin is more cautious, and yet perhaps goes too far. He says: “Potestas variandi actus suos, non est principium mutabilitatis in se, sed tantum in objectis suis; nisi intelligatur de variatione internorum suorum actuum, quos voluntas perfecta non variat, sed imperfecta tantum.413413Locus III. xi. 9, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. i. p. 186. The clause italicized in the above quotation assumes a knowledge of the nature of God to which man has no legitimate claim. It is in vain for us to presume to understand the Almighty to perfection. We know that God is immutable in his being, his perfections, and his purposes; and we know that He is perpetually active. And, therefore, activity and immutability must be compatible; and no explanation of the latter inconsistent with the former ought to be admitted.

The Absolute Attributes of God not inconsistent with Personality.

These attributes of infinity, eternity, and immutability, are freely admitted by the modern philosophy to belong to the absolute Being. But it is maintained that such a Being cannot be a person. Personality implies self-consciousness. Self-consciousness necessarily implies limitation, a distinction between the self and the not-self. Ohne Du kein Ich, — unless there be something objective and independent to which we stand opposed, as subject and object, there can be no consciousness of self. But nothing can be thus objective and independent in relation to the Absolute; and, therefore, the Absolute cannot have any consciousness of self, and consequently cannot be a personal Being. We have already seen (chap. iv.) that this objection is founded on an arbitrary definition of the Infinite and Absolute. It assumes that the Infinite must be all, and that the Absolute must be alone, without relation to anything out of itself. It is here only necessary to remark, in reference to the objection, (1.) That it may be admitted as a fact that the slumbering consciousness of self in the human soul is awakened and developed by contact with what is not only external to itself but also independent of it. But God is not subject to that law. He is eternally perfect and immutable; having in Himself the plenitude of life. There is, therefore, no analogy between the cases, and no ground for inferring in this case that what is true in us, who begin life as an undeveloped germ, must be true in relation to God. (2.) In the second place, we have no right to assume that even with regard to a finite intelligence created in the perfection of its being, self-consciousness is dependent on what is independent of itself. Such a being would of necessity be conscious of its own feelings; for thought is a state of consciousness in an intelligent being. If God, therefore, can make an intelligent being in the perfection of its limited nature, it would be self-conscious even were it left alone in the universe. (3.) Admitting it to be true that “without a Thou there can be no I,” we know that, according to the Scriptures and the faith of the Church universal, there are in the unity of the Godhead three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; so that from eternity the Father can say I, and the Son Thou.

We must abide by the teachings of Scripture, and refuse to subordinate their authority and the intuitive convictions of our moral and religious nature to the arbitrary definitions of any philosophical system. The Bible everywhere teaches that God is an absolute Being, in the sense of being self-existent, necessary, independent, immutable, eternal, and without limitation or necessary relation to anything out of Himself. It teaches moreover that He is infinite; not in the sense of including all being, all power, all knowledge in Himself, to the exclusion of all other intelligent agents; but in the sense that no limit can be assigned to his being or perfections, other than that which arises out of his own perfection itself. He would cease to be infinite could He be unwise or untrue. It is to be remembered that God is infinite and absolute as a spirit, and a spirit from its nature is living, active, intelligent, self-conscious, and personal.


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