Observations on the Divine Attributes: The Unchangeableness of Himself and His Decrees -
Position l. God is essentially unchangeable in Himself. Were He otherwise, He would be confessedly imperfect, since whoever changes must change either for the better or for the worse; whatever alteration any being undergoes, that being must, ipso facto, either become more excellent than it was or lose some of the excellency which it had. But neither of these can be the case with God. He cannot change for the better, for that would necessarily imply that He was not perfectly good before; He cannot change for the worse, for then He could not be perfectly good after that change. Therefore, God is unchangeable. And this is the uniform voice of Scripture. "I am the Lord, I change not " (Mal. 3:6). ''With Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning " (James 1:17). "Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end " (Psalm 102:27).
Position 2. God is likewise absolutely unchangeable with regard to His purposes and promises. "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that We should repent : hath He said, and shall He not do it ? or, hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" (Numb. 23:19). "The Strength of Israel will not lie, nor repent; for He is not a man, that He should repent (1 Sam. 15:29). " He is in one mind, and who can turn Him ? '' (Job 23:13). "I, the Lord, have spoken it, it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent " (Ezek. 24:14). "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance " (Rom. 11:29). "He abideth faithful, and cannot deny Himself " (2 Tim. 2:13).
By the purpose or decree of God, we mean His determinate counsel, whereby He did from all eternity preordain whatever He should do, or would permit to be done, in time. In particular, it signifies His everlasting appointment of some men to life, and of others to death, which appointment flows entirely from His own free and sovereign will. ''The children not yet being born, neither having done any good or evil (that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth), it was said, the elder shall serve the younger: as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated " (Rom. ix. 11).
The apostle, then, in the very next words, anticipates an objection, which he foresaw men of corrupt minds would make to this, "What shall we say then? is there unrighteousness with God?" which he answers with, "God forbid! " and resolves the whole of God's procedure with His creatures into His own sovereign and independent will, for He said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
We assert that the decrees of God are not only immutable as to Himself, it being inconsistent with His nature to alter in His purposes or change His mind; but that they are immutable likewise with respect to the objects of those decrees, so that whatsoever God hath determined, concerning every individual person or thing, shall surely and infallibly be accomplished in and upon them. Hence we find that He actually shows mercy on whom He decreed to show mercy, and hardens whom He resolved to harden (Rom. ix. 18); "For His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure " (Isa. 46:10). Consequently, His eternal predestination of men and things must be immutable as Himself, and, so far from being reversible, can never admit of the least variation.
Position 3. "Although," to use the words of Gregory, "God never swerves from His decree, yet He often varies in His declarations "that is always sure and immoveable; these are sometimes seemingly discordant. So when He gave sentence against the Ninevites by Jonah, saying, " Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown," the meaning of the words is not that God absolutely intended, at the end of that space, to destroy the city, but that, should God deal with those people according to their deserts, they would be totally extirpated from the earth, and should be so extirpated unless they repented speedily.
Likewise, when He told King Hezekiah by the prophet Isaiah, "Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live," the meaning was that with respect to second causes, and, considering the king's bad state of health and emaciated constitution, he could not, humanly speaking, live much longer. But still the event showed that God had immutably determined that he should live fifteen years more, and in order to that had put it into his heart to pray for the blessing decreed, just as, in the case of Nineveh, lately mentioned, God had resolved not to overthrow that city then; and, in order to the accomplishment of His own purpose in a way worthy of Himself, made the ministry of Jonah the means of leading that people to repentance. All which, as it shows that God's absolute predestination does not set aside the use of means, so does it likewise prove that, however various the declarations of God may appear (to wit, when they proceed on a regard had to natural causes), His counsels and designs stand firm and immovable, and can neither admit of alteration in themselves, nor of hindrance in their execution.