1. In His Essence
God is unchangeable in his essence. He is unalterably fixed in his being, so that not a particle of it can be lost from it, not a mite added to it. If a man continue in being as long as Methuselah, 969 years, yet there is not a day, nay, an hour, wherein there is not some alteration in his substance. Though no substantial part is wanting, yet there is an addition to him by his food, a diminution of something by his labor; he is always making some acquisition or suffering some loss. But in God there can be no alteration, by the accession of anything to make his substance greater or better or by diminution to make it less or worse. He who has not being from another cannot but be always what he is: God is the first being, an independent being; he was not produced of himself or of any other but by nature always has been, and therefore he cannot by himself, or by any other, be changed from what he is in his own nature. That which is not may as well assume to itself a being as he who has and is all being should have the least change from what he is. Again, because he is a Spirit, he is not subject to those mutations that are found in corporeal and bodily natures. Because he is an absolutely simple Spirit, not having the least particle of composition, he is not capable of those changes that may be in created spirits.
This two-volume set, edited by Mark Jones, contains an updated and unabridged edition of Charnock's work, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, written to instruct and encourage Christians through exegetical commentary and pastoral application.
If his essence were mutable, he could not be perfectly blessed and fully rejoice in himself. If he changed for the better, he could not have an infinite pleasure in what he was before the change, because he was not infinitely blessed; and the pleasure of that state could not be of a higher kind than the state itself or, at least, the apprehension of a happiness in it. If he changed for the worse, he could not have a pleasure in it after the change, for according to the diminution of his state would be the decrease of his pleasure. His pleasure could not be infinite before the change if he changed for the better; it could not be infinite after the change if he changed for the worse. If he changed for the better, he would not have had an infinite goodness of being before, and not having an infinite goodness of being, he would have a finite goodness of being—for there is no medium between finite and infinite. Then, though the change were for the better, yet, being finite before, something would be still wanting to make him infinitely blessed, because being finite, he could not change to that which is infinite. For finite and infinite are extremes so distant that they can never pass into one another—that is, that what is finite should become infinite or that what is infinite should become finite, so that supposing him mutable, his essence in no state of change could furnish him with an infinite peace and blessedness.
2. In His Knowledge
God is immutable in regard of knowledge. God has known from all eternity all that which he can know, so that nothing is hid from him. He knows not at present any more than he has known from eternity, and that which he knows now he always knows: “All things are open and naked before him” (Heb. 4:13). A man is said to be changed in regard of knowledge when he knows now what he did not know before or knows that to be false now that he thought true before or has something for the object of his understanding now that he had not before.
But this would be repugnant to the wisdom and omniscience that belongs to the notions of a deity. That cannot be God that is not infinitely wise; that cannot be infinitely wise that is either ignorant of or mistaken in his apprehension of any one thing. If God be changed in knowledge, it must be for want of wisdom; all change of this nature in creatures implies this defect preceding or accompanying it. Such a thought of God would have been unworthy of him who is “only wise,” that has no mate1 for wisdom (1 Tim. 1:17); there is none wise besides himself. If he knew that thing this day that he knew not before, he would not be an “only wise” being, for a being that did know everything at once might be conceived and so a wiser being be apprehended by the mind of man. If God understood a thing at one time that he did not at another, he would be changed from ignorance to knowledge, as, if he could not do that this day which he could do tomorrow, he would be changed from impotence to power. He could not be always omniscient, because there might be yet something still to come that he yet knows not, though he may know all things that are past. Whatever way you suppose a change, you must suppose a present or a past ignorance: if he be changed in his knowledge for the perfection of his understanding, he was ignorant before; if his understanding be impaired by the change, he is ignorant after it.
3. In His Will
God is unchangeable in regard of his will and purpose. A change in his purpose is when a man determines now to do that which before he determined not to do, or to do the contrary—when a man hates that thing which he loved or begins to love that which he before hated. When the will is changed, a man begins to will that which he willed not before and ceases to will that which he willed before. But whatsoever God has decreed is immutable; whatsoever God has promised shall be accomplished: “The word that goes forth of his mouth shall not return to him void, but it shall accomplish that which he pleases” (Isa. 55:11); whatsoever “he purposes, he will do” (Num. 23:19; Isa. 46:11). His decrees are therefore called “mountains of brass” (Zech. 6:1): brass, as having substance and solidity; mountains, as being immovable, not only by any creature but by himself, because they stand upon the basis of infallible wisdom and are supported by uncontrollable power. From this immutability of his will, published to man, there could be no release from the severity of the law without satisfaction made by the death of a mediator, since it was the unalterable will of God that death should be the wages of sin. And from this immutable will it was that the length of time, from the first promise of the Redeemer to his mission and the daily provocations of men, altered not his purpose for the accomplishment of it in the fullness of that time he had resolved upon, nor did the wickedness of former ages hinder the addition of several promises as buttresses to the first.
But whatsoever God has decreed is immutable; whatsoever God has promised shall be accomplished.
There can be no reason for any change in the will of God. When men change in their minds, it must be for want of foresight, because they could not foresee all the rubs and bars that might suddenly offer themselves—which if they had foreseen, they would not have taken such measures. Hence men often will that which they afterward wish they had not willed when they come to understand it more clearly and see that to be injurious to them which they thought to be good for them; or else the change proceeds from a natural instability without any just cause and an easiness to be drawn into that which is unrighteous; or else it proceeds from a want of power, when men take new counsels, because they are invincibly hindered from executing the old. But none of those can be in God.
4. In His Place
As God is unchangeable in regard of essence, knowledge, purpose, so he is unchangeable in regard of place. He cannot be changed in time, because he is eternity; so he cannot be changed in place, because he has ubiquity. He is eternal, therefore cannot be changed in time; he is omnipresent, therefore cannot be changed in place. He does not begin to be in one place wherein he was not before or cease to be in a place wherein he was before. He who fills every place in heaven and earth cannot change place; he cannot leave one to possess another who is equally, in regard of his essence, in all: “He fills heaven and earth” (Jer. 23:24). The heavens that are not subject to those changes to which sublunary bodies are subject, that are not diminished in quantity or quality, yet they are always changing place in regard of their motion; no part of them does always continue in the same point. But God has no change of his nature, because he is most inward in everything; he is substantially in all spaces, real and imaginary. There is no part of the world that he does not fill; no place can be imagined wherein he does not exist.
Therefore observe that when God is said to draw near to us when we draw near to him (James 4:8), it is not by local motion or change of place but by special and spiritual influences, by exciting and supporting grace. As we ordinarily say, the sun is come into the house when yet it remains in its place and order in the heavens, because the beams pierce through the windows and enlighten the room, so when God is said to come down or descend (Gen. 11:5; Ex. 34:5), it is not by a change of place but by a change of outward acts, when he puts forth himself in ways of fresh mercy or new judgments in the effluxes of his love or the flames of his wrath, when good men feel the warm beams of his grace refreshing them, or wicked men feel the hot coals of his anger scorching them. God’s drawing near to us is not so much his coming to us but his drawing us to him, as when watermen pull a rope that is in one end fastened to the shore and the other end to the vessel: the shore is immovable, yet it seems to the eye to come to them, but they really move to the shore.2 God is an immovable rock; we are floating and uncertain creatures. While he seems to approach to us, he does really make us to approach to him; he comes not to us by any change of place himself but draws us to him by a change of mind, will, and affections in us.
- [That is, no equal.]
- The ancients, as Dionysius, expressed it by this similitude. [Charnock notes the theologian and philosopher Pseudo-Dionysius (5th–6th c.), The Divine Names; and Mystical Theology, trans. John D. Jones, Mediaeval Philosophical Texts in Translation 21 (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2011), 129–30.]
This article is adapted from The Existence and Attributes of God: Updated and Unabridged by Stephen Charnock and edited by Mark Jones.
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