Tuesday, August 18, 2020

James on the Immutability of God

Image: "Bouldering" at Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County, Virginia, August 2020.

More reflection on the doctrine of God from Sunday before last's sermon on James 1:17-20:

James 1:17 Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The reference to every good and perfect gift may refer to the Lord’s generous supply of our every material need.

It may also refer to spiritual gifts, graces, and blessings.

These things come down “from above.” The idea is of a God who is transcendent, who is exalted, who is high and lifted up. As the Lord said through Isaiah, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). In that same chapter Isaiah records the Lord saying that just as he sends forth the rain and the snow to water the earth, so also he sends down his word, which will not return to him void, lest it accomplish that which pleases him (vv.10-11). I think James may well have had Isaiah 55 in mind as he composed this passage.

Theology is being taught here. God the Father is not lateral with us. He is not our buddy, our colleague, our peer. We are not co-creators with him in any ultimate sense. He is above, and we are below. He gives, and we receive. He blesses, and we are blessed.

James was a Calvinist!

He makes another point about the identity or nature of God in v. 17b: “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

The point here is that God does not change. To use the language of the philosophers, God is immutable. God does not possess or express passions as men do.

In Numbers 23, the pagan King Balak tries to hire a pagan prophet Balaam to curse Israel but every time Balaam opens his mouth to curse Israel, out comes blessings.

When Balak expresses his frustration about this, Balaam responds:

Numbers 23:19 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?

There are so many things that are comforting about this. God’s moral law does not change. God’s plan of salvation does not change. And, perhaps most comforting of all, God does not change his mind about us, just as he did not change his mind about Israel of old. God’s decree of election to salvation does not change. As Christ put it: “no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).


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