It is evident that we need more than a theoretical knowledge of God. Yet we can know God only as he reveals himself to us in the Scriptures, and we cannot know the Scriptures until we are willing to be changed by them. Knowledge of God occurs only when we also know our deep spiritual need and when we are receptive to God’s gracious provision for our need through the work of Christ and the application of that work to us by God’s Spirit.
Having established this base, we nevertheless come back to the question of God himself and we ask, “But who is God? Who is this one who reveals himself in Scripture, in the person of Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit?” We may admit that a true knowledge of God must change us. We may be willing to be changed. But where do we begin?
“I Am Who I Am”
Since the Bible is a unity we could answer these questions by starting at any point in the biblical revelation. We could begin with Revelation 22:21 as well as with Genesis 1:1. But there is no better starting point than God’s revelation of himself to Moses at the burning bush. Moses, the great leader of Israel, had long been aware of the true God, for he had been born into a godly family. Still, when God said that he would send him to Egypt and through him deliver the people of Israel, Moses responded, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” We are told that God then answered Moses by saying, “I AM WHO I AM. . . . Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:13-14).
“I AM WHO I AM.” The name is linked with the ancient name for God, Jehovah. But it is more than a name. It is a descriptive name, pointing to all that God is in himself. In particular, it shows him to be the One who is entirely self-existent, self-sufficient and eternal.
These are abstract concepts, of course. But they are important, for these attributes more than any others set God apart from his creation and reveal him as being what he is in himself. God is perfect in all his attributes. But there are some attributes that we, his creatures, share. For instance, God is perfect in his love. Yet by his grace we also love. He is all wise; but we also possess a measure of wisdom. He is all powerful; and we exercise a limited power. It is not like that in regard to God’s self-existence, self-sufficiency and eternity, however. He alone possesses those characteristics. He exists in and of himself; we do not. He is entirely self-sufficient; we are not. He is eternal; we are newcomers on the scene.
Self-existence means that God has no origins and consequently is answerable to no one. Matthew Henry says, “The greatest and best man in the world must say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says absolutely — and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can say — I am that I am.”1 SoGod has no origins; his existence does not depend on anybody.
Self-existence is a hard concept for us to grapple with for it means that God as he is in himself is unknowable. Everything that we see, smell, hear, taste or touch has origins. We can hardly think in any other category. Anything we observe must have a cause adequate to explain it. We seek for such causes. Cause and effect is even the basis for the belief in God possessed by those who, nevertheless, don’t truly know him. Such individuals believe in God, not because they have had a personal experience of him or because they have discovered God in Scripture, but only because they infer his existence. “Everything comes from something; consequently, there must be a great something that stands behind everything.” Cause and effect point to God, but — and this is the issue — they point to a God who is beyond understanding, indeed to one who is beyond us in every way. They indicate that God cannot be known and evaluated like other things can.
A. W. Tozer has noted that this is one reason why philosophy and science have not always been friendly toward the idea of God. These disciplines are dedicated to the task of accounting for things as we know them and are therefore impatient with anything that refuses to give an account of itself. Philosophers and scientists will admit that there is much they don’t know. But it is another thing to admit that there is something they can never know completely and which, in fact, they don’t even have techniques for discovering. To discover God, scientists may attempt to bring God down to their level, defining him as “natural law,” “evolution” or some such principle. But still God eludes them. There is more to God than any such concepts can delineate.
Perhaps, too, this is why even Bible-believing people seem to spend so little time thinking about God’s person and character. Tozer writes,
Few of us have let our hearts gaze in wonder at the I AM, the self-existent Self back of which no creature can think. Such thoughts are too painful for us. We prefer to think where it will do more good — about how to build a better mousetrap, for instance, or how to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before. And for this we are now paying a too heavy price in the secularization of our religion and the decay of our inner lives.2
God’s self-existence means that he is not answerable to us or to anybody, and we don’t like that. We want God to give an account of himself, to defend his actions. Although he sometimes explains things to us, he doesn’t have to and often he does not. God doesn’t have to explain himself to anybody.
The second quality of God communicated to us in the name “I AM WHO I AM” is self-sufficiency. Again it is possible to have at least a sense of the meaning of this abstract term. Self-sufficiency means God has no needs and therefore depends on no one.
Here we run counter to a widespread and popular idea: God cooperates with human beings, each thereby supplying something lacking in the other. It is imagined, for example, that God lacks glory and therefore creates men and women to supply it. He takes care of them as a reward. Or again, it is imagined that God needs love and therefore creates men and women to love him. Some talk about the creation as if God were lonely and therefore created us to keep him company. On a practical level we see the same thing in those who imagine that women and men are necessary to carry out God’s work of salvation as witnesses or as defenders of the faith, forgetting that Jesus himself declared that “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Lk. 3:8).
God does not need worshipers. Arthur W. Pink, who writes on this theme in The Attributes of God, says,
God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That he chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on his part, caused by nothing outside himself, determined by nothing but his own mere good pleasure; for he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will”(Eph. 1:11). That he did create was simply for his manifestative glory. . . . God is no gainer even from our worship. He was in no need of that external glory of his grace which arises from his redeemed, for he is glorious enough in himself without that. What was it moved him to predestinate his elect to the praise of the glory of his grace? It was, as Ephesians 1:5 tells us, “according to the good pleasure of his will.” . . . The force of this is [that] it is impossible to bring the Almighty under obligations to the creature; God gains nothing from us.3
Tozer makes the same point. “Were all human beings suddenly to become blind, still the sun would shine by day and the stars by night, for these owe nothing to the millions who benefit from their light. So, were every man on earth to become an atheist, it could not affect God in any way. He is what he is in himself without regard to any other. To believe in him adds nothing to his perfections; to doubt him takes nothing away.”4
Nor does God need helpers. This truth is probably harder for us to accept than almost any other. For we imagine God as a friendly, but almost pathetic, grandfather figure bustling about to see whom he can find to help him in managing the world and saving the world’s race. What a travesty! To be sure, God has entrusted a work of management to us. He said to the original pair in Eden, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). God also has given those who believe in him a commission to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15). True, but no aspect of God’s ordering of his creation has a necessary grounding in himself. God has chosen to do things thus. He didn’t need to do them. Indeed, he could have done them in any one of a million other ways. That he did choose to do things thus is therefore solely dependent upon the free and sovereign exercise of his will and so does not give us any inherent value to him.
To say that God is self-sufficient also means that God does not need defenders. Clearly, we have opportunities to speak for God before those who would dishonor his name and malign his character. We ought to do so. But even if we should fail, we must not think that God is deprived thereby. God does not need to be defended, for he is as he is and will remain so regardless of the sinful and arrogant attacks of evil individuals. A God who needs to be defended is no God. Rather, the God of the Bible is the self-existent One who is the true defender of his people.
When we realize that God is the only truly self-sufficient One, we begin to understand why the Bible has so much to say about the need for faith in God alone and why unbelief in God is such sin. Tozer writes: “Among all created beings, not one dare trust in itself. God alone trusts in himself; all other beings must trust in him. Unbelief is actually perverted faith, for it puts its trust not in the living God but in dying men.”5 If we refuse to trust God, what we are actually saying is that either we or some other person or thing is more trustworthy. That is a slander against the character of God, and it is folly. Nothing else is all-sufficient. On the other hand, if we begin by trusting God (by believing in him), we have a solid foundation for all life. God is sufficient, and his Word to his creatures can be trusted.
Because God is sufficient, we may begin by resting in that sufficiency and so work effectively for him. God does not need us. But the joy of coming to know him is in learning that he nevertheless stoops to work in and through those who are his believing and obedient children.
Alpha and Omega
A third quality inherent in the name of God given to Moses (“I AM WHO I AM”) is everlastingness, perpetuity or eternity. The quality is difficult to put in one word, but it is simply that God is, has always been and will always be, and that he is ever the same in his eternal being. We find this attribute of God everywhere in the Bible. Abraham called Jehovah “the Everlasting God”(Gen. 21:33). Moses wrote, “LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God” (Ps. 90:1-2). The book of Revelation describes God as the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end”(Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). The creatures before the throne cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8).
The fact that God is eternal has two major consequences for us. The first is that he can be trusted to remain as he reveals himself to be. The word usually used to describe this quality is immutability, which means unchangeableness. “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”(Jas. 1:17).
God is unchangeable in his attributes. So we need not fear, for example, that the God who once loved us in Christ will somehow change his mind and cease to love us in the future. God is always love toward his people. Similarly, we must not think that perhaps he will change his attitude toward sin, so that he will begin to classify as “permissible” something that was formerly prohibited. Sin will always be sin because it is defined as any transgression of or lack of conformity to the law of God, who is unchangeable. God will always be holy, wise, gracious, just and everything else that he reveals himself to be. Nothing that we do will ever change the eternal God.
God is also unchangeable in his counsels or will. He does what he has determined beforehand to do and his will never varies. Some will point out that certain verses in the Bible tell us that God repented of some act — as in Genesis 6:6, “The LORD was sorry that he had made man.”In this example, a human word is being used to indicate God’s severe displeasure with human activities. It is countered by such verses as Numbers 23:19 (“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?”); 1 Samuel 15:29 (“The Glory of Israel will not lie or repent; for he is not a man, that he should repent”); Romans 11:29 (“The gifts and call of God are irrevocable”); and Psalm 33:11 (“The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations”).
Such statements are a source of great comfort to God’s people. If God were like us, he could not be relied on. He would change, and as a result of that his will and his promises would change. We could not depend on him. But God is not like us. He does not change. Consequently, his purposes remain fixed from generation to generation. Pink says, “Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of his promises.”6
The second major consequence for us of God’s unchangeableness is that he is inescapable. If he were a mere human and if we didn’t like either him or what he was doing, we might ignore him knowing that he might always change his mind, move away from us or die. But God does not change his mind. He does not move away. He will not die. Consequently, we cannot escape him. Even if we ignore him now, we must reckon with him in the life to come. If we reject him now, we must eventually face the One we have rejected and come to know his eternal rejection of us.
No Other Gods
We are led to a natural conclusion, namely, that we should. seek and worship the true God. This chapter has been based for the most part on Exodus 3:14, in which God reveals to Moses the name by which he desires to be known. That revelation came on the verge of the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt. After the exodus, God gave a revelation on Mount Sinai which applies the earlier disclosure of himself as the true God to the religious life and worship of the delivered nation.
God said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:2-6). These verses make three points, all based on the premise that the God who reveals himself in the Bible is the true God:
We are to worship God and obey him.
We are to reject the worship of any other god.
We are to reject the worship of the true God by any means that are unworthy of him, such as the use of pictures or images.
At first glance it seems quite strange that a prohibition against the use of images in worship should have a place at the very start of the ten basic principles of biblical religion, the Ten Commandments. But it is not strange when we remember that the characteristics of a religion flow from the nature of the religion’s god. If the god is unworthy, the religion will be unworthy too. If the concept of God is of the highest order, the religion will be of a high order also. So God tells us in these verses that any physical representation of him is dishonoring to him. Why? For two reasons. First, it obscures his glory, for nothing visible can ever adequately represent it. Second, it misleads those who would worship him.
Both of these errors are represented by Aaron’s manufacture of the golden calf, as J. I. Packer indicates in his discussion of idolatry. In Aaron’s mind, at least, though probably not in the minds of the people, the calf was intended to represent Jehovah. He thought, no doubt, that a figure of a bull (even a small one) communicated the thought of God’s strength. But, of course, it didn’t do so adequately. And it didn’t at all communicate his other great attributes: his sovereignty, righteousness, mercy, love and justice. Rather, it obscured them.
Moreover, the figure of the bull misled the worshipers. They readily associated it with the fertility gods and goddesses of Egypt, and the result of their worship was an orgy. Packer concludes,
It is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him. Thus you will in this sense “bow down” and “worship” your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship.7
“My Lord and My God”
To avoid the worship of images or even the use of images in the worship of the true God is not in itself worship. We are to recognize that the true God is the eternal, self-existent and self-sufficient One, the One immeasurably beyond our highest thoughts. Therefore, we are to humble ourselves and learn from him, allowing him to teach us what he is like and what he has done for our salvation. Do we do what he commands? Are we sure that in our worship we are actually worshiping the true God who has revealed himself in the Bible?
There is only one way to answer that question truthfully. It is to ask: Do I really know the Bible, and do I worship God on the basis of the truth I find there? That truth is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, as seen in the Bible. There the invisible God is made visible, the inscrutable knowable, the eternal God disclosed in space and time. Do I look to Jesus in order to know God? Do I think of God’s attributes by what Jesus shows me of them? If not, I am worshiping an image of God, albeit an image of my own devising. If I look to Jesus, then I can know that I am worshiping the true God, as he has revealed himself. Paul says that although some knew God they nevertheless “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). Let us determine that this shall not be true of us. We see God in Jesus. So let us know him as God, love him as God, serve him as God and worship him as God.
Matthew Henry, Commentary on the WholeBible,Vol. 1 (New York: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), p. 284
A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of theHoly (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 34.
Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, n.d.), pp. 2-3.
Tozer, p. 40.
Ibid., p. 42.
Pink, p. 41.
J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 41
James Montgomery Boice held a B.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Theology from the University of Basel in Switzerland. He was the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and the author of many books, including the three volumes in the series, “Foundations of the Christian Faith”. This article is taken from volume one of that same series, entitled The Sovereign God.
O Christ our Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. As conies to their rock, so have we run to Thee for safety; as birds from their wanderings, so have we flown to Thee for peace. Chance and change are busy in our little world of nature and men, but in Thee we find no variableness nor shadow of turning. We rest in Thee without fear or doubt and face our tomorrows without anxiety. Amen.
The immutability of God is among those attributes less difficult to understand, but to grasp it we must discipline ourselves to sort out the usual thoughts with which we think of created things from the rarer ones that arise when we try to lay hold of whatever may be comprehended of God.
To say that God is immutable is to say that He never differs from Himself. The concept of a growing or developing God is not found in the Scriptures. It seems to me impossible to think of God as varying from Himself in any way. Here is why:
For a moral being to change it would be necessary that the change be in one of three directions. He must go from better to worse or from worse to better; or, granted that the moral quality remain stable, he must change within himself, as from immature to mature or from one order of being to another. It should be clear that God can move in none of these directions. His perfections forever rule out any such possibility.
God cannot change for the better. Since He is perfectly holy, He has never been less holy than He is now and can never be holier than He is and has always been. Neither can God change for the worse. Any deterioration within the unspeakably holy nature of God is impossible. Indeed I believe it impossible even to think of such a thing, for the moment we attempt to do so, the object about which we are thinking is no longer God but something else and someone less than He. The one of whom we are thinking may be a great and awesome creature, but because he is a creature he cannot be the self-existent Creator.
As there can be no mutation in the moral character of God, so there can be none within the divine essence. The being of God is unique in the only proper meaning of that word; that is, His being is other than and different from all other beings. We have seen how God differs from His creatures in being self-existent, self-sufficient, and eternal. By virtue of these attributes God is God and not some other being. One who can suffer any slightest degree of change is neither self-existent, self-sufficient, nor eternal, and so is not God.
Only a being composed of parts may change, for change is basically a shift in the relation of the parts of a whole or the admission of some foreign element into the original composition. Since God is self-existent, He is not composed. There are in Him no parts to be altered. And since He is self-sufficient, nothing can enter His being from without.
“Whatever is composed of parts,” says Anselm, “is not altogether one, but is in some sort plural, and diverse from itself; and either in fact or in concept is capable of dissolution. But these things are alien to Thee, than whom nothing better can be conceived of. Hence, there are no parts in Thee, Lord, nor art Thou more than one. But Thou art so truly a unitary being, and so identical with Thyself, that in no respect art Thou unlike Thyself; rather Thou art unity itself, indivisible by any conception.”
“All that God is He has always been, and all that He has been and is He will ever be.” Nothing that God has ever said about Himself will be modified; nothing the inspired prophets and apostles have said about Him will be rescinded. His immutability guarantees this.
The immutability of God appears in its most perfect beauty when viewed against the mutability of men. In God no change is possible; in men change is impossible to escape. Neither the man is fixed nor his world, but he and it are in constant flux. Each man appears for a little while to laugh and weep, to work and play, and then to go to make room for those who shall follow him in the never-ending cycle.
Certain poets have found a morbid pleasure in the law of impermanence and have sung in a minor key the song of perpetual change. Omar the tentmaker was one who sang with pathos and humor of mutation and mortality, the twin diseases that afflict mankind. “Don’t slap that clay around so roughly,” he exhorts the potter, “that may be your grandfather’s dust you make so free with.” “When you lift the cup to drink red wine,” he reminds the reveler, “you may be kissing the lips of some beauty dead long ago.”
This note of sweet sorrow expressed with gentle humor gives a radiant beauty to his quatrains but, however beautiful, the whole long poem is sick, sick unto death. Like the bird charmed by the serpent that would devour it, the poet is fascinated by the enemy that is destroying him and all men and every generation of men.
The sacred writers, too, face up to man’s mutability, but they are healthy men and there is a wholesome strength in their words. They have found the cure for the great sickness. God, they say, changes not. The law of mutation belongs to a fallen world, but God is immutable, and in Him men of faith find at last eternal permanence. In the meanwhile change works for the children of the kingdom, not against them. The changes that occur in them are wrought by the hand of the inliving Spirit. “But we all,” says the apostle, “with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
In a world of change and decay not even the man of faith can be completely happy. Instinctively he seeks the unchanging and is bereaved at the passing of dear familiar things.
O Lord! my heart is sick,
Sick of this everlasting change;
And life runs tediously quick
Through its unresting race and varied range:
Change finds no likeness to itself in Thee,
And wakes no echo in Thy mute Eternity.
—Frederick W. Faber
These words of Faber find sympathetic response in every heart; yet much as we may deplore the lack of stability in all earthly things, in a fallen world such as this the very ability to change is a golden treasure, a gift from God of such fabulous worth as to call for constant thanksgiving. For human beings the whole possibility of redemption lies in their ability to change. To move across from one sort of person to another is the essence of repentance: the liar becomes truthful, the thief honest, the lewd pure, the proud humble. The whole moral texture of the life is altered. The thoughts, the desires, the affections are transformed, and the man is no longer what he had been before. So radical is this change that the apostle calls the man that used to be “the old man” and the man that now is “the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”
Yet the change is deeper and more basic than any external acts can reveal, for it includes also the reception of life of another and higher quality. The old man, even at his best, possesses only the life of Adam: the new man has the life of God. And this is more than a mere manner of speaking; it is quite literally true. When God infuses eternal life into the spirit of a man, the man becomes a member of a new and higher order of being.
In the working out of His redemptive processes the unchanging God makes full use of change and through a succession of changes arrives at permanence at last. In the Book of Hebrews this is shown most clearly. “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second,” is a kind of summation of the teaching of that remarkable book. The old covenant, as something provisional, was abolished, and the new and everlasting covenant took its place. The blood of goats and bulls lost its significance when the blood of the Paschal Lamb was shed. The law, the altar, the priesthood—all were temporary and subject to change; now the eternal law of God is engraven forever on the living, sensitive stuff of which the human soul is composed. The ancient sanctuary is no more, but the new sanctuary is eternal in the heavens and there the Son of God has His eternal priesthood.
Here we see that God uses change as a lowly servant to bless His redeemed household, but He Himself is outside of the law of mutation and is unaffected by any changes that occur in the universe.
And all things as they change proclaim
The Lord eternally the same.
Again the question of use arises. “Of what use to me is the knowledge that God is immutable?” someone asks. “Is not the whole thing mere metaphysical speculation? Something that might bring a certain satisfaction to persons of a particular type of mind but can have no real significance for practical men?”
If by “practical men” we mean unbelievers engrossed in secular affairs and indifferent to the claims of Christ, the welfare of their own souls, or the interests of the world to come, then for them such a book as this can have no meaning at all; nor, unfortunately, can any other book that takes religion seriously. But while such men may be in the majority, they do not by any means compose the whole of the population. There are still the seven thousand who have not bowed their knees to Baal. These believe they were created to worship God and to enjoy His presence forever, and they are eager to learn all they can about the God with whom they expect to spend eternity.
In this world where men forget us, change their attitude toward us as their private interests dictate, and revise their opinion of us for the slightest cause, is it not a source of wondrous strength to know that the God with whom we have to do changes not? That His attitude toward us now is the same as it was in eternity past and will be in eternity to come?
What peace it brings to the Christian’s heart to realize that our Heavenly Father never differs from Himself. In coming to Him at any time we need not wonder whether we shall find Him in a receptive mood. He is always receptive to misery and need, as well as to love and faith. He does not keep office hours nor set aside periods when He will see no one. Neither does He change His mind about anything. Today, this moment, He feels toward His creatures, toward babies, toward the sick, the fallen, the sinful, exactly as He did when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die for mankind.
God never changes moods or cools off in His affections or loses enthusiasm. His attitude toward sin is now the same as it was when He drove out the sinful man from the eastward garden, and His attitude toward the sinner the same as when He stretched forth His hands and cried, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
God will not compromise and He need not be coaxed. He cannot be persuaded to alter His Word nor talked into answering selfish prayer. In all our efforts to find God, to please Him, to commune with Him, we should remember that all change must be on our part. “I am the Lord, I change not.” We have but to meet His clearly stated terms, bring our lives into accord with His revealed will, and His infinite power will become instantly operative toward us in the manner set forth through the gospel in the Scriptures of truth.
Fountain of being! Source of Good!
Immutable Thou dost remain!
Nor can the shadow of a change
Obscure the glories of Thy reign.
Earth may with all her powers dissolve,
If such the great Creator will;
But Thou for ever art the same,
I AM is Thy memorial still.
—From Walker’s Collection
Article adapted from Chapter 9 of A.W. Tozer’s classic book on the Attributes of God entitled: The Knowledge of the Holy. Harper, many reprints – most recently 2008.
About the Author. Aiden Wilson Tozer was born April 21, 1897, on a small farm among the spiny ridges of Western Pennsylvania. Within a few short years, Tozer, as he preferred to be called, would earn the reputation and title of a “20th-century prophet.”
Able to express his thoughts in a simple but forceful manner, Tozer combined the power of God and the power of words to nourish hungry souls, pierce human hearts, and draw earthbound minds toward God.
When he was 15 years old, Tozer’s family moved to Akron, Ohio. One afternoon as he walked home from his job at Goodyear, he overheard a street preacher say, “If you don’t know how to be saved . . . just call on God.” When he got home, he climbed the narrow stairs to the attic where, heeding the preacher’s advice, Tozer was launched into a lifelong pursuit of God.
In 1919, without formal education, Tozer was called to pastor a small storefront church in Nutter Fort, West Virginia. That humble beginning thrust him and his new wife Ada Cecelia Pfautz, into a 44-year ministry with The Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Thirty-one of those years were spent at Chicago’s Southside Alliance Church. The congregation, captivated by Tozer’s preaching, grew from 80 to 800.
In 1950 Tozer was elected editor of the Alliance Weekly now called Alliance Life. The circulation doubled almost immediately. In the first editorial dated June 3, 1950, he set the tone: “It will cost something to walk slow in the parade of the ages while excited men of time rush about confusing motion with progress. But it will pay in the long run and the true Christian is not much interested in anything short of that.”
Tozer’s forte was his prayer life which often found him walking the aisles of a sanctuary or lying face down on the floor. He noted, “As a man prays, so is he.” To him the worship of God was paramount in his life and ministry. “His preaching as well as his writings were but extensions of his prayer life,” comments Tozer biographer James L. Snyder. An earlier biographer noted, “He spent more time on his knees than at his desk.”
Tozer’s love for words also pervaded his family life. He quizzed his children on what they read and made up bedtime stories for them. “The thing I remember most about my father,” reflects his daughter Rebecca, “was those marvelous stories he would tell.”
Son Wendell, one of six boys born before the arrival of Rebecca, remembers that, “We all would rather be treated to the lilac switch by our mother than to have a talking-to by our dad.”
Tozer’s final years of ministry were spent at Avenue Road Church in Toronto, Canada. On May 12, 1963, his earthly pursuit of God ended when he died of a heart attack at age 66. In a small cemetery in Akron, Ohio, his tombstone bears this simple epitaph: “A Man of God.”
Some wonder why Tozer’s writings are as fresh today as when he was alive. It is because, as one friend commented, “He left the superficial, the obvious and the trivial for others to toss around. . . . [His] books reach deep into the heart.”
His humor, written and spoken, has been compared to that of Will Rogers–honest and homespun. Congregations could one moment be swept by gales of laughter and the next sit in a holy hush.
For almost 50 years, Tozer walked with God. Even though he is gone, he continues to speak, ministering to those who are eager to experience God. As someone put it, “This man makes you want to know and feel God.”
LIE BELIEVED: “God Is More Tolerant Than He Used to Be”
“I’M GLAD NO ONE REALLY BELIEVES the Bible anymore, or they’d stone us.” Those were the words of a gay activist, replying to a Christian who was using the Bible to condemn homosexuality. The activist’s argument was clear: Since the penalty for homosexuality in the Old Testament was death, how can you say you believe the Bible? And if you don’t believe it, then don’t use it to argue against homosexuality!
How do we answer those who insist that God is more tolerant today than He was in the days of the Old Testament? Back then, the law dictated that homosexuals be stoned to death, along with adulterers, children who cursed their parents, witches, and blasphemers. I have discovered about a dozen different sins or transgressions that Jewish law considered capital crimes in Old Testament times.
Today everything has changed. Homosexuals are invited into our churches; parents are told to love their rebellious children unconditionally; adulterers are given extensive counseling. Yes, murder and incest are still crimes, but witches are allowed to get rich practicing sorcery in every city in America.
We hear no more stories of Nadab and Abihu, struck dead for offering “unauthorized fire.” We read no more documented accounts of people like Uzzah who touched the ark contrary to God’s instructions and was instantly killed (2 Sam. 6:6-7). Today people can be as irreverent or blasphemous as they wish and live to see old age. As R. C. Sproul has observed, if Old Testament penalties for blasphemy were in effect today, every television executive would have been executed long ago.
Is God more tolerant than He used to be?
We need to answer this question for two reasons. First, we want to know whether we are free to sin with a minimum of consequences. Can we now live as we please, with the assurance that God will treat us with compassion and not judgment? A young Christian woman confided to me that she chose a life of immorality in part because she was sure that “God would forgive her anyway.” She had no reason to fear His wrath, for Christ had borne it all for her. Her statement begs the question: can conduct that in the Old Testament received strong rebuke or even the death penalty now be chosen with the sure knowledge that God is forgiving, showering us with “unconditional love”?
At one time Christians in America might have been described as legalists, adhering to the letter of the law. No one would accuse us of that today. We are free—free to ski in Colorado and romp on the beach in Hawaii, but also free to watch risqué movies, gamble, free to be as greedy as the world in which we work—free to sin. Is it safer for us to sin in this age than it was in the days of the Old Testament?
There is a second reason we want an answer: we want to know whether it is safer for others to do wrong today. If you have been sinned against, you want to know whether you can depend on God to “even the score.” The girl who has been raped, the child who has been abused, the person who was chiseled out of his life’s savings by an unscrupulous salesman—all of these victims and a hundred like them want to know whether God is so loving that He will overlook these infractions. What is the chance that these perpetrators will face justice? We want God to judge us with tolerance; however, we hope that He will not extend the same patience to those who have wronged us. So we wonder: can we depend on God to be lenient or harsh, merciful or condemning?
Many people decry God’s apparent silence today in the face of outrageous and widespread sin. The question is, how shall we interpret this silence? Is God indifferent, or biding His time? Has he changed?
In a PBS program hosted by Bill Moyers, Genesis: A Living Conversation, the participants agreed that there was development in God. He sent the flood to the world, but then, like a child who builds a sandcastle only to destroy it in anger, God regretted what He had done, felt duly chastised, and so gave the rainbow with a promise to never do that again. Most of the panelists agreed that the Flood was evil; it had no redeemable value. Choose almost any human being at random, and he/she would have been more benevolent than God, they said.
The panel assumed, of course, that the Bible is only a record of what people throughout the centuries have thought about God. So as we evolved to become more tolerant, our conception of God became more tolerant. Thus the New Testament, with its emphasis on love, is a more mature, gracious representation of God. This surely would explain the apparent difference between the Old and New Testaments.
Other religious liberals believe that the Bible reveals two Gods: the wrathful God of the Old Testament and the more loving, inclusive God of the New. Again, this is based on the same premise: as humanity changes, so our ideas about God change. In primitive times men’s ideas of God were harsh and unrelenting; in more enlightened times, men’s conceptions are more tolerant and loving. This, as we have already learned, is building a concept of God beginning with man and reasoning upward.
There is another possibility. We can affirm that God has not changed, His standards are the same, but He has chosen to interact with people differently, at least for a time. In fact, in this chapter we will discover that the attributes of God revealed in the Old Testament are affirmed in the New. Even in the Old Testament we see the severity of God, but also His goodness; we see His strict judgments, but also His mercy.
The neat division sometimes made between the Old Testament with its wrath and the New Testament with its mercy is not a fair reading of the text. Yes, there were strict penalties in the Old Testament, but there also was grace; in fact, looked at carefully, God appears tolerant. Note David’s description of his “Old Testament God”:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:8-12)
The fact is, the same balance of attributes is found in both Testaments. There are compelling reasons to believe that God has not changed a single opinion uttered in the Old Testament; the New Testament might emphasize grace more than law, but in the end God reveals Himself with amazing consistency. Properly understood, the penalties also have not changed. And thankfully, His mercy also remains immutable.
Join me on a journey that will probe the nature and works of God; we will see the magnificent unity between the Old Testament and the New. And when we are finished we will worship as perhaps never before.
Who made God? You’ve heard the question, probably from the lips of a child, or for that matter, from the lips of a skeptic who wanted to argue that believing the universe is eternal is just as rational as believing that God is eternal. If we don’t know where God came from, the argument goes, then we don’t have to know where the universe came from.
Of course there is a difference: the universe does not have within itself the cause of its own existence. The living God, and not the universe, has always existed, for He is, as theologians say, “the uncaused cause.” We can’t get our minds around the concept of an uncaused being, but both the Bible and logic teach that if there were no “uncaused being,” nothing would ever have existed, for out of nothing, nothing can arise.
Scripture tells us, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps. 90:2). From eternity past to eternity future, God exists, and as we shall see, He does not change.
God’s Nature Does Not Change
God cannot grow older; he does not gain new powers nor lose ones He once had. He does not grow wiser, for He already knows all things. He does not become stronger; He already is omnipotent, powerful to an infinite degree. “He cannot change for the better,” wrote A. W. Pink, “for he is already perfect; and being perfect, he cannot change for the worse” (A.W. Pink quoted in J.I. Packer, Knowing God. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973, 63). “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
God’s Truth Does Not Change
Sometimes we say things we do not mean, or we make promises we cannot keep. Unforeseen circumstances make our words worthless. Not so with God: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8). David agreed when he wrote, “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens…. Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever” (Ps. 119:89, 152). God never has to revise His opinions or update His plans. He never has had to revamp His schedule. Yes, there are a few passages of Scripture that speak of God as regretting a decision and changing His mind (Gen. 6:6-7; 1 Sam. 15). In these passages Scripture shows God changing His response to people because of their behavior. But there is no reason to think that this reaction was either unforeseen or not a part of His eternal plan. As J. I. Packer put it, “No change in His eternal purpose is implied when He begins to deal with a man in a new way” (Packer, Knowing God, 72).
God’s Standards Do Not Change
The Ten Commandments are not just an arbitrary list of rules; they are a reflection of the character of God and the world that He chose to create. We should not bear false witness because God is a God of truth; we should not commit adultery because the Creator established the integrity of the family. “Be holy, because I am holy” is a command in both Testaments (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16). God intended that the commandments hold His standard before us. “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).
The command to love the unlovable is rooted in the very character of God. God’s attributes are uniquely balanced. He combines compassion with a commitment to strict justice, describing Himself as “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exod. 34:6-7).
Though we die, nothing in God dies; He unites the past and the future. The God who called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees called me into the ministry. The Christ who appeared to Paul en route to Damascus saved me. The Holy Spirit who visited the early church with great blessing and power indwells those of us who have received salvation from Christ. The Bible could not state it more clearly: God has not changed and will not change in the future. The prophet Malachi recorded it in six words: “I the LORD do not change” (Mal. 3:6).
Reverend Henry Lyte had to leave the pastorate in Devonshire, England, because of poor health. As he bade farewell to his beloved congregation, he shared these words, which many of us have often sung.
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
O Thou who changest not, abide with me. (Abide with Me)
At the Moody Church where I serve, there is a motto in the front of the sanctuary that reads, “Jesus Christ: the same yesterday, today and forever” (see Heb. 13:8). Yes, the One who changes not abides with us.
GOD’S ADMINISTRATION HAS CHANGED
How then do we account for the difference between the consequences of disobedience in the Old and the New Testaments? If God cannot be more tolerant than He used to be, why are the Old Testament penalties not carried out? Why does it appear to be so safe to sin today? God’s judgments abide, but His method of managing them has changed. He relates to us differently without altering either His opinions or requiring less of us. He is neither more tolerant nor more accommodating to our weaknesses. Let me explain. When a four-year-old boy was caught stealing candy from a store, his father gave him a spanking. Let us suppose that the same lad were to steal candy at the age of twelve; the father might choose not to spank him but to give him some other form of punishment, such as a loss of privileges or a discipline regime. If the boy repeated the practice at age twenty, there might not be any immediate consequences pending a future date in court. My point is simply that the parents’ view of thievery does not change, but they would choose to deal with this infraction differently from one period of time to another. Rather than lessen the penalty as the child grows older and has more knowledge, his parents might exact a more serious penalty. Just so, we shall discover that God’s opinions have not changed; His penalties are yet severe. But there is a change in the timetable and method of punishment.
The more carefully we look at the Scriptures, the more we become aware of the unwavering consistency of God and His intention to punish sin. He hates it just as much today as ever. Thankfully, He offers us a remedy for it. In Hebrews 12:18-29 we see the unity of God reflected in both Mount Sinai and Mount Calvary. Here, like a diamond, the fuller range of God’s attributes are on display. We see that God has not lowered His standards; He will in the end prove that He has not mellowed with age. Those who are unprepared to meet Him face a future of unimaginable horror. No, He has not changed.
This change in management can be represented in three ways. Stay with me—the contrast between Sinai andCalvary will give us the answers we seek.
The Earthly versus the Heavenly
The author of Hebrews gave a vivid description of the mount at Sinai when he reminded his readers: You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (Heb. 12:18-21).
On Mount Sinai God’s glory humbled Moses and Aaron into silence and worship. God called Moses to the top of the mountain to see the fire, lightning, and smoke. Moses then returned to tell the people that they would be struck down if they came too close to the mountain. The physical distance between the people and the mountain symbolized the moral distance between God and mankind. Not even Moses was able to see God directly, though he was given special privileges. The word to the people was, “Stay back or be killed!” Imagine the power needed to shake a mountain! Even today we see the power of God in tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. God accompanied this special revelation with a physical act that would remind the people of His power and judgment. They were to stand back because He is holy. There was also a vertical distance between God and man. God came down out of heaven as a reminder that we are from below, creatures of the earth. He is separated; He exceeds the limits. To quote Sproul, “When we meet the Infinite, we become acutely conscious that we are finite. When we meet the Eternal, we know we are temporal. To meet God is a study in contrasts” (R.C. Sproul. The Holiness of God. Wheaton: Tyndale. 1985, 63).
Imagine a New Ager standing at Mount Sinai, engulfed in bellows of fire and smoke, saying, “I will come to God on my own terms. We can all come in our own way!” Sinai was God’s presence without an atonement, without a mediator. It pictures sinful man standing within range of God’s holiness. Here was the unworthy creature in the presence of his most worthy Creator. Here was a revelation of the God who will not tolerate disobedience, the God who was to be feared above all gods. Now comes an important contrast. The writer of Hebrews affirms, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22). When David conquered Jerusalem and placed the ark on Mount Zion, this mountain was considered the earthly dwelling place of God and later the word Zion was applied to the entire city. Centuries passed and Christ came and died outside of its walls, fulfilling the prophecies that salvation would come from Zion.
Mount Zion represents the opening of heaven, and now we are invited to enjoy six privileges. Look at Hebrews 12:22-24.
First, we come to “the heavenly Jerusalem” (v. 22). As believers we are already citizens of heaven. As we have learned, we are invited into the “Most Holy Place” by the blood of Jesus.
Second, the writer says we come to the presence of hundreds of millions of angels “in joyful assembly” (v. 22). We come to celebrating angels whom we join in praising God. Don’t forget that angels were present at Sinai too (Gal. 3:19), but the people were not able to join them there; these heavenly beings were blowing the trumpets of judgment. Like God, they were unapproachable. But now we can join them, not for fellowship, but for rejoicing over God’s triumphs in the world. Whereas Sinai was terrifying, Zion is inviting and gracious. Sinai is closed to all, for no one can keep the demands of the law; Zion is open to everyone who is willing to take advantage of the sacrifice of Christ. In Jesus the unapproachable God becomes approachable.
Third, we come to the “church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven,” that is, the body of Christ (v. 23). Jesus said that the disciples should not rejoice because the angels were subject to them, but rather because their names were “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The names of all believers are found there in the Book of Life; all listed there are members of the church triumphant.
Fourth, we come to God, “the judge of all men” (v. 23), for the veil of the temple was torn in two and we can enter “the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).
Fifth, we come to “the spirits of righteous men made perfect” (v. 23), which probably refers to the Old Testament saints who could only look forward to forgiveness, pardon, and full reconciliation with God. In Christ we receive in a moment what they could only anticipate. In a sense they had to wait for us (Heb. 11:40). The bottom line is that we will be united with Abraham and a host of other Old Testament saints. What a family!
Finally, and supremely, we come to “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (v. 24). God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but his shed blood could not atone for his sin, much less for the sin of his brother. Jesus’ blood, however, is sufficient for us all. The contrast is clear. Sinai was covered with clouds; Zion is filled with light. Sinai is symbolic of judgment and death; Zion is symbolic of life and forgiveness. The message of Sinai was “Stand back!” The message of Zion is “Come near!” Look at a calendar and you will agree that Christ splits history in two—we have B.C. and A.D.—but He also splits salvation history in two, even as the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. Now that His blood is shed, we can come to God in confidence. Does this mean that God’s hatred for sin has been taken away? Has Christ’s coming made the Almighty more tolerant? It’s too early in our discussion to draw any conclusions. Let’s continue to study the passage, and our questions will be answered. There is a second way to describe this change of administration. The Old Covenant versus the New Covenant Jesus, we have learned, is the mediator of “a new covenant” (v. 24). What does this mean? If He gave us a new covenant, what was the old covenant?
In Old Testament times God made a covenant with the entire nation of Israel. He chose to rule directly through kings and prophets, revealing his will step by step, and expecting them to follow His instructions. The prophets could say, “The word of the Lord came to me” and tell the kings what God’s will was. There was no separation between religion and the state, as we know it; the state existed to implement the divine will of God. Obviously, there was no freedom of religion in the Old Testament era. Death was the punishment for idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me” was the first of the Ten Commandments given to the nation Israel. If people did not obey, the penalties were immediate and, from our standpoint, severe. Jesus brought with Him a radical teaching, the idea that it would be possible for His followers to live acceptably under a pagan government. He did not come to overthrow the Roman occupation of Israel; indeed, His kingdom was not of this world. When faced with the question of whether taxes should be paid to the pagan Romans, Christ replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar‘s, and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). Yes, believers could pay taxes to a corrupt government, and yes, they could fulfill their obligations to God as well. There are two major changes inherent in Jesus’ teaching.
First, God would no longer deal with one nation, but with individuals from all nations. He would now call out from among the nations a transnational group comprised of every tribe, tongue, and people, to form a new gathering called the church. These people would live, for the most part, in political regimes that were hostile to them. But we who are a part of this program are to continue as salt and light, representing Him wherever we find ourselves.
Second, in our era, we are to submit, as far as possible, to worldly authorities; we are to do their bidding unless such obligations conflict with our conscience. Indeed, Paul, writing from a jail cell in Rome, said that we must submit to the governing authorities (in his case, Nero) because they were established by God (see Rom. 13:1). Our agenda as a church is not to take over nations, politically speaking. Of course Christians should be involved in government as good citizens, but our primary message is the transformation of nations through the transformation of individuals.
The early disciples had all of our national woes and more, and yet without a political base, without a voting block in the Roman senate, they changed their world, turning it “upside down,” as Luke the historian put it (Acts 17:6, NLT). When Paul came to the immoral city of Corinth, he taught what surely must have appeared a novel idea, namely,that it was not the responsibility of the church to judge the unbelieving world with regard to their morals, but only to judge them in relation to the gospel, which is “the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
To the church he wrote: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you” (1 Cor. 5:9-12).
If you work in the unbelieving world and decide not to eat with those who are immoral, greedy, or idolaters, you just might have to eat your lunch alone! Of course we can eat with such people if they do not claim to be believers in Christ. But if a Christian lives this way and we have fellowship with him over a meal, or if we enjoy his company, we are in some sense approving of his sin. To help such see the error of their ways, Paul says don’t even eat with them.
Now we are ready to understand why we do not put people to death today as was done in the Old Testament. We have no authority to judge those who are outside the fellowship of believers; the state is to penalize those who commit certain crimes, and those laws must be upheld. But—and this is important—all the behaviors that merited the death penalty in the Old Testament are infractions for which we now discipline believers within the church.
We do not have the right to take a life, we do not have the right to inflict physical death, but we can announce spiritual death to those who persist in their sins. Paul instructed the Corinthian church to put the immoral man not to death but out of the congregation (1 Cor. 5:5). Such discipline is our duty. It is foolish for us to think that we can sin with impunity just because Christ has come. The purpose of redemption
was to make possible our holy lives. It is blessedly true, of course, that God does forgive, but our sin, particularly deliberate sin, always invites the discipline of God. We are to pursue holiness, for “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
God has not revised His list of offenses.
A woman said to her pastor, “I am living in sin, but it’s different because I am a Christian.” The pastor replied, “Yes, it is different. For a Christian, such sin is much more serious.” Indeed, God takes our disobedience so seriously that the Scriptures warn: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Heb. 12:5-6). There is a final and important way to describe the contrast between Sinai and Calvary, and at last we will specifically answer the question of whether God is more tolerant than He used to be. Immediate, Physical Judgment versus Future, Eternal Judgment Continue to read this breathtaking passage. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. (Heb. 12:25-27)
We can’t miss it: if God judged the people for turning away from Him when He spoke at Sinai, just think of the greater judgment that will come to those who turn away from the voice that comes out of heaven, from Mount Zion! The Jews who heard God speak at Sinai did not get to enter the promised land but died in the wilderness. Their primary punishment was physical death, though for the rebellious there was eternal spiritual death as well. Today God does not usually judge people with immediate physical death, but the judgment of spiritual death remains, with even greater condemnation. If God judged the Jews, who had a limited understanding of redemption, think of what He will do to those who have heard about the coming of Christ, His death, and His resurrection!
If the first did not enter the promised land, those today who reject Christ will forfeit spiritual blessings in this life and will assuredly be severely judged by an eternal death. Imagine their fate! At Sinai God shook the earth. From Zion He is going to shake the whole universe. “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (v. 26). The phrase is borrowed from Haggai 2:6, where the prophet predicts that God will judge the earth (see Rev. 6:12-14). Everything that can be shaken, which denotes the whole physical order, will be destroyed and only eternal things will remain (see 2 Pet. 3:10). Don’t miss the first principle: the greater the grace, the greater the judgment for refusing it. The more God does for us, the greater our responsibility to accept it.
The judgment of the Old Testament was largely physical; in the New Testament it is eternal. If you, my friend, have never transferred your trust to Christ for salvation, the terrors of Calvary are much greater than the terrors of Sinai could ever be! Elsewhere, the author of Hebrews faces directly the question of whether God has relaxed His judgments as we move from the past to the present. If we keep in mind that the law at Sinai is spoken of as accompanied by angels, we will understand his argument, “For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (2:2-3,). He argues from the lesser to the greater: if the law demanded exacting penalties, think of the more severe punishment for those who refuse grace!
In a sense we can say that the harsh penalties of the Old Testament demonstrated an overabundance of grace: by seeing these punishments immediately applied, the people had a visual demonstration of why they should fear God. In our day, these penalties are waived, and as a result people are free to misinterpret the patience of God as laxity or indifference. Today God allows sins to accumulate and delays their judgment. Paul, writing to those who had hardened their hearts against God, said, “Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5).
Retribution and justice have not escaped God’s attention. Grace gives the illusion of tolerance and, if not properly interpreted, can be construed as a license to sin. Indeed, the New Testament writer Jude warned that there “are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). They confuse the patience of God with the leniency of God. A second principle: we should never interpret the silence of God as the indifference or God. God’s long-suffering is not a sign of either weakness or indifference; it is intended to bring us to repentance. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). It would be a mistake to think that His “slowness” means that He is letting us skip our day of judgment.
Solomon in Ecclesiastes warned that a delay in applying punishment encourages wrongdoing: “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Eccles. 8:11). How easily we misinterpret divine patience as divine tolerance! In the end, all penalties will be exacted; retribution will be demanded; nothing will be overlooked.
At the Great White Throne judgment, the unbelievers of all ages will be called into account and meticulously judged. Those who see a difference between the severity of the Old Testament and the tolerance of the New should study this passage carefully: “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:13-15). Nothing that terrifying occurs in the Old Testament.
Is it safe to sin? In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis tells the story of four children who encounter
a magical world through the back of an old attic wardrobe. In this land, Narnia, animals talk, and one especially glorious creature, a majestic lion, represents Christ. Some beavers describe the lion to Lucy, Susan, and Peter, who are newcomers to Narnia, and they fear meeting Asian. The children ask questions that reveal their apprehension. “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Asian without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you” (C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York: Macmillan, 1950, 75-76).
Is God safe? Of course not. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). But thankfully, He is good, and if we respond to Him through Christ, He will save us. If we still think that God is more tolerant of sin in the New Testament than in the Old, let us look at what His Son endured at Calvary; imagine Him as He languishes under the weight of our sin. There we learn that we must either personally bear the penalty for our sins, or else it must fall on the shoulders of Christ. In either case, the proper and exact penalties shall be demanded. And because we ourselves cannot pay for our sins, we shall have to live with them for all of eternity—unless we come under the shelter of Christ’s protection. Only Christ can turn away the wrath of God directed toward us.
Is it true that justice delayed is justice denied? For human courts this is so, for as time passes evidence is often lost and the offender is freed. But this does not apply to the Supreme Court of heaven; with God, no facts are lost, no circumstances are capable of misinterpretation. The whole earthly scenario can be re-created so that scrupulous justice can be satisfied. Judicial integrity will prevail, and we shall sing forever, “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments” (Rev. 19:1-2).
Is Jesus only, as the old rhyme goes, “meek and mild”? In the same C. S. Lewis story I quoted above, the children meet Aslan the Lion. Lucy observes that his paws are potentially very inviting or very terrible. They could be as soft as velvet with his claws drawn in, or as sharp as knives with his claws extended. Christ is both meek and lowly, but also fierce and just.
Read this description of Christ, and you will agree that the warnings of the New Testament are as terrifying as the Old: “With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the wine-press of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:1-6).
What follows in this passage is an unbelievable description of the carnage that takes place after Jesus executes His judgment. With sword in hand, He smites His enemies and leaves them dying on the battlefield. Even if we appropriately grant that the account is symbolic, it can mean nothing less than the revelation of the vengeance of God Almighty. The Lord God of Sinai is the Lord God of Zion. Finally, figuratively speaking, we must come to Sinai before we come to Zion.
We must see our sin before we can appreciate grace. In the allegory called Pilgrim’s Progress, a man named Christian travels with the weight of sin on his shoulders, but the burden proves too much for him. Thankfully, he comes to Calvary, and there his load is rolled onto the shoulders of the one Person who is able to carry it. To his delight the terrors of Sinai are borne by the Son at Calvary. What a tragedy to meet people who are comfortable with who they are, people who have not felt the terrors of God’s holy law. Since they do not see themselves as lost, they need not be redeemed; absorbed in themselves, they have lost the capacity to grieve over their sin. To those aware of their need, we say, “Come!” Come to Mount Zion to receive mercy and pardon. Stand at Mount Sinai to see your sin, then come to linger at Calvary to see your pardon. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Heb. 12:28-29). There was fire at Sinai; there will also be fire at the final judgment. A consuming fire!
Donald McCullough writes: “Fire demands respect for its regal estate. It will not be touched, it will be approached with care, and it wields its scepter for ill or for good. With one spark it can condemn a forest to ashes and a home to a memory as ghostly as the smoke rising from the charred remains of the family album. Or with a single flame it can crown a candle with power to warm a romance and set to dancing a fireplace blaze that defends against the cold. Fire is dangerous to be sure, but we cannot live without it; fire destroys but it also sustains life” (McCullough, The Trivialization of God, 20).
There is a story that comes to us from the early days, when a man and his daughter spotted a prairie fire in the distance. Fearing being engulfed by the flames, the father suggested they build a fire right where they stood. They burned one patch of grass after another, in an ever-widening circle. Then when the distant fire came near, the father comforted his terrified daughter by telling her that flames would not come to the same patch of ground twice; the father and daughter would be safe if they stood where the fire had already been. When we come to Mount Zion, we come to where the fire of Sinai has already struck. We come to the only place of safety; we come to the place where we are welcome. There we are sheltered from terrifying judgment. God’s Son endured the fire that was headed in our direction. Only those who believe in Him are exempt from the flames.
A PERSONAL RESPONSE
There is a story about some members of a synagogue who complained to a rabbi that the liturgy did not express what they felt. Would he be willing to make it more relevant? The rabbi told them that the liturgy was not intended to express what they felt; it was their responsibility to learn to feel what the liturgy expressed.
There is a lesson here. In our day some have so emphasized “felt needs” in worship that they have forgotten that in a future day our most important “felt need” will be to stand before God covered by the righteousness of Christ. The real issue is not how we feel, but rather how God feels. Our responsibility is to “learn to feel” what God does. Let us worship at both of the mountains that are symbolic of the two covenants. We must first come to Mount Sinai as a reminder of our sinfulness; then we stand at Mount Calvary as a reminder of grace. On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.
So Moses went up and the LORD said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish.” (Exod. 19:16-21) And now we turn to Mount Calvary.
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice,“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-39)
Let us join with the centurion and say, “Surely He was the Son of God!”
About the Author:
Since 1980, Erwin W. Lutzer has served as senior pastor of the world-famous Moody Church in Chicago, where he provides leadership to Chicago pastors. Dr. Lutzer earned his B.Th. from Winnipeg Bible College, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, an M.A. in philosophy from Loyola University, an LL.D. from Simon Greenleaf School of Law, and a D.D. from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary.
Dr. Lutzer is a featured radio speaker on the Moody Broadcasting Network and the author of numerous books, including The Vanishing Power of Death, Cries from the Cross, the best-selling One Minute Before You Die and Hitler’s Cross, which received the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (EPCA) Gold Medallion Book Award. He speaks both nationally and internationally at Bible conferences and tours and has led tours of the cities of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. The article above was adapted from Chapter 3 in the excellent book by Dr. Erwin Lutzer. 10 Lies About God: And the Truths That Shatter Deception. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009.
In order to speak to the question, “Why don’t we know God?” we must first grant that we do, in a sense, know God. So we can hardly speak to the question, “Why don’t we?” without making the kind of distinction that Dr. Packer makes. Dr. Packer distinguishes between the different ways in which we may know God. He speaks of the distinction between notitia and cognitio, that is, the difference between an intellectual awareness or mental apprehension of something and a more profound or deep relational knowledge of someone or something.
Obviously, the Bible uses the verb “to know” in at least these two ways and perhaps even more widely. There are different levels, degrees, or ways in which we can know things and persons. That is why the Scriptures say on some occasions that men do not know God, that men are in darkness concerning God, yet on other occasions that men do know God. Unless the Bible is speaking with a forked tongue, or unless we violate radically the Reformed principle of the coherency of Scripture, we have to conclude that the Bible is speaking from different perspectives about different kinds of knowledge. Perhaps we can circumvent the dilemma by making these distinctions. But one thing is certain: no one knows God at the depth to which it is possible to know God. And that is the question with which we must wrestle: Why do we not know God as intimately, deeply, personally and comprehensively as it is possible for us to know him?
The answer to that question does not require an extended dissertation. The reason that we do not know God as intimately, deeply, personally, and comprehensively as we possibly could is because we do not want to know God intimately, deeply and comprehensively. Moreover, even though we may be redeemed, even though we may be “the elite of the elect,” there still remains within us the residual elements of our fallenness. Our natures have been regenerated, but the sin that dwells within us has not been eradicated and will not be, this side of glory. So as long as there remains any disposition within us to sin there is a propensity toward ignorance of the things of God. I would like to focus our attention on a detailed analysis of why men do not know God to the degree that it is possible to know him. The basis for this analysis is the first chapter of Romans, beginning at verse 18.
In the part of the prologue that is found in verses 16, 17 and 18, Paul maintains that he is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. Then we find the thematic statement of the Epistle: “For therein [that is, ‘in the gospel’] is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” This is the topic sentence for the whole Epistle: the righteousness of God is revealed through faith. So, in a word, Paul is concerned with revelation. But notice, he begins in verse 18, not with the revelation of God’s mercy, grace, or justification, but with the revelation of God’s wrath: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”
What we find here, as always in Scripture, is that God’s wrath is never arbitrary, capricious, irrational or demonic, but that it is always a response to something evil. God’s wrath is revealed against unrighteousness and ungodliness. It is not a wrath revealed against righteousness, godliness or piety, but against unrighteousness and ungodliness. Unrighteousness and ungodliness are general terms—wide-sweeping, wide-encompassing descriptive terms. But we must not stop here, for Paul moves from the general to the particular. He does not leave us to wonder about what particular form of unrighteousness, what specific kind of ungodliness is provoking the wrath of God. Rather, Paul names the child. He mentions it in the second clause of the sentence: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [that is, ‘suppress’] the truth in unrighteousness.” The specific provocation of God’s wrath is human suppression of truth.
If you go to different translations of the Bible, you will find a wide variety of English phrases used to translate the last part of verse 18. The old King James Version says, “who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Some translations say, “hindering the truth.” One translator has preferred to say “repress the truth.”
Let us go back to the old King James Version: “holding the truth in unrighteousness.” That whole phrase seems a bit archaic, does it not? How does one hold truth? Truth is an abstract thing; truth is not quantitative. How can we use tactile, empirical terms to describe truth? We do not hold truth; we hold a wristwatch, or we hold onto something. But there are different ways to hold things. If I hold a wristwatch, that is one kind of holding. If I hold onto a lectern, that is another kind of holding. If I hold my wife, hopefully that is an altogether different kind of holding. What kind of holding does the apostle have in mind here? Well, notice that we can hold something up, or we can hold something down. The verb used here literally means “to hold down, to incarcerate, to hold back,” and it suggests the notion that one must use force to repress a counterforce. The way I like to think of “holding down” is of a giant spring compressed to its point of highest tension. In order to hold that spring in place, one must exert all kinds of counterpressure to keep it compressed; otherwise it will spring up by its own tension and perhaps even injure the one who is seeking to hold it back.
So why is Paul using this verb with respect to truth? He is talking about the human effort that brings the wrath of God upon man. It is man’s active, positive resistance to God’s truth.
The reason that God is angry is further elucidated in verse 19, where Paul says, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it unto them.” If Paul had merely said, “What could have been known about God was available to man,” that would have been reason enough for God to reveal his wrath against those who did not avail themselves of a divinely given opportunity to know him. That in itself would have been a serious sin against our Creator. But Paul is not simply saying: God has made knowledge of himself available to men and men have never made use of this opportunity. No, he is saying that the knowledge of God which he has revealed to all men has been made plain, not obscure, and that mankind has rejected it.
Let me comment on that with an illustration from the academic world. There are different ways in which you can bring students to a state of knowledge. You can say to them, “Look, we have a course in the Doctrine of God. I am the professor in this course, but I am not going to teach you anything; I am simply going to moderate the course. Each student is responsible to lecture. If you want to know about the Doctrine of God, just go to the library and find those books that have something to say about the Doctrine of God and then come in and give your paper.” That is one way I could do it. Or I could say, “Look, I want you to do heavy research about the Doctrine of God. So I am going to take all the books in the library that deal with the Doctrine of God and put them together in one place on the reserve shelf. I am going to make it easy for you to discover this information.” In other words, I would be facilitating the student’s efforts to learn something about the Doctrine of God. Or, finally, I could go even further. I could put those books on the reserve shelf, and then I could take the student by the hand, march him over to the library, show him where the reserve shelf is, take each book off the shelf, open it up to the first page, and say to him, “Listen to this,” and start to read it.
I think that Paul is getting at something like this last illustration. God does not just make the knowledge available. He shows himself to us, as the apostle says. How thoroughly that knowledge has been received remains a question. But one thing is certain: God has revealed himself to all men with sufficient clarity and with sufficient content as to render men inexcusable. He has presented himself with enough clarity, with enough revelation, to remove the cry of ignorance as a justifying reason for a person’s rejection of him.
Paul goes onto say that when men refuse to honor God and refuse to acknowledge him even though they know he is there, their thinking becomes “foolish” and their minds “darkened.” Have you ever read the works of David Hume? Have you ever read the works of Jean-Paul Sartre? These men are great thinkers. David Hume, I think, is one of the most formidable opponents that the Christian faith has ever had to wrestle with. How can men who have clearly and blatantly denied the existence of God be so scholarly, so knowledgeable, and manifest such high gifts of intelligence? The answer is in this text. Once a man refuses to acknowledge what he knows to be true he can go on to construct magnificent systems of philosophy. He can manifest gifts of intellectual acumen and brilliance. But if he is consistent, if his starting point in the procedure involves an obstinate rejection of what he knows to be true, his system can end only in futility. Imagine the scientist who starts his scientific endeavor by denying what he knows to be the basic facts. The only way such a scientist can arrive at any kind of truth is by a happy inconsistency, by compounding his errors to such a degree that possibly he will be fortunate enough to stumble onto some truth.
The pagan adds insult to injury, Paul continues, for not only does he begin his systematic approach by refusing to acknowledge what he knows to be true and thereby working continuously with a darkened mind but, having done this, he tells the world that he is wise. Paul says, “ … professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” Sinful man, after he repudiates what he knows to be true, then has the audacity to say to God and to the world, “I am a wise man.” But God says that the wisdom of sinful man is foolishness!
In the Scriptures the designation “fool” is not primarily an intellectual evaluation. When God says that a man is a fool, he is not saying that he is dull-witted. He is not saying that he has a low I.Q. or that he is a poor student. The term “fool” is a judgment of man’s character. It is more of a moral evaluation than an intellectual one. It is the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God.”
Foolishness is in many of the catalogues of serious sins in the New Testament, along with adultery and murder and things like that. Foolishness is a moral refusal to deal honestly with truth.
We notice next that men’s foolishness of compounded. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged “the glory of the incorruptible God” for images resembling mortal man, birds, animals or reptiles. Therefore, “God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”
What happens after the truth is held down, after the truth is repressed? Is there a vacuum? No! Immediately an exchange takes place. Substitution occurs.
It is valuable to talk about this in contemporary psychological terms. Johannes Spavink, the Dutch scholar, finds in this text a statement about man’s psychological prejudice. Spavink asks: Why do men repress or suppress things? He says that knowledge which is most likely to be suppressed is knowledge which comes to us in the framework of the traumatic. We try to push down knowledge that frightens us or is unpleasant. We have a kind of psychocybernetic system with which we screen from our conscious mind those things which are unpleasant. But the question I ask you in modern psychological terms is this: Is the memory of a threatening or traumatic experience destroyed by our repression? I do not know of any psychologist or biochemist who would say that those memory notions or images are destroyed. Rather, we bury them or push them down.
So, our present state of consciousness is dark, but the knowledge has not been destroyed. For example, let us say that I have repressed negative feelings about my mother. I am not even conscious of these feelings. But I begin to have undefined anxiety. I begin to worry, and I do not know why I am worried. When I begin to experience restlessness I go to a psychologist to help me work through my anxiety state.
The doctor says, “What’s the matter?”
I say, “I have anxiety.”
“Why do you have anxiety?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I came to see you. I’m worried, and I don’t know why I’m worried. Help me to find out.”
The doctor begins to probe my inner man to see where the injury is and how I can be brought again to health and wholeness. As he goes through my medical history he does not pay attention simply to the words I say. He is also carefully observant of my mannerisms, my gestures, and every kind of symbolic activity with which I am communicating my deepest feelings. Eventually in our discussions he notices that every time he asks me about my mother, or every time I say something about my mother, I twitch my shoulder. So he thinks, “Every time Sproul says something about his mother he has this awful twitch.” He asks, “Do you have any kind of bad feelings about your mother?”
“My mother?” (Twitch) I ask in astonishment. “I don’t feel anything bad about my mother!” (Twitch)
But he knows that somewhere in the past I have had a bad experience with my mother, and he knows that this knowledge has not been destroyed but that it is only exchanged for the gesture. In this way it is (perhaps) still a problem but not quite as threatening as the original experience. In the same way, most people do not say simply, “There is no God”; rather they create a new God, one who is less threatening, less terrifying, less of a problem.
Let me illustrate this. A few years ago I was watching the David Frost show, and he was interviewing Madalyn Murray O’Hair. They began discussing whether or not there is a God, and David Frost suddenly became a great champion of the Christian faith, defending it against O’Hair. The discussion got so out of hand that Frost became angry and decided to determine the controversy by a show of hands. He turned to the studio audience and asked, “How many of you believe in some kind of supreme being, some kind of higher power, something greater than yourselves?” Almost everybody in the audience raised his hand.
I waited breathlessly to see what Madalyn Murray O’Hair would say to that kind of response. She said, “Well, what do you expect from the masses who come to this studio? What do they know? Give them time to catch up with modern knowledge, and this myth will disappear.” That is the tack she took. I thought that if she had been clever she would have said, “Just a minute, Mr. Frost. Let me pose the question.” Then, turning to the audience, she would say something like this. “I know that some of you believe in something higher than yourself, some higher power, some faceless, nameless, contextless, unknown god who makes no claims on your existence, who never stands in judgment over your morality, who does not demand the sacrifice of your life. Anybody can believe in that kind of god. But do you believe in Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel, who thunders from Sinai, ‘You will have no other gods before me’? Do you believe in a god who demands obedience to his perfect law and who calls men to repentance? How many of you believe in a god who makes absolute demands upon your life?” What do you suppose the vote would have been like?
The “Supreme Being,” the “Ground of Being,” “Ultimate Concern”—all these titles are nonthreatening. They have no substance. They represent our most sophisticated efforts at idolatry, in which we exchange the truth of God for a lie, a nonthreatening lie. They speak of a God who never judges us, who never calls us to repentance, a cosmic grandfather who says, “Boys will be boys.” That is the kind of God we have, not only in the secular world but in our churches.
The Immutable God
When I was writing the book Psychology of Atheism, I worked through three great attributes of God: holiness, sovereignty, and omniscience. But then I remembered a sermon I had read years before by Jonathan Edwards entitled, “Man Naturally God’s Enemy.” I wondered what Edwards had to say about why men hate God. So I went back to read that sermon. At the beginning Edwards said, “There are four things about God that make men hate him.” I thought, “Four things? What did I miss?” And I wondered if Edwards had found the same things I had found.
He said, “The first thing that terrifies man is God’s holiness.”
I said, “Aha! I got one right!”
Then he said, “The second thing man hates about God is his omniscience.” By this time my opinion of Edwards as a scholar was rising.
He went on, “The third thing that men hate about God is his sovereignty.” I could hardly believe that I had put my finger on the same things. But what was the fourth one? What had I missed?
I turned the page and read, “Perhaps you are wondering what the fourth one is?” Edwards had stolen the words right out of my mouth. Then I read: “The fourth thing about God that men hate is his immutability.” Immutability? Why would that be so threatening? Why should that bother us? Edwards explained. “Man faces this dilemma: Not only does he know and know clearly that God is holy and omniscient and sovereign, but he knows that God will always be holy, he will always be omniscient, he will always be sovereign. And there is nothing we can possibly do to make him less holy, less omniscient, or less sovereign. These attributes are not open to negotiation. We cannot find God involved in a process of change whereby he can enter into certain mutations to compromise with us.”
From age to age, the hound of heaven brings his light into a world of darkness; but men love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.
About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: The Holiness of God; Chosen By God; Reason to Believe; Essential Truths Of The Christian Faith; Knowing Scripture; Willing to Believe; Intimate Marriage; Pleasing God; If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?, and Defending The Faith) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL. The article above was adapted from the chapter entitled “Why We Do Not Know God” from the book: Our Sovereign God: Addresses Presented to the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, 1974-1976. James M. Boice, ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977.