Monday, March 16, 2009

I0316-Does God Repent? 1.17.12-14

This post is part of our group read of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Reading from book I, Chapter 17, Section 12 and following. Click here

Does God Repent? Does God change his mind? Does God alter his plans? Is it necessary for God to react to new circumstances? (to which we answer, "NO") This section of our reading addresses these questions and for very good reasons.

1. The doctrine of providence itself is destroyed with wrong answers to above questions since the wrong answer implies this thing happening will cause a change in God's mind and action in order that God may react to this thing that happened.

2. The wrong answers to the above questions also serve to UNGOD God. For believing that God changes and repents robs God of his omnipotence, his omniscience, his perfection, his absolute sovereignty over absolutely everything.

3. Wrong answers to the above questions lead to the conclusion that there is no eternal plan and perfect purpose with God. A wrong answer would lead to concluding God's decrees could be annulled.

4. Wrong answers to the above questions destroy our comfort and peace in the gospel. For if God changes, then what of eternal election, what of the Father giving to his son a people, what of all things working together for good to them that love God, what of Christ slain from before the foundation of the world.

As a young christian I remember my wife and I befriending another individual a little older than ourselves. Hoping to teach us about prayer and the importance of prayer, this individual explained to us how in prayer we can change God. It may be that God is intent upon this action but we can change His mind, we can alter the course of events from what they otherwise would be. God may repent in response to our prayer. So much depended upon ourselves. Further we were instructed not to pray "if it be thy will." What matters if it be God's will our not. His will may be this but we will pray and change it.

As young believers we were not persuaded by the individual. In some respects we were not equipped to make a good answer. But I do remember at the root of our response which we did give was this truth: That God is Sovereign, that God is in control, that God is God.

Isa 14:27 For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?

Isa 43:13 Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it? (Let an old word for prevent.)

Isa 46:11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Rom 8:31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

Psa 33:11 The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.

Pro 19:21 There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.

Eph 1:9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

Eph 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

Eph 3:11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

The above verses serve as a strong confirmation that God does indeed work all things after the counsel of his own will. What the Lord has purposed none can thwart. That He will work and no one can stop him. That His counsel and eternal purpose shall stand for ever.

But what of those scriptures that do tell that God repents. They tell us that he repented that he had made man in Gen 6:6. They tell us that God has repented for raising up Saul as king in 1Sam 15:11. Again they tell in Jer 18:8 that God will repent of the evil He had intended towards the nation that turns from their evil. Then there is also Hezekiah who was supposed to die but upon praying God gave him more years. Isa 38:15 and 2Ki 20:15. Or the Ninevites upon whom destruction was pronounced and yet they received a reprieve after all following their own repentance. Jon 3:4-10

How are we to understand these verses which describe God as repenting and changing within the whole analogy of scripture?
Does the Spirit of God mean by these verses that:
"God has not fixed human affairs by an eternal decree, but according to the merits of each individual, and as he deems right and just, disposes of each single year, and day, and hour."

Are we "saying either that he knows not what is to happen, or that he cannot evade it, or that he rushes precipitately and inconsiderately into a resolution, and then forthwith regrets it?"

IN THESES SENSES of REPENTANCE "we must hold that it can no more exist in God than ignorance, or error, or impotence."

NOTE THEN right after the scriptures tell us that it repented God that he had made Saul king. The scriptures also state:

1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

No figure of speech in this verse. Just plainly stating God is not a man that he should repent.

13. Scripture speaks of God's "repentance" to make allowance for our understanding What then is meant by the term repentance? The very same that is meant by the other forms of expression, by which God is described to us humanly. Because our weakness cannot reach his height, any description which we receive of him must be lowered to our capacity in order to be intelligible. And the mode of lowering is to represent him not as he really is, but as we conceive of him.

Applying repentance to God: "simply means that his procedure is changed. In the meantime, there is no inversion of his counsel or will, no change of his affection. What from eternity he had foreseen, approved, decreed, he prosecutes with unvarying uniformity, how sudden soever to the eye of man the variation may seem to be."


If you think concerning the Ninevites or concerning Hezekiah that God's eternal purposes and plans have changed or His decrees annulled: "Those who think so labour under delusion as to the meaning of threatening."

"Why did he by Isaiah give Hezekiah intimation of his death? He might have destroyed both them and him without a message to announce the disaster. He had something else in view than to give them a warning of death, which might let them see it at a distance before it came. It was because he did not wish them destroyed but reformed, and thereby saved from destruction."

"When Jonah prophesies that in forty days Nineveh will be overthrown, he does it in order to prevent the overthrow. When Hezekiah is forbidden to hope for longer life, it is that he may obtain longer life. Who does not now see that, by threatening of this kind, God wished to arouse those to repentance whom he terrified, that they might escape the judgement which their sins deserved?"


We should never conclude that the Lord varies in any way from his eternal purposes, from his eternal council.

"When, by denouncing punishment, he admonishes to repentance those whom he wishes to spare, he paves the way for his eternal decree, instead of varying it one whit either in will or in language."

Calvin concluding chapter 17 with:
"The only difference is, that he does not express, in so many syllables, what is easily understood. The words of Isaiah must remain true, "The Lord of hosts has purposed, and who shall disannul it? And his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" (Isaiah 14: 27.)"

The analogy of Scripture, and the study of theology, a grasp of what God has revealed of himself will quickly shut down any notion that God changes, that God is sorry for his own actions and repents of his plans. NEVER, NEVER let such a vile thought be entertained within your own soul. Let the full revelation of scripture speak. Acknowledge God as God. Seek and desire to have only thoughts worthy of the Great God of all the Universe. The Creator of heaven and earth and all that in them lies. God whom ( Job 42:2 ) I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.

Deu 32:39 See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.

HOLDING to the VERBAL PLENARY INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE** will guard us against making scriptures contradict themselves. We may not always understand but we will always believe the fault lies with us and not with GOD. Knowing that all scripture is given by inspiration of God we do not pit scripture against scripture but seek to understand, "what doth the scriptures say?" A high view of scripture and a proper view of God will work together in us by grace that we will not be deceived or deceive ourselves when confronted with some things harder to understand than others. Gal 6:7, 2Tim 3:16-17

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1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

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

** Verbal Plenary Inspiration of Scripture defined as meaning the words themselves are inspired, all of them in their entirety by GOD.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Very very useful discussion. It is a topic that our children have often wondered about. The question "If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?" could find some of it's foundation in this discussion. We need to be reminded that God is sovereign in all things and your discussion on what wrong answers brings about is very well done. I like to think of "praying" as a privilege that God has given us to partake in his good Will and to grow our faith because of his faithful answers to our prayers---not because we "changed his mind." God knew what I would pray before it was prayed. He has given me the special gift to interact with him and his perfect will by fostering my faith through prayer.

However, many many well-meaning Christians do not take this view of God and prayer. It makes for an interesting discussion which always leads back to just "how sovereign is our God?"