And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth,
and it grieved him at his heart.–Genesis vi., 6.
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of men, that he should repent:
hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?–Numbers xxiii., 19.
IN dwelling upon the varied statements which Divine Truth assumed on the subject to which your attention was invited we endeavored to point out that in all circumstances of human life, both literal and spiritual, two classes of impressions are experienced–those which are thorough truths, and those which are only apparent truths. You will find that this view of things has an important bearing also upon the subject to which we must address ourselves on this occasion,–real truths and apparent truths. Different classes of sensations and statements meet us, and must necessarily meet us at all times. We are all familiar with a very common illustration,–though illustrations occur on every hand,–I allude to the one we notice every day, the apparent rising of the sun, its course through the heavens, and its nightly setting. We can scarcely avoid stating what happens in the language in which I have delivered it, and it is not necessary to try to avoid it; yet it is not the real fact. The sun does not rise, the sun does not set, the sun does not move from its place; yet there is no reason for speaking otherwise than we do. The every-day language is understood. We are using the language of convenience and not the language of philosophic truth. No one is deceived. There is not the slightest injury done; convenience of language and intelligibility to all are attained.
It is just the same in a thousand other cases–indeed in every case. Things are never exactly as they first appear to us, nor as they are commonly referred to in human language. We speak, for instance, (to take a case that will cover truly a very vast field) of seeing the various objects that are around us, at the several distances that they stand in; yet the real truth is, that all we do see is the small reflection that these objects make upon the retina of the eye. It is only an appearance that we see them outside of us. Seeing is one thing, being is always really another. We must not, therefore, be astonished, if we find this same law apply to mental phenomena its well as to those of nature. It is a law that results from the creation of the One Creator, God, who made both body and mind. The law exists in the Word as well as in the world. The two texts we have submitted to your attention, are only pattern tests, as it were, of a large number. In the first we are told that the Lord repented that He had made man; in the second, it is declared that God is not a man that He should repent, and that He does not repent. Here are two distinct statements, apparently point-blank, opposed to one another. But it is only APPEARANCE and not REALITY.
Let as never forget that in strict truth the Lord is unchangeable. He is the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all His works. These texts state the truth as it really is; as it really must be; it cannot be otherwise than that God is unchangeably good—He must be infinitely good. Take in all that revelation teaches respecting Him, weigh it carefully, and you will find the sum of it all to be, that He has shown Himself unswervingly merciful from the very beginning of time to the present. His mercy endureth for ever.
At the time when the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, it was the worst period of mankind’s history. The world was so detestably bad, and infernal spirits had got such power over men, that the whole of mankind was as it were in an infernal prison-house; men’s souls were so corrupted, that even their bodies were to an enormous extent possessed by evil spirits; and no power but one could break this bondage.
At that very time, instead of the Lord visiting the earth with wrath and vengeance, He Himself became a man to redeem us. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people. He Himself took our nature, the lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, because no power or love but His, no succor but His, no means but the means He took of entering into our nature, and in that nature combating and overcoming all the powers of hell, could redeem men. He overcame them in the way that religion teaches us to overcome, that is, by stooping to conquer. He manifested His love Divine in Divine human form, as a conquer of human passions, conqueror of human miseries, conqueror of the powers of hell, and as Divine Love incarnate He said, Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I live for evermore. This was what Divine Love did when mankind was at its worst. Divine Love appeared in the form of Divine virtue; man nailed that embodied virtue to the cross; yet the same love streamed out in pity, and said, Forgive them for they know not what they do. This unconquerable LOVE brought a new state of heavenly virtue into the world, which has made the world capable ever since of being transformed into the glorious liberty of the children of light. Is it not clear, then, that the whole of revelation teaches the simple Divine truth–in this our Heavenly Father changes not? I am Jehovah, I change not, He says, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. If it had been possible for God to change, when the world was at, its worst, there was iniquity enough to have induced such a change. There was no form of diabolic madness, no corruption, nor vileness of any kind that was left unpracticed. Iniquity was filled up to its fullest height. But hell was to be overcome, and was overcome; God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. Reconciliation with God was begun. All who in love would respond to the Divine Love by obedience were reconciled; still the reconciliation goes on, and still it will go on, until every nation, every class, and every color of mankind shall be assembled under the sacred banners of Eternal Love and Wisdom, under Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords. In that day here shall be one king over all the earth; in that day there shall be One Lord, and His name One.
The real truth of the Sacred Scripture is, that God never changes, nor repents, nor alters. He is infinitely good. He is the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning, (James i., 17). Indeed in the nature of things, this must be so. Reason teaches that change in God could only be to make Him better or to make Him worse. But He who is infinitely good, cannot become better; and I suppose there is no reverent soul who would pretend that He could be made worse. The consequence must follow, that He cannot change at all.
But then comes a question which involves many other important questions. What is the meaning of such a declaration as the one in the first text we have read over, it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. There was a decision made that the human race, so far as the grand mass of men was concerned, should be brought to an end. Now, we most consider the matter a little more deeply than the surface. Let us first inquire if God is infinitely good, and if He never changes; if, as is undoubtedly true, we know Him most and best by the innumerable blessings that we receive from Him; whence come the evils which do certainly exist and afflict the human race? These evils are usually attributed to Him, and sometimes even in the sacred text. In the dark ages a very simple answer would have been given to a question such as this, since men attributed everything to God, knowing nothing of the inner causes of things. They had an indefinite idea of God. They regarded. Him as the author of everything, and therefore of all unhappiness and wrong in the world, as well as of all good.
It is a new thing to some people to tell them their blessings are many and their griefs few. We ponder so much over our comparatively few sorrows, and think so little of the multiplied blessings we enjoy, that to many it is anew thing to tell them that they ought to feel life as a great miracle of infinite goodness. A person who hugs self-love unduly, and carries self about with him always will ask, perhaps, because he has some little anxiety, why is he troubled? People are attached to their anxieties, they often trouble themselves with needless cares, and hug their fears and fancies. When there is little room for present distress, many people anticipate events, and perplex themselves with thinking how they will be situated three years hence, or ten years hence.
They hail far off miseries, and annoy themselves with sorrows that will never come, and so they poison the pleasant hours of life. Men would have few griefs if they were in union with their Heavenly Father, and content with their present mercies. But, in reality, all persons carry their unregenerate nature with them, and although they receive ten thousand thousand mercies from head to foot, yet too often the memory of these is shaded by some little sadness, as a speck shuts out the sun. I remember once going through a large hospital in Vienna, which contained about 3,000 patients. As I passed from bed to bed, and noticed the different diseases that afflicted the poor sufferers, I saw there was scarcely a point in the whole body from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot that was not liable to some special disease. The thought pressed home, what mercy is it that has preserved me and the vast mass of mankind from all these ailments! We all might suffer if it were not for that loving-kindness which protects us day and night. We might be assailed with excruciating pains in every part of the body. We might be tortured with pangs in every faculty of the mind. Yet how vastly in excess are the hours and days, the months and years for all of us in which, protected by Divine Mercy, we are preserved to the enjoyment of unnumbered blessings, both from the world without and the world within. Let us never forget these, but say, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
What, let us ask, are the sources of those sorrows which have been in the world in days gone by, and still exist in the purlieus, and even in the parlors of London? The common saying is, if anyone is suffering, that God has been pleased to afflict him with this or that disease or sorrow. If a person has been indulging in exciting drinks the greater part of his life, and brought on gout and rheumatism, and the many sorrows engendered by indulgence, he says, The Lord has been pleased to afflict me. If a person has been living in bad air or deleterious gas half his life time, inhaling over and over again his own breath tainted and defiled, and becomes exhausted and consumptive, he says, It has pleased the Lord to afflict me.
If he has been in the habit of gluttonizing, if he has been constantly sending the blood careering through the vessels of his body, widening and expanding them, until his thick neck has told everybody else that he is producing congestion of the brain, and he fall a victim to a greedy appetite, it is paid he dies by the visitation of God. All these are grievous errors. These victims die against the will of God. They are slain by their sins. Their deaths are the visitations of disorder, of passion, lust, and care, of gluttony, of drink, of bad air, of the thousand vices, many of them based on ignorance, which afflict mankind.
What we wish to do in relation to the great truth we have now before us is to establish the firm conviction, to lay down as a foundation doctrine, from which we should never depart under any circumstances, that God is goodness itself. He never causes pain to any one. He is good to the angels, good to man, and good to the evil. He is good today, and good forever.
Do not suppose that we have simply in view on this occasion the idea of giving you an intellectual treat, by shewing you how to reconcile two texts of Scripture. It is, indeed, so important thing that we should understand the beauty, power, and harmony of the Divine Volume. It is a treasury of truth. But our aim is beyond that, and our wish is to establish a conviction in every mind as far as we can do it, that wherever there is disorder, there is something wrong in man. It is not God’s doing. If we have discomfort of mind, disease of body, if we are troubled by misery, pain, and loss, we must not look to God as the source of it. All men should examine and see in what it is that the pest, or misery, or disease originates. Just as we should not think of going to the sun to seek the cause that darkens his splendor on a gloomy day, knowing the cause to exist in the smoke and fogs of the atmosphere, so in relation to all spiritual ailments, and indeed to every sorrow that human beings have, we are convinced they arise either from mens actual sins, or the sins of their forefathers. Their origin is much lower than God. God is unchangeable, everlastingly good,–good to all. His tender mercies are over all his works.
Give a close examination to Scripture and to nature, and you will find that there are only two sources of disorder, and misery—IGNORANCE and WICKEDNESS.
There are hereditary causes of disease which affect children very seriously during the whole course of their lives. These origins of sorrow are not to be overlooked. They have originated in their forefathers, either in ignorance or in evil.
Secondly, let us consider that when we are in evils we associate ourselves with evil spirits. These increase the dispositions to wrong, and are the causes of a vast number of pains both to mind and body. How fully this is shewn in the Gospel! When the Lord came into the world, the human race was so far subject to the powers of darkness that there were inflictions from them of multiplied miseries. Every reader of the Gospel, when his attention is called to it, will observe how numerous are the accounts there given of afflictions of this class. Our Lord is almost every instance where He is brought face to face with wretchedness attributes it to infernal agency. In the case of the poor man, mad amongst the tombs, He said to the evil spirits infesting him, What is thy name? My name is legion, for we are many was the answer, for they spoke as a mass. The Lord said, Come out of him thou unclean spirit, and then the man was restored to his right mind, and sat at the feet of Jesus, or deafness it is frequently mentioned that the Lord Jesus said, Thou deaf or dumb spirit come out of him, and immediate relief was the consequence. When the sanctimonious pretenders to religion, who were really enough to set the commandments of God aside by their traditions, were indignant at the Lord’s healing a poor woman and said, Then shalt not do these things on the Sabbath day, the Lord said, Shall not this daughter of Abraham, whom SATAN HATH BOUND, lo, these eighteen years, be set at liberty on the Sabbath day? The truth is, we are associated with the sublime spiritual universe, both as to its good side and its evil side. Within this great world of nature there is a world of spirits, animating and filling it; the cause of all its motions, of all its beauty and fertility. Just as the soul fills the body, so the spiritual world fills the natural world. All orderly and beautiful arrangements in nature are the result of the Divine power flowing through the heavenly side of the spiritual world. Its storms, earthquakes, wild beasts, thorns and thistles, and all things of hideous and venomous life are from the Divine Life, perverted by flowing through the infernal world.
These perversions produce miseries. Every man who departs from heavenly order, and thus becomes selfish and fiendish, associates himself with spirits like himself. Thenceforward he becomes a channel through which plagues and pestilence are injected into him, and into the world. These are the true causes of misery, mischief, and sorrow. The plagues of the soul, associated with infernal powers, are the causes of the plagues of the world. The way to remove both is to eradicate sin. We should stay plagues by closing up the channels through which sin embodies itself in the world. That dreadful spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of selfishness and vice, in the other life, which is called hell, and which is the abode of misery, is a tremendous force for mischief. It stretches itself through the world of nature, but especially about man, exactly like all the other powers of the universe. Electricity is diffused throughout all nature, and as soon as you produce the outward conditions in which electricity will act, that instant there is a, stroke of electric power produced. So soon as the means in which chemical laws will act exist, instantly they produce their effect. So soon as the disorder and dirt into which evil power can act, whether in our towns, in our homes, or in our bodies, are produced, infernal force bursts forth instantly and produces mischief. The reason why we are not incessantly afflicted with ten thousand times more misery than we feel is that Infinite Love preserves and shields us. Providence preserves us from numerous ills; but as pain is a remedial power, and evil can only be shunned by being manifested, it may be restrained, but not extinguished. Evils are repressed and moderated by Divine Wisdom, but sometimes an extravagance of sin is reached in which all real humanity perishes, and man can no longer be sustained.
Our first text is an account of mankind so terribly corrupted that large numbers could no longer continue to live. This fact is declared in the language of appearances. It is said God had repented. The reality was, man had utterly changed, and creation in him could not go on. In the earlier parts of the chapter it is said the people had arrived at a state of unwonted vice. Ordinary sin is the evil of neglecting the Divine laws from ignorance, defying them from wantonness, or passing them by from inexperience.
These states are such that after a while one may hope to have the sinner reclaimed. But there are depths of vice, abominations of sin, terrible monstrosities of guilt, which come from horrible mixtures of religion and lust. These give rise to depths of iniquity so profound that we have but little conception ordinarily even of what they are. In the chapter from which our first text is taken we read that the sons of God went in unto the daughters of men, and there were children born who were giants in those days. We cannot dwell on all the particulars connected with this state of things, but the intimation we have given will enable us to understand it a little.
In the Divine allegories of the early parts of the Bible, the sons of God represent the truths of religion, the daughters of men, carnal lusts; the blending of the two produce gigantic wickedness. We know what has resulted by a commingling of religion and lust, in the case of Mormonism. In that system persons are induced to live in adultery in its worst and most incestuous forms for religions sake; and under the pretense of revelation they pronounce God’s sanction on enormities of passion and crime. It was abominations of this class, only still deeper, still more horrible because far more of spiritual intelligence was known then, that were represented by the sons of God and daughters of men becoming united and thus giving birth to a progeny of giants. These were giants not of form, but of lust. They were giants in mischief and passion, monsters of wretchedness and crime, continuing to generate such abominations that the race could no longer be perpetuated. Their principles, their lusts, their passions, their enormities, were so diabolic as to bring death. They associated with infernal spirits as gods. To them evil became divine, and awful lusts a species of worship. Evil spirits have been men like ourselves, but they have entered into a spiritual state. When human beings enter the eternal world all that is good becomes better, and all that is vicious becomes worse. When evil men, by open intercourse with evil spirits, confirm their vices by what they vaunt as a Divine sanction, their sins are incurable, and death is at hand. The wages of sin are ever death, but in such a case almost immediate death. Their own lusts were destroying them; their own tremendous passions and their powerful giant sins, the fiendish sources of mischief and misery made it impossible for life with them to continue. This was announced in the words of the test in the only way they could understand it. In the language of appearances God is said to do what will inevitably take place.
The Lord is said to repent and to change, because man has changed the Lord’s life in himself. We say the sun has set, when the truth is the earth has turned from him. The warm and glorious beams which, when poured over beds of roses, fill the air with perfume, only stimulate polluted marshes to send out malaria, laden with death. The same warmth that softens wax hardens clay, not because the beams are different, but because the objects which receive those beams are varied. The sunlight which cheers and animates the graceful lamb, excites the dead carcass only to increased putridity and corruption. In like manner, the soul dead in trespasses and sins changes the Divine life that flows into it until it becomes hatred, lust, and impurity. This is done to such an extent at last that humanity in its true acceptation no longer exists there, and life, is transformed into death. Man has destroyed himself; but he thinks he is destroyed by the Lord. O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, said the Lord, but in me is thy help.—Hosea xiii., 9. When this change is coming over man, the Lord is said to repent and to grieve. Our first test, then, announces mans ruin in the way it appears to him; the second test declares what is really the truth. The Spirit of our Heavenly Father, when received by angels and good men, is the source of blessing and beauty; but when men have become so monstrous as that everything coming from the Lord is changed to its opposite, God is said to repent. The reality is that man destroys himself, and will no longer continue in the Lord. This awful state is altogether contrary to the Lord’s love;hence it is said, it grieved Him at His heart.
Let us take this sacred truth to heart—the Lord is infinitely good. If I am in sorrow, what is there that is its origin in others or in me? God is not a men that He should repent; He has not repented. Let me look around and see in what I have changed; let me pray to the Lord to give me light to discern in what I am doing wrong. God cannot repent. His laws cannot change.
Hence, if I am to be saved, I must repent. Except ye repent, the Savior said, ye, shall all likewise perish.
There is no half-way possible; and sad indeed would it be if it were. An evil heart full of selfish dispositions is like a den of wild beasts. Until they are destroyed there is no peace. He who persists in opposing God’s laws will find them inflexible. There is no changing them. The light in which the dove rejoices is hard and blinding to the bat. The fish gasps and dies in the air, which to myriads of other creatures forms the very balm of life. Each creature that lives in the order God’s laws have provided for it will find enjoyment and progress: let it be led into opposition to the laws of its nature and it will suffer agony and death. Yet God’s laws are all beneficial, they cannot be altered. The pains they induce are protective and remedial. The laws both of mind and matter are the results of eternal love and infinite wisdom. GOD CANNOT REPENT. God is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent. He cannot give the rewards of truth to falsehood, the blessings of virtue to vice. He hath said, and will do it; He hath spoken, and He will make it good.
Man can repent, God cannot. Do we find ourselves unhappy then? We must change. Nothing else will do. Prayers that lead to repentance, will be all-prevailing; prayers which are wailings only, and leave the heart unchanged, are idle wind. Faith which brings us to OBEY our Savior is saving faith. Faith which overcomes our sins, and is seen in our new lives, is it victorious faith, blessed by the Lord Jesus. Faith which makes us altered men, molding our nature, renewing our hearts, changing our lives, opening the eye of the soul to its Savior, and making the inner ear of conscience quick to regard the voice of the Divine Master, and at each intimation of His blessed will to respond, Speak Lord for thy servant heareth; this is the faith which, grounded in love, is manifested in virtuous works and saves the soul alive, bringing it into the image of heaven.
If then, we are unhappy, restless, sad, having tried expedient after expedient, but still feeling far from peace, and full of forebodings, let us not continue the vain endeavor. Let us repent. Let us not deceive ourselves with the vain delusion, that God will alter, and to an unchanged nature impart the blessedness of heaven.
It cannot be. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? O turn to the Savior, as the earth turns to the sun. And, as she is hatred in his radiance with light and warmth, fertility and loveliness, so will your changed souls gradually resume the blessedness of Eden, and glow with the glory of heaven. Seek eternal bliss no other way. He has set before you life and death, good and evil, blessing and cursing. Choose life that ye may live. Try no other way, for God is not the son of man, that He should repent. Take up the devout language of humble prayer and say, May His sacred Spirit help me to become daily more and more like Himself, my God and Savior, and my heart like the heaven He fills and blesses. As men change by regeneration into the likeness of the immutable God, they will become models of purity, order, and good; life in this home here below will prepare them at last for the bliss of that home above, and the life everlasting beyond the grave. Amen.
Author: Jonathan Bayley—Scripture Paradoxes -Their True Explanation (1868)