Refuge and Rest

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
~ Isaiah 51:4

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
~ Psalm 91:4

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
~ Matthew 6:6

Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.
~ Psalm 31:20

To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave. Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.
~ Psalm 57:1

Opening to Believers the Unchangeableness of God, As a Fourth Chamber of Refuge and Rest in Times of Trouble, by John Flavel. The following contains Chapter 9 of his work, “The Righteous Man’s Refuge”.

Come my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be over-past.
— ISA. 26:20

Chapter IX

Opening to believers the unchangeableness of God, as a fourth chamber of refuge and rest in times of trouble.

Sect. I.

It is said, Prov 9:1. Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars, i.e. She hath raised her whole building upon solid and stable foundations; for, indeed, the strength of every building is according to the ground-work upon which it is erected. Debile fundamentum fallit opus. The wisdom and love of God have built an house for a refuge and sanctuary to believers in tempestuous and evil times, containing many pleasant and comfortable chambers prepared for their lodgings, till the calamities be over-past; three of them have been already opened, viz. the power, wisdom, and faithfulness of God.

The last of which leads into a fourth, much like unto it, namely, the unchangeableness of God; wherein his people may find as much rest and comfort amidst the vicissitudes of this unstable world, as in any of the former. This world is compared, Rev. 15:2 to a sea of glass mingled with fire. A sea for its turbulency and instability; a sea of glass for the brittleness and frailty of every thing in it; and a sea of glass mingled with fire, to represent the sharp sufferings and fiery trials with which the saints are exercised here below. The only support and comfort we have against the fickleness and instability of the creature, is the unchangeableness of God.

There is a twofold changeableness in the creature;

1. Natural, the effect of sin.

2. Sinful in its own nature.

1. Natural, let in by the fall upon all the creation, by reason whereof the sweetest creature is but a fading flower, Psal. 102:26. Time, like a moth, frets out the best wrought garment with which we clothe and deck ourselves in this world, temporalia rapit tempus. Our most pleasant enjoyments, wives, children, estates, like the gourd in which Jonas so delighted himself, may wither in a night; sin rings these changes all the world over.

2. Sinful, from the falseness, inconstancy, and deceitfulness of the creature: Solomon puts a hard question which may pose the whole world to answer it, Prov. 20:6. A faithful man who can find? The meaning is, a man of perfect and universal faithfulness is a phœnix, seldom or never to be found in this world; for when a question in scripture is moved and let fall again without any answer, then the sense is negative; but though the believer despair of finding an unchangeable man, it is his happiness and comfort to find an unchangeable God.

The unchangeableness of God will appear three ways.

1. By scripture emblems.

2. By scripture assertions.

3. By convincing arguments.

1. By scripture emblems. Remarkable to this purpose is that place, Jam. 1:17. where God is called “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;” no variableness. The word is, παραλλαγη, an astronomical term commonly applied to the heavenly bodies, which have their parallaxes, i.e. their declinations, revolutions, vicissitudes, eclipses, increases and decreases: but God is a Sun that never rises nor sets, but is everlastingly and unchangeably one and the same; with him is no variableness nor shadow of turning, τροπης αποσκιασμα. The sun in its zenith casts no shadow, it is the tropic or turning of its course that causes the shadow; the very substance of turning is with man; but not the least shadow of turning with God. And in Deut. 32:4. Moses tells us, God is a rock, and his work is perfect. And indeed perfect working necessarily follows a perfect being. Now there is nothing found in nature more solid, fixed, and immutable than a rock; the firmest buildings will decay; a few ages will make them a ruinous heap; but though one age pass away, and another come, the rocks abide where, and what they were; Our God is the rock of ages; and yet one step higher, in Zech. 6:1. his decrees and purposes are called mountains of brass, that is, most firm, durable, and unchangeable purposes. Thus the immutability of God is shadowed forth to us in scripture emblems.

2. The same also you will find in plain, positive scripture assertions: such as these that follow, Mal. 3:6. “I am the Lord, I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” And Job 23:13. “He is in one mind, and who can turn him?” Men are in one mind to-day, and another to-morrow; the winds are not more variable than the minds of men; but God is in one mind, the purposes of his heart never change. Thou art the same, or as some translate, Thou art thyself for ever, Psal. 102:27. Thus when Moses desired to know his name, that he might tell Pharaoh from whom he came; the answer is, I AM hath sent me, Exod. 3:14. not I was, or I will be, but I AM THAT I AM, noting the absolute unchangeableness of his nature.

3. The unchangeableness of God is fully proved by convincing arguments which Divines commonly draw from such topics as these, viz.

1. The perfection of his goodness.

2. The purity of his nature.

3. The glory of his name.


Arg. 1. From the perfection of his goodness and blessedness; God is optimus maximus, the best and chiefest good, and in that sense, “There is none good but one, which is God,” Mark 10:18. From whence it is thus argued, If there be any change in God, that change must either be for the better, or for the worse, or into a state equal with that he possessed before.

But not for the better, for then he could not be the chief good; nor for the worse, for then he must cease to be God, the perfection of whose nature is perfectly exclusive of all defects; nor into an equal state of goodness with that he possessed before; that notion would involve Polytheism, and suppose two first and equal beings; besides the vanity of such a change would be absolutely repugnant to the wisdom of God.
Therefore with the Father of lights can be no variableness nor shadow of turning.

Arg. 2. The unchangeableness of God may be evinced from the purity, sincerity, and uncompoundedness of his being, in which there neither is, nor can be the least mixture, he being a pure act. From whence it is thus argued;

If there be any change in God, that change must be made either by something without himself, or by something within himself, or by both together.

But it cannot be by any thing without himself; for in him all created dependent beings live and move, and enjoy the beings they have; and all the changes that are among them, are from the pleasure of this unchangeable Being, he changeth them, but it is not possible for him, upon whose pleasure they so entirely and absolutely depend, both as to their beings and workings, to suffer any changes himself from, or by them.

Nor can any such change be made upon God by any thing within himself: for that would suppose action and passion, movens et motum, a mixture and composition in his nature, which is absolutely rejected and excluded by the simplicity and purity thereof; seeing therefore it can neither be from any power without him, nor any mixture within him, there can be no change at all made on him.

Arg. 3. That is by no means to be ascribed to God, which at once eclipses the glory of his name, and overthrows the hopes and comforts of all his people.

But so would the supposition of mutability in God do, this would level him with the vain changeable creature; whereas it is a principal part of his glory, that “He is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent,” Numb 23:19. This also would overthrow the hopes and comforts of all his people, which are built upon this attribute as upon their stable and solid foundation: Among divers others we find three principal privileges of the people of God, built upon his immutability, viz.

1. Their perseverance in grace.

2. Their comfort in the promises.

3. Their hopes of eternal life.

1. Their perseverance in grace is built upon the foundation of God’s unchangeableness; one main reason why Christians never repent of their choice of Christ, and the ways of godliness, is, because the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, Rom. 11:29. Should God but once repent of the gifts of his grace he hath bestowed on us, and alter in his love towards us, how soon would our love to God, and delight in God vanish, as the image in the glass doth, when the man that looked upon it hath once turned away his face?

2. All their comfort in the promises is built upon God’s unchangeableness. The promises are the springs of consolation; should they fail and dry up, the whole world could not afford them one drop of spiritual comfort to refresh their thirsty souls; the strength of our consolation immediately results from the stability and firmness of the scripture promises, Heb. 6:18.

3. Their hope of eternal life depends upon the unchangeableness of God that hath promised, Tit. 1:2. “In hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie promised before the world began.” Take away the immutability of God, and you at once darken and eclipse his glory, and overturn the perseverance, consolations, and hopes of all his people; but blessed be God, these things are built upon firm foundations.

1. His nature is unchangeable, “Thou art the same for ever.” Psal. 102:27. The heavens, though they be the purest, and therefore the most durable and unchangeable part of the creation, yet they shall perish and wax old, and be changed as a vesture; but our God is the same for ever.

2. His power is unchangeable; Isa. 59:1. “The Lord’s hand is not shortened.” Time will enfeeble the strongest creature, and cut short the power of the hands of the mighty, they cannot do in their decrepit age as they were wont to do in their youthful and vigorous age; but the Lord’s hand never is, nor can be shortened.

3. The counsels and purposes of his heart are unchangeable, Psal. 33:11. The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.”

4. The goodness, truth, and mercy of God are unchangeable, Psal. 100:5. “The Lord is good, his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth to all generations.”

5. The word of God is unchangeable. Though all flesh be as grass, and the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field, yet the word of our God shall stand for ever; all the promises contained therein are sure and stedfast: Not yea and nay, but yea and Amen for ever, 2 Cor 1:20.

6. The love of God is an unchangeable love, Jer. 31:3. “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”

7. In a word, all the gracious pardons of God are unchangeable; as they are full without exceptions, so they are final pardons without any revocation. “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their iniquities and sins will I remember no more,” Heb. 8:12. And thus much briefly of God’s unchangeableness absolutely considered in itself.

Sect. II. Let us next consider, and briefly view the unchangeableness of God in its respect and relation,

1. To his promises,

2. To his providences.

1. The immutability of God gives down its comforts to believers through the promises, there is no other way by which they can have a comfortable admission into this chamber or attribute of God; and there are six sorts of promises in the word, by which it is highly improveable to their support and comfort in an evil day. For,

1. The unchangeable God hath engaged himself by promise to be with his people at all times and in all straits, Heb. 13:5. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” The life, joy, and comfort of a believer lies in the bosom of that promise, the conclusion of faith from thence is sweet and sure: If I shall never be forsaken of my God, let hell and earth do their worst, I can never be miserable.

2. The unchangeable God hath promised to maintain their graces, and thereby his interest in them for ever, Jer. 32:40. “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good: But I will put my “fear in their hearts, that they shall not turn away from me.” Where the Lord undertakes for both parts in the covenant, his own and theirs: I will not turn away from them; Oh inexpressible mercy! Yea, but Lord, may the poor believer say, that is not so much my fear, as that my treacherous heart will turn away from thee. No, saith God, I will take care for that also: I will put my fear into thy heart, and thou shalt never depart from me.

3. The unchangeable God hath promised to establish the covenant with them for ever; so that those who are once taken into that gracious covenant shall never be turned out of it again, Isa. 54:10. “The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.”

4. The unchangeable God hath secured his loving kindness to his people, by promise, under all the trials and smarting rods of affliction with which he chastens them in this world; he hath reserved to himself the liberty of afflicting them, but bound himself by promise never to remove his favour from them, Psal. 89:33, 34. “I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes, nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not take from them, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.”

5. The promises of a joyful resurrection from the dead are grounded upon the immutability of God, Matt. 22:32. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the “living.” Death hath made a great change upon them, but none upon their God; though they be not, he is still the same: therefore they are not lost in death, but shall assuredly be found again in the resurrection.

6. To conclude, the promises of the saints’ eternal happiness with God in heaven are founded on his immutability, 1 Cor. 1:8, 9. Tit. 1:2. By all which you see what a pleasant lodging is prepared for the saints in the unchangeable promises of God, amidst all the changes and alterations here below.

2. Once more let us view the unchangeableness of God in his providence towards his people, whatever changes it makes upon us, or whatever changes we seem to discern in it, nothing is more certain than this, that it holds one and the same tenor, pursues one and the same design, in all that it doth upon us, or about us. Providences indeed are very variable, but the designs and ends of God in them all, are invariable, and the same for ever. It is noted in Ezek. 1:12. “That the wheels went straight forward; whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.” As it is in nature, so in providence, you have one day fair, halcyon, and bright, another dark and full of storms; one season hot, another cold; but all these serve to one and the same end and design to make the earth fruitful; and the end of all providences is to make you holy and happy. That is a sweet promise, Rom. 8:28. “All things shall work together for good to them that love God.” This is the compass by which all providences steer their course, as a ship at sea doth by the chart: but more particularly let us note the unchangeableness of God in his providences of all kinds, effective and permissive, and see in them all his unchangeable righteousness and goodness.

1. It must needs be so, considering the unchangeableness of his decree, 2 Tim. 2:19. “The foundation of God standeth sure.” Providences serve, but never frustrate; execute, but cannot make void the decree; so that you may say of the most afflicting providences, as David doth of the stormy winds, Psal. 148:8. They all fulfil his word.

2. The wisdom of God proves it; he will not suffer his works or permissions to clash with his designs and purposes: Divine wisdom shews itself in the steady direction of all things to their ultimate end. To open this in some particulars, consider,

1. Doth the Lord permit wicked men to rage and insult, persecute and vex his people? Yet all this while providence is in its right way, it walks in as direct a line to your good, as when it is in a more pleasant path of peace, Jer. 24:5. “Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.” Israel was sent to Babylon for their good. This improves your faith and patience, Rev. 13:10. Here is the patience and faith of the saints. So Rom. 5:2, 3. “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace, wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God; and not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience.” By this you are weaned from, and mortified to this world.

2. Doth the Lord in his providence order many and frequent, close and smarting afflictions for you? Why, lo! here is the same design managing as effectually, as if all the peace and prosperity in the world were ordered for you; the face of providence indeed is not the same, but the love of God is still the same; he loves you as much when he smites, as when he smiles on you: for what are his ends in afflicting you, and what the sanctified fruits of your afflictions? Is it not,

1. To purge your iniquities? Isa. 27:9. “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away his sin.”

2. To reduce your hearts to God? Psal. 119:67. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word.”

3. To quicken you to your duties? Let the best man be without afflictions, and he will quickly grow dull in the way of his duty.

3. Doth God let loose the chain of Satan to tempt and buffet you! Yet is he still the same God to you as before; for do but observe his ends in that permission, and you will find, that, by these things, the Lord is leading you towards that desired assurance of his love which your souls long after. Few Christians attain to any considerable settlement of soul, but by such shakings and combats, the end of these permissions is to put you to your knees, and blow up a greater flame and fervour of spirit in prayer, 2 Cor. 12:8. So that, eventually, these permissions of providence prove singular advantages and blessings to you.

Sect III. What remains then, seeing God is unchangeable in his love to his people, pursuing the great ends of all his gracious promises in a steady course of providence, wherein he will never effect, or permit any thing that is really repugnant to his own glory, or their good; but that we enter also into this chamber of rest, shut the doors about us, and comfortably improve the unchangeableness of God, while we see nothing but changes and troubles here below.

(1.) Enter into God’s unchangeableness by faith, take up your lodging in this sweet attribute also; and to encourage your faith thereunto, seriously consider a few particulars.

1. Consider how constant, firm, and unchangeable God hath been to his people in all times and straits; not one among the many thousands of his people, that are passed on before you, but by frequent and certain experience have found him so. What a singular encouragement is this to our faith in the case before us? Psal. 9:13. “They that know thy name, will put their trust in thee, for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” So Isa. 25:4. “Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as the storm against the wall.” Neither is there any thing in your experience contradictory to the encouraging reports others have made of God: you must acknowledge, that notwithstanding your own changeableness, who have hardly been able to maintain your hearts in any spiritual frame towards God for one day together, yet his mercies towards you have been new every morning, and great hath been his faithfulness. You have often turned aside from the way of your duty, and have not followed God in a steady course of obedience; and yet, for all that, his goodness and mercy have followed you all the days of your life, as it is Psal. 23:6.

2. Consider how often you have doubted and mistrusted the unchangeableness of God, and been forced with shame and sorrow, to retract your folly therein; God hath many times convinced you, that his love to you is an unchangeable love, how many changes soever, in the course of his providence, have passed over you; consult Isa. 49:14. and Psal. 77, 78 and see how the cases are parallel, both in respect of God’s constancy to them and you, and the inconstancy of his people’s faith then, and yours now; your fears and doubts are the same with theirs, though his goodness and love have been as unchangeable to you as ever they were to them.

3. Consider the advocateship and intercession of Jesus Christ in heaven for you, by virtue whereof the favour and love of God become unalterable towards his people. If any thing can be supposed to cool or quench the love of God towards you, nothing in the world is more like to do it than your sin; and this, indeed, is that which you fear will estrange and alienate the heart of your God from you. But, reader, if thou be one that sincerely mournest for all the grief and dishonour of God by thy sin, appliest the blood of sprinkling to thy soul by faith, and makest mortification and watchfulness thy daily business; comfort thyself against that fear from that singular encouragement given thee in this case, 1 John 2:1, 2. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not; and if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the Propitiation for our sins.” Look as the death of Christ healed the great breach betwixt God and the soul, by thy reconciliation at first; so the powerful intercession of Christ in heaven effectually prevents all new breaches betwixt God and thy soul afterwards, so that he will never totally and finally cast thee off again.

(2.) Shut the door behind you against all objections, scruples, and questionings of God’s immutability, and, by a resolved and steady faith, maintain the honour of God in this point, by thy constant adherence to it, and dependence upon it: and especially see that you give him the glory of his unchangeableness.

1. When thou shalt see the greatest alterations and changes made by his providence in the world. What though thou shouldst live to see all things turned upside down, the foundations out of course, all things drawing into a sea of confusion and trouble? yet in the midst of those public distractions and distress of nations, encourage thou thyself in this: Thy God, and his love to his people, are the same for ever. Psal. 46:1, 2, 3, 4, 5. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved, and the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea: God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.”

2. Live by faith upon God’s unchangeableness under the greatest changes of your own condition in this world. Providence may make great alterations upon all your outward comforts: it may cast you down, how dear soever you be to God, from riches into poverty, from health into sickness, from honour into reproach, from liberty into bondage; thou mayest overlive all thy comfortable relations, and of a Naomi become a Marah. Thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down, said as good a man as you, Psal. 103:10. Yet still it is your duty, and will be your great privilege in the midst of all these changes, to act your faith upon the never-changing God, as that holy man did, Hab. 3:17. “Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither fruit be in the vine; the labour of the olive shall fail; and the fields shall yield no meat; the flocks shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stall; yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation;” q. d. Suppose a thousand disappointments of my earthly hopes, yet will I maintain my hope in God. O Christian! with how many yets, notwithstandings, and neverthelesses, must thy faith bear up in times of trouble, or thou wilt sink.

3. See thou live upon God’s unchangeableness, when age and sickness shall inform thee that thy great change is at hand; though thy heart and thy flesh fail, comfort thyself with this, thy God will never fail thee, Psal. 73:16. “O God (saith David) thou hast taught me from my youth, and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works, now also when I am old and gray-headed, forsake me not,” Psal. 71:17, 18.

4. Live upon the unchangeableness of God under the greatest and saddest changes of your spiritual condition; God may cloud the light of his countenance over thy soul, he may fill thee with fears and troubles, and the Comforter that should relieve thee may seem to be far off; yet still maintain thy faith in the unchangeableness of his love; trust in the name of the Lord, stay thyself upon thy God, when thou walkest in darkness, and hast no light, Isa. 50:10 Thus shut thy door.

(3.) Improve the unchangeableness of God to thy best advantage in the worst times, by drawing thence such comfortable conclusions as these.

1. If God be an unchangeable God in his promises, and in his love to his people, what should hinder but the people of God may live happily and comfortably in the saddest times, and greatest troubles upon earth. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing all things,” 2 Cor. 6:10. “Certainly nothing ought to quench a Christian’s mirth, that is not able to separate him from the love of Christ,” Rom. 8:35.

2. If God be an unchangeable God in his love to his people, then it becomes all that have special interest in this God, to be unchangeable and immoveable in the ways of their obedience towards him: God will not cast you off, see that you cast not off your duties, no, not when they are surrounded with difficulties; he loves you, though you often grieve him by sin; see that you still love him, though he often grieve and burden you by affliction: he will own you for his people under the greatest contempts and reproaches of the world; see that you own and honour his ways and truths when you are under most reproach from a vile world.