The cold comfort of a changeable God
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
2 Mar, 2023

Unlike us, there is nothing precarious about God’s existence. He has life in Himself and He is altogether perfect. He never changes, either for better or worse or to adapt to changing circumstances. So when a recent survey has shown that almost half of evangelicals in the US say ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Does God change?’ it raises questions about how solid someone’s faith is if they are not relying on the unchangeable God – and how lively their hope for the future can be. With our circumstances continually in flux and fears often threatening to overwhelm us, the comfort and hope that comes from the constancy of God cannot be underestimated. Faith in the unchanging and unchangeable God was what sustained one overwhelmed and fearful believer in Psalm 102. In the following updated extract, David Dickson points out the various weighty reasons for the believer’s distress yet balances them against the eternity, omnipotence, and immutability of the Lord.

The church needs comfort

Psalm 102 is consistent with the time when the Jews were in captivity in Babylon. About the end of the captivity, when the seventy years were now nearly expired, the weight of the misery of God’s people, and the mockery of the heathen, and the people’s longings for delivery, greatly afflicted the prophet and so he pours out this prayer.

It is no strange thing for the dear children of God to be under heavy affliction. They may be afflicted, and even overwhelmed. Yet the way for an afflicted and overwhelmed Christian to have relief, comfort and deliverance is, “to pour out his soul before the Lord.”

From the opening of the prayer we learn that a soul who is seeking relief and comfort in God, may both confidently pray for, and certainly expect a hearing and acceptance of their prayer. “Hear my prayer, O God. Let my cry come unto thee” (verse 1). Indeed the Lord permits His children to speak to Him in their own babbling forms of speech, even though the terms they use are not really fitting for His spiritual, invisible, and incomprehensible majesty (such as, “Hear me,” “hide not thy face,” “incline thine ear to me,” etc.) (verse 2).

The causes of the prophet’s grief are three. First, the church was experiencing the reproach and cruelty of the enemy (verse 8). Second, he had the sense that God’s anger was apparent in his situation (verse 9–10). Third, his comparison between the prosperity of the church in the past, and the adversity of the church in the present, made the present situation all the heavier (verse 9–10).

He sadly reflects that the consequence of this is likely to be that he and the church would be cut off without comfort or hope of deliverance. The church as a whole, or the scattered parts of it, may be almost disappearing, and utterly decaying under long-continued trouble: “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass” (verse 11).

The Lord remains constant till the end of time

But from verse 12, the prophet strives to comfort himself in the hope of grace to be shown to the church. “But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever …”

His first source of comfort is that God has purposed to perpetuate the remembrance of Himself to all generations, and He endures for ever to see it done.

There is therefore ground of hope to believers, even in the saddest condition of the church; for although believers are mortal, yet God (in whom their life is hid), is eternal. “Thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever.”

God wants His name to be known in all generations, and wants to have people making use of His word and ordinances in order to preserve the memory of His attributes, works and will. This is why the church must continue from age to age.

The Lord’s constancy will bring changes for the better

In verse 13 the prophet reasons from God’s unchangeableness to conclude that the condition of the church will change from worse to better. This is good reasoning. “Thou shalt endure for ever,” he says, and therefore, “thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion” (verse 13).

We can even aim for and be encouraged by the expectation that there will be an enlargement of the knowledge and fear of God among those who do not yet know Him. The psalmist is looking forward in verse 15 to the heathen coming to fear the Lord. The Lord has a time when He is pleased to arise, to restore His afflicted people to comfort, and to restore religion to its own beauty, even in a way that makes kings fear and tremble when they see how God cares for His own despised people.

God will have glory in in restoring His church: “When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory” (verse 16). Whatever instruments the Lord uses for this, He wants Himself to be seen to be the builder. As the glory of the Lord is obscured when His church is scattered, so when He sets up His own ordinances again, His glory is displayed. The connection between God’s glory and the salvation of His church is a reason for comfort and hope. However badly the church may be demolished, yet it shall be restored and repaired again.

The Lord’s constancy guarantees that the church will never be consumed

The prophet sorrowed on the personal level because he looked likely to die of grief for the church, and on another level because the church looked likely to perish in their captivity, and not go on to the hoped-for coming of the Messiah, and the conversion of the heathen, which was necessary for the perpetuation of Christ’s church to the end of the world.

In the history of Israel, it did sometimes seem that they were being stopped from going on in their journey to the coming of Christ. The tribe of Judah got so weak that it appeared there was no possibility it would last, or make any progress. There was the fear that if Judah was cut off, and Israel was abolished, then the Messiah who was supposed to be coming from them would never appear. This was the terrible fear with which the prophet is wrestling here (verse 24).

Against this fear and temptation the prophet (in the name of the church) is wrestling in prayer. He strengthens his faith by various arguments taken from God’s (which is to say, Christ’s) eternity, omnipotence, and immutability (see Hebrews 1:11–12).

Whatever difficulty faith is brought into, faith goes and deals directly with God. “God is the doer of what is done,” the believer says, and so he deals with God by prayer for relief. When it appears that we are going to perish, this should not hinder us from praying, but rather it should sharpen us in our duty. When God’s promises and God’s providences seem to disagree, we may appeal to and argue from the covenant, and not displease God by so doing.

The Lord’s constancy is the believer’s consolation

The eternity of Christ is the consolation of the believer in his mortality; and the eternity of Christ as God is the pledge that the believer will be preserved, and that all God’s promises will be performed.

The immutability of God is a notable comfort to His afflicted people because, since He is not changed, therefore they shall not be consumed. “Heaven and earth shall perish, but thou shalt endure” (verse 26); “thou art the same” (verse 27).

The prayer concludes with the prophet’s victory over the fear and temptation, expressed in a solid assurance of the perpetuity of the church from one generation to another, founded on those attributes of Christ (eternity, omnipotence, and immutability). So those who are sorry for the affliction of the church shall have consolation from God, and a gracious answer to their prayer, as the experience of the prophet teaches us.

The perpetuity of the church may be solidly concluded from the unchangeableness and eternity of God. Whatsoever change may befall the visible church before the world, yet before God she is fixed and stable, like a house built on a rock.



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