O Thou Who Changest Not: An Offprint from the Quaker Bible Index on the Changelessness of God

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
— Henry Francis Lyte, “Abide with Me” (1847)

Three verses of Scripture declare the changelessness of God and Christ with particular clarity: Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, and James 1:17. Early Quakers took strength and wisdom from these, and the Quaker Bible Index (the “QBI,” online at https://qbi.earlham.edu/) records what some of them wrote, using language and ideas from these verses. Perhaps the best-known instance of this is the Friends’ “1660” (old style; dated 1/21/1661 by the new-style calendar) Declaration to King Charles II, which states, “the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil [e.g. participation in war] and again to move [us] unto it.” This definitive statement of what became known as the Quakers’ Peace Testimony, be it noted, while assuring the king that Quakers would never take up arms against the Monarchy, also daringly asserted that no self-professed Christian who justified their own use of “the carnal sword” could be a true follower of Christ — “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal,” 2 Cor 10:4. The “magistrate’s sword,” on the other hand, was to be respected (Rom 13:1-7), a doctrine that would later generate uncertainty about the limits to which Friends ought to let themselves participate in, or hold back from, the affairs of the armed civil state.


Malachi 3:6

Mal 3:6 [KJV]: For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
The Septuagint reads: 6 Διότι ἐγὼ Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ὑμῶν, καὶ οὐκ ἠλλοίωμαι· καὶ ὑμεῖς, οἱ υἱοὶ ᾿Ιακὼβ, οὐκ ἀπέχεσθε…] 

(Mal 3:6) IP3: 80; WPR 320; WPT 142 [= WPR 320]; JSS 10, 12 [A key to these abbreviations appears at the bottom of this page.]

IP3: 80 [from Observations on Some Passages of Lodowick Muggleton, 1668:] In p. 21 he [Muggleton] saith, “So that now God himself is not capable to dissolve himself into Seed or Nature, as he was before.”
Observ. Is God changeable? Is he one thing today, and another thing tomorrow? and can he never be any more what he was yesterday? His god may be so: but the true God is not so (“I the Lord change not.”): his Nature, his Seed, his Life, his Spirit, his Power is the same for ever.

WPR 316, 320 [from The Christian Quaker, Ch. X, p. 42:] <316> First then, from their own Authorities, I am taught to affirm, that the Gentiles Believed in One, Holy, Infinite and Eternal God.
That they did therefore so believe, because God had imprinted the Knowledge of himself in their Hearts; or in our Language, that he had Illuminated all Mankind with a Divine Light which, as conversed with, ad obey’d, would lead to Eternal Happiness. [the author proceeds to cite “Gentile” authorities including Hesiod, Thales, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates, and Plato.]
<320> [under “XI. PLATO:”] “Moreover, God not having many Parts, can neither be locally mov’d, nor alter’d by Qualities; For if he be alter’d, it must be done by himself, or some other, if by some other, that Other must be of greater Power that he; if by Himself, it must be either to Better, or to Worse; both which are Absurd.”

JSS 10 [from Remarks upon the Nature of Salvation by Christ (1792):]  “God is unchangeable.” All the changeable dispensations result from, and are accommodated to, the different states of mankind. There never was but one way of salvation, nor of remission of sins. Could any thing else ever have answered this purpose but the birth, life, and government of Christ in man, it would answer still, and as well now as ever. This was pointed to by the law and its ordinances, by John and his figurative and preparatory baptism; and as far as the work of salvation was ever wrought in any age or dispensation, it was the work of God in Christ; yet never was carried on and completed without the creature’s consent and cooperation.

JSS 12 [from the same:] As we yield to his call and operation, the new formation, creation, and generation begin and advance. Old things are done away, all things become new, and all things of God; and not of ourselves without him. Here we are brought into reconciliation with him and know our sins to be blotted out and freely remitted. Remission of past sins is equally, in all ages, the act of divine grace. It is the mercy of God, in and through Christ the begotten: his unchangeable nature, an attribute or excellency inseparable from the Divine Essence. He cannot retain anger or opposition to a state not in opposition to him. Anger, as a passion, he has none; he is always in himself the same, and always one. There is no twain in him. Love and wrath, compassion and vengeance, are not in him as different things, or even as states or dispositions. It is more strictly proper to say, he is love, goodness, wisdom, power, compassion, a fountain of living waters, a consuming fire, &c., than to say he has such and such attributes, or properties. Indeed, I suppose the word attribute was originally used on this very ground, and implies that he has not any two different things or states in himself. But because he is all these, we attribute to him those different excellencies or qualities, which are familiar to our ideas. He is love, and always and altogether love; he is goodness, and always and altogether goodness; power, wisdom, and justice, and always and altogether all these, and all are ever but one in him. Perhaps goodness is a word as expressive of what he is, as any.


Hebrews 13:7-8

13:7 [G: =13:8a] Remember them which have the rule over [GBT: oversight of] you, who have spoken [GT: declared] unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering [G: +what hath been] the end of their conversation. [BT: Whose end of conversation ye considering (T: The end of whose conversation see that ye look upon and) follow their faith].     qtext
13:8 Jesus Christ the same [GBT: omit] yesterday, and to day, and [G: the same also is; B: and the same; T: and the same continueth] for ever.     qtext
[In the Greek: 7 Μνημονεύετε τῶν ἡγουμένων ὑμῶν, οἵτινες ἐλάλησαν ὑμῖν τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, ὧν ἀναθεωροῦντες τὴν ἔκβασιν τῆς ἀναστροφῆς μιμεῖσθε τὴν πίστιν. 8 Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐχθὲς καὶ σήμερον ὁ αὐτός, καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.]

(Heb 13:7) EQ 525 (BR)

(Heb 13:7f) GF4: 90; RBA 39; RBAF 29

(Heb 13:8) GFJN 345, 399; GF2: 305; GF3: 63, 188, 225, 339, 353, 409, 509; GF4: 93, 174, 220; GF5: 229, 278, 355; GF6: 313, 400, 415; GF7: 23 [15], 33 [25], 44 [37], 81 [71], 186 [195], 198 [201], 223 [221], 246f [232], 258 [236], 276, 277279, 280 [245]; GF8: 49, 50 [300], 58 [307], 71 [313], 131 [339], 165 [358], 304f [411]; GFEJ 37, 210; GFT 61, 198; DGA 97, 140; MFU 165, 168, 182, 197, 259; JN1: 10 (GF), 19, 56, 220, 287, 511, 533; JN2: 230, 455, 585; JN3: 249, 323; 701n, 725 (RR); JN4: 6-7 = EQ 109-110 (JN); IP1: 72, 132; IP2: 118, 364; IP3: 317; IP4: 59, 61; EQ 109-110 (JN; see JN4: 6-7), 362 (TA), 506 (GF); HPS 175, 329, 334; WTG 174 (EH); JSS 10, 12 (see under Mal 3:6)

(Heb 13:7)

RBA 39 (1678, II.9): [arguing that “the object of the saints’ faith is the same in all ages, though held forth under divers administrations”] The same apostle (Heb 13:7-8), where he exhorteth the Hebrews to follow the faith of their elders, adds this reason, “Considering the end of their conversation, Jesus Christ, the same today, yesterday, and forever”: Hereby notably insinuating, that in the object there is no alteration.

(Heb 13:8)

[Other texts citing Heb 13:8: GF4:93 (John 1:14), GF5:355 (under Heb 12:22f), GF7:23f (Mat 4:9f), GF7:33 (Mat 26:24), GF7:186f (John 1:3), GF7:277 (Gen 10:9), GF8:50 (Mat 10:32), GF8:304f (Rev 12:1), JN1:56 (Luk 23:12), EQ 109 (John 6:27]

GFJN 345 (1658): [George Fox, disputing with a Jesuit] “Then,” said I, “I am satisfied, for you have told people that the consecrated divided loaf and wine were immortal and divine and now say, ‘It will wear away as well as any other.’ I must tell thee Christ remains, and is the same today as yesterday [Heb 13:8], and is the saints’ heavenly food in all generations and never decays, through which they have life [John 6:32-58].”

GFJN 399-400: [from The Declaration to King Charles (1661):]
That the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, ad so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war with any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.

GF3:408f (1659): They that are not in this “Christ within,” are reprobates [2 Cor 13:5] …; and so it is Christ, the same to-day, yesterday, and for ever [Heb 13:8], that the saints come to witness within them, not another Christ, neither many Christs. And they that profess a Christ without them, that have a Christ without them, and another Christ within them, here are two: for if it be not the same Christ that ended all types, figures, and shadows; if it be not him that is within, they have not the possession, the substance, nor the comfort of the true Christ.

GF5:229 (1676): you … would limit the Son and God [Psa 78:41], and say, that “there is no revelation to be looked for now a-days;” then there is no looking for the knowledge of God now a-days: for there is no knowledge of him but as the Son reveals him [Mat 11:27], who is the same to-day as yesterday, and so for ever [Heb 13:8]; and is known by revelation now, as formerly, which we witness.

GF7:44 (1653): So, keep in the fear of God, and keep in his truth which ye at first received, for truth never changes [Heb 13:8?].

GF7:81 (1654): All be faithful in the everlasting seed, in which ye have life and power, dominion and wisdom, and clothing with that which is immortal, and the blessing of the Lord, and peace in the seed, Christ, that never fell [1 Pet 2:22] nor changed, nor will change [Heb 13:8];

GF7:279 (1666): And they whose religion, fellowship, and worship change, and who gad about, and change their ways, are fickle, and have itching ears [2 Tim 4:3] after the ways that change from Christ, who doth not change, who is the way [John 14:6], “the same to-day as he was yesterday” [Heb 13:8]; to be walked in [Isa 30:21]. . . .

MFU 165 (1655): The Spirit of God is the same as it was to the former prophets in scripture, and we bear testimony of the same Spirit which never changeth, which is the same yesterday, today & for ever [Heb 13:8].

JN1:511 (1655): And the cross of Christ you know not: for what Christ formerly did destroy upon the cross for his people, he doth the same now; and so is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8), which cross you that live in your pride and lusts of the flesh will not take up [Mat 16:24], and therefore the works of the devil remain in you undestroyed [1 Jn 3:8].

JN2:585 (1655): And now you rulers and people of England, it is the same Christ in us who is the same king today, yesterday, and forever [Heb 13:8], who declares in us against the same sins and is despised and refused by the same generation of builders [Psa 118:32], and whom the same powers of the earth deny and will not have him to rule over you [Luke 19:14] in your consciences, nor would give liberty of conscience to others to obey him….

EQ 109-110 (James Nayler, from The Lamb’s War Against the Man of Sin, 1658; = JN4: 6-7): <109> Now, in truth to God and your own souls, prove your work in time lest you and it perish together. First, see if your Christ be the same that was from everlasting to everlasting, or is he changed according to the times…. And if you find the true Christ then prove your faithfulness to him in all things.
<110> And many other fruits you may find which he ever brought forth in his chosen, whereby they were known to be in him and he in them [John 15:4], for which the world hates them [John 15:18f]. By all which you may clearly know, if he be the same in you today as he was yesterday in his people, and forever [Heb 13:8]. For he changes not, nor conforms to the world [Rom 12:2], but changes all his followers till they become in all things like himself; for they must bear his name and image before all men and spirits.

IP1:72 (1658): To the first objection, that this is a new way, or new light, I answer: It is new indeed to them who have lain long in the apostasy, and set up another light; but it is not new in itself, but the same that was in the beginning; yea, and before the beginning also. Christ was the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever [Heb 13:8]; and the light that comes from him is like him; that also is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. It was the same under the law, the same before the law, the same since the law. As the darkness all along hath been the same, so the light all along hath been the same also.

WTG 174 (Elizabeth Hudson, 1749): is not that good hand that has hitherto been with me the same yesterday, today and forever [?]


James 1:17

1:17 Every good gift [GB: giving] and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights [T: light], with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning [T: is he changed into darkness]. [Greek: πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον ἄνωθέν ἐστιν, καταβαῖνον ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων, παρ’ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα.]

(Jas 1:17) GF3: 202, 277, 315, 338, 505, 510525; GF4: 157; GF5: 119; GF7: 58 [46], 67 [52], 74 [61], 86 [77], 92 [81], 97 [90], 198 [201], 233 [222], 250 [232], 269 [240], 295 [249]; GFEJ 46; LB (G21); MFS 90; MFU 18, 21, 51, 53, 106, 228, 277, 319; JN1: 193, 238, 296, 317; JN2: 154, 184, 203; JN3: 48, 388, 454; WDS 300, 305; IPL 55; IP1: 124, 127, 214, 422; IP2: 5116, 286; IP3: 253, 426; EQ 174; 280 (FN); HPS 397399 (EB); 453, 455 (MF), 464, 515; WPR 307, 365, 583, 611; WPT 141, 274f; JWJM 73; WTG 69 (SM); SIW 71

(Jas 1:17f) IP2: 6

(Jas 1:17)

[Other texts citing Jas 1:17: GF3:510 (John 8:35), IP2:116 (1 Pet 2:22), HPS 397 (John 12:46), WPR 307 (Luk 19:20), WPR 365 (Rev 2:4), WTG 69 (1 Pet 4:12)]

GF3:525 (1659): Faith is the gift of God [Eph 2:8], and the gift of God is perfect [Jas 1:17], and that which is perfect is without sin, and gives victory over sin [1 Jn 5:4].

GF7:74 (1654): [the] seed endeth all types, figures, shadows, and variable things [Heb 8-10/Jas 1:17].

GF7:198 (1661): In the stillness and silence of the power of the Almighty dwell, which never varies, alters, nor changes [Jas 1:17]….

GF7:295 (1667): in Christ is no shadow, variableness, nor turning [Jas 1:17], for he was before shadows were, glorified with the Father before the world began [John 17:5]….

JN2:184 (1655): Thou makes it appear that thou never knew the good & perfect gift that comes from above [Jas 1:17]; thou runs too greedily after gifts and rewards [Jude 1:11] from below.

IP2:5 (1660): All the knowledge which man gathers, or can gather, into his vessel, he may pollute; but what issues from the spring is pure, and of a perfect nature. Jas 1:17.

HPS 399 (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1679): Yet do I believe … that the Father of lights [Jas 1:17], and God of the spirits of all flesh [Num 11:22], hath given a measure of his own divine Light and Spirit unto all the children of men….

WPR 611, WPT 274f (1696): God the Father of Lights and Spirits [Jas 1:17/Heb 12:9]

JWJM 73 (17–): To provide things relative to our outward living in the way of true wisdom is good, and the gift of improving in things useful is a good gift and comes from the Father of Lights [Jas 1:17].

SIW 71 (Catherine Payton Phillips, 1749): …the excellency is of him; from whom proceeds wisdom, power, light, utterance, peace and every good gift [Jas 1:17].


Key to Abbreviations:

Part 1: Key to Bible versions referenced here:

Texts are from the King James (Authorized) Version of 1611. Boldface indicates words and phrases for which variants occur in other early versions which Friends are known to have used. These variants appear in [square brackets] following the boldfaced text: G = Geneva Bible (1599); B = Bishops’ Bible (1595); T = Tyndale’s New Testament (1534).
   The Greek originals of the New Testament texts are from the Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament, 9th Revised ed., 2001. The Greek text of Malachi 3:6 is from Septuaginta, Rahlfs ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblia-Gesellschaft, 1979).

Part 2: Key to published Quaker sources cited here:

DGA: Douglas Gwyn: Apocalypse of the Word: The life and message of George Fox. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1986.
EQ: Early Quaker Writings 1650-1700. Ed. Hugh Barbour and Arthur O. Roberts. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973.
GF1: –GF8: George Fox: Works, in 8 vols. 1831 American ed., reprinted 1990 by New Foundation. vv. 1-2: The Journal; v. 3: The Great Mystery; vv. 4-6: Doctrinal writings; vv. 7-8: Epistles.
GFEJ: The Power of the Lord Is Over All: The Pastoral Letters of George Fox. Ed. T. Canby Jones. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1989.
GFJN: The Journal of George Fox. Ed. John L. Nickalls. Philadelphia: Religious Society of Friends, 1985.
GFT: That thy candles may always be burning: Nine pastoral Sermons of George Fox. Ed. Max Skinner and Gardiner Stillwell. Camp Hill, PA: New Foundation, 2001.
HPS: Hidden in Plain Sight: Quaker Women’s Writings 1650-1700. Ed. Mary Garman et al. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill,1996.
IP1: -4: The Works of Isaac Penington. Glenside, PA: Quaker Heritage Press, 1995-97, vv. 1-4.
IPL: Isaac Penington: The Light Within and selected writings. Philadelphia: Tract Association of Friends, n.d.
JN1: -4: The Works of James Nayler. Glenside, PA / Farmington, ME: Quaker Heritage Press, 2003-9, vv. 1-4.
JWJM: The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman. Ed. Phillips P. Moulton. Richmond IN, Friends United Press, 1989
JSS: Job Scott’s Essays on Salvation by Christ. Glenside, PA: Quaker Heritage Press, 1993.
LB: Lewis Benson: Notes on George Fox. 1981. (unpublished)
MFS: A Sincere and Constant Love: An Introduction to the Work of Margaret Fell. Ed. Terry S. Wallace. Richmond IN, Friends United Press, 1992.
MFU: Undaunted Zeal: the letters of Margaret Fell. Ed. Elsa F. Glines. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 2003.
RBA: Robert Barclay: Apology for the True Christian Divinity. Farmington, ME: Quaker Heritage Press, 2002.
RBAF: Barclay’s Apology in Modern English. Ed. Dean Freiday. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1967.
SIW: Strength in Weakness: Writings by Eighteenth-Century Quaker Women. Ed. Gil Skidmore. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira, 2003.
TEM: The history of the life of Thomas Ellwood, Written by Himself. Ed. Rosemary Moore. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2004.
WDS: William Dewsbury, c. 1621-1688: One of the First Valiant Sixty Quakers. (Facsimile of an 1836 book by Edward Smith). York, UK: Sessions Book Trust, 1997.
WPR: William Penn on Religion and Ethics: The Emergence of Liberal Quakerism. Ed. Hugh S. Barbour. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.
WPT: William Penn: Twenty-First Century Penn: Writings on the Faith and Practice of the People called Quakers. Transl. into Modern English by Paul Buckley. Richmond, IN: Earlham School of Religion, 2003.
WTG: Wilt Thou Go on My Errand?: Journals of Three 18th-Century Quaker Women Ministers. Ed. Margaret Hope Bacon. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 1994.


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