Use and exercise yourself to such meditations as may serve to fill you at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of your own vileness.
Wow. Now that’s not something anyone has ever encouraged me to do. Most of the time we are encouraged to think highly of ourselves. Rather than think about how great I am, Owen offers this advice:
Be much in thoughtfulness of the excellency of the majesty of God and your infinite, inconceivable distance from him.
Think much of your unacquaintedness with Him.
Those two suggestions are the complete opposite of what many preach for believers to do today. Many encourage believers to meditate on how special we all are and how much God loves us. Something I’ve had to learn (reprogram?) the last few years is that God doesn’t love me because there is something special about me that drew His love. He loves me because it was His gracious choice to do so. Why? For His own glory. Too many teachers today want me to believe that God loves me because I’m so special, and that he loves me with the purpose of my fulfilling some wonderful task for Him.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in God preparing in advance good works for His children. But I no longer believe He did that for my glory.
The other thing I think is interesting about what Owen writes in Chapter 12 is the idea that I don’t know God as well as I think I do. In fact, he explains that it is impossible for me to really know God. First of all, Owen writes that God Himself has described himself as one I cannot fully know. He repeatedly describes himself as invisible, incomprehensible, infinite, immortal…all attributes that I, in my finiteness (is that a word?), cannot fully comprehend.
Another reason we can know so little of God, according to Owen, is because all that we do know is known by faith. Faith is described as seeing darkly, believing without seeing, etc. If the only way I can know God is by faith, then I can’t know Him fully while I’m on this earth. My friend Heather and I are reading Grudem’s Systematic Theology together and in one of the chapters about God we were dumbstruck with the truth that for all eternity we will still be learning and growing in our knowledge of God. God, as an infinite being, will always be incomprehensible. We will know Him and “see” Him, but as finite creatures we will not ever have a complete knowledge of Him. He has no bottom, so to speak.
It is a very healthy thing for believers to meditate on God as He is, on what little we can know of Him, on his incomparable characteristics. He is completely “other than” everything else we can see and understand and experience. Dwelling on him, as Owen says to, gives me a proper view of myself.
I am almost paralyzed when I really consider my sin (and I thought about this for a long time before I fell asleep last night) in light of who God is. On the one hand I want to run. I want to hide. There is an urge to escape or separate myself in some way from every evil I’ve ever committed. Not to mention the ones I haven’t committed yet. I am terrified considering His eternal judgment that I know I deserve. Even now, my heart is racing and I’m starting to sweat.
Then, on the other hand, I start to think like David when he said he’d rather be left to God’s hands than the hands of men. The truth of the gospel starts to sink in and I can rest. Christ’s blood is more than enough to atone for even my sins. Jesus satisfied God’s wrath for me. I may still suffer the consequences here on earth, but I will never feel the fullness of God’s wrath. In Christ is where I find a place to hide.