The previous post in this series may be found here
EIGHTHLY, Use and exercise thyself to such meditations as may serve to fill thee at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of your own vileness; as,—
Kaipic, p. 110.
Warning: This direction is easily misunderstand, and if misunderstood, will have precisely the opposite effect as intended by Owen.
When we read such a direction, we could easily begin to think about ourselves, to direct attention to ourselves. Owen is trying to push our attention out of ourselves and onto Christ.
So we will need to first unpack some of Owen’s language. First the word “vile”: there is a nuance of this word which may difficult for us to capture at this distance in time. Here is a quotation from the Authorized Version of the Bible which will help:
20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. Philippians 3:20–21 (AV)
“Vile” is contrasted with the glorious body will have in the future. It is the normal state of a human being on the Genesis 3 side of the Fall. It does not mean a peculiarly vile human being — it means a normal human being. The human being is “vile” in contrast to (1) what a human being should be; and (2) implicitly in contrast to the glory of God.
Our tendency will be to seek to weirdly make something peculiarly, something “special” about our badness, our “vileness”, when we see a command such as Owen’s. We will try to become the “best” Christian by ourself-abasement. We can make our self-abasement a kind of “merit” — which precisely the opposite of what Owen seeks for the mortified Christian.
It was Luther, the self-abasing monk turned Reformer, who understood this well. We have this constant temptation to become “theologians of glory” when we have been called upon to be “theologians of the cross”. Owen is seeking to create “theologians of the cross” by means of this direction.
Here is Carl Trueman’s summary of the two theologians:
Thus, the theologian of glory will no doubt understand the word power , when applied to God, as referring to something analogous to a king’s power: imposing and coercive. Yet the theologian of the cross gives the word different content: power is there revealed in and through weakness. Then there is the idea of wisdom . The theologian of glory will understand wisdom in terms set by the world around, perhaps seeing it as intelligence or the knowledge of how to play the system. The theologian of the cross understands wisdom in terms of the incarnate God hanging weak and broken on a cross: a contradiction of all that the wise of the world around us would expect from the sovereign Creator. The theologian of glory will understand righteousness as an outward, visible quality constituted by good works. The theologian of the cross sees it in the one who is sinless yet made sin for others. The theologian of glory sees life and death as antitheses, and the latter as something to be avoided. The theologian of the cross understands that death is actually the gateway to true life.
How to think rightly about yourself:
Be much in thoughtfulness of the excellency of the majesty of God and thine infinite, inconceivable distance from him. Many thoughts of it cannot but fill thee with a sense of thine own vileness, which strikes deep at the root of any indwelling sin.
- Detail the majesty of God:
- Read Genesis 1, list ten attributes of God’s majesty and glory.
- Read Exodus 19 & 20: list ten attributes of God’s majesty and glory.
- Read Psalms 2, 19 & 104: list attribute of God’s majesty and glory.
- Read Isaiah 43: list attributes of God’s majesty and glory.
- Read John 17: list the attributes of Christ.
- Detail our distance from God:
- List the infirmities and limitations of Genesis 3.
- Read Genesis 5: what are the limitations of human beings.
- Read Isaiah 53: what is the crucial limitation of human beings?
- Read 1 Timothy 6:11-15: list the attributes and our distance from God?
When Job comes to a clear discovery of the greatness and the excellency of God, he is filled with self-abhorrence and is pressed to humiliation, Job 42:5, 6. And in what state doth the prophet Habakkuk affirm himself to be cast, upon the apprehension of the majesty of God? chap. 3:16. “With God,” says Job, “is terrible majesty.”
- Read Job 38-42: Summarize what God demonstrates of himself and Job’s resposne to the revelation of God.
- Read Habakkuk. In chapter three carefully note first the aspects of God’s glory and honor. Look for specific words (such as “splendor”); look for effects (the mountains “were scattered”); look for actions (“rays flashed from his hands”). Then look at the effects upon the prophet: “I fear”; “my body trembles”; et cetera.
Hence were the thoughts of them of old, that when they had seen God they should die. The Scripture abounds in this self-abasing consideration, comparing the men of the earth to “grasshoppers,” to “vanity,” the “dust of the balance,” in respect of God. Be much in thoughts of this nature, to abase the pride of thy heart, and to keep thy soul humble within thee. There is nothing will render thee a greater indisposition to be imposed on by the deceits of sin than such a frame of heart. Think greatly of the greatness of God.
What is the effect of coming into knowing contact with God:
- Read Exodus 20:19-21.
- Read Hebrews 10:26-31.
- Read Revelations 1.
Think much of thine unacquaintedness with him. Though thou knowest enough to keep thee low and humble, yet how little a portion is it that thou knowest of him! The contemplation hereof cast that wise man into that apprehension of himself which he expresses, Prov. 30:2–4, “Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy. Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Labour with this also to take down the pride of thy heart. What dost thou know of God? How little a portion is it! How immense is he in his nature! Canst thou look without terror into the abyss of eternity? Thou canst not bear the rays of his glorious being.
- Here is question number 4 from the Westminster Shorter Catechism (with scripture proofs. You can find the entire catechism online here: http://www.reformed.org/documents/wsc/index.html?_top=http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC_frames.html)
- 4. What is God?
- God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
 Deuteronomy 4:15-19. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. Luke 24:39. Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. John 1:18. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. John 4:24. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. Acts 17:29. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
 1 Kings 8:27. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? Psalm 139:7-10. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm 145:3. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable. Psalm 147:5. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. Jeremiah 23:24. Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. Romans 11:33-36. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
 Deuteronomy 33:27. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them. Psalm 90:2. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Psalm 102:12, 24-27. But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations…. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end. Revelation 1:4, 8. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne…. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
 Psalm 33:11. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Malachi 3:6. For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Hebrews 1:12. And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. Hebrews 6:17-18. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Hebrews 13:8. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. James 1:17. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
 Exodus 3:14. And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. Psalm 115:2-3. Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. 1 Timothy 1:17. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:15-16. Which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.
 Psalm 104:24. O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. Romans 11:33-34. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Hebrews 4:13. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. 1 John 3:20. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
[13 Genesis 17:1. And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. Psalm 62:11. God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God. Jeremiah 32:17. Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee: Matthew 19:26. But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. Revelation 1:8. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
 Hebrews 1:13. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? 1 Peter 1:15-16. But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 1 John 3:3, 5. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure…. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Revelation 15:4. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
 Genesis 18:25. That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Exodus 34:6-7. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. Deuteronomy 32:4. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. Psalm 96:13. Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. Romans 3:5, 26. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)…. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
 Psalm 103:5. Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 107:8. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! Matthew 19:17. So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
 Exodus 34:6. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Deuteronomy 32:4. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. Psalm 86:15. But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. Psalm 117:2. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD. Hebrews 6:18. That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.
Write a prayer which details and praises each attribute of God.