Daily Devotional – Mortification of Sin

by John Owen – March 22nd, 2019

Chapter 12
Meditations upon God

d. Our unacquaintance with our end

The apostle tells us in 1 John 3:2 that we know not what we ourselves shall be, what we shall find ourselves in the end. Much less will it enter into our hearts to conceive what God is and what we shall find Him to be. Consider either Him Who is to be known, or the way where-by we know Him, and this will further appear.

1). Consider God; Who is to be known

   We know so little of God, because it is God Who is thus to be known. That is, He has described Himself to us very much by this: that we cannot know Him. What else does He intend where He calls Himself invisible, incomprehensible, and the like? That is, He Whom we do not, cannot, know as He is.

   Our further progress consists more in knowing what He is not than what He is. Thus, He is described to be immortal and infinite. He is not as we are: mortal, finite, and limited. Hence is that glorious description of Him: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1Ti 6:16). His light is such as no creature can approach unto. He is not seen, not because He cannot be seen, but because we cannot bear the sight of Him. The light of God, in Whom is no darkness, forbids all access to Him by any creature whatsoever. We, who cannot behold the sun in its glory, are too weak to bear the beams of infinite brightness.

   On this consideration, as was said, the wise man professes himself a very beast, who has “not the understanding of a man” (Pro 30:2). He knew nothing in comparison to God, so that he seemed to have lost all his understanding when once he came to the consideration of Him, His work, and His ways.

In this consideration, let our souls descend to some particulars.

a). The very being of God

   We need knowledge of God’s being in order to be able to instruct one another therein by words and expressions of it. However, we are so far from a knowledge of the actual being of God, that to frame any conceptions in our mind with such species and impressions of things (as we receive the knowledge of all other things by) is to make an idol to ourselves—and so to worship a god of our own making, and not the God that made us. We may as well and as law-fully hew Him out of wood or stone as form Him a being in our minds that is suited to our apprehensions. The utmost of the best of our thoughts of the being of God is that we can have no thoughts of it. Our knowledge of a being is but low when it mounts no higher than only to know that we know it not!

b). What God has declared

   There be some things of God that He Himself has taught us to speak of, and to regulate our expressions of them. Yet, when we have so done, we see not the things themselves; we still do not know them. To believe and admire is all that we attain to. We profess, as we are taught, that God is infinite, omnipotent, eternal; and we know what disputes and notions there are about omnipresence, immensity, infiniteness, and eternity. We have, I say, words and ideas about these things; but as to the things themselves, what do we know? What do we comprehend of them? Can the mind of man do any more but swallow itself up in an infinite abyss, which is as nothing? Give itself up to what it cannot conceive, much less express? Is not our understanding “brutish” in the contemplation of such things, and is as if it were not?

   Yea, the perfection of our understanding is: not to understand, and to rest there. They are but the back parts of eternity and infiniteness that we have a glimpse of. What shall I say of the Trinity, or the subsistence of distinct Persons in the same individual Essence? A mystery by many denied because by none understood; a mystery whose every letter is mysterious! Who can declare the generation of the Son, the procession of the Spirit, or the difference of the one from the other?

   But I shall not further instance in particulars. That infinite and inconceivable distance that is between Him and us keeps us in the dark as to any sight of His face or clear apprehension of His perfections. We know Him rather by what He does than by what He is—by His doing us good than by the goodness of His essence. And how little a portion of Him, as Job speaks, is hereby discovered (Job 26:14)!

Excerpts from Mortification of Sin by John Owen from: The Chapel Library •  chapel@mountzion.org