“A holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend” by John Owen

“This is a short general view of this incomprehensible condescension of the Son of God, as it is described by the apostle in Phil. 2:5–8.

And this is that wherein in an especial manner we are to behold the glory of Christ by faith whilst we are in this world.

But had we the tongue of men and angels, we were not able in any just measure to express the glory of this condescension; for it is the most ineffable effect of the divine wisdom of the Father and of the love of the Son,—the highest evidence of the care of God towards mankind.

What can be equal unto it? What can be like it? It is the glory of Christian religion, and the animating soul of all evangelical truth.

This carrieth the mystery of the wisdom of God above the reason or understanding of men and angels, to be the object of faith and admiration only.

A mystery it is that becomes the greatness of God, with His infinite distance from the whole creation,—which renders it unbecoming Him that all His ways and works should be comprehensible by any of His creatures, (Job 11:7–9; Rom. 11:33–36).

He who was eternally in the form of God,—that is, was essentially so, God by nature, equally participant of the same divine nature with God the Father; ‘God over all, blessed forever;’ who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth,–He takes on Him the nature of man, takes it to be His own, whereby He was no less truly a man in time than He was truly God from eternity.

And to increase the wonder of this mystery, because it was necessary unto the end He designed, He so humbled Himself in this assumption of our nature, as to make Himself of no reputation in this world;–yea, unto that degree, that He said of Himself that He was a worm, and no man, in comparison of them who were of any esteem.

We speak of these things in a poor, low, broken manner,– we teach them as they are revealed in the Scripture,– we labour by faith to adhere unto them as revealed.

But when we come into a steady, direct view and consideration of the thing itself, our minds fail, our hearts tremble, and we can find no rest but in a holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend.

Here we are at a loss, and know that we shall be so whilst we are in this world; but all the ineffable fruits and benefits of this truth are communicated unto them that do believe.

It is with reference hereunto that that great promise concerning Him is given unto the church, (Isa. 8:14), ‘He shall be for a sanctuary’ (namely, unto all that believe, as it is expounded, 1 Peter 2:7-8); ‘but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence,’—’even to them that stumble at the word, being disobedient; where-unto also they were appointed.’

He is herein a sanctuary, an assured refuge unto all that betake themselves unto Him.

What is it that any man in distress, who flies thereunto, may look for in a sanctuary?

A supply of all his wants, a deliverance from all his fears, a defence against all his dangers, is proposed unto him therein.

Such is the Lord Christ herein unto sin-distressed souls; He is a refuge unto us in all spiritual distresses and disconsolations, (Heb. 6:18).

See the exposition of the place.

Are we, or any of us, burdened with a sense of sin?

Are we perplexed with temptations?

Are we bowed down under the oppression of any spiritual adversary?

Do we, on any of these accounts, ‘walk in darkness and have no light?’

One view of the glory of Christ herein is able to support us and relieve us.

Unto whom we betake ourselves for relief in any case, we have regard to nothing but their will and their power. If they have both, we are sure of relief.

And what shall we fear in the will of Christ as unto this end? What will he not do for us?

He who thus emptied and humbled Himself, who so infinitely condescended from the prerogative of His glory in His being and self-sufficiency, in the susception of our nature for the discharge of the office of a mediator on our behalf,– will He not relieve us in all our distresses?

Will He not do all for us we stand in need of, that we may be eternally saved?

Will He not be a sanctuary unto us?

Nor have we hereon any ground to fear His power; for, by this infinite condescension to be a suffering man, He lost nothing of His power as God omnipotent,– nothing of His infinite wisdom or glorious grace.

He could still do all that He could do as God from eternity.

If there be any thing, therefore, in a coalescency of infinite power with infinite condescension, to constitute a sanctuary for distressed sinners, it is all in Christ Jesus.

And if we see Him not glorious herein, it is because there is no light of faith in us.

This, then, is the rest wherewith we may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshment.

Herein is He ‘a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.’ (Isa. 32:2)

Herein He says, “I have satiated the weary soul, and have refreshed every sorrowful soul.” (Jer. 31:25)

Under this consideration it is that, in all evangelical promises and invitations for coming to Him, He is proposed unto distressed sinners as their only sanctuary.”

–John Owen, “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1684/2000), 1: 330-331.

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