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“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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“The Rock on which the church is built” by John Owen

“It may, then, be said, ‘What did the Lord Christ, in this condescension, with respect unto His divine nature?’

The apostle tells us that He ‘humbled Himself, and made Himself of no reputation,’ (Phil. 2:7-8). He veiled the glory of His divine nature in ours, and what He did therein, so as that there was no outward appearance or manifestation of it.

The world hereon was so far from looking on Him as the true God, that it believed Him not to be a good man. Hence they could never bear the least intimation of His divine nature, supposing themselves secured from any such thing, because they looked on Him with their eyes to be a man,—as He was, indeed, no less truly and really than any one of themselves.

Wherefore, on that testimony given of Himself, ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ (John 8:58)—which asserts a pre-existence from eternity in another nature than what they saw,—they were filled with rage, and ‘took up stones to cast at Him,’ (John 8:58-59).

And they gave a reason of their madness, (John 10:33),—namely, that ‘He, being a man, should make Himself to be God.’

This was such a thing, they thought, as could never enter into the heart of a wise and sober man,—namely, that being so, owning Himself to be such, He should yet say of Himself that He was God.

This is that which no reason can comprehend, which nothing in nature can parallel or illustrate, that one and the same person should He both God and man. And this is the principal plea of the Socinians at this day, who, through the Mohammedans, succeed unto the Jews in an opposition unto the divine nature of Christ.

But all this difficulty is solved by the glory of Christ in this condescension; for although in Himself, or His own divine person, He was ‘over all, God blessed forever,’ (Rom. 9:5) yet He humbled Himself for the salvation of the church, unto the eternal glory of God, to take our nature upon Him, and to be made man: and those who cannot see a divine glory in His so doing, do neither know Him, nor love Him, nor believe in Him, nor do any way belong unto Him.

So is it with the men of these abominations. Because they cannot behold the glory hereof, they deny the foundation of our religion,—namely, the divine person of Christ.

Seeing He would be made man, He shall be esteemed by them no more than a man.

So do they reject that glory of God, His infinite wisdom, goodness, and grace, wherein He is more concerned than in the whole creation. And they dig up the root of all evangelical truths, which are nothing but branches from it.

It is true, and must be confessed, that herein it is that our Lord Jesus Christ is ‘a stumbling-stone and a rock of offence’ (1 Peter 2:8) unto the world.

If we should confess Him only as a prophet, a man sent by God, there would not be much contest about Him, nor opposition unto Him.

The Mohammedans do all acknowledge it, and the Jews would not long deny it; for their hatred against Him was, and is, solely because He professed Himself to be God, and as such was believed on in the world.

And at this day, partly through the insinuation of the Socinians, and partly from the efficacy of their own blindness and unbelief, multitudes are willing to grant Him to be a prophet sent of God, who do not, who will not, who cannot, believe the mystery of this condescension in the susception of our nature, nor see the glory of it.

But take this away, and all our religion is taken away with it.

Farewell Christianity, as to the mystery, the glory, the truth, the efficacy of it;—let a refined heathenism be established in its room.

But this is the rock on which the church is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.”

–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: 327-328.

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“There is order in the Divine Persons, but no inequality in the Divine Being” by John Owen

“That we may the better behold the glory of Christ herein, we may briefly consider the especial nature of this condescension, and wherein it doth consist.

But whereas not only the denial, but misapprehensions hereof, have pestered the church of God in all ages, we must, in the first place, reject them, and then declare the truth.

This condescension of the Son of God did not consist in a laying aside, or parting with, or separation from, the divine nature, so as that He should cease to be God by being man.

The foundation of it lay in this, that he was ‘in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God,’ (Phil 2:6);—that is, being really and essentially God in His divine nature, He professed Himself therein to be equal with God, or the person of the Father.

He was in the form of God,—that is, He was God, participant of the divine nature, for God hath no form but that of His essence and being; and hence He was equal with God, in authority, dignity, and power.

Because He was in the form of God, He must be equal with God; for there is order in the Divine Persons, but no inequality in the Divine Being.

So the Jews understood Him, that when He said, ‘God was His Father, He made Himself equal with God.’

For in His so saying, He ascribed unto Himself equal power with the Father, as unto all divine operations. ‘My Father,’ saith He, ‘worketh hitherto, and I work,’ (John 5:17-18).

And they by whom his divine nature is denied do cast this condescension of Christ quite out of our religion, as that which hath no reality or substance in it. But we shall speak of them afterward.

Being in this state, it is said that he took on Him the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man, (Phil. 2:7). This is His condescension.

It is not said that He ceased to be in the form of God; but continuing so to be, He ‘took upon Him the form of a servant’ in our nature: He became what He was not, but He ceased not to be what He was.

So He testifieth of Himself, (John 3:13), ‘No man hath ascended up to heaven, but be that came down from heaven, the Son of man which is in heaven.’

Although He was then on earth as the Son of man, yet He ceased not to be God thereby;—in His divine nature He was then also in heaven.

He who is God, can no more be not God, than He who is not God can be God; and our difference with the Socinians herein is,—we believe that Christ being God, was made man for our sakes; they say, that being only a man, he was made a god for His own sake.

This, then, is the foundation of the glory of Christ in this condescension, the life and soul of all heavenly truth and mysteries,—namely, that the Son of God becoming in time to be what He was not, the Son of man, ceased not thereby to be what He was, even the eternal Son of God.”

–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: 325–326.

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“An infallible interpretation” by Richard Barcellos

“Let us consider Genesis 1:2 once again.

While Genesis 1:2 says, ‘And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,’ Psalm 104:24 says, ‘O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions–‘ and in Ps. 104:30 we read, ‘You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.’

In Job 26:13 we read, ‘By His Spirit He adorned the heavens.’

These texts (and there are others) outside of Genesis echo it and further explain it to and for us. These are instances of inner-biblical exegesis within the Old Testament.

When the Bible exegetes the Bible, therefore, we have an infallible interpretation because of the divine author of Scripture.

Scripture not only records the acts of God, it also interprets them. If we are going to explain the acts of God in creation, God’s initial economy, with any hope of accurately accounting for those acts, we must first know something of the triune God who acts.

And the only written source of infallible knowledge of the triune God who acts is the Bible and the Bible alone.”

–Richard C. Barcellos, Trinity and Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020), 23.

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“Our safety lieth in God’s immutability” by Thomas Manton

“The Lord is unchangeable in holiness and glory. He is a sun that shineth always with a like brightness.

God, and all that is in God, is unchangeable; for this is an attribute that, like a silken string through a chain of pearl, runneth through all the rest:

His mercy is unchangeable, ‘His mercy endureth forever,’ (Ps. 100:5).

So His strength, and therefore He is called ‘The Rock of ages,’ (Isa. 36:4).

So His counsel, Mutat sententiam, sed non decretum (as Bradwardine); He may change His sentence, the outward threatening or promise, but not His inward decree; He may will a change, but not change His will.

So His love is immutable; His heart is the same to us in the diversity of outward conditions: we are changed in estate and opinion, but God, He is not changed.

Well, then,—

1. The more mutable you are, the less you are like God. Oh! how should you loathe yourselves when you are so fickle in your purposes, so changeable in your resolutions!

God is immutably holy, but you have a heart that loveth to wander. He is always the same, but you are soon removed, (Gal. 1:6); ‘soon shaken in mind,’(2 Thess. 2:2); whirried with every blast, (Eph. 4:14), borne down with every new emergency and temptation.

The more you do ‘continue in the good that you have learned and been assured of,’ (2 Tim. 3:14), the more do you resemble the divine perfection.

2. Go to Him to establish and settle your spirits. God, that is unchangeable in Himself, can bring you into an immutable estate of grace, against which all the gates of hell cannot prevail; therefore be not quiet, till you have gotten such gifts from him as are without repentance, the fruits of eternal grace, and the pledges of eternal glory.

3. Carry yourselves to Him as unto an immutable good; in the greatest change of things see Him always the same: when there is little in the creature, there is as much in God as ever: (Ps. 102:26-27), ‘They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; they shall all wax old as a garment: Thou art the same for ever, and Thy years have no end.’

All creatures vanish, not only like a piece of cloth, but like a garment. Cloth would rot of itself, or be eaten out by moths; but a garment is worn and wasted every day.

But God doth not change; there is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity; the arm of mercy is not dried up, nor do His bowels of love waste and spend themselves.

And truly this is the church’s comfort in the saddest condition, that however the face of the creatures be changed to them, God will be still the same. It is said somewhere, that ‘the name of God is as an ointment poured out.’ (Song of Solomon 1:3)

Certainly this name of God’s immutability is as an ointment poured out, the best cordial to refresh a fainting soul. When the Israelites were in distress, all the letters of credence that God would give Moses were those, (Exod. 3:14), ‘I AM that I AM hath sent me unto you.’

That was comfort enough to the Israelites, that their God remained in the same tenor and glory of the divine essence; He could still say I AM. With God is no change, no past or present; He remaineth in the same indivisible point of eternity; and therefore saith, I AM.

So the prophet (Malachi 3:6), ἔγω κύριος, οὐκ ἠλλοίωμαι, ‘I am the Lord, that change not’ (or am not changed); ‘therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’

Our safety lieth in God’s immutability; we cannot perish utterly, because He cannot change.”

–Thomas Manton, “Commentary on the Epistle of James,” The Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. 4 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1871/2020), 4: 113-114. Manton is commenting on James 1:17.

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“What God tells us about Himself 6,800 times” by John Piper

“God’s name is a message. And the message is about how He intends to be known.

Every time His name appears—all 6,800 times—He means to remind us of His utterly unique being. As I have pondered the meaning of the name Yahweh, built on the phrase “I AM WHO I AM” and pointing to God’s absolute being, I see at least ten dimensions to its meaning:

  1. God’s absolute being means He never had a beginning. This staggers the mind. Every child asks, “Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. God simply is and always was. No beginning.”
  2. God’s absolute being means God will never end. If He did not come into being, He cannot go out of being, because He is absolute being. He is what is. There is no place to go outside of being. There is only God. Before He creates, that’s all that is: God.
  3. God’s absolute being means God is absolute reality. There is no reality before Him. There is no reality outside of Him unless He wills it and makes it. He is not one of many realities before He creates. He is simply there, as absolute reality. He is all that was, eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God, absolutely there, absolutely all.
  4. God’s absolute being means that God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring Him into being or support Him or counsel Him or make Him what He is. That is what absolute being means.
  5. God’s absolute being means that everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary and dependent. The entire universe is utterly secondary—not primary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God’s decision to keep it in being.
  6. God’s absolute being means all the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to its substance, as an echo to a thunderclap, as a bubble to the ocean. All that we see, all that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies, is, compared to God, as nothing. “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are accounted by Him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isa. 40:17).
  7. God’s absolute being means that God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who He is. There is no development in God. No progress. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.
  8. God’s absolute being means that He is the absolute standard of truth, goodness, and beauty. There is no law book to which He looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He Himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.
  9. God’s absolute being means God does whatever He pleases, and it is always right, always beautiful, and always in accord with truth. There are no constraints on Him from outside Him that could hinder Him from doing anything He pleases. All reality that is outside of Him He created and designed and governs. So He is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from the counsel of His own will.
  10. God’s absolute being means that He is the most important and most valuable reality and the most important and most valuable person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.

This is the message of His name. And in the exodus, He establishes a link forever between His name and His mighty rescue of Israel from bondage.

The timing of the revelation of His name is not coincidental. God is coming to save. Israel will want to know who this saving God is.

God says in effect, ‘Tell them that My name is Yahweh, and make clear what this means. I am absolutely free and independent. And I choose freely to save My people. The freedom of My being and the freedom of My love are one.'”

–John Piper, Providence (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 90-92.

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“The most excellent study for expanding the soul” by Charles Spurgeon

“It has been said by some one that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead.

The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.

There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.

Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, ‘Behold I am wise.’

But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with the solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.’

No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God. But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe.

The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity.

Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in His immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated.

I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.

Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatary.

Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore.

It is to that subject that I invite you this morning. We shall present you with one view of it,—that is the immutability of the glorious Jehovah.

“I am,” says my text, “Jehovah,” (for so it should be translated) “I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’ (Malachi 3:6)”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Immutability of God,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, Volume 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 1. Spurgeon preached this sermon from Malachi 3:6 on January 7, 1855. He was twenty years old.

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