Article of the Month
by John Owen
When meditating on God, we must first think of him as existing (Heb. 11:6). This is the first object of faith and the first act of reason. Many have no real faith in the existence of God. If they did, it would make quite a difference to their daily lives. The inbred light of nature, together with reason, will satisfy any rational creature that there is a God. But most accept the existence of God either from tradition or from education. But they have no personal experience of the existence of God. They have no doubts that he does exist. Nature itself would never think of denying this truth.
The knowledge of the existence of God comes from the light of nature, the convictions of conscience, and the right use of reason. By these three, men ought to come to a right understanding of the works and effects of infinite power and wisdom, and this understanding should greatly increase faith in divine revelations. By this faith, we ought to have frequent thoughts of the existence of God and that for two reasons.
The first reason is because atheism is rife among us and so a special testimony is required to oppose this cursed doctrine of hell. God calls us to be his witnesses (Isa. 43:9-12; 44:8). And without frequent retreat into thoughts of God’s existence, there is no peace or refreshment to be found when surrounded by the desert sands of atheism.
The second reason is because of the great troubles that there are in the world today. Evil men have never had more encouragement to deny the existence of God, and the godly have never had greater trials for their faith (Psa. 11:3-5; 73:2-5; Hab. 1:6-13).
The spiritually minded person will say, ‘Truly there is a reward for the righteous; truly there is a God who judges in the earth.’ This will follow thoughts of the immensity of God’s nature, of his eternal power, of his infinite wisdom, and of his absolute sovereignty. These thoughts will hold the soul of believers firm and steadfast in the most destructive storms of temptation that may fall upon them.
But there are two troubles which weaker believers may well encounter. Satan, knowing the weakness of our minds, will inject blasphemous thoughts into them when we try and think of infinite and incomprehensible things. He will tempt us to atheism by raising doubts, ‘Is there really a God? How do you know that there is a God?’
Satan did this in his first temptation. ‘Has God said, You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’ This was how he tempted Christ. ‘If you be the Son of God. Is there a God? What if there is no God?’ So Paul tells us to take the shield of faith, by which you shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked’ (Eph. 6:16).
Faith will quickly reject such diabolical suggestions. Christ said, ‘Get behind me, Satan.’ If man has a petrol bomb thrown at him, he does not ask whether he will be burned but immediately does everything in his power to put out the fire. So in the same way, we must deal with the devil’s fiery darts.
If blasphemous thoughts persist after every effort to cast them out, return at once, without further argument, to your own experience. When the devil has asked you the question, if you answer him, he has got you. But if you ask yourself the question, and then answer it by your own experience, you will frustrate all the devil’s designs on you. We are not to argue with the devil. We are to take the shield of faith to quench those fiery darts. If Satan succeeds in diverting us into long arguments for the existence of God, he has succeeded in drawing us away from the duty of meditating on God. Soon, every time we think of God we will begin to wonder if he really exists.
The believer, therefore, is to retreat at once into his own experience. This will pour shame and contempt on the suggestions of Satan. Every believer who knows something of himself and of God’s dealing with him, and has time to exercise the wisdom of faith concerning the ways God has dealt with him in the past and is dealing with him now, has the witness in himself of God’s existence and his eternal power. He also has the witness of all the other perfections of the divine nature which God is pleased to reveal and glorify in and by Jesus Christ. So, on this suggestion of Satan that there is no God, the believer will be able to say, ‘The devil might do better to tell me that I am not alive and not breathing, that I do not eat food or keep myself warm by wearing clothes, that I do not know myself or anything else, for I have personal assurance and experience of God’s existence.’
The blind man answered the unbelieving Pharisee with the words, ‘One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. ‘Whatever’, says the tempted believer, ‘there is in this temptation of Satan, one thing I know full well, that whereas I was dead, I am now alive. Once I was blind, but now I see. And both these miracles were accomplished in me by divine power alone. How often I have experienced his power and his grace by the Holy Spirit and by his word giving me clear, undoubted evidence of his existence, goodness, love, and grace! How often has God brought peace to my conscience with the assurance that my sins have been pardoned! The world never gave me such peace and assurance. In how many dangers and troubles has God been near to me to comfort and strengthen me! When I meditate on his grace and glory, what spiritual strength and life I receive from him!’ This shield of faith will quench the fiery darts of Satan, and he will be defeated in two ways.
Satan’s temptations will be repelled in the proper scriptural way, which is by resisting him. ‘Resist the devil’, says James, ‘and he will flee from you.’ Satan will not only depart and stop troubling you, but will depart as one defeated and put to shame. It is because believers do not resist the devil that many are severely burned by his fiery darts.
Reminding ourselves of the experiences we have had of God will lead us to exercise all kinds of graces, which greatly disappoints our adversary.
In thinking of God, we are apt to find our minds overwhelmed, because God is too glorious and too great. Eternity and immensity, indeed every infinite idea stops the mind from thinking and reduces our thoughts to nothing. So in some, not able to think reasonably, foolish ideas are apt to arise. They begin to wonder how things can exist which they cannot understand. Others are so bewildered they stop thinking of God and infinite things, turning their thoughts away from them as they would turn away their eyes from looking at the sun.
If we find difficulty in meditating on infinite things, then the following two things may help.
If you cannot understand infinite things, then adore God’s infinite greatness and incomprehensible perfections.
No one can see God and live. Not even in eternal glory will we be able to fully understand God and his infinite perfections. Only what is infinite can understand what is infinite. These things are the objects of faith and worship. Infinite things are for faith and worship. Faith and worship will bring rest and satisfaction, when reason will only drown us. Infinite glory can only be approached by faith. When the soul bows down in worship before God’s infinite greatness and glory, finding itself to be nothing and God to be all, then it will find rest and peace in infinity (Rom. 11:33-36). We find it difficult enough to think of the greatness of the world and all the nations and the inhabitants in the world. Yet the world and all that is in the world are ‘but as the small dust of the balance and the drop of a bucket, as vanity, as nothing’ compared with God. So what can be the result of our thoughts of God except holy wonder and adoring worship?
If we find difficulty in meditating on infinite things, then let us think of them by ‘the things that are seen’.
‘The invisible things of God’ are known in and by the ‘things that are seen’. There is no property of the divine nature which we cannot experience personally. These we may consider, and in these streams taste the source from which they come, the source which we may not approach. By them we may be led to worship and admire what is immense and incomprehensible. I cannot understand the immensity of God’s nature. Indeed, I cannot understand the nature of immensity. Yet if I find by experience, and believe that God is always present with me wherever I am, I show I believe in immensity and am satisfied with the experience of it though I cannot understand it.
Not only must we think of the existence of God, but we must also think of his omniscience.
We cannot take one step in our walk with God unless we remember that always and in all places, he is present with us; that he knows all our thoughts and sees all that we do and that at all times, night and day. And as we ought always to live in the fear of God as the omnipresent and omniscient God, so there are special times when our minds ought especially to remember his omnipresence and omniscience.
Whenever we are suffering temptation and are in danger of sinning, we should remember God is present and sees and knows all things.
David knew the danger and tells how he behaved at such times (Psa. 39:1-3). He would have no fellowship with those of evil words and ways. And as for good words, he judged it unwise ‘to cast pearls before swine’. He therefore kept silence though it was a grief and trouble to him. But this drove him to those wonderful meditations which he describes in the following verses. If in times of temptation, we were to remember that God is always and everywhere present with us, and that his holy eyes are upon us, it would put his fear in us, and make bitter the sin which we are being tempted to indulge in. A believer does not walk humbly, nor circumspectly, who, in the company of worldly men, does not remember God’s presence and all-seeing eye, and when he leaves them, consider whether his behaviour glorified God. But alas! How many stupid excuses are made for not remembering God’s presence and omniscience at such times.
This neglect has often caused Christians to dishonour Christ by unseemly behaviour and proves how few are truly spiritually minded. Whether tempted by day or by night, when we are alone and cannot be seen by men, we must remember that God is present with us. The darkness is no darkness to him, light and darkness are both alike to him (Psa. 139:11-12). This will do more to cool lustful desires than anything else. This is the strong tower into which tempted believers may run and be safe from the onslaughts of sin.
When we are alone, we should remember God is present with us and sees and knows all things.
What we are when alone, that we are and no more. When walking, or on a journey, stupid and foolish thoughts are apt to fill our minds. Whatever is stored in our memories will at such times offer itself for our amusement. The Psalmist tells us how to deal with such foolish thoughts. He says, ‘I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; my heart also instructs me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved’ (Psa. 16:7-8). His heart and secret thoughts instructed him. But from where did his heart get such wisdom? In itself, the heart is the seat of all lusts and corruptions and could do nothing but lead him into evil desires. But David says that he set the Lord always before him. That is, he always thought of God being with him, and this filled his mind and heart with a reverential and holy fear of the Lord.
When we are in times of great difficulties and dangers, we should remember God is present and sees and knows all things.
Suppose a man is left alone in his sufferings for the gospel, as Paul was when ‘all men forsook him, and no one stood by him.’ Suppose he is brought before princes, rulers, or judges who are filled with rage and armed with power to destroy him and who do their best to fill him with dread and terror. It is the duty of such a believer not to think of those he can see, but to remember that God is present with him and sees and knows all things. He must remember that God sits among the judges, though they do not acknowledge his existence. God rules over them at his pleasure. God knows the distress of the oppressed and justifies them when the world condemns them and can deliver them when he pleases. This was what gave Daniel’s three friends courage to stand up to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 3:17-18). Thoughts of the presence and power of God not only gave them comfort and strength in their distress when they were alone and helpless, but also courage to defy the tyrant to his face. And when the apostle was brought before Nero, that master of cruelty and villainy, and ‘all men forsook him’, he testified that ‘the Lord stood by him and strengthened him’ (2 Tim. 4:17). So at such times it is our duty as well as our wisdom to think of God’s omnipresence and omniscience.
When Elisha’s servant saw his master and himself surrounded by Syrian horses and chariots come to take them prisoner, he cried out for fear, ‘Alas my master! What shall we do?’ But when Elisha prayed, the Lord opened the young man’s eyes to see the heavenly protectors he had sent them. When he saw the mountains filled with horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha, he stopped being afraid (2 Kings 6:15-17). If ever we are in such a dangerous situation, God will open the eyes of our faith to see his glorious presence and then we shall no longer be afraid of men. This is how the holy martyrs triumphed over and even despised their bloody persecutors. Christ made the thought of his Father’s presence with them the ground of their courage and strength (John 16:32). So if in such time of trial we are called to stand alone, then we must remember that God is with us. This will give us strength and courage to stand faithfully for him.
In times of special providential warnings, we must remember God is present with us and sees and knows all things.
When Jacob awoke from his dream, he instantly concluded that God was in that place and that he did not realise it. How many times God has shown us that he is with us and we did not realise it! Sometimes God reveals that he has been with us when we are wonderfully saved from death in a dreadful accident. In terrible disasters which have happened to others and not to us, God reveals that he has been with us to preserve us and we did not realise it! But the first thing that will suggest itself to a spiritual mind in such times will be, ‘God is in this place.’
We must also frequently meditate on God’s almighty power.
Nobody who believes that there is a God doubts his almighty power. The existence of God and his eternal power go together (Rom. 1:20). Yet few truly believe that God is almighty and all-powerful. Indeed, to believe that the almighty power of God really concerns us both in time and in eternity is one of the highest and most noble acts of faith. When God entered into covenant with Abraham, the first thing he called Abraham to believe was the truth of his almightiness. ‘I am Almighty God: walk before me and be blameless’ (Gen. 17:1).
Job said, ‘I know that you can do everything, and that no purpose of yours can be withheld from you’ (Job 42:2).
‘God has spoken’, said the Psalmist, ‘twice have I heard this; that power belongs to God’ (Psa. 62:11).
God saw how necessary it was to frequently teach his saints the truth of his almighty power, for we are all too ready to acknowledge that creatures have the power to do as they please and that everything will go according to their will. But this is not so. All creatures are weak and feeble. Without God, they can do nothing. All power belongs to God. It is a glorious jewel in his imperial crown which he will not allow any to usurp. If the proudest creature goes beyond the bounds and limits of his present permission, God will send worms to eat them up as he did Herod (Acts 12:23).
It is impossible to walk before God, to his glory, or with any real peace, comfort, or satisfaction in our souls, unless our minds are continually filled with thoughts of his almighty power. Everything that happens to us, everything that we hear which has the least threat of danger in it, will disturb our minds and either make us tremble as leaves shaken by the wind, or drive us to some foolish or sinful way of escape, unless we are firmly established in the faith of God’s almighty power.
Consider the promises of God to the church recorded in Scripture and as yet unfulfilled. Consider the present state of the church in the world, exposed as it is to many evils and discouragements, and we shall quickly find that unless we are anchored by faith to the truth that the Lord God omnipotent reigns, we shall be tossed to and fro by all uncertainties.
When the church is in its greatest danger and facing dreadful calamities, God calls us to remember his almighty power (Isa. 40:28-31).
Take one example that concerns us all and that is death. Death may sweep us from this earth at any time. Death never ceases to threaten us even when we do not think of it. When we die, our bodies will be laid in the dust with no power to resurrect themselves. If they are to be raised to life again, it must be by the almighty power of God. Death will remove the soul from the body and from this world into an invisible world. Death puts an end to all human relationships, enjoyments, and circumstances here on earth.
What comfort can we have in this life on which everything depends, and which will soon end, unless we continually have in mind God’s almighty power. He alone is able to receive the departing soul. He alone is able to raise our bodies from the dust.
The spiritually minded are always thinking of God’s almighty power. They are not like the wicked of whom it is said that ‘God is not in all their thoughts.’ It is sad that there are many who perform outward religious duties, who hear the word with delight, doing many things gladly, who have escaped the pollutions that are in the world through lust, who do not run into the same excess of riotous living with other men, yet who remain strangers to that delight and satisfaction which comes from thoughts of God’s almighty power. How can it be otherwise with those whose minds are filled with earthly concerns and worries, however much they may excuse themselves by pleading their callings and lawful enjoyments, or insisting that they are not in any way over-indulging themselves with the pleasures and profits of the world?
To ‘walk with God’ to ‘live to God’ does not only mean to abstain from outward sins and perform outward duties. These may be done with wrong motives and for wrong purposes which are not acceptable to God. God requires our hearts, and there is no other way we can give him our hearts than by our love and by thinking about him with joy and delight. This is what it means to be spiritually minded. This is what it means to walk with God.
Do not deceive yourself. Unless you abound in holy thoughts of God, unless your meditation of him is sweet, all that you claim to be and do will fail you in the day when your faith is tested and tried. Such a trial will prove whether you are spiritually minded or not.
John Owen (1616-1683). No outline of Owen's life can give an adequate impression of the stature and importance to which he attained in his own day. He was summoned to preach before Parliament on several occasions, most notably on the day after the execution of Charles I. During the Civil War, Owen’s merit was recognized by General Fairfax, then by Cromwell who took him as Chaplain to Ireland and Scotland. He was adviser to Cromwell, especially though not exclusively on ecclesiastical affairs, but fell from the Protector’s favour after opposing the move to make him King. In 1658 he was one of the most influential members of the Savoy Conference of ministers of Independent persuasion. After the Ejection he enjoyed some influence with Charles II who occasionally gave him money to distribute to impoverished ejected ministers. All in all, he was, with Richard Baxter, the most eminent Dissenter of his time.
This article is taken from Spiritual Mindness, published by the Banner of Truth, “abridged and made easy to read by R.J.K. Law”.
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