A few weeks ago I heard about a recent study which surprisingly concluded that men would prefer an electric shock to spending time alone with their thoughts (full article is available at: http://www.futurity.org/alone-thoughts-pain-729012/). I suspect that such aversions to introspection arise from the absence of a vital spiritual life, and yet, a majority of Christians will confess to having a prayer life that is lackluster, and less than they would like it to be. However, it is only a true knowledge of God that enables us to look within honestly, deeply, and relentlessly without despairing.
Two prerequisites to meaningful communion with God involve a knowledge of God, and a knowledge of ourselves. Calvin revised his Institutes several times, but one thing he never revised was the opening section wherein he identified the need for these two types of knowledge, thus demonstrating his ability to get to the kernel of true wisdom early on:
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility. For as there exists in man something like a world of misery, and ever since we were stript of the divine attire our naked shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us, that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. (Institutes, 1.1, available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.ii.html)
At the end of end of the section dealing with the uses of the law in The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Edward Fisher exhorts his reader to commune with his own heart especially before receiving the Lord’s Supper for the following reason:
“Because the more sinful you see yourself to be, the more need you will see yourself to have of Christ; and the more need you see yourself to have of Christ, the more will you prize him; and the more you prize Christ, the more you will desire him; and the more you do desire Christ, the more fit and worthy receiver you will be.”
Being honest with ourselves as we relate to God is at the heart of communion with him. I’m indebted to John Owen for depicting this honesty in what he described as the daily commutation that occurs between every believer and his Savior:
“They [believers] hearken to the voice of Christ calling them to him with their burden, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden;’ – ‘Come with your burdens; come, thou poor soul, with thy guilt of sin.’ Why? what to do? ‘Why, this is mine,’ saith Christ; ‘this agreement I made with my Father, that I should come, and take thy sins, and bear them away: they were my lot. Give me thy burden, give me all thy sins. Thou knowest not what to do with them; I know how to dispose of them well enough, so that God shall be glorified, and thy soul delivered.’ Hereupon, —
“They lay down their sins at the cross of Christ, upon his shoulders. This is faith’s great and bold venture upon the grace, faithfulness, and truth of God, to stand by the cross and say, ‘Ah! He is bruised for my sins, and wounded for my transgressions, and the chastisement of my peace is upon him. He is thus made sin for me. Here I give up my sins to him that is able to bear them, to undergo them. He requires it of my hands, that I should be content that he should undertake for them; and I heartily consent unto.’ This is every day’s work; I know not how any peace can be maintained with God without it.” (Volume 2 of The Works of John Owen, On Communion With God, Chapter 8, p. 194; bold emphases mine, available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/communion.i.vii.viii.html).
Yes, sadly, as long as we are in this body, this commutation is every day’s work. But, blessed be the Lord, he commands us to come to him as we are, with all our sins, asking him as our King to overcome all his and all our enemies. I prefer this communion with Him to an electric shock any day!