As puritan theologian John Owen (1616-1683) reached the end of his ministry, he wrote The Glory of Christ to argue that it is one of our greatest duties and privileges to seek these views of Christ.
Owen begins by pointing to Jesus’s prayer for His disciples:
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
Although this refers primarily to seeing the full glory of Christ in heaven, Owen states that we must also seek and love His glory by faith in this life. If we pursue everything else but Christ in this life, there is a chance that we haven’t seen the beauty and glory of Christ in the gospel in a saving or transforming manner.
It is true that our faith is imperfect, and we sometimes experience periods where it is difficult to feel the presence of Christ. But we should continue to seek Him. He will be faithful to give us views of Himself that will sustain us through any trial until we see Him perfectly in heaven.
Seeing His glory in Scripture
So how do we see the glory of Christ? Owen emphatically points to meditating on the glory of Christ in Scripture. In Scripture, we see the humility, love, and mediation of Christ. We see Him loving his bride, the Church, and dying for her. But we also see how he loves and knows each of us as individual believers.
Owen makes the case that all of Scripture culminates and points to the glory of Christ in the gospel. Jesus Himself made this point as He walked on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection.
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
As such, we should read Scripture in light of the revelation of Christ. We should not only read the Bible for doctrinal information, but meditate on it for spiritual transformation.
“It is impossible that one who never meditates with delight on the glory of Christ here in this world, who does not labor to behold it by faith as it is revealed in the Scripture, should ever have any real, sincere desire to behold it in heaven.” (The Glory of Christ: In Modern English, pg. 84)
Conformed to His image
When we see and value the glory of Christ, we are gradually transformed into His image.
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6)
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor 3:18)
Owen pleads with believers to seek Christ and views of His glory. Even the imperfect views that we have here by faith bring us an abundance of strength and joy.
He notes that some people actively seek the Holy Spirit for this renewal. And although he agrees that the Holy Spirit is instrumental in this process, Owen says that seeing and loving Christ is the way that we are filled and enabled by the Spirit.
Most importantly, we must see the distinction between intellectually assenting to a belief in Christ and loving Him as our Savior.
“The design of this discourse is to say that when you have by faith attained a view of the glory of Christ as you contemplate on His person, do not pass over it as only a truth you assent to—namely, that He is glorious in Himself; but endeavor to affect your heart with it as that which principally involves you. Then it will be effective to transform your soul into His image.” (The Glory of Christ: In Modern English, pg. 90)
Strengthened to the end
As we see more of Christ by faith in this life, we begin to want to see and know Him more. Consequently, we want to perfectly fulfill His prayer and be with Him where He is in heaven. When Christ is our life, death becomes the way to eternal joy and rest.
“And there is another advantage that fulfilling this duty has with respect to death itself: it is the diligent contemplation of the glory of Christ that will carry us cheerfully and comfortably to the next life.” (The Glory of Christ: In Modern English, pg. 20)
Here, Owen speaks from personal experience. On August 24, 1683, a friend arrived to tell John Owen that the printing of The Glory of Christ was going well. Owen replied, “I am glad to hear it; but, oh brother Payne, the long wished for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing, in this world.” Later that day, Owen passed away. Owen would want all of us to approach our own deaths with the same type of longing and anticipation to see our Lord Jesus Christ!
I would like to say a special thanks to my brother-in-Christ Haihan Yu, who encouraged me to work on this modern update! Haihan maintains a site to present orthodox Christianity to Chinese readers. For more information, see https://kingdomandcovenant.gitee.io/.