My Dear Friends,
The day before John Owen departed to be with Christ (23 August 1683), he dictated his last letter to a friend: “I am going to him whom my soul has loved, or rather who has loved me with an everlasting love, - which is the whole ground of my consolation.” The following day, William Payne brought him news that his Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ was now ready for printing. Owen replied, “I am glad to hear it; but, O 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”.
It was fitting that Owen’s Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ should have been the last of his works to have been printed prior to his death. Owen takes as his starting point the words of our Lord Jesus in John 17:24, “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.” This for Owen was the summit of Christian experience this side, and the other side, of glory. He begins his treatise with these words: “I shall lay the foundation of the ensuing Meditations in this one assertion, - namely, That one of the greatest privileges and advancements of believers, both in this world and unto eternity, consists in their BEHOLDING THE GLORY OF CHRIST” (1.286).
He could hardly have expressed the Christian’s greatest privilege any better. This is what you and I were saved for, to behold our Saviour’s glory. Is this what you do? Do you consider the glory of your Saviour worthy of your consistent, concentrated, prayerful meditation? I would like to ask four questions:
First, what exactly is “the glory of Christ”? In the opening chapter of his Gospel, John tells us, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1.14). There are perhaps four aspects or elements to Christ’s glory. There is the glory of his Godhead: he is almighty God, with his Father and the Holy Spirit. This is the glory of his deity, his eternity, his sovereignty, his “I am-ness”. Then there is the glory of his humiliation: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory”. This is the glory of condescending, gracious, matchless love. This glory of humiliation reached its apex at Calvary’s cross. Never was our Saviour more glorious than when he the sinless One became sin for us (2 Cor.5:21). But there is more; there is the glory of his exaltation. On the third day, the Father raised his Son from the dead and then exalted him to his right hand “and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name” (Phil.2:9-11). But we cannot leave it there; there is the glory of his present kingly and high-priestly reign, out of which he sends his Spirit to bless believing sinners by uniting them to himself. All of this is Christ’s glory: the glory of unabridged deity, of sovereign rule, of saving kindness, of “grace to help in time of need.”
Second, where do we behold the glory of Christ? We behold it in his creation and upholding of all things. We behold it especially in Holy Scripture. In his word, by the ministry of his Spirit, God has delineated for us the glory of his Son. It is the Spirit’s gracious work to open our eyes to see in Jesus, crucified and risen, the glory of God. As we read the Scriptures, the Spirit is always saying, “See how great he is”. As we read and hear “the old, old story”, the Spirit causes heaven to come down and glory to fill our souls. It was with good reason that Paul’s final words to Timothy were, “Preach the word”. But we also behold the glory of Christ, not only in creation and Scripture, but in people, people transformed by the grace of Christ. We see just how glorious our Saviour is as we see him rescue, redeem and renew lives blighted by sin and Satan.
Third, how do we behold the glory of Christ? Paul writes about this in 2 Cor.3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord.” We have no physical sight of our Saviour, as yet-and yet we “behold” him. How can that be? Of course, by faith we behold him. Faith sees (Heb.11:27). As the Holy Spirit shines his light upon the word and says “See how great he is”, the eye of faith responds, “Yes, I see how great he is.” Just as Moses saw him who is invisible, so the child of God sees his/her blessed Saviour and Lord. Do you see how great he is? Do you see that he is God, glorious, good and gracious? Do you see that he is the fairest of ten thousand? Do you see how perfect he is and how perfectly suited to your every need and condition? In Eph.1:18, Paul prays that God will enlighten “the eyes of your hearts, that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” There is such a thing as spiritual sight; and the first thing spiritual sight sees is Christ in his glory.
Four, what will beholding Christ’s glory do to your life? Read again 2 Cor.3:18. Beholding Christ’s glory will make you more and more like him. Slowly, often painfully slowly, God is changing his people into the likeness of his Son, killing our sin and nurturing our graces. This he does as we behold “the glory of the Lord”. There is something deeply inexplicable about this. But this we know: by his Holy Spirit God pursues his purpose to make his Son the firstborn among many brothers (Rom.8:29) by making his many brothers reflect his glory. Likeness to Christ, not first knowledge of Christ (though the two are really inseparable), is the hallmark of a Christian.
In Phil.3, Paul makes the staggering statement that he considers “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8). This is not to be the confession of an apostle alone, but of every Christian. He is “the fairest of ten thousand”. He is “the pearl of great price”. He is our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose wounds we have been healed. Consider and behold him.
Your brother and minister in Christ,