John Owen on Contemplating the Glory of Christ


John Owen penned maybe the most well-known working on fighting sin, On the Mortification of Sin, and also maybe the greatest work on spiritual communion or fellowship with God—On Communion with God. As his life came to a close he wrote The Glory of Christ. What’s interesting about that is in this final work he believed the most important thought (and practice) for the believer’s growth and transformation in Christ was provided. More than fighting sin, more than spiritual-mindedness, and more than all other things, beholding the glory of Jesus Christ was not only our greatest reward but our greatest need. Seeing the glory of Jesus infuses all other disciplines and practices and it is the greatest thing to bring backsliders back, to create worship, to promote holiness and mortification, and to lead to our joy in God. Here are a few thoughts from the last three pages of the final discourse he wrote on the glory of Christ.[1]

At the end of his discourse on recovering from our backsliding and being renewed in grace John Owen says how all duties are given life through the glory of Christ. “Now, supposing a due attendance unto the duties mentioned, I shall give some directions with respect unto that which gives life, power, and efficacy unto them all, and which will infallibly bring us unto the full enjoyment of this signal mercy; and they are these that follow…”

  1.  All our supplies of grace are from Jesus Christ. We see the promises held out to us and the duties prescribed to us, but neither benefit us unless we receive Christ himself in them.
  2. The only way of receiving this strength and grace from Christ on our part is by faith. Anything we expect or hope to receive from him is solely by believing, not my performance or merit.
  3. This faith respects the person of Christ, his grace, his whole mediation, with all the effects of it, and his glory in them all.

“This, therefore, is the issue of the whole—a steady view of the glory of Christ, in his person, grace, and office, through faith—or a constant, lively exercise of faith on him, according as he is revealed unto us in the Scripture—is the only effectual way to obtain a revival from under our spiritual decays, and such supplies of grace as shall make us flourishing and fruitful even in old age.”

Where we see this in the Scripture
Ps. 34:5 “They looked unto him, and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed.” Or in ESV “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed.”

“And it is their faith which is expressed by their looking unto him; which is nothing but that beholding of his glory which we have described; for it is an act of trust arising from an apprehension of who and what he is. The issue or effect of this is, that they were lightened [radiant]; that is, received fresh communication of spiritual, saving, refreshing light from him, and, consequently, of all other graces, whence their faces were not ashamed.” The same is expressed in Isaiah 45:22 and Micah 7:7

How a constant view of the glory of Christ will produce this blessed effect in us.

  1. “It will be effected by that transforming power and efficacy which this exercise of faith is always accompanied with. This is that which changes us every day more and more into the likeness of Christ.” When we exercise our faith by looking to Christ the Spirit applies all graces in him to us. All our duties and disciplines are energized when Christ is found and seen in them. By seeing him the Spirit then makes us more and more like him. By seeing his worth and our hearts glimpsing his excellence we become like him.
    “Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of obedience.”
  2.  “It will fix the soul to that object with is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction.” It rivets our heart and mind on the one thing, the one person, who can sustain and satisfy our deepest desires and needs. All things in this world have a very short expiration date before our soul grows weary and disappointed in them, but Christ alone can infinitely and eternally refresh us, and in doing so also remake us.
    “It will fix the soul to that object with is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction. This in perfection is blessedness, for it is caused by the eternal vision of the glory of God in Christ, and the nearer approaches we make to this state, the better, the more spiritual, the more heavenly, is the state of our souls. And this is to be obtained only by a constant contemplation of the glory of Christ.”

Then three ways this last line, the contemplation of the glory of Christ for our own glory and growth, is effective in us.

  1. We are constantly snacking on the things of this world but never finding are hunger truly getting fed. When we take Christ in he will satisfy, and in doing so he will push our appetite for lesser things out.
    Most of our spiritual decays and barrenness arise from an inordinate admission of other things into our minds; for these are they that weaken grace in all its operations. But when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul thereon cleaves unto him with intense affections, they will cast out, or not give admittance to, these causes of spiritual weakness and indisposition (Col. 3:1-5; Eph. 5:8).”
  2. When we seeing and savoring the glory of Christ, it then brings life and vigor to all the other things we do—such as our spiritual disciplines or Christian “duties”—which is their purpose to begin with. The Spirit will cause all things to flourish through seeing Jesus.
    When the mind is fixed on him and his glory, every grace will be ready for its due exercise. And without this we shall never attain it by any resolutions or endeavors of our own.”
  3. This will in turn put us on a watch and even a fight against all sin in our life and the corruptions of our heart. Nothing gives the desire, the motivation, and the power to kill sin and desire righteousness like one drop of the beautiful holiness and glory of Jesus Christ on our heart’s palate. We will have to fight sin to keep our eyes on Jesus since sin is the very thing that blurs and obscures our vision of him. This is no easy fight, but knowing the glory of Christ will be the strength pushing us away from sin and towards God.
    “Our recovery or revival will not be effected, nor a fresh spring of grace be obtained, in a careless, slothful course of profession. Constant watching, fighting, contending against sin, with our utmost endeavor for an absolute conquest over it, are required hereunto. And nothing will so much excited and encourage our souls hereunto as a constant view of Christ and his glory; everything in him has a constraining power hereunto, as is known to all who have any acquaintance with these things.


[1] These actually come from two final discourses not originally published with The Glory of Christ because they were not found until his death. They were intended by Owen to be joined to The Glory of Christ and we can see in them how they wrap up the subject.

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