A Reflection on John Owen's The Glory of Christ
John Owen’s The Glory of Christ is centered on one glorious foundational truth: “one of the greatest privileges the believer has, both in this world and for eternity, is to behold the glory of Christ” (2).
The Glory of Christ is, in essence, a devotional exposition of 2 Corinthians 3:18:
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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
This text shows that by beholding (or reflecting on) the glory of Christ believers are gradually transformed into the image of Christ through the process of sanctification. Practically, this means the key to growth in the Christian life is not about focusing on us as much as it’s about focusing on Jesus and his life, death on the cross, resurrection, and coming return.
The Glory of Christ
Owen defines the glory of God as “both the holy properties of his natures and the things he has purposed to do,” noting that the only way we can know the glory of God is by faith in and through the person of Christ, who is the image of God and the radiance of His glory (2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15). We cannot behold the glory of Christ apart from faith in Christ.
Owen works through the various and endless aspects of Christ’s glory which the Christian is privileged to behold:
- Christ’s Glory as God’s Representative and Revelation (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15; John 1:1;1:18;14:10; 1 John 4:10)
- The Glory of Christ in His Person as Fully God and Fully Man (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 2:7-9; John 1:1-3; Col. 2:9; Phil. 2:6-8)
- The Glory of Christ’s Humbling Himself (Phil. 2:6-8; John 8:58; Heb. 2:14-17)
- The Glory of Christ’s Work as Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Romans 5:19-21)
- The Glory of Christ’s Exaltation (Luke 24:26; Heb. 1:3-4; Rev. 5:8-14)
- The Glory of Christ in the Old Testament (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 9:6-7; Isa. 50:5-9; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:11-12; Hebrews 3:3-6)
- The Glory of Christ’s Union with the Church (1 Peter 2:24; Isa. 53:4-6; Eph. 5:25-32)
- The Glory of Christ in Restoring All Things (Eph. 1:18-20; Col. 1:18-20; Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:1-5)
In this layout of his text, Owen gives us a great diverse list for mediating on the glory of Jesus.
The Benefits of Beholding the Glory of Christ
Why make the effort to behold the glory of Christ by faith? If you desire stronger faith, rest, peace, and joy in Christ, then beholding the glory of Christ is your answer.
Concerning the great benefits of beholding Christ, Owen declares:
It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them by diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith (7).
Beholding the glory of Christ in this life is preparation—small “dawnings of eternal glory”—for the joys of heaven, where we will see Christ in His glory fully.
How We Behold the Glory of Christ
How do we actually do the work of beholding Christ’s glory? Owen sheds much light on the “how-to” of this glorious duty and below are some of his most central insights.
1. Make Up Your Mind that to Behold the Glory of God by Beholding the Glory of Christ is the Greatest Privilege for Believers in This Life
Savoring the glory of Christ here and now is a taste of eternal blessedness!
Owen notes that this is a glorious but hard work in which we as believers are often “lazy and ignorant” and as a result “we do not experience more and more in our souls the visits of grace and the dawnings of eternal glory (10).” This is precisely why we need point number two, prayer.
2. Pray to God Asking for the Spirit’s Help to Behold the Glory of Christ
Because we are weak and frail, we need God’s help by His Spirit to behold the glory of His Son (John 16:13-14). The entire Godhead is at work in this and Jesus prays this for us (John 17:24). Amazing!
Christ’s glory cannot be seen or understood apart from faith fixed on divine revelation, the Word of God. Memorize and mediate on passages of Christ’s glory (see the chapter references above for some ideas).
3. Fill Your Mind with Scriptural Thoughts of Christ
Owen encourages believes to “learn how to behold the glory of Christ by remembering how you once set your mind on world things” (23). This means take the concentrated effort in which you once anticipated and imagined partaking of your past favorite sins and use an even greater focus to behold and mediate on the glory of Christ in God’s Word.
A Prayer to Behold Christ’s Glory
Blessed Jesus! We can add nothing to you, nothing to your glory. But it is a joy to us that you are what you are—that you are so gloriously exalted at the right hand of God. We long to behold that glory more and more according to your prayer and promise. Amen (68).