Throwback Thursday: John Owen on Seeing the Glory of Christ

Pastor and theologian John Owen was born in 1616 and died in 1683. He was a prominent leader in the church and even served on the academic administration at Oxford. If you look at the life of John Owen, you will notice how much he engaged the culture. He was involved in politics and he deeply cared for the souls of men. Owen was a remarkable theologian and one of the most influential minds in the history of the church. Some joke today, that there is more theology in one strand of Owen’s hair, than there is in all of Joel Osteen’s preaching. I would agree!

John Owen is my favorite Puritan preacher to read.  I love his writings and if you’re around me long enough, you will see me quote him. (Kill sin or sin will be killing you!) My favorite work by Owen is his book The Glory of Christ published by Banner of Truth. There are so many others that are refreshing to the Christian soul, such as The Death of Death, Priesthood of Christ, Mortification of Sin, and Communion with God. The Glory of Christ was written in the later period of his life. When I served as a youth pastor in Louisiana, this was the book we went through during Sunday School. What I love most about Owen is the effect he has on both the mind and heart. He leads readers into deep contemplation about God and also drives readers into passionate love for and worship of God. He enlightens the mind while engaging the heart. This is important because if our theology and thinking of God just remains in our heads, and has no effect on our hearts, we would then have a very poor theology.

There is much we can learn from Owen on seeing the glory of Christ. I will focus on just a couple aspects here.

The first idea Owen can remind us about seeing the glory of Christ is that if Christ is not seen as glorious to a professing Christian, they are in fact an unbeliever. Owen says this,

Unbelievers see no glory in Christ. They see nothing attractive about him. They despise him in their hearts. Outwardly they cry, like Judas, ‘Hail Master’, but in their hearts they crucify him. Thus they strip him of his glory, deny the ‘only Lord that bought us’ and substitute a false Christ (The Glory of Christ, pp. 2-3).

It is ultimately contradictory for someone to claim Christ as Lord and not treasure him. I am a Christian, because Jesus Christ is my only hope. So for me, if I turn to myself, hope in myself, I deny Christ! Outside of Christ, I am terrible and totally rotten to the core. But Jesus has come! He has taken the cross for my sin! He has risen and he is coming again. If I don’t see that as awesome–as utterly glorious–then I am glorying in myself rather than the cross of Christ and that is a shame. Not just a short period of shame, but an eternal shame. Owen seems to believe that treasuring Christ is the natural product of believing in Christ. Not seeing and savoring the glory of Christ is a Judas-like “faith.”

The second idea John Owen can remind us about seeing the glory of Christ is that if we don’t begin to behold the glory of Christ here, we won’t be beholding his glory in eternity. Owen said,

He that has no sight of Christ’s glory here shall never see it hereafter. The beholding of Christ in glory is too high, glorious, and marvelous for us in our present condition. The splendor of Christ’s glory is too much for our physical eyes just as is the sun shining in all its strength. So while we are here on earth we can behold his glory only by faith. Many learned men have written of this future state of eternal glory. Some of their writings are filled with excellent things which cannot but stir the minds and hearts of all who read them. But many complain that such writings do nothing for them. They are like a man who ‘beholds his natural face in a mirror, and immediately forgets what he saw'(James 1:23-24). These writings make no fixed impression on their minds. They briefly refresh, like a shower of rain in a drought, which does not soak down to the roots. But why do these writings make no impression on them? Is it not because their idea of future things has not arisen out of an experience of them which faith alone gives? In fact, a soul will be troubled rather than edified when it thinks of future glory, if it has had no foretaste, sense, experience or evidence of these things by faith. No man ought to look for anything in heaven if he has not by faith first had some experience of it in this life. If men were convinced of this, they would spend more time in the exercise of faith and love about heavenly things than they usually do. At present they do not know what they enjoy, so they do not know what to expect. This is why men who are complete strangers to seeing the person and glory of Christ by faith have turned to images, pictures and music to help them in their worship. Music cannot please a deaf man, nor can beautiful colors impress a blind man. A fish would not thank you for taking it out of the sea and putting it on dry land under the blazing sun! Neither would an unregenerate sinner welcome the thought of living for in the blazing glory of Christ (The Glory of Christ, pp. 6-7).

Owen makes it very clear. If one does not have sight of Christ’s glory here on earth, they won’t have it after. Heaven isn’t a golf course, a big lake with an uncountable amount of fish, a football field, etc. It isn’t merely a family reunion or the absence of sin, evil, and suffering. Heaven is primarily where the glory of Christ dwells abundantly! And it is utterly satisfying (Ps. 16:11). Heaven is all about Jesus! If you don’t want Jesus, you’re not going to Heaven! It’s that simple! How horrible it is to say that one who doesn’t want Christ is going to Heaven. This is a sobering thought. If golf is your supreme treasure, then you’re going to hell. Christ is the gift of Heaven.

Life is a long journey and there are many things calling for us to see and savor their glory. More often than not, we don’t ponder the long haul. We don’t ponder the heavenly things. We should. Eternity matters. When Christians think about the glory of Christ, it will naturally overflow into delight and this leaves born again believers with one primary option and mission: share the glory of Christ! If you have been born again and are following Christ, what is the best thing you can do for someone else? Tell them about Jesus!

I challenge you today to ponder eternity. Think about these weighty things. If your favorite sports team wins the championship this year, so what? This is a satisfaction that will quickly fade the moment they begin to lose. Jesus has hung on the cross for my sin and your sin. That changes the way we live today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our earthly walk. Christ is supremely glorious. When we begin to ponder him, and have a foretaste of eternity.  I am thankful to God for John Owen and his curly hair. He has helped the church by thinking about and pondering the glory of Christ.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. –1 Corinthians 13:12

Friends, you only get one life, and it will soon pass. Only what is done for King Jesus will last!

1557562_10153227664651515_1796309980_nEvan Knies is an undergraduate student at Boyce College where he studies Biblical and Theological Studies. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife, Lauren. You can follow him on Twitter @Evan_Knies.


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