Faith in Jesus. Sight of Jesus.
Through his works, Puritan John Owen has become for me a reminder of the glorious person of Jesus Christ. Whatever we comprehend of Christ by faith now is but a mere outline of the glory of His person. Owen’s subtle reminders—and sometimes not-so-subtle reminders—turn my eyes to gaze upon the glorious person of Jesus Christ and to anticipate the day I’ll see him face-to-face. In other words, the cross should point our gaze heavenward, to set our minds above, where Christ is.
In the 12th chapter of Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ, Owen argues that the gospel message is a telescope that makes Christ visible, but provides us only with an imperfect outline of the glory of the person of Christ. This obscurity is due, not to the gospel’s lack of clarity, but due to the limits of faith and due to our personal sin and weakness. Owen uses this to stoke anticipation in us for the day when our faith in Jesus will be replaced by the sight of Jesus’ pure glory.
If I understand him correctly, Owen is telling us that to if we rightly understand the gospel, it will fuel in us a heartfelt desire to see Jesus. Owen seems to be saying to me, “Tony, don’t merely rejoice in justification and the wonderful doctrines of the gospel and all the benefits of Christ’s death. Look in closer. Look for Jesus. Rejoice in Him, and anticipate the day you will see Him with your own eyes.”
Hear directly from Owen:
The view which we have of the glory of Christ by faith in this world is obscure, dark, and reflexive. So the apostle says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “now we see in a mirror dimly,”—“through” or by “a glass, in a riddle,” a parable, a dark saying. …
The shadow or image of this glory of Christ is drawn in the gospel, and therein we behold it as the likeness of a man represented unto us in a glass; and although it be obscure and imperfect in comparison of his own real, substantial glory, which is the object of vision in heaven, yet is it the only image and representation of himself which he has left, and given unto us in this world. But by this figurative expression of seeing in a glass, the apostle declares the comparative imperfection of our present view of the glory of Christ.
But the allusion may be taken from a telescope, whereby the sight of the eye is helped in beholding things at a great distance. By the aid of such glasses, men will discover stars or heavenly lights, which, by reason of their distance from us, the eye of itself is no way able to discern.
And those which we do see are more fully represented, though remote enough from being so perfectly. Such a glass is the gospel, without which we can make no discovery of Christ at all; but in the use of it we are far enough from beholding him in the just dimensions of his glory. …
But here it must be observed, that the description and representation of the Lord Christ and his glory in the gospel is not absolutely or in itself either dark or obscure; yea, it is perspicuous, plain, and direct. Christ is therein evidently set forth crucified, exalted, glorified. But the apostle does not here discourse concerning the way or means of the revelation of it unto us, but of the means or instrument whereby we comprehend that revelation. This is our faith, which, as it is in us, being weak and imperfect, we comprehend the representation that is made unto us of the glory of Christ as men do the sense of a dark saying, a riddle, a parable; that is imperfectly, and with difficulty.
On the account hereof we may say at present, how little a portion is it that we know of him! How imperfect are our conceptions of him! How weak are our minds in their management! There is no part of his glory that we can fully comprehend. And what we do comprehend,—there is a comprehension in faith, Ephesians 3:18,—we cannot abide in the steady contemplation of. For ever blessed be that sovereign grace, whence it is that He who “commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of his own glory in the face of Jesus Christ,” and therein of the glory of Christ himself;—that he has so revealed him unto us, as that we may love him, admire him, and obey him: but constantly, steadily, and clearly to behold his glory in this life we are not able; “for we walk by faith, and not by sight.”
Hence our sight of him here is as it were by glances, liable to be clouded and blocked. “Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice” (Song of Solomon 2:9). There is a great interposition between him and us, as a wall; and the means of the discovery of himself unto us, as through a window and lattice, include a great instability and imperfection in our view and apprehension of him. There is a wall between him and us, which yet he standeth behind. Our present mortal state is this wall, which must be demolished before we can see him as he is.
In the meantime he looketh through the windows of the ordinances of the Gospel. He gives us sometimes, when he is pleased to stand in those windows, a view of himself; but it is imperfect, as is our sight of a man through a window. The appearances of him at these windows are full of refreshment unto the souls of them that do believe. But our view of them is imperfect, transient, and does not abide—we are for the most part quickly left to bemoan what we have lost. And then our best is but to cry, “the heart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before thee?” When wilt thou again give me to see thee, though but as through the windows alas! What distress do we ofttimes sit down in, after these views of Christ and his glory! But he proceeds farther yet; and flourishes himself through the lattices. This displaying of the glory of Christ, called the flourishing of himself, is by the promises of the Gospel, as they are explained in the ministry of the Word. In them are represented unto us the desirable beauties and glories of Christ. How precious, how amiable is he, as represented in them! How are the souls of believers ravished with the views of them! Yet is this discovery of him also but as through a lattice. We see him but by parts, unsteadily and unevenly.
Such, I say, is the sight of the glory of Christ which we have in this world by faith. It is dark, it is but in part. It is but weak, transient, imperfect, partial.
—John Owen, Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ. Chapter 12. Works 1:374-389.