John Owen

 

 

 Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,

in His Person, Office, and Grace:

with

The Differences between Faith and Sight;

applied unto the use of them that believe.

____________

 

 CHAPTER XIV

 

OTHER DIFFERENCES BETWEEN OUR BEHOLDING THE GLORY OF CHRIST BY FAITH IN THIS WORLD
AND BY SIGHT IN HEAVEN

 

AMONG the many other differences which might be insisted on (although the greatest of them are absolutely incomprehensible to us at present and so not to be inquired into), I shall name two only, and so close this discourse.

1. In our view of the glory of Christ by faith, we gather things, one by one, out of the Scripture; and comparing them in our minds they become the object of our present sight—our spiritual comprehension of the things themselves. We have no proposal of the glory of Christ to us by vision or illustrious appearance of His person, as Isaiah had of old (6:1—4); or as John had in the Revelation (1:13—16). We need it not; it would be of no advantage to us. For as to the assurance of our faith, we have a Word of prophecy more useful to us than a voice from heaven (II Pet. 1:17—19). And of those who received such visions, though of eminent use to the Church, yet as to themselves, one of them cried out, "Woe is me! I am undone"; and the other "fell as dead at his feet." We are not able in this life to bear such glorious representations of Him, to our edification.

And as we have no such external proposals of His glory to us in visions, so neither have we any new revelations of Him by immediate inspiration. We can see nothing of it, know nothing of it, but what is proposed to us in the Scripture, and that as it is proposed. Nor does the Scripture itself, in any one place, make an entire proposal of the glory of Christ with all that belongs to it; nor is it capable of so doing, nor can there be any such representation of it to our capacity on this side heaven. If all the light of the heavenly luminaries had been contracted into one, it would have been destructive, not useful, to our sight; but being by divine wisdom distributed into sun, moon, and stars, each giving out his own proportion, it is suited to declare the glory of God and to enlighten the world.

So, if the whole revelation of the glory of Christ, and all that belongs to it, had been committed into one series and contexture of words, it would have overwhelmed our minds rather than enlightened us. Wherefore God has distributed the light of it through the whole firmament of the books of the Old and New Testament; whence it communicates itself, by various parts and degrees, to the proper use of the Church. In one place we have a description of His person, and the glory of it; sometimes in words plain and proper, and sometimes in great variety of allegories, conveying a heavenly sense of things to the minds of them that believe; in others, of His love and condescension in His office, and His glory therein. His humiliation, exaltation, and power are in like manner in sundry places represented to us. And as one star differs from another in glory, so it was one way whereby God represented the glory of Christ in types and shadows under the Old Testament, and another wherein it is declared in the New. Illustrious testimonies to all these things are planted up and down in the Scripture, which we may collect as choice flowers in the paradise of God, for the object of our faith and sight.

So the Spouse in the Canticles considered every part of the person and grace of Christ distinctly by itself, and from them all concludes that "he is altogether lovely" (5:10—16). So ought we to do in our study of the Scripture, to find out the revelation of the glory of Christ which is made therein, as did the prophets of old, as to what they themselves received by immediate inspiration. They "searched diligently what the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (I Pet. 1:11). But this seeing of Christ by parts in the revelation of Him is one cause that we see Him here but in part.

Some suppose that by chopping, and painting, and gilding, they can make an image of Christ that shall perfectly represent Him to their senses and carnal affections from head to foot. But they "feed on ashes," and have "a lie in their right hand. "Jesus Christ is evidently crucified before our eyes in the Scripture" (Gal. 3:1). So also is He evidently exalted and glorified therein. And it is the wisdom of faith to gather into one those parceled descriptions that are given of Him, that they may be the object of its view and contemplation.

In the vision which we shall have above, the whole glory of Christ will be at once and always represented to us; and we shall be enabled in one act of the light of glory to comprehend it. Here, indeed, we are at a loss; our minds and understandings fail us in their contemplations. It will not yet enter into our hearts to conceive what is the beauty, what is the glory of this complete representation of Christ to us. To have at once all the glory of what He is, what He was in His outward state and condition, what He did and suffered, what He is exalted to; His love and condescension, His mystical union with the Church, and the communication of Himself to it, with the recapitulation of all things in Him; and the glory of God, even the Father, in His wisdom, righteousness, grace, love, goodness, power, shining forth eternally in Him, in what He is, has done, and does—all presented to us in one view, all comprehended by us at once, is that which at present we cannot conceive.

We can long for it, pant after it, and have some foretastes of that state and season wherein our whole souls, in all their powers and faculties, shall constantly, inseparably, eternally cleave by love to the whole Christ, in the sight of the glory of His person and grace, until they are watered, dissolved, and inebriated in the waters of life and the rivers of pleasure that are above forevermore. So must we speak of the things which we admire, which we adore, which we love, which we long for, which we have some foretastes of in sweetness ineffable, which yet we cannot comprehend.

These are some few of those things whence arises the difference between that view which we have here of the glory of Christ and that which is reserved for heaven, such as are taken from the difference between the means or instruments of the one and the other, faith and sight.

2. The great difference between faith and sight consists in and is manifested by their effects. I shall give some few instances of this, and close this discourse.


First, the vision which we shall have of the glory of Christ in heaven, and of the glory of the immense God in Him, is perfectly and absolutely transforming. It changes us wholly into the image of Christ. When we shall see Him, we shall be as He is; we shall be like Him because we shall see Him (I John 3:2). Although the closing, perfecting act of this transformation be an act of sight, or the sight of glory, yet there are many things toward it, or degrees in it, which we may here take notice of in our way.

1. The soul, at its departure from the body, is immediately freed from all the weakness, disability, darkness, uncertainties, and fears which were impressed on it from the flesh. The image of the first Adam as fallen is then abolished. Yea, it is not only freed from all irregular, sinful distempers cleaving to our corrupt nature, but from all those sinless grievances and infirmities which belong to the original constitution of it. This necessarily ensues on the dissolution of the person in order to a blessed state. The first entrance by mortality into immortality is a step toward glory. The ease which a blessed soul finds in a deliverance from this encumbrance is a door of entrance into eternal rest. Such a change is made in that which in itself is the center of all evil—death—that it is made a means of freeing us from all the remainders of what is evil.

For this does not follow absolutely on the nature of the thing itself. A mere dissolution of our natures can bring no advantage with it, especially as it is a part of the curse. But it is from the sanctification of it by the death of Christ. Hereby that which was God’s ordinance for the infliction of judgment becomes an effectual means for the communication of mercy (I Cor. 15:22,54). It is by virtue of the death of Christ alone that the souls of believers are freed by death from all impressions of sin, infirmity, and evils which they have had from the flesh; which were their burden, under which they groaned all their days. No man knows in any measure the excellency of this privilege, and the dawnings of glory which are in it, who has not been wearied, and even worn out, through long conflict with the body of death. The soul being freed from all annoyances, all impressions from the flesh, is expedite and enlarged to the exercise of all its gracious faculties, as we shall see immediately.

With wicked men it is not so. Death to them is a curse; and the curse is the means of the conveyance of all evil, and not deliverance from any. Wherein they have been warmed and refreshed by the influences of the flesh, they shall be deprived of it. But their souls in their separate state are perpetually harassed with all the disquieting passions which have been impressed on their minds by their corrupt fleshly lusts. In vain do such persons look for relief by death. If there be anything remaining of present good and usefulness to them, they shall be deprived of it. And their freedom for a season from bodily pains will no way lie in the balance against that confluence of evils which death will let in upon them.

2. In the ‘‘spirits of just men’’ after death, all the faculties of their souls, and all the graces in them, as faith, love, and delight are immediately set at liberty and enabled constantly to exercise themselves on God in Christ. The end for which they were created, for which our nature was endowed with them, was that we might adhere to God by them and come to the enjoyment of Him. Being now freed wholly from all that impotency, perverseness, and disability to this end, with all the effects of them which came upon them by the Fall; they are carried with a full stream toward God, cleaving to Him with the most intense embraces. And all their actings toward God shall be natural, with facility, joy, delight, and complacency. We do not yet know the excellency of the operations of our souls in divine things, when unburdened of their present weight of the flesh. And this is a second step toward the consummation of glory.

In the resurrection of the body, upon its full redemption, it shall be so purified, sanctified, glorified, as to give no obstruction to the soul in its operations, but be a blessed organ for its highest and most spiritual actings. The body shall never more be a trouble, a burden to the soul, but an assistant in its operations and participant of its blessedness. Our eyes were made to see our Redeemer, and our other senses to receive impressions from Him, according to their capacity. As the bodies of wicked men shall be restored to them to increase and complete their misery in their sufferings, so shall the bodies of the just be restored to them to heighten and consummate their blessedness.

3. These things are preparatory to glory. The complete communication of it is by the infusion of a new heavenly light into the mind, enabling us to see the Lord Christ as He is. The soul shall not be brought into the immediate presence of Christ without a new power to behold Him and the immediate representation of His glory. Faith now ceases as to the manner of its operation in this life, while we are absent from Christ. This light of glory succeeds into its room, fitted for that state and all the ends of it, as faith is for that which is present.

4. In the first operation of this light of glory, believers shall behold the glory of Christ and the glory of God in Him that they shall be immediately and universally changed into His likeness. They shall be as He is, when they shall see Him as He is. There is no growth in glory, as to parts—there may be as to degrees. Additions may be outwardly made to what is at first received as by the resurrection of the body; but the internal light of glory and its transforming efficacy is capable of no degrees, though new revelations may be made to it through eternity. For the infinite fountain of life and light and goodness can never be fathomed, much less exhausted. And what God spake on the entrance of sin, by the way of contempt and reproach, "Behold, the man is become like one of us!" upbraiding him with what he had foolishly designed; on the accomplishment of the work of His grace, He says in love and infinite goodness, ‘‘Man is become like one of us,’’ in the perfect restoration of our image in Him. This is the first effect of the light of glory.

Faith also, in beholding the glory of Christ in this life, is accompanied with a transforming efficacy, as the apostle expressly declares (II Cor. 3:18). It is the principle from whence, and the instrumental cause whereby, all spiritual change is wrought in us in this life; but the work of it is imperfect; first, because it is gradual, and then because it is partial.

a) As to the manner of its operation, it is gradual, and does not at once transform us into the image of Christ; yea, the degrees of its progress therein are to us for the most part imperceptible. It requires much spiritual wisdom and observation to obtain an experience of them in our own souls. "The inward man is renewed day by day," while we behold these invisible things (II Cor. 4:16—18). But how?—even as the outward man decays by age, which is by insensible degrees and alterations.

Such is the transformation which we have by faith, in its present view of the glory of Christ. And according to our experience of its efficacy herein is our evidence of its truth and reality in the beholding of Him. No man can have the least ground of assurance that he has seen Christ and His glory by faith, without some effects of it in changing him into His likeness. For as on the touch of His garment by the woman in the Gospel, virtue went out from Him to heal her infirmity; so upon this view of faith an influence of transforming power will proceed from Christ to the soul.

b) As to the event, it is but partial. It does not bring this work to perfection. The change wrought by it is indeed great and glorious; or, as the apostle speaks, it is "from glory to glory," in a progress of glorious grace: but absolute perfection is reserved for vision. As to divine worship, perfection was not by the law. It did many things preparatory to the revelation of the will of God concerning it; but it "made nothing perfect": so absolute perfection in holiness and the restoration of the image of God is not by the gospel, is not by faith; however, it gives us many preparatory degrees to it, as the apostle fully declares (Phil. 3:10—14).


Second, vision is beatifical, [Beatifical, the adjectival form of beatific, from a Latin word meaning ‘making blessed, imparting supreme happiness.’ Our word beatitude derives from the same root.] as it is commonly called, and that not amiss. It gives perfect rest and blessedness to them in whom it is. This may be a little opened in the ensuing observations.

1. There are continual operations of God in Christ in the souls of those who are glorified, and communications from Him to them. For all creatures must eternally live, even in heaven, in dependence on Him who is the eternal fountain of being, life, goodness, and blessedness to all. As we cannot subsist one moment in our beings, lives, souls, bodies, the inward or outward man, without the continual actings of divine power in us, and toward us; so in the glorified state our all shall depend eternally on divine power and goodness, communicating themselves to us, for all the ends of our blessed subsistence in heaven.

2. What is the way and manner of these communications, we cannot comprehend. We cannot, indeed, fully understand the nature and way of His spiritual communications to us in this life. We know these things by their signs, their outward means, and principally by the effects they produce in the real change of our natures; but in themselves we see but little of them. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and we hear the sound thereof, but we know not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). All God’s real operations in heaven and earth are incomprehensible, as being acts of infinite power; and we cannot search them out to perfection.

3. All communications from the Divine Being and infinite fullness in heaven to glorified saints are in and through Christ Jesus. He shall forever be the medium of communication between God and the Church, even in glory. All things being gathered into one head in Him, even things in heaven, and things in earth-that Head being in immediate dependence on God—this order shall never be dissolved (Eph. 1:10,11; I Cor. 3:23). And on these communications from God through Christ depends entirely our continuance in a state of blessedness and glory. We shall no more be self-subsistent in glory than we are in nature or grace.

4. The way on our part whereby we shall receive these communications, which are the eternal springs of life, peace, joy, and blessedness, is this vision whereof we speak. For, as it is expressly assigned to this in the Scripture, so since it contains the perfect operation of our minds and souls in a perfect state, on the most perfect Object, it is the only means of our blessedness. And this is the true cause that there neither is nor can be any satiety or weariness in heaven in the eternal contemplation of the same glory.

For not only the Object of our sight is absolutely infinite, which can never be searched to the bottom, yea, is perpetually new to a finite understanding; but our subjective blessedness consisting in continual fresh communications from the infinite fullness of the divine nature, received through vision, is always new, and always will be so to eternity. So shall all the saints of God drink of the rivers of pleasure that are at His right hand, be satisfied with His likeness, and refresh themselves in the eternal springs of life, light, and joy forevermore.

The view which we have by faith of the glory of Christ in this world, does not produce this effect. It is sanctifying, not glorifying. The best of saints are far from a perfect or glorified state in this life; and that not only on the account of the outward evils which in their persons they are exposed to, but also of the weakness and imperfection of their inward state in grace. Yet we may observe some things to the honor of faith in them who have received it.

a) In its due exercise on Christ, it will give to the souls of believers some previous participation of future glory, working in them dispositions to, and preparation for, the enjoyment of it.

b) There is no glory, no peace, no joy, no satisfaction in this world to be compared with what we receive by that weak and imperfect view which we have of the glory of Christ by faith; yea, all the joys of the world are a thing of nought in comparison to what we so receive.

c) It is sufficient to give us such a perception, such a foretaste of future blessedness in the enjoyment of Christ as may continually stir us up to breathe and pant after it. But it is not beatifical.

Other differences of a like nature between our beholding of the glory of Christ in this life by faith and that vision of it which is reserved for heaven might be insisted on; but I shall proceed no further. There is nothing further for us to do herein but that now and always we shut up all our meditations concerning it with the deepest self-abasement, out of a sense of our unworthiness and insufficiency to comprehend those things, admiration of that excellent glory which we cannot comprehend, and vehement longings for that season when we shall see Him as He is, be ever with Him, and know Him even as we are known.




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