We are continuing our time at the beach with John Owen. This week’s book is the last book Owen wrote. In fact, it was published the year after he died. He died in 1683, and this book, The Glory of Christ, was published posthumously in 1684. As the last book Owen wrote, it reminds us of some of his earlier books. Back in 1642, he published his first book, against the Armenians. And then in 1647, he published The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Those two early books are theological tour de force books. Owen is the young mind, the scholarly mind. He is building an argument brick by brick and tearing down arguments brick by brick. And here we come to this book at the end of his life, The Glory of Christ. Here we see what Owen wants to emphasize. Here we see, in a sense, his last will and testament. What final words does this great man of faith want to tell us? He wants to tell us it all comes down seeing the glory of Christ.
This book talks about Christ’s glory in His life and person, in His incarnation and humbling of Himself, in His love as mediator between us as sinful beings and our holy God, and in His work of exaltation. Owen walks through a biblical theology as found in the books of Holy Scripture as they unfold. Then he ends The Glory of Christ by discussing the difference between seeing the glory of Christ now, which we see by faith, and seeing the glory of Christ in eternity, which we will see by sight.
This book begins with probably some of the most beautiful pages ever written in the history of theological literature. Let me share it with you.
When the high priest under the law was about to enter the holy place on the day of atonement, he took in his hand sweet incense from the golden table of incense. He also had a censer filled with the fire taken from the altar of burnt-offerings, where atonement was made for sin with blood. When he actually entered through the veil, he put the incense on the fire in the censer until the cloud of its smoke covered the ark and the mercy-seat (Lev. 16:12,13). The reason why he did all this was to present to God, on behalf of the people, a sweet smell from the sacrifice of propitiation.
Corresponding to this mystical type, the great High Priest of the church, our Lord Jesus Christ, prayed when he was about to enter the holy place not made with hands (John 17). His glorious prayer, set alight by the blood of his sacrifice, filled the heavens above, the glorious place of God’s residence, with a cloud of incense, that is, the sweet smell of his blessed intercession. By the same eternal fire by which he offered himself a bloody sacrifice to make atonement for sin, he kindled in his most holy soul those desires, that all the benefits of his sacrifice should be given abundantly to his church.
The great desire that Christ expressed in his prayer was that his people might be with him to behold his glory (John 17:24). . . .
We can now lay down a great foundational truth: one of the greatest privileges the believer has, both in this world and for eternity, is to behold the glory of Christ.
This is what Owen wanted us to see. I think back over Owen’s life and what he endured. Not one of his eleven children lived past him. He was ejected from his post at Oxford. He was embroiled in theological controversy that weighed him down. He was confronted with false teaching and had to contend for the truth. And through all of this, what gave him perspective was seeing the glory of Christ.