One of my favorite books is a small one by English Puritan John Owen, The Glory of Christ. I love it because it is both simple and profound.
In it, Owen argues that the root cause of all our problems in the Christian life is our inability to meditate on the glory of Christ.
He concludes the solution to sin in the Christian’s life is found through learning to satisfy our souls on the greatness of Jesus.
Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from the book (taken from the Banner of Truth version abridged by R.J.K. Law)
When God purposes graciously to heal the backsliding of his people he not only calls them to repentance, but also enables them to repent and gives them the desire to use the means of healing. This is what he does here. ‘Take words with you, and return to the Lord’ (Hosea 14:2). And this is what ministers must do when pressing on their congregations the duty of repentance. Tell them what they have to pray for.
The pathway to spiritual recovery is renewed repentance seen in the following:
Renewed repentance is seen in fervent prayer. ‘Take words with you. Say to him…’ We must know what we are to pray for. We are to pray for pardon of all iniquity. ‘Take away all iniquity.’ Not one sin must be left to be indulged. We are to pray that God will graciously receive us. ‘Receive us graciously.’ Confession must be made of the sins that caused our backslidings. ‘Assyria will not save us. Nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, “You are our gods.” Fleshly confidence and false worship were the two sins that ruined the people, and of these sins God expects a full and free confession so that we may be healed.
Believers must renew their covenant with God, renouncing all other hopes and expectations, and put their trust and confidence only and wholly in him, for only in God do the fatherless find mercy (14:3). The result of such repentance is praise and thanksgiving: ‘We will offer the sacrifice or our lips’ (14:2). When God heals our backslidings he will communicate his grace to us, to the praise of his own glory…
It only remains to show the unique way by which, through faith, we may obtain this promise, namely, of being flourishing and fruitful even in old age.
(i) The first thing we need to know is that all our supplies of grace are from Jesus Christ. Grace is declared in the promises of the Old Testament, but how it is communicated to us and how we receive it is revealed to us in the New: all grace is from Christ. He has told us that ‘without him, we can do nothing’. We can no more bear fruit than a branch separated from the vine (John 15:3-5). He is our head and all divine communications of grace are from him alone. He is our life and lives in us, so that all our strength for holiness and obedience comes from him (Gal. 2:20, Col. 3:1-4). So if we are in a low spiritual state and desire to be revived, we must look to Christ alone. Without Christ, everything else we do is nothing and will produce nothing.
(ii) The only way to receive supplies of spiritual strength and grace from Jesus Christ is by faith. We come to him, are grafted into him, and must abide in him by faith to bring forth fruit. He dwells in our hearts by faith. He works in us by faith and we live by faith in the Son of God. So if we receive anything from Christ we must receive it by faith. Scripture gives us not warrant to believe that we can receive anything from him except by faith.
(iii) The third thing we need to know is that this faith concerns the person of Christ, his grace, his whole mediatory work, with all its results, and his glory in them all. Therefore the one thing most needed in our recovery and revival is a steady view of the glory of Christ, in his person, grace and office through faith, or a constant, lively exercise of faith in him as his is revealed to us in Scripture. This is the only way to be revived and to receive such grace as will keep us fresh and flourishing even in old age. He that lives by faith in Christ shall, by his spiritual thriving and growth, ‘declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.’
Scripture says, ‘They look to him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed’ (Ps. 34:5). ‘Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth’ (Isa. 45:22). On this look to Christ, on this view of his glory, depends all our salvation. Therefore everything we need for our complete salvation is also communicated to us as we look to him. ‘Therefore I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation’ (see also Zech. 12:10, Heb. 12:2).
(iv) A constant view of the glory of Christ will revive our souls and cause our spiritual lives to flourish and thrive. Our souls will be revived by the transforming power with which beholding Christ is always accompanied. This is what transforms us daily into the likeness of Christ. So let us live in constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and power will then flow from him to us, healing all our declensions, renewing a right spirit in us and enabling us to abound in all the duties that God requires of us.
Faith will fix our souls in Christ who will fill us with delight and satisfaction. This, in heaven, is perfect blessedness, for it is caused by the eternal vision of the glory of God in Christ. So the more we behold the glory of Christ by faith now, the more spiritual and the more heavenly will be the state of our souls.
The reason why the spiritual life in our souls decays and withers is because we fill our minds full of other things, and these things weaken the power of grace. But when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, these things will be expelled (see Col. 3:1-5, Eph. 5:8).
When we behold the glory of Christ by faith every grace in us will be stirred up. This is how our spiritual life is revived (see Rom. 5:3-5, 2 Pet. 1:5-8).
All these thriving, flourishing graces in us will them make us more watchful against the deceitful workings of sin, temptations, foolish attitudes of mind and the vain thoughts which are the vain thought which are the causes of our spiritual decays. Thus we will be able to behold the glory of Christ more clearly by faith in this world, and so prepare to behold the glory of Christ by sight in the next.
Thus our Lord’s prayer for us will be fully answered:
‘Father, I desire that they also whom you gave me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which you have given me; for you loved me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17:24).
Source: The Glory of Christ by John Owen
2 thoughts on “John Owen: The Pathway to Spiritual Recovery”
Thanks for sharing this man. We members of the body daily need each other to remind us to look to Jesus. We should view it as our responsibility to point each other in his direction. I’m trying to make my constant prayer when around my brothers and sisters, “Father, how do you wish to use me in exhorting those around me toward Christ?”
Thanks for the comment Anthony. Thats a good word and a good prayer! I’m definitely thankful for the times you’ve pointed me towards Christ.