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What is the Principal Exercise of Faith?

Category Articles
Date July 31, 2009

Let me begin with a question (not a trick one!): ‘What is the principal exercise of faith?’ It is a straight-forward question and a very important question. For John Owen, the great English Puritan divine, the answer was instinctive: ‘The contemplation of the glory of Christ.’

Saving faith unites the believer to the Lord Jesus Christ. In him, the Scriptures tell us, are ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3). In him ‘all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’ (Col. 2:9). He is ‘the image of the invisible God . . . He is before all things . . . And he is the head of the body, the church . . . For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’ (Col. l:15). For Owen, and indeed for Christians throughout the ages, it has been axiomatic that the principal exercise of faith is the pondering, the contemplating, of the glory of Christ. Is this so for you?

It is part of our humanity, and of our redeemed humanity, that we give our minds and affections to the people and places and ‘things’ that have most captured our imagination and impacted our lives. Think of how obsessive many men (and women) are today about football. They even talk about their favourite players as ‘gods’ and ‘messiahs’. They cannot stop thinking about, speaking about, singing about their heroes. Their hearts rise and fall depending on the success or failure of their ‘first love’. When you read the New Testament and especially Paul’s Letters, you cannot help being struck by his obsession with Jesus Christ. He tells the Philippians, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ He tells them that he is ‘a one thing I do man’: ‘One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind . . . I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’ He tells the Corinthians that Jesus is God’s ‘indescribable gift’. He tells the Ephesians that God the Father has blessed believers ‘with every spiritual blessing in Christ’. Is it any wonder Paul was obsessed with his Saviour?

Is it not true (it certainly is for me) that the reason most Christians do not make the contemplation of Christ the chief business of their lives, is because we have little sense of the grace and glory of who he is and the grace and glory of what he has done? How often do you ponder what Paul calls the ‘mystery of godliness?’: ‘Great is the mystery of godliness: He appeared in a body! (1 Tim. 3:16). The Creator of all things became flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary, ‘for our sake and for our salvation’! Try and take it in. Better still, bow down and worship, like the mysterious strangers. How often do you ponder the mystery of the cross? The eternal God, in our flesh, nailed and speared to a tree! ‘Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut its glories in; when Christ the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.’ In that awe-full, unimaginable transaction, God laid on the sinless One all our sin and laid on us all his grace and righteousness. Who can begin to begin to take it in? Do you try and take it in?

There is a four-fold glory in Christ: the glory of his triune oneness with the Father and the Spirit; the glory of his incarnate condescension and sinless life; the glory of his sin-bearing, substitutionary, penal suffering for sinners on the cross; and the glory of his resurrection, ascension and present session and intercession at his Father’s right hand. Are these glories not worthy of your and my contemplation? When we sing Wesley’s, ‘Lost in wonder, love and praise’, are we singing beyond our experience?

Let me encourage you to spend a few minutes each day doing what the writer to the Hebrews urges on all Christians, ‘CONSIDER HIM.’ And when you have considered him, turn in praise and adoration to the Father for the gift of his Son, to the Son who loved you and gave himself for you, and to the Spirit who unites you to Christ and the fullness of the Godhead that dwells in him.

Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church.

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