O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.
This is a song that teaches. And it teaches both believers and unbelievers. The hymn echoes Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Whether a believer, or unbeliever, turning to Christ provides rest from works, light in a world of darkness, true beauty in a world where false vanity reigns. He saves us from the darkness, from death, and gives us true life, freely given. This is the Gospel. We know this and love this.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Putting this back in the context of Matthew 11:28, turning your eyes upon Jesus shrinks your view of your own righteous; your works of earth grow dim as they are seen for what they are, insufficient to save you, and incomparable to Christ’s work. But this is not the meaning of the chorus that has most resonated with me recently.
First let us consider, how do you turn your eyes upon Jesus? Let me introduce you to Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “A Divine and Supernatural Light.” Edwards there argues for the existence of a divine light given by the Holy Spirit to men that illuminates the truths of God and produces salvation. Let me summarize it with a few quotes:
This spiritual light primarily consists in the former of these, viz. a real sense and apprehension of the divine excellency of things revealed in the Word of God. A spiritual and saving conviction of the truth and reality of these things, arises from such a sight of their divine excellency and glory; so that this conviction of their truth is an effect or natural consequence of this sight of their divine Glory.
Ah, Edwards, ever clear and simple. The upshot of this is that salvation comes from seeing the beauty and excellency of the gospel and doctrines of God in their own right, not divorced from a sense of what they mean for you personally, but including a sight of that beauty they have aside from what benefits it can provide you. Moving on then:
Thus there is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace.
The mind can’t see the excellency of any doctrine, unless that doctrine be first in the mind; but the seeing the excellency of the doctrine may be immediately from the Spirit of God; though the conveying of the doctrine or proposition itself may be by the Word. So that the notions that are the subject matter of this light, are conveyed to the mind by the Word of God; but that due sense of the heart, wherein this light formally consists, is immediately by the Spirit of God.
We’ll get to more immediately relevant statements to our query soon, but we can already conclude, that to turn one’s eyes upon Jesus, for salvation as well as after salvation, requires us to study God’s Word to see the truths about Him, to meditate upon these, and pray for the Spirit to illumine them in our hearts. We know God can give the knowledge of Christ, this spiritual light, as this is in fact the text of Edwards’ sermon, Matthew 16:17.
And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
Returning to Edwards,
If Christ should now appear to any one, as he did on the mount at His Transfiguration; or if He should appear to the world in the glory that he now appears in in heaven, as He will do at the Day of Judgment; without doubt, the glory and majesty that He would appear in, would be such as would satisfy everyone, that He was a divine person, and that religion was true: and it would be a most reasonable, and well grounded conviction too. And why may there not be that stamp of divinity, or divine glory on the Word of God, on the scheme and doctrine of the gospel, that may be in like manner distinguishing and as rationally convincing, provided it be but seen?
’Tis rational to suppose, that it should be beyond a man’s power to obtain this knowledge, and light, by the mere strength of natural reason; for ’tis not a thing that belongs to reason, to see the beauty and loveliness of spiritual things; it is not a speculative thing, but depends on the Sense of the Heart.
And this brings me to my last quote from Edwards, the one most pertinent to “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus:”
This light is such as effectually influences the inclination, and changes the nature of the soul. It assimilates the nature to the divine nature, and changes the soul into an image of the same glory that is beheld. 2 Cor. 3.18: “But we all open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” This knowledge will wean from the world, and raise the Inclination to heavenly things.
This knowledge, most specifically, refers to that of Christ and the Gospel, of the plan or our redemption. Turning our eyes upon Jesus involves prayerfully meditating on what we know of the character and work of Jesus, of His attributes and office. These objects are found in the Word of God. The light of the Spirit reflects off of these and into the spiritual eyes or our heart. As with a physical object and physical light, the more spiritual light we have, the better and clearer we see the spiritual objects.
But what is the use of all this talk of spiritual light and looking at Jesus? Why do I bring this up at all? I believe this light does more than just enable our initial faith and justification. I believe this light and our view of Christ is the driving factor of our sanctification, which is as much a part of our salvation as justification. Edwards already quoted 2 Corinthians 3:18. We become like what we worship, or in this case, viewing and worshipping Christ transforms us into that image (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:1-3). This is practical on a daily level.
What most stood out to me recently about “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” however, was that turning your eyes to Jesus and becoming more like Him causes you to lose sight of worldly things, and enables you then to be content in all things (Philippians 4:12-13). And this is applicable to my life, right now, serving for a semester in Malawi. The power is frequently out, the internet is often down, and the Dodgers have recorded their longest losing streak in years. But this doesn’t matter (ultimately) to someone whose eyes are fixed on Jesus. We can run the race of our lives with conviction and assurance! One whose eyes are fixed on Jesus is considered first with the things of heaven, not those of earth.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
His Word shall not fail you, He promised;
Believe Him and all will be well;
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!