Hudson Taylor, a late-nineteenth century missionary to China, was a man of great faith. As a young man he sought to know God and the Bible, and did everything he could to grow in faith and holiness. One of his partners in this quest was a man named John McCarthy who, sometime after Hudson left for China, wrote him a letter which in part said this:
“How then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all he is for us: his life, his death, his work, he himself as revealed to us in the word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith…but a looking off to the faithful one seems all we need; a resting in the loved one entirely, for time and for eternity” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Littleton, CO: OMF Books, 2010, page 119).
This insight shaped the rest of Hudson’s life, and it can shape ours as well if we will allow the Lord to teach us through McCarthy. In this hope, let me draw out seven insights from this quote. First, the word “only” implies that contemplating the glory of Christ is the way to grow in faith, not a way to grow in faith. Initially, this may seem an overstatement, but I don’t think it is. As McCarthy later remarked, faith is a matter of looking to the faithful one. So if we want to grow in faith, we must—and I mean the word “must” in the strongest sense—learn to contemplate the glory of Christ.
Second, to contemplate Christ means to think about Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The mind is the captain of the soul, and where it goes our souls will go. Whatever captures the mind, captures the person. Therefore, we must discipline our minds to think about Christ, that is, if we long to grow in faith and be transformed into his image.
Third, McCarthy rightly says that in order to increase our faith we must contemplate all Jesus is and all he is for us. We must come to see the person of Christ, and then take Christ personally. We must learn the truth about Christ, and then apply that truth to our lives. We must believe who Jesus is, and then trust who he is for us. For example, if you were to read a biblical statement or story about the faithfulness of Christ, you should first think about the nature and details of his faithfulness in that instance. Then you should think about the fact that, if you trust in him, he’ll be faithful to you. To grow in faith, we must learn to think of all Jesus is, and all he is for us.
Fourth, in order to see Christ rightly, we must see him biblically. The only way to come to a true knowledge of Jesus, and thus to grow in faith, is to contemplate the details of who he is as revealed in the Bible. This means that we must engage in the labor of reading, reflecting on what we’ve read, and contemplating Christ in light of what we’ve read. If you’re just learning the art of meditating on the glory of Christ, I would suggest that you start with passages like Ephesians 1:3-14, Colossians 1:15-20 and Revelation 1:4-20. Savor each of these texts, note every specific details that’s mentioned about Christ, and then take the time to think about them one after another. Close your eyes and ask God to help you see what he sees when he sees the glory of Jesus. In time, you too will see the faithful one, and the more you see him biblically, the more you will learn to see him in everything.
Fifth, McCarthy says that Christ must “be the subject of our constant thoughts,” and with this I couldn’t agree more. Here I want to emphasize the word “subject” and note that the goal of contemplation is to know Christ himself, not just to know more about him. We must of course come to know more and more about Jesus, but in the end, the things we learn about him are meant to lead us to him. Biblical ideas can reveal who Jesus is, but the goal is to encounter him who is.
Sixth, in order to grow in faith, Christ must “be the subject of our constant thoughts.” In order to grow, faith must live in the soil of the faithfulness of Jesus; it can't simply visit. It is not enough for us to go to Christ in the midst of crisis or need, rather, we must live in the conscious awareness of his presence. If we have come to know him, then the Bible assures us that we are in him and he in us. However, he still calls upon us to seek him like we would seek a treasure. He calls upon us to come into the conscious knowledge of what has become true of us. This implies effort, discipline and consistency—it implies a way of life. Indeed, Jesus is life, and thus our lives must be all about Jesus.
Finally, the effort required to constantly contemplate the glory of Christ is not a striving but a resting. The discipline of the Christian life is simply learning to look to Christ and keep on looking. Faith is not something we should seek in itself, for faith is a fruit of the contemplation of Christ. In other words, as we look to the faithful one and allow him to impact our souls with regard to who he is and who he is for us, our faith will grow. As Jesus himself said in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him [Jesus] whom he [God] has sent.”
So how shall we gain faith in life? By feasting our souls on the glory of Christ.