Imperfect Knowledge
1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Perhaps you are inclined to ask, Why are there mysteries at all in the revelations vouchsafed by God to man? Why should not the truths which it is of importance for us to know, be declared in language level to our capacities, and involving in them nothing to stagger our belief, or perplex our reason? I would meet this question with another, Why are there mysteries in the works of God? Why is this material universe filled with "wonders which we cannot explain? and why are the design and objects for which an immeasurable portion of it was created, altogether concealed from us? There are persons of such sluggish and unthinking habits that thy live constantly in the midst of marvels without ever bestowing a thought upon them; and yet these very men who take all for granted, and never even appear to be aware of these everyday miracles, are apt, all at once, to grow scrupulous and over-cautious, and to demand proofs such as cannot be supplied, when they are called to give their assent to the mysteries of inspiration. Others there are who make the human mind their study; and surely there cannot be a subject more open to constant observation and intimate search than this. And yet, to teach us, as it would almost seem, how very limited our knowledge is, and how much there is to be believed which cannot be understood, these very inquiries into our own mental actions and endowments, appear to be, of all others, the least attended with any conclusive or satisfactory results. Others, again, there are who, building upon the unchangeable foundation of abstract truths, have investigated the laws which govern the heavenly bodies, and traced the handiwork of God in the glories of the firmament. But this very pursuit, which of all others most magnifies the capacities of the human mind, and seems to elevate our race to rank but a little lower than the angels, what does it open to us but fresh mysteries, and fresh demands upon our faith and humility? That there are mysteries both in nature and revelation, affords therefore some presumption that, since in this respect at least the systems are not opposed to each other, both may have the same author. But this presumption is strengthened when we trace the analogy further, and consider the rules which seem to hold alike in the mysteries of nature and in those of revelation. In the first place, they are matters which we are not qualified to understand; and in the second, they would not profit us at all, in our present state of existence, even if we could understand them. The mode of our present existence and the arrangements needful for its support, are familiar, and to a certain extent intelligible to us; but what conception could by any means be conveyed to us of existences and qualities unlike our own? The utmost stretch of human language could only express to us what they were not; and so far therefore from having any information communicated to us, we certainly might be more perplexed, but not wiser, than we were before. If this be true respecting the inhabitant of some other planet, must it not be equally true respecting the nature of the unseen world of spirits, and of the supreme and eternal God who reigns there? And, again, if we could understand them, what advantage would it be to us? Should we be better able to control our passions, by being informed about those who had no such passions to control? Should we be directed to a better use of our own faculties, by hearing of a race who had no pursuits or qualities in common with ourselves? God permits, and science enables us to learn, just so much with regard to the heavenly bodies, their orbits, and variations, as may in any way conduce to the enlargement of our understanding, or our general well-being. To allow more than this, to pamper an unseemly and useless curiosity, would not be in agreement with the unfathomable wisdom of Him who does nothing in vain. The application of the same limit to the revelations contained in His Word is sufficiently obvious. But there is a still further analogy in the practical results which follow from the existence of these mysteries, and which they were doubtless intended to effect. What can so forcibly inculcate humility as the experimental proof of our own ignorance and infirmity? And if such be the salutary lesson which nature's mysteries impress upon a thinking and a well-ordered mind, do not the mysteries of revelation enforce the same upon the student of God's will and Word? But further than this, they also indirectly serve to promote the acquirement of most important truths. The philosopher, in his attempts to investigate that which is inexplicable by human powers, has often been led incidentally to the discovery of much real knowledge; and he, whose curiosity may have led him to open the Bible with the view of displaying his own sagacity in unravelling its marvels, may, in the end, have not only had his vanity chastened and, corrected, but his soul enriched with some treasure of Divine wisdom, revealing juster views of himself, and better hopes and desires than he had entertained before. Surely, then, the analogy between the mysteries of the material universe and the revealed Word of God; the rules which appear to hold respecting both; and the practical results to which both are calculated to lead, would teach us to ascribe them to one gracious and incomprehensible Author, and to acquiesce in them, without one shadow of misgiving or inquisitive discontent. But besides this, there is another reason why mysteries must form a necessary part of a revelation proceeding from heaven, and at, other practical consequence of their existence to be deduced from the text. If the Word of God contained only just what we could understand, might we not with some show of reason doubt whether it could be God's Word at all? Might we not say, "The Supreme Being would surely never have interfered to instruct His people, where their own natural powers might have proved a sufficient guide. That which man can understand so clearly in all its bearings, it is hardly too much to say that man might have discovered; and the absence of everything which calls for submissive faith is no weak argument against its Divine original"? Mysteries then may, in some sort, be called the very credentials of a revelation. But again; I said that there is a practical consequence of the existence of mysteries in the gospel of our salvation, to be deduced from the expressions of St. Paul in the text. We are anxious to understand all mysteries and all knowledge. He tells us where this yearning shall be satisfied to the uttermost. It shall be in that kingdom of glory where we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face; where we shall not know in part, but know even as we are known. He that would reach to such intellectual sublimities must have had his soul purified to a meetness for the society of angels, and for approaching the more immediate presence of the Eternal. And further yet, the illustration taken by the apostle may aptly represent the posture of mind which befits the aspirant after heavenly wisdom. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child." What are the characteristics of a good and intelligent child? His curiosity; his simplicity; his ready acquiescence in such explanations as he may receive upon the subjects of his inquiries: his cheerful confidence in his instructors, and his willing obedience to their injunctions.

(T. Ainger, M.A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

WEB: For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known.

Heaven a State of Perfection in Knowledge
Top of Page
Top of Page