Our Partial Knowledge
1 Corinthians 13:9-10
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.…

is: —


1. We require our children to know, and then we give them, not the knowledge that they seek, but the key of that knowledge. Doubtless the teacher imparts knowledge, but his greater function is in wisely keeping it back until it is fairly won. So God teaches without telling; sets alluring objects of knowledge almost within sight and reach; sets ajar the doors of science, and writes up, "Ask, and ye shall receive," etc.

2. And no faithful seeker seeks in vain. Perhaps he finds somewhat other than he sought, as Saul sought the straying asses and found a kingdom. Men sought by alchemy for the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life, etc., and found them not, but found marvellous things in the quest, and by and by found themselves at the splendid portals of the great treasure-house of modern chemistry. Geography explored unknown seas for a new route to Cipango and Cathay, and lo! a new continent was given as her reward. Astrology adventured out vaguely among the stars, seeking she knew not what, and became transfigured into astronomy.

3. But ever with what is given is something yet reserved. Each new discovery discloses new questions yet to be answered. And what is true in the study of material things is even more impressively true in the higher study of man, and duty, and God. "Ye shall know, if ye shall follow on to know the Lord."

II. A DISCIPLINE TO HUMILITY AND PATIENCE. And so good a discipline is it that they who have learned the most are commonly the humblest, for they know how inadequate their knowledge is. For running through the very midst of human life, in its most intimate concerns, is a line of unanswerable questions. Along the seam between will and motive, foreknowledge and responsibility, eternity and time, spirit and matter, the absolute and the conditioned, are ranged the antinomies over which the only wisdom is to despair and be patient. And that is the wisdom which after these six thousand years of discipline, theology and philosophy are only now at last beginning to learn.

III. A DISCIPLINE TO CHARITY towards others whose knowledge is yet more narrowly limited or is on a different. side from ours. We are vexed at their narrowness, and do not think what reason we give them or others to be vexed at ours. Probably none of us are aware where our knowledge is nearest akin to ignorance and error. Likely enough it is at the very point where we are most positive. We need, as a training in charity, to "look upon the things of others" as well as "upon our own things." Vinet says, "The men of two hundred years hence will be looking back with astonishment on some monstrous error that was unconsciously held by the best Christians of the nineteenth century." This is the constant story of the past. And it is right that we should be reminded of it; not that we should cease to hold the truth or hold it with timorous or hesitating grasp, but that we should learn to hold the truth no longer in unrighteousness or in self-righteousness, but in love.

IV. A DISCIPLINE TO FAITH. We speak of a man of great and settled faith, meaning a learned, confident theologian, who has surveyed and triangulated the whole field of sacred knowledge. Eternity, Trinity, Atonement, all these are quite clear and definite to him. Nay, rather, he is a man, so far as this goes, of no faith at all. He has not the necessary antecedent condition of faith that should bring him to the feet of the great Teacher, and to lay his hand in that of the only Guide. And you who, vexed by doubts and uncertainties and limitations, have been wont to say, "But for these I might believe," learn now to speak in a higher strain, and say, "In spite of these — no; because of these I must — I do believe. To whom can I go but to Him who hath the words of eternal life? Blessed be God, who hath fenced up my way of knowledge that so I might learn to feel for the leading of His hand, and walk by faith, not by sight."

V. A DISCIPLINE TO HOPE. It is not for always, this which is in part, even though it is expedient for us now. It is the dimness which turns our mind toward the day-star and the coming dawn. This hunger and thirst unsatisfied are a continual promise of the coming time when I shall be filled. In this mood I can well afford to await that glorious time for which I am not yet prepared, but for which God is preparing me, when that which is perfect shall have come and these things which are in part shall be done away — when I shall see face to face and know even as I am known.

(L. W. Bacon, D.D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

WEB: For we know in part, and we prophesy in part;

Limited Knowledge
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