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.
Was such an obscure and imperfect discovery of another life worthy to proceed from God? Does it not afford some ground, either to tax His goodness or to suspect the evidence of its coming from Him? It plainly appears to be the plan of the Deity, in all His dispensations, to mix light with darkness, evidence with uncertainty. Whatever the reasons of this procedure be, the fact is undeniable. If, then, the future state of man be not placed in so full and clear a light as we desire, this is no more than what the analogy of all religion, both natural and revealed, gave us reason to expect. But such a solution of the difficulty will be thought imperfect. It may, perhaps, not give much satisfaction to show that all religion abounds with difficulties of a like nature. Let us call upon the sceptic, and desire him to say what measure of information would afford him entire satisfaction. This, he will tell us, requires not any long or deep deliberation. He desires only to have his view enlarged beyond the limits of this corporeal state. Instead of resting upon evidence which requires discussion, he demands the everlasting mansions to be so displayed, if in truth such mansions there be, as to place faith on a level with the evidence of sense. What noble and happy effects, he exclaims, would instantly follow, if man thus beheld his present and his future existence at once before him! But let us pause and suspend our admiration, till we coolly examine the consequences that would follow from this supposed reformation of the universe. Consider the nature and circumstances of man. Introduced into the world in an indigent condition, he is supported at first by the care of others: and, as soon as he begins to act for himself, finds labour and industry to be necessary for sustaining his life and supplying his wants. Mutual defence and interest give rise to society; and society, when formed, requires distinctions of property, diversity of conditions, subordinations of ranks, and a multiplicity of occupations, in order to advance the general good. In a word, by the destination of his Creator and the necessities of his nature, man commences at once an active, not merely a contemplative being. Religion assumes him as such. Suppose, now, that veil to be withdrawn which conceals another world from our view. Let all obscurity vanish; let us no longer "see darkly, as through a glass"; but let every man enjoy that intuitive perception of Divine and eternal objects which the sceptic was supposed to desire. The immediate effect of such a discovery would be to annihilate in our eye all human objects, and to produce a total stagnation in the affairs of the world. All the studies and pursuits, the arts and labours, which now employ the activity of man, which support the order, or promote the happiness of society, would lie neglected and abandoned. Those desires and fears, those hopes and interests, by which we are at present stimulated, would cease to operate. Human life would present no objects sufficient to rouse the mind, to kindle the spirit of enterprise, or to urge the hand of industry. Whatever is now attractive in society would appear insipid. In a word, he would be no longer a fit inhabitant of this world, nor be qualified for those exertions which are allotted to him in his present sphere of being. But all his faculties being sublimated above the measure of humanity, he would be in the condition of a being of superior order, who, obliged to reside among men, would regard their pursuits with scorn, as dreams, trifles, and puerile amusements of a day. But to this reasoning it may perhaps be replied, that such consequences as I have now stated, supposing them to follow, deserve not much regard. Would not such a change prove the highest blessing to man? Is not his attachment to worldly objects the great source both of his misery and his guilt? How far the change would contribute to his welfare comes to be considered. If there be any principle fully ascertained by religion, it is that this life was intended for a state of trial and improvement to man. His preparation for a better world required a gradual purification carried on by steps of progressive discipline. The situation, therefore, here assigned him was such as to answer this design by calling forth all his active powers, by giving full scope to his moral dispositions, and bringing to light his whole character. Hence it became proper that difficulty and temptation should arise in the course of his duty. Such is the plan of Divine wisdom for man's improvement. But put the case that the plans devised by human wisdom were to take place, and that the rewards of the just were to be more fully displayed to view, the exercise of all those graces which I have mentioned would be entirely superseded. Their very names would be unknown. The obscurity which at present hangs over eternal objects preserves the competition. Remove that obscurity, and you remove human virtue from its place. You overthrow that whole system of discipline by which imperfect creatures are, in this life, gradually trained up for a more perfect state. From what has been said, it now appears that no reasonable objection to the belief of a future state arises from the imperfect discoveries of it which we enjoy; from the difficulties that are mingled with its evidence; from our seeing as through a glass, darkly; and being left to walk by faith, and not by sight. It cannot be otherwise, it ought not to be otherwise in our present state. The evidence which is afforded is sufficient for the conviction of a candid mind, though not so striking as to withdraw our attention from the present world, or altogether to overcome the impression of sensible objects. In such evidence it becomes us to acquiesce, without indulging either doubts or complaints. For, upon the supposition of immortality, this life is no other than the childhood of existence; and the measures of our knowledge must be proportioned to such a state. In a word, the whole course of things is so ordered that we neither, by an irregular and precipitate education, become men too soon, nor, by a fond and trifling indulgence, be suffered to continue children for ever. Let these reflections not only remove the doubts which may arise from our obscure knowledge of immortality, but likewise produce the highest admiration of the wisdom of our Creator. The structure of the natural world affords innumerable instances of profound design, which no attentive spectator can survey without wonder. In the moral world, where the workmanship is of much finer and more delicate contexture, subjects of still greater admiration open to view. We have now seen that the darkness of man's condition is no less essential to his well-being than the light which he enjoys. His internal powers and his external situation appear to be exactly fitted to each other. In order to do justice to the subject, I must observe that the same reasoning which has been now employed with respect to our knowledge of immortality is equally applicable to many other branches of intellectual knowledge. Thus, why we are permitted to know so little of the nature of that Eternal Being who rules the universe; why the manner in which He operates on the natural and moral world is wholly concealed. To all these, and several other inquiries of the same kind which often employ the solicitous researches of speculative men, the answer is the degree of knowledge desired would prove incompatible with the design and with the proper business of this life. It is therefore reserved for a more advanced period of our nature. One instance, in particular, of Divine wisdom is so illustrious, and corresponds so remarkably with our present subject, that I cannot pass it over without notice; that is the concealment under which Providence has placed the future events of our life on earth. "How cruel is Providence!" we are apt to exclaim, "in denying to man the power of foresight, and in limiting him to the knowledge of the present moment!" But while fancy indulges such vain desires and criminal complaints, this coveted foreknowledge must clearly appear to the eye of reason to be the most fatal gift which the Almighty could bestow. If, in this present mixed state, all the successive scenes of distress through which we are to pass, were laid before us in one view, perpetual sadness would overcast our life. Hardly would any transient gleams of intervening joy be able to force their way through the cloud. Precisely in the same manner, as by the mixture of evidence and obscurity which remains on the prospect of a future state, a proper balance is preserved betwixt our love of this life and our desire of a better. The longer that our thoughts dwell on this subject the more we must be convinced that in nothing the Divine wisdom is more admirable than in proportioning knowledge to the necessities of man. Instead of lamenting our condition, that we are permitted only to see as through a glass, darkly, we have reason to bless our Creator, no less for what He hath concealed than for what He hath allowed us to know. From the whole view which we have taken of the subject, this important instruction arises, that the great design of all the knowledge, and in particular of the religious knowledge which God hath afforded us, is to fit us for discharging the duties of life. No useless discoveries are made to us in religion. Let us, then, second the kind intentions of Providence, and act upon the plan which it hath pointed out. Checking our inquisitive solicitude about what the Almighty hath concealed, let us diligently improve what He hath made known. Before I conclude, it may be proper to observe that the reasonings in this discourse give no ground to apprehend any danger of our being too much influenced by the belief of a future state. The bias of our nature leans so much towards sense that from this side the peril is to he dreaded, and on this side the defence is to be provided. Let us, then, walk by faith, Let us strengthen this principle of action to the utmost of our power.
(H. Blair, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.