Seeing Darkly
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.


1. There is a literal significance in these words. With our physical organs of vision we do not see essential realities. This is an elementary law of optics; our sensuous vision is only a mirror upon which realities cast shadows.

2. We see our fellow-men with double veils between ourselves and them — they hidden from us in a drapery of flesh, and we looking through the glazed windows of our own organism. How much do we really know of them? The lesson here is that we should think more charitably of our fellow-men. Under the hardest concealment there is some goodness that shrinks from exposing itself, and the most careless and frivolous have their moments of thought and devotion. If ever one man is truly revealed to another, it is only by the agency of love and sympathy. The lightnings of the satirist do not rend open the door of the deepest heart.

3. So it is with the forms and objects of the actual world, the chemist, the botanist, the physiologist, after all how much below the rind have they pierced? How soon they are balked? The moment they get below forms and positions, and certain relations of things, everything becomes as impalpable as the shapes that pass over the surface of the mirror. Science, with all it has achieved, is merely a catalogue of appearances; its terminology is merely a set of equivalents, words masking the deep facts which we do not know. The chemist boasts that he can almost reconstruct the original tissues of the human frame. But what then? He cannot give life; nay, he cannot even tell what it is.

4. Astronomy is the oldest and most complete of all the sciences. Yet the questions in Job are just as applicable to our day as to his. It is a singular fact that objects which are the most remote from us fall within the arrangements of this most complete science. The nearer we get to our personality, the more deep the problems become. Astronomy is so satisfactory only because we are not near enough to it to touch the real problems which it presents. The most familiar objects — how the grass grows, how the fingers move — become to us unexplainable. And if, then it is thus with the more familiar objects, how is it with unknown realities or those which are known only by intermediate revelations?

5. Now if the creations of God which are most intimate are confessedly but as shadows of shapes upon a mirror, how must it be with the infinite God Himself? We behold Him only through His works, and there as in a glass darkly. And so in regard to His providential dealings with us. We cannot take in the vastness of God's plan, surely, if we cannot take in the essence of His works! We behold only processes, parts of things. As the child that might come into the laboratory of his father, the chemist, could not begin to comprehend from the transaction in which the father was engaged the great work at which he aimed, so we, children all of us, in a thousand years see but one of God's processes, and yet we talk and act as though we saw the whole, and challenge the Almighty because everything is not made clearly consistent with our idea of His goodness. God's most beneficent agencies appear to us only in shadow at the best. And thus it is that even the most beneficent providences of God sometimes appear like the ministers of wrath. We see but the transient aspects of death; it is but a shadow on the mirror, and this is a lesson for our faith in all the workings of God.


1. It is not a mere reflection, it is a reality behind the reflection. There are shadows, but there never is a shadow without something to cast a shadow. And remember also it is we who see darkly, not that the things themselves are dark. Faith, therefore, is the only legitimate conclusion from the capacity of seeing at all.

(1) What do you make of these instincts of something higher and something better that have prevailed in all ages of the world and in all souls? are all these the images of nothingness? How can we have the shadows without the substance, or have the forms of things mirrored before us that do not exist in reality?

(2) And then the affections, the great working of man's love, there is the thing that Paul fell back upon in this chapter. Man's love assures us that in this depth of nature in which God has planted within us there must be something higher and better.

2. There is great grandeur in the fact that Christianity has not made a full revelation of the things to come. There is a reason for that in the discipline we need. Gradual growth must develop us and make us all that we should be; Christianity should not reveal everything to us. But at the same time, as a religion of benevolence, Christianity would have informed us if these great primary instincts played us false. Jesus Christ would have told us if these affections of Our nature prophesied untruly. Yes, we see darkly, but we do see. And in that fact there is proof that we shall see better face to face.

3. Even with this dim, imperfect mirror there are degrees of seeing. We all see darkly enough — the clearest-sighted of us — but sometimes there is a film upon the eye of the observer as well as upon the mirror.

(1) Sometimes men have their eyes darkened all over with the scales of appetite, so that all that they see is distorted, is made abominable.

(2) And sometimes then see nothing on the mirror of this life but a gigantic image of self. Like the giant of the Hartz Mountains, they see projected upon life merely an enlarged idea of their own wants and of their own greatness.

(3) But there are men who apprehend the reality of things which come darkly, and feel that there is a substance back of those shadows.

4. It is a momentous period in our being when a man awakes to a sense of realities. That is conversion to come to a sense that there are spiritual realities beyond our present vision, to come to a sense that our souls, God, Christ, eternity are real.

(E. H. Chapin, D.D.)

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.

Recognition of Friends in Heaven
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