2 Corinthians 4:18
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal…
I. NOW, FIRST, I WISH TO SAY A WORD OR TWO ABOUT WHAT SUCH A LOOK WILL DO FOR US. Paul's notion is, as you will see if you look at the context, that if we want to understand the visible, or to get the highest good out of the things that are seen, we must bring into the field of vision "the things that are not seen." The ease with which he is dealing is that of a man in trouble. A man that has seen the Himalayas will not be much overwhelmed by the height of Helvellyn. They who look out into the eternities have the true measuring rod and standard by which to estimate the duration and intensity of the things that are present. We are all tempted to do as villagers in some little hamlet do — think that their small local affairs are the world's affairs, and mighty, until they have been up to London and seen the scale of things there. If you and I would let the steady light of eternity and the sustaining pressure of the "exceeding weight of glory" pour into our minds, we should carry with us a standard which would bring down the greatness, dwindle the duration, lighten the pressure of the most crushing sorrow, and would set in its true dimensions everything that is here. It is for want of that that we go on as we do, calculating wrongly what are the great things and what are the small things. But, on the other hand, do not let us forget that this same standard which thus dwindles also magnifies the small, and, in a very solemn sense, makes eternal the else fleeting things of this life. For there is nothing that makes this present existence of ours so utterly contemptible, insignificant, and transitory as to block out of our sight its connection with eternity. If you shut out eternity from our life in time, then it is an inexplicable riddle. Further, this look of which my text speaks is the condition on which time prepares for eternity. The apostle is speaking about the effect of affliction in making ready for us an eternal weight of glory, and he says that it is done while or on condition that, during the suffering, we are looking steadfastly towards the "things that are not seen." But no outward circumstances or events can prepare a weight of glory for us hereafter, unless because they prepare us for the glory. Affliction works for us that blessed result in the measure in which it fits us for that result.
II. And so I note that THIS LOOK AT THE THINGS NOT SEEN IS ONLY POSSIBLE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. He is the only window which opens out and gives the vision of that far-off land. I, for my part, believe that, if I might use such a metaphor, He is the Columbus of the New World. Men believed, and argued, and doubted about the existence of it across the seas there until a Man went and came back again, and then went to found a new city yonder. It is only in Jesus Christ that the look which my text enjoins is possible. For not only has He given a certitude so as that we need now not to say we think, we hope, we fear, we are pretty well sure, that there must be a life beyond, but we can say we know. Not only has He done this, but also in Him, His life of glory at God's right hand in heaven, is summed up all that we really can know about that future. We look into the darkness in vain; we look at Him, and, though limited, the knowledge is blessed. Not only is He our sole medium of knowledge, and Himself the revelation of our heaven, but it is only by Him that man's thoughts and desires are drawn to, and find themselves at home in, that tremendous thought of immortality.
III. And now, lastly, THIS LOOK SHOULD BE HABITUAL WITH ALL CHRISTIAN PEOPLE. Paul takes it for granted that every Christian man is, as the habitual direction of his thoughts, looking towards those "things that are not seen." The original shows that even more distinctly than our translation, but our translation shows it plainly enough. He does not say, "works for us an exceeding weight of glory for," but "while" we look, as if it were a matter of course. Note what sort of a look it is which produces these blessed effects. The word which the apostle employs here is a more pointed one than the ordinary one for "seeing." It is translated in other places in the New Testament, "Mark" them which walk so as ye have us for an "ensample," and the like. And it implies a concentrated, protracted effort and interested gaze. There has to be a positive shutting out of all other things. It is no mere tautology in which the apostle indulges when he says, "Whilst we look not at the things that are seen," but see. Here they are pressing in upon our eyeballs, all round us, insisting on being looked at, and, unless we consciously avert our eyes, we shall not see anything else. They monopolise us unless we resist the intrusive appeals that they make to us. We are like men down in some fertile valley, surrounded by rich vegetation, but seeing nothing beyond the green sides of the glen. We have to go up to the hill-top if we are to look out over the flashing ocean, and behold afar off the towers of the mother city across the restless waves. Now, as I have said, the apostle regards this conscious effort at bringing ourselves into touch, in mind and heart and faith, with "the things that are not seen" as being a habitual characteristic of Christian men. I am very much afraid that the present generation of Christian people do not, in anything like the degree in which they should, recreate and strengthen themselves with the contemplation which he here recommends. Let us turn away our eyes from the gauds that we can see, and open the eyes of our spirits on the things that are, the things where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.