1 Corinthians 13:9, 10
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.…
Christianity is an intellectual religion as distinct from religions of ritual and ceremony. It is propagated and maintained by preaching and by teaching. It encourages inquiry, study, science. And, accordingly, there is some danger lest those who seize upon this characteristic of Christianity should give way to the temptation of spiritual pride. It is well that the infirmity and imperfection of our knowledge should be brought vividly before our minds, as it is in this passage. At the same time, provision is made against discouragement by an assurance that the partial and transitory shall be succeeded by the perfect and the eternal.
I. OUR APPREHENSION AND COMMUNICATION OF TRUTH IS PARTIAL.
1. This is a result of the limitation of our powers. This may be a doctrine humbling to human pride, but it is not to be disputed. It should be observed that the apostle speaks of himself as well as of private Christians; and from this we infer that revelation and inspiration are alike conditioned by the very limited powers of man.
2. It is a result of the limitation of our opportunities. We can only know what is brought before us; we cannot create truth. It pleases God that only glimpses and whisperings of Divine truth should be afforded to us. Our knowledge is therefore partial, as is the measure of truth which its Author sets before us.
3. It is a result of the brevity of our life. Human life is short as compared with the universe in which it is passed, and which has so many sides of contact with our understanding. And if nature cannot be known in all its fulness by even the most diligent student, how shall revelation be mastered in a lifetime? There is a religious side to every truth of fact, and the man of science, if a Christian, need never be at a loss for material for religious contemplation and emotion.
II. THAT WHICH IS PARTIAL IS DESTINED TO PERISH. It cannot be meant that any truth shall cease to be truth, that any aspect of religion once justified shall so change its character as to be disowned. We have known Christ, and such knowledge is not transitory, for it is eternal life. But special gifts, like the variety of prophecy known in the primitive Church, served their purpose, and were no more. Our systems of theology, our presentations of doctrine, our modes of homiletic, are adapted, more or less, to our age and circumstances, but they are only for a season. Partial knowledge may be useful whilst perfect knowledge is impossible; but only then.
III. FOR THE PERFECT SHALL COME TO ABOLISH THE PARTIAL. The star shall not disappear because lost in the dense black cloud, but because it shall melt in the splendour of the day. Our prospect is not one to inspire melancholy; or if a shade of pensiveness pass over the soul in the prospect of the disappearance of what is so familiar and so dear, that pensiveness may well give way to content and hope when we look forward to the glory which shall be revealed. - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.