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 I am known. I Cor. 13:12
In this scripture the apostle compares the now with the then, the present with the future, the earthy with the heavenly mode of existence of the children of God. And the apostle discovers a remarkable difference. Now we see through a glass. . . .but then face to face. What is it that we now see? A face! This must follow from the circumstance that we shall see face to face. The meaning is that there is a face that we shall have as the direct object of our vision, and that we now behold indirectly in or through a glass. And this face is God’s. Has He then a face? If He had not, we would never be seeing Him. And that we shall see Him, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is His promise to us. Said Christ, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And in John’s first epistle we come upon this statement, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” We will then be seeing Him, not, to be sure, His essence which is invisible but His face and thus Him. For His face is radiant with the beauty of His infinite virtues, the glory of His invisible self, so that beholding this face, we see God, His very heart, the love of His heart by the power of which we are saved to the uttermost. And God’s face is Christ Jesus. Did not Philip’s question, “Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us,” draw out of Him the reply, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me Philip?; he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” Verily He is the face of God. For He is in the Father, and the Father in Him. And the words that He speaks, He speaks not of Himself: but the Father that dwelleth in Him, He doeth the works.
God’s face, then, is Christ—the Christ as He brings Himself forward for what He is. And He is the Lamb of God, Who took away the sins of the world by His suffering and death; the way, the truth and the life; the resurrection and the life; the Christ with Whom we were crucified, buried and raised up together and made to sit in heavenly places in Him; the Christ Who ascended into heaven, Who was crowned there with power and glory and Who now gathers His church and rules His people by His Spirit and His Word; the Christ who can pray for us and save us to the uttermost, as He is the Lamb “as it had been slain” and as in Him now dwelleth all fullness bodily; the Christ, finally, who shall roll up the heavens as a scroll and cause the elements to burn that the new heavens and the new earth may appear and that His people with Him may appear in glory. This Christ, in the central sense, is the face of God. Beholding Him, we see God.
Now this face we see in this life through or in a glass. It is a mirror to which the apostle here refers. Now what a man beholds in a mirror is the image of whatever object lies in the path of the light waves that the mirror reflects. If that object be the man himself, it is the reflected image of his very self that he beholds. Now the scriptures are such a mirror as in them we behold an image of God’s face, which is Christ. In this life, therefore, we stand not before God’s very face but before His face as reflected by the scriptures. It is for this reason that the children of God feel themselves attracted to the Word. It is through the Word that they behold the adorable face of their God whose grace they are ever being made to experience. Let them take away therefore from the believer what they will, but let them leave him his Bible, and he will still count himself blessed.
However, we now see through a glass darkly, that is, what we behold in this mirror (the scriptures) is but a rather dark, vague, reflection of God’s face. To understand this speech of the apostle, we should know that the mirror to which he here compares the scriptures is not of a kind in use in these modern times of ours, but of a kind in use in the apostle’s day. What in that day did service as a mirror was a piece of polished metal, usually brass. Now the image that a man would see of himself in such an ancient mirror was dark in the sense of vague. So, too, the image of God’s face which we behold in the scriptures is characterized by a certain vagueness. How is this to be accounted for? Objectively by the circumstance that the language of scripture is earthy as are also the symbols through which Christ in His Word speaks to His people of the glory of His Father and of Himself. In scripture, to illustrate, Christ appears as the true bread, the living water, wine and milk, as the door and the way, as the lamb and the altar, as the morning star, as the sun that shines in our heaven. Now these creatures, every one of them, are earthy. Thus the word or names by which they are known are likewise earthy. They are this as they do service in the first instance as significations of things earthy. As built up into sentences, therefore, they form an earthy speech, language. It is in a speech of this character, thus not in a speech directly heavenly, that our scriptures were written. In the scriptures therefore, we behold an earthy image of the face of God. The scriptures being earthy, the image of His face that we behold in them must of necessity be an earthy replica of the radiance of the Father’s glory. Thus as compared with God’s very face this image, this glory of God as reflected by the earthy, must be vague.
In the Book of the Revelation of John, one comes upon a description of the heavenly beauty of the New Jerusalem. In this Book one beholds this city, having the glory of God, with light like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal and with streets like unto pure gold. This, we say, is heavenly gold. True, but the only gold ever seen by us is earthy. Set this gold and those jasper stones before our mind’s eye, and what are we face to face with? An earthy mirror in which we behold an earthy and thus dark image of the heavenly glory of a heavenly reality. As the heavenly far surpasses the earthy in glory, the earthy cannot otherwise but vaguely, darkly, reflect the glory of the heavenly, the heavenly radiance of God’s face.
And it is well that it is thus. Can we look into the face of the sun that shines in our heaven and retain our vision unimpaired? We cannot. The dazzling brilliance of that face would blind us so that we would never again see. How then could we look directly into God’s face with our earthy and sinful eyes? The dazzling radiance of that face would destroy us. In his vision John saw one like unto the son of man with hairs white like wool, as white snow and with eyes as a flame of fire. It was the glorified Christ. And when John saw Him, he fell at His feet as dead. And John rose again but only as a result of Christ’s having laid upon him His right hand. Moses besought God to show him His glory. He realized not what he asked. But the prayer was partly heard. But while God’s glory passed by, God put him in a cliff of the rock and covered him with His hand. And not until He had passed did He remove His hand, so that all that Moses saw of God’s face is the back parts of His glory. We cannot, while in the house of this our earthy tabernacle, have the heavenly as the direct object of our vision. For we are men with eyes earthy. It is only the heavenly eye that can directly behold the heavenly. Hence, we now see through a glass darkly. And therefore in the words of the apostle, we know in part and we prophesy, praise, in part. For it follows from the nature of things that our prophesying is always according to the measure of our knowledge. For to prophesy is to give utterance, as prompted by love, to what may be known of God from His face, which is Christ. Hence, as a result of our seeing through a glass darkly with earthy eyes, it cannot be otherwise but that we prophesy in part. And so we do. We are but children now, and this on account of our still bearing the image of the earthy. In our present unglorified state, we speak as children, as we speak in terms of an earthy language of things heavenly. We understand as children, in that we mind the things of the Spirit with an understanding that is earthy and that is occupied with an image of the heavenly that is earthy. We do and cannot speak of things heavenly, in terms of a heavenly language; for, as yet, we are not heavenly and we have not the heavenly as the direct object of our vision. We speak as children, even apart from our being sinful people. Adam in the state of righteousness spake as a child, and likewise the prophets and the apostles, and this for the reasons just given.
Paul knew a man (the apostle is here speaking of himself) in Christ above fourteen years ago, whether in the body he could not tell, or whether out of the body, he could not tell, caught up to the third heaven, in paradise, where for a brief space of time (such is the implication of his experience) he stood face to face with the heavenly. And what were Paul’s recollections? He tells us, “and heard unspeakable words, which is not lawful for a man to utter.” II Cor. 12:4. Unspeakable words, Paul heard, words, a language, heavenly, and that therefore no man, still bearing the image of the earthy, can utter.
In the light of the above observations, we can now understand the apostle when he wrote, “Love never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
The meaning of this statement is clear. When Christ shall have appeared, this glass, through which we see darkly, will have served its usefulness and therefore vanish away as did the ceremonies of the law at the first coming of Christ. Hence, the knowledge that we have of Him, God, through the earthy scriptures shall also pass away and so, too, our present prophesying. This does not mean that the people of God will cease to prophesy and to praise (how could it be) and that the knowledge of the heavenly that came to them through the scriptures shall be lost, but it means that in the state of glory, believers shall know and praise as perfected and glorified children of God, who have God’s face, the heavenly, as the direct object of their vision, that is, who see God face to face and see Him with glorified and sinless eyes. They shall know then as they are known, as God knows them. And He has His children ever before His eye directly and thus not indirectly through the instrumentality of a mirror reflecting their likeness.
It is clear that no one has a right to conclude from Paul’s reasoning in the passage explained in this writing, that the self-revelation of God in the scriptures is incorrect and thus unreliable. The image of an object that the ancients beheld in their mirror, corresponded perfectly, as to its form and all its features, to the very object. So, too, the self-revelation of God in Scripture,—though given through the instrumentality of an earthy language, it is unfailingly correct and infallibly true. The only difference between God’s very face and His face as seen through the glass of the Word, is that the latter as compared with the former, is dark, vague. Earthy words and symbols are not by themselves corrupt on account of their being earthy. It is only as built up into sentences by depraved man that they form a speech that is a lie. But as built up into sentences by the Lord God, through His organs of revelation, they form an earthy speech that is infallibly true, a speech that sets forth the truth about God unerringly.
In this life, then, we do not see God as He is. And the reason is not only that we are earthy and that the image of God’s face that He sets before our eye in scripture is earthy, but the reason is also that sin still riots in our flesh. To see God as He is, His children must be not only heavenly but also spotlessly clean, pure of heart. But we shall see Him as He is; when we see Him face to face, and are like Him, sinless as He is. Seeing His face directly is the blessed anticipation of all God’s children.
God’s people have an only friend, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They know Him in Christ. Incessantly does He cause them to experience His love as their redeemer God. It is by the power the sake of His Son Who died for all their sins, and that He calls them out of the world into the light of His blessed Presence. It is by the power of His love that He preserves them and shall finally cause them to appear with His Christ in glory. They know Him, do His children. They also have in their possession a letter of Him, the Holy Scriptures. But the Scriptures are earthy, an earthy glass, through which they see, darkly, the image of His face. But He promised to take them all to Himself in Christ. And by this promise they live. For they want to see His face directly, behold with heavenly and pure eyes the heavenly radiance of His face. And they will have that face of His as the direct object of their vision and be satisfied by His likeness and eternally be made to fully experience the love that shines in His eyes. And with Him shall they have fellowship through Christ, His face. And their joy will be full. And in a heavenly speech and with a mouth cleansed from every trace of its former vileness, and in a speech of heavenly perfection, they will everlastingly cry out His praises. For they then see Him face to face and thus see Him as He is. For they shall then be like Him, their God. He, Himself, has said it. “And we shall see Him as He is, for we shall be like Him.” It is not the ideal of essential likeness that is promised us in this scripture, but a likeness that shall consist in our being holy, as He is holy. It is the promise to the effect that God’s people shall then be His grown-up children, spiritually mature, on account of His having saved them to the uttermost. Being like Him in this respect, they can then see Him and walk with Him as with a friend. It is the mature son and daughter only that can know the greatness of a parental love and devotion, and appreciate the parent. So, too, here, the sons who see Him, are the sons mature. And they shall then know as they are known, that is, they shall know Him as children who have His face directly before their eye and thus not as a people who see through a glass darkly.