The Imperfection of Our Present Knowledge
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. This may refer to the extent or objects of our knowledge.

(1) It is partial. Compare the views of a worm or any minuter insect with those of a man who has the largest and most comprehensive sight of the works of nature, and you have a faint image of the unknown difference there is between our present and future sphere of knowledge.

(2) We know but in part even those few things that do fall within the compass of our present knowledge. There is not the least particle of matter we see, or the least dust of earth we tread on, but what puzzles the most penetrating and philosophic minds. We see only the outside of things, their external properties, their dimensions, form, figure, and colour; but as to their essence or internal substance, the cohesion of their constituent parts, and the laws of that cohesion, we can give no account at all of them. And if we know so little of material, how much less do we know of spiritual substances, which we have much fewer helps and opportunities of being acquainted with! And if we examine our knowledge of abstracted truths, or points of speculation and reason, how very defective does it appear!

2. Our knowledge is not only partial, but very indistinct. We see through a glass. This glass is twofold — reason and faith; by which we realise and represent to the mind future, distant, and invisible things. And happy is it for us that we have these excellent glasses to assist the eye of the mind, whose sight without the help of both would be very short and very defective. But the unhappiness of it is that these glasses, though very excellent in themselves, are often obscured and spoiled by the mists of errors, passions, and prejudices which hang upon them, and make them unable to penetrate through the darkness which lies between them and the distant objects they are intended to descry, which render our sight of those objects very obscure and indistinct. Not to say that imagination, as a false medium, often comes between, which enormously magnifies some objects and diminishes others as much.

3. Our present knowledge is not only very confined and indistinct, but very uncertain also. Our best knowledge is often but mere conjecture, and that conjecture may depend only on mere fancy, arising from a particular state or motion of the animal spirits, and resting more on mechanical than rational supports. For we not only see through a glass, but darkly. Future things are as yet concealed from us, wrapped up in allegory, riddle, or dark enigma, which gives us only a few indirect hints or a mystical representation of the thing intended, by which we are left to guess it out. And hence it is that multitudes form no notion at all concerning the objects of abstract science, whilst some are very dubious in the right, and others very confident in the wrong. And not only matters of abstruse speculation, but the plainest things in religion are by many but uncertainly understood. Not that the things themselves are uncertain, but it is uncertain whether the persons that boast the greater knowledge of them do form a conception of them that is certainly right, especially considering the medium they look through — that is, the lusts, passions, and prejudices with which they are beset.

4. The last view which the apostle gives us of the deficiency of human knowledge in the present state is by comparing it with that of children or infants. We are as yet in our non-age, and but children in understanding. Children, you know, through the immaturity of their faculties, the liveliness of their fancy, the strength of their passions, and inexperience of their age, are very liable to be mistaken; to take up with the first notions that are instilled without examination, to retain the first impressions that are made, whether right or wrong, to be fond of the little knowledge they have, to be confident in it, and to despise others for the want of it; whilst persons of greater sense, experience, and understanding, see that all their confidence is owing to their ignorance, and look upon them with pity. But not with half so much pity as we shall look upon ourselves hereafter when, emerged out of this obscurity in which we dwell, we look back from that region of light upon this land of darkness, and consider all our former ignorance, errors, false judgment, confidence, and prejudices, when we were but children in knowledge; when we saw through a glass darkly, and knew but in part, and spake and reasoned and thought as mere infants in understanding.


1. How partial, indistinct, uncertain, and low is our knowledge of the ever-blessed God! We diminish His Divine dignities in all our thoughts; we depreciate His excellencies in our most elevated conceptions: when we put our mind to the utmost stretch to form the sublimest ideas of His eternal glories, how soon do we find it overwhelmed with the weight of so astonishing a subject! For ah! how can immensity be confined in a hand's breadth? Here all finite faculties are entirely swallowed up, like a drop in the ocean, and we are lost in astonishment at the poverty of our powers.

2. It is but very little we know of ourselves. We know not the wonders either of our external or internal frame; the faculties of our nature; our capacities for service and happiness; the motives and springs of our conduct; the passions that govern us; the conduct and improvement of our superior powers; the influences to which they are liable; the purposes to which they are to be directed, and the manner in which they are to be employed in order to our happiness and usefulness, for which ends we received them. And which is worse, we do not so much as know either our ignorance or knowledge; we shut our eyes upon the former and wonderfully admire the latter, though it be, perhaps, but little better.

3. Our knowledge of Divine and religious things in general is exceedingly defective. It is sad to see what amazing ignorance there is amougst a multitude even of Christians about the great things of religion; and that not only in the deep and disputable mysteries of it, but in some of its most plain and important principles; nay, about the essential nature and most substantial truths of it, and even the plainest parts of practical religion; and this not only amongst the lowest order of men who have had no advantages of education, but among persons of a more elevated rank, who have had sufficient opportunities of being better instructed; but having no heart to improve the prize put into their hands, are apt to despise it as a very unnecessary part of learning, and neither value others the more for having it, nor themselves the less for wanting it.

4. How inscrutable are the ways of Providence! If we turn but our eyes to the government of this lower world, we are soon lost in the mazes of infinite wisdom, and can never in the least conceive how good can arise from so much visible evil, order out of so much confusion, and beauty out of so much deformity. And yet that ,all things under the government of God are well and wisely managed we cannot doubt. But if we turn our thoughts to other worlds and other species of created beings (of which, without doubt, there are innumerable), all under the wise care and government of the same Almighty and Universal Monarch who is the daily object of our adoration, how do we blush and mourn under our present ignorance, and look upon ourselves and all our knowledge comparatively as nothing, and less than nothing, and vanity!


1. Our mental powers themselves are at present but very feeble and defective.

2. The powers of the human mind at present are not only weak, but miserably confined and cramped in their operations by the union of the soul with a crazy and corruptible body.

3. Our sphere of knowledge is here very much contracted. Alas! what knowledge of the world or men can be expected from one who hath lived all his life in a dungeon?

4. Under all these disadvantages, the time that is here allowed us for attaining knowledge is very short.

5. How often are we diverted from this pursuit! How many avocations do we meet with from the world and the affairs of it, which necessarily claim a good part of our attention and care, and rob us of that time which might have been more usefully employed in augmenting the furniture of the mind!

6. How often are we perplexed, entangled, and bewildered by our own prejudices and those of others, whereby we are often turned aside from the right path of wisdom, and put upon a wrong scent. So that instead of making a progress in the right way of knowledge, we have enough to do to recover our wanderings from it. And it is sometimes the main business of the latter part of life to retract the errors of the former. "To what end, now," perhaps you will be apt to say, "have you given us this very diminutive view of human knowledge?"I answer —

1. To excite our most ardent desires after that world of light and liberty where, disencumbered from our present embarrassments, we shall enjoy the pleasures of pure and perfect science.

2. To show how very little reason the most understanding man on earth has to be vain of his knowledge.

3. That holy, humble, upright souls, who have had but few means and opportunities of attaining knowledge, may not be too much discouraged under a consciousness of their present ignorance.

(J. Mason, A.M.)

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.

The Future State a Self-Conscious State
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