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apprehensions from it. But by this figurative expression of seeing in a glass, the apostle declares the comparative imperfection of our present view of the glory of Christ.
But the allusion may be taken from an optic glass or tube also, whereby the sight of the eye is helped in beholding things at a great distance. By the aid of such glasses, men will discover stars or heavenly lights, which, by reason of their distance from us, the eye of itself is no way able to discern. And those which we do see are more fully represented, though remote enough from being so perfectly. Such a glass is the gospel, without which we can make no discovery of Christ at all; but in the use of it we are far enough from beholding him in the just dimensions of his glory.
And he adds another intimation of this imperfection, in an allusion unto the way whereby things are proposed and conveyed unto the minds and apprehensions of men. Now this is by words. And these are either plain, proper, and direct, or dark, figurative, and parabolical. And this latter way makes the conception of things to be difficult and imperfect; and by reason of the imperfection of our view of the glory of Christ by faith in this world, the apostle says it is in "ainigmati", in "a riddle." These "ainigmata" the Psalmist calls "chidot", "dark sayings," Psalms 78:2.
But here it must be observed, that the description and representation of the Lord Christ and his glory in the gospel is not absolutely or in itself either dark or obscure; yea, it is perspicuous, plain, and direct. Christ is therein evidently set forth crucified, exalted, glorified. But the apostle does not here discourse concerning the way or means of the revelation of it unto us, but of the means or instrument whereby we comprehend that revelation. This is our faith, which, as it is in us, being weak and imperfect, we comprehend the representation that is made unto us of the glory of Christ as men do the sense of a dark saying, a riddle, a parable; that is, imperfectly, and with difficulty.
On the account hereof we may say at present, how little a portion is it that we know of him! as Job speaks of God, chap. 26:14. How imperfect are our conceptions of him! How weak are our minds in their management! There is no part of his glory that we can fully comprehend. And what we do comprehend, - there is a comprehension in faith, Ephesians 3:18, - we cannot abide in the steady contemplation of. For ever blessed be that sovereign grace, whence it is that He who "commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of his own glory in the face of Jesus Christ," and therein of the glory of Christ himself; - that he has so revealed him unto us, as that we may love him, admire him, and obey him: but constantly, steadily, and clearly to behold his glory in this life we are not able; "for we walk by faith, and not by sight."
Hence our sight of him here is as it were by glances, - liable to be clouded by many interpositions. "Behold, he standeth behind the wall, he looketh forth at the windows, showing" ("metzitz", flourishing) "himself through the lattice," Song of Solomon 2:9. There is a great interposition between him and us, as a wall; and the means of the discovery of himself unto us, as through a window and lattice, include a great instability and imperfection in our view and apprehension of him. There is a wall between him and us, which yet he standeth behind. Our present mortal state is this wall, which must be demolished before we can see him as he is. In the meantime he looketh through the windows of the ordinances of the Gospel. He gives us sometimes, when he is pleased to stand in those windows, a view of himself; but it is imperfect, as is our sight of a man through a window. The appearances of him at these windows are full of refreshment unto the souls of them that do believe. But our view of them is imperfect, transient, and does not abide; - we are for the most part quickly left to bemoan what we have lost. And then our best is but to cry, "the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before thee?" When wilt thou again give me to see thee, though but as through the windows alas! what distress do we ofttimes sit down in, after these views of Christ and his glory! But he proceeds farther yet; and flourishes himself through the lattices. This displaying of the glory of Christ, called the flourishing of himself, is by the promises of the Gospel, as they are explained in the ministry of the Word. In them are represented unto us the desirable beauties and glories of Christ. How precious, how amiable is he, as represented in them! How are the souls of believers ravished with the views of them! Yet is this discovery of him also but as through a lattice. We see him but by parts, - unsteadily and unevenly.
Such, I say, is the sight of the glory of Christ which we have in this world by faith. It is dark, - it is but in part. It is but weak, transient, imperfect, partial. It is but little that we can at any time discover of it; it is but a little while that we can abide in the contemplation of what we do discover. "Rara hora, breves mora." Sometimes it is unto us as the sun when it is under a cloud, - we cannot perceive it. When he hideth his face, who then can behold him? As Job speaks, so may we, "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand, where he does work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him," chap. 23:8, 9. Which way soever we turn ourselves, and what duties soever we apply ourselves unto, we can obtain no distinct view of his glory. Yet, on the other hand, it is sometimes as the sun when it shines in its brightness, and we cannot bear the rays of it. In infinite condescension he says unto his church, "Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me," Song of Solomon 6:6, - as if he could not bear that overcoming affectionate love, which looks through the eyes of the church in its acting of faith on him. Ah! how much more do we find our souls overcome with his love, when at any time he is pleased to make any clear discoveries of his glory unto us!
Let us now, on the other hand, take a little consideration of that vision which we shall have of the same glory in heaven, that we may compare them together.
Vision, or the sight which we shall have of the glory of Christ in heaven, is immediate, direct, intuitive; and therefore steady, even, and constant and it is so on a double account:
- 1. Of the object which shall be proposed unto us; 2. Of the visive power or faculty wherewith we shall be endued: from the imperfection of both which in this world ariseth the imperfection of our view of the glory of Christ by faith, as has been declared.
1. The object of it will be real and substantial. Christ himself, in his own person, with all his glory, shall be continually with us, before us, proposed unto us. We shall no longer have an image, a representation of him, such as is the delineation of his glory in the Gospel. We "shall see him," saith the apostle, "face to face," 1 Corinthians 13:12; which he opposeth unto our seeing him darkly as in a glass, which is the utmost that faith can attain to. "We shall see him as he is", 1 John 3:2; - not as now, in an imperfect description of him. As a man sees his neighbour when they stand and converse together face to face, so shall we see the Lord Christ in his glory; and not as Moses, who had only a transient sight of some parts of the glory of God, when he caused it to pass by him.
There will be use herein of our bodily eyes, as shall be declared. For, as Job says, in our flesh shall we see our Redeemer, and our eyes shall behold him, chap. 19:25-27. That corporeal sense shall not be restored unto us, and that glorified above what we can conceive, but for this great use of the eternal beholding of Christ and his glory. Unto whom is it not a matter of rejoicing, that with the same eyes wherewith they see the tokens and signs of him in the sacrament of the supper, they shall behold himself immediately in his own person? But principally, as we shall see immediately, this vision is intellectual. It is not, therefore, the mere human nature of Christ that is the object of it, but his divine person, as that nature subsisteth therein. What is that perfection which we shall have (for that which is perfect must come and do away that which is in part) in the comprehension of the hypostatical union, I understand not; but this I know, that in the immediate beholding of the person of Christ, we shall see a glory in it a thousand times above what here we can conceive. The excellencies of infinite wisdom, love, and power therein, will be continually before us. And all the glories of the person of Christ which we have before weakly and faintly inquired into, will be in our sight for evermore.
Hence the ground and cause of our blessedness is, that "we shall ever be with the Lord," 1 Thessalonians 4:17, - as himself prays, "that we may be with him where he is, to behold his glory." Here we have some dark views of it, - we cannot perfectly behold it, until we are with him where he is. Thereon our sight of him will be direct, intuitive, and constant.
There is a glory, there will be so, subjectively in us in the beholding of this glory of Christ, which is at present incomprehensible. For it does not yet appear what we ourselves shall be, 1 John 3:2. Who can declare what a glory it will be in us to behold this glory of Christ? And how excellent, then, is that glory of Christ itself!
This immediate sight of Christ is that which all the saints of God in this life do breathe and pant after. Hence are they willing to be dissolved, or "desire to depart, that they may be with Christ," which is best for them, Philippians 1:23. They choose "to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord," 2 Corinthians 5:8; or that they may enjoy the inexpressibly longed-for sight of Christ in his glory. Those who do not so long for it, whose souls and minds are not frequently visited with earnest desires after it, unto whom the thoughts of it are not their relief in trouble, and their chiefest joy, are carnal, blind, and cannot see afar off. He that is truly spiritual entertains and refresheth himself with thoughts hereof continually.
2. It will be so from that visive power or faculty of beholding the glory of Christ which we shall then receive. Without this we cannot see him as he is. When he was transfigured in the mount, and had on his human nature some reflections of his divine glory, his disciples that were with him were rather amazed than refreshed by it, Matthew 17:6. They saw his glory, but spake thereon "they knew not what," Luke 9:30-33. And the reason hereof was, because no man in this life can have a visive power, either spiritual or corporeal, directly and immediately to behold the real glory of Christ.
Should the Lord Jesus appear now to any of us in his majesty and glory, it would not be unto our edification nor consolation. For we are not meet nor able, by the power of any light or grace that we have received, or can receive, to bear the immediate appearance and representation of them. His beloved apostle John had leaned on his bosom probably many a time in his life, in the intimate familiarities of love; but when he afterward appeared unto him in his glory, "he fell at his feet as dead," Revelation 1:17. And when he appeared unto Paul, all the account he could give thereof we, "that he saw a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun;" whereon he, and all that were with him, "fell to the ground," Acts 26:13,14.
And this was one reason why, in the days of his ministry here on earth, his glory was veiled with the infirmities of the flesh, and all sorts of sufferings, as we have before related. The church in this life is no way meet, by the grace which it can be made partaker of, to converse with him in the immediate manifestations of his glory.
And therefore those who dream of his personal reign on the earth before the day of judgement, unless they suppose that all the saints shall be perfectly glorified also (which is only to bring down heaven to the earth for awhile, to no purpose), provide not at all for the edification or consolation of the church. For no present grace, advanced unto the highest degree whereof in this world it is capable, can make us meet for an immediate converse with Christ in his unveiled glory.
How much more abominable is the folly of men, who would represent the Lord Christ in his present glory by pictures and images of him! When they have done their utmost with their burnished glass and gildings, an eye of flesh can not only behold it, but, if it be guided by reason, see it contemptible and foolish But the true glory of Christ, neither inward nor outward sight can bear the rays of it in this life.
The dispensation which we are meet for is only that of his presence with us by his Spirit. We know him now no more after the flesh, 2 Corinthians 5:16. We are advanced above that way and means of the knowledge at him by the fleshly, carnal ordinances of the Old Testament. And we know him not according unto that bodily presence of his which his disciples enjoyed in the days of his flesh. We have attained somewhat above that also. For such was the nature of his ministry here on earth, that there could not be the promised dispensation of the Spirit until that was finished. Therefore he tells his disciples that it was expedient for them that he should go away, and send the Spirit to them, John 16:7. Hereon they had a clearer view of the glory of Christ than they could have by beholding him in the flesh. This is our spiritual posture and condition. We are past the knowledge of him according to the flesh, - we cannot attain nor receive the sight of him in glory; but the life which we now lead is by the faith of the Son of God.
I shall not here inquire into the nature of this vision, or the power and ability which we shall have in heaven to behold the glory of Christ. Some few things may be mentioned, as it relates unto our minds, and our bodies also, after the resurrection.
1. For the mind, it shall be perfectly freed from all that darkness, unsteadiness, and other incapacities, which here it is accompanied with; and whereby it is weakened, hindered, and obstructed, in the exercise of faith. And they are of two sorts.
(1.) Such as are the remainders of that depravation of our natures which came upon us by sin. Hereby our minds became wholly vain, dark, and corrupt, as the Scripture testifieth, - utterly unable to discern spiritual things in a due manner. This is so far cured and removed in this life by grace, as that those who were darkness do become light in the Lord, or are enabled to live unto God under the conduct of a new spiritual light communicated unto them. But it is so cured and removed in part only, it is not perfectly abolished. Hence are all our remaining weaknesses and incapacities in discerning things spiritual and eternal, which we yet groan under, and long for deliverance from. No footsteps, no scars or marks that ever it had place in our minds shall abide in glory, Ephesians 5:27. Nothing shall weaken, disturb, or incapacitate our souls, in acting all their powers, unimpeded by vanity, diversions, weakness, inability, upon their proper objects. The excellency hereof, in universal liberty and power, we cannot here comprehend; nor can we yet conceive the glory and beauty of those immixed spiritual actings of our minds which shall have no clog upon them, no encumbrance in them, no alloy of dross accompanying them. One pure act of spiritual sight in discerning the glory of Christ, - one pure act of love in cleaving unto God, - will bring in more blessedness and satisfaction into our minds than in this world we are capable of.
(2.) There is an incapacity in our minds, as unto their acting on things spiritual and eternal, that is merely natural, from the posture wherein they are, and the figure which they are to make in this