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12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

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12. We now see through a glass Here we have the application of the similitude. “The measure of knowledge, that we now have, is suitable to imperfection and childhood, as it were; for we do not as yet see clearly the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, and we do not as yet enjoy a distinct view of them.” To express this, he makes use of another similitude — that we now see only as in a glass, and therefore but obscurely. This obscurity he expresses by the term enigma 800800     The original term αἴνιγμα, (enigma,) properly means, a dark saying It is employed by classical writers in this sense. See Pind. Fr. 165. Aeseh. Pr. 610. The Apostle is generally supposed to have had in his eye Numbers 12:8, which is rendered in the Septuagint as follows: Στόμα κατὰ στόμα λαλήσω αὐτῶ ἐν ἔιδει, καὶ οὐ δι ᾿ αἰνίγματων; — “I will speak to him mouth to mouth in a vision, and not by dark sayings.” — Ed

In the first place, there can be no doubt that it is the ministry of the word, and the means that are required for the exercise of it, that he compares to a looking-glass For God, who is otherwise invisible, has appointed these means for discovering himself to us. At the same time, this may also be viewed as extending to the entire structure of the world, in which the glory of God shines forth to our view, in accordance with what is stated in Romans 1:16; and 2 Corinthians 3:18. In Romans 1:20 the Apostle speaks of the creatures as mirrors, 801801     “Et l’Apostre, en l’onzieme aux Heb., d. 13, nomme les creatures, miroirs;” — “And the Apostle, in Hebrews 11:13, speaks of the creatures as mirrors.” There is obviously a mistake here in the quotation. Most probably Calvin had in his eye Hebrews 11:3, as a passage similar in substance to Romans 1:20, quoted by him in his Latin Commentary. — Ed. in which God’s invisible majesty is to be seen; but as he treats here particularly of spiritual gifts, which are subservient to the ministry of the Church, and are its accompaniments, we shall not wander away from our present subject.

The ministry of the word, I say, is like a looking-glass For the angels have no need of preaching, or other inferior helps, nor of sacraments, for they enjoy a vision of God of another kind; 802802     “Ils ont vn autre iouissance de la presence de Dieu;” — “They have another enjoyment of the presence of God.” and God does not give them a view of his face merely in a mirror, but openly manifests himself as present with them. We, who have not as yet reached that great height, behold the image of God as it is presented before us in the word, in the sacraments, and, in fine, in the whole of the service of the Church. This vision Paul here speaks of as partaking of obscurity — not as though it were doubtful or delusive, but because it is not so distinct as that which will be at last afforded on the final day. He teaches the same thing in other words, in the second Epistle — (2 Corinthians 5:7) — that,

so long as we dwell in the body we are absent from the Lord;
for we walk by faith, not by sight.

Our faith, therefore, at present beholds God as absent. How so? Because it sees not his face, but rests satisfied with the image in the mirror; but when we shall have left the world, and gone to him, it will behold him as near and before its eyes.

Hence we must understand it in this manner — that the knowledge of God, which we now have from his word, is indeed certain and true, and has nothing in it that is confused, or perplexed, or dark, but is spoken of as comparatively obscure, because it comes far short of that clear manifestation to which we look forward; for then we shall see face to face 803803     “The blessed God’s manifestation of himself,” say’s Mr. Howe, “is emphatically expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:12 — of seeing face to face, which signifies on his part, gracious vouchsafement, — his offering his blessed face to view, — that he hides it not, nor turns it away, as here sometimes he doth, in just displeasure. And his face means, even his most conspicuous glory, such as, in this state of mortality, it would be mortal to us to behold; for ‘no man,’ not so divine a man as Moses himself, ‘could see his face and live.’ And it signifies, on their part who are thus made perfect, their applying and turning their face towards his, viz., that they see not casually, or by fortuitous glances, but eye to eye, by direct and most voluntary intuition; which, therefore, on their part, implies moral perfection, the will directing and commanding the eye, and upon inexpressible relishes of joy and pleasure, forbidding its diversion, holds it steady and intent.” Howe’s Works, (Lond. 1834,) p. 1016. — Ed. Thus this passage is not at all at variance with other passages, which speak of the clearness, at one time, of the law, at another time, of the entire Scripture, but more especially of the gospel. For we have in the word (in so far as is expedient for us) a naked and open revelation of God, and it has nothing intricate in it, to hold us in suspense, as wicked persons imagine; 804804     “Comme imaginent les moqueurs et gens profanes;” — “As scoffers and profane persons imagine.” but how small a proportion does this bear to that vision, which we have in our eye! Hence it is only in a comparative sense, that it is termed obscure.

The adverb then denotes the last day, rather than the time that is immediately subsequent to death. At the same time, although full vision will be deferred until the day of Christ, a nearer view of God will begin to be enjoyed immediately after death, when our souls, set free from the body, will have no more need of the outward ministry, or other inferior helps. Paul, however, as I noticed a little ago, does not enter into any close discussion as to the state of the dead, because the knowledge of that is not particularly serviceable to piety.

Now I know in part That is, the measure of our present knowledge is imperfect, as John says in his Epistle, (1 John 3:1,2,) that

we know, indeed, that we are the sons of God,
but that it doth not yet appear, until we shall see God as he is.

Then we shall see God — not in his image, but in himself, so that there will be, in a manner, a mutual view.




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