Thomas Hull

Partial Sight Of Divine Things

[A Sermon Preached By Mr. Thomas Hull, At Hastings, April 10th, 1881.]

“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 Corinthians 13:12

The testimony of God is, “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass: the grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away; but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.” But we are told that the kingdom which is received by the saints is “a kingdom which cannot be moved.” They receive the immutable Word and grace of God, and His eternal kingdom is set up in their hearts; therefore they are partakers of eternal life, and this eternal life can never die—hence the things they receive can never be destroyed; and yet we do read of some things in the case of the people of God which shall be done away, but that will be by way of consummation. For instance, the time is coming when faith will be done away; what they believe now they will then see. So hope will be done away, for what they expect now they will then realize; so that, in the consummation of faith and hope, these two graces will be done away. They will then be no longer needed by the saints. The Apostle, speaking in this chapter of what we may call the three cardinal graces, says, “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” Faith is a blessed grace, and hope is a blessed grace; but charity is the greatest of all, because faith and hope will sink in vision and fruition, but charity, or love, will still remain. This is the consummation the people of God desire and seek, and short of this they cannot rest. They are predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ; and to all them which believe His name is most sweet, His Person glorious; and the more they know of His excellencies and His suitability, the more they love Him as the gift of God to them. But the most that we can know of Christ below is but little compared with that which remains to be revealed; so that in this respect we see but as “through a glass darkly;” we receive but very little of the knowledge of that fulness which is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Apostle, in speaking of these things, seeks to encourage the people of God, and to quicken in them the desire to attain to that perfect knowledge of the Lord to which they aspire. He here tells us that our knowledge of heavenly things is at present but dim: “For now we see through a glass, darkly;” and, at the best, we know only in part; but the time is coming when we shall see “face to face, and know even as also we are known.”

Now, in the first place, let us notice what is here declared, namely, that our sight and knowledge of divine things at the present is but partial. But what a mercy it is if we see anything in the light of Christ, because, unless we see things in His light, we see nothing rightly; and, though our sight may be but partial while we are here below, yet it is our mercy if we see things truly. Now, there is no seeing truly but by the light of the Spirit, and there is no knowing things truly apart from the teaching of the Spirit. Then, if we see anything in Christ’s light, it is because we have been enlightened by the Spirit of God; and, if we know anything rightly, it is because we have been instructed by the same blessed Spirit. “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all truth,” says Christ; and the Apostle, writing to the Colossians, says, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” All the people of God were in that darkness until the Lord set up His light within them. We see light only in God’s light. Look at the first work of grace. How was it that you found out you were a sinner, and were brought to prove the great distance at which sin had placed you from a holy God? How was it that you began to be in trouble about sin, and as to how matters stood betwixt God and your soul? You did not begin the trouble; but most likely you at first tried to get away from it, and you would have done so if you could. But you could not undo God’s work—you could not make that straight which He had made crooked. You walked up and down with your burden of sin and guilt, with your heart full of sorrow and your mind deeply distressed. The world could yield you no rest or peace. Go where you might, you found trouble and sorrow. Did you appoint it? Did you bring it about? How true is the description of the work of the Spirit which is given us in the third of John: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

Now, I daresay some of you that are here this morning can remember that, when God first began this work of grace in your heart, you were so unhinged and uneasy in your mind that you could not take pleasure in anything. You feared you should die, and you could not think how you could be saved. It may be, when you first came into that sad state, that you wondered why you could not do as you had done, nor enjoy the society you had formerly enjoyed. The reason was this—God had secretly dropped a bitter into that cup, and it has never been pleasant to you since, nor ever will be again. You perhaps have often feared lest you should sink back into your former position. But you have not; you have tasted the bitters of the world’s cup and you find it bitter to this day. Could you go back and take your fill of the things you once delighted in? ”Oh, no,” say you, “that is impossible.” Ah! there is the separation God has made: and that separation He still keeps up.

Now, from the time God dropped that bitter into your cup, you have looked upon the world differently from what you did before. Some of you can now say that “this is not your rest, because it is polluted.” The Lord has made you feel that it is a polluted world, a very Egypt to you; and, polluted as you feel your heart to be, yet He will not give you up to the pollutions of the world. Then, as the Lord began to exercise you thus, you began to seek after something better—the better portion. And how did you know there was a better portion? Why, the Lord, who had taken hold of your heart, had caused a seed of grace from heaven to fall therein, and by means of that treasure there has been a feeling of your need of Christ, and an exercise after God, so that from that time to this you have wanted to know Him, and to enjoy His favour. Thus He allured and drew you on with “the cords of a man and the bands of love,” and has brought you through many dark paths, fiery trials, and sore afflictions. And, wherever the Spirit of God takes the work in hand, He perfects it, in spite of earth and hell. The promise is, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.” Then thank God for a willing heart. Thus the Spirit of the Lord led you on, and made you willing to bow to and receive the Lord Jesus Christ—ah! not only willing, but anxious; and why this anxiety? Why, the Lord had breathed divine life into your soul, and divine life is also divine light, and the effect of divine life in the sinner’s heart is, he feels his ruined state, and the awful distance at which he is placed from God by reason of transgression; and it also produces in his heart a longing to have matters made right, and to be at peace with God.

The Lord, I know, is a Sovereign, and works in the hearts of His people according to the counsel of His own will; so perhaps some of you had a great deal of trouble in the first stages of the work of grace in your hearts. Your convictions perhaps were very deep, and you may have walked a considerable time in a great deal of trouble before the Lord appeared for your deliverance. This may have been the case, but, if you have lived many years, and have come some distance in your pilgrimage, still how little you know of yourselves or of Satan’s temptations, for you have only been learners hitherto. The light that the Lord set up in your heart was great at the first, and showed you much of the evil of sin; but you have had to prove more and more since then the bitter effects of the fall. Thus the Lord has continually been saying to you, “Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these.” He has shown you one dark part, and another gloomy, filthy cell, and has again and again taken you from one chamber of imagery to another, and yet such dark things are continually coming to light that all you can say at times is, with Job, “Behold, I am vile.” Well, even in these things we see in part only. But, speaking after the manner of men, God has taken pains to instruct a portion of us according to the measure it has pleased Him to impart, and the knowledge He has given us of self and sin makes us glad to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, my friends, how blessed it is to understand something of that precious truth, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Thus, as the Lord the Spirit instructed you, led you to Christ, and gave you a knowledge and an experience of Him, you found God had provided and laid up mercy for you in His dear and well-beloved Son; and the first time this light dawned in your heart, and you realized that the Lord Jesus Christ was your Friend, that He had suffered in your stead, bore your curse, drank the dregs of the cup of wrath, and by His own blood had made your peace; oh, what sweet feelings rose up in your heart toward Him! At me time you could not believe that He had espoused your cause, and stood in the breach between you and God; it appeared so mysterious. Ah! but, though redemption through His blood is a mystery, it is a very blessed one when thus apprehended by faith.

I visited a person this week who was in great affliction of body, and very anxious about her eternal state, because she had never known sufficient of the love and mercy of God in the Lord Jesus Christ to satisfy her soul of the forgiveness of her sins; and, as I stood by her, I begged of the Lord that He would open her heart to receive the blessed truths contained in a portion of one of Newton’s hymns which I quoted to her, and which has been very sweet to my heart from the time I :first knew the Lord Jesus Christ even to the present—

“But—since my Saviour stands between, 

In garments dyed in blood,

‘Tis He instead of me is seen, 

When I approach to God.

“What wondrous love, what mysteries, 

In this appointment shine!

My breaches of the law are His, 

And His obedience mine.”

Oh, when the eternal Spirit came to you in your trouble, and let a little of this blessed mystery into your heart, as He bade you turn your eyes from Mount Sinai to Calvary, what a springing up of hope, love, and joy there was in your heart! How you rejoiced that Christ should undertake your cause—that God the Father had laid help upon One that is mighty—and, when you saw Him “travelling in the greatness of His strength,” how you could take Him in the arms of faith and say, “My Beloved is white and ruddy, the Chiefest among ten thousand.” ”His countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars. His mouth is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely. This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” Now, from that time to this, has He not had a place in your heart, the throne in your affections? Let you get as low as you may, let you feel as vile as you may and as hopeless as you may, that divine illumination which was granted you at first confirmed you in one thing—the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ. And now where can you go but to Him? Who can give you help but Him? Who can make you blest but Him? There is no good hope but in Him—no peace but in Him—and when you grope like the blind for the wall, the language of your heart is, with Job, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to His seat! I would order my cause before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments.”

Now, are there poor sinners here this morning who are feeling after the Lord Jesus Christ in the dark, burdened, oppressed, afflicted, and in despair? And why? Because their hearts are distressed on account of sin, and disconsolate for want of Christ. Why, if there were none such as you in the world, we need not preach the Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Physician for sin-sick souls. If there were no lost sinners, what need would there be of His Gospel? Ah !hut it was for such He died, for such He lives, and for such He intercedes; and He has promised to be where His people meet, that He may bless such; and more than that, He has promised to seek such, and search them out of their holes and hiding-places; and, though they are faint and feeble, He does not disdain to put His own hand to the work and deliver them, for He says by the prophet Ezekiel, “Behold, I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out. As the shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered, so will I seek out My sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have· been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” One thing let me ask you. Do you feel you cannot do without the Lord? Are you miserable that you cannot find Him? Then, if so, God’s Word warrants me to tell you that you may come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Now, all God-taught souls are made, sooner or later, to feel that they cannot do without the Lord Jesus Christ, because they feel they are sinners indeed; and God, who gives them this knowledge and feeling of their sinnership, does it to draw them to Himself. Thus they are “chastened out of His law, that He may give them rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked.”

But, whatever we may know of the Lord and of His truth, it is only a partial knowledge, as the Apostle says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; “and” now I know in part; “for, though we look at these things by faith, and know them by the Spirit’s teaching, yet we only get a glimpse, which is at the best but a faint one. There is always something to obscure the vision, so that we never can see as much of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His truth as to be able to say that we have seen the whole.

But when we, at times, have a faith’s view of the Lord Jesus, we want a stronger and a clearer one, and such often sing with Hart—

“More frequent let Thy visits be, 

Or let them longer last;

I can do nothing without Thee;

Make haste, my God, make haste!”

You want to see Him in a clearer light, to know more of Him, and to walk up and down in the light of His countenance. Now, though you have only seen Him as “through a glass darkly,” yet He has won your affections, and they are fixed upon Him. “Oh,” says some one, “I do not feel that my heart is fixed. It is such a wandering heart, that I am often obliged to say with the poet—

“‘Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; 

Prone to leave the God I love.'”

Well, though your heart does wander, yet, if He has looked upon you, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Centre of your soul’s affections; and I can tell you this, friends—if Christ is not everything to you, He is nothing at all. Well, if your heart is fixed on Christ, though you wander to the end of the world, your language will be, “From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the Rock that is higher than I;” and all such feel that to have an experience of redeeming grace and dying love is a great mercy. When the Holy Ghost first let that mercy flow into your heart, you knew what it meant. You knew that God loved you; you knew that the Lord Jesus Christ was all your salvation. And why? Because He took the burden of your sin and guilt all away. He not only spoke to you about forgiveness, but He imparted it to you; and you did not then need any one to tell you your sins were forgiven, because you could enter into that blessed portion in the thirty-second Psalm, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile;” and you said, “I know what David meant, for I enjoy the same grace.” Then you could sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; ‘Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies.”

Well, some of you may be ready to say, “You are going too fast for me this morning. I am but a poor weakling—a poor fearful one—what am I to do?” Ah! what are you to do without Christ? without His precious blood and perfect obedience? What are you to do? I cannot tell you what you are to do without Him, but I can tell you what Christ will do for you. He has saved me, the chief of sinners, and I believe He is able and willing to do the same for you, for He says that He “came to seek and save the lost.” He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, the dying thief, Saul of Tarsus, and many others found it so; and some of us have found it so. Will you, then, turn away from Him this morning? ‘Will you seek another friend, another love? No; I believe you will say, “I want no other, for to be found in Him is what my soul desires.” Well, then, I am sure there is everything for your encouragement in the Word of God, for it speaks to those that think on His name, to those that hope in His mercy, to those that follow after Him, to those that are afflicted and distressed for want of Him. Now, tell me what these things are written for, if they are not written for the encouragement of you that are “following on to know the Lord.” His promise is sure to them that seek Him.

But some poor soul may say, “In days that are past I did hope I knew something of the Lord, though it was but little;” and now, because it appears so little, you fear that you did not know Him rightly, and so the little you know makes you feel to want to know more of Him. You want these matters made right. Well, the blessed Spirit has not given up His work yet. There are many people in this day that think they can do without the work of the Holy Ghost, but it is our mercy that we cannot. It is He that is to testify of Christ; He must take of the things of Christ, and show them unto you; and this is what you want—His power, the anointing which is truth and no lie. You want the inward work of the Holy Ghost, that you may know and understand the mystery of Christ and of God. Then I say to each poor weakling, “Follow on to know the Lord.” Well, I hope many of us are following on to know Him, but sometimes we seem to be following at a great distance, and we are such dull scholars, so slow to learn. Why, friends, I have to this very day to pray “that I may follow Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made comformable unto His death.” Only this morning I was thinking, “Oh, how little I know of the Lord!” and I sunk down very low with respect to my knowledge of divine things. Oh, how much I feel to need, the revivings and renewings of the Holy Ghost! I find I am but a learner in the school of Christ—ah! and a very dull scholar too. I am so stupid, so carnal, so contracted in myself, and so poor in the things of Christ. Sometimes I say to the Lord, “I feel to be quite out of heart with respect to ever knowing Thee as I desire.” But there is another thing, friends. What the Lord has taught me I cannot give up, neither do I want to do so. No, I hope the Lord will enable me to hold my confidence firm unto the end, for, though I only see now as “through a glass darkly,” I do not wish to cast it away; but with the disciples I would say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

Come, you little ones, are you prepared to give these things up, and to say they are nothing worth? No; I know your poor heart clings to the Lord, to His Gospel, His people, and His ways; and, as you are enabled to look back and trace those things which He has revealed in your soul, you quite hope at times that He has given you a taste of His love, and some experience of His revealed grace and manifested power. But now you want Him to put His hand again to the work, and remove everything that now obscures the light, so that you may be enabled to say, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.”

Then, again, in His providences, too, we see the Lord but as “through a glass darkly.” Yes, there are many things in providence that we cannot understand. We cannot see how these trials and cross providences belong to the covenant; but they do although there is so much darkness about them, and they seem to be such a mystery—yea, the very reverse of gracious providences, and so unlike the dealings of a God of loving-kindness; and, if we try to find our case set forth in the Lord’s dealings with His people, as recorded in His Word, our path seems quite different from theirs. If we could see that our path compared with that of one of the Lord’s saints, we think we should be of good heart; but it seems so opposite to that, and so contrary to what we desire. And then at times the trial produces feelings so contrary to what we would have, and the question is asked, “Would these cross providences try my temper, and stir up such dreadful evils in my heart, if the love of God was there? Would things be so contrary in providence, would there be so many and such weighty crosses, and would one thing after another be blighted, if I was interested in His covenant love?” Well, the Lord knows best what weights we need; He knows what and where we are. He knows our weakness, and the infirmities of the mind as well as those of the body; yea, He knows all about our natural dispositions, and remembers that we are dust.

And, friends, if it had not been for some of these trying dispensations and cross providences, I do not know where I should have wandered to. If the Lord had not held me in, I know not where my rebellious heart might have led me; and if He had not afflicted me, overturned my projects, stirred up my nest, and that in a very painful way too, I know not what sad places I might have been content to sit down in. But I have to bless Him for all these things, and with the poet I can often say—

“He sees me often overcome, 

And pities my distress,

And bids affliction drive me home, 

To anchor on His grace.”

For, as I told you a little while back, when I come into suffering, affliction, and trial, I feel to be so desolate unless the Lord is with me. The desolation of my heart at these times is indescribable, for without Him the world is but a void. Then I long for His return, for the tokens of His love, for the smiles of His face, and for a word of grace and peace; and, when He does come to those in such a case, as He has promised, “I will see you again,” how the words He speaks are treasured up! They are precious in our eyes and sweet to our heart.

Well, friends, the Lord may be following some of you in His providence with trial upon trial, tribulation upon tribulation, and cross upon cross; and what for? Why, that you may not seek your rest here. The rest you are seeking is not below; and so He follows you up with crosses and losses, cutting dispensations and sore afflictions, that you may seek your all in Him; and in all these things you learn something of the wisdom and goodness of God, yet we only “know in part,” because “we see through a glass darkly.”

We will now glance at the latter part of the subject—the perfect knowledge promised; for, although we now “see through a glass darkly,” and know only in part, the day is coming when, as the text says, “Then shall I know even as also I am known.” Even in this life the spiritual knowledge of the saints is an increasing one. Thus, with respect to the Ephesian Church, the Apostle Paul prayed “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge;” and, if your heart is set upon knowing Christ, you will follow after Him; and the gracious promise concerning those that are following after Christ is, “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord;” and all you weaklings in faith that are exercised to know Christ for yourselves will find this promise true. He has set these things before you, and He will be faithful to His Word. You cannot be exercised about these things if your heart is not set upon Him; for, if your heart is not set upon Christ, it will follow after worldly things; but, if you are concerned about the things of Christ—if He is the chief thing with you—then your prayer will be, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;” and the Lord the Spirit will answer that prayer. He will impart unto you that knowledge, and He will promote in you that grace, so there will be a growing in grace and an increasing in knowledge and understanding.

But the farther you reach in these things, the greater will be the stretch before you; and the more you realize of “Christ in you the hope of glory,” the more will the desire burn in your heart to be like Him, and to “see Him as He is.” Have you ever watched the effect of the magnet upon the needle? When it comes near enough to affect it, you will see at first a slight movement of the needle; move it nearer, and the agitation becomes greater; and then, if you put it nearer still, the needle will dart forward and close with the magnet; or, again, it may be observed in the case of any substance falling to the earth, that, as it nears the centre of gravity, so the rapidity of its movement is increased. Just so it is with the sinner that is following after the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Centre to which the soul tends, and the nearer we approach unto Him, the more the heart is drawn, and the more intensely the desire burns; and thus you will find, in the case of some of the dying saints, they are anxious to drop the clay and quit the world, that they may see Him whom here unseen they love, without a veil between; and the nearer they approach unto Him, the more intense is their longing for the hour when the veil will be drawn aside, and they shall be with Him, and “see Him as He is.”

Now, what the Lord has set before His people in His Word, and caused them to desire to obtain, that will be surely received by them. Not one good thing which the Lord has promised His people shall fail; not one word on which He has caused them to hope will be unfulfilled. And oh, friends, do we not now at times realize the Lord’s faithfulness when He favours us with an answer to our prayers? Does He not do for us far beyond what we expect? And, when He lifts up upon us the light of His countenance, we find His love to be sweeter than life itself. Well, if it is so while here below, what must it be to be where He is? We may say in the language of Toplady—

“If such the sweetness of the streams, 

What must the Fountain be,

Where saints and angels draw their bliss 

Immediately from Thee?”

Oh, what a mercy, friends, to have these things set before our faith, to have our hearts set upon that which God has promised to bestow, and to be among the number that are “following on to know the Lord”!

Well, though we know the Lord only in part, yet, if He gives us to know that He is leading us aright, that His providences are right, and the way is right, this satisfies us as to the present; for—

“The way we walk can not be wrong 

If Jesus be but there.”

And really, friends, the Lord does so satisfy my heart at times that I can bless His name for all; and, as I trace His hand, I tell Him that He has led me by a right way, and the language of my heart is, “Choose Thou the way and still lead on.”

Well, friends, when we get above, and our vision is no more obscured by this mortal coil—when we see as we are seen—I believe we shall see more of the dreadful depths of the fall than ever we have done here below; not that we shall feel anything of the pain and shame that now arise from a consciousness of the guilt of sin—no, nothing of the kind; but we shall see more fully than we can do now what we have been saved from, and we shall know Him who has saved us as we cannot know Him now, for we shall know as we are known; and, by seeing more fully what we have been saved from, we shall sing that sweet song the louder, “Unto Him who hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen;” and we shall then see more of God’s preserving and preventing grace than we can either know or conceive here. Many dangers and deliverances we have not understood here will then be made clear to our view: “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.” Thus the joy of the saints in heaven will, I believe, be enhanced by a clear view of many circumstances which we cannot now enter into, and we shall see that He who has redeemed us has ordered all things connected with our salvation well. Oh, what wisdom, power, and beauty will there appear in His works and ways, and what praise and adoration will spring forth as the glorious host of the redeemed stand before the throne of God and the Lamb, and acknowledge that “He has done all things well”? May you and I thus stand and bow before Him among that blessed number, and He shall bear the glory.

Thomas Hull (1831-?) was a High-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. In 1870, he was appointed pastor of the church meeting at Ebenezer Chapel, Hastings, a position he held for thirty-six years. He also served as editor for twenty-eight years of the monthly magazines the “Sower” and the “Little Gleaner”, publications which were founded by Septimus Sears.