Immortality and Recognition
January 8th, 1956 @ 10:50 AM
IMMORTALITY AND RECOGNITION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 13:9-12
1-8-56 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word of God, we have come to the last part of the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, and the title of the sermon is Immortality and Recognition, or if I could place it in the form of a question: "Shall We Know Each Other in Heaven?"
Now the reading of the text is at the beginning of the ninth verse and through the twelfth in the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter:
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect –
is full –
is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly –
but then full orbed, facetoface: now I know just an outline, just a shadow, just a part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
[1 Corinthians 13:9-12]
Paul began this thirteenth chapter with a comparison of the most excellent of all the graces of God. You see, the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter is a delineation of the different gifts of the Spirit: the gift of tongues, the gift of miracles, the gift of healings, the gift of helps, the gift of governments, the gift of interpretations – all of those different gifts of the Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-31].
But at the close of the twelfth chapter, he said: "I covet for you and would want you to covet for yourself the best gifts of the Spirit; and yet I show you the most excellent grace of all" [from 1 Corinthians 12:31]. For, he said – and this is the way the chapter begins – for, he says, "These gifts of the Spirit of God, they are given to different people. One has this gift, and another has another gift, but the grace of the love of God can be everybody’s possession" [based on 1 Corinthians 12:4-26]. He said in that twelfth chapter – that some by these gifts are fitted for this service and some by these gifts are fitted for another service, but this gift of the love of God can be like a star shining on every breast. All of us can have it.
He said these gifts of the Holy Spirit – of miracles, and governments, and tongues, and prophecies – he says those gifts are temporal. We have them for a moment, then, like a cloud, do they vanish away. But this gift of the grace of God and the love of the Lord, this is an eternal gift. Then he elaborates upon it, and that’s where this passage came from. For, he says: "Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail" [1 Corinthians 13:8] – that is, the prophetic gift is given to a man for a while, then it’s gone away. There were four hundred years, for example, between Malachi and the coming of John the Baptist that there was no prophetic gift at all.
"Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail" [1 Corinthians 13:8]. The prophet is for a moment and he’s gone, and his prophesy is but for a revelation, then it’s done with, or, "whether there be tongues, they shall cease" [1 Corinthians 13:8]. This glorious ecstatic praise of God is itself but for a moment, then it’s gone forever. Or "whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away" [1 Corinthians 13:8]. What he means is, we know just such a fragment, such a part, such a little, but when the day comes that we fully know, all these little parts and fragmentswill be useless and done away, for – and he elaborates – "we know in part, and we prophesy in part" [1 Corinthians 13:9] – just a little piece.
No man knows the full-orbed knowledge and revelation of God, just a little facet. But "when that which is perfect is come" [1 Corinthians 13:10] – the whole abounding glory and knowledge and revelation of God – when we see it fully and know it perfectly, then these little parts shall be done away. And he illustrates it: "When I was a child, I understood as a child, such a little, and I spoke as a child, almost babblingly; but when I became a man, my understanding was far greater and larger, and I put away all those little babblings of the child [from 1 Corinthians 13:11].
And then he likens it to our spiritual maturity and realization in God. For now, he says, "Here in this dark world, we see through a glass" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. They didn’t have glass like we have transparent glass, but the kind of a glass – the only kind they had then or knew then – was almost like just ordinary sand fused together. It was opaque, most so, for now he says: "It’s as looking through a glass dimly, darkly, weakly" – just an outline, just a shadow – "but someday, face to face" [1 Corinthians 13:12].
As First John says: "We shall see Him as He is" [1 John 3:2] in all of the glory and beauty of His person. "Then face to face: now I know in part" – how little, how fragmentary, how small – "now I know in part; but then someday shall I know even as also I am known" [1 Corinthians 13:12] – even as God knows me. Then shall I know even as God knows the whole truth, the whole understanding, the whole revelation like we sing in the song, "and we will understand it better by and by" ["We’ll Understand It Better By and By," by Charles A. Tindley, 1905]
Well that’s the passage. Now to speak of it. Shall we know in glory? Shall we? I followed a glorious gospel minister in Muskogee, Oklahoma: Dr. A. N. Hall. For a while, he was pastor of the Gaston Avenue Church here in Dallas. He was pastor of that wonderful church for twenty-nine years, and upon his death they asked me to come and preach in his pulpit.
I remember something that he said. One day a man asked him, "Dr. Hall, Pastor, will we know one another in heaven?" And he replied, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, he replied, "Sir, we will not really know one another until we get to heaven."
"Then shall I know even as I am known" [1 Corinthians 13:12] for this thing of immortality and recognition are logically inseparable. Any reason or any argument or any revelation that would substantiate the one will also substantiate the other. It would be annihilation for us to picture heaven as a limbo, as a conglomerate without knowledge, without response, without sensitivity, without recognition. Annihilation would be just as bad, just as much, or just as good.
To be recognized, to know, is the very essence of immortality itself. If this life is to continue at all, then it is to continue with you being you, and we being ourselves, and I being I. If I’m not I, and you’re not you, and we’re just lost in a great mechanical existence, then I say annihilation – to pass into nothing, to quit being – would be just as well.
Well, what about annihilation? What about passing into nothingness? What about dying and dying forever? A lot about it.
For one thing, there has always been in the human soul, in every generation and in every century and in every tribe, however low and primitive, there has always been in the human soul the persuasion that human life never ends – that it’s immortal. And I say the human instinct is primitive and it is dominant and it is universal.
Walking among those sarcophagi in the ancient land of Egypt, you will be astonished. You can hardly believe with what infinite pains that they go to to provide for the life in the other world. Here’s his chariot. There are his boats. Here are all of the appurtenances for the life that is yet to come: a highly developed civilization, ancient Egypt.
When you go to the Mesa Verde in the southwestern part of [Colorado] and look at the remains of those cliff-dwelling primitive Indians, there is the same thing. Here’s the Indian’s bow and his arrow; here are the bowls and all of the other things that are vital to his life in the other world. That comes out of the deep and primitive instincts of the soul.
And it is universal. Plato [428-348 BCE], the philosopher, felt it. Virgil [70-19 BCE], the matchless Latin poet, sang of it. Reading one of these books of science: to my amazement, in the last part of the chapters – he was a mathematician and one of the greatest of his day, a professor in the university – in the last part of the chapters in that book on science, on mathematics, he somehow came to speak of his former infidelity, his unbelief in immortality and a life that was yet to come. Then this man says, "My mother died, and then my father died." And he added, "For some reason that I cannot explain, I have come to believe that my father and my mother are still alive. I have no reason for it. I cannot explain it. All I know is that I just sense it. I’m just persuaded of it. I just believe it in my heart. They have not died. Somewhere they still live." Those are primitive. Those are the instincts of immortality.
What about this annihilation? Much about it, much about it. What could be the purpose of life if when we stand at an open grave and bury our dead and finally fall into the open pit ourselves, is that it? Is that it? Thinking, living, breathing, dying, and all of it doubly farcical because of our capacity to see it, and to feel it, and to be touched by its awful woe, and its tears, and its sorrow. Is that life? Is that it – all of these wonderful wealth of being, these stately columns of intellectual understanding, and all of it marching away to nothingness?
Life, just a meteoric flash; life, just a futile thing hunting for shadows; life, just a strange interlude in a song that is never sung: is that its meaning and its purpose? Then wouldn’t it be better not to live? Would it be better never to have been born? Born to tragedy, born to disappointment and frustration, born to sorrow, to vanity, to emptiness, to vacuity, born to the grave and that’s all. That’s all.
Somehow, I say, the human soul hears the strains of a song that is never fully sung until another day and another world. This life seems to be a rehearsal for the great concert that is yet to be played. This is the beginning and the preparation for a vast glory that is yet to come.
What about annihilation? Much about it. The very heart of religion, and especially of the faith of the Hebrews and of the faith of their successors in the revelation of God – the churches of Christ, the Christian people – the very heart of the Christian faith, of religion itself, I say, is bound up and wrapped up in that doctrine of the life that is yet to come [1 Corinthians 15:17-19].
Listen. Listen in the benedictory prayer: "The love of God, our Father, and the grace of Christ, our Savior, and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit be with you now." And how long? Until the ties of death snap it and break it and destroy it.Is that religion, and is that the love of God, and is that the grace of Christ, and is that the ableness of the Holy Spirit – until death shall break and destroy that brittle thread? Ah, if the life of God’s children is not able to be preserved beyond these feeble and troublous days, what is faith, and what is religion, and what is God, and what is our Lord and Savior?
Listen. Listen. Listen. In the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Genesis, it says:
And Sarah –
the beloved and beautiful wife of Abraham, whom he loved –
and Sarah died . . . in Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,
"I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place. . . that I may bury my dead out of my sight."
No man ever loved a woman more than Abraham loved Sarah, and Sarah loved Abraham. But the day came when Abraham stood up from his mourning and his weeping, saying, "that I might place my dead out of my sight" [Genesis 23:4]. That inevitable hour comes for every home, and every family, and every friend, and every circle: "that I might place my son out of my sight; that I might bury my brother out of my sight; that I might bury my father and my mother out of my sight. I can bear to look upon them no more." That’s death. That’s death.
Then what? Then what? I say the very basis of religion is this. Listen to it: "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will pick me up" [Psalm 27:10]. When my life is a burden and my death is of distress and of disintegration and of decay, then what? Then the Lord will pick us up. That’s the faith. That’s religion. That’s the love of God. And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit, its ties are unbreakable. They are formed in the resurrection and they reach beyond death, and the grave, and into the life that is yet to come.
All right. Then what of recognition? I have said that the two are logically inseparable. Whatever will substantiate immortality will substantiate recognition. If there is an immortality, then it is that immortality that we’ll be somebody, that we’ll be people, that we’ll be named, that you’ll be you, and I will be I, and we will be ourselves.
"Why is this sure, pastor?" For a lot of sureties, for many certainties. And I begin with my text. You listen to it: "Now we see through an opaque glass" [1 Corinthians 13:12] – just a shadow – but someday, as God shall look upon us, we shall look upon God "face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. Do you recognize there, three times there, "Now I know in part; then shall I know even as also I am known"? Bless your heart. You know what that word is? I can translate it better than that, better than that, though in no place – that is, most places – it is translated just like this. The word is epignōskō.
Let me translate epignōskō for you in a way that you can see how you do it yourself. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke you have what Renan [Joseph Ernest Renan, 1823-1892] calls the most beautiful story in the world. The two are on their way to Emmaus, and as they walk along on the way to Emmaus with their heads down and sad – Jesus has been crucified and buried, and every hope they ever had has been dashed into the earth – and as they walk along and are sad, the story says Jesus Himself drew near and got in step with them, walked along with them [Luke 24:13-15]. Then the Bible says, "But their eyes were holden, that they did not epignōskō Him" [Luke 24:16]. Now you translate it. In the Bible, it’s that they didn’t "know Him," but in the Greek, it’s "epignōskō Him" [Luke 24:16]. All right, now that same word is used again. Now listen to it:
And He made as though He would go on –
as they turned to go into their home at Emmaus –
And they said, "Oh, abide with us: the sun is set and evening is nigh, the twilight’s come. Come and break bread with us."
So He went in and broke bread with them.
[from Luke 24:28-30]
And then the story says and while He broke bread with them, their eyes – and when He’d said the blessing and He broke bread, their eyes were open that theyepignōskō Him [Luke 24:30-31].
Now you translate it. The simplest way to translate it would be that they "recognized" Him. He went along with them, and they didn’t epignōskō Him. They didn’t recognize Him. Then when He said the blessing, they looked, and their eyes were opened, and they epignōskō Him: "and they knew Him" [Luke 24:31]. That is, they recognized Him – all of those things and memories. It was Jesus. It was He. It was He. That’s the word here. That’s the word here: "Now, now I hardly recognize, so little do I penetrate, so little. But then shall I recognize even as I am recognized" [from 1 Corinthians 13:12].
Recognition in glory: now I say, there’s much about that, much about that. For one thing, for one thing, the inhabitants in glory have names. They’re somebody. Jesus, one time, said in the tenth chapter in the Book of John, He said: "As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father" [John 10:15].
Jesus is somebody. He’s in glory [Ephesians 1:20], and His recognitions are so apparent, so apparent. They recognized Him by His voice. Mary did [John 20:16]. Mary did by the way He pronounced her name. It was the way Jesus said it. It was His holy voice.
They recognized Him by that holy and precious body. It had marks on it. There were prints of nails in His hands [John 20:20]. There was a scar in His side. It was the Lord Jesus Himself. And He said to one of His disciples that doubted: "You come and put your finger in that great open scar and put your hand in My side [John 20:27]. A spirit hath not flesh and bones such as ye see Me have" [Luke 24:39]. It was the Lord. It was the Lord.
It was like John’s cry to Simon Peter when, on the dim outline of the gray mist of the morning, just a shadow was on the shore. But when the miracle came to pass [John 21:3-6], John’s intuition said to Simon, "Simon, who is that? It’s the Lord! That’s the Lord" [from John 21:7]. That is, he recognized Him. "It’s Jesus. It’s the Lord. There’s Somebody up there."
In the first chapter in the Book of Luke, when Gabriel stands on the right side of the golden altar, he introduces himself like I would introduce myself to a stranger: "You have not seen me before. I am the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, so gloriously glad to be, and my name is so and so." Gabriel introduced himself. "I am Gabriel," he said [Luke 1:19]. "I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God." Gabriel, a name; he’s somebody. Michael – the archangel Michael – he has a name, and he wars for God and he stands for the people of God [Daniel 10:13, 21, 12:1; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7]. But he has a name. His name is Michael, Michael.
What does the tenth chapter of the Book of John say about us? Jesus says about us, says about His sheep, He says: "I call My sheep by name," [John 10:3] – by name. I could not imagine a family and the father and the mother look out over the conglomerate of their children, they’re just masses of humanity to them. No. "These are my children. That’s Jim. I can tell you a lot about Jim; and that’s Tom, and I can tell you a lot about Tom. And this is Mary, and this is Elizabeth." Oh, how much do their names mean to us! And we recognize them. This is Jim, and Tom, and Mary. And we’rethat way to God – not lost in an ocean of humanity, not just in a limbo or conglomerate, but we’re precious in His sight [Luke 12:7]. And He calls us by our names [John 10:3], and we recognize Him [John 10:4], and He recognizes us [John 10:14].
Bless your heart. To me the very essence of the warmth and richness of life itself is this mutual recognition. That’s what it is. That’s life itself. If the recognition is all on one side and not on the other, then it’s nothing at all, nothing at all. But what makes life beautiful and precious is its mutualness, its mutuality, its interrelatedness, its responsiveness. Here are father and mother, and they’retogether. Here’s husband and wife, and they’retogether. Here are the parents and the children, and they’retogether. Here’s a pastor and his people, and they’retogether. Here are two friends, and they’retogether. And what makes life so gloriously rich is they respond:to love and to be loved, to give and to take, to say and have somebody listen, to make an overture and there’s a response – that’s life itself. And I say without that, it isn’t life – not life, not really to live.
Could I illustrate it? Here is a naturalist, a wonderfully learned and trained scientist, and he knows everything about this earth in which he lives. He knows the age of all the rocks, and he can tell you the story of them. And he knows the rivers and the mountains and the prairies and the plains and the insects. And he knows all about them. But the tragedy is, they don’t know him. They don’t recognize him. No prairies and plains and rocks and rivers and mountains could ever respond. They could never know him. And his intelligence speaks itself out on a passiveness and unresponsive and unrecognized world.
That’s the reason that, to me, the great argument for God’s intervention in human history in this little planet is God’s stars don’t know God. God’s oceans and God’s planets don’t know God. The only people who can think God’s thoughts and love God are God’s people. That’s the reason He cares for us. That’s the reason His love is for us because we can love Him back. And to me, that’s the reason God created us – so we could talk to Him and respond to Him and show Him love and warmth and affection.
That’s about all you want out of your own children. You don’t want what they have. God doesn’t want what we got. He wants us: to talk with us, we talk to Him; to love Him and He love us. That’s life. It’s the mutualness of it. It’s the recognition of it. That’s it. That’s it.
What about this thing of recognition? "Then shall I know even as I’m known" [1 Corinthians 12:13]. Then shall I recognize, even as also I am recognized. How many times in the Bible is it just that way – just so? Why look.
When that witch of Endor raised Samuel, and in the providence of God – and I don’t understand all these things, I just read them in the Book. I just read them in the Word and marvel at it, wonder at God. When the witch of Endor raised Samuel, and the Lord permitted him to return back, Saul recognized him immediately – immediately [1 Samuel 28:8-15]. There was Samuel, the prophet of God, and Saul recognized him immediately.
I do not understand these things, but on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John, and the Lord, exalted and glorified [Matthew 17:1-2] – a preview of the glory of our Savior yet to come – while they were on the mountain, there appeared to Jesus Moses and Elijah talking to Him [Matthew 17:3]. How did Peter, James, and John recognize Moses? And how did they know that was Elijah? I do not know; I don’t understand. All I read is that when they saw them they recognized them [Matthew 17:4]. That is Moses and that is Elijah. They knew him. They knew him. That’s recognition. That’s the life that is to come.
In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, they know Abraham and they know each other [Luke 16:19-31].
The Lord Jesus said to Mary and Martha as they cried, "Mary, Martha, thy brother shall rise again" [John 11:23]. Do you see? "Thy brother shall rise again. Thy brother shall rise again" – "thy brother."
When David sorrowed over that boy who died, whom the Lord struck [2 Samuel 12:13-14], when he was told the child was dead, he rose and said, "No need to weep any longer. No need to weep any longer. He will not return to me, but I will go to him" – to him [from 2 Samuel 12:23].
The Lord Jesus said to the thief who repented, He said to him when the thief said, "Lord, remember me, the thief; remember me," the Lord said, "Today, thou shalt be with Me in paradise" [Luke 23:39, 42-43]. Thesupposition underlying is this: that the thief would recognize Him. Otherwise, the sentence means nothing at all. The thief would know Him in glory, in the world that is yet to come. Recognition in heaven: "Then shall I know even as also I am known" [1 Corinthians 13:12].
Could I close? These minutes pass so quickly. Could I close? Just one other thing. Did you ever talk to a dear friend, or were you ever there yourself when one of God’s saints was translated to glory? Did you ever see and hear some of those things? The time has come to this house of sorrow and tears to be exchanged for the house not made with hands in heaven [2 Corinthians 5:1], and a dear old saint is looking through the gates of glory. And what do they say? "Why, look there," and they’ll name a child, a friend, a loved one.
Do you remember the close of Lottie Moon’s [1840-1912] life – incomparable, sweet and dedicated missionary? On the ship coming back home, died on the ship. But in that last moment, the little, thin, wasted woman of a missionary, she began to clasp and unclasp her hands, clasp and unclasp her hands in Chinese greeting. And she began to call the names of her Pingtu Christians who had died years and years before. What was she doing? She was greeting those Chinese friends as she looked through the gates of glory, and she called them by name and clasped and unclasped her hands.
This is not a theological doctrine. This is not an arid and barren fact. This is the gospel message. This is the hope in Jesus Christ. This is God working through us. This is heaven itself. Hark! Listen! Listen, and if you will, you can hear the music of the activity that fills the streets of the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-2]. Listen, listen! You can hear their feet hurrying over the golden pavement [Revelation 21:21]. Listen, listen! You can hear their voices calling to one another in the joy of service. Listen, listen! You can hear the shouts of the children, the boys and girls as they play together. Listen, listen! You can hear the angels sing, "O holy, holy, holy! O glory, glory, glory!"
How it shall be I don’t need to know. I don’t understand. A mother and her son, a husband and his wife; I do not know. I don’t need to know. I just believe the Word when it says, "Now I see so dimly, so weakly, now through the glass darkly. I understand such a little, but someday it’ll all be just as God Himself could make it be" [from 1 Corinthians 13:12]: full, marvelous, incomparable, beyond what eye hath ever seen or ear hath ever heard or what hath ever entered into the heart of a man [1 Corinthians 2:9] when I know, when I know, even as I am known [from 1 Corinthians 13:12].
Now we sing our song; and while we sing it, somebody you, give your heart to this faith and this persuasion: "I will take the Lord as my Savior. I will give Him my heart and my life. And here I come, and here I am." Somebody you, put your life in the church as God shall say and lead the way. As the Spirit shall call while we sing this appeal, you come, you come. Give the pastor your hand. Give your heart to God. "There’s a whole family of us. We’re all coming, pastor, all of us." While we sing this song, anywhere, you, you come while we stand and while we sing.