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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 1

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-20




2 Corinthians 1:1-20.

The second letter to the Corinthians grows out of the first and its development. Paul wrote it. We know that the first letter was written at Ephesus just before Pentecost, In the spring. This letter was written soon afterwards, probably in the summer, A.D. 57.

Acts 19:21-22 tells us how he left Ephesus, where he wrote the first letter; also, Acts 20:1. In this letter, 2 Corinthians 7:5-13, after leaving Ephesus he came to Troas, the site of ancient Troy, whence he set out to establish the gospel in Europe on a previous expedition. At Troas he had appointed a rendezvous with Titus, who took the first letter to Corinth. He told Titus to meet him at Troas and report about the reception of that letter. When he got to Troas our letter tells us that he was distressed in mind about not meeting Titus and hearing the effect of his first letter – so distressed that he could not work, though a great door was opened to him. So he left Troas and crossed over into Macedonia. This letter tells us that in Macedonia, not specifying where, Titus came to him with the report of the reception of the first letter. On the reception of that report he wrote this second letter and sent it back by Titus. So his letter grows out of the report of Titus. In studying its parts we can easily find out what the report was, and thereby get the key to the occasion of the letter.

Titus reports first, that when he got to Corinth, the other letter was well received, but that they received him in fear and trembling. We find that statement in 2 Corinthians 7:15. He states, in the second place, that the majority of the church were deeply penitent over the wrongs that had provoked the first letter, particularly with reference to this case of fornication in the church. When we study the character of that repentance we find one of the best lessons on repentance to be found in the Word of God. He then states that under this penitence the church excluded the erring man, and that the erring man himself was made penitent by the action of the church and Paul’s letter. He then tells Paul that he had commenced to take the collection for which he had been sent, and that it was progressing very well, though not completed yet. All that was very satisfactory and lifted a great burden off Paul’s heart.

But Titus brought a mixed report. Some of it was bad. He reported that some members of the church were unequally yoked with unbelievers, who by their association with heathen in the festivals and games disqualified themselves for the true Christian life.

A very distinguished Alabama lady wrote me once about dancing and said, "I found that, while it seemed to be innocent per se, its spirit was such that it became a foe to grace in my heart." She was a rich woman belonging to the better class of the old-time Southern people. Some of her kinsfolk were members of my church, which brought about the correspondence. The letter showed how very difficult it is for one in social life to keep from doing many things hurtful to Christian character and influence. So this report from Titus showed that many Corinthians had crippled their influence by social entanglements.

His report further showed that while the minority of the church accepted and acted upon Paul’s letter, yet the spirit of debate, strife, envy, and jealousy was rife. Thirty-five years after Paul is dead, when Clement writes his first letter to this same church, we find that while they have followed Paul’s commandments in nearly everything, still there remained that spirit of debate. While not inspired, Clement’s letter is one of the very best in church history. That was not pleasing news, but Titus had some much more unpleasant news, to wit: There was an incorrigible minority in the church who denounced Paul for writing instead of coming to them, saying that he kept promising, but did not keep his word; instead of coming he sends a letter, which was very weighty indeed, but he knew that in bodily presence he was weak and his speech was contemptible, and so he got out of his promise by writing a letter. They still questioned his apostolic authority, saying that he had never seen the Lord in the flesh, and was not one of the original twelve; that the fact that he worked for his living instead of demanding apostolic support showed that he was conscious of the weakness of his apostolic claim’ that he did not demand a support for himself and wife as Peter and others did; that he did not have the true gospel which was taught by James and Peter. On ’account of this mixed news we have a mixed letter, just about as mixed a letter as was ever written.

In general terms this letter is divided into three parts. 2 Corinthians 1-7, roughly speaking, are devoted to a discussion of Paul’s ministry and its methods. 2 Corinthians 8-9 are devoted to the great collection which he is still urging to be completed. 2 Corinthians 10-13 are devoted to meeting the criticisms of the incorrigible minority. There is a vast number of subdivisions. In these last chapters he is fighting a battle, not for his own life, but for the very life of the gospel itself. Those last chapters are very stern. They disclose a mortal combat.

By whom did Paul send this letter? By Titus, instructing him to finish that collection, and sends with Titus the messenger of the churches who had been chosen to take charge of the collections elsewhere. There is a reference to two of these messengers that has put the world to guessing who they were. These three men go back to Corinth with this letter;

In the character of the letter it is utterly unlike any other in the New Testament. If a window had been opened so that we could look right into Paul’s heart, it would illustrate this letter. It brings out his personality more than any other or all the rest of his writings and speeches. It brings to light the secrets of his history that never would have been known but for this opposition. The picture of the man contained in this letter cannot be filled out in its outlines by any other man that ever lived on the face of the earth. One man, being asked the key word of this letter, said, "affliction." Paul tells of his sufferings and their purpose. Another man said that the key word was "boasting"; he used the word "boasting" about twenty-two times in all the rest of his letters and twenty-nine times in this letter. In other words, he is forced to refer to himself and discuss himself in order to furnish those who befriend him the means to reply to his adversaries. He has to put the weapons into their hands, since they don’t know these things as he knew them.

We are now ready to take up the letter itself. Before I get through with it I will give a more extensive outline. All that I have discussed so far has been under the head of histopical introduction.

The first item of the outline is, the salutation (2 Corinthians 1:1-2): "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." We have already learned how Paul opens a letter with a salutation, so we pass at once to the thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). It was Paul’s habit, after saluting properly, to express whatever grounds for thanksgiving he had, and just look at this:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comforts; who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also aboundeth through Christ. But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which worketh in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is steadfast; knowing that, as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so also are ye of the comfort."

He thus prepares the way to discuss the most unparalleled sufferings and afflictions, and then gets his thanksgiving out of them. His thanksgiving is that God so comforts in those afflictions that it enables him to comfort other people in their afflictions. If one were about to write a letter to a far-off friend, and after the salutation he should commence: "I have great reason to be thankful. Yesterday I broke my leg. Day before yesterday my house was burned, and the week before that my horse died, and today I was robbed, and I learned this evening that I am to be sent to jail," it would startle the friend. So a man who can get a thanksgiving out of Paul’s bill of fare has a power of gratitude in him that cannot be exceeded.

I once heard of an old brother from whom one could not get a single doleful statement, no matter what the circumstances were. He would not whine, nor mouth, nor complain. Once, when there did not seem a thing left to him on earth, he got up and said, "Brethren, I am thankful because the only two teeth in my head meet."

Commencing with 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul begins to refer to some of those sufferings (an account of the same sufferings is given in Acts 19) : "For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighted down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life; yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead." Couple this with, "If after the manner of men I fought with beasts at Ephesus." This language here, coupled with the language about fighting with beasts, makes me believe that at one time Paul was thrown into the arena, and, as he had once been stoned and accounted for dead, and the brethren came and worked until they brought him back to life, so here he says of God, "Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver; on whom we have set our hope that he will also still deliver us." That is one of the afflictions, and one of his sufferings. He had been sentenced to death. The sentence had been executed. God had delivered him from death, and he believed that God would continue to deliver him.

He continues: "Ye also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, many thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf." See how he gets his thanksgiving again: "God delivered me, but it came partly through your supplication. You and a great many other people were praying for Paul." So when Peter was put in jail, the church met and prayed for him, and God delivered Peter. Paul thus shows how other people could get comfort out of his sufferings if they would take it. How many people are pessimists! Mr. Ready-to-Halt, Mr. Despondency, Mr. Man-with-the-Blues, the man against whom everything is working, now, if your spiritual liver gets out of order in that direction, I prescribe for you a generous dose of the thankful spirit of Paul.

The next item in the outline is his defense against some accusations that had been made and reported to him by Titus. That is found in verse 13. Some of them had accused Paul of "wire-pulling" by a secret letter. I heard of a preacher once, who, having to go away from his church for about a month, wrote to a leading sister and suggested how she might, unknown to him, get up a big reception on the’ occasion of his return. They accused Paul of working up things by writing a letter of that kind. Here is the way he replied: "For we write no other things unto you than what you read or even acknowledge, and I hope ye will acknowledge unto the end." The letters are all public, and the charge is that they be read to all the church.

In 2 Corinthians 1:15, and on through 2 Corinthians 1 and part of 2 Corinthians 2, he defends himself from the charge of light mindedness and fickleness. Notice what he says in 2 Corinthians 1:17: "When I therefore was thus minded, did I show fickleness?" The charge of fickleness is based upon this, that he had sent word to them from Ephesus that when he went to Macedonia he would come by Corinth first; that he would speedily come; but he had not come; that instead of coming he wrote another letter, and they had charged that the reason that he did not come was on account of his personal presence. He defends himself from that charge of not fulfilling his promise. Let’s see how he does it. The preceding verse states his confidence that he would be their glory, and they would be his glory, in the day of the Lord. Now he says, "In this confidence I was minded to come first unto you [not to go to Macedonia and then come to Corinth, but to come by you on my way to Macedonia], that ye might have a second benefit; and by you to pass into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come unto you, and of you to be set forward on my journey unto Judea. When I therefore was thus minded [and had promised accordingly], did I show fickleness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be the yea yea, and the nay nay?"

On that expression a great novel of modern times is written, Richard Yea and Nay. The author of that book takes the most heroic character in England and presents him to us first one way and then another, to show that he did not follow out any steadfast line that looked to the good of his country, but merely the present moment of passion or impulse. If the impulse came be would go to Scotland today and declare war on France tomorrow. Paul says, "My purpose was not a flesh purpose, nor following my desires, but it was based upon my then conception of your condition and conditions elsewhere. When conditions changed so that God would be glorified by changing the plan, I changed it. Does that make me fickle? If that change resulted from some fleshly impulse, I would be ’Paul Yea and Nay,’ but the change was brought about solely for the glory of God and the good of those to whom the promises were made."

He now begins to make a bigger defense than that: "But as God is faithful, our word toward you is not yea and nay." In other words, "You say my word is yea and nay. I want to tell you something that is not yea and nay. The gospel I preached to you was not yea and nay gospel."

Dr. E. C. Dargan, then of the Louisville Seminary, preached at the Baptist Convention in Belton in 1892, and he took this theme: "The gospel is not yea and nay, but yea and amen." "For how many soever be the promises of God, in him is the yea; wherefore also through him is the amen, unto the glory of God through us." He treated that subject this way: The gospel of Jesus Christ is not yea and nay; it is one thing. We can rely on it; it is yea and amen, the "yea" in God and the "amen" in us. God tells us that he will say "Amen, amen, amen!" We may get this whole sermon from that one line of thought, and so we may preach a sermon on the subject, "The Gospel is not yea and nay."


1. Out of what does the second letter to the Corinthians grow, and who wrote it?

2. When did he write it, and where?

3. What is the occasion of this letter?

4. What is the three favorable items of Titus’ report to Paul concerning the Corinthians?

5. What is the first unfavorable item of Titus’ report, and what illustration from the author’s experience cited?

6. What spirit prevailed in the church at Corinth at this time, according to the report of Titus, ’and what later light of history touching this spirit of the Corinthians?

7. What the third unfavorable item of Titus’ report, and what the points of authority questioned?

8. What, in general terms, is a brief analysis of the book, and what the nature of the latter part of the book?

9. By whom did Paul send this letter, and with what instruction?

10. What is the character of this letter, what two key-words are suggested, and what do you think is the key-word?

11. Quote, from memory, the salutation.

12. What is Paul’s ground of thanksgiving in this letter, and are such thanksgivings common among even Christians? Illustrate.

13. What unparalleled sufferings does Paul describe, and where else do we find an account of the same sufferings?

14. What is the author’s interpretation of 2 Corinthians 1:9-10, and why?

15. What credit does Paul give the Corinthians for his delivery and what parallel in the history of Peter?

16. What is a good prescription for Mr. Ready-to-Halt, Mr. Despondency, and Mr. Man-with-the-Blues?

17. What charge, inferable from 2 Corinthians 1:13, did they bring against Paul and what his defense?

18. What charge, inferable from 2 Corinthians 1:15-17, did they bring against him and how does he answer it?

19. What great novel was written on 2 Corinthians 1:17, and what the purpose of the author of the book?

20. What great sermon cited on 2 Corinthians 1:18-20, and what the import of the sermon?



2 Corinthians 1:21-3:18.

In the last of 2 Corinthians 1 there is one passage that we need to discuss: "Now he that established us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." Some words used here a Christian ought to understand. For instance, "anointed," "sealed," "earnest." In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with the "holy anointing oil" whose recipe Moses gave in Exodus 30:22-33. As a ceremony it signified their consecration, or setting apart, to office. As a symbol it signified the influence of the Holy Spirit which qualified them to perform their official duties. In the New Testament it means that the Holy Spirit, received by faith, qualifies every Christian to be a priest of God, to offer spiritual sacrifices. The word "anointed," I say, refers to the influence that comes upon the Christian in the sense of setting him apart for the work of Christ and qualifying him to do it. As the Old Testament priest, prophet, and king were anointed for an office, so is every Christian. We are all kings and priests unto God. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot acceptably serve God.

The word "seal" has a different signification.

It is quite common in Pedo-baptist literature to refer to baptism as a seal, but in the Word of God baptism is nowhere called a seal. On the contrary, we are expressly said to be sealed by the Holy Spirit.

The object of a seal is to accredit or designate ownership. For instance, a man writes a letter and puts the mark of his seal on it; that authenticates the letter. If a seminary confers a degree or sells a piece of property, neither degree nor deed is valid unless it bears the corporate seal of the seminary. We are said to be sealed by the Holy Spirit. That simply means this – that the gift of the Holy Spirit to a Christian authenticates that Christian as God’s property. Suppose I address a communication and put my seal on it; that seal is designed to keep the communication intact until it gets to its address. So we are sealed unto the day of redemption.

That is a very strong argument in favor of the final preservation of the saints. The imprint of the Holy Spirit on us is a mark that we belong to God and will be delivered to God on the day of redemption. If the seal of God does hold (and there is no power that can break it) that is demonstrative that the Christian will reach his destination.

There is still another word – "given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." An "earnest" is something of this kind: The holy land was promised to the Israelites. Spies were sent to look out the country and sample it. They brought back a bunch of grapes, and the people were enabled to eat those grapes before they got to the country where the grapes grew. They were the same in kind, but not the same in quantity. God intends that our promised land shall be heaven; but before we get to heaven he gives us foretastes in kind of what we are to get when we reach heaven; the joy, peace, and glory that often comes to the Christian heart here on earth is an earnest of what heaven will be. It is a little piece of heaven, sent down to us beforehand. How often in a great revival we hear brethren say, "This is heaven on earth! We are getting foretastes of the glory of God." The sense of forgiveness, the sweet peace that comes in the heart on reconciliation with God, the joy of the converted soul – anything of that kind is an earnest of heaven.

The first part of 2 Corinthians 2 is devoted to a case of discipline. In the first letter he had written very sharply in a way to bring grief to their hearts because they had allowed an awful sin, committed by one of their members, to go unrebuked. He is now explaining to them why he made them sorry: "If I make you sorry, who then is he that maketh me glad but he that is made sorry by me? And I wrote this very thing, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be made sorry, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you." That sharp letter he wrote was prompted by love. He saw that they were getting themselves into trouble. He adds, "But if any hath caused sorrow, he hath caused sorrow, not to me, but in part (that I press not too heavily) to you all. Sufficient to such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the many." When they came to expel that man they could not get a unanimous vote, for some stood for him.

That conveys this lesson to us, that in expelling a man it is not necessary that the vote should be unanimous; a majority vote is sufficient for expulsion or any discipline whatever.

It is different in the reception of a member. Pastors and churches sometimes have to show why it is that a majority vote is sufficient to expel a man, and here is the text. The word "many" means majority. This case also contains another important lesson on discipline: "Sufficient to such a one is the punishment inflicted by the majority; so that contrariwise ye should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you to confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye are obedient in all things. But to whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also; for what I also have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, for your sakes have I forgiven it."

That raises the question: What is the object of discipline? To gain the offending brother. Even when we exclude him, if he be a Christian, and his exclusion is conducted properly, it will likely have that effect on him. It had that effect in this case. When this man saw that this church by a majority vote decided that he was living in a, sin of such heinousness that it disqualified him for membership in a church of Jesus Christ, it broke his heart and he repented of his sin. Paul says, "Let that punishment of expulsion be sufficient, and on his repentance forgive him and take him back again." That is the point in discipline.

All the rest of the letter until we come to 2 Corinthians 8 is on Paul’s ministry: "Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ, and when a door was opened unto me in the Lord, I had no relief for my spirit, because I found not Titus, my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went forth into Macedonia." The thought is that a man who loves to preach the gospel and is holding a meeting where the door of success is open, may yet have such a burden on his heart about other matters that he cannot fulfil his duty as a preacher. Paul is distressed to death about that case at Corinth for fear that the church should go astray and be lost from the churches of Jesus Christ, as he says elsewhere that the case of all the churches was resting on his apostolic heart. Many a time when the preacher preaches he carries a burden that nobody else knows anything about. Sometimes he has a burden on him right in the midst of a meeting that does not touch the meeting, coming from circumstances elsewhere that divert his mind and press on his heart.

Then he says, "But thanks be unto God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savor of his knowledge in every place."

Notice that always and in every place the true preacher triumphs.

Paul explains how that is: "For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life." Some preachers think if they preach, and people are not saved, they have failed. If the preacher preaches God’s gospel where he wants him to preach, he wins a victory over the lost if not over the saved.

In other words, God intends that the terms of mercy contained in his gospel should be submitted to people whether they receive it or reject it, and that there is no responsibility attaching to the preacher in the issue.

If they reject it, the gospel is to them a savor of death unto death, and of life unto life, if they accept it. I do not know any other part of the Scriptures so little understood as that statement.

One night, when I was a young pastor, a brother pastor came to see me, very much distressed. He said, "My ministry is a failure." I said, "I am disposed to question that." He said, "I cannot disguise it from myself; it is a dead failure. I have preached for a solid year in tears and in earnestness and nobody in my community has been convicted of sin." I said, "That does not prove that you have failed. If you had preached without praying or studying or asking God to give you the right message, I would agree with you that your ministry is a failure. But if you have preached in faith, in tears, in prayer, faithfully holding up the gospel, you have won the victory," and I read this passage. He was so impressed that he got right down on the floor at my house, and such a thanksgiving I never heard. He said, "Do you know that you have saved my life? I felt like quitting the ministry because I was in such despair." Generally, we should look for success in the salvation of men, and that should be our principal desire in preaching, and generally that will be the result, but sometimes it will not. "But always in every place God causeth us to triumph."

2 Corinthians 3 commences with a reference to letters of recommendation: “Are we beginning again to commend ourselves, or need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to you or from you? Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men; being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh." He uses two figures about the letters: First, in his heart it is written; second, Christ, using him as a penman, wrote a letter on their hearts, and that letter that Christ wrote could be known and read of all men – not written with ink and pen, but with the Spirit. It was not written like the commandments of Moses, on tables of stone, but on the fleshly tables of the heart. He says, "I don’t need a letter of recommendation, as some other people do. The Jewish brethren came bringing letters from the Jerusalem church, and they had stirred up all this trouble. They needed letters of recommendation. You heard the gospel through me. I built on no other man’s foundation, but led you to Christ. If you want to know where my letter of recommendation is, look on yourselves. Christ dictated; I wrote the letter, and it is a long ways better than a letter written in ink." An ink letter oftentimes means very little.

Once a man came into my office and asked me for a letter of recommendation. I said, "I do not even know you." He said, "That is all right; you can tell them about me." I said, "Why do you not tell them about yourself? Your word would mean as much as my letter. You have come to the wrong place; I never write a letter of recommendation unless I know what I am writing about." Again, a certain man wanted me to commend a book. I said, "I have never read that book." "Well, I will show you its prospectus," said he. "But the prospectus is not the book. Do you think I would commend a book that I have not read, and do you think I would trade my name for a single book?" "Well," he said, "other people do that way." "Yes," I said, "and that is the reason that their letters of recommendation are not worth anything."

It is a suspicious thing for a man to carry his valise full of recommendations. I once knew a preacher who carried around a scrapbook in which he had preserved every foolish thing that had ever been said in his favor by the newspapers. My father used to say, "Whenever you see a chimney with a big log up against it, you may know that it is a weak chimney, and needs to be propped." The object of a letter of recommendation is simply to give a person an introduction, and then let him stand for himself.

The poorest preacher and the poorest pastor I ever saw had twenty-three letters of recommendation and several degrees from colleges.

The most important thought in connection with these letters of recommendation is that, after all, everything must be judged by its fruits, and every man must be known by his works. What is Christianity? Christ wrote a letter. Where is that letter? That Corinthian church. Is there anything different between what they are now and what they were before their conversion? Yes, a great deal of difference, and all that difference is in favor of the Christian religion that worked the change. We may tell a man about the effects of Christianity, and he will take all we say with a grain of salt, but if we show him actual cases of changed people, they become letters of recommendation for the Christian religion. If the one who joins the church remains as he was before, it proves nothing; but if Christianity makes better husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and citizens, the whole wide world can read that letter.

An infidel once said to me that there was one woman in my church who had really been converted, or changed, and that the change was for the better, and that was one argument for Christianity that he could not answer. The next thought is in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6: "But our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth." The lesson from that word "sufficient" should sink down into every preacher’s heart. It is not because a man is six feet tall; Paul was a low man. It is not because a man is pretty; Paul was ugly. It is not because a man is clear-eyed; Paul was dim-eyed. It is not because a man is sound in health; Paul was in ill health. It is not because a man is a rhetorician; Paul did not use his rhetoric. "Our sufficiency is of God." We cannot put too much emphasis on that thought.

I was stopping once in Louisville. The brethren, hearing I was there, sent for me to make a talk to the Seminary boys, and I combined two passages which say, "Good and able ministers of Jesus Christ." I took that as my theme. What is a good preacher? This refers to character. What is an able preacher? This refers to efficiency. I do not think I ever made a better talk to preachers than I made that night.

Now comes in the ministry of Paul, commencing at 2 Corinthians 3:7, showing a distinction between the two covenants. We have already had one distinction, – that the old covenant was written on tables of stone and the new covenant on tables of the heart. Here we have another: "But if the ministration of death, written, and engraven on stones, came with glory." The old covenant was the ministration of death. The law gendered to bondage. The soul that sinneth shall die. The new covenant is the ministration of life. We cannot save men by the law. We can kill them, but we save men by the gospel. That distinction should be kept sharp in mind. It was a very solemn thing when God came down on Mount Sinai, crested with fire, and shaken with thunder, illumined with lightning, and the beat of the angel pinions filled the air – it was a glorious thing. But what is that to the ministration of life through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? The law came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ our Saviour, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. The law – the ministration of death – is written on cold rock, outside of man. The gospel – the ministration of life – is written on the warm heart, inside of man. Paul, in Hebrews 8:7-12, says in speaking of the two covenants, "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second. For finding fault with them, ha saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers In the day that I took them by the hand to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt; For they continued not in my covenant, And I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of
Israel After those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, And on their heart also will I write them: And I will be to them a God, And they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, And every man his brother, saying, know the Lord: For all shall know me, From the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And their sins will I remember no more.”

Then Paul adds, "In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away." The new covenant is internal, and nothing has been done until the writing touches on the inside.

The glory of the old covenant was reflected in the face of Moses. When he came down from the mount his face was shining so that it dazzled the eyes of the people. But that was nothing like the shining of the transfiguration of Christ. The shining of Moses’ face was transitory. Moses put a veil over his face. He knew that the shining would pass away and his face would be as it was before. He veiled his face lest the Jews should see the end of the shining, and would not follow him. But the Jews believed that he veiled his face because it was too bright to look at, and that if the veil were lifted off, the face of Moses would outshine any face in the world. Mightily does Tom Moore bring out the thought in The Veiled Prophet of Khorasan, in Lalla Rookh. An impostor, wearing a veil, played upon the superstition of the people, saying that no mortal could endure the brightness of the splendor of his face, and in mercy to them he kept his face veiled. But he promised some day to uncover his face that they might see his glory. His object was to pre-commit them, and so bring them to absolute despair and ruin at the unveiling. One of the most pathetic things in poetry is where the prophet lifted his veil that the ruined Zelica might see his face; that she might see the horrible face of the demon who had deceived her. What must be the unveiling of the Law covenant to the lost dupes who have trusted it?

The next point is, that the Old Testament is a ministration of condemnation: "For if the ministration of condemnation hath glory, much rather doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory." The word "righteousness" here should be rendered "justification." The thought is that the old covenant condemns men; the new covenant justifies men. The preacher ought to be able to distinguish between those two points, condemnation and justification.

The next point is that the old covenant was written in types, veiling the truth signified. He says, "Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, and are not as Moses, who put a veil upon his face." Moses set forth things in allegories and types. Boldness, or plainness of speech here, refers to absence of figures of speech. That is the difference between telling a thing in straight-out language, and in using parables. The gospel makes the way of life very plain, so that a fool cannot misunderstand. In much of the Old Testament we have to study so as to find the signification of the type or of the prophetic visions. They were but shadows.

Notice again the old covenant dazzled the eye – 2 Corinthians 3:18: "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit." The verse preceding says, "The Lord is the spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Mirrors in those days were made of hammered and polished metal) and made a dim reflection. The sun may be out of sight, but the moon is a mirror catching the light of the sun and reflecting it to the eye of the beholder.

I am going to give you what I call a very impressive illustration. In Prescott’s Conquest of Peru, there is a description of the Temple of the Incas as Cuzco. This temple consists of three walls, north, south, west. The eastern side of the structure was open. The walls were smoothly cemented, and on the cement was put thinly hammered gold. The way they worshiped was this: They would come to the temple just before dawn and stand in that opening to the east, and facing the western wall – a golden wall; on the left a golden wall; and on the right a golden wall. The sun would rise behind them, and long before they could see it directly they could see its reflection in the western wall, and be covered with the golden light. Their faces were illumined in the reflection. Now we all look into the mirror upon the glory of the Lord, and that mirror reflects it on us, and we catch the reflected image and are changed in it from glory to glory; as the sun behind those people rising higher, blazing brighter, bathed them more and more in its reflected light, so the Lord of righteousness, as he rises, brings healing in his wings. We look at Christ as in a mirror. He is not here, but we see him mirrored in the face of his saints. It is a law that we become like that which we steadfastly contemplate. If we steadily study about good, pure, and holy things, we become like them. If we study about evil things, vile and loathsome and slimy, we become like them. We steadfastly behold the glorious things of the gospel as in a mirror and become transformed ourselves, more and more like Jesus, and at last become altogether like him in image.


1. What three important words in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 which need to be understood?

2. What the meaning and application of the word "anointed"?

3. Discuss the word "seal," showing its application by illustrations.

4. What the meaning of "earnest," what the illustration given, and what the spiritual significance of it?

5. To what is the first part of 2 Corinthians 2 devoted, and what connection has this with the first letter?

6. What the history of this case, and what important lesson for us in it?

7. What lesson here as to the object of discipline, and how is it clearly shown in this case?

8. To what is the next section, 2 Corinthians 2:12-7:16, devoted, and what the lessons of 2 Corinthians 2:12-13?

9. What the ground of Paul’s thanksgiving here, and how could Paul say, "God always leadeth us in triumph"? Illustrate.

10. What lesson for us here on the question of letters of recommendation, and what the explanation of Paul’s two figures of speech relative to this matter? Illustrate.

11. What the most important thought in connection with these letters of recommendation, and how does the author illustrate it?

12. What lesson here as to our sufficiency, and how does this idea relate to "Good and able ministers of Jesus Christ"?

13. What 2 distinctions here noted between the new covenant and the old?

14. What prophet does Paul quote to show the difference between the old covenant and the new, where do we find this quotation, and how does this prophet show the difference?

15. Give an account of the shining face of Moses, and illustrate with the incident of The Veiled Prophet of Khorasan.

16. How is the Old Testament a ministration of condemnation, in what does the ministration of righteousness exceed the ministration of the Old Testament, and what the meaning of word "righteousness" here?

17. What difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament expressed in 2 Corinthians 3:12, and how is this illustrated in the case of Moses veiling his face?

18. What Paul’s mirror-illustration, and how is this illustrated by author?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/2-corinthians-1.html.
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