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This chapter 2 Corinthians 3:0 is closely connected in its design with the preceding. Paul had said in that chapter 2 Corinthians 2:14, that he had always occasion to triumph in the success which he had, and that God always blessed his labors; and especially had spoken, in the close of the previous chapter 2 Corinthians 2:17, of his sincerity as contrasted with the conduct of some who corrupted the Word of God. This might appear to some as if he designed to commend himself to them, or that he had said this for the purpose of securing their favor. It is probable also, that the false teachers at Corinth had been introduced there by letters of recommendation, perhaps from Judea. In reply to this, Paul intimates 2 Corinthians 3:1 that this was not his design; 2 Corinthians 3:2 that he had no need of letters of recommendation to them, since 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 they were his commendatory epistle; they were themselves the best evidence of his zeal, fidelity, and success in his labors. He could appeal to them as the best proof that he was qualified for the apostolic office. His success among them, he says 2 Corinthians 3:4, was a ground of his trusting in God, an evidence of his acceptance. Yet, as if he should seem to rely on his own strength, and to boast of what he had done, he says 2 Corinthians 3:5 that his success was not owing to any strength which he had, or to any skill of his own, but entirely to the aid which he had received from God. It was God. he says 2 Corinthians 3:6, who had qualified him to preach, and had given him grace to be an able minister of the New Testament.
It is not improbable that the false teachers, being of Jewish origin, in Corinth, had commended the laws and institutions of Moses as being of superior clearness, and even as excelling the gospel of Christ. Paul takes occasion, therefore 2 Corinthians 3:7-11, to show that the laws and institutions of Moses were far inferior in this respect to the gospel. His was a ministration of death 2 Corinthians 3:7; though glorious it was to be done away 2 Corinthians 3:7; the ministration of the Spirit was therefore to be presumed to be far more glorious 2 Corinthians 3:8; the one was a ministration to condemnation, the other of righteousness 2 Corinthians 3:9; the one had comparatively no glory, being so much surpassed by the other 2 Corinthians 3:10; and the former was to be done away, while the latter was to remain, and was therefore far more glorious, 2 Corinthians 3:11.
This statement of the important difference between the laws of Moses and the gospel, is further illustrated by showing the effect which the institutions of Moses had had on the Jews themselves, 2 Corinthians 3:12-15. That effect was to blind them. Moses had put a veil over his face 2 Corinthians 3:13; and the effect had been that the nation was blinded in reading the Old Testament, and had no just views of the true meaning of their own Scriptures, 2 Corinthians 3:14-15.
Yet, Paul says, that that veil should be taken away, 2 Corinthians 3:16-18. It was the intention of God that it should be removed. When that people should turn again to the Lord, it should be taken away, 2 Corinthians 3:16. It was done where the Spirit of the Lord was, 2 Corinthians 3:17. It was done in fact in regard to all true Christians, 2 Corinthians 3:18. They were permitted to behold the glory of the Lord as in a glass, and they were changed into the same image. The same subject is continued in 2 Corinthians 4:0, where Paul illustrates the effect of this clear revelation of the gospel as compared with the institutions of Moses, on the Christian ministry.
Do we begin again - This is designed evidently to meet an objection. He had been speaking of his triumph in the ministry 2 Corinthians 2:14, and of his sincerity and honesty, as contrasted with the conduct of many who corrupted the Word of God, 2 Corinthians 2:17. It might be objected that he was magnifying himself in these statements, and designed to commend himself in this manner to the Corinthians. To this he replies in the following verses.
To commend ourselves? - To recommend ourselves; do we speak this in our own praise, in order to obtain your favor.
Or need we, as some others - Probably some who had brought letters of recommendation to them from Judea. The false teachers at Corinth had been originally introduced there by commendatory letters from abroad. These were letters of introduction, and were common among the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews, as they are now. They were usually given to persons who were about to travel, as there were no inns. and as travelers were dependent on the hospitality of those among whom they traveled.
Of commendation from you - To other congregations. It is implied here by Paul, that he sought no such letter; that he traveled without them; and that he depended on his zeal, and self-denial, and success to make him known, and to give him the affections of those to whom he ministered - a much better recommendation than mere introductory letters. Such letters were, however, sometimes given by Christians, and are by no means improper, Acts 18:27. Yet, they do not appear to have been sought or used by the apostles generally. They depended on their miraculous endowments, and on the attending grace of God to make them known.
Ye are our epistle - compare 1 Corinthians 9:2. This is a most beautiful and happy turn given to the whole subject. The sense is plain. It is, that the conversion of the Corinthians, under the faithful labors of the apostle, was a better testimonial of his character and fidelity than any letters could be. To see the force of this, it must be remembered:
- That Corinth was an exceedingly dissolute and abandoned place (see the introduction to the First Epistle);
- That a large number of them had been converted, and a church organized;
- That their conversion, and the organization of a church in such a city were events that would be known abroad; and,
- That it had been accomplished entirely under the labor of Paul and his companions.
To their knowledge of him, therefore, and to his success there, he could confidently appeal as a testimonial of his character. The characteristics of this commendatory epistle, he proceeds immediately to state. The general sense is, that they were the letter of recommendation which God had given to him; and that their conversion under his ministry was the public testimonial of his character which all might see and read.
Written in our hearts - A few mss. and versions read thus, “your hearts;” and Doddridge has adopted this reading, and supposes that it means that the change produced not only in their external conduct, but in their inward temper, was so great, that all must see that it was an unanswerable attestation to his ministry. But there is not sufficient authority for changing the text; nor is it necessary. The sense is, probably, that this letter was. as it were, written on his heart. It was not merely that Paul had a tender affection for them, as Clarke supposes; nor was it that he regarded them as “a copy of the letter of recommendation from Christ written in his heart,” according to the fanciful conceit of Macknight; but Paul’s idea seems to have been this. He is speaking of the testimonial which he had from God. That testimonial consisted in the conversion of the Corinthians. This he says was written on his heart. It was not a cold letter of introduction, but it was such as, while it left him no room to doubt that God had sent him, also affected his feelings, and was engraved on his soul. It was to him, therefore, far more valuable than any mere letter of commendation or of introduction could be. It was a direct testimonial from God to his own heart of his approbation, and of his having appointed him to the apostolic office. All the difficulty, therefore, which has been felt by commentators in this passage, may be obviated by supposing that Paul here speaks of this testimonial or epistle as addressed to himself, and as satisfactory to him, In the other characteristics which he enumerates, he speaks of it as suited to be a letter commendatory of himself to others.
Known and read of all men - Corinth was a large, splendid, and dissipated city. Their conversion, therefore, would be known afar. All people would hear of it; and their reformation, their subsequent life under the instruction of Paul, and the attestation which God had given among them to his labors, was a sufficient testimonial to the world at large, that God had called him to the apostolic office.
Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared - You are made manifest as the epistle of Christ; or you, being made manifest, are the epistle, etc. They had been made manifest to be such by their conversion. The sense is, it is plain, or evident, that ye are the epistle of Christ.
To be the epistle of Christ - That which Christ has sent to be our testimonial. He has given this letter of recommendation. He has converted you by our ministry, and that is the best evidence which we can have that we have been sent by him, and that our labor is accepted by him. Your conversion is his work, and it is his public attestation to our fidelity in his cause.
Ministered by us - The idea here is, that Christ had employed their ministry in accomplishing this. They were Christ’s letter, but it had been prepared by the instrumentality of the apostles. It had not been prepared by him independently of their labors, but in connection with, and as the result of those labors. Christ, in writing this epistle, so to speak, has used our aid; or employed us as amanuenses (copyists).
Written not with ink - Paul continues and varies the image in regard to this “epistle,” so that he may make the testimony borne to his fidelity and success more striking and emphatic. He says, therefore, that that it was not written as letters of introduction are, with ink - by traces drawn on a lifeless substance, and in lines that easily fade, or that may become easily illegible, or that can be read only by a few, or that may be soon destroyed.
But with the Spirit of the living God - In strong contrast thus with letters written with ink. By the Spirit of God moving on the heart, and producing that variety of graces which constitute so striking and so beautiful an evidence of your conversion. If written by the Spirit of the living God, it was far more valuable, and precious, and permanent than any record which could be made by ink. Every trace of the Spirit’s influences on the heart was an undoubted proof that God had sent the apostles; and was a proof which they would much more sensibly and tenderly feel than they could any letter of recommendation written in ink.
Not in tables of stone - It is generally admitted that Paul here refers to the evidences of the divine mission of Moses which was given by the Law engraved on tablets of stone, compare 2 Corinthians 3:7. Probably those who were false teachers among the Corinthians were Jews, and had insisted much on the divine origin and permanency of the Mosaic institutions. The Law had been engraved on stone by the hand of God himself; and had thus the strongest proofs of divine origin, and the divine attestation to its pure and holy nature. To this fact the friends of the Law, and the advocates for the permanency of the Jewish institutions, would appeal. Paul says, on the other hand, that the testimonials of the divine favor through him were not on tablets of stone. They were frail, and easily broken. There was no life in them (compare 2 Corinthians 3:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:7); and valuable and important as they were, yet they could not be compared with the testimonials which God had given to those who successfully preached the gospel.
But in fleshly tables of the heart - In truths engraved on the heart. This testimonial was of more value than an inscription on stone, because:
(1) No hand but that of God could reach the heart, and inscribe these truths there.
(2) Because it would be attended with a life-giving and living influence. It was not a mere dead letter.
(3) Because it would be permanent. Stones, even where laws were engraved by the finger of God, would moulder and decay, and the inscription made there would be destroyed. But not so with that which was made on the heart. It would live forever. It would abide in other worlds. It would send its influence into all the relations of life; into all future scenes in this world; and that influence would be seen and felt in the world that shall never end. By all these considerations, therefore, the testimonials which Paul had of the divine approbation were more valuable than any mere letters of introduction, or human commendation could have been; and more valuable even than the attestation which was given to the divine mission of Moses himself.
And such trust have we - Such confidence have we that we are appointed by God, and that he accepts our work. Such evidence have we in the success of our labors; such irrefragable proof that God blesses us; that we have trust, or confidence, that we are sent by God, and are owned by him in our ministry. His confidence did not rest on letters of introduction from people, but in the evidence of the divine presence, and the divine acceptance of his work.
Through Christ - By the agency of Christ. Paul had no success which he did not trace to him; he had no joy of which he was not the source; he had no confidence, or trust in God of which Christ was not the author; he had no hope of success in his ministry which did not depend on him.
To God-ward - Toward God; in regard to God (πρὸς τὸν Θεόν pros ton Theon). Our confidence relates to God. It is confidence that he has appointed us, and sent us forth; and confidence that he will still continue to own and to bless us.
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves - This is evidently designed to guard against the appearance of boasting, or of self-confidence. He had spoken of his confidence; of his triumph; of his success; of his undoubted evidence that God had sent him. He here says, that he did not mean to be understood as affirming that any of his success came from himself, or that he was able by his own strength to accomplish the great things which had been effected by his ministry. He well knew that he had no such self-sufficiency; and he would not insinuate, in the slightest manner, that he believed himself to be invested with any such power, compare note on John 15:5.
To think anything - (λογίσασθαι τι logisasthai ti). The word used here means properly to reason, think, consider; and then to reckon, count to, or impute to anyone. It is the word which is commonly rendered impute; see it explained more fully in the note on Romans 4:5. Robinson (Lexicon) renders it in this place, “to reason out, to think out, to find out by thinking.” Doddridge renders it, “to reckon upon anything as from ourselves.” Whitby renders it, “to reason; as if the apostle had said, We are unable by any reasoning of our own to bring people to conversion. Macknight gives a similar sense. Locke renders it, “Not as if I were sufficient of myself, to reckon upon anything as from myself:” and explains it to mean that Paul was not sufficient of himself by any strength of natural parts to attain the knowledge of the gospel truths which he preached. The word may be rendered here, to reckon, reason, think, etc.; but it should be confined to the immediate subject under consideration. It does not refer to thinking in general; or to the power of thought on any, and on all subjects - however true it may be in itself but to the preaching the gospel. And the expression may be regarded as referring to the following points, which are immediately under discussion:
(1) Paul did not feel that he was sufficient of himself to have reasoned or thought out the truths of the gospel. They were communicated by God.
(2) He had no power by reasoning to convince or convert sinners. That was all of God.
(3) He had no right to reckon on success by any strength of his own. All success was to be traced to God. It is, however, also true, that all our powers of thinking and reasoning are from God; and that we have no ability to think clearly, to reason calmly, closely, and correctly, unless he shall preside over our minds and give us clearness of thought. How easy is it for God to disarrange all our faculties, and produce insanity! How easy to suffer our minds to become unsettled, bewildered, and distracted with a multiplicity of thoughts! How easy to cause every thing to appear cloudy, and dark, and misty! How easy to affect our bodies with weakness, langor, disease, and through them to destroy all power of close and consecutive thought! No one who considers on how many things the power of close thinking depends, can doubt that all our sufficiency in this is from God; and that we owe to him every clear idea on the subjects of common life, and on scientific subjects, no less certainly than we do in the truths of religion, compare the case of Bezaleel and Aholiab in common arts, Exodus 31:1-6, and Job 32:8.
Who also hath made us able ministers ... - This translation does not quite meet the force of the original. It would seem to imply that Paul regarded himself and his fellowlaborers as people of talents, and of signal ability; and that he was inclined to boast of it. But this is not the meaning. It refers properly to his sense of the responsibility and difficulty of the work of the ministry; and to the fact that he did not esteem himself to be sufficient for this work in his own strength 2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5; and he here says that God had made him sufficient: not able, talented, learned, but sufficient ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς hikanōsen hēmas; he has supplied our deficiency; he has rendered us competent, or fit; if a word may be coined after the manner of the Greek here, “he has sufficienced us for this work.” There is no assertion, therefore, here, that they were people of talents, or special ability, but only that God had qualified them for their work, and made them by his grace sufficient to meet the toils and responsibilites of this arduous office.
Of the New Testament - Of the new covenant (note, Matthew 26:28), in contradistinction from the old covenant, which was established through Moses. They were appointed to go forth and make the provisions of that new covenant known to a dying world.
Not of the letter - Not of the literal, or verbal meaning, in contradistinction from the Spirit; see the notes on Romans 2:27, Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6. This is said, doubtless, in opposition to the Jews, and Jewish teachers. They insisted much on the letter of the Law, but entered little into its real meaning. They did not seek out the true spiritual sense of the Old Testament; and hence, they rested on the mere literal observance of the rites and ceremonies of religion without understanding their true nature and design. Their service, though in many respects conformed to the letter of the Law, yet became cold, formal, and hypocritical; abounding in mere ceremonies, and where the heart had little to do. Hence, there was little pure spiritual worship offered to God; and hence also they rejected the Messiah whom the old covenant prefigured, and was designed to set forth.
For the letter killeth - compare notes on Romans 4:15; Romans 7:9-10. The mere letter of the Law of Moses. The effect of it was merely to produce condemnation; to produce a sense of guilt, and danger, and not to produce pardon, relief, and joy. The Law denounced death; condemned sin in all forms; and the effect of it was to produce a sense of guilt and condemnation.
But the spirit giveth life - The spirit, in contradistinction from the mere literal interpretation of the Scriptures. The Spirit, that is, Christ, says Locke, compare 2 Corinthians 3:17. The spirit here means, says Bloomfield, that new spiritual system, the gospel. The Spirit of God speaking in us, says Doddridge. The spirit here seems to refer to the New Testament, or the new dispensation in contradistinction from the old. That was characterized mainly by its strictness of Law, and by its burdensome rites, and by the severe tone of its denunciation for sin. It did not in itself provide a way of pardon and peace. Law condemns; it does not speak of forgiveness. On the contrary, the gospel, a spiritual system, is designed to impart life and comfort to the soul. It speaks peace. It comes not to condemn, but to save. It discloses a way of mercy, and it invites all to partake and live. It is called “spirit,” probably because its consolations are imparted and secured by the Spirit of God - the source of all true life to the soul. It is the dispensation of the Spirit; and it demands a spiritual service - a service that is free, and elevated, and tending eminently to purify the heart, and to save the soul; see the note on 2 Corinthians 3:17.
But if the ministration of death - In the previous verses, Paul had referred incidentally to the institutions of Moses, and to the superiority of the gospel. He had said that the former were engraved on stones, but the latter on the heart 2 Corinthians 3:3; that the letter of the former tended to death, but the latter to life 2 Corinthians 3:6. This sentiment he proceeds further to illustrate, by showing in what the superior glory of the gospel consisted. The design of the whole is, to illustrate the nature, and to show the importance of the ministerial office; and the manner in which the duties of that office were to be performed. That the phrase “ministration of death” refers to the Mosaic institutions, the connection sufficiently indicates, 2 Corinthians 3:13-15. The word “ministration” (διακονία diakonia) means, properly, ministry; the office of ministering in divine things. It is usually applied to the officers of the church in the New Testament, Acts 1:17, Acts 1:25; Romans 11:13; 1 Corinthians 12:5.
The word here, however, seems to refer to the whole arrangement under the Mosaic economy, by which his laws were promulgated, and perpetuated. The expression “a ministration - written and engraved on stone,” is somewhat harsh; but the sense evidently is, the ministration of a covenant, or of laws written on stones. The word “ministration “there refers to the arrangement, office, etc. by which the knowledge of these laws was maintained; the ministering under a system like that of the Jewish; or, more strictly, the act and occasion on which Moses himself ministered, or promulgated that system to the Jews, and when the glory of the work was irradiated even from His countenance. And the purpose of the apostle is to show that the ministry of the gospel is more glorious than even the ministry of Moses, when he was admitted near to God on the holy mountain; and when such a glory attended his receiving and promulgating the Law. It is called the “ministration of death,” because it tended to condemnation; it did not speak of pardon; it was suited only to deepen the sense of sin, and to produce alarm and dread; see the note on 2 Corinthians 3:6.
Written and engraven in stones - The Ten Commandments - the substance of all the Mosaic institutes, and the principal laws of his economy - were written or engraved on tables of stone.
Was glorious - Was attended with magnificence and splendor. The glory here referred to, consisted in the circumstance of sublimity and grandeur in which the Law of Moses was given, It was:
- The glory of God as he was manifested on Mount Sinai, as the Lawgiver and Ruler of the people.
(2)The glory of the attending circumstances, of thunder, fire, etc. in which God appeared. The Law was given in these circumstances. Its giving - called here the “ministration” - was amidst such displays of the glory of God. It was,
- A high honor and glory for Moses to be permitted to approach so near to God; to commune with him; and to receive at his hand the Law for his people, and for the world. These were circumstances of imposing majesty and grandeur, which, however, Paul says were eclipsed and surpassed by the ministry of the gospel.
So that the children of Israel ... - In Exodus 34:29-30, it is said, that “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone, while He talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.” The word rendered “steadfastly behold” (ἀτενίσαι atenisai), means to gaze intently upon; to look steadily, or constantly, or fixedly; see the note on Acts 1:10. There was a dazzling splendor, an irradiation; a diffusion of light, such that they could not look intently and steadily upon it - as we cannot look steadily at the sun. How this was produced, is not known. It cannot be accounted for from natural causes, and was doubtless designed to be to the Israelites an attestation that Moses had been with God, and was commissioned by him. They would see:
- That it was unnatural, such as no known cause could produce; and,
- Not improbably they would recognize a resemblance to the manner in which God usually appeared - the glory of the Shechinah in which he so frequently manifested himself to them. It would be to them, therefore, a demonstration that Moses had been with God.
Which glory was to be done away - The splendor of that scene was transitory. It did not last. It was soon destroyed (τὴν καταργουμένην tēn katargoumenēn. It was not adapted or designed long to continue. This does not mean, as Doddridge supposes, “soon to be abolished in death;” or, as others, “ceasing with youth;” but it means, that the shining or the splendor was transitory; it was soon to cease; it was not designed to be permanent. Neither the wonderful scenes accompanying the giving of the Law on Sinai, nor the shining on the countenance of Moses, was designed to abide. The thunders of Sinai would cease to roll; the lightenings to play; the visible manifestations of the presence of God would all be gone; and the supernatural illumination of the face of Moses also would soon cease - perhaps as Macknight, Bloomfield, and others suppose, as a prefiguration of the abrogation of the glory of the whole system of the Levitical law. Paul certainly means to say, that the glory of Moses, and of his dispensation, was a fading glory; but that the glory of the gospel would be permanent, and increasing forever.
How shall not the ministration of the Spirit - This is an argument from the less to the greater. Several things in it are worthy of notice:
(1) The proper contrast to the “ministration of death” 2 Corinthians 3:7, would have been ‘ministration of life.’ But Paul chose rather to call it the ‘ministration of the spirit;’ as the source of life; or as conferring higher dignity on the gospel than to have called it simply the ministration of life.
(2) By the “Spirit” here is manifestly meant the Holy Spirit; and the whole phrase denotes the gospel, or the preaching of the gospel, by which eminently the Holy Spirit is imparted.
(3) It is the high honor of the gospel ministry, that it is the means by which the Holy Spirit is imparted to human beings. It is designed to secure the salvation of people by his agency; and it is through the ministry that the Holy Spirit is imparted, the heart renewed, and the soul saved. The work of the ministry is, therefore, the most important and honorable in which man can engage.
Be rather glorious -
(1) Because that of Moses tended to death; this to life.
(2) Because that was engraved on stone; this is engraved on the heart.
(3) Because that was the mere giving of a law; this is connected with the renovating influences of the Holy Spirit.
(4) Because that was soon to pass away. All the magnificence of the scene was soon to vanish. But this is to remain. Its influence and effect are to he everlasting. It is to stretch into eternity; and its main glory is to be witnessed in souls renewed and saved; and amidst the splendors of heaven. “The work of the Spirit of God on the heart of a rational being, is much more important than any dead characters which can be engraved on insensible stones” - Doddridge.
For if the ministration of condemnation - Of Moses in giving the Law, the effect of which is to produce condemnation. Law condemns the guilty; it does not save them. It denounces punishment; it contains no provisions of pardon. To pardon is to depart from the Law; and must be done under the operation of another system - since a law which contains a provision for the pardon of offenders, and permits them to escape, would be a burlesque in legislation. The tendency of the Mosaic institutions, therefore, was to produce a sense of condemnation. And so it will be found by all who attempt to be justified by the Law. It will tend to, and result in, their condemnation.
Be glory - Be glorious; or be glory itself - It was glorious as a manifestation of the holiness and justice of God; and glorious in the attending circumstances. No event in our world has been more magnificent in the circumstances of external majesty and splendor than the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.
The ministration of righteousness - The gospel; the promulgation of the plan of mercy. It is called “the ministration of righteousness,” in contradistinction from the Law of Moses, which was a “ministration of condemnation.” The word “righteousness,” however, does not exactly express the force of the original word. That word is δικαιοσύνης dikaiosunēs, and it stands directly opposed to the word κατακρισεως katakriseōs, “condemnation.” It should be rendered ‘the ministration of justification;’ the plan by which God justifies people; see the note, Romans 1:17. The Law of Moses condemns; the gospel is the plan by which man is justified. And if that which condemns could be glorious, much more must that be by which people can be justified, acquitted, and saved. The superior glory of the gospel, therefore, consists in the fact that it is a scheme to justify and save lost sinners. And this glory consists:
(1) In the fact that it can be done when all law condemns.
(2) In the showing forth of the divine character while it is done, as just, and merciful, and benevolent in doing it - blending all his great and glorious attributes together - while the Law disclosed only one of His attributes - His justice.
(3) In the manner in which it is done. It is by the incarnation of the Son of God - a far more glorious manifestation of deity than was made on Mount Sinai. It is by the toils, and sufferings, and death of him who made the atonement, and by the circumstances of awful and imposing grandeur which attended his death, when the sun was darkened. and the rocks were rent - far more grand and awful scenes than occurred when the Law was given. It is by the resurrection and ascension of the Redeemer - scenes far more sublime than all the external glories of Sinai when the Law was given.
(4) In the effects, or results. The one condemns; the other justifies and saves. The effect of the one is seen in the convictions of conscience, in alarm, in a sense of guilt, in the conscious desert of condemnation, and in the apprehension of eternal punishment. The other is seen in sins forgiven; in peace of conscience; in the joy of pardon; in the hope of heaven; in comfort and triumph on the bed of death, and amidst the glories of heaven.
For even that which was made glorious - (τὸ δεδοξασμένον to dedoxasmenon). That was splendid, excellent, or glorious. This refers doubtless, to the laws and institutions of Moses, especially to the primary giving of the Law. Paul does not deny that it had an honor and majesty such, in some respects, as the Jews claimed for it. It was glorious in the manner in which it was given; it was glorious in the purity of the Law itself; and it was glorious, or splendid in the magnificent and imposing ritual in which the worship of God was celebrated. But all this was surpassed in the brighter glory of the gospel.
Had no glory - Greek: “Was not glorious, or splendid” (οὐδὲ δεδόξασται oude deoxastai. It had comparatively no glory or splendor. Its glory was all eclipsed. It was like the splendor of the moon and stars compared with the bright light of the sun.
By reason of the glory that excelleth - In the gospel; in the incarnation, life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus; in the pardon of sin; in the peace and joy of the believer; and in the glories of the heavenly world to which the gospel elevates dying men.
For if that which is done away ... - The splendor that attended the giving of the Law; the bright shining of the face of Moses; and the ritual institutions of his religion. It was to be done away. It was never designed to be permanent. Everything in it had a transient existence, and was so designed. Yet it was attended, Paul admits, with much that was magnificent, and splendid. He had, in the previous verses, stated several important differences between the Law and the gospel. He here states another. The Law he calls τὸ καταργόυμενον to katargoumenon the thing which was to be made to cease; to be put an end to; to be done away with; to be abolished. It had no permanency; and it was designed to have none. Its glory, therefore, great as in many respects it might be, could not be compared with that which was to be permanent - as the light of the stars fades away at the rising sun. It is implied here, that it was originally designed that the Mosaic institutions should not be permanent; that they should be mere shadows and types of better things; and that when the things which they adumbrated should appear, the shadows would vanish of course. This idea is one which prevails everywhere in the New Testament, and which the sacred writers are often at great pains to demonstrate.
Was glorious - Greek “By glory” (διὰ δόξης dia doxēs. That is, it was attended by glory; it was introduced by glory, it was encompassed with glory when it was established The idea here is, not that it was glorious in itself, but that it was accompanied with splendor and majesty.
That which remaineth - The gospel τὸ μένον to menon. The thing that is to remain; that is permanent, abiding, perpetual; that has no principle of decay, and whose characteristic it is, that it is everlasting. The gospel is permanent, or abiding:
(1) Because it is designed to remain immutable through the remotest ages. It is not to be superseded by any new economy, or institution. It is the dispensation under which the affairs of the world are to be wound up, and under which the world is to close; see the note, 1 Corinthians 15:51.
(2) Its effects on the heart are permanent. It is complete in itself. It is not to be succeeded by any other system, and it looks to no other system in order to complete or perfect its operations on the soul.
(3) Its effects are to abide forever. They will exist in heaven. They are to be seen in the soul that shall be recovered from sin, and that shall be glorious in the bosom of God forever and ever. The Mosaic system - glorious as it was - shall be remembered as introducing the gospel; the gospel shall be remembered as directly fitting for heaven. Its most great and glorious results shall be seen in the permanent and eternal joys of heaven. The gospel contemplates a great, permanent, and eternal good, adapted to all ages, all climes, all people, and all worlds. It is, therefore, so much more glorious than the limited, temporary, and partial good of the Mosaic system, that that may be said in comparison to have had no glory.
Seeing then that we have such hope - Hope properly is a compound emotion, made up of a desire for an object, and an expectation of obtaining it. If there is no desire for it; or if the object is not pleasant and agreeable, there is no hope, though there may be expectation - as in the expectation of the pestilence, of famine, or sickness, or death. If there is no expectation of it, but a strong desire, there is no hope, as in cases where there is a strong desire of wealth, or fame, or pleasure; or where a man is condemned for murder, and has a strong desire but no prospect of pardon; or where a man is shipwrecked, and has a strong desire, but no expectation of again seeing his family and friends. In such cases, despondency or despair are the results. It is the union of the two feelings in proper proportions which constitutes hope. There has been considerable variety of views among expositors in regard to the proper meaning of the word in this place. Mr. Locke supposes that Paul here means the honorable employment of an apostle and minister of the gospel, or the glory belonging to the ministry in the gospel; and that his calling it “hope,” instead of “glory,” which the connection would seem to demand, is the language of modesty. Rosenmuller understands it of the hope of the perpetual continuance of the gospel dispensation. Macknight renders it” persuasion,” and explains it as meaning the full persuasion or assurance that the gospel excels the Law in the manner of its introduction; its permanency, &c, A few remarks may, perhaps, make it clear:
(1) It refers primarily to Paul, and the other ministers of the gospel. It is not properly the Christian hope as such to which he refers, but it is that which the ministers of the gospel had.
(2) It refers to all that he had said before about the superiority of the gospel to the Law; and it is designed to express the result of all that on his mind, and on the minds of his fellow-laborers.
(3) It refers to the prospect, confidence, persuasion, anticipation which he had as the effect of what he had just said. It is the prospect of eternal life; the clear expectation of acceptance, and the anticipation of heaven, based on the fact that this was a ministry of the Spirit 2 Corinthians 3:8; that it was a ministry showing the way of justification 2 Corinthians 3:9; and that it was never to be done away, but to abide forever 2 Corinthians 3:11. On all these this strong hope was founded; and in view of these, Paul expressed himself clearly, not enigmatically; and not in types and figures, as Moses did. Everything about the gospel was clear and plain; and this led to the confident expectation and assurance of heaven. The word “hope,” therefore, in this place will express the effect on the mind of Paul in regard to the work of the ministry, produced by the group of considerations which he had suggested, showing that the gospel was superior to the Law; and that it was the ground of more clear and certain confidence and hope than anything which the Law could furnish.
We use - We employ; we are accustomed to. He refers to the manner in which he preached the gospel.
Great plainness of speech - Margin, boldness. We use the word “plainness” as applied to speech chiefly in two senses:
- To denote boldness, faithfulness, candor; in opposition to trimming, timidity, and unfaithfulness; and,
- To denote clearness, intelligibleness, and simplicity, in opposition to obscurity, mist, and highly-worked and labored forms of expression.
The connection here shows that the latter is the sense in which the phrase here is to be understood: see 2 Corinthians 3:13. It denotes openness, simplicity, freedom from the obscurity which arises from enigmatical and parabolical, and typical modes of speaking. This stands in opposition to figure, metaphor, and allegory - to an affected and labored concealment of the idea in the manner which was common among the Jewish doctors and pagan philosophers, where their meaning was carefully concealed from the common, and from all except the initiated. It stands opposed also to the necessary obscurity arising from typical institutions like those of Moses. And the doctrine of the passage is, that such is the clearness and fulness of the Christian revelation, arising from the fact, that it is the last economy, and that it does not look to the future, that its ministers may and should use clear and intelligible language. They should not use language abounding in metaphor and allegory. They should not use unusual terms. They should not draw their words and illustrations from science. They should not use mere technical language. They should not attempt to veil or cloak their meaning. They should not seek a refined and overworked style. They should use expressions which other people use; and express themselves as far as possible in the language of common life. What is preaching worth that is not understood? Why should a man talk at all unless he is intelligible? Who was ever more plain and simple in his words and illustrations than the Lord Jesus?
And not as Moses - Our conduct is not like that of Moses. We make no attempt to conceal anything in regard to the nature, design, and duration of the gospel. We leave nothing designedly in mystery.
Which put a vail over his face - That is, when he came down from Mount Sinai, and when his face shone. Exodus 34:33, “and until Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.” He put off this veil whenever he went to speak with God, but put on again when he delivered his commands to the people, What was the design of this, Moses has not himself declared. The statement which he makes in Exodus would lead us to suppose that it was on account of the exceeding brightness and dazzling splendor which shone around him, and which made it difficult to look intently upon him; and that this was in part the reason, even Paul himself seems to intimate in 2 Corinthians 3:7. He, however, in this verse intimates that there was another design, which was that he might be, as Doddridge expresses it, “a kind of type and figure of his own dispensation.”
That the children of Israel - Mr. Locke understands this of the apostles, and supposes that it means, “We do not veil the light, so that the obscurity of what we deliver should hinder the children of Israel from seeing in the Law which was to be done away, Christ who is the end of the Law.” But this interpretation is forced and unnatural. The phrase rendered “that” πρός τὸ pros to evidently connects what is affirmed here with the statement about Moses; and shows that the apostle means to say that Moses put the veil on his face in order that the children of Israel should not be able to see to the end of his institutions. That Moses had such a design, and that the putting on of the veil was emblematic of the nature of his institutions, Paul here distinctly affirms. No one can prove that this was not his design; and in a land and time when types, and emblems, and allegorical modes of speech were much used, it is highly probable that Moses meant to intimate that the end and full purpose of his institutions were designedly concealed.
Could not stedfastly look - Could not gaze intently upon (ἀτενίσαι atenisai); see the note on 2 Corinthians 3:7. They could not clearly discern it; there was obscurity arising from the fact of the designed concealment. He did not intend that they should clearly see the full purport and design of the institutions which he established.
To the end - (εἰς τὸ τέλος eis to telos). Unto the end, purpose, design, or ultimate result of the Law which he established. A great many different interpretations have been proposed of this. The meaning seems to me to be this: There was a glory and splendor in that which the institutions of Moses typified, which the children of Israel were not permitted then to behold. There was a splendor and luster in the face of Moses, which they could not gaze upon, and therefore he put a veil over it to diminish its intense brightness. In like manner there was a glory and splendor in the ultimate design and scope of his institutions, in that to which they referred, which they were not then “able,” that is, prepared to look on, and the exceeding brightness of which he of design concealed. This was done by obscure types and figures, that resembled a veil thrown over a dazzling and splendid object.
The word “end,” then, I suppose, does not refer to termination, or close, but to the “design, scope, or purpose” of the Mosaic institutions; to that which they were intended to introduce and adumbrate. that end was the Messiah, and the glory of his institutions; see the note on Romans 10:0: “Christ is the end of the Law.” And the meaning of Paul, I take to be, is, that there was a splendor and a glory in the gospel which the Mosaic institutions were designed to typify, which was so great that the children of Israel were not fully prepared to see it, and that he designedly threw over that glory the veil of obscure types and figures; as he threw over his face a veil that partially concealed its splendor. Thus, interpreted there is a consistency in the entire passage, and very great beauty. Paul, in the following verses, proceeds to state that the veil to the view of the Jews of his time was not removed; that they still looked to the obscure types and institutions of the Mosaic Law rather than on the glory which they were designed to adumbrate; as if they should choose to look upon the veil on the face of Moses rather than on the splendor which it concealed.
Of that which is abolished - Or rather to be abolished, τοῦ καταργουμένου to katargoumenou), whose nature, design, and intention it was that it should be abolished. It was never designed to be permanent; and Paul speaks of it here as a thing that was known and indisputable that the Mosaic institutions were designed to be abolished.
But their minds were blinded - The word used here (πωρόω pōroō) means rather to harden; to make hard like stone; and then to make dull or stupid. It is applied to the heart, in Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17; to persons, in Romans 11:7; and to the eyes, in Job 17:7. Paul refers here to the fact that the understandings of the Jews were stupid, dull, and insensible, so that they did not see clearly the design and end of their own institutions. He states simply the fact; he does not refer to the cause of it. The fact that the Jews were thus stupid and dull is often affirmed in the New Testament.
For until this day ... - The sense of this is, that even to the time when Paul wrote, it was a characteristic of the great mass of the Jewish people, that they did not understand the true sense of their own Scriptures. They did not understand its doctrines in regard to the Messiah. A veil seems to be thrown over the Old Testament when they read it, as there was over the face of Moses, so that the glory of their own Scriptures is concealed from their view, as the glory of the face of Moses was hidden.
Of the Old Testament - Greek, “of the old covenant.” See this word “testament,” or covenant, explained in the notes on 1 Corinthians 11:25. This, I believe, is the only instance in which the Scriptures of the Jews are called the “Old Testament,” or covenant, in the Bible. It was, of course, not a name which they used, or would use; but it is now with Christians the common appellation. No doubt can be entertained but that Paul uses the terms in the same manner in which we now do, and refers to all the inspired writings of the Jews.
Which vail is done away in Christ - In the manifestation, or appearance of Jesus the Messiah, the veil is removed. The obscurity which rested on the prophecies and types of the former dispensation is withdrawn; and as the face of Moses could have been distinctly seen if the veil on his face had been removed, so it is in regard to the true meaning of the Old Testament by the coming of the Messiah. What was obscure is now made clear; and the prophecies are so completely fulfilled in him, that his coming has removed the covering, and shed a clear light over them all. Many of the prophecies, for example, until the Messiah actually appeared, appeared obscure, and almost contradictory. Those which spoke of him, for illustration, as man and as God; as suffering, and yet reigning; as dying, and yet as ever-living; as a mighty Prince, a conqueror, and a king, and yet as a man of sorrows; as humble, and yet glorious: all seemed difficult to be reconciled until they were seen to harmonize in Jesus of Nazareth. Then they were plain, and the veil was taken away. Christ is seen to answer all the previous descriptions of him in the Old Testament; and his coming casts a clear light on all which was before obscure.
But even unto this day - To the time when Paul wrote this Epistle, about 30 years after Christ was put to death. But it is still as true as it was in the time of Paul; and the character and conduct of the Jews now so entirely accords with the description which he gives of them in his time, as to show that he drew from nature, and as to constitute one of the strong incidental proofs that the account in the New Testament is true. Of no other people on earth, probably, would a description be accurate eighteen hundred years after it was made.
When Moses is read - When the five books of Moses are read, as they were regularly and constantly in their synagogues; see the note on Luke 4:16.
The vail is upon their heart - They do not see the true meaning and beauty of their own Scriptures - a description as applicable to the Jews now as it was to those in the time of Paul.
Nevertheless - This is not always to continue. The time is coming when they shall understand their own Scriptures, and see their true beauty.
When it shall turn to the Lord - When the Jewish people shall be converted. The word “it” here refers undoubtedly to “Israel” in 2 Corinthians 3:13; and the sense is, that their blindness is not always to remain; there is to be a period when they shall turn to God, and shall understand his promises, and become acquainted with the true nature of their own religion. This subject the apostle has discussed at much greater length in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans; see the notes on that chapter.
The vail shall be taken away - They shall then understand the true meaning of the prophecies, and the true nature of their own institutions. They shall see that they refer to the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, and the true Messiah. The genuine sense of their sacred oracles shall break upon their view with full and irresistible light. There may be an allusion in the language here to the declaration in Isaiah 25:7, “And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.” This verse teaches:
(1) That the time will come when the Jews shall be converted to Christianity; expressed here by their turning unto the Lord, that is, the Lord Jesus; see the note, Acts 1:24.
(2) It seems to be implied that their conversion will be a conversion of “the people” at large; a conversion that shall be nearly simultaneous; a conversion “en masse.” Such a conversion we have reason to anticipate of the Jewish nation.
(3) The effect of this will be to make them acquainted with the true sense of their own Scriptures, and the light and beauty of the sayings of their own prophets, Now they are in deep darkness on the sub ject; then they will see how entirely they meet and harmonize in the Lord Jesus.
(4) The true and only way of having a correct and full meaning of the Bible is by turning unto God. Love to Him, and a disposition to do His will, is the best means of interpreting the Bible.
Now the Lord is that Spirit - The word “Lord” here evidently refers to the Lord Jesus; see 2 Corinthians 3:16. It may be observed in general in regard to this word, that where it occurs in the New Testament unless the connection require us to understand it of God, it refers to the Lord Jesus. It was the common name by which he was known; see John 20:13; John 21:7, John 21:12; Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:5. The design of Paul in this verse seems to be to account for the “liberty” which he and the other apostles had, or for the boldness, openness, and plainness 2 Corinthians 3:12 which they evinced in contradistinction from the Jews. who so little understood the nature of their institutions. He had said 2 Corinthians 3:6, that he was a minister “not of the letter, but of the Spirit;” and he had stated that the Old Testament was not understood by the Jews who adhered to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures. He here says, that the Lord Jesus was “the Spirit” to which he referred, and by which he was enabled to understand the Old Testament so as to speak plainly, and without obscurity. The sense is, that Christ was the Spirit; that is, the sum, the substance of the Old Testament. The figures, types, prophecies, etc. all centered in him, and he was the end of all those institutions. If contemplated as having reference to him, it was easy to understand them. This I take to be the sentiment of the pas sage, though expositors have been greatly divided in regard to its meaning. Thus explained, it does not mean absolutely and abstractly that the Lord Jesus was “a Spirit,” but that he was the sum, the essence, the end, and the purport of the Mosaic rites, the spirit of which Paul had spoken in 2 Corinthians 3:6, as contradistinguished from the letter of the Law.
And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty - This is a general truth designed to illustrate the particular sentiment which he had just advanced. The word “liberty” here (ἐλευθερία eleutheria) refers, I think, to freedom in speaking; the power of speaking openly, and freely, as in 2 Corinthians 3:12. It states the general truth, that the effect of the Spirit of God was to give light and clearness of view; to remove obscurity from a subject, and to enable one to see it plainly. This would be a truth that could not be denied by the Jews, who held to the doctrine that the Spirit of God revealed truth, and it must be admitted by all. Under the influence of that Spirit, therefore, Paul says, that he was able to speak with openness, and boldness; that he had a clear view of truth, which the mass of the Jews had not; and that the system of religion which he preached was open, plain, and clear. The word “freedom,” would perhaps, better convey the idea. “There is freedom from the dark and obscure views of the Jews; freedom from their prejudices, and their superstitions; freedom from the slavery and bondage of sin; the freedom of the children of God, who have clear views of him as their Father and Redeemer and who are enabled to express those views openly and boldly to the world.”
But we all - All Christians. The discussion in the chapter has related mainly to the apostles; but this declaration seems evidently to refer to all Christians, as distinguished from the Jews.
With open face - compare note on 1 Corinthians 13:12. Tyndale renders this: “and now the Lord’s glory appeareth in us all as in a glass.” The sense is, “with unveiled face,” alluding to the fact 2 Corinthians 3:13 that the face of Moses was veiled, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look on it. In contradistinction from that, Paul says that Christians are enabled to look upon the glory of the Lord in the gospel without a veil - without any obscure intervening medium.
Beholding as in a glass - On the word “glass, and the sense in which it is used in the New Testament, see the note on 1 Corinthians 13:12. The word used here κατοπτριζόμενοι katoptrizomenoi has been very variously rendered. Macknight renders it, “we all reflecting as mirrors the glory of the Lord.” Doddridge, “beholding as by a glass.” Locke, “with open countenances as mirrors, reflecting the glory of the Lord.” The word κατοπτρίζω katoptrizō occurs no where else in the New Testament. It properly means to look in a mirror; to behold as in a mirror. The mirrors of the ancients were made of burnished metal, and they reflected images with great brilliancy and distinctness. And the meaning is, that the gospel reflected the glory of the Lord; it was, so to speak, the mirror - the polished, burnished substance in which the glory of the Lord shone, and where that glory was irradiated and reflected so that it might be seen by Christians. There was no veil over it; no obscurity; nothing to break its dazzling splendor, or to prevent its meeting the eye. Christians, by looking on the gospel, could see the glorious perfections and plans of God as bright, and clear, and brilliant as they could see a light reflected from the burnished surface of the mirror. So to speak, the glorious perfections of God shone from heaven; beamed upon the gospel, and were thence reflected to the eye and the heart of the Christian, and had the effect of transforming them into the same image. This passage is one of great beauty, and is designed to set forth the gospel as being “the reflection” of the infinite glories of God to the minds and hearts of people.
The glory of the Lord - The splendor, majesty, and holiness of God as manifested in the gospel, or of the Lord as incarnate. The idea is, that God was clearly and distinctly seen in the gospel. There was no obscurity, no veil, as in the case of Moses. In the gospel they were permitted to look on the full splendor of the divine perfections - the justice, goodness, mercy, and benevolence of God - to see him as he is with undimmed and unveiled glory. The idea is, that the perfections of God shine forth with splendor and beauty in the gospel, and that we are permitted to look on them clearly and openly.
Are changed into the same image - It is possible that there may be an allusion here to the effect which was produced by looking into an ancient mirror. Such mirrors were made of burnished metal, and the reflection from them would be intense. If a strong light were thrown on them, the rays would be cast by reflection on the face of him who looked on the mirror, and it would be strongly illuminated. And the idea may be, that the glory of God, the splendor of the divine perfections, was thrown on the gospel, so to speak like a bright light on a polished mirror; and that that glory was reflected from the gospel on him who contemplated it, so that he appeared to be transformed into the same image. Locke renders it: “We are changed into his very image by a continued succession of glory, as it were, streaming upon us from the Lord.” The figure is one of great beauty; and the idea is, that by placing ourselves within the light of the gospel; by contemplating the glory that shines there, we become changed into the likeness of the same glory, and conformed to that which shines there with so much splendor.
By contemplating the resplendent face of the blessed Redeemer, we are changed into something of the same image. It is a law of our nature that we are moulded, in our moral feelings, by the persons with whom we associate, and by the objects which we contemplate. We become insensibly assimilated to those with whom we have social contact, and to the objects with which we are familiar. We imbibe the opinions, we copy the habits, we imitate the manners, we fall into rite customs of those with whom we have daily conversation, and whom we make our companions and friends. Their sentiments insensibly become our sentiments, and their ways our ways. It is thus with the books with which we are familiar. We are insensibly, but certainly moulded into conformity to the opinions, maxims, and feelings which are there expressed. Our own sentiments undergo a gradual change, and we are likened to those with which in this manner we are conversant.
So it is in regard to the opinions and feelings which from any cause we are in the habit of bringing before our minds. It is the way by which people become corrupted in their sentiments and feelings, in their contact with the world; it is the way in which amusements, and the company of the frivolous and the dissipated possess so much power; it is the way in which the young and inexperienced are beguiled and ruined; and it is the way in which Christians dim the luster of their piety, and obscure the brightness of their religion by their contact with the “happy and fashionable world. And it is on the same great principle that Paul says that by contemplating the glory of God in the gospel, we become insensibly, but certainly conformed to the same image, and made like the Redeemer. His image will be reflected on us. We shall imbibe his sentiments, catch his feelings, and be moulded into the image of his own purity. Such is the great and wise law of our nature; and it is on this principle, and by this means, that God designs we should be “made” pure on earth, and “kept” pure in heaven forever.
From glory to glory - From one degree of glory to another. “The more we behold this brilliant and glorious light, the more do we reflect back its rays; that is, the more we contemplate the great truths of the Christian religion, the more do our minds become imbued with its spirit” - Bloomfield. This is said in contradistinction probably to Moses. The splendor on his face gradually died away. But not so with the light reflected from the gospel. It becomes deeper and brighter constantly. This sentinient is parallel to that expressed by the psalmist; “They go from strength to strength” Psalms 84:7; that is, they go from one degree of strength to another, or one degree of holiness to another, until they come to the full vision of God himself in heaven. The idea in the phrase before us is; that there is a continual increase of moral purity and holiness under the gospel until it results in the perfect glory of heaven. The “doctrine” is, that Christians advance in piety; and that this is done by the contemplation of the glory of God as it is revealed in the gospel.
As by the Spirit of the Lord - Margin, “Of the Lord of the Spirit.” Greek “As from the Lord the Spirit.” So Beza, Locke, Wolf, Rosenmuller, and Doddridge render it. The idea is, that it is by the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of the law, the spirit referred to by Paul above, 2 Corinthians 3:6, 2 Corinthians 3:17. It is done by the Holy Spirit procured or imparted by the Lord Jesus. This sentiment is in accordance with that which prevails everywhere in the Bible, that it is by the Holy Spirit alone that the heart is changed and purified. And the “object” of the statement here is, doubtless, to prevent the supposition that the change from “glory to glory” was produced in any sense by the “mere” contemplation of truth, or by any physical operation of such contemplation on the mind. It was by the Spirit of God alone that the heart was changed even under the gospel, and amidst the full blaze of its truth, Were it not for his agency, even the contemplation of the glorious truths of the gospel would be in vain, and would produce no saving effect on the human heart.
1. The best of all evidences of a call to the office of the ministry is the divine blessing resting on our labors 2 Corinthians 3:1-2. If sinners are converted; if souls are sanctified; if the interests of pure religion are advanced; if by humble, zealous, and self-denying efforts, a man is enabled so to preach as that the divine blessing shall rest constantly on his labors, it is among the best of all evidences that he is called of God, and is approved by him. And though it may be true, and is true, that people who are self-deceived, or are hypocrites, are sometimes the means of doing good, yet it is still true, as a general rule, that eminent, and long-continued success in the ministry is an evidence of God’s acceptance, and that he has called a minister to this office. Paul felt this, and often appealed to it; and why may not others also?
2. A minister may appeal to the effect of the gospel among his own people as a proof that it is from God, 2 Corinthians 3:2-3. Nothing else would produce such effects as were produced at Corinth, but the power of God. If the wicked are reclaimed; if the in temperate and licentious are made temperate and pure; if the dishonest are made honest; and the scoffer learns to pray, under the gospel, it proves that it is from God. To such effects a minister may appeal as proof that the gospel which he preaches is from heaven. A system which will produce these effects must be true.
3. A minister should so live among a people as to be able to appeal to them with the utmost confidence in regard to the purity and integrity of his own character, 2 Corinthians 3:1-2. He should so live, and preach, and act, that he will be under no necessity of adducing testimonials from abroad in regard to his character. The effect of his gospel, and the tenor of his life, should be his best testimonial; and to that he should be able to appeal. A man who is under a necesity, constantly, or often, of defending his own character; of bolstering it up by testimonials from abroad; who is obliged to spend much of his time in defending his reputation, or who chooses to spend much of his time in defending it, has usually a character and reputation “not worth defending.” Let a man live as he ought to do, and he will, in the end, have a good reputation. Let him strive to do the will of God, and save souls, and he will have all the reputation which he ought to have. God will take care of his character; and will give him just as much reputation as it is desirable that he should have; see Psalms 37:5-6.
4. The church is, as it were, an epistle sent by the Lord Jesus, to show his character and will, 2 Corinthians 3:3. It is his representative on earth. It holds his truth. It is to imitate his example. It is to show how he lived. And it is to accomplish that which he would accomplish were he personally on earth, and present among people - as a letter is designed to accomplish some important purpose of the writer when absent. The church, therefore, should be such as shall appropriately express the will and desire of the Lord Jesus. It should resemble him. It should hold his truth; and it should devote itself with untiring diligence to the great purpose of advancing his designs, and spreading his gospel around the world.
5. Religion has its seat in the heart, 2 Corinthians 3:3. It is engraved there. It is written not with ink, or engraved on stone, but it is written by the Spirit of God on the heart. That professed religion, therefore, which does not reach the heart, and which is not felt there, is false and delusive. There is no true religion which does not reach and affect the heart.
6. We should feel our dependence on God in all things, 2 Corinthians 3:5. We are dependent on him:
(1) For revelation itself. Man had no power of originating the truths which constitute revelation. They are the free and pure gift of God.
(2) For success in saving souls. God only can change the heart. It is not done by human reasoning; by any power of man; by any eloquence of persuasion. It is by the power of God; and if a minister of religion meets with any success, it will be by the presence and by the power of God alone.
(3) We are dependent on him for the power of thought at all; for clearness of intellect; for such a state of bodily health as to permit us to think; for bright conceptions; for ability to arrange our thoughts; for the power of expressing them clearly; for such a state of mind as shall be free from vain fancies, and vagaries, and eccentricities; and for such a state as shall mark our plans as those of common sense and prudence. On such plans much of the comfort of life depends; and on such plans depends also nearly all the success which people ever meet with in any virtuous and honorable calling. And if people “felt,” as they should do, how much they are dependent on God for the power of “clear thinking,” and for the characteristics of sound sense in their schemes, they would pray for it more than they do; and would be more grateful that such a rich blessing is so extensively conferred upon people.
7. Religion has a living power, 2 Corinthians 3:6. It is not the letter, but the spirit. It is not made up of forms and ceremonies. It does not consist in cold, external rites, however regular they may be; nor in formal prayer, or in stated seasons of devotion. All these will be dead and vain unless the heart is given to God, and to his service. If these are all, there is no religion. And if we have no better religion than that, we should at once abandon our hopes, and seek for that which does not kill, but which makes alive.
8. The office of the ministers of the gospel is glorious, and most honorable, 2 Corinthians 3:7-9. It is “far more” honorable than was the office of Moses; and their work is far more glorious than was his. his consisted in giving the Law on tables of stone; in the external splendor which attended its promulgation; and in introducing a system which must be soon done away. His was a ministry “of death” and of “condemnation.” theirs is a ministration by which the Holy Spirit is communicated to people - through them as channels, or organs by which the saving grace of that Spirit is imparted; it is a work by which people are made righteous, justified, and accepted; it is a work whose effects are never to fade away, but which are to live amidst the splendors of heaven.
9. The responsibility and solemnity of the work of the ministry. It was a solemn and responsible work for Moses to give the Law amidst the thunders of Sinai to the children of Israel. It is much more solemn to be the medium by which the eternal truths of the gospel are made known to people. The one, imposing as it was, was designed to be temporary, and was soon to pass away. The other is to be eternal in its effects, and is to enter vitally and deeply into the eternal destiny of man. The one pertained to laws written on stone; the other to influences that are deeply and forever to affect the heart. No work can be more solemn and responsible than that through which the Holy Spirit, with renewing and sanctifying power, is conveyed to man; that which is connected with the justification of sinners; and that which in its effects is to be permanent as the soul itself, and to endure as long as God shall exist.
10. We see the folly of attempting to be justified by the Law, 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:9. It is the ministration of death and of condemnation. It speaks only to condemn. Law knows nothing of pardon. It is not given for that purpose; and no perfect law can contain within itself provisions for pardon. Besides, no one has ever complied with all the demands of the Law; no one ever will. All have sinned. But if all the demands of the Law be not complied with, it speaks only to condemn, James 2:10. If a man in other respects has been ever so good a citizen, and yet has committed murder, he must die. So says the Law. If a man has been ever so valiant, and fought ever so bravely, and yet is guilty of an act of treason, he must die. The question is not what he has been in in other respects, or what else he may, or may not have done, but has he committed This offence? If he has, the Law knows no forgiveness; and pronounces his condemnation. If pardoned, it must be by some other system than by the regular operation of Law. So with the sinner against God. If the Law is violated, it speaks only to condemn. If he is pardoned, it can be only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
11. The danger of grieving the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:8. The gospel is the field of the operations of the Holy Spirit in our world. It is the ministration of the Spirit. It is the channel by which his influences descend on man. To reject that gospel is to reject Him, and to cut off the soul from all possibility of being brought under his saving influence and power forever.” He strives with people only in connection with the gospel; and all hope, therefore, of being brought under his saving power, is in attending to that gospel, and embracing its provisions. The multitudes, therefore, who are rejecting or neglecting that gospel, are throwing themselves beyond his saving influences; and placing themselves beyond the possibility of salvation.
12. We see the “guilt” of neglecting or rejecting the gospel. It is the scheme, and the only scheme for pardon, 2 Corinthians 3:8-10. It is a far more glorious manifestation of the goodness of God than the Law of Moses. It is the glorious and benevolent manifestation of God through the incarnation, the sufferings, and the death of his Son. It is the only plan of pardoning mercy that has been, or that will be revealed. If people are not pardoned through that, they are not pardoned at all. If they are not saved by that, they must die forever. What guilt is there, therefore, in neglecting and despising it! What folly is there in turning away from its provisions of mercy, and neglecting to secure an interest in what it provides!
13. The gospel is to spread around the world, and endure to the end of time, 2 Corinthians 3:11. It is not like the institutions of Moses, to endure for a limited period, and then to be done away. The cloud and tempest; the thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai which attended the giving of the Law, soon disappeared. The unusual and unnatural splendor on the countenance of Moses soon vanished away. All the magnificence of the Mosaic ritual also soon faded away. But not so the gospel. That abides. That is the “last” dispensation; the “permanent” economy: that under which the affairs of the world are to be brought to an end. That is to pervade all lands; to bless all people; to survive all revolutions; to outlive all the magnificence of courts, and all the splendor of mighty dynasties, and is to endure until this world shall come to an end, and live in its glorious effects forever and ever. It is, therefore, to be the fixed principle on which all Christians are to act, that the gospel is to be permanent, and is to spread over all lands, and yet fill all nations with joy. And if so, how fervent and unceasing should be their prayers and efforts to accomplish this great and glorious result!
14. We learn from this chapter the duty of preaching in a plain, simple, intelligible manner, 2 Corinthians 3:12. Preaching should always be characterised indeed by good sense, and ministers should show that they are not fools, and their preaching should be such as to interest thinking people - for there is no folly or nonsense in the Bible. But their preaching should not be obscure, metaphysical, enigmatical, and abstruse. It should be so simple that the unlettered may learn the plan of salvation; so plain that no one shall mistake it except by his own fault. The “hopes” of the gospel are so clear that there is no need of ambiguity or enigma; no need of abstruse metaphysical reasoning in the “pulpit.” Nor should there be an attempt to “appear” wise or profound, by studying a dry, abstruse, and cold style and manner. The preacher should be open, plain, simple, sincere; he should “testify” what he feels; should be able to speak as himself animated by “hope,” and to tell of a world of glory to which he is himself looking forward with unspeakable joy.
15. It is the privilege of the Christian to look on the unveiled and unclouded glory of the gospel, 2 Corinthians 3:12-13. He does not look at it through types and shadows. He does not contemplate it when a veil of obscurity is drawn designedly over it. He sees it in its true beauty and splendor. The Messiah has come, and he may contemplate openly and plainly his glory, and the grandeur of his work. The Jews looked upon it in the light of “prophecy;” to us it is history. They saw it only through obscure shadows, types, and figures; we see it in open day, may survey at leisure its full beauty, and contemplate in the fullness of its splendor the gospel of the blessed God. For this we cannot be too thankful; nor can we be too anxious lest we undervalue our privileges, and abuse the mercies that we enjoy.
16. In reading the Old Testament, we see the importance of suffering the reflected light of the New Testament to be thrown upon it, in order correctly to understand it, 2 Corinthians 3:13-14. It is our privilege to “know” what the institutions of Moses meant; to see the “end” which he contemplated. And it is our privilege to see what they referred to, and how they prefigured the Messiah, and his gospel. In reading the Old Testament, therefore, there is no reason why we should not take with us the knowledge which we have derived from the New Testament, respecting the character, work, and doctrines of the Messiah; and to suffer them to influence our understanding of the laws and institutions of Moses. Thus shall we treat the Bible “as a whole,” and allow one part to throw light on another - a privilege which we always concede to any book. There is no reason why Christians in reading the Old Testament should remain in the same darkness as the ancient, or the modern Jews.
17. Thus read, the Old Testament will be to us of inestimable value, 2 Corinthians 3:14. It is of value not only as introducing the gospel; as furnishing predictions whose fulfillment are full demonstration of the truth of religion; as containing specimens of the sublimest and purest poetry in the world; but it is of value as embodying, though amidst many types and shadows and much obscurity, all the great doctrines of the true religion. Though to the Jews, and to the world, there is a veil cast over it; yet to the Christian there is a beauty and splendor on all its pages - for the coming of Christ has removed that veil, and the sense of those ancient writings is now fully seen. True piety will value the Old Testament, and will find there, in the sweetest poetry in the world, the expression of feelings which the religion of the Messiah only can produce; and pure and elevated thoughts which could have been originated by nothing but his anticipated coming: It is no mark of piety or of wisdom to disparage the Jewish Scriptures. But the higher the attainments in Christian feeling, the more will the writings of Moses and the prophets be loved.
18. People may have the Bible, and may read it for a long time, and often, and yet not understand it, 2 Corinthians 3:15. So it was, and is with the Jews. The Scriptures were attentively read by them, and yet they did not understand them. So it is still. There is a veil upon their heart, and they are blinded. So it is often now with others. People often read the Bible and see little beauty in it. They read, and they do not understand it. The reason is, the heart is not right. There should be a correspondence of feeling between the heart and the Bible, or a congeniality of view in order to appreciate its value and its truth. No man can understand or appreciate Milton or Cowper who has not a taste like theirs. No man can understand and appreciate a poem or an essay on patriotism, who is not a lover of his country; or on chastity, who is impure; or on temperance, who is intemperate; or on virtue in general, who is a stranger to virtue in every form. And so in reading the Bible. To appreciate and understand fully the writings of David, Isaiah, Paul, or John, we must have their feelings: our hearts must glow with their love to God and the Redeemer; we must feel as they did the guilt and burden of sin; and we must rejoice as they did in the hope of deliverance, and in the prospect of heaven. Until people have these feelings, they are not to wonder that the Bible is to them a dead letter, or a sealed book, and that they do not understand it, or see any beauty in its pages.
19. This chapter furnishes an argument for the fidelity and truth of the statement of Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:15. The argument is, that his description is as applicable to the Jews now as it was in his own time - and that, therefore, it must have been drawn from nature. The same veil is on their hearts now as in his time; there is the same blindness and darkness in regard to the true meaning of their Scriptures. The language of Paul will accurately express that blindness now; and his description, therefore, is not drawn from fancy, but from fact. It is true now in regard to that singular people, and it was true in his own time; and the lapse of 1,800 years (circa 1880’s) has only served to confirm the truth of his description in regard to the people of his own nation and time.
20. That veil is to be removed only by their turning to God, 2 Corinthians 3:16. It is only by true conversion that the mind can be brought to a full and clear understanding of the Scriptures; and that event will yet take place in regard to the Jews. They will still be converted to the Messiah whom their fathers killed, and whom they have so long rejected; and when that event shall occur, they will see the beauty of their own Scriptures, and rejoice in the promises and glorious hopes which they hold out to the view.
21. The duty of “meditating” much on the glory of the gospel, 2 Corinthians 3:18. It is by that we are purified. It is by keeping it constantly before the mind; dwelling on it splendor; thinking of its glorious truths, that we become transformed into the same image, and made like God. If the character is formed by the objects which we contemplate, and with which we are familiar; if we are insensibly moulded in our feelings and principles by that with which we constantly associate, then we should “think” much of the truths of the gospel. We should pray much - for thus we come in contact with God and his truth. We should read the Scripture much. We should commune with the good and the pure. We should make our companions of those who most love the Lord Jesus, and most decidedly bear his image. We should think much of a pure heaven. Thus shall we be moulded, insensibly it may be, but certainly, into the image of a holy God and Saviour, and be prepared for a pure and truly heaven.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25