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The Epistle Of Christ
2 Corinthians 3:1-6
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the 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 fleshy tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. (vv. 1-6)
The first two chapters, which we have already considered, have been largely occupied with the experiences, the trials, and the victories of the apostle Paul and his companions, while they were engaged in the marvelous ministry committed to them of going out into a world of sin to preach the gospel of the grace of God. And now in this third chapter the apostle develops for us in a very striking way the nature of the ministry committed to them, the ministry of the new covenant. He deals in the first place with the epistle of Christ. Notice how he introduces it.
“Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?” What does he mean? Why does he use language like this? As we have noticed on other occasions, one of the greatest trials that the apostle Paul had to meet as he went around in his ministry was the opposition of false brethren, men who professed to be Christians, but who in reality were Jewish legalists who had never apprehended the freeness and the liberty of the gospel, and they were continually dogging his steps. He would scarcely have left a place before they would come in and endeavor to discredit the message by discrediting the messenger. One of their ruses was to call in question his apostleship. For instance, they might put it like this to these Gentile Christians: “Paul! Why, he is no true apostle! The apostles were those who were educated by the Lord Jesus Christ when He was here in the flesh, they had their schooling under His own personal instruction. They kept company with Him for three-and-a-half years, and then after He died and ascended to heaven it was they who went forth with authority to proclaim the message of the new covenant. Paul was not one of them, he did not even know Christ when He was here on earth. More than that, he has no commission from the apostolic college at Jerusalem. Challenge him and see. He will tell you he has received no authority from Peter or James or John or any of the rest, authorizing him to go forth on this mission. He simply is a freelance, and you need to be a bit careful of these freelances; you never can tell just what they have up their sleeves. For instance, when Paul visited you did he have a letter of commendation? Did he have a letter from the church at Jerusalem or from one of the other churches, showing that he was in good standing in the place from which he came?”
Paul had been in Corinth for a year-and-a-half, and his life had been as an open book. They had seen for themselves the kind of life that he lived, and knew how genuine his profession was. Now he is away from them and is anticipating visiting them again, and some of these Judaizers have I said, “If I were you, before giving him the platform I would at least take the precaution of asking him for his letter, and see whether he has a letter of commendation.” It is perfectly right and proper, you know, to carry letters. When Apollos, a total stranger, was going from Ephesus to Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila gave him a letter commending, or recommending, him to the confidence of the brethren in Corinth, and as Christians moved from place to place it was right that they should carry a letter, but think of demanding anything like that from the apostle Paul! Why, he says, “Do we then have to accredit ourselves with you, you among whom we have labored for a year-and-a-half, you whom we have led to Christ? Is it necessary that now we should have some kind of a letter of commendation? Do we need a letter of commendation to you, or do we need one from you? Is it necessary that we should be commended by you to other people? The fact of the matter is, if it is a letter that is wanted, you yourselves constitute our letter. ‘Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.’ If people want to know whether we are genuine or not, they can look at you. Who were you when we came to you? You were poor ungodly heathen, lost in sin, in bondage to iniquity of the very vilest kind, and what are you now? Redeemed men and women who have been brought into the joy and gladness of a new life through the message that we imparted to you. Is not that letter enough? Does that not prove that we are divinely sent? Is not that the Holy Spirit’s own imprimatur, as it were, put upon our message. ‘Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us.’ Through you God is showing what Christ is able to do for sinners who trust Him. We, of course, were the instruments.” “Ministered by us, written not with ink, but the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” God, then, is manifesting Himself to the world through His church.
In Old Testament times we do not have a message going out to the world as such. God revealed Himself to Israel on Mount Sinai, and gave them His message on tables of stone. Stone, you know, is very hard, very cold, and very unyielding, like the message of the Law itself, but that message was never sent out to the Gentile world. Judaism was not a missionary religion. You never hear of the representatives of Judaism going out into all the world to proclaim the glories of the Old Covenant. Not at all. God had not yet come out to man; He was still dwelling in the thick darkness. The veil was unrent, and God was testing man through one particular nation, the nation of Israel, the very best group He could find. “What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19). If the very best people cannot keep the law, there is no use carrying it to the ungodly Gentiles, and so Judaism had no missionary message. Things have changed now. God has come out to men, the veil is rent, the light is shining out, and the message from the risen Christ is, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). And wherever that message is carried, men read its power in the changed lives of those who believe it. That is what the apostle means when he says that we are the epistle of Christ.
I sometimes hear people pray, “O Lord, help us all to be epistles of Christ.” You never get it that way in Scripture. It does not say that you are an epistle of Christ and I am an epistle of Christ. It takes the whole church to make His epistle, but each one of us is one little verse in that epistle. I should hate to have anyone judge Christ simply by me. I hope there is a little of the grace of God seen in my poor life, but take the church of God as a whole and see what a wonderful letter you have. What a marvelous epistle is God’s church telling the world what the grace of God can do for sinners who trust in Him. And it is such a vital thing, such a tender thing, “written not with ink,” but by “the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” God gives to believers in the gospel a new heart, a new nature, a heart made tender by divine grace, in order that men may go out and manifest the love of Christ to a lost world. The apostle says this gives us confidence, “Such trust have we through Christ to God-ward.” If it were not that we could see the change in the life of a man through believing our message we would lose confidence, but when we see His grace working in this miraculous way, then we have trust toward God that we are indeed His chosen servants sent to make known the exceeding riches of His grace.
The epistle to the Philippians gives us a beautiful hint of the way men read the truths of God in the church of God. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). I am not to work out my own salvation in my own power but, you see, “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Philippians 2:13-16). Men, we often say, will not read their Bibles, and we are called upon to live Christ so that as they read us they will see that there is reality in the gospel and the message we preach, because of the change that has come in our lives.
I wish we might test ourselves along that line. Is my life really witnessing for Christ? Is it really counting for God? Do the members of my own family see that God has control of me? Do they see something of the patience of Christ, the meekness of Christ, the purity of Christ, something of the love of Christ, the tender compassion of Christ, in me? Am I manifesting these things? As I go out in the world, as I mingle with others in business, in my daily employment, or whatever it may be with which I am occupied, do those with whom I have to do most intimately see any difference between me and those who do not make the profession that I make? Do they say, “Well, So-and-So may be a Christian; if he is I do not think much of Christianity?” Or are we so living Christ that others looking upon us say, “Well, if that is Christianity, I wish I knew something of it in my own soul”? I have heard people give testimony like that at times, I have had them come to me and say, “I have met one of your people, or, I work with him, and there is something about him that appeals to me; I cannot help but believe in the reality of the message you preach because of the effect it has on the people who believe it.” That is what Paul means when he says that we are the epistle of Christ.
We are Christ’s letter. What is a letter for? It is to express one’s mind. And what are some of the important things in a letter? First, legibility. You want to be able to read it. If you and I constitute the epistle of Christ the letter should be a legible one, one easily read. People ought not to have to puzzle their heads over it and say, “Well, I don’t know, I really cannot understand that. It may be Christianity, but it does not seem so to me.” And then a letter should contain clear, definite statements. Clearness of meaning characterizes a well-written letter. You do not like to get a letter and go through it all and say, “I can read it, but for the life of me I cannot understand what he means.” You and I are called upon to so clearly set forth the grace that is in Christ that people will not have to puzzle over it, but that they will be able to say, “Oh, now I understand; I see what Jesus does for the soul that trusts Him. If that is Christianity, I should like to know the same blessed life myself.” And then, you know, a real letter reveals the personality of the one who writes it. Somebody has said that we have almost lost the art of letter-writing nowadays. Everything is so standardized that our letters do not reveal our personality at all. Take some of the volumes of old-fashioned letters, what a delight it is to take from the bookshelf some of Carlyle’s or Browning’s letters, and others of the great men of the past. How marvelously they reveal the personality, the mentality of the soul, the spirit of those men. The church is the epistle of Christ, and the church is expected to reveal to men the personality, the loveliness, the beauty, the preciousness of Jesus. Oh, to have men say, “I did not know Christ until I saw So-and-So, and then I said to myself, ‘Jesus must be a wonderful Savior, for I have seen a little of what He is, revealed in this or that man or woman.’” That is what it means to be an epistle of Christ, to be manifesting Him.
And so the apostle says, it is not that we can do this in ourselves, that we are sufficient of ourselves-“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” Let us never get away from that. Christianity is a supernatural thing. I am persuaded that one of the greatest mistakes that thousands of people make is to imagine that Christianity is simply a natural thing, a natural life lived on a higher plane than the ordinary life. A man may say, “I think perhaps I have been too selfish, too worldly; I am going to start in and lead a Christian life; I am going to be a Christian, and so am going to join the church, be baptized, take the sacrament, read the Scriptures, and have family prayer.” You can do all of those things outwardly, and yet not be a Christian at all. Christianity is not the natural life lived on a higher plane. It is a divine life manifested in the energy of the Holy Spirit. That is why men need to be born again. That is an old-fashioned theme, but we cannot emphasize it too much. The Lord Jesus Christ said to Nicodemus, a very good man, a very religious man, “Except a man be born [again], he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The natural man can manifest only what is in his natural heart; there must be a second birth. I ask you, in the name of my Master, have you ever known that great change which the Bible calls the new birth? If not, you have never taken the very first step in the Christian life. You cannot live a Christian life until you have a Christian life to live. You must receive the life before you can manifest it. “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” If you are saying, “I have heard a good deal about that, but my perplexity is that I do not know how I may be born again,” let me give you two or three passages from God’s Holy Word, and may His divine Spirit wing them home in power. John 1:11: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” How do you receive Him? You receive Him into your heart, open your heart to Him, and let Him come in. John 1:12-13: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Here are three ways by which people do not become Christians, and only one way by which they do. “Not of blood.” You are not born a Christian because your parents were Christians; the grace of God is not transmitted by natural generation. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). In the second place, “Nor of the will of man.” There is no man so great, so good, that he can make another person into a Christian. We believe in Christian baptism, but he makes a tremendous mistake who supposes that any man can become a Christian through submission to the ordinance of baptism, or that any minister can make another man a Christian by baptism, or by giving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In the third place, “Not by his own will.” No man can will himself into becoming a Christian. No man can become a Christian by saying, “I have made up my mind, and from now on I am no longer a sinner, I am a Christian.” That will no more make him a Christian than a man, who by birth is an American but has become infatuated with the Russian system, can change his nationality by saying, “From now on I am no longer an American, I have decided to be a Russian.” You are what you were born, and we were born sinners, and have to be born again in order to become Christians, and so the verse says, “Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” There is just one way by which we become Christians, by receiving Christ. Then we are born again. The apostle Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever…And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23, 1 Peter 1:25). When you believe the gospel, when you accept the message that God has given, when you accept the Savior whom God has sent, then you are born of God, and you become part of this great company designated, “the epistle of Christ.” And the same God through whose mighty power we are born again is the One who sends His servants forth to minister His gospel in divine energy.
The apostle concludes this section in verse 6 by saying, “Who also hath made us able ministers [he is not dwelling on his own ability, but the Spirit of God working in and through him has enabled him to minister in power] of the new testament [we do not belong to the old covenant, we are through with that, we are enjoying the spiritual blessings of the new covenant. The word for ‘testament’ and ‘covenant’ is exactly the same]; not of the letter, but of the spirit.” Do not misunderstand that. When he says “not of the letter,” he does not mean not of the letter of the Word of God. They tell us that we take the Bible too literally, and ask us whether we do not know that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” That is what he says here, but by letter he does not mean the literal Word. You cannot be too literal in reading your Bible. God could have given it in another way if He meant us to have it that way, but He wants us to take it as it is. What is meant here? “The letter” refers to that which was engraven on the tables of stone, and therefore “the letter” is the law. But now you have the new message, the message of the New Testament, in the energy of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Paul says, “We are not law preachers, we do not go to men and say, you must give up your meanness, you must be obedient to the law,” but we say, “What you cannot do yourselves God is able to do for you by the energizing power of His Holy Spirit.”
If you will open your heart to Christ, He will give you a new life, and put a new power in you. He will enable you to live Christ, to be a part of the epistle of Christ. The letter, the law, could only kill, could only condemn. It is called in the verses that follow “the ministration of death,” but the gospel of God’s grace preached in the power of the Spirit gives life to all who believe.
The Glory Of TheNew Covenant
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (vv. 7-18)
Verses 7-16 of this section constitute a long parenthesis. Let me show you how evident that is. Let us go back and read verses 5-6, and then connect with them verse 17, and you will see these two portions are intimately connected and how all the intervening verses come in parenthetically. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life…Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The apostle leads us through this lengthy parenthesis in order to contrast for us the fading glory of the old covenant with the unchanging, unending glory of the new covenant of grace.
First he says, “If the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?” Notice the two ministries that he contrasts, “the ministration of death” and “the ministration of the spirit.” The ministration of death was the law; the ministration of the Spirit is the gospel of grace. He has already called the law “the letter,” and a very exact translation of the first part of verse 7 would be, “If the ministration of death, the letter, engraven in stones, was glorious [and it was], how much more shall the ministration of grace be glorious?”
The reference, of course, is not to the first giving of the law but to the second. I wonder whether we are all familiar with the difference. When God first gave the law at Sinai He wrote that law Himself on tables of stone that He had prepared, and He gave them to Moses amid accompaniments of thunder and burning fire and a mighty voice that filled the people’s hearts with fear, so that even Moses himself said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” He calls that “God’s fiery law.” It was absolutely rigid; its principle was, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, burning for burning, cutting for cutting.” It was absolute intrinsic righteousness. Whatever a man actually deserved according to that law he was to receive. But before Moses came down from the mount, the people had broken that law. The first commandment was, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:3-5), and before Moses reached the foot of the mount the people were dancing around a golden calf. Moses knew if he had brought that law into the camp, there could be nothing but condign judgment. That holy law would of necessity have demanded the death of the entire people, so Moses broke those tables on the side of the mount, and came down empty-handed, and then he became the intercessor for the people and pleaded with God to show mercy.
The Lord said that He would destroy them but make of him a great nation. But Moses said, “Oh, no, if someone has to be destroyed, destroy me, and save the people,” and in that he manifested the spirit of Christ. And so he went up into the mount again for forty days, and this time God gave the law tempered with mercy, gave it recognizing the fact that the people themselves would not keep it, but provided with this second giving of the law a system of sacrifices whereby the penitent lawbreaker could draw nigh to God with that which typified the coming into the world of His blessed Son. It was still law, but it was law tempered by grace, and it meant so much to Moses to find out that the Lord had thoughts of grace in His heart for the poor people, that when he came down from the mount his very face was beaming because of his association with God. He had learned to know God in a new way during those forty days, and when the people saw the light shining from his face they were amazed, and Moses put a veil over his face until he had finished speaking with them, and when he went before the Lord again he took it off. The apostle tells us why he did that.
The thought many of us have had was that Moses put a veil over his face because the glory was so bright that the people could not look upon him, but here we are told by the Holy Spirit that he put a veil over his face because he knew that that glory was fading and passing, and he did not want the people to see the glory disappear. The glory of that covenant could not last because too much depended upon sinful men. And the glory faded and judgment took its place, and so even that second giving of the law proved to be a ministration of death instead of salvation, because of the sinfulness of man’s heart. But, says the apostle, if even that ministration came to the people in glory, how much more shall the ministration of the Spirit, the glad wondrous gospel of pure grace, excel in glory! And so we go today to a lost world to tell men that God’s face is shining with love and compassion upon humankind.
Oh, the glory of His grace
Shining in the Saviour’s face,
Telling sinners from above,
God is light, and God is love.
“If the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” The law is called, “the ministration of condemnation,” because it asked of men an obedience which sinful men were not able to give. The law came demanding righteousness, but the present message of grace is called “the ministration of righteousness,” because it comes giving righteousness to men who are unable to produce a righteousness of their own. This is what made it so precious to the apostle Paul. He had spent years of his life trying to produce a righteousness suited for God, but when he caught sight of the risen Christ and heard Him saying, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest,” and knew that blessed Savior had fulfilled the law for him, that He had died and had been raised again, Paul exclaimed, “[That I] might be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). Here is a ministration of glory indeed! “The glorious gospel,” it is called elsewhere, “of the blessed God.” That word translated “blessed” really means happy. Just think of it-the happy God! What is it that makes God happy? It is because He Himself has found a way whereby His love can go out to guilty sinners, and He can save the very vilest of men and make them fit for His presence. God is a lover of men. Judgment is His strange work, for “he delighteth in mercy” (Micah 7:18). He hath “no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). But when He tested men under law, there was nothing but the curse for them, for they could not fulfill its requirements. Now God has met every need of sinful man in the cross of Christ, and He offers an untarnishable righteousness to those who trust His blessed Son. And the heart of God rejoices as His face shines upon sinners.
“For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” It is like the difference between the moon and the sun. At night as you look upon the moon shining it has wondrous glory, and your heart cannot but be stirred. But have you sometimes seen the moon hanging low upon the horizon after the sun had risen? What a pale, misty, watery-looking thing it was. It was the same moon that shone so brilliantly the night before, but its glory passed away in the light of the glory that excels, and so it is that the very highest point to which the Old Testament can bring us, the very highest experiences that Old Testament saints had under the law (and they were glorious in their way, they were precious experiences while they lasted, for there was a glory connected with God’s dealing with men under that old covenant), have no glory at all compared with the glory that excelleth. Have you ever noticed that even some of the most devoted saints in Old Testament times were never absolutely sure of their final salvation? Job was in utter bewilderment, David was perplexed, when Hezekiah received word that he was going to die, he turned his face to the wall and wept and sobbed, and was in great distress, but now in this New Testament dispensation of grace, the poorest, feeblest soul that trusts in Jesus may have absolute assurance of his perfect acceptance with God.
An old Scot lay suffering, and his physician had told him it was a matter of only a few hours or a few days at the most. A friend really interested in him came to spend a little time with him and said, “They tell me you will not be with us long. I hope you have got a wee glimpse of the Savior’s blessed face as you are going through the valley of the shadow.”
And the dying man said, “Away with the glimpse, man; it’s a full view of His blessed face I have had these forty years, and I’ll not be satisfied with any of your glimpses now.”
That is “the glory that excelleth,” the glory that shines in the face of a reconciled God because the sin question has been eternally settled. In view of this, says the apostle, “We use great plainness [or boldness] of speech.” I know that to some people the expressions that are used in these New Testament epistles must seem very bold; they cannot comprehend them. Speaking with a Roman Catholic priest a number of years ago about the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, I was telling him about the time when “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and I said, “When that time comes, I am going up with that ransomed throng, I am going to be caught up to be forever with the Lord.”
He looked at me a little puzzled, and said kindly, “My dear sir, you must think you are a very great saint to be so sure that you will be taken up at that time.”
I said, “No, it is not that I think I am a great saint, I am really one of the least of all saints, and I found out some years ago that I was a great sinner; but I found out that Jesus is a great Savior, and that He manifests great grace to great sinners by taking all our sins and settling for them on Calvary’s cross. And so I trust Him, and trusting Him I know my sins are gone, and therefore I am able to rest in His Word, “If I go…I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). “We use great boldness of speech.” I do not know anything but the gospel of the grace of God that gives this boldness of speech, this absolute assurance that sins are put away, and that one is saved for eternity. But this is the portion of those who have received in their heart the ministry of reconciliation.
“Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” Moses covered his face, as we have seen, that they might not see the glory fade. That fading glory pictures this old dispensation that is abolished. There is nothing of it left for us. There is a new dispensation in which we live which has taken its place. “But their minds were blinded”-those who have never moved out of the Old Testament into the New, they who attach all their hopes to the Old Testament-“for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.”
I wonder whether some of you are my Lord’s own brethren after the flesh, you belong to the nation of Israel, those whom we call the Jews, God’s earthly people. You are one for whom the Christian should have the deepest affection. You gave us our Savior and, under God, you gave us our Bible. God used Jewish hands to write this Bible, and a Jewish mother gave birth to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and yet we Christians are enjoying the glory of this new covenant and so many of you, God’s earthly people after the flesh, are without this blessing and without this joy. Yet, you still believe your Bible, you still believe the Old Testament, you still believe that those books that comprise the old covenant are really the Word of the living God. You read that Bible and still do not have peace, you have no assurance that your sins are forgiven, you do not know yet for certain that you are right with God, and that if called from this world you would go immediately to Abraham’s bosom. Do you know why? Your eyes have not yet been open to see Him of whom Moses and all the prophets spoke. Listen to this word spoken by a Jew, a Jew whose name was Simon Peter. He says, “To him [that is, to Jesus] give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Thousands of Jews have looked through the Old Testament telescope to Christ as the fulfillment of all the types and shadows of the law, the true Messiah of Israel, the promised Redeemer, that Righteousness which God promised to reveal in due time, and, finding Him, the veil has dropped from their hearts and they are rejoicing in the new covenant. This same privilege is yours. “For until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.” Think of reading the Old Testament with a veil over it, or with the veil over the heart. If you turn to the New Testament and see how wonderfully Christ fulfills all these types and shadows of the law and how truly all the prophecies are fulfilled in Him, the veil will be torn away, and you will be brought out into the full light and liberty of the glory of God. “Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.” And that veil will always remain upon their heart until they turn to God in repentance.
“Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” Observe, it does not simply say, “Nevertheless when they shall turn to the Lord,” but it says, “When it shall turn to the Lord.” To what does the “it” refer? Go back to the preceding noun. “Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” That is the end of the parenthetic portion of this section.
Following up what he has already said in verse 6 the apostle concludes the section like this, “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Spirit of the Old Testament. Turn where you will in the Old Testament, it has one theme, and that is Christ. He is the Spirit of the whole thing, and if you just see the letter and do not see Him, you have missed the purpose for which God gave His Book. “The Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The Lord Jesus Christ says, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The law puts man in bondage; Christ brings him out into liberty. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the [unveiled face] of the Lord, are changed [the same word is rendered ‘transfigured’ in the Gospels] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Here is true Christian growth in grace. First, Christ has to be revealed to the soul, and then as you go on day after day, as you are occupied with Christ, you become like Him. You never have to advertise your holiness, you never have to say, “See how spiritual I am becoming, how Christlike I am.” This will not be necessary if your heart is taken up with the Lord Jesus. If occupied with Him, other people will soon realize that you are becoming more and more like Him as the days go by.
You remember Hawthorne’s story of “The Great Stone Face.” He tells of a lad who lived in the village below the mountain, and there upon the mountain was that image of the great stone face, looking down so solemnly, so seriously, upon the people. There was a legend that someday someone was coming to that village who would look just like the great stone face, and he would do some wonderful things for the village and would be the means of great blessing. The story gripped this lad, and he used to slip away and hour after hour would stand looking at that great stone face and thinking of the story about the one that was coming. Years passed, and that one did not come, and still the young man did what the boy had done, and went to sit and contemplate the majesty, the beauty of that great stone face. By and by youth passed away and middle age came on, and still he could not get rid of that legend; and then old age came, and one day as he walked through the village someone looked at him and exclaimed, “He has come, the one who is like the great stone face!” He became like that which he contemplated. If you want to be Christlike, look at Jesus. If you want to grow in grace, contemplate Jesus. You find Him revealed in the Word, so read your Bible and meditate upon it. We sing the song,
Take time to be holy,
Speak oft with thy Lord.
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer almost always interrupts when this hymn is given out, and says, “Please let me change that first line; let us sing it, ‘Take time to behold Him.’” As we behold Him we will become holy, for, “we all, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the unveiled face of the Lord, are changed, are transfigured, and transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25