2 Corinthians 3:1-3. Do we begin again to commend ourselves? A happy mode of recovery, as though he had slidden unawares into self-applause, when contrasting his ministry with that of false teachers. Or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you? Ye are our epistles, living epistles, written in our hearts, and carried in our bosoms wherever we may go. Your wisdom and piety, and all your moral glory as a people, record our fame. We are bold to say that the church at Corinth, manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, publishes our praise, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, as is the manner of men, but in fleshly tables of the heart. The Swedes published about a century ago, a large folio book full of wood-cuts, copied from stones which record the actions of their princes, and the virtues of private persons. Some of those actions have been engraved on rocks and contour cliffs, to instruct posterity.
2 Corinthians 3:5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves. These words are laconic; more is understood than said. λογισασθαι τι, to reason out, to collect such a system as the glorious gospel of the blessed God. We are not able to illuminate and convert the multitudes who have renounced idolatry, and turned to the Lord, both in Asia and in Greece. Our sufficiency is of God.
2 Corinthians 3:6. Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament. The Greek is, “new covenant,” as in Jeremiah 31., which is the proper word, for the covenant regards all nations, as in Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8. A testament, on the contrary, chiefly regards an individual. The grace conferred on Paul makes him bold. He says more than either Moses or the prophets could say, yet his ministry says more than his words. As the glory of the gospel surpasses the glory of the law, so the ministry of the new covenant, in every view, surpasses that of the old.
Not of the letter, the moral law, but of the spirit, that is, the gospel in all its quickening and reviving influences. For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. Yet when the gospel is called “spirit and life,” it is understood also of the Holy Spirit’s giving power and energy to the gospel, convincing the world of sin, and making the word quick and powerful, like a two- edged sword. It is preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. We must be careful not to concede too much to that philosophy ever hostile to revelation.
2 Corinthians 3:7-8. If the ministration of death — was glorious; the sublime and terrific grandeur of God on Sinai at the promulgation of the law. This law discovers the moral glory of God, is unchangeable as the divine nature, and requires pure and perfect love to God. It also discovers the concupiscence of the heart, as in a sunbeam; it pronounces the awful sentence without respect of persons, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” — But the same glory in Christ, the mediator of the new covenant, founded on better promises than those of corn and wine, on ascending the throne of the mercy-seat, displays the healing beams of grace. It is his prerogative to confer pardon, adoption, righteousness, and eternal glory, the crown that fadeth not away.
2 Corinthians 3:10. That which was made glorious had no glory, compared with the new covenant, because the law of righteousness and life superseded the law of sin and death. All the glory of the gospel, clothed with everlasting righteousness, remains in the fullest splendour. The moon of the tabernacle wanes, while the sun of the true tabernacle shines with everlasting light.
2 Corinthians 3:12-13. Seeing then we have such hope, that the gospel shall abide for ever, we use great plainness of speech. We are the more bold and confident in preaching the gospel of Christ; and not as Moses, who put a veil over his face. The Greek is, over his own face. By this veil Moses intimated that the children of Israel should not confine their regards to a law which was ultimately to be abolished, but should look through the shadows to the end of the law. To this day that veil is on their hearts when Moses and the prophets are read. They do not, as the learned Pascal remarks, see the old testament full of Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:16. When it (their heart) shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away from it. “When the time shall come,” says Erasmus, “that they shall rise above the contumacy of their mind, and embrace the catholic faith, and turn to the Lord, then the veil shall be taken away, and they shall contemplate those divine truths which can be seen only with the luminous eyes of faith.” The law of Moses related to gross and carnal ministrations, which may be seen with corporeal eyes. But the law of Christ is spirit, not teaching such shadowy things, but the invisible things of God, which are seen by faith. The law of Moses imposed obedience through fear of punishment; the gospel opens the glorious liberty of the children of God.
2 Corinthians 3:17. Now the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. The glorious liberty to call God Father, to call Jesus Lord, and pray and preach with the Holy Ghost. By consequence, the nearer a believer lives to God, the more he will enjoy of his Spirit, and the bolder he will be in prayer and speaking in his name. If he have lost that Spirit, his words will want the living power which is known and felt by the people; or if the Lord should favour him with some portions of it in the sanctuary, it is for the sake of the people. The glory will depart from him, and leave him to all the groveling habits which daily reign in his heart. David, as is allowed by the jews, when he fell from grace in the affair of Bathsheba, lost the spirit of psalmody, and of prophesying. Therefore in his penitentiary psalm he prays thus: Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold, or establish, me with thy free Spirit, the Spirit of glory and liberty in the worship of the sanctuary: then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Psalms 51:12-13.
2 Corinthians 3:18. But we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image. 1 Corinthians 13:12. Christ is that mirror; in him we see all the perfections of the deity revealed. This glory is spiritual, and is effectuated in the heart by the Spirit of the Lord. The more we see his glory, the more we are changed into his image, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man.” Believers having once seen the glory of Christ, can find no substitute on earth. That sentiment is supreme in every faithful heart: “I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” Psalms 17:15.
In coming a second time to this happy sphere of labour, the apostle says he did not need letters of recommendation. He had now multitudes in Asia, and countless numbers in Greece, who in every city would crowd the road to meet him, with looks and greetings all divine; and the man who received him must for awhile keep open house. And who could divide a family of love? Oh happy fruits of the gospel of Christ. The faith, the love, the piety, and hallowed joy of the father were written on the hearts of his spiritual children. The glory and unction of St. Paul’s ministry might be read of all men in the looks of a hundred converts. The glory of the gospel infinitely surpasses the glory of the law. This is illustrated by the most conclusive contrasts. The law by a discovery of sin, and by an absolute sentence, was the ministration of death. But the gospel, illustrating the shadows of the law, brought life and righteousness to the penitent: it wrote the law on the heart, and manifested a glory that shall never fade away. It opened the light of God’s countenance, and all the heaven of redeeming love. How lamentable then is the case of the jews who could read the old testament, which is full of the Messiah, and yet overlook the glory of the Lord Jesus, and the power of his resurrection.
The blindness and prejudice of the human heart can only be removed by the grace of God, giving a teachable temper; and when they turn to the Lord the veil shall be removed. Thus Moses, shining with the divine glory, veiled his face when he addressed the elders: but on turning to speak to the Lord, he took away the veil. Happy figure of the removal of the veil which covered the law, by the superior glory of grace. Happy transition from the bondage of the legal shadows to the glorious liberty of Zion, whose children have received the spirit of adoption, crying, Abba, Father.
The glimpse of glory which Moses saw, then a singular favour, is now open to every believing soul in regard of sanctification. The gospel is the speculum or glass, setting forth the glory of Christ. When we contemplate his lustre, the whole soul becomes irradiated with the light of life; when we behold his love, the heart presently burns with celestial fire; and as it is the property of fire to convert every substance into its own element, so we are changed into the same image, by the renovating power of the Holy Ghost. Thus Stephen before the council had a countenance irradiated with the glory of Christ, for heaven at that moment opened to his view with brighter and still brighter beauty. But whence proceeds this astonishing power of faith, or of beholding the glory of the Lord. It is because he has been pleased to make faith the grand condition of justifying and of sanctifying grace; and because it is consonant to the moral nature of things. If I look at the glory of this world, and covet its vanities, I become base by leaving God, and choosing corruption. But when looking simply and constantly at his glory, I become elevated in faith, ennobled in sentiment, and sanctified in habit. Thus faith purifies the heart, and inexplicably transforms the soul into the image of God. What then must be the change induced on glorified spirits, when they shall see him as he is.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany