In this Chapter, which is but short, though sweet, the Apostle appeals to the Hearts of the Corinthians, as Proofs of his Ministry. He draws a beautiful Comparison, between the Ministration of the Law, and the Gospel; to shew the vast Superiority of the latter.
(1) Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? (2) Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: (3) 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. (4) And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: (5) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; (6) 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.
What a very high proof of the truth of Christ's Gospel must that be, which makes an immediate appeal to the hearts and consciences of men? And what can a Church or People desire more, than when their servants (for the highest Apostles are no more) bring those credentials with them, that they are sent of God? Reader! pause over the Apostles' statement, for it holds good, as much now, as in the days of the Apostles. Where God the Holy Ghost hath a people, the Lord will send servants to minister to that people in divine things. See, in confirmation, that promise, Jeremiah 3:15. And where the Lord sends his servants, the same Lord will give testimony to the word of his grace, Isaiah 52:6-9. And do observe, the beautiful figure Paul makes use of, to prove his Apostleship by. Ye are our Epistle (said he) written in our hearts; known and read of all men. Yes! For when the Lord the Spirit, who sent the Apostle and his fellow servants to the Corinthians, and gave them a door of utterance to the truths of God, gave also a door of entrance into his people's hearts; and by his regenerating grace, awakened them to the knowledge of sin, to the cordial reception of, and belief in, the Lord Jesus Christ: these precious things proved, that the Gospel they preached, was not a yea and nay doctrine, but that all the promises of God, in Christ Jesus, were Yea, and Amen, unto the glory of God by his servants' ministry. This was a demonstration of the word, and power. This manifested both the people's interest in Christ, and the servants' being sent by Christ; and mutually tended to comfort and rejoice the heart, both of the minister and people, giving such decided testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus; when the Gospel came, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10.
Reader! I beseech you, do not dismiss the subject, to which this statement of the Apostle leads, without first framing from it a rule, to estimate every Church of Christ upon earth. Depend upon it, as the Church of God is the same in all ages of the world, the same standard for decision, concerning the truths of God, will be found a faithful, and unerring rule, to form just, and infallible conclusions. Where Christ hath a people to gather from among the carnal world, and where he sends his Gospel to be instrumental to gather them; those blessed effects will follow. What Jesus said upon another occasion, in relation to the judgment of men at large, holds equally good, in ascertaining the characters of his sent servants. Ye shall know them by their fruits, Matthew 7:16.
The servant of the Lord, and of the highest order in that service, and endued with the greatest gifts, considers himself but as the servant of the Lord's people. So commanded Jesus: and so all faithful ministers know. Whosoever will be great among you, (said that humble Lord,) let him be your minister; and whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. And then, as if to endear the charge still more, Jesus added: Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many, Matthew 20:26-28. We are stewards, said Paul, not Lord s, over God's heritage. Servants, not masters. One is your Master, even Christ, 1 Corinthians 4:1; Matthew 23:8.
And as in character, so in office. They who are Epistles in the hearts of the Lord's people, are they that feed the flock, not fleece it. They that preach Christ Jesus the Lord, not themselves, 2 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 5:2. Regenerated in their own souls, before they go forth as instruments in the Lord's hand, to the service of others, whom the Lord will regenerate; they hold forth the word of life. And, ordained by the Holy Ghost to the immediate work of the ministry, before they labor in the word and doctrine; they watch for men's souls as they that must give account, Acts 13:1-4; Hebrews 13:17. So that if the Reader be earnest, as that he need be earnest, (for nothing this side the grave can be equally earnest,) to ask of Jesus, as the Church did: Tell me, 0 thou whom any soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy, flock to rest at noon? Song of Solomon 1:7. These are the Shepherds' tents, to which the Lord directs. The people are the ministers' epistles; known and read of all men. Both minister and people are taught of God: and great will be the peace of the people, Isaiah 54:13. They know the joyful sound, in the everlasting love of God the Father; the grace, blood-shedding, righteousness, and finished salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ with all the blissful gifts, and manifestations of God the Holy Ghost. These form indeed, a joyful sound, and they are blessed in knowing it; for they walk in the light of God's countenance, Psalms 89:15. Paul might well call the people so taught, his Epistle. We are, said he to them, your rejoicing, as ye also are our's, in the day of the Lord Jesus, 1 Corinthians 1:14.
Reader! while I recommend the subject, in the most affectionate manner, to your most serious consideration, I entreat you not to overlook what the Apostle so frequently in his Epistles dwells upon; his own weakness, and the sense he had of his own insufficiency, in ministering in the service of the Lord. This view of Paul indeed, will only strengthen yet more what went before. For if so highly taught, a servant of Christ refers all the success of his labors, into His sovereign power, who alone could make him an able minister, of the New Testament; how needful must it be, in all inferior servants of the Lord, to see that all their sufficiency is of God?
(7) But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: (8) How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? (9) For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. (10) For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. (11) For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. (12) Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: (13) And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: (14) 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. (15) But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. (16) Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.
I call upon the Reader, on this paragraph to remark with me, the striking contrast the Apostle hath drawn, in the ministration of the word, between the Law, and the Gospel. No subject can be more interesting to regard. And I crave indulgence, from its being brought before us, to state it somewhat particularly.
Now the Reader should first very carefully observe, that by the terms which the Apostle makes use of, for explaining the doctrines he had in view to teach the Church: of the New Testament, as distinguished from the Old; and the spirit, as distinguished from the letter; he is by no means speaking slightingly of the Old Testament Scripture, as if the whole word of God, was not equally sacred and blessed. This would be a perversion of the Apostle's meaning. The Bible, indeed, is distinguished by the different names of the Old Testament, and the New, for the better apprehension of the different dispensations under which the Church lived. But, as the Church herself is but one, so the word of God is but one; and both Testaments have ministered, and do minister, but to the one Church of Christ, and that with equal blessedness, according to their different dispensations.
Neither, by the name New Testament, is in the least meant anything new in the Almighty Author of salvation, who is the same, yesterday, and today, and forever: Hebrews 13:8, or, in the Covenant of grace, which is, in its very nature, an everlasting Covenant, founded in the ancient settlements of eternity, between all the Persons of the Godhead, before the world began, Psalms 89:2-3. Neither is the revelation of this Covenant new. For it came in immediately upon the fall, and was made known to Adam in the garden, in the first promise, which folded up in its bosom, every other: even Christ, and all his fullness, and all-sufficiency. And everything under the law, by precept, type, sacrifice, or shadow; preached Christ in figure, as much as the Gospel in substance. But the New Testament, is so called, to distinguish it from the Old, because it now holds forth, what all along had been promised, as newly accomplished and fulfilled; and as compleating Jehovah's revelation of grace to his Church and people.
In like manner, the distinction between the letter, and the spirit: these terms have no respect whatever to intimate, any difference in the Scripture writings, of the Old Testament and the New. The Gospel is as much written in letter, as the law, and both equally the words of God. But the sense is, that God's word, in the mere letter, without the quickening influence of the Spirit, doth not minister to life, And this is as much applicable to the mere written letter of the Gospel without the Spirit, as to the law. Hence Paul puts the case, that the Gospel may he hid, to them that are lost, 2 Corinthians 4:3. And the Lord Jesus, in his parable of the stony ground hearers, very plainly proves that it is not the mere hearing of the Gospel, which gives life. Matthew 13:20 &c,
But, while the Reader forms clear apprehensions, in his judgment, concerning the names and terms the Apostle makes use of on this subject, let him next observe, with me, (and what indeed becomes most interesting to observe,) the vast distinction the Apostle draws between the killing nature of the letter, and the life-giving power of the Spirit. Here lays the whole stress of Paul's statement. The law may be said to kill; because it holds forth precepts, without affording the least help to obey. And as it holds forth the precepts to fallen sinful men, who in themselves have no power or ability to obey, it may be truly said to kill. It is, therefore, the ministration of death; whereas, the Spirit giveth life. It giveth life from itself, nothing in the receiver disposing to it. In whatever sense we accept these words, they are most blessed, and reviving to the soul. If by the Spirit, the Apostle meant, God the Spirit; he is the source of all-quickening, and life-giving influences. See verse 17 (2 Corinthians 3:17). Or if the Gospel, in distinction to the law, be here intended; then it will follow, that the Gospel, in the hand of God the Holy Ghost, giveth life. Christ calls his Gospel by that name. The words that I speak unto you, (saith Jesus,) they are spirit, and they are life. And unquestionably they ever must be so, when Jesus speaketh to his people, John 6:63. But void of his quickening power, the Lord himself hath seven times recorded it, in his holy word; that the Christ less shall hear, and understand not; and see, but perceive not, Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 13:14; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26; Romans 11:8.
The Apostle, by way of further illustration, hath added a striking distinction, between the effect of the law, and that of the Gospel. The ministry of the law by Moses, he calls the ministration of death. The blessed properties of the Gospel by Christ, the ministration of life. The law, Paul proves, could produce nothing but death; for it universally condemned the whole race of Adam. Even the children of God, from being born in the stock of Adam, came under the condemnation of it. But as in Christ the law is honored, and all the seed of Christ considered holy in Him; the Gospel, by Christ, is called the ministration of life. And, therefore, there is a glory in this dispensation, which far exceeds the law by Moses, even had there been a possibility of obedience to it. Reader! it is very blessed to read Moses in Christ; and to see that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth, Romans 10:4. The Church is comforted in the prospect, that the vail which is spread over all nations, (or over God's people which are scattered in all nations,) shall be done away, Isaiah 25:7.
(17) Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (18) 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.
What a sweet thought is here suggested to the Church, in the divine presence, and the freedom he brings with him. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Yes! When the child of God, from the Adam-nature of sin and Satan, by regeneration, is brought into the liberty wherewith the Lord makes his people free; then they are free indeed, John 8:36. They then have access to the throne, at all times, upon all occasions. Having received the Spirit of adoption, they cry Abba, Father! And the Spirit beareth witness with their spirits, that they are children of God, Romans 8:16. They are freed from the burden of sin, from the guilt of sin, from the penalty due to sin, from the dominion of sin; and from all the terrors; and everlasting condemnation of sin. God's law is magnified, and made honorable in Christ. Justice is satisfied. The accusations of Satan are answered. Conscience is appeased; and the believer, having passed from death unto life, hath now found peace with God, in the blood of the cross: for there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Blessed be God! where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty! Reader! let us seek grace, to learn our blessedness, from this work of God the Spirit, and to bring it into actual enjoyment, from day to day. How fully doth it prove, our oneness with Christ, and our interest in Christ. How ought it to bear us up, against every temptation, every sorrow, trial, and affliction! And what a security against sickness, death, judgment, and all the fears of futurity. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty! Oh! the freedom to a throne of grace now; and the assurance of access, and every privilege of the redeemed, to a throne of glory forever! At that day ye shall know, that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you! John 14:21. Oh! the blessedness, through the Spirit, and the blood, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, to go every day, and all the day, to a throne of grace now, and to a throne of glory forevermore!
I detain the Reader, just to observe, the beauty and blessedness which the Apostle closeth the Chapter with, in relation to Christ. Beholding as in a glass, (or speculum,) the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image. Yes! when God the Spirit enables the child of God to behold Christ, this begets an assimilation: similar to the effect in looking to a glass, the one is formed by the other. So by beholding Jesus in his glory, admiring his Person, having our souls ravished with his love, we are led to imitate what we love: and, through the Spirit of the Lord, we grow up into a desire to be like him, to resemble what we love, and to imitate what we admire. Precious Jesus! be it my portion, to behold thy face in righteousness, that when I awake up, I may be satisfied with thy likeness, Psalms 17:15.
READER! let you and I, learn to rightly value our privileges!. Blessed be God, we are not come to the Mount, that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest! Oh! what an awful dispensation, to shadow forth the terror, and dread, with which the broken law of God stood over the alarmed conscience of the trembling, guilty soul! Well might it be called, the ministration of death. For it denounced everlasting indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, to every soul of man that doeth evil. Reader! what a mercy is it, that the poor sinner is come not to Mount Sinai, but Mount Zion; not to the law to condemn, but to the Gospel to save; even to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant; and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. Lord! Take away every remaining vail, of darkness and unbelief. Cause my soul, with open face, to behold as in a glass, the glory of the Lord! Cause my soul to be changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. And do thou, Almighty Spirit, grant me freedom of access, to the mercy-seat of my God, in Christ. For where thou, Lord, art, there is liberty. Oh! for liberty to pray, to plead, to wrestle with my God in prayer, in the blood, obedience, and death, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Give me, Lord, that sweet spirit of adoption, that I may be no longer under a spirit of bondage, but cry, Abba Father! And, oh! do thou be an unceasing witness to my spirit, that I am a child of God!
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany