Defence against the charge of self-recommendation, which St. Paul does not need (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). His sufficiency comes from God (2 Corinthians 3:4-6), who has made him minister of a covenant far more glorious than that given to Hosea (verses 7-11). This ministry needs no veil upon the face (verses 12, 13), such as to this day darkens the hearts of the Jews (verses 14, 15), though it shall one day be removed (verses 16-18).
2 Corinthians 3:1-11
St. Paul's ministry is his sufficient letter of commendation.
2 Corinthians 3:1
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? The last verse of the last chapter might be seized upon by St. Paul's opponents to renew their charge—that he was always praising himself. He anticipates the malignant and meaning smiles with which they would hear such words. The word "again" implies that this charge had already been brought against him, perhaps in consequence of such passages as 1 Corinthians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 4:11-14; 1 Corinthians 9:15-23; 1 Corinthians 14:18, etc. Such passages might be called self-laudatory and egotistical, were it not that (as St. Paul here explains) they arose only from a sense of the grandeur of his office, of which he was the almost involuntary agent, used by God as it seemed best to him. Hence he says later on (2 Corinthians 7:1-16 :18) that self-praise is no commendation, and that the true test of a man is God's commendation. The verb "I commend," technically used in the same sense as our "commendatory letters," occurs also in Romans 16:1. Or need we, etc.? The reading, ἢ μὴ, thus translated, is better supported than εἰ μὴ, unless, which would have a somewhat ironical force. The μὴ in the reading ἢ μὴ implies, "Can you possibly think that we need," etc.? Generally, when a stranger came to some Church to which he was not personally known, he carried with him some credentials in the form of letters from accredited authorities. St. Paul treats it as absurd to suppose that he or Timothy should need such letters, either from the Corinthians or to them. As some. He will not name them, but he refers to the Judaists, who vaunted of their credentials in order to disparage St. Paul, who was too great to need and too independent to use them. We can hardly, perhaps, realize the depth and bitterness of antagonism concealed under that word "some" in 1 Corinthians 4:18, Galatians 1:7; Galatians 2:12. It is not meant that there was anything discreditable in using such letters (for Apollos had used them, Acts 18:27), but the disgraceful thing was that St. Paul should be disparaged for not bringing them. Epistles of commendation. The phrase, ἐπιστολαὶ συστατικαί—"introductory letters"—was familiar in later Greek. In days when there were few public hostels, and when it was both a duty and a necessity for small and persecuted communities like those of the Jews and Christians to practise hospitality (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2. etc.), it was customary both for synagogues and Churches to provide their friends and emissaries with authentic testimonials. Otherwise they might have been deceived by wandering impostors, as, in fact, the Christians were deceived by the vagabond quack Peregrinus. We can easily see how the custom of using such letters might be abused by idle, restless, and intriguing persons, who have never found it very difficult to procure them. We find traces of their honest use by Phoebe, by Silas and Jude, by Apollos, by Mark, and by Zenas, in Romans 16:1; Acts 18:27; Acts 15:25; Colossians 4:10; Titus 3:13; and of their unfair use by certain Judaists, in Galatians 1:7 and Galatians 2:12. Nothing can more forcibly illustrate the necessity for St. Paul's protest against the idle vaunt of possessing such letters, than the fact that, more than a century afterwards, we find malignant innuendoes aimed at St. Paul in the pseudo-Clementines, under the name of" the enemy" and "Simon Magus" and "a deceiver." He is there spoken of as using letters from the high priest (which, indeed, St. Paul had done as Saul of Tarsus, Acts 9:1, Acts 9:2); and the Churches are warned never to receive any one who cannot bring credentials from James; so deep-rooted among the Judaists was the antagonism to the independent apostolate and daring originality of the apostle of the Gentiles! Dr. Plumptre quotes Sozomen ('H.E.', James 5:16) for the curious fact that the Emperor Julian tried to introduce the system of "commendatory letters" into his revived paganism. Or letters of commendation from you. The substitution of "letters" for "epistles" is an instance of the almost childish fondness for unnecessary synonyms, which is one of the defects of the Authorized Version. The true reading probably is "to you or from you" ( א, A, B, C). The word "commendatory" (sustatikon) is omitted in A, B, C. Or from you. It was worse than absurd to suppose that St. Paul should need those literae formatae to a Church of which he was the thunder; and nothing but the boundless "inflation" which characterized the Corinthians could have led them to imagine that he needed letters from them to other Churches, as though, forsooth, they were the primary Church or the only church (1 Corinthians 14:36).
2 Corinthians 3:2
Ye are our epistle. Their very existence as a Church was the most absolute "commendatory letter" of St. Paul, both from them and to them. Written in our hearts. The expression has no connection with the fact that the high priest bore the names of Israel graven on the jewelled Urim, which he wore upon his breast. St. Paul means that others may bring their "letters of commendation'' in their hands. His letter of commendation is the very name and existence of the Church of Corinth written on his heart. Known and read of all men. The metaphor is subordinated to the fact. All men may recognize the autograph, and in it were read the history of the Corinthian converts, which was written on the apostle's heart, and which therefore rendered the notion of any other letter of commendation to or from them superfluous and even absurd. The play on words (epigignosko and anagignosko) is similar to that in 2 Corinthians 1:13.
2 Corinthians 3:3
Manifestly declared. The fame and centrality of Corinth gave peculiar prominence to the fact of their conversion. The epistle of Christ ministered by us. The Corinthians are the epistle; it is written on the hearts of St. Paul and his companions; Christ was its Composer; they were its amanuenses and its conveyers. The development of the metaphor as a metaphor would be somewhat clumsy and intricate, but St. Paul only cares to shadow forth the essential fact which he wishes them to recognize. Not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; i.e. not with visible or perishable materials, but spiritual in its origin and character. The notion of "the finger of God" naturally recalled the notion of "the Spirit of God" (comp. Matthew 12:28 with Luke 11:20). Not in tables of stone. God's writing by means of the Spirit on the heart reminds him of another writing of God on the stone tablets of the Law, which he therefore introduces with no special regard to the congruity of the metaphor about "an epistle." But in fleshy tables of the heart. The overwhelming preponderance of manuscript authority supports the reading "but in fleshen tablets—hearts." St. Paul is thinking of Jeremiah 31:33, "I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts;" and Ezekiel 11:22, "I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh." The tablets were not hard and fragile, but susceptible and receptive. Our letters of introduction are inward not outward, spiritual not material, permanent not perishable, legible to all not only by a few, written by Christ not by man.
2 Corinthians 3:4
Such trust. The confidence, namely, that we need no other recommendation to or from you. Through Christ. Who alone can inspire such confidence in myself and my mission (1 Corinthians 15:10). To God-ward; i.e. in relation to God; towards whom the whole Being of Christ is directed (John 1:1), and therefore all the work of his servants (Romans 5:1).
2 Corinthians 3:5
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves. He here reverts to the question asked in 2 Corinthians 2:16. He cannot bear the implication that any "confidence" on his part rests on anything short of the overwhelming sense that he is but an agent, or rather nothing but an instrument, in the hands of God. To think anything as of ourselves. He has, indeed, the capacity to form adequate judgments about his work, but it does not come from his own resources ( ἀφ ̓ ἑαυτῶν) or his own independent origination ( ἐξ ἑαυτῶν); comp. 1 Corinthians 15:10. But our sufficiency. Namely, to form any true or right judgment, and therefore to express the confidence which I have expressed. Is of God. We are but fellow workers with him (1 Corinthians 3:19).
2 Corinthians 3:6
Who also. Either, "And he it is who;" or, "Who besides this power, has made us adequate ministers." Hath made us able ministers; rather, made us sufficient ministers. Of the new testament; rather, of a fresh covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). The "new testament" has not the remotest connection with what we call "The New Testament," meaning thereby the book—which, indeed, had at this time no existence. The word "testament" means a will, and in this sense implies neither the Hebrew berith nor the Greek diatheke, both of which mean "covenant." In one passage only of the New Testament (Hebrews 9:16, Hebrews 9:17) does diatheke mean a "testament" or "will." For the thought, see Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:11, 1 Timothy 1:12. Not of the letter, but of the spirit. In other words, "not of the Law, but of the gospel;" not of that which is dead, but of that which is living; not of that which is deathful, but of that which is life-giving; not of bondage, but of freedom; not of mutilation, but of self-control; not of the outward, but of the inward; not of works, but of grace; not of menace, but of promise; not of curse, but of blessing; not of wrath, but of love; not of Moses, but of Christ. This is the theme which St. Paul develops especially in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians (see Romans 2:29; Romans 3:20; Romans 7:6, Romans 7:10, Romans 7:11; Romans 8:2; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 5:4, etc.). Not of the letter. Not, that is, of the Mosaic Law regarded as a yoke of externalism; a hard and unhelpful "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not;" a system that possessed no life of its own and inspired no life into others; a "categoric imperative," majestic, indeed, but unsympathetic and pitiless. Both the Law and the gospel were committed to writing; each covenant had its own book; but in the case of the Mosaic Law there was the book and nothing more; in the case of the gospel the book was nothing compared to the spirit, and nothing without the spirit. Out of the spirit. That is, of the gospel which found its pledge and consummation in the gift of the Spirit. The Law, too, was in one sense "spiritual" (Romans 7:14), for it was given by God, who is a Spirit, and it was a holy Law; but though such in itself (in se) it was relatively (per aceidens) a cause of sin and death, because it was addressed to a fallen nature, and inspired no spirit by which that nature could be delivered (see Romans 7:7-25). But in the gospel the spirit is everything; the mere letter is as nothing (John 6:63). For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. This is one of the very numerous "texts" which have been first misinterpreted and have then been made, for whole centuries, the bases of erroneous systems. On this text more than any other, Origen, followed by the exegetes of a thousand years, built his dogma that the Scripture must be interpreted allegorically, not literally, because "the letter" of the Bible kills. The misinterpretation is extravagantly inexcusable, and, like many others, arose solely from rending words away from their context and so reading new senses into them. The contrast is not between "the outward" and the inward sense of Scripture at all. "The letter" refers exclusively to "the Law," and therefore has so little reference to "the Bible" that it was written before most of the New Testament existed, and only touches on a small portion of the Old Testament. Killeth. Two questions arise.
The answers seem to be that
2 Corinthians 3:7
The ministration of death. The ministration, that is, of the Law, of "the letter which killeth." St. Paul here begins one of the arguments a minori ad majus which are the very basis of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Written and engraven in stones; literally, engraved in letters on stones (Exodus 31:18). The reference shows that, in speaking of "the letter," St. Paul was only thinking of the Mosaic Law, and indeed specifically of the Decalogue. Was glorious; literally, occurred in glory, or, proved itself glorious. In itself the Law was "holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12), and given "at the disposition of angels" (Acts 7:53); and its transitory glory was illustrated by the lustre which the face of Moses caught by reflection from his intercourse with God (Exodus 24:16). Could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses (Exodus 34:29, Exodus 34:30). St. Paul has been led quite incidentally into this digression in the course of defending himself by describing the nature of his ministry; but it bore very definitely on his general purpose, because his chief opponents were Judaists, whose one aim it was to bind upon the Church the yoke of Mosaism. That they could not "behold" the face of Moses is the hagadah, or traditional legend, derived from Exodus 34:30, which says that "they were afraid to draw nigh to him. The reader may recall the beautiful lines of Cardinal Newman-
"Lord I grant me this abiding grace—
Thy words and saints to know;
To pierce the veil on Moses' face,
Although his words be slow."
Because of the glory of his countenance. This circumstance is so often alluded to as to have become identified with the conception of Moses. The Hebrew words for "a ray of light" and "a horn" are identical; hence, instead of saying that his face was "irradiated," the Vulgate says, Cornnta erat ejus facies; and even in our version of Habakkuk 3:4 we find "And he had horns [i.e. 'rays of light'] coming out of his hand." To this is due the mediaeval symbol of Moses with horns, as in the matchless statue by Michael Angelo. Which glory was to be done away. The Greek might be expressed by "the glory—the evanescing glory—of his countenance." It was not "to be done away," but from the first moment they saw it it began to vanish. The verb "to do away," implying annulment, and the being abrogated as invalid, is a characteristic word in this group cf Epistles, in which it occurs twenty-two times. This illustrates the prominence in St. Paul's thoughts of the fact that the Law was now "antiquated" and "near its obliteration" (comp. Hebrews 8:13). But in dwelling on the brief and transient character of this radiance, St. Paul seizes on a point which (naturally) is not dwelt upon in Exodus 34:1-35.
2 Corinthians 3:8
The ministration of the spirit. That is, "the apostolate and service of the gospel." Be rather glorious. A contrast may be intended between the ministration of the letter, which "became glorious," which had, as it were, a glory lent to it ( ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ), and that of the spirit, which is, of its own nature, in glory.
2 Corinthians 3:9
The ministration of condemnation. The same antithesis between the Law as involving "condemnation" and the gospel as bestowing "righteousness" is found in Romans 5:18, Romans 5:19. The glory; perhaps, rather, a glory; a stronger way of describing it as "glorious." Of righteousness. Involving the further conception of "justification," as in Romans 5:21; Romans 1:16, Romans 1:17; Romans 4:25; Romans 5:21.
2 Corinthians 3:10
For. He proceeds to show that the latter ministration was far more superabundant in glory. That which was made glorious, etc. Many various interpretations have been offered of this text. The meaning almost undoubtedly is, "For even that which has been glorified [namely, the Mosaic ministry, as typified by the splendour of his face] has not been glorified in this respect [i.e. in the respect of its relation to another ministry], because of the surpassing glory [of the latter]." In other words, the glory of Mosaism is so completely outdazzled by the splendour of the gospel, that, relatively speaking, it has no glory left; the moon and the stars cease to shine, they "pale their ineffectual fires" when the sun is in the zenith. The phrase, "in this respect," occurs again in 2 Corinthians 9:3 and 1 Peter 4:16.
2 Corinthians 3:11
For. An explanation of the "surpassing" glory of the later covenant founded on its eternity. That which is done away; rather, that which is evanescing; "which is being done away," as in 2 Corinthians 3:7. Was glorious… is glorious. The expression is varied in the Greek. The brief, the evanescent covenant was "through glory," i.e. it was a transitory gleam; the abiding covenant is "in glory;" i.e. it is an eternal splendour. It is, however, a disputed point whether St. Paul intended such rigid meanings to be attached to his varying prepositions (Romans 3:30, ἐκ πίστες … διὰ τῆς πίστεως: Romans 5:10, διὰ τοῦ θανάτου ἐν τῇ ζωῇ: Galatians 2:16, ἐξ ἔργων … διὰ πίστεως: Philemon 1:5, πρός τὸν κύριον … εἰς τοὺς ἁγιους). That which remaineth. The final, eternal, unshakable gospel (Hebrews 12:27). Is glorious; literally, is in glory. Christ is eternally the Light of the world (John 1:9; John 9:5); and Moses and Elias derived all their permanence of glory by reflection from this transfiguring light.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
The confidence inspired by this ministry and the veil on the hearts of those who will not recognize it.
2 Corinthians 3:12
Such hope. A hope based upon the abiding glory of this gospel covenant. Plainness of speech. The frankness and unreserved fearlessness of our language is justified by the glory of our ministry. It was impossible for Moses to speak with the same bold plainness.
2 Corinthians 3:13
And not as Moses. We need not act, as Moses was obliged to do, by putting any veil upon our faces while we speak. And here the image of "the veil" as completely seizes St. Paul's imagination as the image of the letter does in the first verses. Put a veil; literally, was putting, or, used to put, a veil on his face when he had finished speaking to the people. That the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished; rather, that the children of Israel might not gaze on the end of what was passing away. The object of the veil, according to St. Paul, was to prevent the Israelites from gazing on the last gleam of the covenant. In other words, he did not wish them to be witnesses of a fading glory. It is preposterous to imagine that St. Paul is here casting any blame on the conduct of Moses, as though he acted fraudulently or delusively. Moses was aware, and even told the people, float his legislation was not final (Deuteronomy 18:15 -19), but it would be quite natural that he should not wish the people to witness the gradual dimming of the lustre which, in St. Paul's view, was typical of that transitoriness. It seems, however, that St. Paul is here either
2 Corinthians 3:14
Their minds. This word is rendered" devices" in 2 Corinthians 2:11; "minds" in 2 Corinthians 3:14 and 2 Corinthians 4:4; and "thought" in 2 Corinthians 10:5. It means that their powers of reason were, so to speak, petrified. Were blinded; rather, were hardened. The verb cannot mean" to blind." By whom were their minds hardened? It would be equally correct to say by themselves (Hebrews 3:8), or by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), or by God (Romans 11:7, Romans 11:8). The same veil. Of course the meaning is "a veil of which the veil of Moses is an exact type." The veil which prevented them from seeing the evanescence of the light which shone on the face of Moses was symbolically identical with that which prevented them also from seeing the transitory character of his Law. It had been as it were taken from his face and laid on their hearts (see Acts 13:27-29; Romans 11:1-36.). Many commentators have seen in this verse a reference to the Jewish custom of covering the head with the tallith, a four-cornered veil, when they were in the synagogues. But this is doubtful, since the tallith did not cover the eyes. More probably his metaphor may have been suggested by Isaiah 25:7, "And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast ever all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations." Untaken away. There are two other ways of rendering this verse:
2 Corinthians 3:15
When Moses is read (Acts 15:21). The veil; rather, a veil; a veil of moral obstinacy, which prevents them from seeing the disappearance of the old covenant, as effectually as the veil on the face of Moses prevented them from seeing (as St. Paul viewed the matter) the disappearance of the transitory lustre on the face of Moses.
2 Corinthians 3:16
When it shall turn to the Lord. The nominative of the verb is not expressed. Obviously the most natural word to supply is the one last alluded to, namely, "the heart of Israel." The verb may have been suggested by Exodus 34:31. Shall be taken away; literally, is in course of removal. The tenses imply that "the moment the heart of Israel shall have turned to the Lord, the removal of the veil begins." Then "they shall look on him whom they pierced" (Zechariah 12:10); "He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations" (Isaiah 25:7).
2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is that Spirit. The "but" (Authorized Version, "now") introduces an explanation. To whom shall they turn? To the Lord. "But the Lord is the Spirit." The word "spirit" could not be introduced thus abruptly and vaguely; it must refer to something already said, and therefore to the last mention of the word "spirit" in 2 Corinthians 3:3. The Lord is the Spirit, who giveth life and freedom, in antithesis to the spirit of death and legal bondage. The best comment on the verse is Romans 8:2, "For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." All life and all religion had become to St. Paul a vision of all things in Christ. He has just said that the spirit giveth life, and, after the digression about the moral blindness which prevented the Jews from being emancipated from the bondage of the letter, it was quite natural for him to add, "Now the Lord is the Spirit to which I alluded." The connection in which the verse stands excludes a host of untenable meanings which have been attached to it. There is liberty. The liberty of confidence (Romans 8:4), and of frank speech (Romans 8:12), and of sonship (Galatians 4:6, Galatians 4:7), and of freedom from guilt (John 8:36); so that the Law itself, obeyed no longer in the mere letter but also in the spirit, becomes a royal law of liberty, and not a yoke which gendereth to bondage (James 1:25; James 2:12)—a service, indeed, but one which is perfect freedom (Romans 5:1-21; 1 Peter 2:16).
2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all. An appeal to personal experience in evidence of the freedom. With open face; rather, with unveiled face; as Moses himself spoke with God, whereas the Jews could not see even the reflected splendour on the face of Moses till he had shrouded it with a veil. Beholding as in a glass. This is at least as likely to be the true meaning as "reflecting as a mirror," which the Revised Version (following Chrysostom and others) has substituted for it. No other instance occurs in which the verb in the middle voice has the meaning of "reflecting,'' and the words, "With unveiled face," imply the image of "beholding." They are, in fact, a description of "the beatific vision." An additional reason for retaining the translation of our Authorized Version is that the verb is used in this sense by Philo ('Leg. Alleg.,' 3:33). The glory of the Lord. Namely, him who is "the Effulgence of God's glory" (Hebrews 1:2), the true Shechinah, "the Image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). Are changed into the same image. The present tense implies a gradual transfiguration, a mystical and spiritual change which is produced in us while we contemplate Christ. From glory to glory. Our spiritual assimilation to Christ comes from his glory and issues in a glory like his (1 Corinthians 15:51; comp." from strength to strength," Psalms 84:7). As by the Spirit of the Lord. This rendering (which is that of the Vulgate also) can hardly be correct. The natural meaning of the Greek is "as by the [or, from] the Lord the Spirit." Our change into glory comes from the Lord, who, as St. Paul has already explained, is the Spirit of which he has been speaking. No such abstract theological thought is here in his mind as that of the "hypostatic union," of the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is still referring to the contrast between the letter and the spirit, and his identification of this "spirit" in its highest sense with the quickening life which, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we receive from Christ, and which is indeed identical with "the Spirit of Christ."
2 Corinthians 3:1-5
"Do we begin again to commend ourselves?" etc. In the early Church it was customary for the member who was travelling into another locality to take with him a letter of commendation from the Church to which he or she belonged. The apostle says he did not require such a document from the Corinthian Church, as some others did, for they themselves were letters written on his own heart; and his ministry was a letter written on their hearts also. They were the living "epistles of Christ,... written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." Our subject is soul-literature, or Christianity written on the heart; and I offer five remarks.
I. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE MOST LEGIBLE FORM. There are some whose caligraphy is difficult to decipher and whose thoughts are difficult to understand; their ideas are misty and their style involved; but what is written on the soul is written so clearly that a child can make it out.
II. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE MOST CONVINCING FORM. Books have been written on the evidences of Christianity; not a few by the ablest men of their times, such as Paley, Lardner, Butler. But one life permeated and fashioned by the Christian spirit is a far more convincing power than any or all of their most magnificent productions. He who has been transformed by Christianity from the selfish, the sensual, and corrupt, into the spiritual, the benevolent, and the holy, furnishes an argument that baffles all controversy and penetrates the heart.
III. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE MOST PERSUASIVE FORM. There are many books "persuasive to piety," and many of them very powerful; but the most powerful of them are weak indeed compared to the mighty force of a Christly life. There is a magnetism in gospel truth embodied, which you seek for in vain in any written work. When the "Word is made flesh" it becomes "mighty through God."
IV. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE MOST ENDURING FORM. The tablet is imperishable. You may put truth on paper, but the paper will moulder; put it into institutions, but the institutions will dissolve as a cloud; put it on marble or brass, but these are corruptible.
V. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE DIVINEST FORM. The human hand can inscribe it on parchment or engrave it on stone, but God only can write it on the heart. "The Spirit of the living God." Paul was but the amanuensis, God is the Author.
2 Corinthians 3:6
The ministry of the letter and the ministry of the spirit.
"The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." Notice—
I. The twofold MINISTRY. "Ministers... not of the letter, but of the spirit." What does this mean? Not the two dispensations, the Mosaic and the Christian; for both alike had "letter" and "spirit." Nor does it mean a double interpretation of the Scripture, the literal and the spiritual It means, I think, the word and the thought, the sentence and the sentiment. Christianity has both "letter" and "spirit." If it had no "letter," it would be unrevealed, a thought shut up in the mind of God; if it had no "spirit," it would be but a hollow sound. The words point to two distinct methods of teaching Christianity.
1. The technical method. Who are the technical teachers?
2. The spiritual. What is it to be a minister of the "spirit"? He is a man more alive to the grace than the grammar, to the substance than the symbols of revelation. He is a man who has a comprehensive knowledge of those eternal principles that underlie all Scriptures, and has a living sympathy with those eternal elements.
II. The twofold RESULTS. "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."
1. The result of the technical ministry. It "killeth."
2. The result of the spiritual ministry. "The spirit giveth life." "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." "The spirit giveth life"—life to the intellect, conscience, sympathies, the whole soul.
CONCLUSION. How little of this soul-life we have in congregations! Creed-life, sect-life, Church-life, we have in abundance; hut where is soul-life, the life of holy love, earnest inquiry, independent action, spiritual freedom in relation to all that is Christlike and Divine?
2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Divine revelation more glorious in Christ than in Moses.
"But if the ministration," etc. At the outset three facts are noteworthy.
1. The infinite Father has made a special revelation of himself to his human offspring.
2. This special revelation of himself has mainly come through two great general sources—Moses and Christ.
3. The special revelation of himself, as it came through Christ, far transcends in glory the form it assumed as it came through Moses. The essence of the revelation is the same, but the forms differ, and the form it assumes in Christianity are the most glorious. There are two facts here.
I. That the special revelation as it came through MOSES WAS GLORIOUS. It was so glorious that "the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses." Four things impress us with its glory as revealed in Moses.
1. The wonderful display of divinity attending its manifestation on Mount Sinai. The expression, "the face of Moses," refers to this (Exodus 34:1). What wonderful things Moses saw and heard during the forty days he was on the mount! "The Lord rose up and came from Seir with ten thousand of his saints," etc.
2. the magnificence of its religious scenes and celebrations. The temple, hew splendid! the priesthood, how imposing! the psalmody, how inspiring! "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O thou city of God."
3. The stupendous miracles that stand in connection with it. The wilderness was the theatre of magnificent manifestations—the pillar, the manna, the flowing rock, the riven sea, etc.
4. The splendid intellects which were employed in connection with it. Solomon, Elijah, Daniel, David, Ezekiel. For these reasons Divine revelation as it came through Moses was truly glorious.
II. That although this special revelation was glorious as it came in connection with Moses, it was MORE GLORIOUS as it came in connection with CHRIST. "How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?" etc. Confining our illustrations on this point to the passage before us, we observe:
1. The Christian form of revelation is more likely to give life than the Mosaic. In Moses it was the "ministration of death." The Jews exalted the "letter" that "killeth" above the "spirit that giveth life," and they got buried in forms. In Christ the revelation is the gospel in life.
2. The Christian form of Divine revelation is more emphatically spiritual than the Mosaic. It is here called the "ministration of the spirit." In Moses it was associated with numerous forms and ceremonies; in Christ there are only two simple rites, and the spirit throbs in every sentence.
3. The Christian form of Divine revelation is more restorative than the Mosaic. The apostle speaks of the one as the "ministration of condemnation," of the other as the "ministration of righteousness." Maledictions thunder in the former, beatitudes in the latter.
4. The Christian form of Divine revelation is more enduring than the Mosaic. "For if that which is done away [which passeth away] was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious." Judaism is gone; Christianity is the "Word of God, which abideth foreverse" It is the final revelation of Heaven to our world.
Such, then, is a brief illustration of the apostle's position; and the subject, in conclusion, serves several important purposes.
1. It serves to expose the absurdity of making Moses the interpreter of Christ. It has been common with professing Christians to look at the New Testament through the spectacles of Moses, and thus to Judaize Christianity. Much in popery, much, alas! in old puritanism, much even in modern theology, is but Christianity Judaized, a going back to the "beggarly elements."
2. It serves to show the wrongness of going to Moses to support opinions which you cannot get from Christ. You can support war, slavery, capital punishment, by going to Moses; but you cannot find the shadow of a foundation for these in Christ.
3. It serves to reveal the glorious position of a true gospel minister. To show this was the object of the apostle in the text. The position of Moses, David, Isaiah, and all the great teachers under the old administration was glorious, but it is scarcely to be compared with the position of him who preaches that Christ of "whom Moses and the prophets did write."
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
The gospel as a transcendent benefactor.
"Seeing then that we have such hope," etc. Amongst the invaluable services which the gospel confers on man, there are four suggested by the text. It gives him moral courage, spiritual vision, true liberty, and Christ-like glory. It gives him—
I. MORAL COURAGE. "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness [boldness] of speech: 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," etc. This means that, seeing the revelation we have of God in Christ is not so terrible as his revelation in Moses, we have "great boldness." We need have no superstitious fear or dread. Unlike the Jews, who were afraid to look at the Divine radiance on the face of Moses, who trembled at the manifestation of God on Sinai, and who lacked the courage to look at the fact that their system was a temporary one, passing away; we have courage to look calmly at the manifestations of God and the facts of destiny. We use "great boldness." He who has the spirit of Christianity in him has courage enough to look all questions in the face, and to speak out his convictions with the dauntless force of true manhood.
II. SPIRITUAL VISION. "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." The "veil" of Moses was on his face, some material used for the moment and then withdrawn, but the "veil" referred to here was that "veil" of prejudice and traditional notions which prevented them from seeing when Paul wrote that the old dispensation has passed away before the brightness of the new. The souls of unrenewed men are so veiled by depravity that they fail to see anything in the great universe of spiritual realities. The spiritual is no more to them than nature is to men born blind. Now, the gospel is the only power under God that can take the "veil" from the soul, and enable us to see things as they are. Its grand mission is to open the eyes of the blind, etc.
III. TRUE LIBERTY. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." By the "Spirit of the Lord" here is meant the Spirit of Christ, his moral temper; and wherever this is, there is freedom.
1. Freedom from the bondage of ceremonial sin.
2. Freedom from the trammels of legality.
3. Freedom from the dominion of sin.
4. Freedom from the fear of death.
The Spirit of Christ is at once the guarantee and the inspiration of that liberty which no despot can take away, no time destroy—the "glorious liberty of the children of God."
IV. CHRIST-LIKE GLORY. "But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord," etc.
1. The glory of Christ was the glory of moral excellence. He was the "brightness of his Father's glory."
2. The glory of Christ is communicable. It comes to man through transformation "changed into the same image."
3. The glory of Christ which comes to man is progressive: "from glory to glory." The gopel alone can make men glorious.
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
2 Corinthians 3:1-6. - No letters of commendation needed; his converts were epistles.
In the close of the last chapter St. Paul had spoken of men who corrupted the Word of God (retailed it as a commodity for their own profit), and he had put himself and his ministry in contrast to them. Likely enough, this would provoke criticism. The quick interrogation comes - Was he commending himself, or did he need letters of commendation to them and from them? "Ye are our epistle written on his heart, known and read of all men—an epistle coming from Christ, and produced instrumentally by him as Christ's agent; not written with ink, but by the Spirit; "not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." With regard to the figure, it is probable that there was not another occasion in his life when it would have occurred to his imagination. Circumstances conspired with his state of mind. to produce it, and one can almost trace the sequence of associations out of which it came. What solicitude the former Epistle had given him! What would be the effect? Amid his thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 11:14) it was a matter of joy that he had written this letter, and he could now see God's hand very clearly in its production. Was not that Epistle a new and additional proof that he was Christ's apostle? Yet what was that Epistle, written with ink, to this "epistle of Christ," recorded on the soul, a part of itself, a part of its immortality? It was manifestly declared" that they were Christ's epistle, and it was equally clear that this epistle was due to his ministration. "Ministered by us." Had. they not given a new and striking evidence of the two facts, viz. Christ the Author of the epistle written on their hearts, and he the apostle, the ministerial agent of the work? It was a fresh motive to confidence: "Such trust have we through Christ to God-ward." Are we boasting of the late success of our Epistle—of our former successes? Nay; how can we be "sufficient of ourselves," or rely on our own wisdom and strength, when we have just confessed that we wrote to you "out of much affliction and anguish of heart, with many tears," and while the period of suspense lasted we were unfitted for our work, and at last, to rest in our spirit, we left Troas for Macedonia so as to see Titus the sooner? Nay; "our sufficiency is of God." It is he who also "hath made us able ministers of the New Testament." And wherein differs this new covenant from the old? Already he had spoken of "tables of stone" as contrasted with "fleshy tables of the heart," and the antithesis is resumed and further elaborated. The covenant is new, it is of the spirit, it is of the spirit that giveth life. Opposite in these particulars was the old covenant, the Mosaic Law, its ministers being cheifly engaged in executing a system of rules and ceremonials, adhering in all things to the exact language, and concerning themselves in no wise beyond the outward form. The external man with his interests and fortunes occupied attention. A nation was to exemplify the system, and therefore, by necessity, it largely addressed the senses, borrowing its motives and enforcing its penalties from a consideration of objects near and palpable. If we read Romans 7:1-25. we see what St. Paul meant by "the letter killeth." On the other hand, the dispensation of the spirit "giveth life." The antithesis is stated in the strongest possible form—death and life. This, accordingly, was the apostle's "sufficiency," a spiritual wisdom for enlightenment, a spiritual power for carrying out his apostolic plans, and an attained spiritual result seen in the recovery of Gentiles from the degradation of idolatry, and in the freedom of Jews from the bondage of the Mosaic Law.—L.
2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Ministry of the Old Testament compared with that of the New, and the superiority of the latter shown.
He speaks now of the "ministration of death," not of it as the ministry of the letter; and yet it was "glorious." Compared with the revelation made to Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, it was "glorious." Whether witnessing to the unity of God or to his providence over an elect race, it was an illumination, or splendour, unequalled in the centuries before Christ. Tribes were organized as a nation, bondmen transformed into free men; and, despite their proclivity to heathenish idolatry, they came finally to hold and defend the doctrine of one God, their Jehovah, their Lord of hosts, their Benefactor and Friend, as the doctrine underlying all their hopes and aspirations. The sanctity of human life which the great lawgiver made the foundation of his system, the rights of persons and property, the obligations of brotherhood among themselves, duties to the poor and the stranger, duties to their nation, reverence for the sabbath and its worship, obedience to God in the minutest things, were taught them with a precision and a force that largely succeeded in producing the only phenomenon of its kind in history—a nation educated in the sense of God, of his presence in their midst, and of his providence as an unceasing and omnipotent agency in their homes and business. What a "glory" there was in their literature we all know. No psalmody is given in the New Testament; none was wanted; inspired poetry reached its full measure of excellence in King David and his poetic successors; and the Christian heart, whether in prayer or praise, finds much of its deepest and most devout utterance in these ancient Judaean hymns. Reproduction is the test of enduring greatness. In this respect the genius and piety of David stand unrivalled. Whenever men worship God, he is the "chief singer" yet; nor have we any better standard by which to try the merit of our religious poetry and music than the similarity of their effect upon us to that produced by the Psalms of David. Last of all in the order of time, first in its importance, what a "glory" in him born of the Virgin Mary! On this system St. Paul made no war. What he antagonized was the misunderstanding and abuse of the system in the hands of Pharisees and Sadducees, and, especially in the shape it assumed among the Judaizers at Corinth and in Galatia. He calls the old covenant "glorious," a word he never uses but in his exalted moods of thought, True, it was "written and engraven in stones," but by whose hand? Even "the face of Moses' was more than the Israelites could bear, "for the glory of his countenance." The splendour irradiating Moses was transient—"which glory was to be done away;" but it did what it was intended to do by demonstrating where he had been and on what mission. Yet—the glory acknowledged—it was "the ministration of death." All the sublimity was that of terror, none that of beauty, when Sinai became the shrouded pavilion of Jehovah. "Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death." This external characterization was a symbol of its condemning power. "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." It was not in the language of the Law that David prayed, "Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me;" nor in sympathy with the Law that Isaiah spoke of the Anointed One, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;" bat in contemplation of grace beyond Law, and therefore extra to the ordinary workings of the Mosaic economy. A provision existed for these spiritual anticipations, and it was a part of its excellence, the highest part, that it had on a few minds this prevenient influence. Still, the distinctive feature stands, "a ministration of death;" and to the hour when Jerusalem and her temple fell, Sinai was the mount that could not be touched without death. It had a glory, a derived and subordinate glory, and the glory itself was to die. Certain qualities of Hebrew mind under the system, methods of thought, poetic modes of looking at nature, cultivated instincts of providence, yearnings for spirituality, were to survive and attain their completeness; but the system was to end by the law of limitation organic in its structure. Now, on this basis, the glorious economy of which Moses was the minister, and the transientness of its duration, St. Paul builds an argument for the superior glory of the gospel. It is the "ministration" of the Holy Ghost. It is "the ministration of righteousness." Under the economy of grace the righteousness of God was first secured. That done, the justice of God appeared in the sinner's justification. And in this justification the converted man realizes that sense of demerit and guilt which arises in his personal instinct of justice, is met and satisfied; while, at the same time, gratitude and love are awakened by the unmerited goodness of God in Christ. The two stand together. They are inseparable in the constitution of the universe. They are inseparable by the laws of the human mind. The joy of the one is vitally blended with the gladness of the other; so that if the renewed heart feels its indebtedness to the mercy of God in Christ, it feels also that its salvation rests on the vindicated righteousness of God in Christ. It is what Christ is to the Father that makes him precious as the Christ of his faith, hope, and love. Most fitly, then, St. Paul presents the antithetic emphasis on condemnation and righteousness. Condemnation and righteousness are legal terms. The element of similarity in their common relation to Law is clearly recognized. Without this common element the antithesis could have no meaning. The dissimilarity is thus made vivid. "Much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory." Each is a "ministration," each a "ministration" of "glory," but the "ministration of righteousness doth exceed in glory." The idea is explained and strengthened yet further. A favourite thought of the Jews, and particularly of the Pharisees, was the perpetuity of the Law. After the Exile, this was the stronghold of patriotism, sentiment, and religion. On no other ground could Pharisaism have acquired its popular ascendency. This was the battle it was ever fighting for the nation—the dignity of the Law as seen in its permanent utility, since only thereby could Israel attain her true destiny and far surpass her ancient renown. Of course the anti-Pauline party at Corinth had much to say on St. Paul's view of the Law. Here, then, is an opportunity for him to defend his ministry. The point now is that the Mosaic ministration had no glory "in this respect," that is, in respect to the succeeding dispensation, which had entirely obscured its lustre. The once stately figure was not erect, but prostrated; it was disrobed of its gorgeous vestments; it wore no longer the breast, plate with its precious stones; its glory had departed; and all this "by reason of the glory that excelleth." If so, then how transcendent the splendour of the Spirit's dispensation? "If that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious." In the former Epistle he had written of various glories—one of the sun, another of the moon, still another of the stars, the radiance distributed over immeasurable spaces and among orbs widely different, each preserving from age to age its own distinctive splendour, every ray of light imaging the world whence it issued. A firmament was before his eye in its circles of magnificence. But now the glory, on which in other days he had looked with so much pride as a Pharisee, had passed forever from his sight. Yet, so far from feeling that there was loss, he exulted in the infinite gain, because "of the glory that excelleth."—L.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
Boldness of speech; the two ministries; from glory to glory.
Dwelling on the superior excellence of the gospel, it was natural for the apostle to speak of his hopefulness (such hope) and of the effect thereof on his ministry. He had spoken of his trust (2 Corinthians 3:4), and now he expresses the hope which filled his soul from "the intervening vision of the glory of his work" (Stanley) and its future results. He uses "great plainness of speech"—unreservedness, without disguise, boldness (the last conveying his meaning most fully). The "able ministers of the new covenant" were also bold, having no reason for concealment, but every reason for openness and candour. From the beginning of the Spirit's dispensation this boldness had characterized apostolic preaching. St. Peter, who had shown such cowardice in the high priest's palace, evinced the utmost fearlessness at Pentecost. It was a spectacle of wonder to the Sanhedrim. "When they saw the boldness of Peter and John… they marvelled;" and what was the explanation of their courage? "They took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus." Immediately thereafter we hear of prayer offered by the Church that "with all boldness" they may speak God's Word. Boldness, at that time, was a virtue in request, and not one of the apostles failed to meet its requisitions. At this point the contrast between the Law and the gospel presents a new aspect. Moses had veiled his face, "that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished." The veil concealed the evanescence of the brightness and was symbolic of that judicial blindness which fell upon Israel. "Their minds were blinded," or hardened, so that their perceptions were not in accordance with facts; impressibility was lost, feeling was callous. "Until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament." The punishment continued. What were the old Scriptures but a sealed book to most of the Jews in the apostle's day? and now, after eighteen centuries, how palpable to us the confirmation of his words in the ignorance and the delusions of the Jews touching the spiritual import of their sacred books! "Until this day" has a meaning for us it could not have had to St. Paul's contemporaries. Time has done nothing or next to nothing to remove the darkness enveloping Jewish mind. Shrewd, intelligent, sagacious, in everything else; distinguished on nearly every arena of commercial and professional life; often foremost among men in matters as widely separated as music and statesmanship;—they yet present the strangest of contrarieties in adhesion to prejudices almost two thousand years old, and that too while evincing an adaptiveness to every form of civilization and to all the modifications going on in the current activities of the age. Find them where you may, they are pliant to circumstances, Not a national mould can be mentioned in which their external character cannot be cast, and yet, while this plasticity is such that we have Russian, Italian, German, Spanish, French, English, American, Jews, and withal the individual nationality apparent, there is the same religious blindness of which St. Paul wrote long ago. Their land, homes, institutions, the objects that come before us when we think of Judaea and Galilee, have passed from their grasp; but they hold fast to the shreds of their ancient beliefs, nor can any power relax their hold. Now, surely, this is inexplicable on the ordinary grounds of human experience. No law of the mind, no law of society, can explain the phenomenon. Such a spectacle as the Jews present of retaining their attachment and devotion to a skeleton religion, from which the soul has departed, is unique in the world's history. St. Paul solves the enigma; it is providential, it is punitive; "until this day the veil is untaken away." Two statements follow:
Only in and through Christ have we the power to see Christ in the Old Testament. Only in Christ risen and glorified, only in him as sending the Holy Ghost, can we understand the relations of Moses to the gospel. "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures"—a post-resurrection matter altogether and coincident with the preliminary gift of the Holy Ghost during the forty days. Yet, while asserting that Moses has been unveiled, and that his testimony to Christ, as the end of the Law to every believer, has been made clear and simple, nevertheless, the veil remains. The idea would seem to be, "The veil remains not taken away in the reading of the old covenant, it not being unveiled to them that it (the old covenant) is done away in Christ" (note in Lange's 'Commentary'). But was there not room for hope? Already, in thousands of cases, the veil had been removed. A blinder and more rabid Pharisee than St. Paul lived not in Jerusalem, and he had had the veil taken away. The work was going on. One day it would be completed and Israel would know her Messiah. "When it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away." We, in the present day, read this third chapter of the Second Corinthians in a fuller light than even our immediate ancestors. The events of the nineteenth century have shown us how near the Jews are to the heart of Providence. Taken as a body of people, they are advancing in wealth, in culture, in certain elements of social power, at a rate beyond the average progress of races. Christian thinkers cannot look at these facts without seeing much more than material prosperity. Providence is the historic antecedent of the Spirit. The prophets of God in our age are not Elijahs and Elishas, but events that revolutionize thought and silently change the hearts of nations. But this turning to the Lord (verse 16) must be explained as to its Divine Agent, and the nature, thoroughness, and growing excellence of the work be set forth. Its Divine Agent. He is the Holy Ghost. Not only did Christ teach that he depended on the Holy Spirit for his anointing as the Messiah, and that the unction proceeding thence was the strength and inspiration of his earthly work ("The Spirit of the Lord is upon me"); not only did he refer everything to the fulness of the Spirit in him ("I do nothing of myself"); not only did he wait for its baptismal descent upon him before entering on his ministry, and' acknowledge his presence in his miracles and teaching ("If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God," etc.; "The words I speak unto you, I speak not of myself"); but, in the most solemn hours of his existence, death just at hand, he taught the disciples to expect the Spirit as his gift, stating what would be his offices as Remembrancer, Convincer, Witness, Glorifier, and in all the Comforter. This was to be their outfit for discipling all nations, for victory over themselves as to all self-seeking and self-furthering emotions, for triumph over all opposing forces. This was to be the means of realizing him as their glorified Lord, so that they should know him no more after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Now, we must not fail to notice that we are indebted to St. Paul for a very full portrayal of the actual work of the Spirit in the Church. One may call him the historian of the Spirit, the thinker who, under God, discerned his blessed operations in their variety and compass, the writer who put them on record for the illumination of the Church in all ages, the man who laid bare his own soul in extremities of sorrow and in moments of supreme happiness so that we might have his theology of the Holy Ghost in its experimental results. From him, then, we have not only the completest doctrinal instruction on this most vital subject, but likewise the flesh-and-blood view superinduced upon the anatomy of theological truth; witness this third chapter: yet this is only one among his many-sided presentations el this topic. Observe, however, this chapter fills a special place in his system of teaching. Step by step he had been approaching a point at which he could demonstrate the pre-eminent excellence of the gospel. Charity had been delineated once and forever; the resurrection had been argued on a method and in a manner unusual with him; so too the economy of the Church as a society divinely planned. In this third chapter all his prominent ideas coalesce in one great master truth, viz. the dispensation of the gospel as the ministry of the Spirit. The phrase, "ministry of the Spirit," is itself remarkable. It includes, in a certain sense, the ministry of Moses, while differentiating the old covenant from the new. It takes in all ministries, apostolic, ordinary, and the numerous kinds of the ordinary. If we have lost some of these as they existed in St. Paul's day, how many have we gained as original to later times and generic to circumstances called into existence by England and America in the eighteenth century—the century of a constellation of epochs in the firmament of history? "Now the Lord is that Spirit." Everywhere, in everything, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Dispenser of its manifold influence. "Being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." It is the doctrine of Pentecost. It is the miracle and grandeur of Pentecost. Yet St. Peter does little more than state the fact. The doctrinal elaboration waits for St. Paul, and these two Epistles furnish the opportunity. Nature, thoroughness, and growing excellence of the Spirit's work. It is liberty. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Liberty from the pedagogy of the Law; liberty from the tyranny of the carnal intellect; liberty from that national domination which in the case of the Jews offered such a solid resistance to the gospel; liberty from Gentile idolatry; liberty from every agency that wrought evil in the soul of man. "if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." But it was the glorified Son who was to make men free by communicating the Holy Ghost. It is a revelation of God in Christ and Christ in the Spirit of the consciousness and conscience of men, and therefore thorough. It addresses his consciousness as one who has the capacity to think, feel, judge; and it addresses his conscience as to how he should think, feel, judge, as touching his obligations and as enforcing them by an immortality of reward or punishment. By the truth of the gospel, by the Spirit accompanying that truth and rendering it effective, consciousness is enlightened, cultivated, enlarged. The man sees much in himself he never saw before. And his moral sense or conscience, that mightiest of the instincts, is instructed and guided so as to represent the Spirit. It is in the soul a Remembrancer, a Convincer, a Witness, a Glorifier of Christ, a Comforter. And under this twofold development which is brought into unity by the Spirit of truth and love, the work of grace extends to all the man's faculties. The intellect, the moral sensibilities, the social affections, lift up the physical man into themselves, and grow together into the spiritual man. Not an appetite, not a passion, not an attribute, of body or soul is left neglected. The ideal is "body, soul, and spirit" consecrated to Christ, living, working, suffering, so that" whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus." And its growing excellence is seen in this, that in harmony with its freedom and its development of spiritual consciousness and conscience, it has an unveiled face. The eye is open and unhindered. Nothing intervenes between it and the glory of the Lord. True, it sees only in a mirror; it sees by reflection; it sees the image merely—the image of God in Christ, the image of humanity in Christ, the God Man, the one perfect Man of the human race. We see him in the New Testament, in the Gospels and Epistles, in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Apocalypse, the acts of Providence future and final. We see him in all his relations and aspects—the babe of Mary, the boy of Nazareth, the carpenter's son, the public Man, Teacher, Benefactor, Healer, Helper, Friend. Every page of the New Testament is as a burnished surface whereon he is presented to the eye of faith as a manifestation of God's righteousness and love, while he exhibits also the guilt and condemnation of man. "The glory of the Lord" is thus brought to view amidst the scenes and circumstances that instruct us in daily life. It is on a level with our comprehension. It finds the same kind of access to our sympathies that human qualities have in ordinary intercourse. "I beseech thee, show me thy glory," was the prayer of Moses, and the Lord answered and made all his goodness pass before him. What Christ's glory was in Moses, in the Psalms and prophecies, in his incarnation and atoning death, in his glorification; what it has been, is now, and will be;—all this we have in the Scriptures of the Spirit and in his Divine offices to sanctify the Word. If we behold as in a mirror, is the image distorted, confused, inoperative, ineffective? Nay; it is with "open face" that we look, and the result is we "are changed into the same image from glory to glory." Faith is the organ of vision, and faith is essentially transforming by its power to make what is an object of thought and fueling the most effectual of subjective influences. It takes the object from the outer world, separates it from the limitations of sense and intellect, disconnects the object from whatever is darkening and enervating, and secures to it fulness of activity. Faith is the purest, truest, noblest, form of belief. It is belief of things unseen and eternal, revealed to us by God and testified unto by the most honest and faithful witnessess the human race could furnish. To give us a Peter, a John, a Paul, as testifiers, the world was under providential training for many centuries and especially its elect race, whose ancestor, Abraham, inaugurated the career of the nation by an act of faith the most pathetic, the most sublime, the most illustrious, in the annals of mankind. It is not only a belief of things invisible as disclosed by a Revealer and assured by witnesses, but likewise a belief created, directed, and sustained in personal consciousness by the agency of the Holy Ghost. Hence its power to conform us to the Divine image as displayed in Christ, and hence also its progressive work. Not only are we changed, but we are changed "from glory to glory." "The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith," so that we realize more and more clearly the consistency of the Divine righteousness in our justification, and the righteousness formed in our souls by the Spirit. We know why we are pardoned and by whom renewed, and, as we advance into new stages of experience, the past work of grace is rendered more and more intelligible. Current experiences leave much unexplained. Infancy, childhood, youth, in religious life are not fully comprehended till the interpretative light of manhood is thrown back upon them. "From glory to glory;" this is true of every Christian virtue. At flint we are timid in confessing Christ before the world; the cross is heavy; self-denial is often very painful; the remains of the carnal mind are yet strong enough to resist when some onerous task is put upon us; but in time we gain strength, and in time are able to run and not weary, to walk and not faint. It is "from strength to strength," as the psalmist sang long ago. Take the virtue of patience; what years are needed to acquire it in any large degree! St. Peter says, "Add to your faith, virtue," etc.; keep up the supply, and exercise all diligence in building up one virtue by means of another. Again, "Grow in grace;" if growth stops, grace stops. "From glory to glory." Temptations that had to be fought against, and sometimes ineffectually, twenty years ago, trouble us no longer. Infirmities are less infirm. Mysteries that used to perplex have ceased to disturb. People whose presence was an annoyance can be borne with. Irritations, recurring daily, have lost their power to ruffle the temper. Many a crooked way has been made straight, many a rough place smooth, many a darkened spot bright, to our steps. "From glory to glory." Grace has worked its way down into our instincts and begun their fuller development. Thence comes the white light so grateful to sighs and so helpful. It is reflected upon the intellect, the sense organs, the outward world, and dissipates the occasional gloom that falls upon us when Satan's "It is written" obscures our perceptions, or when the logic of the sense intellect gathers its mists about our pathway. Blessed hours of illumination are those which attend the later stages of grace penetrating the depths of instinct. Doubts are over; for we know whom we have believed. "From glory to glory." Gradually our hearts are detached from the world, and, while its beauty and love and tenderness are none the less, they are seen as parts of a higher life and a remoter sphere. Afflictions, once "grievous," yield "the peaceable fruit of righteousness;" for the "afterward" has come, and what an "afterward"! To be reconciled to the cross of pain; to glory in the cross of the Divine Sufferer; to die to self as we die when the Man of sorrows becomes the Christ of our instincts; to say, "Thy will be done" with no half way utterance, but from the heart, and submit not only willingly but gladly to whatever it may please Providence to ordain;—this indeed is proof that we have advanced "from glory to glory."—L.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
2 Corinthians 3:2
Paul did the work of his life partially by his voice, but to no small extent by his pen. His compositions which have come down to us, and by which we chiefly know him, are epistolary. His letters were admitted, in his own time, and even by his enemies and traducers, to be weighty and powerful. But in his own view the best of all his epistles—those which most unmistakably witnessed to his apostleship—were the characters, the new lives, of those who by his ministry had received the gospel of Christ. Whether as amanuenses who had indited these spiritual epistles, or as tabellarii, or letter carriers, who had charge of them, and delivered them to human society, the apostles "ministered" their converts, who attested their skill and fidelity. At the expense of complicating the figure, Paul observes of the Corinthians that they were written in the hearts of himself and his colleagues. The lesson of the text is that Christians are ever authenticating the ministry of faithful preachers of the gospel.
I. MEN MAY READ IN THE HEART AND LIFE OF THE CONVERT THE DIVINE COMMISSION OF THE MINISTER. There are such proofs of the divinity of the doctrine in its effects upon the character and conduct of its sincere recipients as point up to the heavenly authority by which the agents were appointed and authenticated.
I. AND THE FAITHFULNESS AND ZEAL OF THE MINISTER. Paul had a good conscience with regard to the manner in which he had discharged his sacred and benevolent service to his fellow men. Especially was this the case with his ministry to the Corinthians. In his First Epistle to them he had written, "If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord."
III. AND THE ADAPTATION OF THE MINISTRY TO THE NEEDS AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF MEN. Events proved that to Jew and to Gentile, to men of every class and character, the gospel of Christ was the power of God unto salvation. This Church at Corinth was as an epistle written in various languages, in various styles, addressed to all nations and to all conditions of men, and assuring them that the apostles of Christ were laden with treasure which was able to enrich and to bless the world.—T.
2 Corinthians 3:3
Epistles of Christ
Some teachers had visited the Christians of Corinth, who boasted of the letters of introduction they brought with them, authenticating their commission and their ministry. Paul needed no such epistles; for the members of the Church were themselves his epistles; and better still, they were not only his, they were Christ's epistles, manifestly and undeniably such. The same may be said of all true disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus; it is an honourable and an inspiriting designation.
I. THE WRITER—CHRIST. Many great men, especially great thinkers, have perpetuated their influence and have served their race by their writings. As poets, philosophers, or moralists, they have made a place for themselves in the mind of humanity. The greatest of all, the Divine Man, wrote nothing. It is greater to be than to write; and the Lord Jesus simply lived and worked, suffered, died, and conquered. He could not compress and limit his mind within the compass of a treatise or a volume. He left his evangelists and apostles to write of him; his earthly manifestation thus spoke a universal language. Yet, in a sense, he has always been writing, and he is writing now. He is still daily issuing epistles to the world.
II. THE EPISTLE—CHRISTIANS. As a friend and counsellor, when on a journey and at a distance, communicates by letter with those who need his guidance and the assurance of his interest, so our Lord, though he has ascended on high, is ever sending epistles to the children of men. Every Christian upon whom he impresses his own will, character, and purposes, thus becomes Christ's communication to the world, written by his hand, and authenticated by his autograph. Every individual is a syllable, every congregation a word, every generation of believers a line, in the ever-lengthening scroll, which approaches its close as the ages near the end.
III. THE TABLET—THE HEART. God does not write on stone, as men did in ancient monumental inscriptions, or as he once did on the tables of the Law. Nor on waxen tablets, as men wrote of old with the stylus, in notes of ordinary business or friendship. Nor on parchment or papyrus, as perhaps these Epistles of Paul were written. But Christ writes on tablets that are hearts of flesh. The expression, adapted from the Old Testament, is an impressive one. In the Proverbs, Wisdom invites the young man to write her precepts upon the tablets of his heart. By Jeremiah the Lord promised to write his Law upon his people's heart. Christ takes the human soul and works upon it, and engraves there his own characters, sets down there his own signature, and sends the human nature—so written upon—into the world, to tell of himself, to convey his thought, his will.
IV. THE AGENCY—NOT INK, BUT THE SPIRIT OF GOD. As in the processes of nature we see the operation of the living God, so in grace we discern spiritual handwriting. The Spirit of God most deeply reaches and most blessedly affects the spirit of man. The Spirit carries truth and love home to the heart with an incomparable power. He writes upon the soul in deep, legible, sacred, and eternal characters.
V. THE HANDWRITING AND SUBSTANCE OF THE EPISTLES. What difference there is in the appearance and in the matter of the letters we daily receive! They vary in handwriting, in style, in tone, in matter, according to the character of the writer, the relation of the writer to the reader, the business upon which they treat. But there is something characteristic in all—all tell us something of our correspondents, and of their mind and will. So is it with these living epistles described in the text. Every epistle tells of the Divine Writer, bears witness to the Lord from whom it emanates, is evidently written in his handwriting, and reveals his mind and heart. Every epistle must be so authenticated by his signature that it cannot be suspected to be a forgery. Spirituality, holiness, obedience, meekness, benevolence,—these are the proofs that the epistle is the composition of the Christ. This is to be manifestly, unmistakably, declared.
VI. THE READERS—ALL MEN. There is some writing which only a few can read; the characters may be ill written and illegible, or they may be in cipher, or the language may be scientific and technical. There are letters of private business or of personal friendship, only intended for certain individuals. But there is literature, such as the Bible or the law of the land, intended for the instruction and benefit of all. So, whilst there is religious language only fully understood by the initiated, by a select class—e.g. doctrines, meditations, prayers—there is language intended for all mankind. The Christian character and life can be read with profit by all men. They can comprehend the virtues which adorn the Christian, and which are the manifest signs of the Lord's spiritual presence. If we are truly Christ's, then his handwriting will be legible to all men, and all men who know us may gain some advantage through reading what the Divine hand has inscribed upon our nature.—T.
2 Corinthians 3:6-11
The old and the new.
The warm and affectionate nature of the apostle had embraced the religion of Christ with a fervour, an attached devotion, exceeding even that which he had shown in his earlier days towards the dispensation in which he had been nurtured, Not that he had lost any of the reverence, the affection, he had cherished towards the covenant which God had established with his Hebrew ancestors; but that the new dispensation was so glorious to the view of his soul that it shed its brightness upon the economy which it replaced. The contrast drawn here seems almost depreciatory of that Law which was "given by Moses," when that Law was brought into comparison with the "grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ."
I. THE NEW IS BETTER THAN THE OLD. If God is a God of order, if progress characterizes his works, if development is a law of his procedure, then it is only reasonable to believe, what we find to be the ease, that that which displaces and supersedes what was good is itself preferable and more excellent.
II. THE SPIRIT IS BETTER THAN THE LETTER. Yet "the letter" was adapted to the childhood of the race, and was indeed necessary for the communication of the spiritual lesson to be conveyed from heaven. But Christianity cannot be compressed into any document; it is itself a spirit, unseen and intangible, but felt to be mighty and pervasive.
III. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS BETTER THAN CONDEMNATION. The old covenant abounded in prohibitions and in threats of punishment. The Law, when broken, as it incessantly was broken, is a sentence of condemnation to all who are placed under it. But it is the distinctive honour of Christianity that it brings in a new, a higher, an everlasting righteousness. It has thus more efficacy than the most faultless law of rectitude, for it supplies the motive and the power of true obedience.
IV. LIFE IS BETTER THAN DEATH. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"—such is the import of the old covenant, which thus ministered death to those who were under it. "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"—such is the evangel of the new covenant to mankind. Death is the emblem of all that is dark, dreary, and repulsive; life is fraught with brightness, beauty, joy, and progress. Well might the apostle rise to fervid eloquence when depicting the incomparable moral excellence and beauty of the covenant of Divine grace. And justly might he deem his office one of highest honour and happiness, as bringing salvation and a blessed immortality to the lost and dying sons of men.
V. ETERNAL GLORY IS BETTER THAN TRANSITORY AND PERISHABLE SPLENDOUR. There was a glory in the scene and circumstances amid which the Law was given; there was a glory in that code of piety and rectitude which was then conferred upon the chosen nation; there was a glory in the illumined countenance of the great lawgiver when he came down from the mount. But this glory was for a season, and indeed it almost lost its title to be spoken of as glory, by reason of the glory that excelleth. The ministration of the Spirit, of righteousness, that which remaineth, this is encompassed with a halo, an aureole, of spiritual and heavenly splendour which shall brighten until it merges in the ineffable glory of eternity.—T.
2 Corinthians 3:15, 2 Corinthians 3:16
The historical incident in this passage makes way for the allegorical representation. When Moses came down from the mount he veiled his face that the people might not see his features and might not witness the fading of his celestial glory. And Paul affirms that a similar veil conceals the countenance of the great prophet and lawgiver when his writings are publicly read in the hearing of his countrymen. In many ways the Pentateuch is a witness to the Messiah, even Jesus. But over the Pentateuch, as read, there rests a veil which hinders the Jews from penetrating to the spiritual, the prophetic, meaning of the inspired writer. Moses testified of Christ; but to the unenlightened the writings of Moses prevent any perception, any vision, of the Divine Lord. A similar veil keeps many from apprehending the truth which is so near them.
I. IN WHAT DOES THE VEIL CONSIST? Especially in prejudice and in unbelief. As the Israelites were so persuaded of the incomparable excellence of the Mosaic Law that they could not discern the higher revelation to which that Law was designed to lead, so oftentimes men's minds are so preoccupied with their own notions of religion, of righteousness, etc., that they are not prepared to give heed to the Divine manifestation and appeal.
II. WHAT DOES THE VEIL HIDE? The covering referred to in the context hid the face of the lawgiver; but the veil of error and of unbelief conceals the countenance of Christ, the revelation of Divine attributes, purposes, and promises. What it would be most for our interests to behold we may, by our sin and folly, obscure from our own view. See what we may, if we behold not the light of God's glory in the face of Jesus Christ we forfeit the highest privileges of which we are capable.
III. HOW IS THE VEIL REMOVED? The answer is very simple, "When it shall turn to the Lord." That is to say, the obstacle to spiritual vision lies with ourselves and not with Heaven. Repentance, or the turning of the heart away from sin, is the condition of true enlightenment, Whilst the mind is occupied with itself and its own inclinations and fancies, the spiritual glory of the Saviour is not discernible. It only needs that, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, the mind should look away from self to Christ, in order that at once the scales should fall from the eyes of the beholder, and the veil should drop from the face of the Redeemer, and a true revelation should take place.
IV. WHAT DOES THE REMOVAL OF THE VEIL EFFECT?
1. The transitory character of preparatory dispensations is clearly discerned; the veil being dropped, it is seen that the glory of the older covenant has gone.
2. The true glory of Christ and of Christianity is made manifest; the new covenant appears in all its splendour, unfading and eternal.—T.
2 Corinthians 3:17
The spirit of liberty.
If there are two words especially dear to St. Paul, they are these—the spirit as distinguished from the form and the letter, and liberty as distinguished from religious bondage.
I. MAN'S NEED OF LIBERATION.
1. Sin is bondage, however he may confuse between liberty and licence. There is no slave so crippled and so pitiable as is the bondman of sin.
2. Man's happiness and well being depend upon his deliverance from this spiritual serfdom.
3. No earthly power can effect this great enfranchisement.
II. THE DIVINE LIBERATOR. Many of the designations applied to our Lord Jesus imply this character and function. He is the Saviour, who saves from the yoke of sin, the doom of death; the Redeemer, who ransoms from a spiritual captivity, who pays the price, and sets the prisoner free. "The Lord is the Spirit;" i.e. the work of redemption was wrought by Jesus in the body, and is applied and made actual to the individual soul by the unseen but mighty and ever-present Spirit, in whose operations the Lord. Christ perpetuates his action and achieves his dominion.
III. THE ESSENCE OF SPIRITUAL LIBERTY. It is irrespective of personal condition; for the slave can enjoy its sweets, even when his clanking chains remind him of his earthly bondage. It is emancipation from the curse and penalty of the Law, as this oppresses every sinner who is at all aware of his real condition. It is freedom from what St. Patti calls the dominion of sin. It is the glad consecration of all powers to the service of the Divine Redeemer. It is "the glorious liberty of the children of God."
IV. THE FRUITS OF FREEDOM.
1. Obedience, strange and paradoxical as the assertion seems, is the consequence of the gracious enfranchisement of the soul. The service of the heart, which cannot be rendered in bondage, is natural in the state of emancipation.
2. Joy is natural to the emancipated slave, who realizes the dignity and the blessedness of freedom.
3. Praise of the Deliverer never ceases, but ascends in unintermitting strains to the Author and Giver of spiritual and everlasting liberty.—T.
2 Corinthians 3:18
The glorious transformation.
An exulting joy scorns to have moved the soul of the apostle, when he meditated upon the present immunities and honours, and. upon the prospects of future blessedness and glory which, through Christ, belong to all true believers and followers of the Lord. A kind of spiritual exhilaration pervades and exalts his spirit, and adds eloquence and poetry to his enraptured language.
I. UNINTERRUPTED VISION. The figure of the veil continues to haunt the mind of the inspired writer, even after it has answered the purpose of its first introduction. Associating his brethren in the faith with himself, he affirms, concerning Christians, that the veil was in their case removed, so that for them was actually realized a wonderful approach to the unseen Saviour. Before their enlightenment by the Spirit of God, the scales were upon their eyes and the veil was before their countenance. Now, in Heaven's light they see light. The sin, the prejudice, the unbelief, which hid the Saviour from their view, have been removed, and nothing comes between the soul and its Saviour.
II. SPIRITUAL REFLECTION. Instead of the countenance being concealed by a veil, it is, in the case of true Christians, converted into a mirror, which receives and then reflects the rays of light. Thus the glory of the Lord, which is ever manifested in nature, and which shone in the face of our incarnate Redeemer, is gathered up and given forth by the renewed and purified character of the Christian. This is a moral process. A spiritual nature alone is capable of attracting and receiving such light, alone is capable of giving it forth in uncontaminated, though reflected, rays. Thus the disciple mirrors the Teacher and the servant mirrors the Lord. We are living representatives of the Divine Head.
III. GLORIOUS TRANSFORMATION. Faith in Christ and fellowship with Christ are the forces which produce assimilation to Christ. The image which is beheld seems to infix itself upon the mirror-like soul that receives it. The life of faith thus serves to carry on a gradual process of spiritual assimilation. The progression is denoted by the phrase, "from glory to glory," by which we understand, not earthly splendour, but spiritual excellence and. perfection. And the agency is indicated by the expression here used, "as by the Lord the Spirit." Because he is the Spirit, the Lord has access to the heart, and renews, hallows, and glorifies the nature to which he makes himself graciously and divinely known. And there seems to be no limit to this most blessed process. In fact, the future state appears to offer the most amazing scope for its continuation: "We shall be like Christ; for we shall see him as he is."—T.
HOMILIES BY E. HURNDALL
2 Corinthians 3:3
The people of God are set forth under various figures in Scripture. For example—as corn ripening for harvest; as Lebanon's cedars, standing like rocks under fiercest blasts; as stars fixed in heavenly places; as the sun climbing the heavens, enlightening the world; as purified gold, fit for the King; as jewels flashing forth tints of loveliness, prepared for regal crown; as vine branches richly laden; as pomegranates and figs, sweet and refreshing; for might, the lion and eagle; and, great paradox, for weakness, the defenceless sheep and lamb; for humility, the lily; for dignity, the palm tree; for usefulness, the salt of the earth. Here, as "the epistle of Christ." A singular but impressive title. And this sets forth what each individual believer should be—a Christ-letter. We have been accustomed to regard epistles as certain books of the Scripture or letters passing between men. The apostle leads us to this thought—men are epistles. Apart from nature and providence, we have regarded the Bible as God's only book. Now we are directed to other books of God, volumes of redeemed humanity. We speak of the Epistles of Scripture as inspired; men who are the epistles of Christ are inspired by the same Spirit. Of the former we think as testimonies for God, for Christ, for religion; the latter are equally so. And, as though God were not content with Wing to mankind silent and secluded epistles, he has placed in the midst of the world living epistles, moving amongst men, unobscured, ever beheld and perused. We regard the Scriptures with reverence. What a thought that we, if we are truly of Christ, constitute part of the great Scriptures of God! The Bible we esteem as sacred; if of Christ, we are sacred, appointed to bear a like witness to the verities of the Christian faith. It would seem as though there could scarcely be a more honourable designation than this—"the epistle of Christ." If we are to be the epistles of Christ—
I. GOD MUST WRITE OUR LIVES. The epistle, to be worth anything, must be dictated by God. We say Paul's Epistles, Peter's Epistles, John's Epistles; but, if this adequately represents them, they are nothing. If they are anything, they are God's Epistles—God's Epistle to the Corinthians and to the Romans, and so on. So with us. If we are epistles of Christ, we must be "of God," "written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God" (verse 3); and the writing must be, not on "tables of stone "for us, but in "tables that are hearts of flesh" within us. The work of the Divine Spirit in our natures and in our lives can alone make us epistles of Christ. This is the highest form of human life, when it is made by God, day by day, hour by hour—the will of God finding expression in conduct, thoughts, motives, being. Free will is the glory of man, received by the fiat of the Eternal; but the noblest act of free will is its voluntary subjection to the will of God. We are highest when we are willing to become most completely the servants of God. Satan tempted our first parents to pass from under the will of God by the promise, "Ye shall be as gods." There was wonderful deceit here. The temptation found them as gods, it left them as devils. To live otherwise than in subjection to the will of God is to go down. The way upward is, "Not my will, but thine, be done." To consult the Divine wish in all our undertakings, to follow the Divine instruction in all our deeds, to wait upon the Divine purpose in our whole being and course, is for God to be writing our lives. How different, alas! is our experience! How often we have taken the pen out of the Divine hand, that we ourselves might write a little! How often, by our wilfulness, our self-seeking, our sin, we have rendered the Divine writing blurred, and the manuscript of our life blotted and defaced! How often have our foolish insertions entirely altered the meaning of what the Divine fingers were tracing! What chaos, confusion, disaster, have come into the epistle of our life because it has been largely of ourselves and not of God! How poor has been the influence of the life-letter because it has not been inspired of the Holy Ghost!
II. OUR LIVES WILL THEN TESTIFY OF CHRIST. This must be our supreme aim if we desire to be epistles of Christ. He is to be the one conspicuous feature in our life and being. Epistles we are to be, which, when men read, they shall find that they are reading of Christ. Many professing Christians are anything but epistles of Christ. There are some very great epistles of doubt, read and known of many men, telling us that they do not claim apostolical succession, and proving this with conclusiveness by being anything but fully persuaded in their own minds; epistles of dismalness, epistles of idleness, epistles of delay, epistles of change, epistles of frivolity, epistles of self, epistles of quarrelsomeness, and others who seem to be epistles of nothingness. In contrast to the true consistent believer—Christ manifested in his actions, Christ breathed forth in his influence, Christ the utterance of his life. To him "to live is Christ." If we are the epistles of Christ:
1. We must allow men to read us. We must not be too reserved. We must not hide our light.
2. We should not be too forward. Much talk of our attainments and graces will convince most men that we have not any. A book is not instructive which has the most of the printing outside.
3. Men will be willing to read us when very unwilling to read the Epistles of the Scriptures. There are two things which men are very fond of reading—their newspaper and each other. The true epistle of Christ is likely to have wide circulation and large usefulness.—H.
2 Corinthians 3:6
The new covenant.
I. A COVENANT OF THE SPIRIT. The old covenant, the Law which came by Moses, was the "letter"—precepts laid down to be literally obeyed, fixed and rind, external and ritual. The new covenant, the gospel, is the covenant of love, of spiritual obedience. The Jew, under the old covenant, could not be exempted by any piety of spirit from the letter of the legal ordinance; but under the new covenant the spirit of the observance is chief. The old covenant did not supply the inward Power producing obedience—it was something outside of man, imposed upon him. But the new covenant has for an essential feature the Power of God operating in the heart, leading to newness of life. The old covenant approached man from without, the new covenant works from within. One is "letter"—external; the other is "spirit"—internal.
II. A COVENANT OF LIFE. In the old covenant there was the holy Law and the command to fully obey it: "The Law is not of faith; but, The man that doeth them shall live in them" (Galatians 3:12). The old covenant demanded perfect obedience: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them" (Galatians 3:10). Thus the old covenant tended to condemnation and death, because fallen human nature failed to keep the perfect Law of God. The "letter" of unswerving righteousness convicted man of sin, and then "killed" him. Not that the Law was evil, but that it showed the evil in man. "The wages of sin is death." The Law, by discovering sin, showed that the wages were due. The old covenant thus left man condemned, and, if man was to be justified and restored, there was urgent need of a new covenant. We find, thus, that the old covenant is ever Pointing to the new, and that the design of the former was to lead to the latter: "The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Galatians 3:24). Moreover, the Jew possessed the new covenant as well as the old, though not so fully unfolded as we have it. Men condemned by the old covenant lived the life of faith upon the Son of God who was to come, and thus participated in the life giving principle of the new covenant. This new covenant is a covenant of life:
1. Because Christ has perfectly fulfilled the Law of God on man's behalf, and to man this perfect obedience is imputed. Condemnation is thus avoided. Life is secured for man by man's Substitute.
2. Man's personal transgressions are atoned for by the sacrifice of Christ.
3. The Holy Ghost is given to kindle spiritual life in man, to sanctify his nature, to bring him at last into full accord with the perfect Law of God.
III. A COVENANT NOT TRANSITORY. The old covenant has passed away. The new covenant puts men in a position with relation to God which is an everlasting one. Death and the next world will not call for the abrogation of this covenant, nor any changes occurring during the residence of the human family in the world. The old covenant was imperfect; it demanded something beyond itself; it was designed to do this. There is no such element in the new. It is complete; it calls for nothing outside of its own provisions.
IV. A COVENANT OF SURPASSING GLORY. This arises largely from points already noticed.
1. Its spiritual character.
2. Its issues in bringing life, not death, to fallen man.
3. Its enduring character.
4. Its direct initiation and administration by the Son of God. "The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The inauguration of the old. covenant saw the face of Moses illumined. The new covenant came with the transfiguration of Christ.
5. Its marvellous revelation of Divine love. The old covenant laid the emphasis upon Divine righteousness; the new, whilst displaying with untarnished lustre this attribute of Deity, exhibits pre-eminently the love of God.—H.
2 Corinthians 3:15
The veil on the heart.
The veil which Moses put on his face (Exodus 34:33) obscured its brightness. The apostle seizes upon the event, so familiar to readers of Jewish history, to illustrate moral blindness, and. especially the moral blindness of Jews in his own day. As moral blindness is subjective, he speaks of the veil, not upon those things which are obscured, as in the case of the face of Moses, but as upon the heart. Upon the heart, because in spiritual matters the inability does not spring from the head, but from the heart. This veil upon the heart—
I. OBSCURES THE GLORY OF THE OLD DISPENSATION. It did so to Jews in Paul's day; it does so to Jews now. The true glory of the old covenant lay in its foreshadowing of the new. It was a covenant of types and shadows. Underlying its legality was a deep spiritualits. The Law condemned, and only condemned, but the "Law" was not the whole of the old covenant. Associated with the Law was the embryo of the gospel. And unveiled hearts looked through condemnation and shadow and type to the delivering Messiah, by whom men could be justified by faith and not by works. But the veil upon the heart caused the Jew to regard the old covenant as complete in itself, and to disregard the deeper spiritual meanings of its provisions. From him its true glory was thus hidden. A rigid system became much more rigid. The wings of a dispensation rising to something higher were clipped. A hard, narrow creed was substituted for an expansive and noble theology.
II. HIDES CHRIST. It did so when Christ came. When the Messiah appeared, veiled hearts failed to recognize him. The Jews would have welcomed a Messiah who came to continue Judaism as Judaism was understood by them. But the development of Judaism into Christianity, the fruition of the old covenant in the new, had no charms for them; on the contrary, it was obnoxious to them in the highest degree, as spirituality is ever to a carnal nature. In the Christ they could not see the Christ. He was not their Christ, and by facile logic was thus demonstrated to be no Christ at all. "Their minds were blinded" (2 Corinthians 3:14). From many today Christ is thus hidden. To them "a root out of a dry ground" is as beautiful as he. They think the fault is in him, but it is in themselves. False conceptions of the objects, duties, and pleasures of life possess them, and are the coloured media through which Christ is looked at. They see a darkened, shorn, maimed Christ; the true Christ is hidden from them.
III. CAUSES MEN TO REST IN SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. This was the only way of justification which was apparent to the Jew upon whose heart the veil rested. The veil shut out all, except legalism. So with many now. It is their righteousness, not the righteousness of Christ, to which they look. They seek to save themselves, not to be saved by another. Each is a Messiah to himself. But poor rest is secured. The voices of old. sins make themselves heard, and to their clamour no satisfactory response is forthcoming. Present power to do right is found lacking. This is not to be wondered at, seeing that the Source of all true spiritual power has been abandoned. Piety becomes either a vague dream of the future or a dismal formality of the present.
IV. KEEPS MEN UNDER CONDEMNATION. The Law of God condemns, and if only the bare Law is seen there is no deliverance. self-righteousness, if attained to in perfection, would not cancel past sentences on sin. But self-righteousness practically is ever self-unrighteousness, and, instead of atoning for sin, continuously increases it. The most moral man has but the cheerless vision of a broken Law imperiously demanding its penalties.
V. THE VEIL IS REMOVED AS WE TURN TO THE LORD. (2 Corinthians 3:16.) When the Jew, led by the Spirit, believed on Christ, the veil, which had obscured his vision of the old covenant, and which had thus perverted his being and life, was removed. He saw then the true significance of the old economy, and perceived that Christ, in his own person and work, constituted the very fulfilment of the Law. Old things passed away, all things became new. The veil is destroyed forever as we come to Christ. The apostle has, no doubt, in his mind the action of Moses: "When Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off" (Exodus 34:34). Our turning to the Lord is a sign that the veil is rent in twain like the veil of the temple, and as we reach the Lord and are taught by the Divine Spirit, the veil vanishes, obscurity gives place to brightness, and we marvel that we ever could have been as we once were. When Moses came out from the presence of the Lord he again assumed the veil, but he is not here an example to us; for we are not to come out again, but to abide with Christ, to be "forever with the Lord."—H.
2 Corinthians 3:18
The great change.
I. WHAT THIS CHANGE IS. Into the Divine likened. This, which was lost through the Fall, is recovered in the gospel. Believers become like Christ, who is the Brightness of the Father's glory, and the express Image of his person (Hebrews 1:3). The change is not merely of opinion, or feeling, or even conduct, but a change of being. It is not something connected with ourselves, but our very selves which are changed, and changed so as to be like Christ.
1. A marvellous change. For before men believe, they are singularly unlike Christ. By nature like Satan; by grace like Christ.
2. An all-desirable change. For ennoblement, peace, joy, usefulness.
II. THE MASTER OF THE CHANGE. It follows upon turning to the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:16). As Moses, standing before God, was singularly changed in countenance, so that his face reflected the Divine glory, so we are changed as we are turned towards Christ, as we turn towards him in penitence and faith and in desire to be his. The figure of a mirror is employed.
1. We may read "reflecting as a mirror," and then the idea conveyed will be that, as Christ shines upon us, as he acts upon us, we become changed. Or:
2. If we read "beholding as in a mirror," the thought will be that, as we gaze upon Christ as he is reflected in the mirror of the gospel, we become like him. Both thoughts are correct, though it is by the Divine action we are changed, our looking upon Christ being only the means by which the Divine action reaches us.
III. A SPECIAL FEATURE OF THE CHANGE. Progressive—"from glory to glory." The change is often gradual. There is a great fundamental change at conversion. A condition of "glory" is reached, but there is a glory beyond this. We "grow in grace." At first we are "babes in Christ," but we develop into the stature of perfect men in him (Ephesians 4:13). Conversion is but the first stage. Many seem to think that it is the final one. Justification is enough for them; sanctification is not in their thoughts. But this is not the salvation of Christ. We are saved for holiness, for usefulness, for the service of God, and as continuously we gaze upon Christ in faith, and as his power falls upon us, we pass into a further "glory."
IV. A CONDITION OF THE CHANGE. Our face unveiled. And here face stands for heart. The veil occasioned by the old enmity, by prejudice, by misconception, by ignorance, must be removed. This will be so with all who in sincerity turn to the Lord. "When it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away" (2 Corinthians 3:16). The more completely our face is unveiled the more rapidly shall we pass from "glory to glory." We should strive to remove all that is likely to hinder our development into the likeness of Christ. Anything that comes between ourselves and him will do this. Heart veils are of very various patterns.
V. THE STRIKING USEFULNESS OF THE CHANGE. Adopting the reading "reflecting as a mirror," we see that:
1. Those who turn to the Lord reflect the glory of the Lord. They show forth Christ. Men take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus. They reflect the redemptive glory of Christ. They exemplify the power of his salvation. They are monuments upon which is inscribed "Christ, and him crucified." They reflect the love of Christ in Christian activity. Having been saved themselves, they desire the salvation of all around them. What a thought, that we may reflect, Christ!
2. As they seek to reflect Christ the change progresses. It is when we are diligent in the Master's business, when we consecrate ourselves to him, when we strive to set him forth in daily life, that we become changed into his image. As we strenuously endeavour to be like him we become like him. Our endeavour to reflect him is responded to by the change in us which enables us to reflect him. Reflecting his glory as a mirror, we are changed into the same image.
VI. THE WORKER OF THE CHANGE. The Holy Ghost, "the Lord the Spirit." Christ working by his Spirit, who takes of the things of Christ and reveals them unto us. "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name" (John 14:26). The work is Divine; it calls for Divine power. We cannot work this change, yet we can "turn to the Lord," that it may be worked,—H.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
Verses, 2, 3
A living letter.
Apollos had carried to Corinth written credentials (see Acts 18:27; Acts 19:1). Why had Paul not done so too? He claims that he needed them not. The converts in that city were themselves his credentials. His appeal to the Corinthians on this point proceeds on a principle easily understood and often applied. The best testimonial a teacher can produce is the proficiency of his pupils. The most satisfactory evidences of the skill of a physician are the patients who have recovered health under his care. The convincing proofs of the competency of a gardener are the prosperity of the plants and the abundance of flowers and fruits which he produces from the ground. So was the Church at Corinth itself the best diploma or commendation of the apostle who had founded it and watched over it (see 1 Corinthians 4:14-16). A good teacher needs no letter of commendation to his own pupils, or a father to his own children. Seizing the idea of a letter, and showing that the Corinthian saints themselves formed the only letter he needed to produce, St. Paul used this as an illustration in two forms.
1. The Christians at Corinth were written on his heart, for they were dear to him (2 Corinthians 7:3; Philippians 1:7). And this was no secret. The tie of affection between St. Paul and the Corinthian brethren was "known and read of all."
2. Christ had written upon their hearts what served as a powerful letter of commendation for his servant Paul. Let us pursue the second use of the metaphor. A Church is an epistle of Christ, open for all men to read.
I. THE AUTHOR OF THE LETTER. This is Christ. Whatever Divine thoughts are given to human minds, or spiritual impressions are stamped on human hearts, proceed from Christ. And it is true of Churches in all ages. As Christ is the living One, he is ever writing new epistles—in harmony with those which were written at the beginning—and yet new and fresh and suited to the current time.
II. THE AMANUENSIS. At Corinth this was Paul. In modem Churches it is the faithful ministry of the Word. The epistle is not invented or dictated by us, but "ministered by us." The mind of Christ is thereby conveyed to and impressed on the company of believers.
III. THE TABLETS. They are not of stone, but of the heart. The ministration of neath was written and engraven on stone in the form of ten commandments. The more glorious ministration of the spirit and of righteousness is inscribed on the convictions and affections of living men. The law of Christ is put into the inward parts and written on the heart. For this end, too, the Lord knows how to soften the tablets, to make the heart tender and warm, and so susceptible of the instruction and impression of the Word. Oh to have a still heart, not restless, that the writing may be plain, and to have a lowly heart, not hard, that the engraving may be deep!
IV. THE MANNER OF WRITING. "Not with ink." St. Paul's letters were so written, as were those of other apostles (2 John 1:12); and by ink of the scribe and the printer have they been preserved and propagated. But for writing on the heart perishable material is unsuited. Jehovah wrote the Law on the tablets of stone with his own hand; and on the tablets of the human heart Jesus Christ writes, using ministry as he pleases in the process with the finger or power of God—"the Spirit of the living God." And so, in all times and all Churches of the saints, the application of the truth is by the living Spirit.
V. THE THING WRITTEN. It is the mind of Christ. Ye "have learned Christ, and the truth as it is in Jesus." There is no higher truth to learn, no better message to carry.
VI. THE PUBLICATION OF THE LETTER. It is "manifestly declared," and may be known and read of all men. This is said of the Church collective, for such is the temple of God and such is the epistle of Christ—an argument surely for Christian consistency and for brotherly concord, that the sacred epistle may not be rendered unintelligible. It each member of a Church abide in his place, and all together dwell in peace and walk in the truth, there is produced an epistle of Christ which puts the gainsayer to silence. Thank God that even a faulty Church or blotted epistle has something of a Divine element, some impression and expression of Christ! The obligation which lies on the Church may be pressed on each member thereof. Would that Christ were more apparent and more legible in Christians! Let your character be a consistent representation or epistle of your Lord, and let it be an original, not a copy of some other man's religion, but a genuine production of Jesus Christ by "the Spirit of the living God." If you go to the Lord justifying yourself and accusing others, he will only write on the ground; but if you with a penitent heart accuse yourself, he will write on you his grace and truth. Hereafter, when you have overcome, he will write on you his new Name.—F.
2 Corinthians 3:6
The letter and the spirit.
The contrast between letter and spirit is in Scripture peculiar to the pages of St. Paul (see Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6). The subject specially occupied him, as the champion of Christian liberty and a profound thinker on the relations of the Old and New Testaments.
I. THE CONTRASTED TERMS—LETTER AND SPIRIT. A more frequent opposition is between flesh and spirit (see John 3:6; John 6:63; Romans 8:1-13; Galatians 5:16-25). The distinction is obvious between a fleshly and a spiritual disposition, and the alternative is shown to be one of life or death. "To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." But, by letter and spirit must be intended things of which it is possible for men to be ministers. St. Paul was a minister, not of the letter, but of the spirit; and the context shows that by letter he meant the old covenant, and by spirit the new. Not that there was nothing but letter in the one and nothing but spirit in the other. The contrast is between predominant characteristics; and characteristically, though not exclusively, the old covenant was letter and the new covenant was spirit. Therefore the latter excelled in glory. The old economy, or testament, is not spoken of with disrespect. It was adapted in the wisdom of God to the training of the Hebrew people as his chosen nation. It was not a mere dead writing, but had a meaning in it which was Divine. The very term "letter" implies some import or significance. And there was enough in the Old Testament to educate the minds of men in religious ideas, and bring home sacred obligations and hopes to their hearts. But it is called "the letter" because that which bulked largely in it was a code of law and a handwriting of ordinances. In its prescription of law it was to sinful men a ministration of death; and in its ritual of worship it was inferior to that holy liberty which we now enjoy in everywhere worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth. The old covenant had shadows, the new has substance; the old had rudiments and elements, the new has perfection; the old had patterns of heavenly things, the new has heavenly things themselves; the old was a dispensation of dimness as of light seen through a veil, the new is one of unveiled faces and God's marvellous light. The new economy, or testament, while characteristically one of "spirit," is not altogether without letter. As every soul must have a body, and every essence a form, in order to be known among men, so has the spirit of the New Testament embodiment and exact expression. But here lies the contrast. Pre-Christian religion contained a small proportion of spirit and life in a large bulk of letter and ordinance. Christianity has a large proportion of spirit and life in a bulk of law and form as small and light as possible. The teachings of Christianity are facts and principles, not propositions and restrictions; its institutions are simple outlines, not precise ceremonies; and its laws are moral sentiments, not minute mechanical directions.
II. THE EFFECTS WHICH FLESH AND SPIRIT SEVERALLY PRODUCE. The letter, void of spirit, kills. The spirit, in whatever form or letter conveyed, gives life. We must still be on our guard against making that absolute which is intended only as a strong comparative. We must not say or suppose that under the Mosaic economy there was nothing but condemnation, bondage, and death. Beneath and within the letter which had such prominence, there was spirit; and men who knew how to penetrate the letter got the spirit, and with it got life. But the more that men made of mere traditional letter and form, the less they knew of the spirit of liberty and the power of godliness. Most apparent was the killing power of the letter in that generation of Hebrews to which Paul himself belonged. They gloried in circumcision, but had it in the flesh only, and not in the heart. They sought life by the law of works, and fell under its condemnation. The more devoted they were to religious peculiarities and ceremonial restrictions, the more did a shadow of death cover them. They clung to the types and would not recognize the Antitype. They trusted to a covenant which had exhausted its use and was passing away. So this letter worship destroyed spiritual life. Israel after the flesh fell under a ministration of death. On the other hand, in that new dispensation, of which St. Paul was such an earnest minister, and in which spirit predominates, there is abundance of the grace of life. True that, under this dispensation also, a formalist or one who is self-righteous may turn the life into death. Externalism and traditionalism are as powerless as ever to make alive. But, when the letter which in some manner is indispensable to mortal worshippers is kept in due subordination, the spirit gives life, and the ministration of righteousness is exceeding glorious. And the Lord is that Spirit. The Lord is the Life giver and the Life.
III. LIGHT CAST BY THIS STATEMENT ON SUNDRY QUESTIONS.
1. On the interpretation and use of certain precepts and usages mentioned in Scripture. Reverence for antiquity is good, is in some degree essential to historical Christianity; but there is a pedantry about the forms of things which is unintelligent and unspiritual. To correct this we must always distinguish between letter and spirit, and bear in mind that, in the long course of time and in altered conditions of society, there not only may be but must be circumstantial changes of form and expression in order to the conservation of spirit and truth. Apply this to
2. On the corruptions of Christianity. Some harm, no doubt, has been done by the endeavour to abstract the spirit of the gospel too much from its letter, and to dispense altogether with definite forms of doctrine and service. But a greater danger has shown itself on the opposite side. The most formidable corruptions of Christianity have resulted from magnifying letter over spirit, and giving to our religion an imposing exterior while its heart fainted and all but perished. The great bane of the Church has been in the direction of exaggerated ceremonial and tyrannical insistence on outward usage and form.
3. On the propagation of the gospel. The old dispensation was not intended for world wide diffusion; but the new has a gospel for all nations, and is meant to live in every climate and among all the tribes and races of mankind. But of its ever reaching its consummation we should despair if it were a religion of unbending, unelastic literalism, and committed itself to the maintenance of dry and rigid forms. We take courage when we remember that "the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power;" that the emphasis in Christianity lies on its active, spiritual, penetrating force; and that the Lord himself "is that Spirit." We do not set Christian form against heathen form, but preach Christ Jesus the Lord. The letter and the ritual will appear quickly enough, and may be expected to vary in a Church of all nations. What we should be most concerned about is the world wide proclamation el him in whom all nations of the earth are to be blessed.—F.
2 Corinthians 3:18
The Christian transfiguration.
When Moses, the minister of the Law, communed with God, his countenance became irradiated, and, on his return to the people of Israel in the camp, he was obliged to put a veil over his face. But that radiance did not last long. It faded from the prophet's countenance; and this is taken to illustrate the passing away of the glory of all that legal ministration. The Jews who rejected that gospel which St. Paul preached were still occupied with the Law. Moses stood before them still; and, when Moses was read, they failed to see that the lustre had faded from his face. Yet it was so. Not that the Law was at fault or obscure; not that Moses misled or clouded their minds. The veil was no more on his face, but on their hearts; and so they persisted, and the bulk of that nation still persist, in trusting to Moses and rejecting the more glorious ministration by Jesus Christ. The anti-Christian Jews are dimly reading the words of their lawgiver instead of rejoicing in the light of the Lord. But "we all," whether Jews or Gentiles in the flesh, who have believed the gospel, enjoy a ministration of righteousness and glory.
I. THE GLORY OF THE LORD. Moses said to Jehovah, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." And he had some vision of the Almighty, and heard Jehovah God proclaim his Name as he passed by; but the God of Israel said, "Thou canst not see my face." Now this, which was impossible under the old covenant, and which was thought of by the faithful as the blessing of a future state (Psalms 17:15), is not only possible but actual under the new covenant. Christ is the Image of the invisible God. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, He who of old surrounded himself with clouds or dwelt "in the thick darkness" now reveals himself brightly in his Beloved. The New Testament is, more fully than the Old, a revelation. God is revealed in a manner surpassing all the partial disclosures among the Jews, and correcting all the vain imaginations among the heathen. The holy Child was Immanuel, God with us. The Man who lived so purely, spoke so wisely, and suffered so patiently, revealed the unseen God; and God was glorified in him. So the apostle regarded Christianity as the breaking forth of new light on the human race, and that the very radiance of God in Jesus Christ his Son. So let us regard it. Truly the light is good—the inner light of the New Testament—the glory of the Lord.
II. CONTEMPLATION OF THAT GLORY. We behold it as one looks upon a mirror on which an object out of his reach is reflected. Our Lord has ascended to the Father, and we do not see him face to face in the present life, but we look on the Divine testimony, and, as we look, we gain "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ." In order to this, two things are necessary.
1. We must have our faces unveiled. The veil is prejudice or unbelief. The ignorance of God, long spread over the earth, is described by a prophet as "the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations." The removal of that covering or veil results in the turning of nations to the Lord. Alas, readers of the New Testament may be as blind to its true meaning and beauty as any Jews were in reading the Law. A vague light, perhaps, comes through the veil, but there is no clear discernment of that glory of the Lord which gives to the New Testament its surpassing power and value. St. Paul knew this well, and felt himself unable to make all men see what he saw. From some who heard him his gospel was hid. It was and is the preacher's duty to manifest and proclaim the truth; but blinded minds and veiled hearts could, and still can, defeat the testimony. St. Paul himself had once been very blind. When light shone in the face of the martyr Stephen as he stood before the council, "as it had been the face of an angel," Saul of Tarsus was only bewildered and irritated, and he consented to Stephen's death. Soon after, on his way to Damascus, a strong light from heaven shone round about him, and the voice of the Lord reached his car. Some holy light through the veil fell on his countenance, but the veil was not yet removed, and the Pharisee was not yet a Christian. Illumination came to him when, at the word of the disciple Ananias, the eyes of his body, which had been blinded by the sudden effulgence on the way, were opened, and at the same time the eyes of the inner man were freed from the scales of unbelief, and God shone into his heart.
2. We must form a habit of beholding that glory. We do not presume to say what amount of blessing may be gained through even a rapid or occasional glance cast on the Lord Jesus; but what the apostle intends is an habitual and daily contemplation of that "brightness of the Father's glory." No study of books, acquaintance with doctrines, or observance of rites can do for us what is done by the habit of "looking to Jesus."
III. THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF SUCH CONTEMPLATION. "Changed into the same image." A moral metamorphosis is wrought, not magically as by a spell or charm, but in the manner proper to a moral nature, by the moulding influence of a new habit of thought and affection. This proceeds on the well known principle that, whatever we look upon with frequency and with congenial feeling, stamps itself on our minds and characters. He who looks upon evil becomes evil. He who occupies himself with trifles grows trivial. He who associates with the wise grows wise. He who admires the good himself becomes good. So likewise he who beholds the pure and gracious image of God in the face of Jesus Christ is changed insensibly into that image, learns to think the thoughts of God and to exhibit the mind of Christ. Two important features of this great change are indicated in the text.
1. It is a progressive one. "From glory to glory." No doubt, if we could abide continually under the radiance of Christ, his glory would transform us more rapidly and completely than is the experience of average Christians. And we must not dwell on the idea of gradualness so as to excuse a low level of Christian attainment. But the truth lies here, that, as we receive out of Christ's fulness grace for grace, so are we transformed into his likeness from glory to glory, the light of the Lord gaining upon us and dispelling all the darkness until we are "light in the Lord."
2. While this change follows a law of moral influence, it is produced by the active operation of a Divine power—"as by the Lord the Spirit." The reference is to the Lord Jesus as "a quickening Spirit," who is here brought into contrast with Moses, the minister of the killing "letter." At the same time, we know from other Scriptures that the Lord pervades his Church on earth and renews men in his own image by the gracious presence and work of the Holy Ghost. Without this doctrine of spiritual operation, both direct and indirect, we fail to apprehend the transforming power of a pure Christianity. Note in conclusion:
1. The connection between faith and character. Some raise a cry that faith leads to mysticism and genders dispute, while nothing is wanted, nothing is to be valued, but an exemplary character and a good life. But what if such character and life are best attained by the habit of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? It might as well be said that it is of little consequence whether a man can see or is blind, so long as he walks and works well. He cannot walk or work well unless he can see. No more can one walk or act like Christ unless he looks to him in faith. Others raise a different cry. They are all for faith, and yet show no conformity to Christ. All such boasting is vain. The effect of beholding the glory of the Lord is to be changed into the same image. If there is no such change the faith is only in imagination, not in heart.
2. The far reach of the principle of assimilation to what we habitually and willingly behold. In this way are Christians conformed to Christ in this present time. But the principle carries much further. It is thus that the saints will be glorified with Christ at his appearing. "We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."
3. The evil case of those who see in Christ "no beauty that he should be desired." They miss both the way of peace and the way of holiness. Alas! when the gospel is set before them, the veil lies upon their hearts. They can see something to be admired in the wisdom of sages and the courage of heroes, and yet see nothing in the Son of God. They may look on nature with admiring eye, and see "the glory in the grass and splendour in the flower;" but Jesus Christ is to them "as a root out of a dry ground." Lord, remove the veil! Shine into these hearts with power!—F.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
The best commendation.
It was an early custom in the Christian Church for teachers to carry with them "letters of commendation" when they passed from town to town. Of this custom we have an indication in Acts 18:27, "When Apollos was disposed to pass into Achaia [Corinth], the brethren [of Ephesus] wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him." And the thirteenth canon of the Council of Chalcedon ordained that "clergymen coming to a city where they were unknown, should not be allowed to officiate without letters commendatory from their own bishop." It seems to have been made a charge against the apostle that he never presented any credentials, but assumed an authority for which he had no warrant. The apostle is here replying to such a charge, and his plea is that, having so manifestly received the greater commendation of God's witness with his work, he in no sense can need man's good word. His converts were the best possible commendation. His letters were those written by God as truth on human hearts. From the Christian standpoint the only satisfactory proof of call to ministry is the Divine seal set on the work of the ministry. It was the plea of St. Peter, when accounting for his admitting the Gentiles into the privileges of the Christian Church, that the "Holy Ghost had fallen upon them, even as upon us at the beginning." And that was felt to be an all-sufficient attestation of the work which St. Peter had done. In the same way St. Paul pleads that spiritual results had followed his ministry among the Corinthians. God had set his seal upon it, and that was his wholly satisfactory commendation, and the basis of any authority he claimed. Speaking in a figure he says, "The Corinthians are an epistle." He regards Christ as the Author, and himself as the amanuensis. The characters of this epistle were preserved by no visible or perishable medium, but by the invisible operation of the Spirit. We consider—
I. THE USEFULNESS OF HUMAN COMMENDATIONS. Such are found to be necessary in the intercourse of nations. The ambassador is duly furnished with his credentials; and the representative of the business firm carries with him his authority to act in the name of the firm. So it is found of practical value that clergymen and ministers going to other districts or countries should have such attestation as will win for them the confidence of those to whom they may happen to minister. Several questions of interest arise in connection with this subject.
1. From what central bodies, or from what individuals, should such letters of commendation come?
2. What should they properly concern? And can they ever wisely go beyond the attestation of personal character and ministerial efficiency? Men must be judged by their works rather than by the opinion which others may have formed concerning them. Still, in every age, Churches have needed to be guarded against plausible but unworthy men, who force themselves into positions of influence unawares. And this has been the special trouble of all smaller Churches, and those existing apart from Christian organizations. Every ordinary man should depend for his acceptance upon his letters of recommendation.
II. THE LIMITATION OF THE DEMAND FOR SUCH LETTERS. Sometimes they are merely vexations. The demand for them is a mere piece of officialism. Some men so stand before the world that no letters about them can be necessary. And the letters may only. concern
They should not deal with disputable opinions. A full and fair estimate of character is sufficient to give confidence that a man's work will be honest and faithful. Commendations of so called "orthodoxy" or "heterodoxy" can never be anything but mischievous. We may commend the man; we had better take care not to commend his opinions. Of these let those to whom he ministers be the judges.
III. GOD'S WAYS OF MAKING SUCH LETTERS WHOLLY UNNECESSARY. From the case of St. Paul we learn that God may so manifestly show his acceptance of a man and a man's work that no other credential can possibly be necessary. A man's labours and successes may sufficiently declare that he is a man of God, a messenger of God. Illustrate by such cases as Luther, Whitefield, Brainerd, etc. We must well apprehend that, because a thing is unusual, it is not therefore untrue. And in every age men have been raised up whose strongly marked individuality leads them to take fresh lines of thought and of work. Men may hesitate to give such men their credentials; it is enough if God manifestly accepts them.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 3:4-6
The power, and the agency it uses.
The apostle here dwells upon the confidence he has in the Corinthian Church as the all sufficient commendation of his ministry and apostleship. But he will take no honour to himself over his successes at Corinth. He had but been the agent, and the power and sufficiency were altogether of God. St. Paul was always before men firm, confident, bold; but always before God humble and dependent. The expression, "through Christ to God-ward," probably means "that our eyes are directed towards God, the Source of our confidence, and that it is through Jesus Christ alone that we possess the right thus to lean on him." Illustrate, from Old Testament Scriptures, the Jewish habit of mind which referred all events to God's direct working, confounding the cause with the agency. For instance, God is said to harden Pharaoh's heart, and to send a lying spirit among the prophets. Such direct reference of all things to God is characteristic of the imaginative, uncultured, superstitions ages; but, in intelligent form, it is found in Christianity. There is no confusion of power and agent, but behind agency the "power" is fully and humbly recognized. This we further unfold, noting the following points:—
I. IN CHRISTIANITY THE MAN STILL WORKS. God proposes to save the world by man. He does not use miracle, but deals with men as moral beings, subject to various moral influences arising from their relations one to another. Every man is a force upon his fellow man. Some, by reason of particular positions and endowments, exert great influence on other men. It is at once true that man must be saved by man, and that man cannot be saved by man. The paradox is not a difficult one to explain from the Christian point of view. Christianity asks, therefore, from every man three things.
1. The consecration of his talents and trusts.
2. The sanctifying of his relationships.
3. And the faithful use of his opportunities.
True of man in his ordinary life spheres, this is more especially true of man as occupied in the Christian ministry.
II. IN CHRISTIANITY THE MAN IS ONLY AGENT. He has no sort of independent authority. He is not fittingly likened to the plenipotentiary, who has a matter wholly committed to his judgment and decision. The Christian minister or worker is never free of his close and intimate relations with God. His "sufficiency" is never of himself.
1. He works for another, and has no self-seeking ends to gain.
2. He works at the will of another, holding himself ever in attitudes of dependent and submissive obedience, saying continually, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
3. He works in the strength of another, leaning upon the "everlasting arms." Taking these as characteristic features of the Christian ministry, it will be readily shown in what a marked way they contrast with the spirit of the self-depending and self-seeking worldly man.
III. IN CHRISTIANITY THE MAN IS ACTUALLY ENDUED WITH DIVINE POWER. "Our sufficiency is of God." It is this truth that needs such distinct assertion for the sake of the Christian worker himself, as well as for the sake of those to whom his work is a witness. The Christian is a man quickened with a new life; it is that "new life" which finds expression in his working. The Christian is a man sealed by the Holy Ghost, who dwells in him, and that Holy Ghost is his secret strength and inspiration. Two figures may be contrasted. The water flowing in pipes, and the sap flowing in the branch. The latter is the only figure that efficiently represents the relation of power and agency in the Christian worker, and it is the figure used by our Lord himself. The union and relation are such that, while the full manhood is retained, and even nourished into vigour, the vitality, the real force behind the manhood, and the direction of all details of action, are God's. The Christian conceives of himself as not even able to think anything as of himself, much less to do anything. He is "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."—R.T.
2 Corinthians 3:6
The letter and the spirit.
It does not appear that St. Paul had in mind the different senses in which Scripture can now be read. Such distinctions as the literal, the allegorical, and the mystical belong to modern times. The apostle is contrasting the Old Testament with the New. The older revelation consisted of exact directions for the guidance of life and conduct. The new revelation consists of principles and examples by the help and application of which a man may guide his own conduct. But, while this distinction is carefully noted, it should be observed that, in the older revelation, there was both letter and spirit, and devout souls recognized and lived in the light of the inner principles, the spiritual truth which precise injunctions did but illustrate. F. W. Robertson says, "It was the business of Moses to teach maxims, and not principles; rules for ceremonial, and not a spirit of life. And these things—rules, ceremonials, maxims, law—are what the apostle calls here the letter. Thus, for instance, truth is a principle springing out of the inward life; but Moses only gave the rule: 'Thou shalt not forswear thyself.' It is impossible not to see how plainly inadequate this rule is to all that truth requires; for he who scarcely avoided perjury may have kept nevertheless to the letter of the Law! Again, love is a principle; but Moses said simply, 'Thou shalt not kill, nor steal, nor injure.' Again, meekness and subduedness before God,—these are of the Spirit; but Moses merely commanded fasts. It was in consequence of the superiority of the teaching of principles over a mere teaching of maxims that the ministry of the letter was considered as nothing." "The difference between the old covenant and the new was that the former prescribed, the latter inspired; the former gave written precepts, the latter the power to fulfil them; the former laid down the rules, the latter brought man's heart into the condition in which such rules became a part of his nature." In an educational point of view the letter must come first, the child must have precise direction of his conduct, and only through this will he be helped to grasp principles, and apply them himself to his conduct and duties. So that we must not undervalue the letter, but give it a proper place as a stepping stone to higher and better things. The distinction between the letter and the spirit may be illustrated in a variety of spheres.
I. IN THE EARLY MOSAIC RECORDS. The imaginative and the historical records of the first ages. Perplexities and difficulties abound when we force literal meanings. The first principles of morals and religion come to view when we read the spirit of them.
II. IN THE JUDAIC RELIGIOUS SYSTEM. That does seem to be a round of formal injunctions, covering all the various family, social, and religious relations of the people, and yet our Lord taught us, in his sermon on the mount, to find spiritual principles within it. He showed that the spirit of hate underlay the sin of murder, and the spirit of purity assured the maintenance of right marriage relations.
III. IN THE TEACHINGS OF THE PROPHETS. It was almost the one essential thing in their work that they were to set free the spirit of the older revelation, which was in danger of being overcrushed by the letter of commandment and ceremonial rule. It may even be shown that, in the prophets, there was a tendency to undervalue the letter, in the earnestness of their effort to get a right value set on the spirit of obedience.
IV. IN THE LIFE AND GOSPEL OF THE LORD JESUS. Illustrate by our Lord's parables, and by his teaching as in John 6:63.
V. IN THE APOSTOLIC MINISTRY. Especially illustrated in St. Paul's teachings respecting the relation of the Judaic and Christian systems, and equally illustrated in St. John's revelation of the inner and mystical meanings of the Christian truth and requirements. Conclude by showing how this distinction is still applicable to modern religious teaching.
1. The "letter" is needed. In some stages of religious experience and attainment precise directions are the best helps.
2. The mere "letter" may still be exaggerated, so as to become a mischievous bondage.
3. The true teacher uses the formal "letter" only to carry the "spirit." But the higher teaching of the very spirit of Christianity demands from the teacher a very marked and cultured spirituality, or spiritual insight.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 3:7-11
The old covenant and the new.
In some sense it may be said that teachings respecting the relations between the older revelation in Judaism and the newer revelation in Christianity were special to the Apostle Paul. On this point he had direct revelations from Christ, and the liberal form which his teachings took exposed him to the peril of being misunderstood and misrepresented, and brought persecutions around him. No man could be found more truly loyal to the older revelation than the apostle of the Gentiles, but while he honoured it he saw clearly that it had its day and its mission. That day had now passed; that mission had been fulfilled. The older covenant had made open and plain the way for the new, and it was loyalty to the old for Paul to accept fully the new, in which it found its fulfilment, its completion, its glory; for the ministration of Jesus and the Spirit is but Judaism glorified, the gospel of the letter passed into the gospel of the spirit. Three contrasts are here dwelt upon. The old covenant and the new are conceived as—
I. A MINISTRATION OF DEATH AND A MINISTRATION OF LIFE. St. Paul had said (2 Corinthians 3:6) that the "letter killeth." He meant that it crushed hope and effort, since no man could reach a perfect obedience. The old covenant condemned all who failed even in the least thing. It provided no life, no strength in which obedience could become possible. On the other band, the new covenant provided a new life for the will and a new grace unto obedience. The old crushed down heart and hope, and made a man cry out, "I cannot." The new cheered him, lifted him up, and made him say, "I can, through him who strengtheneth me."
II. A MINISTRATION OF CONDEMNATION AND A MINISTRATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The old covenant said, "Thou shalt not," and it denounced its penalties on the offenders. The new covenant says, "Thou shalt," holds before us the model life of obedience lived by the Lord Jesus, and provides grace unto changing us into his image.
III. A MINISTRATION THAT WAS PASSING AND A MINISTRATION THAT WAS PERMANENT. (2 Corinthians 3:11.) The older covenant was of necessity transitory. It had but a temporary and preparatory mission. The new is abiding, for there can be nothing higher than or beyond that spiritual righteousness which is its sublime aim to accomplish.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 3:17
The liberty of the Spirit.
"The apostle assumes, almost as an axiom of the spiritual life, that the presence of the Spirit gives freedom, as contrasted with the bondage of the letter—freedom from slavish fear, freedom from the guilt and burden of sin, freedom from the tyranny of the Law." Distinguish carefully between liberty and licence. Whether a man can have and use liberty depends entirely upon what a man is. Some men are better in bonds; they must be in bonds; their fancied liberty is but a delusion. The point urged by the apostle is that the man who is renewed in Christ Jesus can be safely trusted with his full liberty, because he is established in principles, and upheld by a power which guarantees that he will put his liberty into reasonable and righteous limitations. We observe some of the reasons why "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
I. BECAUSE THERE IS LIFE. A new life, a Divine life. Life can always be allowed its free and natural expression. It is disease that must be set in limitations and bondages. The forces and expressions of life are evenly and harmoniously balanced; and order is preserved when life is permitted to be free. The expressions of the Christian life, the life of the Spirit, can only be true and beautiful and good.
II. BECAUSE THERE IS FREEDOM FROM BONDS. That is, from the bonds of formal rules. The Spirit establishes principles, and so frees us from rules. God's laws are written by the Spirit in our minds and on our hearts. Illustrate by the passing away of schoolboy commands and regulations when manhood has come and principles are established.
III. BECAUSE THERE IS KNOWLEDGE OF THE RIGHT. This the indwelling Spirit guarantees, because he takes of the things of Christ and reveals them unto us. He is our inward Monitor, our Teacher as well as our Comforter. Illustrate by the perplexity of life if we must control it by fashion and custom, deciding what we may eat and what we may not eat; what we may enjoy and what we may not enjoy; what is consistent and what is inconsistent. The Spirit shows the right; it is liberty to act on its great principle that we must everywhere be
IV. BECAUSE THERE IS DESIRE FOR THE RIGHT. He who is without the Spirit may "know the better but follow the worse." That is saying he is in bondages of self-will and evil which he cannot break. The indwelling Spirit controls the will and affections so that we desire what is right, and therefore are tree to follow the right of which we may know.
V. BECAUSE THERE IS QUICK SENSITIVENESS TO THE WRONG. So that it is detected and its slavery resisted. The liberty of the Spirit is such that it cannot be taken at unawares. From these considerations plead for the importance of keeping our minds and hearts ever open to the Spirit's love and lead, as the secret of maintaining the only liberty that is worth calling such. For the liberty that is assured to man by the gospel, see John 8:32; Romans 6:18, Romans 6:22; Romans 8:2; James 1:25; James 2:1-26 12; 1 Peter 2:16.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 3:18
The vision of God in Christianity.
This passage contains evident reference to an incident occurring in the life of Moses. He had tarried on the mount for forty days, in some mysterious manner within the immediate radiance of the Divine glory, holding some very near, yet very secret, fellowship with God. We might expect to find an influence from such converse resting on Moses' spirit ever after, and we could not wonder if some traces of it were left upon his very face. Such was the case. Unknown to himself, the skin of his face shone, and when the people of Israel saw it they were afraid to come near him. Partly to shadow the glory from them, and partly, as St. Paul tells us in this chapter, that they might not see the glory fade and die away, he covered himself with a veil. This glory on the face of Moses had two great lessons in it for the Jews and for us.
1. That the vision of God has a transforming power on human souls.
2. And that this glory of Moses was a symbol of the passing and preparatory character of the Old Testament dispensation. St. Pauls argumentative use of his reference to Moses may be thus traced. He is exalting his office as a minister of the new covenant. He argues that if a glory was shed upon the ministration of the Law, a Law Written in letters and graven upon stones, much greater must be the glory which rests upon the ministration of the Spirit, which ministration is permanent. Being the minister of this more glorious covenant, St. Paul says he may speak and act with boldness, without disguise. He need not spread a veil over his face, as Moses did, in order that the sons of Israel might not see the end of that fading brightness. And this reminds him that, when he wrote, the minds of Israel were still blinded, a veil was on their hearts, so that they imagine the glory lies still on Moses and his system; they cannot see that the older covenant has done its work, that the Law has given place to love. When their hearts turn to the Lord Jesus, the veil is rent away; they have the vision of the Lord the Spirit; their bondage gives place to freedom. "We all, while with face unveiled we behold in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are ourselves transformed continually into the same likeness; and the glory which shines upon us is reflected by us, even as it proceeds from the Lord the Spirit." Two questions invite attention.
1. How is the vision of God granted to us?
2. What influence does the vision of God exert?
I. HOW IS THE VISION OF GOD GRANTED TO US? Man can never find rest for head or heart save in God. The deepest longing of every human soul is the vision of God. Idolatry is the expression of the desire to find and see God. Humanity in all ages is knit together as one man in this cry for God. Illustrate by references to Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Job, Isaiah, Stephen, and the Apostle John, who says, "We know that, when he doth appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." These, indeed, are all cases of good men, but the universal efforts to make a religion show that all men are alike in this, they would behold the glory of God. The vision is given us:
1. By the inner ministration of the Spirit. This is the meaning of the "open face, unveiled." St. Paul had just said, "We use great plainness of speech;" that is, in our ministry we can speak with freedom and boldness, without any disguise or veil, because we are ministers in the power of the Spirit. So, he would say, we all need no veil, we have openness, to behold the glory of the Lord in the leadings of the Spirit; for "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is [this] liberty;" veils are removed, hindrances are taken away, we can "behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord."
2. By the outward mirror of the Christ. "Beholding as in a glass." God's actual glory can be seen by no created eye; it must be reflected—it can only be seen as mirrored. We cannot look on the sun; we can see its image in a pool, we can find its reflected glory in the tinted flowers, and in the glorified clouds of the sunset. So our pained, strained, spiritual eyes rest delightfully upon the "Man Christ Jesus," who is the "Brightness of the Father's glory, and the express Image of the Father's person." The infinite excellences of the Divine character are exhibited in Christ in a form comprehensible by men. What the virtues and moral excellences of God are we could never know, but Christ shows them to us as if they were the graces and virtues of a man. Illustrate thus God's holiness, justice, mercy, and love.
II. WHAT INFLUENCES DOES THIS VISION OF GOD EXERT? "Changed into the same image." Moses could not see God and be the same man that he was. It changed his soul somewhat into the Divine likeness, even as his face lost its natural expression and shone with the glory. The sight of God is ever a transforming sight. It is seen to be so in the case of the transfiguration. The disciples saw our Lord's very raiment white and glistering, and glory all overspreading his frame. When a man sees God there is an inner change, of which that is the symbol Illustrate by the way in which a close and trustful friendship makes the friends grow alike. As the Christian man maintains his daily relations with Christ the mirrored God, as he "dwells in the secret place of the Most High," he finds a transforming and transfiguring work is being carried on: the mind of God is coming to be his mind; the work of God is coming to be his work; the very life of God is coming to be his life. And this further result comes. They who are changing into the likeness of God are gradually reflecting the glory of God out upon men. They are becoming themselves, in turn, mirrors of God, glasses in which men may behold the glory of the Lord. We hardly know which is the more gracious and surprising—the change that is wrought in us by the constant communion of God and our souls, or the infinite condescension which permits us, in our earthly lives, to be light bearers for God, mirrors to reflect the glory and attraction of his saving grace, so that men may be won to him. Conclude by showing
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany