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Our apostle here expostulates the case with the Corinthians, why they should at any time hearken to the false apostles, who, by relecting upon his person and ministry, made it needful for him to vindicate both from contempt and scorn.
As if he had said, "What! do I need to begin again in this second epistle, as I did in the first, to commend myself, and the effects of my ministry, among you? Or need I commendatory letters either to you or from you, as the false teachers amongst you have?
No, verily, you yourselves, by your conversion to Christianity, and embracing the faith of the gospel, are a better attestation and testimonial to the world, of the success of my ministry, than any written epistle is or can be: for you are an epsitle written in my heart; that is, your conversion by my ministry is the joy and rejoicing of my heart; there it is that I continually carry a thankful and honourable remembrance of you, and bear you upon my heart, whenever I go in and out before the Lord.
And as my epistle, you are known and read of all men; that is, all Christians, far and near, take notice of you as a church which God has eminently blessed my ministry to the conversion and edification of."
But lest the apostle should seem too assuming in calling the Corinthians his epistle, in the next words he calls them the epistle of Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ye are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, that is, your faith and conversion was the work of Christ's Spirit, though wrought by my ministry; he having wrote his law in your hearts after a more excellent manner than any thing that can be written with ink and paper; not as the ten commandments of old were written, in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart; that is, in your hearts made soft and pliable and ready to obey the word and will of God, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, using my ministry as the pen or instrument in his hand in order thereunto.
Learn hence, 1. That it is a very great favour from God when his ministers can see the success of their labours in the hearts and lives of any of their people; when they can say, Ye are our epistle.
Learn, 2. That nothing doth so highly commend our ministry as our people's proficiency: their improvement in knowledge, their stedfastness in the faith, their growth in grace and holiness, is beyond all verbal commendations and acknowledgments whatsoever. Sermons fetch not applause from men's renown; the people's practice is the preacher's crown.
Learn, 3. That whatever success the faithful ministers of Christ meet with either in the work of conversion or edification, among a people, they attribute the whole efficiency of it unto God, ascribing nothing more than a bare instrumentality to themselves: Ye are the epistle of Christ, says the apostle, ministered by us; Christ has written his law in your hearts by my ministry: as if he had said, "Christ is the writer, the pen is the minister, the ink the Spirit, the paper, or table that receives the impression, is the heart, and the law of God, the writing writ therein and thereupon."
Observe here, How the apostle encourages himself, from the experience he had of the present success of his ministry, to hope for the favour of farther and future success: Such trust or confidence have we, through the grace of Christ, of the constant efficacy of our ministry, that he will still own and honour it, succeed and bless it.
When God has rendered our labours acceptable and successful amongst a people, either for conversion or edification, it should encourge us to trust in God for the efficacious assistance of our ministry, and render us yet more successful amongst them, and a greater blessing to them.
Observe here, 1. How the apostle having made an apology and defence for himself and his ministry, against those that did calumniate him, in the former verses; in the verse before us he acknowledges his great inability for this work, and that his whole sufficiency of service was from God; and this without doubt he mentions not only out of humility, but out of prudence also, in order to stop the mouths of those who might be apt to think he had too high an esteem of himself.
As if the apostle had said, "Far be it from me to think that I could procure the success of my ministry, that I have any such sufficiency of myself to convert souls; no, no, my sufficiency and success is all from God; for, alas! there is no proportion between such a sublime and supernatural service as that of the gospel ministry is and the impotency and weakness of man." Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.
Observe, 2. The free and full acknowledgment which the apostle makes of the great things which God had done for him, and by him: he did not find, but made him a minister, an able minister; yea, an able minister of the New Testament, or new covenant; not a preacher of the law of Moses, but of the gospel of Jesus: Who hath made us able ministers of the New testament.
To be a sufficient and successful gospel minister, is a very great favour from God to any person: the clay of the gospel is better than the gold of the temple; the rags of the evangelical, more rich than the robes of the Levitical preacher: it is a greater honour to be, and a greater favour to hear, the meanest gospel preacher than to hear all Moses' lectures.
Observe, 3. How our apostle here insensibly slides into a comparison which he makes between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ, in which he magnifies and prefers the latter above the former; the law he calls the letter, the gospel the spirit; that is, a ministration of the Spirit. The letter killeth -that is, the law condemneth and curseth the sinner, the transgressor of it; but the Spirit of Christ revealed in the gospel enableth, as well as directeth, to obey, and so giveth life.
Note here, How false the Quaker's and others' gloss is upon these words: they by the letter will understand the whole written word of God contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament, the law and gospel both; and by the spirit, will have to be meant the inward and immediate teachings of the light within them.
Others, by the letter, understand the literal and historical sense of scripture in general; and by the spirit giving life, they understand the mystical and spiritual sense of scripture; but it is evident from 2 Corinthians 3:3, that by the letter he understands the law engraven in stone, the law as delivered by Moses with an appearance of the glory of the Lord upon mount Sinai; and by the spirit is meant the blessed Spirit of Christ given to the apostles to enable them to preach the gospel, and conferred upon all believers that did obediently hear and receive it.
Our apostle in this and the following verses, goes on with his comparison betwixt the law and the gospel, and shows the transcendency of the latter above the former.
Where note, 1. He calls the law again a killing law, or a ministration of death; because it condemns men for the breach of it to temporal and eternal death, without opening to them any door of hope.
Note, 2. This law (he speaks of it by way of diminution) was only written upon and engraven in stone; whereas the gospel is written in the fleshly tables of men's heart's.
Note, 3. How the apostle declares that this ministration of the law was glorious; glorious in the minister of it, Moses, who had such a lustre upon his face, that the children of Israel could not bear the sight of it: and glorious in the manner of giving it; there was a great deal of the glory and majesty of God attended the giving of the law to Moses; the ministration of the law was glorious.
Note, 4. The comparison which the apostle makes between the law and the gospel, and the preference which he gives to the one above the other.
1. As the glory of Moses's face ceased after a while, so the glory of the law ceased at the coming of the gospel.
2. The law was delivered by angels to Moses, but the gospel was delivered to the apostles by the Son of God, who is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person.
3. Whereas the glory of Moses did more and more decrease; the glory put upon the apostles, and derived from Christ, was still more and more increasing upon them.
But, 4. The chief glory of the gospel which the apostle here insists upon, is the ministration of the Spirit, in the large effusions of it under the gospel dispensation, giving spiritual and eternal life to believers, instead of death spiritual and eternal coming by the law. Well therefore might our apostle here say, the ministration of the Spirit, or the gospel, is much more glorious; and consequently a greater reverence and honour is due to it, and to the ministers of it.
Observe here, 1. The different titles given to the law, and to the gospel; the former is called the ministration of condemnation, because it condemns men eternally for the violation of it; the latter is called the ministration of righteousness or justification, because it discovers to us the only way for a sinner's justification before God; namely, by the righteousness of the Mediator.
Observe, 2. That the apostle, comparing the law and the gospel together, acknowledges that there was a surpassing glory in the latter above and beyond the former. Indeed, God's institution stampt an excellency upon the Jewish worship, and the law given them had both an intrinsic glory in it, as it was a revelation of the will of God; and also an accidental and adventitious glory, as it was attended with the solemnity of thunder and lightning, fire and smoke, and a voice like the sound of a trumpet, at the promulgation of it: yet, says the apostle, compared with the gospel, the glory of the law, or Jewish worship, had no glory in it at all, by reason of the glory that doth excel; as the moon compared with the sun, is so outshined by it, that its brightness is little taken notice of. True, indeed, the law was a revelation of God's will, as well as the gospel; but with this happy advantage on the gospel's side. The law was a revelation of God's will, as to duty and as to condemnation, in case of non-performance of that duty; but the gospel is a revelation of God's will, as to grace and mercy, as to remission of sin and eternal life.
Observe, 3. Another argument produced here by the apostle to prove the ministration of the gospel, to be much more glorious than that of the law; namely, because it is much more durable and abiding, 2 Corinthians 3:11. If that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
The force of the argument lies thus: That which is durable and permanent, is far more excellent than that which is temporary and transient. Now the law, or Jewish dispensation is vanished; its ministration is ceased, and all the legal ordinances are abolished; but the gospel-state remaineth to the end of the world. It is called a kingdom that cannot be moved, Hebrews 12:28, therefore the gospel-ministration, which is eternal, fixed, and abiding, must needs be more excellent and more glorious than the legal dispensation, which was temporary, transient, and vanishing.
Here the apostle draws an inference from the foregoing discourse; that seeing himself and the other apostles had such hope, that their ministry was thus glorious, such confidence and assurance of the perfection and perpetuity of their ministry, they did use great plainness, freedom, and boldness of speech, in preaching and publishing the gospel; and did not imitate Moses, the minister of the law, who put a veil over his face; which was a sign of the obscurity of the legal dispensation, and of the blindness of the Jews, who could not see the end and accomplishment of that ceremonial and typical administration, which was to be abolished by Christ and his gospel: but their minds were then, and still are, blinded by prejudice and unbelief, and the same veil remaineth to this day spread over Moses's writings, and not taken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is now done away by the doctrine of Christ contained in the New Testament: nevertheless, when the hearts of the Jews shall be turned unto the Lord, and they own and acknowledge Jesus Christ, then the veil shall be taken away from the Jews, and they shall then clearly understand and see what is now concealed and hidden from their eyes.
Learn hence, 1. That there is a natural veil of blindness and ignorance upon the minds of men, which hinders their discerning and understanding gospel mysteries.
Learn, 2. That there is upon the understandings of the Jews a veil of unbelief and rooted prejudice against Christ and his holy religion; they wilfully shut their eyes, and said, "they would not see," and God has judiciously closed their eyes, and said, "they shall not see."
Learn, 3. That by reason of this veil upon their hearts, they cannot look to the end of that which was abolished; that is, to Jesus Christ, who was the end and scope at which the whole ceremonial law did aim and tend.
Learn, 4. That when the Jews shall be called home, and converted to Christianity, the veil shall be removed from their hearts, and they shall then understand the tendency and meaning of the whole ceremonial law, and observe its fulfilling and accomplishment in our Lord Jesus Christ: When they shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.
As if he had said, Christ is that quickening and life-giving Spirit who takes away the veil from off our hearts; and where that Spirit, that all-glorious and all-powerful Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty; that is, clearness, and no more veil; freedom from the yoke of the legal administration, a liberty and freedom from sin, a liberty unto righteousness, a freeness and readiness of spirit to do good, a liberty of address and approach to God, a liberty of speech in prayer before God. Thus the Spirit of the Lord is a free spirit.
That is, we who live under the light, and enjoy the liberty of the gospel, with open face beholding as in a clear glass the glory of the Lord Jesus, as Moses did the glory of God in the mount, are by degrees changed into the same image with him, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord working in us, and transforming us into his own likeness.
Learn hence, 1. That the word and ordinances of God are the glass, wherein we have now a sight of the glory of God.
Learn, 2. That the sight of God in his ordinances is transforming, as well as the sight of him in heaven; the glory into which we are changed, is our conformity to that holiness which shineth in the word. Vision, or the sight of God here in his ordinances, assimilates as well as in heaven; perfect vision produceth perfect assimilation; but the soul's present assimilation, or imperfect conformity to God here, is gradually carried on by daily communion with him. All sorts of communion among men have an assimilating power and efficacy; he that converses with vain company, grows more vain; and he that delights in holy and spiritual company, grows more serious than he was before. But nothing so transforms the spirit of a man, as communion with God in his ordinances doth; none so like him, as those that converse most frequently with him.
Learn, 3. That if the sight of God in the glass of an ordinance be so assimilating, how transforming will be the sight of God in heaven, when we shall there behold and see him face to face! If the vision of Christ here be so influential upon believers, what an illustrious and infallible efficacy will the immediate, clear, and perfect sight of his glory have in heaven; 1 John 3:2 We shall be perfectly like him, when once we shall see him as he is.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29