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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament
2 Corinthians 3

 

 


Verses 1-3

ALL CHRISTIANS ARE GOD’S LETTERS

1-3. This wicked world will never read the Bible. When they read it, they never can understand it, unless they become penitent and pray till the Holy Spirit opens their understanding and reveals it to them. Hence none of the books constituting the Bible are addressed to sinners. Jesus says: “Ye are the light of the world.” Here Paul tells us that we are “letters written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.” Hence the silly folly of those heretics who deny the contact of the Holy Spirit with the human spirit. Pursuant to this illustration they would have to write a letter with ink and never permit it to come in contact with the paper, as the contact of Spirit with spirit is as real as that of the paper and ink when you write the letter. Paul recognizes the fact that they also had a copy of their converts in their hearts. These letters are the hope of the world, as the wicked will read us, though they will not read the Bible. What a grand conception! Every saint is the letter of Christ for all the world to read. O, how Satan has strewn the world with counterfeit letters, which the people read and believe and go down to Hell by millions.


Verse 5-6

THE LETTER KILLETH AND THE SPIRIT MAKETH ALIVE

5. We are not able to think anything from ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.” Unless the Holy Spirit sanctify and illuminate the intellect we are incompetent to even think God-like thoughts. No wonder the Savior forbade his own apostles to go out preaching till they were filled with the Holy Ghost, who is really the only preacher in all the world, others only being competent to preach through His immediate agency and presence.

6. Who also empowered us ministers of the new covenant.” Christ is Mediator of the new covenant and Moses of the old, the latter being rudimentary and the former Christian perfection. Hence the people who remain in spiritual infancy, i. e., stop with justification, are spindled and dwarfed in the dispensation of Moses, three thousand years behind the age. “Not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive.” The man who depends on the simple Word for salvation without the Spirit, is like the murderer who employs a lawyer to search the statute-book to find his pardon. Nothing will be found there but his condemnation. The Bible says: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Sad to say, the multitude of preachers in Christendom this day are ministers of the Word without the Spirit, and simply augmenting the condemnation and expediting the damnation of their people, unless they receive the Spirit, which is not very probable unless the preachers lead the way. The people swept through the churches down to Hell meet a more awful doom than the heathens, because they sin against light and knowledge. This dead-letter ministry has girdled the globe with the form without the power, from which God says, “Turn away.” No man can be a “minister of the Spirit” unless he has the Spirit. All he can do is to condemn you, sending mourning to the Spirit. Good Lord, help us to be ministers of the Spirit, and not simply of the letter. Satan knows that the Word without the Spirit will only expedite and augment damnation. Hence he sends out so many to preach who are strangers to the Holy Ghost. If we would be the ministers of the Spirit, we must receive Him into our hearts and let Him fill us and use us. We must recognize Him as the Leader of our meetings. This will knock out all human form and ceremony, and turn over the singing, praying, preaching and testifying to the Holy Ghost. Besides all this, we must be consciously possessed by the Holy Ghost. Will you be a minister of the Holy Ghost? They are scarce, and at a high premium in Heaven. We live amid awful issues. Every preacher nowadays is forced to decide between human authority and influence and the Holy Ghost. I am glad I passed this ordeal thirty years ago. Many are dying hard at that point now. Will you be a minister of the dead letter or the Holy Ghost?


Verses 7-16

THE VAIL OF MOSES

2 Corinthians 3:7-16.

Moses was the mediator of the old covenant of works, and hence a representative of Christ, who had not yet come in the flesh, and though on earth from the beginning of the mediatorial kingdom, yet never visible to human senses till after He was born in Bethlehem. However, He was real and manifest to human spirits in the days of the patriarchs, just as the children of Israel realized the personal presence of Moses when he covered his face with a vail, though they could not see his face. The vail was pertinent for the mediator while excarnate, and as Moses represented Christ before incarnation, when yet invisible, he must also be invisible, covering his face with a vail as his body was covered with his mantle, so that his entire person was in a sense invisible. And yet how exceedingly real to all Israel was the personal presence of Moses, even though covered from the contact of their senses. Hence we must not conclude that Jehovah (for this was the Old Testament name of Christ) was not manifested to the patriarchs. He was intensely real to them, as Moses was to Israel, even though he had a vail upon his face. This symbolism vividly represents the justified and sanctified experiences contrastively, while in both we realize the presence of our blessed Mediator. In the former, which is normal to the Mosaic dispensation, we are delighted with His presence, but conscious that there is an intervening vail somewhere, like the worshiper in the outer court of the temple separated from the effulgent glory of the Shekinah by the intervening vail. Yet he is assured that Jehovah in His glory is very nigh. He is no pagan, groping amid the mummeries of heathen priests, talking to dead gods who never give them an intelligent answer. While he is delighted with the privilege of worshipping Jehovah in his sanctuary, he longs to pass beyond that veil, and stand amid the clear effulgence of the glorious Shekinah, and meet Jehovah face to face. In the new dispensation the priesthood is transferred to the membership (1 Peter 2), the justified experience constituting you a priest and permitting you to offer sacrifices in the sanctuary; while sanctification rends the vail from top to bottom, so you have nothing to do but push it aside by the hand of faith, walk in, enjoy the worship of the cherubim, and abide amid the unutterable splendors of the Shekinah, flooded with the delectable realization of Jehovah’s presence. Hence, in this beautiful symbolism of Moses with a vail on his face, so that the children of Israel can not immediately behold his person and see him face to face, yet they are indubitably conscious of his presence. Now, do not forget that Moses, in his mediatorship, does not represent himself, but Christ; hence we see that the justified experience reveals Jesus to the senses beyond the possibility of doubt, yet there is a vail intervening But this vail is taken away in sanctification, which is normal to the new dispensation.

7. And if the ministry of death, having been engraven in writing in the stones, was in glory, so that the sons of Israel were not able to look upon the face of Moses on account of the glory of his countenance, which is transitory,

8. How much more shall the ministry of the Spirit be in glory?” Why is the ministry of the old covenant, i. e., justification, called the “ministry of death”? Because it means the death of the sinner, i. e., old Adam, who in justification is arrested and bound as a prisoner awaiting execution. Here Paul calls this ministry of death “transitory.” Why? Because it does not take long to kill a man. This ministry arrests the man of sin, and holds him for execution at the hands of the man of grace. Hence this ministry of death is superseded by the ministry of the Spirit. Why? Because the Holy Ghost slays Adam the first, thus putting an end to the ministry of death.

9. For if the ministry in condemnation was in glory, how much more shall the ministry of right abound in glory.

10. For that which was glorious became not glorious in this respect on account of the surpassing glory.

11. For if the transitory is through glory, how much more is that which abides in glory?” The mediatorship of Moses was in its very nature transitory, as he was destined to be superseded by Christ, who is to abide forever. Yet you must not lose sight of the Antitype in the contemplation of any of these types, as that is the point where idolatry comes in and they proceed to the worship of types and symbols; but you must bear in mind that Christ was as real in the Old Testament as in the New, otherwise none could have been saved, for Moses had no more power to save a soul than I have, and God out of Christ is a consuming fire. John the Baptist said,

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make His paths straight” (Matthew 3:3).

John here means Christ, and if you will read his quotation from Isaiah, you will find he says “Jehovah.” Hence the Christ of John is the “Jehovah” of Isaiah. Paul says,

“Some of them tempted Christ and were destroyed by serpents” (1 Corinthians 10:19).

Hence you see the Christ of Paul is the Jehovah of Moses. By these two unimpeachable witnesses you see I prove the identity of Christ and Jehovah. Therefore, throughout the Old Testament, Jehovah means none other than the excarnate Christ. So they all had Christ with them, omnipotent to save from the days of Abel till the last trumpet sounds. Now you see in these Scriptures Paul calls this the ministry of condemnation, which is true throughout the gospel of justification, normal to the ministry of Moses, because justification condemns old Adam to die. The sheriff has a writ of prosecution against your house. You have the murderer on hand, taking care of him and feeding him. The only way you can save your own neck is to turn over that murderer to the sheriff for execution under the law, which says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Hence you are never justified till you actually assign old Adam’s death warrant. As here it says that the Mosaic dispensation was transitory, so your justification is really a transitory state, destined soon to wind up with the execution of Adam the first. These Scriptures clearly refute the possible conception of settlement and permanency in the justified experience, which in its very nature is transitory. Now Paul says that this ministry of condemnation (i. e., the condemnation of the sin-principle to execution) is glorious, but that glory is in its very nature transitory, and destined to wind up with the ministry of the Spirit, who supersedes Moses, the law-giver, and hence the representative of the law. But you must remember that the law can do nothing but define the offense and condemn the criminal. The law is a light revealing sin. A dozen rattlesnakes may be in this room unseen by the inmates because there is no light. When the light comes it reveals the venomous monsters, but has no power to kill a single one of them. So Moses the law-giver has no power to slay Adam the first. There is glory in his ministry of condemnation, because, pursuant to truth and righteousness, it condemns the man of sin to die. This ministry n its very nature is transitory, because it is verified and passes away when the criminal is executed. Hence the glory of justification consists in arresting the man of sin and holding him a prisoner for execution and turning him over into the hands of the Executive, who is none other than the Holy Ghost, the Omnipotent Spirit of Christ. Now when Adam the first is turned over to the Holy Ghost for execution, we pass triumphantly into the ministry of the Spirit. Why do I say triumphantly? Because the vexed problem is now gone out of our hands. The Omnipotent Spirit takes charge of our old enemy, who has given us all the trouble we ever had. Truly our victory has come. We need not trouble ourselves about what He has done with him. We know that He will never let him trouble us any more. As the law under Moses has already condemned him to die, and the Holy Ghost, the Executive of the law, has taken him into hand, of course there is nothing left for us to do but to reckon him dead (Romans 6:11), and raise the shout of triumph. Since this is no transitory affair, victory has come, and come to stay. Well does Paul here say that the transcendent glory normal to the ministry of the Spirit, which comes to abide, actually eclipses all the glory normal to the ministry of condemnation, which was destined to be transitory, passing away with the execution of Adam the first and superseded by the transcendent glory normal to the ministry of the Spirit, who not only executes Adam the first (Romans 6:6), but abides forever, filling the soul and life with glory ineffable. Hence we see the egregious folly on the part of anyone to abide in the justified state. He is committing the awful blunder of the Jews who held on to Moses, refusing to let him go into eclipse when Christ came. Moses was all right in his dispensation, but utterly effete and unsatisfactory after the expiration of his dispensation. The present Holiness Movement is destined to play a conspicuous part in the Judgment Day. When the Jews rejected Christ they plunged headlong into darkness, and have been sinking deeper into infidelity and atheism ever since. The same was true when the Roman Catholic Church rejected the light of the Lutheran Reformation. Before that day there were many bright lights and celebrated saints adorning her ranks, such as Augustine, Bernard, and a host of others. God raised up. Luther and his compeers to lead them into brighter light and better experiences. They rejected them with contempt, and have been sinking into blacker darkness, deeper debauchery and were terrible diabolism ever since. The same is true of the Episcopal Church ever since she rejected the light God gave her in the Wesleyan Holiness Movement. The present movement is not local, like that of Luther in Germany, Knox in Scotland and Wesley in England, but it is moving with the tread of a giant through every nation under Heaven, as her fire-baptized missionaries are now penetrating the hitherto unexplored regions of Hoonan, Thibet, in Eastern Asia, and the Soudan and Congo regions of Central Africa, as well as South America, the islands of the sea and all other nations, girdling the globe with salvation and holiness to the Lord. The saddest scene on which the angels look down is the rejection of the Holiness gospel by the Protestant churches, thus marking a notable epoch in their history, destined to astonish millions when we all stand before the great white throne. They have no idea of giving up their justification, yet they are everywhere doing this very thing, from the simple fact that it is utterly impossible to hold it after they reject sanctification. You have turned over the man of sin to the civil authorities for execution. You still have him on hand, a prisoner on your premises. The day of hanging has arrived and the sheriff comes after him. If you do not surrender him up to execution your loyalty is at once suspected, impeached, and ere long forfeited. You are like the Jews who held on to Moses after Christ came. God is as real in the church of the world today as when He flamed in the bush before Moses in the wilderness. I most obviously and unmistakably see to my sorrow the sad retreat of all the Protestant churches back into darkness and condemnation. It is because they reject sanctification.

13. And not as Moses put a vail on his face, so that the sons of Israel could not see to the end of the transitory.” While in the justified experience this vail is on our face, so we do not see the glorious end of this transitory experience, when the man of sin is executed and we are sanctified wholly.

14. But their minds were darkened.” The Jews could not clearly apprehend Christ till He came incarnate; hitherto their conceptions were more or less shadowy and vague. “For unto this day this same vail remains in the reading of the Old Testament, not taken away because it is done away in Christ.” We have this day thousands of witnesses to this fact. I preached fifteen years in the dispensation of Moses with that vail on my face, while reading my Bible so that I enjoyed no distinct vision, but a vague panorama like the fugitive scenes of a magic lantern moved before my eyes. Thirty years ago, when the Holy Ghost revealed Jesus to my spirit sitting on the throne of my heart, crowned and sceptered, King of kings and Lord of lords, ruling within and without and making my life a constant sunshine, what a light and a glory rolled over the inspired pages! Before that day I had never given a Bible reading, was utterly incompetent to do it. Oh, how wonderfully the blessed Holy Spirit has revealed to my happy soul His precious Word! The reason you find none but the Holiness people making any progress in Bible study is here solved, as they alone behold the living Word in clear and cloudless light, all justified people reading it with a vail over their faces, and the wicked neglecting it altogether.

15. But unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart, but when he may turn to the Lord the vail is taken away


Verse 17

17. But the Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” “Lord” here means “Christ,” the Second Person of the Trinity, and “the Spirit of the Lord” means “the Holy Ghost.” And since the Holy Ghost has been sent into the world as a Revelation of the spiritual Christ — who is none other than the Hero of Mt. Calvary; who has conquered sin, death and Hell, and “brought life and immortality to light,” gloriously delivering His people from all of their enemies and crowning them with the diadem of perfect freedom — the Holy Ghost is here among us to conduct all of our meetings, His constant work being the revelation and the glorification of Christ. The poorest beggar becomes a millionaire when it is all given to him by a rich friend. Then he has perfect liberty in financial and temporal matters. How sad to see the spiritual bondage in the churches, the preacher afraid of his members and official board, and they all afraid of one another and the preacher, and afraid of other churches, and afraid of the worldly people; so there is no liberty, they are all in bondage. What a pity they will not all let the Holy Ghost come in and introduce King Jesus, who breaks every chain, sunders every fetter, and makes them all free as angels!


Verse 18

SPIRITUAL PROGRESS

18. But we all with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transfigured into the same image from glory unto glory, as by the Lord the Spirit.” This is a beautiful, vivid and glorious description of the experience enjoyed by people after they have been truly sanctified. This verse is inapplicable to unsanctified Christians, from the fact that their faces are already unveiled, which is not peculiar to the justified experience normal to Moses, who had the vail on his face. Again, we see that the transfiguration here mentioned is not from carnality to the glory of holiness, as in the case of people entering the sanctified experience, but from “glory to glory,” i. e., from the glory of holiness to the glory of transfiguration. The theme of discourse is the reading of God’s Word, under the Mosaic dispensation with a vail over your face, but now that the vail is taken away in Christ, we read the same Word with face unveiled. Hence the Bible is God’s looking-glass, in which we see ourselves mirrored and reflected back. The reason why the wicked hate the Bible is because it shows them their own faces polluted by devils and coiled about with rattlesnakes. The reason why unsanctified Christians do not take much interest in the Bible is because it reveals to them their own faces awfully dirty, ugly and filthy, and it is murderous to all their pride to behold the sight, while sanctified people are unutterably surprised and delighted to see their faces so bright, clean and beautiful that they never get tired looking at them. But beauty hath a charm insatiable, and, while astounded beyond measure as we contemplate the beauty of holiness reflected in our own features from the looking-glass of God’s Word, though we see all the wounds and lacerations of leprosy and small-pox are gloriously healed, odoriferous with Heavenly fragrance and beautiful as the roses of Sharon, yet the old scars are still there, and we long for their final obliteration. Where the E.V. has “transformed” the better reading is “transfigured.” While sanctification is the perfection of grace, the transfiguration is the perfection of glory, the grand ultimatum in the restitutionary economy, actually conferring homogeneity to the Heavenly state, our destination, whither we are bound and to which we are running night and day, like the Grecian racers in the Olympic stadium. Now, remember that the transfiguration glory is really the constant and supreme desideratum of every truly sanctified soul; and as sanctification, though suddenly entered, is gradually approximated, so glorification, though instantaneously wrought upon the soul by the Holy Ghost the very moment of its translation out of the body, yet it is gradually approached during the entire period of the sanctified life. We all desire supremely a part in the rapture of the saints when the Lord comes after His Bride. As we are constantly on the lookout for His appearing, of course we are not expecting to die, but to see our coming King and meet Him in the clouds. In that case, we must be transfigured, body, mind and spirit. Hence there is a prominent sense in which that transfiguration is going on. John Wesley taught a gradual sanctification, antecedent to the instantaneous experience and a necessary preparation for its reception. In a similar manner there is a gradual transfiguration, in which we are weaned from earth and ripened for Heaven. In this gradual transfiguration, great physical changes, as well as intellectual and spiritual, transpire, making us less physical, gross and earthly, and more spiritual, intellectual, ethereal and Heavenly in our constitution and habitude, thus, in a mysterious and indefinable way, preparing us for the wonderful change out of materiality into pure spirituality, when these bodies shall cease to be the tenement of the animal life and intellect, but become the glorified house for our glorified spirit to occupy forever. While looking into this mirror, i. e., God’s wonderful Word, we see our own being reflected back as you see your person when you stand before the looking-glass. What a significant fact! the Heaven bound pilgrim, as the years go by, actually sees himself as he reads his Bible, clearly showing up changes, revolutions and transfigurations, effecting obvious elimination’s of the earthy, and taking on discernible accessions of the Heavenly, and thus more and more approximating the beauty, purity and glory of our blessed Paragon, till the moment of final victory arrives, and, responsive to the call of the Heavenly Bridegroom, this mortal will put on immortality, and fly away to meet Him in the skies. Again, in case that He shall call me to evacuate this tenement to go and meet Him, it is equally pertinent that I should be ripe for translation, so that I will enjoy a part in the first resurrection and a place in the glorified Bridehood of my Lord. I find that this is all done by “the Lord the Spirit,” a better translation than “the Spirit of the Lord,” as in E.V.; setting forth the fact that the Holy Ghost, who is identical with the Lord Himself, i. e., the spiritual Christ to whom we are wedded in sanctification, and who abides here (Matthew 28:20) to the end of the age, i. e., the present age, which will end when the millennium is ushered in. Meanwhile He here abides, is wedded to us in sanctification, and prepares us — soul, body and mind — in the fullness of our redeemed humanity to be wedded to Him in the fullness of His glorified humanity, when we shall gather in the marriage supper of the Lamb. Hence the Holy Ghost, who is none other than the Spirit of our Savior, is the Omnipotent Agent here with us, felicitously transfiguring us through His Word, and getting us ready for glorification, whether through translation or resurrection.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/2-corinthians-3.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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