corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.20.02.16
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
2 Corinthians 3

 

 

Verse 2-3

DISCOURSE: 2005

CHRISTIANS ARE EPISTLES OF CHRIST

2 Corinthians 3:2-3. If are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

HATEFUL and detestable as boasting is, there are occasions whereon it may be proper, and even necessary. As far as a man’s own reputation merely is concerned, he need not be forward to vindicate himself from false accusations: if he be a holy and consistent character, he may safely leave himself in God’s hands, indifferent about the censures of an ungodly world: but where the honour of the Gospel is at stake, and there is danger of its influence being undermined by the falsehoods that are circulated, it is by no means unworthy even of an Apostle to refute the calumnies that are raised against him. There were at Corinth false teachers, who sought by all possible means to destroy the character of the Apostle Paul, and who even denied his claim to apostolic authority. In answer to their malignant accusations, St. Paul, in his former Epistle to the Corinthians, says, “Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are not you my work in the Lord? 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 [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:1-2.].” Thus, in this epistle also he vindicates himself as ministering, not like the false teachers, who corrupted the word of God, but with a holy integrity befitting his high office [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:17.]. Yet apprehensive lest he should be misunderstood, as though he felt a need of such commendations either from himself or others, he appealed to his converts themselves as proofs sufficient of his apostleship, even such proofs as carried, to the most thoughtless beholder, their own evidence along with them: “Ye are our epistle, &c. &c.:” that is, ‘I need not epistles from men, since ye yourselves are epistles from the Lord Jesus Christ, testifying that I am his servant, and that the Gospel which I preach is the very truth of God.”

In further considering these words, we may notice from them,

I. The character of all true converts—

Christians are epistles of Christ, written for the instruction of the whole world. Epistles from man to man, such as were those which the false teachers carried with them as letters of recommendation from Church to Church, were written with ink; but Christ’s epistles are written with the Spirit of the living God; and not, as the law of the ten commandments was, in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart; to which God alone can have access, and on which God alone can make any valuable impressions. Ministers indeed are used by him as instruments, as the word also is; but these can effect no more than a pen or ink can without the hand of a writer: “Paul may plant, and Apollos may water; but it is God alone who can give the increase [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:5-7.].”

By these epistles the Lord Jesus Christ teaches men,

1. What is that change that must be wrought on every child of man—

[Christians once walked after the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were children of wrath, even as others [Note: Ephesians 2:2-3.]. But a great change has been wrought in them: they have been “turned from darkness. unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” They are become “new creatures:” their views, their desires, their pursuits, are all new. The change that has taken place in them is not unlike that of a river, which, from flowing rapidly towards the ocean, is arrested in its course, and made by the refluent tide to return with equal rapidity towards the fountain-head. Thus are these turned “in the spirit of their minds,” the whole bent of which was formerly after the things of time and sense, but is now directed to the service of the living God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:9.].

These being still in the world, though not of it, are living instructors to all around them: they are epistles “known and read of all men.” From the Scriptures men will turn their eyes; but from these epistles they cannot: they are constrained to see the truths recorded in them: and, however they may hate the change which they behold, they are compelled to acknowledge it: and they are admonished by it, that, without such a change, they themselves can never be partakers of the kingdom of heaven. In a word, by every true convert, Christ speaks to all, as once he did to Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.”]

2. By what means that change is to be effected—

[However the followers of Christ may differ from each other in minor points, they all agree in founding their hopes of salvation entirely on his atoning blood, and on the effectual operation of his Spirit within them: the declaration of every one amongst them is, “Surely in the Lord, and in him alone, have I righteousness and strength [Note: Isaiah 45:24.].”

These things then does the Lord Jesus Christ proclaim to the world by them. By them he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” “There is no other name but mine given under heaven whereby men may be saved;” “nor is there any other foundation whereon any man can build” his hopes. ‘And, as they look to me for their acceptance with God, so must they also do for the gift of my Spirit, who alone can begin, or carry on, or perfect, a work of grace in their souls.’ It is in reality this testimony which so offends the world. If they were taught to rely on their own merits, or to depend on their own arm, they would extol the persons who thus distinguished themselves by their superior attainments in holiness: but, when they are told that all their hope must be in the righteousness of another, and in strength communicated from above, they pour contempt upon it all as foolishness. Nevertheless such are the lessons which Christians teach to all around them; and such are the instructions which Christ conveys by them to a benighted world.]

Whilst they thus speak from Christ they give us just occasion also to notice,

II. The honour they reflect on the Gospel of Christ—

They are all not merely epistles from Christ, but witnesses also for him. As the Jews were witnesses for God to all nations of the earth, since no other god could ever have effected what he had wrought for them [Note: Isaiah 43:10-12.], and as all the persons whom Jesus healed were witnesses for him as the true Messiah [Note: Matthew 11:25.], so are all true converts witnesses,

1. Of the truth of the Gospel—

[What other system ever wrought as that has done? Look at all the means which men have devised for obtaining reconciliation with God; and see if they have ever operated so powerfully, and so beneficially, on the souls of those who have embraced them, as has the simple doctrine of the cross? No: by no other doctrine did God ever work, nor by any other doctrine will he ever work, for the sanctification and salvation of a ruined world. Go to any place under heaven where Christ is not exalted as the only Saviour of the world, or where the Spirit of the living God is not honoured as the only source of all real holiness of heart and life, and see what the state is of those who are so taught: will there be found among them any work like that on the day of Pentecost? Will the word preached there be quick, and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword? Will “the weapons used there be found mighty to pull down the strong holds” of sin and Satan, and to “bring men’s thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ?” No: God does not, and will not, work by any thing but a simple exhibition of Christ crucified. It is the Gospel only that is “the rod of his strength,” or that will ever prove “the power of God to the salvation of the soul.” But where that is preached, these effects are wrought; multitudes are “brought out of darkness into marvellous light,” and are enabled to shew by their works the reality of their faith; and thus they give undoubted evidence, that the Gospel which is ministered unto them is the true Gospel. As Christ said of the people whom he had healed, “The works that I do, the same bear witness of me,” so may we say of these persons, that they are “seals,” whereby God himself attests the mission of his servants, and the truth of the doctrine which they deliver.]

2. Of the efficacy of the Gospel—

[It is not a mere external change which the Gospel effects, but a change of the whole soul, from sin and sorrow to holiness and joy. The “peace” which it introduces into the troubled mind, “passeth all understanding:” and the “joy” to which it elevates the repenting sinner, is “unspeakable and glorified.” In respect of sanctification, it does not produce absolute perfection; for “there is not a man on earth that liveth and sinneth not;” but it transforms the soul in a very wonderful manner, and changes it progressively, if not perfectly, “into the very image of God, in righteousness and true holiness.” In short, it brings the Lord Jesus Christ and the believer into so near an union with each other, that they are one body [Note: Ephesians 5:30.], and “one spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.],” partakers of the same blessings in this world [Note: John 17:13; John 17:22-23; John 17:26.], and heirs of the same glory in the world to come [Note: Romans 8:17.].

What other doctrine ever did, or can, effect such a change as this? Not even God’s law, which he wrote in tables of stone, could operate to such an extent as this: the Gospel alone is competent to such a task: as St. Paul has said; “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, did; that is, he condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:3-4.].” Moreover, it is not on those only who are of a better and more pliant frame of mind, that the Gospel thus operates, but on the vilest of the human race; as indisputably appeared in the Corinthian Church [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.] — — — The instances too of such efficacy are not rare, but frequent. On one day were three thousand such converts made; and in every age from that period to the present has the same power been exerted to change the lion to a lamb, and “a desert to the garden of the Lord.” Such converts “shine as lights in a dark world,” and, by “holding forth the word of life” as epistles from Christ, they shew that “the minister has not run in vain, nor laboured in vain [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.].”]

Address—

1. Seek to have the mind of Christ more fully inscribed upon your hearts—

[Beloved brethren, let not a day pass without your having some divine lesson written more clearly and more legibly upon your souls. Bring your hearts daily to the Lord Jesus Christ, and present them as a tablet to him, that he may write upon them something which they have not hitherto contained. And when you come up to the house of God, come, not to gratify curiosity, or to perform a duty merely, but to spread your hearts again before the Lord, that, by the instrumentality of his minister, and the operation of his word and Spirit, he may inscribe on them some further lesson, which shall attract the notice of an ungodly world, and constrain them to acknowledge that God is with you of a truth. If there be a blot upon your hearts, entreat him to erase it: and whatever is but indistinctly written, entreat him to trace it over again and again, till it shall appear in characters worthy of the Divine Author, and convey to all who behold it a decisive proof of its divine original. And, at the close of every day, examine the contents of the epistle, to see what progress has been made, and what yet remains to be added for its perfection. Nor ever forget by whom the characters must be inscribed: it is “by the Spirit of the living God,” and by the Lord Jesus Christ through him. If you look to any other quarter, you will be disappointed: but, if you go to Christ for the gift of his Spirit, and desire really to have his whole mind and will written upon your hearts, it shall be done; till you are “changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of our God.”]

2. Endeavour to exhibit the whole mind of Christ to a careless and ungodly world—

[Let there not be seen in you those tempers and dispositions which dishonour the Christian profession, and make the Gospel a stumbling-block to the world. In too many professors of religion there is little seen but pride, and forwardness, and self-confidence, and loquacity, and uncharitableness, and a disputatious temper, and a party spirit. But are these the characters inscribed by Christ? No: but by that wicked one, who counterfeits the hand of Christ, on purpose to bring him and his Gospel into general contempt. Whatever there is of such dispositions within you, get them obliterated without delay; and all the graces of humility, and meekness, and love, inscribed in their place [Note: Colossians 3:12-13.]. People will judge of our ministry by the lives of those who attend it; and will impute to our doctrines every evil which they can find in you. This is unreasonable indeed: but they will do so; and we cannot prevent it; and if they see in you what is odious, they will represent it as the necessary fruit of the system you profess. Take care then that “the way of truth be not evil spoken of through you.” Endeavour rather so to “make your light shine before men, that all who behold it may glorify your Father which is in heaven:” yea, “let it shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.”]


Verse 5

DISCOURSE: 2006

THE EXTENT OF MAN’S IMPOTENCY

2 Corinthians 3:5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.

COMMONLY as these words are cited, they are not easy to be satisfactorily explained. There is an evident abruptness in them: and they appear to go far beyond what the context requires. The Apostle had spoken of the success of his ministry: and “thanked God for making manifest the savour of the knowledge of Christ by him in every place [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:14.].” He had appealed to the Corinthians, as living witnesses of the power of Christ in his ministry; seeing that they were, in fact, “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men [Note: ver. 2, 3.].” And he trusted that God would yet further manifest his power, in carrying on amongst them, and in other places, the work of men’s salvation, through the instrumentality of his ministry [Note: ver. 4.]. But whilst he spoke thus, did he arrogate any thing to himself, as though these effects were produced by any powers of his own! No: he utterly disclaimed all such pretensions; and declared, that, so far from being able to convert others by any powers of his own, he had not of himself a sufficiency even to think a good thought: his sufficiency even for that, and much more for all his ministerial success, was from God alone.

The word which we here translate “think any thing,” means also to reason [Note: λογίσασθαι.]: and if it could have borne the sense of convincing by reasoning, that is the sense we should have preferred; because that would have been the precise idea which the subject called for. But, as no such construction can be put upon it, we are convinced that the version given to it in our translation is right; and that the Apostle must be understood as going designedly beyond what the occasion called for, and as intending to intimate, not only that he could not convert others by any power of his own, but not even excite any good thought within his own bosom, unless he were strengthened for it from above. He had before said, “Who is sufficient for these things [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.]?” and here he ascribes all his sufficiency, for every part of his ministry, to God alone [Note: See the repetition of the word in in ver. 5, 6. ἱκανοὶ, ἱκανότης, ικάνωσεν, the force of which is lost in our translation.].

To mark fully the meaning of the Apostle, I will endeavour to shew whence all our sufficiency arises,

I. For the communicating of good to the souls of others—

Whatever force there may be in the reasonings of men, or whatever fascination in their eloquence, it is certain that neither the one nor the other have any power to convert a soul to God—

[Our blessed Lord spake to many, in vain. Though he spake as never man spake either before or since, yet did he not convince all his hearers. If “some said, He is a good man; others said, Nay, but he deceiveth the people [Note: John 7:12.].” Nor did his miracles produce the same effect on all. The poor man, whose eyes he had opened, argued with the Pharisees in vain, because their minds were not open to conviction: “Herein is a marvellous thing,” said he, “that ye know not from whence this Jesus is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. Since the world began, was it not heard, that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” And what was the effect of this reasoning? It only incensed them the more; and caused them to pass on the poor man a sentence of excommunication [Note: John 9:30-34.]. One would have thought that the raising of Lazarus from the grave, after he had been dead four days, should have carried conviction to all: but the chief priests, instead of being duly influenced by it themselves, sought to put Lazarus to death, in order to obstruct the influence of this miracle on the minds of others [Note: John 12:10-11.]. Thus it was also with the Apostles. When, in consequence of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost, they were enabled to address persons of different countries, each in their own particular language, some, who beheld this stupendous miracle, only “mocked at it, and said that the Apostles were full of new wine,” and in a state of intoxication at nine o’clock in the morning [Note: Acts 2:11-15.]. So when Paul pleaded the Saviour’s cause before Festus and Agrippa, Festus, who was full of prejudice, cried out, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning hath made thee mad:” whilst Agrippa, who was more intelligent and more candid, said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian [Note: Acts 26:24-28.].” In fact, truth hath no force with those who have not eyes to see it.]

Whatever good, therefore, is done to any man, it must be ascribed to God alone—

[It was “the Lord who opened the heart of Lydia to attend to the things that were spoken by Paul [Note: Acts 16:14.]:” and to a want of such a divine operation did he ascribe the obstinacy of the Jews whom he addressed at Rome. After expounding the Scriptures from morning to evening to many of them in vain, he said, “Well spake the Holy Ghost, by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people and say, Hearing, ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing, ye shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing; and their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them [Note: Acts 28:23-27.].” So true is that declaration of Solomon, “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them [Note: Proverbs 20:12.].” And most important is this truth for the instruction of all who minister in holy things, that they may know where to look for the success of their labours for “neither is he that planteth any thing, nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.].”]

From the same divine source must be derived all our sufficiency,

II. For the exercising of good in our own souls—

The foregoing observations illustrate the Apostle’sargument. What I shall now adduce is for the illustration of his particular assertion, that “of himself he could not even think a good thought.”

There is not, in unassisted man, an inclination to entertain a good thought—

[“The heart of the sons of men is full of evil [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:3.]:” yea, “every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is evil, only evil, continually [Note: Genesis 6:5.].” What is morally good may arise in the hearts of many: but what is spiritually good must be put there by the special agency of the Holy Ghost. Kindness, benevolence, compassion, though certainly referable to God as their prime Author, exist in the minds of many who are not partakers of saving grace: but hatred of sin, and love to God and Christ, and holiness, find no place in the bosom of an unconverted man: there is between him and them as great a difference as between “light and darkness, or Christ and Belial:” they have not, they cannot have, communion with each other [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.]. As well might a stone ascend of itself, or a spark descend, as an ungodly man give birth to that which is so foreign to his nature, as spiritual good is to a carnal heart.]

Nor is there in unassisted man a capacity to cherish what is truly good—

[We are told, from unquestionable authority, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.].” This may be illustrated by the metaphor which St. Paul makes use of in the preceding context. He has spoken of “spreading the savour of the knowledge of Christ;” and has stated, that, in his ministry, he was to some “a savour of death unto death, and to others a savour of life unto life [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14-16.].” Now we know that odours have very different effects on different persons: the very same odour which to one may be grateful and reviving, to another may be offensive and injurious: and none but God could reverse these tendencies. So, to some, the sublimest truths of the Gospel appear only as “foolishness, whilst to others they are the wisdom of God and the power of God.” And whence is this, but because a spiritual discernment has been given to the one, whilst the other possesses only that natural intellect which is conversant with earthly things? In a word, “to the one it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but to the other it is not given [Note: Matthew 13:11.]:” nor, till “God, of his own good pleasure, has given us to will and to do what is pleasing in his sight [Note: Philippians 2:13.],” shall we ever do it, or ever so much as will it. Our sufficiency for the one, as well as for the other, must come from God alone: for “without Christ we can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.].”]

See, then, in this subject,

1. What matter there is for humiliation—

[It is scarcely possible to conceive any thing more humiliating than the declaration in my text. And if any man doubt the truth of it, let him look: back and see, even in the space of the longest life, who ever, by the force of his own natural powers, entertained so much as one thought that was truly in accordance with God’s perfect law, or fully consonant with his Gospel? I have said before, that things morally good are attainable by the natural man; but things spiritually good are altogether out of his reach. Only keep in mind this important distinction, and no language that can be used can be too strong to declare our destitution of all good, and our dependence upon God for every good disposition or desire — — —]

2. What matter there is for encouragement—

[Was Paul’s sufficiency derived from God alone? Then I also may obtain all that I need. Since the same source and fountain is open for me also, why need I be discouraged at the thought of my own impotency? If God, in instances without number, “has revealed unto babes what he has hidden from the wise and prudent [Note: Matthew 11:25.],” and “by things which are not, has brought to nought things that are [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:28.];” what need have I to be discouraged? Whatever be my duties, whether personal or official, God can strengthen me for them; yea, and “he will perfect his own strength in my weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].” “I will be strong then in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.],” and address myself to every duty in dependence on him. Then shall I not fail in any thing that I undertake: for “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me [Note: Philippians 4:13.].”]


Verse 6

DISCOURSE: 2008

THE LAW AND THE GOSPEL COMPARED

2 Corinthians 3:6. The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

THE Gospel is that weapon, whereby God subdues a rebellious world to the obedience of faith: and the Apostle Paul, when his commission to preach it was called in question, appealed to the effects wrought by it on the hearts of his hearers, as a decisive evidence that he was sent of God to proclaim it, and that the word he preached was the true Gospel. But, though constrained thus to vindicate his apostolic character, he would not arrogate to himself any praise, as though the work had been wrought by any wisdom or power of his own: he disclaimed “all power even to think a good thought,” and much more to produce such a wonderful change on the hearts of others: this change was effected by a simple exhibition of Gospel truth; yet not by the mere promulgation of it as a record, but by a representation of it as God’s appointed instrument to save the world. In this respect, his ministry differed widely from that of the priests under the Law, and from that of the false teachers under the Gospel: for both the one and the other of those, resting in externals, betrayed their hearers to their ruin; whereas he, by setting forth the true Gospel according to its spiritual import, was instrumental to their salvation: “He was a minister of the new testament,” not of the letter, but of the spirit: for, says he, “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

How any revelation from God should have the effect of “killing “those to whom it was given, and, more especially, how the new testament should be attended with any such consequences, does, it must he confessed, at first sight appear strange and incredible. But the Apostle’s declaration is true: “the letter does kill; and the spirit alone makes alive.” This will be seen,

I. By contrasting the new testament with the old—

The old-testament dispensation had no power to give life—

[The Law, as given to man in Paradise, was undoubtedly “ordained unto life:” and was capable of giving him life, if he had continued obedient to it: but to fallen man it never has been, or can be, a source of life.

Its commands are such as fallen man cannot obey. It requires us to “love God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength, and our neighbour as ourselves.” But who can do this? Who, except the Lord Jesus Christ himself, has not failed in some particular?

At the same time that its commands are so difficult, it affords no strength whatever for the performance of them. It simply says, Do this, and live: but it contains no promise of assistance for the doing of it, nor any intimation of pardon for one single act of disobedience.

It moreover enforces its commands with a most awful sanction, denouncing “a curse against every man who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them:” so that if there be in our obedience no absolute dereliction of duty, but only a defect; and if that defect be of the slightest kind, and occur only once in the whole course of our lives; the penalty instantly attaches to us, and is irreversibly denounced against us [Note: Galatians 3:10.].

Thus, in itself, the law is, as the Apostle justly calls it, “a ministration only of death and of condemnation [Note: ver. 7, 9.].”

But, in the manner in which it is promulgated, it has yet a further tendency to “kill.” For it is promulgated now exactly as it was in Paradise: and there is no notice given in the decalogue that we are not to trust in it for acceptance: so that a person who does not inquire diligently into the design of God in giving it, is but too likely to misapprehend its real use, and to rest in it, instead of looking out for some other law in which he may rest.

Further, the ceremonial law also has, through the ignorance of man, the same tendency to “kill” those who are placed under it. For, whilst it prescribes certain observances, as means of expiating transgression, it gives no direct information concerning the precise nature and extent of the remission obtained by them: so that a person performing the appointed ordinances would be likely to conceive that his sins were actually pardoned in the sight of God; whilst, in reality, the annual repetition of the same sacrifices might teach him that they were not completely and finally forgiven [Note: Hebrews 10:1-4.].

The truth is, that neither the moral nor ceremonial law was given for the purpose of enabling any one to obtain, by means of it, a justifying righteousness. They were both given with a view to prepare men for that better dispensation which was in due time to be introduced; the moral law shutting them up under condemnation; and the ceremonial law opening to them a door, whereby they might find access to that better dispensation, which should in due time be revealed [Note: Galatians 3:21-24.].

It will naturally, then, be asked, ‘Did the legal dispensation actually “kill” all who lived under it?’ I answer, God forbid. There were multitudes saved under that dispensation; not, however, through any influence of the law itself, but by looking forward to the Gospel, and by apprehending that Saviour who was held forth to them in their types and shadows. “Abraham by faith beheld the day of Christ, and rejoiced;” and so did thousands of his believing posterity. The giving of the law made no difference in that respect. The use of the law was to shew men their need of a better dispensation, and to prepare them for it; that, when the time for the full manifestation of the Gospel should arrive, the Saviour might be welcomed by his own people, and the whole world be made partakers of his salvation [Note: Galatians 3:19.].]

The office of giving life was reserved for the Gospel—

[The Gospel contains the substance, of which the law was the shadow. The commands of the Gospel are different: the law says, “Do:” the Gospel says, “Believe [Note: Romans 10:5-13.].” The promises of the Gospel are different. Under the law no mention was made of spiritual assistance to anyone: but under the Gospel, the Spirit is promised to every believer [Note: Acts 2:38-39.]: and “grace sufficient for him,” how great soever his necessities may be [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]. In fact; the Gospel provides a remedy for every want of man. Is he guilty? it provides a righteousness wherein he may stand faultless in the presence of his God, even the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is he a polluted creature? it provides, that through the operations of the Holy Spirit he shall “be sanctified wholly in body, soul, and spirit.” However weak he may be in himself, “God’s strength shall be perfected in his weakness;” so that he may boldly say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me.” Is he deserving of the lowest hell? by embracing this Gospel he shall obtain all the glory and felicity of heaven.]

If it he asked, Whether the Gospel produces this effect on all to whom it is sent I must answer, No: and this will lead me to make distinctions in reference to the Gospel itself,

II. By contrasting the new testament as externally administered, with the same as internally and spiritually received—

The new testament itself, as a letter, has no other effect than that of “killing” those to whom it is proclaimed—

[The new-testament dispensation is, in its very nature, calculated to offend the pride of man, and to prove a stumbling-block to the unhumbled spirit. It was declared, by the Prophet Isaiah, that it should be so: “Sanctify,” says he, “the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread: and he shall be to you for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken [Note: Isaiah 8:13-15.].” And when the Saviour came into the world, the holy man, who took him up in his arms, declared, that “he was set no less for the fall than for the rising again of many in Israel [Note: Luke 2:34.].” And did not the event correspond with these predictions? St. Peter tells us, that, whilst “to some he was precious, to others he was a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, even to those who stumbled at the word, being disobedient [Note: 1 Peter 2:7-8.].” It was from foreseeing these effects, that our blessed Lord gave that solemn caution to his hearers, “Blessed is he that shall not be offended in me [Note: Matthew 11:6.].” If it be thought that this offence arose only from his person, as appearing in a low and degraded state, I answer, that it arose from the entire constitution of the Gospel altogether. The whole doctrine of salvation by “the cross of Christ was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23.].” The Jews could not conceive how the Mosaic law should be superseded, and how they should be required to look for salvation otherwise than by their obedience to it: and the Greeks thought it perfectly absurd to expect salvation from one, who, in appearance, Was not able to save himself. So, at this day, thousands who hear the Gospel are offended at being told that they must renounce all dependence on their own works, and be saved simply by faith in Christ. They cannot comprehend how we are to be dead to the law as a covenant, and yet alive to it as a rule of life: and the being saved entirely by the righteousness of another appears to supersede all occasion for any righteousness of their own. They can see no more suitableness or sufficiency in such a Gospel, than Naaman could see in the direction given him to wash in Jordan in order to cure his leprosy.

Thus, in the very constitution of the Gospel, there is much which has a tendency to kill those who are not of a humble mind.

But the Gospel is thus fatal, not only to those who reject it, but to many, also, who imagine that they have received it. For, through the corruption of the human heart, the very principles of the Gospel are themselves often perverted; so that even “the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness,” and “Christ himself is made a minister of sin.” This was the case with some in the apostolic age: and it is the case with some at this time also. There are at the present day some who so embrace the letter of the Gospel, as altogether to overlook its spirit; and who so glory in a salvation finished for them, as to disregard the salvation that remains to be accomplished in them: and thus they take occasion, from the freeness and fulness of the Gospel salvation, to represent all demands of labour and watchfulness on their part as legal: and because God has undertaken to work in them both to will and to do his will, they cannot see any necessity for them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Thus, I say, some take occasion, even from the promises, to rest satisfied without attaining the things promised.

But, besides these, there are others, who take occasion from the precepts of the Gospel, to make their obedience to them a joint ground of their hope. They see rewards promised to obedience; and they know not how to distinguish between a reward of grace, and a reward of debt; or between that which forms their justifying righteousness before God, and that which shall be approved in those who are already justified. Thus, by uniting their own righteousness with that of Christ, they make void all that Christ has done, and perish without any interest in his salvation.

Thus even the new testament, as externally administered, but not rightly and vitally apprehended, may “kill,” no less than the law itself. And so St. Paul has told us, that the word which he preached, whilst “to some it was made a savour of life unto life, became to others a savour of death unto death [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.].”]

But, when internally and spiritually received, it “giveth life”—

[To some “the word comes, not in word only, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:” and to them it is a source of life. It conveys to them a new and vital principle, whereby they are enabled to live unto their God: or, as the Scripture expresses it, “they, by means of it, are made partakers of a divine nature,” and “have all things given them that pertain unto life and godliness.” They now, from their own experience, know the meaning of that declaration of our Lord, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die [Note: John 11:25-26.].” Their whole conduct now evinces the change that has been wrought in them. Being quickened from the dead, they henceforth “live no more unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again.” And now they can look forward to the eternal state with sweet assured confidence, that, “because their Saviour lives, they shall live also;” and that “when He, who is their life, shall appear, they also shall appear with him in glory.”]

Learn, then, from hence,

1. What the hearers of the Gospel should more especially guard against—

[Of those who hear the Gospel, many think, that if they receive the truths of Christianity into their minds, so as to be orthodox in their sentiments, they have no need of any thing further to make them partakers of its benefits. But God forbid that any of you, brethren, should be left under any such delusion. You must not be satisfied with hearing the truth, but must consider “how you hear it;” whether you give merely a speculative assent to it; or whether you receive it into your hearts, as the ground of all your hopes, and as the well-spring of all your joys. Dearly beloved, it is for this end that, as “a minister of the new testament,” I would impress on your minds the truths which I declare. And, if at any time I manifest a jealousy over you in relation to these matters, know, that, it is not an uncharitable, but “a godly, jealousy;” which I am bound to exercise over you for your good. I am bound to “stand in doubt of you, till I can see Christ formed in your hearts,” the hope of glory. Concur then with me in this important work. Bear in mind that you are in danger, even from the Gospel itself; in danger of deceiving your own souls by means of it; and of causing “that which is ordained to life, to be found at last unto death.” You may possibly delight in the ministry of the word, like Ezekiel’s hearers; who came to him, just as those who were truly pious did; and he was to them as “a very lovely song of one that had a pleasant voice, and played well upon an instrument: but though they heard his words, they would not do them; for their heart went after their covetousness [Note: Ezekiel 33:31-32.].” Beware, lest by any means the Gospel prove but a dead letter: for if it bring not your whole soul into captivity to Christ, it will be preached, as it respects you, in vain. Beware, I say, of this: for our Lord himself gives you this very caution; “It is the spirit,” says he, “that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life [Note: John 6:63.].”]

2. What fruit a minister expects to find from his labours—

[The Apostle spoke of the Corinthians themselves as bearing the best testimony to his ministrations: and that is the return which we hope to receive from you. Beloved brethren, you yourselves are to be as “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” Let it be seen that you are such indeed; that you are “epistles, written, not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God [Note: ver. 2, 3.].” The Gospel, whilst it saves you from condemnation, must save you also from sin; and, whilst you are “delivered by it from the law, as a covenant of works, you are to be serving God, in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter [Note: Romans 7:6.].” Let us, then, behold this change in you: let us see that “the Son of God hath made you free indeed;” free from carnal desires; free from legal hopes or fears; free to run, with enlarged hearts, the way of God’s commandments. Then shall we know that we have not laboured in vain; and that God has set his seal to our ministry for your good: for “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God [Note: Romans 2:28-29.].”]


Verses 7-11

DISCOURSE: 2009

THE GLORY OF THE GOSPEL ABOVE THAT OF THE LAW

2 Corinthians 3:7-11. If the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? for if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

THE Apostle, in vindicating his claim to apostolic authority against the false teachers at Corinth who disputed it, appeals to the Corinthians themselves as proofs and evidences of his divine mission; since the work of God upon their hearts abundantly manifested, that his ministrations among them had been attended with a power more than human [Note: ver. 2, 3, 5. with 1 Corinthians 9:2.]. In thus substantiating his title to apostolic authority, he is led, incidentally as it were, to mention the excellency of that Gospel which he was sent to preach; and from thence to shew, that the deference due to him was the greater, in proportion to the excellency of the Gospel which he ministered unto them. Honourable as the state of the Levitical priesthood was, it was not to be compared with that of those who preached the Gospel; because the law, as ministered in the “letter” of it, proved fatal to all who trusted in it; whereas the Gospel was a source of “life” to all who cordially embraced it: the one, as a mere “letter, killed;” the other, as a quickening” spirit, gave life [Note: ver. 6.].”

The Apostle, having touched upon this point, proceeds to open it more fully in the words which we have just read: for the fuller understanding of which we shall consider,

I. The different terms by which the law and the Gospel are here designated—

The law is called “the ministration of death and of condemnation.”

[The law as given to Adam in Paradise “was ordained to life,” and would have entitled him to life if he had continued obedient to it [Note: Romans 7:10.]: but, as republished by Moses, it was never intended to give man. any title to life; nor could it possibly give life, because every human being is corrupt, and incapable of rendering to it a perfect obedience [Note: Galatians 3:21. with Romans 8:3.]. The law is a perfect transcript of God’s mind and will. It makes known to man the whole extent of his duty; and requires a perfect obedience to every one of its commands. If transgressed in any one particular, it denounces death: it says to every soul of man, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” At the same time that it thus rigorously exacts a perfect obedience, it neither imparts to man any strength for obedience, nor provides any remedy for one single act of disobedience: and hence it is called in our text, “a ministration of death and of condemnation.” Its voice to all is, “Do this and live: transgress, and perish.” But as every man has transgressed it, and consequently can never do all that it commands, it consigns to death every child of man, according as St. Paul has said; “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them [Note: Galatians 3:10.].” We must not desire to do them, but “do” them; not some, but “all;” not for a time, but for a “continuance,” from the first to the last moment of our lives: nor is there any exception in favour of any child of man; for “every one” must stand or fall, be saved or “cursed,” according to this law; and consequently, every man being of necessity born under this law, “every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God [Note: Romans 3:19.].”]

The Gospel is called “a ministration of righteousness and of the Spirit”—

[The law condemning all, the Gospel applies a remedy: it reveals a Saviour, who, by his own obedience unto death, has “made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in an everlasting righteousness [Note: Daniel 9:24.].” This righteousness is revealed to us in the Gospel to be apprehended by faith [Note: Romans 1:17.]; and it is actually given “unto,” and put “upon,” “all who believe” in Jesus [Note: Romans 3:21-22.], his righteousness is totally independent of any obedience to the law on our part: it exists in Christ alone, and is imputed unto us by faith [Note: Romans 4:5-6.]: and, so far from being augmented by any works of ours, it would be made void by the smallest dependence on our own works [Note: Galatians 2:21; Galatians 5:4.]; and we must renounce all hope in ourselves, before we can have any part or lot in the righteousness of Christ [Note: Philippians 3:9.]. Hence the Gospel is called “a ministration of righteousness,” because it reveals a righteousness commensurate with all the demands of the law, and offers that righteousness to every man who will believe in Christ. It declares that “Christ himself is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth [Note: Romans 10:4.];” and that the law was given as a ministration of death on purpose to shut men up to this righteousness, and to constrain them to seek salvation in the way provided for them [Note: Galatians 3:22-23.].

The Gospel is also “the ministration of the Spirit.” In the first ages, the Spirit was given in his miraculous powers to attest the truth and Divine authority of the Gospel. That end having been fully answered, his miraculous powers are no longer exercised: but his gracious influences still continue, and will continue to the end of time. Still is he sent “to convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment;” still it is his office “to glorify Christ,” and to “take of the things that are Christ’s, and to shew them unto us:” still does he enlighten the minds, and sanctify the souls, of them that believe: still does he, as the Comforter promised to the Church, operate in the saints as “a Spirit of adoption,” “witnessing with their spirits that they are the children of God,” and “sealing them unto the day of redemption.” To none is he imparted for these ends but through the Gospel of Christ; and, wherever the Gospel is faithfully ministered, he does accompany it with these blessed influences; producing holiness and comfort in all who truly receive it.

Thus the Gospel supplies what the law knew nothing of. We have before said, that the law spake nothing of pardon to the guilty, or of strength to the weak: but the Gospel administers both; and that too in such an abundant measure, as is adequate to the necessities of the whole world: it ministers righteousness sufficient to justify the most guilty sinner upon earth; and imparts the Spirit, so that the weakest may be more than conqueror over all the enemies of his soul.]

Corresponding with this description of the law and of the Gospel were,

II. The different degrees of glory pertaining to each—

The law was truly glorious—

[It was proclaimed by God himself with an audible voice in the midst of such displays of glory as had never been seen from the foundation of the world: and, that it might never be forgotten, it was written also by the finger of God in tables of stone. Moreover, the person through whom it was given to Israel, had such glory imparted to him, that the people of Israel were no more able to look steadfastly upon his face, than upon the face of the meridian sun. Whilst this reflected a very high degree of glory upon the law itself, it was especially intended to intimate to all Israel, that they were unable to apprehend the full scope and meaning of the law [Note: ver. 13.]! They thought it a covenant whereby they were to obtain acceptance with God; whereas it had an infinitely higher office, even that of “a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith [Note: Galatians 3:24.].” But this, which was its chief glory, they were not able to discern: and, in consequence of their ignorance of its true meaning, they supposed it to be of everlasting obligation; whereas it was, together with all its attendant rites and ceremonies, to continue only till Christ should come, and then to give way to a more perfect dispensation. Still, however, when all the circumstances attending its promulgation are considered, it was certainly exceeding glorious.]

But the Gospel was far more glorious—

[As imparting life, it must of necessity be far more glorious than that which only occasioned death: for the law did really occasion death; inasmuch as, if there had been no law, there would have been no transgression, and consequently neither sin nor death [Note: Romans 4:15; Romans 5:13 and 1 John 3:4.]. In revealing such a way of salvation too, it is inconceivably glorious. How mysterious is that record, “that God hath given unto us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: that whoso hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.]:” and finally, that “he was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we, who had no righteousness, might be made the righteousness of God in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.]!” Well is this called, “The glorious Gospel of the blessed God!” for in it are “riches” of love that are altogether “unsearchable,” and heights and depths that can never be explored.

That the Gospel too transforms the soul into the Divine image is another ground of excellence, which exalts it infinitely above the law. The law rather irritates and inflames the corrupt principle within us, than tends at all to the subjugation of it [Note: Romans 7:5; Romans 7:8.]; but the Gospel both frees us from the dominion of sin, and liberates us from all its penal consequences: “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free from the law of sin and death [Note: Romans 8:2.].”

The Gospel too, as being God’s last dispensation, will endure for ever; whilst the law, which was only introductory to it, is altogether abolished. So that in this respect also its superiority to the law is great and indisputable.

Compare the two then, and see the difference between them: the lustre imparted by the one was external, on the face of Moses; the change wrought by the other is internal, in the heart and in the soul. In the one, the radiance shone from one only; in the other, it is conferred on all who believe. In the one, it passed away quickly; in the other, it is abiding, even to the end of life, and through eternal ages. In the one, it was to be veiled from the sight of all; in the other, it is to be displayed for the instruction of all, that all may see in it the hand of God [Note: ver. 2, 3.], and learn to glorify its Divine Author [Note: Matthew 5:16.]. Well then may it be said, that “that which was made glorious, had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth:” for in truth, though the law shone like the starry heavens in the brightest night, the Gospel, like the meridian sun, has eclipsed its splendour, and cast a veil over all its glory.]

Let not this however be with us a matter of speculation only: let us consider,

III. The conduct which our superior dispensation demands—And,

1. Of ministers—

[The influence which these considerations had upon the Apostle was, to make him “use great plainness of speech.” He would not, like Moses, “put a veil upon his face,” to conceal any part of the splendour of this Gospel [Note: ver. 12, 13.]; but would preach it with all fidelity, and, by the fullest possible “manifestation of it, commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:2.].” This then is what we must do; and what, through grace, it is our delight to do. Yes, brethren, we declare to you freely that the law, as a covenant of works, is abrogated; and a new covenant, with a better Mediator, and with better promises, is proposed to you in the Gospel. This new covenant provides, as you have heard, righteousness for the guilty, and strength for the weak; and authorizes every believer to say, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength [Note: Isaiah 45:24.].” O that we might be instrumental to the bringing you into a near and full acquaintance with this better dispensation! Never would we forget that our one great office is, to make it known to you, and to bring you to the enjoyment of all its blessings. We would go up to the holy mount ourselves to receive it from God, and we would come down with it in our hands and in our hearts to proclaim it to you [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:3. 1 John 1:1-3.]. We do proclaim it to you at this moment: we do declare to you, that the most guilty sinner in the universe may now find acceptance with God through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ: and we declare also, that a new heart shall be given you, and a new spirit shall be put within you, and the whole law of God be written in your hearts, if only you will believe in him: for he will send down his Holy Spirit upon you, according to his promise, and, by his gracious influences upon your souls, will “cause you to keep his statutes and his judgments [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-27.].” All this shall be “ministered unto you abundantly through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” if only you will come unto him; and it shall be given you “freely, without money and without price” — — —]

2. Of the Church at large—

[Your minds should be intent on this great subject: you should seek to grow daily in the knowledge of it: you should come up to the house of God with the same preparation of heart to receive the word of God from your ministers, as the Israelites did to receive the law from the hands of Moses: your state of mind should be like to that of Cornelius and his company, when Peter came to preach the tidings of salvation to them; “Now are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God [Note: Acts 10:33.].” And as there is no veil put before our face, so you should beg of God that no veil may remain on your hearts. The law was hid from Israel without involving them in any guilt or danger, if only they complied with it as far as it was revealed to them: but “if the Gospel be hid from you, you must eternally perish [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.];” because it is the only possible way of salvation, and can save only by operating effectually both on the understanding and the heart [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:13.]. O then beg of God to counteract the devices of Satan, who strives continually to hide this Gospel from you; and entreat him “to shine into your hearts to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 4:6.]!”

At the same time you must remember, that in this respect the obedience you pay must correspond with the privileges you enjoy. Being liberated from the law, you are released also from all servile hopes and fears: and your service must be no longer that of a slave, but of a child: you must serve God, not in the oldness of the letter, but in newness of the spirit [Note: Romans 7:6.]; and in this way you will attain all the blessings which the Gospel is intended to impart. The intent of this Gospel is, to assimilate you to that Saviour who proclaims it to you. Whilst you receive it from him, a portion of his splendour must cleave unto you, so that all who behold you may see of a truth that you have been with Jesus. You must be “his epistles” to an ungodly world: and so plain must be the characters written on your heart and life, that they may be “known and read of all men.” Daily must this writing be more visible; and daily shall the radiance around you increase, if you live near to the Lord, contemplating continually the wonders of his love: for, “if with unveiled face you behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, you shall be changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: ver. 18.]” — — —]


Verse 15-16

DISCOURSE: 2010

THE FUTURE CONVERSION OF THE JEWS

2 Corinthians 3:15-16. Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away [Note: An equally good text for this would be, Exodus 34:33-34. “Till Moses had done speaking to them, he put a veil on his face. But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off until he came out.”].

THERE is confessedly much obscurity in different parts of the sacred volume: even in St. Paul’s writings there are, as St. Peter tells us, “some things hard to be understood.” And this is no more than might well be expected, considering the depth of the subjects treated of, even all the hidden counsels of the Almighty, and the necessary ambiguity of prophetic language, in order to conceal the purposes of the Deity, till the prophecies should be unravelled by subsequent events. Other difficulties arise out of errors, which in the course of so many hundred years have, through the inadvertence of transcribers, crept into different copies of the Holy Scriptures. But, after all, the chief source of obscurity is, the veil that is on the heart of man, (the veil of prejudice, and ignorance, and unbelief,) which conceals from unconverted men even the plainest truths. To intimate the existence of such a veil, was one of the reasons for Moses putting a veil over his face when he came down from the holy mount with the tables of the law in his hands. He intimated thereby, that the children of Israel could not look to the end of that which was to be abolished; that is, that they could not comprehend the nature of the dispensation which he was commissioned to establish; seeing that there was a veil upon their hearts, “by which their minds were blinded [Note: ver. 13, 14].” That veil remained on their hearts during the whole of that dispensation; and, notwithstanding “it is done away in Christ,” so that, if they were disposed to avail themselves of the light which Christianity reflects on their inspired writings, they might now acquire a clear insight into them, “the veil yet remains on their hearts even unto this day.” But it shall not be always so: there is a time coming, “when that infatuated nation shall turn unto the Lord; and then the veil shall be taken away.”

To enter fully into this subject, we must distinctly mark what was intimated by his putting on the veil to speak with them, and his putting off the veil to speak with the Lord.

I. His putting on the veil was designed to shew their present blindness—

Truly there is a veil, a thick veil, upon their hearts; so that to this day they cannot see,

1. The scope and intent of the Mosaic dispensation—

[The Mosaic dispensation was partly legal, partly evangelical, and partly a national covenant, relating only to the temporal state of the Jewish people. The law of the ten commandments was a re-publication of the law originally written upon the heart of man, by an obedience to which our first parents were to obtain eternal life. The ceremonial observances were appointed to shadow forth the salvation offered to us in the Gospel, and to prepare the minds of the Jews for the Messiah, who should in due time be sent to fulfil all that was required by the moral law, and all that was shadowed forth in the ceremonial. The moral law was not given them in, order that they might seek justification by it; but in order to shew them was impossible for fallen man ever to be justified by it, and that, as transgressors, they must look for salvation solely by faith in the promised Messiah. But of these things they had no idea: they could see nothing in the whole dispensation but a covenant made with them as God’s peculiar people; by an obedience to which, according to the mere letter of it, they supposed that they should obtain all the blessings both of time and eternity. And this is the notion which has been entertained by them in all successive ages even to the present day. Notwithstanding it is impossible for them now, by reason of their dispersion, to obey their ceremonial law, they still suppose that they are to be saved by their own obedience. They have no idea of the atonement that has been offered for them, or of the righteousness that has been wrought out for them, by Christ’s obedience unto death: they cannot raise their minds above a compliance with certain rites (many of them appointed by man only, and substituted in the place of those which were appointed of God), and an external conformity with the mere letter of the moral law: like Paul, in his unconverted state, if they have been kept from any gross violations of their law, they account themselves “blameless;” and if they have transgressed their law in ever so great a degree, they have no conception of any thing but their repentance and reformation to re-instate them in the Divine favour. They will indeed speak of their Messiah whom they expect, and in whom they profess a kind of confidence; but they have no definite idea of what he is to do for them, or in what way he is to recommend them to God. They know nothing of “the law as a ministration of death and of condemnation” nor do they know any thing of “Christ as the end of the law for righteousness to those who believe in him.” In a word, they know nothing of their ceremonial law as completed in him nor of their moral law as shutting them up to him: but they stand fully on their own obedience, interpreting the promises, which related only to their continuance in Canaan, as the ground on which they look for eternal life. Thus, though following after righteousness, and in some instances with considerable zeal, they neither do, nor can, attain to it, because they cleave to the law as the ground of their hopes, and make a stumbling-block of that stone, which is the only foundation on which a sinner can ever stand before God [Note: Romans 9:31-33; Romans 10:2-3.].]

2. The true meaning of their prophecies—

[They do not see that chain of prophecy, commencing with the promise of “the Seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent’s head,” and gradually proceeding through all successive ages, with ever increasing clearness and precision, till it terminated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In this respect the Jews of later ages are blinder than their forefathers. The Jews previous to the coming of Christ did so far understand the prophecies, that they knew of what tribe the Messiah was to be born, and what was to be the place of his nativity: they knew also, that the various prophecies which were cited by our Lord and his Apostles were cited according to their true import: for we do not find them on any one occasion controverting the application of those passages to the promised Messiah. But Jews of later ages, seeing how demonstrably those passages prove the Messiahship of Jesus, have resorted to other interpretations, in order to weaken the force of the arguments with which they are pressed. Even the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, which seems to defy the ingenuity of man to pervert it, is explained away by them as not relating to the Messiah. The idea of a suffering Messiah they cannot bear: and they, who are constrained to confess that such an one is indisputably predicted in the prophecies, say that they shall have two Messiahs, one a suffering, and the other a triumphant, Messiah. As for all the prophecies that determined the time for the Messiah’s advent, as to be before the departure of the sceptre from Judah, and during the existence of the second temple, they get over them by saying, that God did indeed intend to send the Messiah at that time; but that he has deferred it these eighteen hundred years, and still defers it, on account of the wickedness of their nation. And the Messiah whom they expect is to be a mere temporal Prince, who shall subdue all their enemies, and make them in a temporal view the head of all nations.

Thus is there an impenetrable veil upon their hearts, as thick as that which was on the hearts of those who crucified the Lord of glory. We are told, that “their rulers at that time, not knowing the voices of the prophets which were read every Sabbath-day, fulfilled them in condemning him [Note: Acts 13:27.]:” and the same is true of all the Rabbins at the present day. Even the Apostles themselves, after they had been instructed by their Divine Master for above three years, were still so blinded by the prejudices of their nation, that they could not admit the thought of a suffering Messiah, even when they were told of it by our Lord himself in the plainest terms [Note: Luke 18:31-34.]: yea, even after his resurrection, they still dreamed of only a temporal Messiah [Note: Luke 24:21 and Acts 1:6.]. From them, through the tender mercy of their Lord, this veil was at length removed [Note: Luke 24:25-27; Luke 24:44-46.]; but on their unhappy countrymen it still remains, according to the predictions of the Prophet Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 29:9-10.], as cited and explained by the Apostle Paul [Note: Romans 11:7-8; Romans 11:25.]. And it is remarkable that, at particular seasons, the Jews, not excepting children of ten or twelve years of age, at this hour wear veils in their synagogues; a sad emblem of the veil which yet remains upon their hearts!]

But let us turn from this painful subject to observe, that,

II. His putting off the veil was designed to shew the manifestations that await them—

When Moses spake with the children of Israel, he put the veil on his face; but when he went in to speak with the Lord he took off the veil [Note: Exodus 34:33-34.]. However this, so far as his own feelings were concerned, might mark his humility, it covertly intimated to the Jews, that whilst they should converse only with men, and hearken to nothing but their own superstitions, the veil would remain on their hearts: but, “when once they should turn to the Lord their God,” to converse with him, and to seek instruction from him, “the veil that w s on their hearts should be taken away.” So God promised them by Moses, at the very time that he foretold their present dispersion [Note: Deuteronomy 4:26-27; Deuteronomy 4:30-31.]; and so it shall assuredly be in due season. In this respect their conversion will differ widely from the conversion of the heathen. The heathen, for want of previous instruction, will have their eyes gradually opened: the removal of the veil from their heart will do no more than give them a suitable disposition to receive the great truths of Christianity, which shall be subsequently set before them: but the Jews, being previously acquainted with their own law and with the writings of their prophets, will at once behold them all as centering in the Lord Jesus: their sight will be like that of a man, who, having been long conversant with the different wheels and springs of some complicated machine, (a steam-engine or a watch,) but never having had any notion of their relation to each other, and their harmonious adaptation to one common end, beholds them at once combined, and in full activity: they will have glorious views of the Gospel salvation: they will behold, with an evidence brighter than the meridian sun,

1. Its truth and certainty—

[Being already to a certain degree conversant with their types and prophecies, though ignorant as to their true import, they will, as soon as the veil is removed from their hearts, be astonished to see how every particle of them is fulfilled in Christ: and such will be their conviction of his Messiahship, that they can no more doubt of it than Paul did, after the revelation which he received in his way to Damascus. The Scriptures will then appear to them like the impression of a seal on which are engraven ten thousand figures; so clear and manifest will be the correspondence between the shadow and the substance, the type and the antitype. Their views of this will be incomparably clearer than those of Christians in general at this day: “The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord shall bind up the breath of his people, and heal the stroke of their wound [Note: Isaiah 30:26.].”]

2. Its mysteriousness and sublimity—

[How “great will that mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh,” appear to them, when they shall see, that that very Jesus, whom their fathers crucified, was indeed “the Lord of glory,” “Jehovah’s fellow,” “Emmanuel, God with us!” Then they will see, that every part of their ceremonial law was fulfilled and realized in him: that he was the true Temple, “in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily;” the altar, which sanctifieth all our gifts; the sacrifice, that taketh away the sins of the whole world; the priest, that offered that sacrifice, and is gone with his own blood within the vail, and ever liveth there to make intercession for us. Then they will see why God repeatedly gave that particular command to Moses, “See thou make all things according to the pattern shewn to thee in the mount.” Every the minutest point that was revealed to Moses, portrayed something in the character of Christ; so that, if any thing had been omitted, or added, or altered in any respect, the resemblance between the type and antitype would have failed, and God’s work would have been imperfect; the edifice and the model would not have been alike. All the offices of Christ, as Prophet, Priest, and King, together with all that he should do in the execution of them, was there delineated: and, when the completion and concentration of them all shall be made manifest to them, with what wonder and admiration will they exclaim, “O the depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”]

3. Its fulness and excellency—

[The contrast between the imperfection of their law and the perfect efficacy of the Gospel will in this respect be to them most delightful: their law was burthensome in the extreme; a yoke which they were not able to bear: but “Christ’s yoke is easy, and his burthen light.” Their observance of the appointed ceremonies brought them no solid peace: the very repetition of the same sacrifices shewed, that their sins were not fully removed: for indeed “it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin.” Their sacrifices were, in fact, no more than a remembrance of sins yet unforgiven. But the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin; “it purges the conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Thus they will see, that, though “the law made nothing perfect, the bringing in of a better hope does:” “it perfects for ever all them that are sanctified.” Now the vail of the temple (the body of the Lord Jesus) being rent in twain, they will find access into the holiest of all, every one for himself, and be emboldened to “cry, Abba, Father.” Now they will see that they, without exception, are all kings and priests unto God and the Father, and are entitled to “an inheritance that is incorruptible, and undefiled, and never-fading.” O what joy will they experience, when they see the fulness of the provision made for them in Christ Jesus, and the freeness with which it is offered, even “without money and without price!” Truly when they are brought to look on him whom they have pierced, they will mourn and be in bitterness, as one that mourneth for his first-born; and the very instant they believe in him, they will rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”]

Here then we may see,

1. What we should seek for ourselves—

[We must not imagine that there is a veil on the heart of Jews only; for there is one on the heart of Gentiles also, even of every child of man. Yes, we, who call ourselves Christians, are by nature blind as the Jews themselves. The veil that is upon the Mosaic dispensation, is indeed “done away in Christ [Note: ver. 14.]:” but the veil that is on our hearts is not done away: on the contrary, it is as visible upon us as upon any others of the human race. Look around and see how few are there who with unveiled face behold “the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ!” How few are so affected with a sight of Christ, as to be “changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: ver. 18.]!” Are there not on every side myriads, who, like the Jews themselves, are looking for acceptance with God by a superstitious observance of ordinances, or, at best, by their own repentance and reformation; and who have no higher views of Christ than as purchasing for them a right and title to be their own saviours? Yes, such is the state of the generality amongst us: and those who glory in the cross of Christ, and walk faithfully in his steps, are at this day “for signs and for wonders,” almost as much as they were in the days of the Prophet Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 8:18.]. In every age, and in every place, they are but “a little flock,” a mere “remnant,” and it is only by the removal of the veil from their hearts that any can become of their happy number. Whatever advantages we may enjoy, it is “not flesh and blood that can reveal Christ unto us, but only our Father that is in heaven [Note: Matthew 16:16-17.].” If we have not “a spirit of wisdom and revelation given us for the enlightening of the eyes of our understanding,” we shall continue in darkness, notwithstanding the true light shineth all around us [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.]. The Lord must open our hearts; or they will continue closed, even to our dying hour [Note: Acts 16:14.]. Let us seek then to have the veil removed from our hearts, that the Gospel may not be hid from us. This is a blessing which God has promised to us, yes, to us sinners of the Gentiles [Note: Isaiah 25:7.]: and, if we will turn to him, and seek him with our whole hearts, he will vouchsafe it unto us; and “bring us out of darkness into the marvellous light of his Gospel.”]

2. What we should seek in behalf of our Jewish brethren.

[The removal of this veil is all that is wanting on their behalf. But many think it in vain to labour for this end: they seem to imagine that nothing but a miracle can effect so great a work. But why should it be more difficult with them than with others? Are not the Gentiles as blind as ever the Jews can be? Look at the worshippers of Mahomet, of Brahma, and Confucius, and see if they are not as blind and bigoted as the Jews themselves. What were our forefathers, when first the Gospel was preached to them? Were not they as far off from God as the Jews are at this day? Yet see what has been wrought by the Gospel in this happy land. People do not despair of the conversion of the most savage tribes of Africa and America: why then should we despair of seeing “the scales fall from the eyes” of Jews? Is not God as able to graff the Jews on their own stock again, as he was to graff in us? “If we who were cut out of the olive-tree, which is wild by nature, were graffed contrary to nature into a good olive-tree, how much more shall they who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive-tree [Note: Romans 11:23-24.]?” It is impious to despair; because God himself has engaged to take the veil from them, the very moment they turn unto him. Let us then exhort them to turn to him, and to look to him for that direction which alone can prove effectual. Surely this is not such a hopeless task! We may not perhaps succeed so rapidly as we could wish in the first instance: but did the prophets suspend their labours because Isaiah and Hosea had laboured so long almost in vain? Or did the Apostles decline speaking to the Jews, because their Divine Master had succeeded with so few? Let us do our duty, and leave to God to bless our endeavours as he shall see fit. If we should run in vain, as it respects the Jews, our labours shall at least “be recompensed into our own bosom,” nor shall so much as a cup of cold water given them for the Lord’s sake be forgotten. As for the idea that the time is not yet come; who is authorized to declare that? To whom has the Lord revealed that? A similar objection was made by those who had no mind to incur the expense and trouble of building the second temple: they could build ceiled houses for themselves, but lay out nothing for the Lord [Note: Haggai 1:2-4.]: and this is the true secret of all such objections at this day: they are only so many excuses to veil our own want of faith and love. Let us arise and build without delay; and God will be with us. We have never yet tried to take the veil from their hearts: or the exertions that have been made, have been made too much in our own strength. Now there is a way adopted, which, we hope and trust, God will make effectual for the conversion of many; I mean, the giving to them their own Scriptures, together with the New Testament also in their own language, and both of them in other languages which they better understand. This, in concurrence with the other means that are using, will, we hope, be the means of removing the veil from the hearts of many, and of hastening forward the happy day, when the “children of Israel shall return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king [Note: Hosea 3:5.];” and so “all Israel shall be saved [Note: Romans 11:26.].”

And here let me observe, that to impart to them the light which we ourselves have received, is a duty of the first importance, because it has been committed to us for the express purpose of communicating it to them; God having especially ordained, that “through our mercy (or the mercy vouchsafed to us) they (the unbelieving Jews) should obtain mercy [Note: Romans 11:31.].” Now, what should we say of any person to whom the care of a lighthouse had been committed, if, through his neglect to exhibit the light, the very fleet which he was appointed to preserve should suffer shipwreck, and ten thousand mariners be drowned? would not the whole nation charge him with the guilt of their destruction, yes, and visit him too with condign punishment for his offence? Yet he would be innocent in comparison of us, who have been accessary not to the loss of the bodily life of a few thousands; but to the eternal perdition of millions, in that we have neglected to set before them that light by which alone they could be saved. O let us not blame the Jews for the veil that is upon their hearts, but cast the blame where it is more justly due—on the Christian world, who have used no efforts to rend it from them, and to give them the light of life. And, as our neglect has been of long continuance, let us now exert ourselves with an energy that shall at once evince the depth of our repentance for our neglect of them, and the sincerity of our gratitude for the mercies vouchsafed to us.]


Verse 17

DISCOURSE: 2011

CHRIST THE SOUL OF THE ENTIRE SCRIPTURES

2 Corinthians 3:17. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

THE Scriptures are not sufficiently viewed as a whole. We are apt to take detached parts only, and to form opinions from them, when we ought rather to regard every part in its connexion with the rest; and so to get a comprehensive view of religion, in all its parts, and in all its bearings. The truth is, that revelation is the same from the beginning, and constitutes one great whole; it is a body having many parts that are visible and tangible: but it is penetrated by a soul, which, though invisible, really pervades every part; and that soul is Christ.

The Apostle, in the preceding context, is comparing the Law and the Gospel; which, if disjoined, may be considered, the one as a “mere letter,” a ministration of death; the other, as a Spirit, a “ministration of righteousness and life [Note: ver. 6–9.]:” but if they be viewed in their relation to each other, then is the one the shadow, whereof the other is the substance; the body, whereof the other is the soul.

This seems to be the import of the passage which I have just read. The Apostle is speaking of glorious truths veiled under the law [Note: ver. 13, 14.]; which, though in itself carnal, was full of “life and spirit [Note: John 6:63.].” Now, says he, “the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;” that is, where the true spiritual import of the Scriptures is understood, and Christ is clearly seen in them, and received into the heart through them, “there is that very liberty” which they were designed to impart.

The words thus explained will give me occasion to take a view of the whole revelation of God:

I. In its substance, as an exhibition of Christ—

The Old Testament, comprehending the law and the prophets, is one great body: but Christ is the soul that animates it throughout. He is the substance of,

1. The law—

[The moral law may seem to consist only of prohibitions and injunctions; enforced with promises to obedience, and threatenings to disobedience. But it is, in fact, a revelation of Christ, inasmuch as it “shuts us up to Christ, and is a schoolmaster to bring us to him [Note: Galatians 3:22-24.]:” for, in reality, every command, whilst it shews us how defective our obedience is, directs us to Christ; who has fulfilled it in its utmost extent, and has thereby wrought out a perfect righteousness for his believing people. This is the account given of it by an inspired Apostle, who says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth [Note: Romans 10:4.].”

The ceremonial law was nothing but a mass of “carnal ordinances,” which had no force or value in themselves; but, as representations of Christ and his perfect work, were of infinite value. In them “the Gospel was preached, precisely the same Gospel as is now preached unto us [Note: Hebrews 4:2.].” Christ was contained in every part of them [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:3-4.]; and was, in fact, the substance of which they were the shadow [Note: Hebrews 10:1. Colossians 2:17.]. This may be seen in all its sacrifices, &c. &c. — — —]

2. The prophets—

[These confessedly, with one voice, spoke of Christ: so that, from the first promise of “the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent’s head,” to the last that was uttered respecting “the Sun of Righteousness that should arise with healing in his wings,” all spake of him; all directed to him; and he was the life and soul of all — — —]

To those who thus enter into the full scope of revelation, it will be made known,

II. In its effects, as a ministration of liberty—

The whole of it, altogether, is “that truth which will make us free [Note: John 8:32.].”

It will impart liberty,

1. From all legal obligation—

[As for the ordinances of the ceremonial law, they were all intended to be “abolished [Note: ver. 11.],” and are abolished [Note: Colossians 2:14; Colossians 2:20-22. Hebrews 7:18.]. But even the moral law itself, so far as it was a covenant of life and death, is abolished. We are brought under “a better covenant.” a covenant of grace [Note: Hebrews 8:6-13.]. We therefore hear the curses of the law without any emotion, except of love and gratitude. The thunders of Mount Sinai have no terror for us: “there is no condemnation to us,” because we believe in Christ [Note: Romans 8:1.], and have in him a righteousness full commensurate with its strictest demands [Note: Romans 3:22.]. He has borne its curse for us; and left for us nothing but unalloyed and everlasting blessings [Note: Galatians 3:13.] — — —]

2. From all legal exertions—

[We no longer abstain from any thing through the fear of hell, nor engage in any thing to purchase heaven. As far as we are animated by the spirit of the Gospel, we can adopt those words of David, “I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way [Note: Psalms 119:128.]:” that is, I view thy ways as so excellent, that I would walk in them though there were no reward annexed to such a line of conduct: and I view sin as so odious, that I would not live in it, though I might do so with impunity. Indeed, were the Christian penetrated with any other spirit than this, he would render all his obedience worthless in the sight of God; who, though he tells us to buy the blessings, of salvation, tells us that we must buy them “without money, and without price [Note: Isaiah 55:1.].” Any attempt to obtain his favour by our own works will make void his whole Gospel, and infallibly disappoint our hopes [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.]: for nothing but perdition awaits such ignorant and ill-advised zeal [Note: Romans 9:31-32; Romans 10:2-3.].]

3. From all legal views and dispositions—

[Those who have truly received Christ into their hearts are “not his servants, but his friends [Note: John 15:15.];” yea, they are “sons of God [Note: John 1:12.],” and, with “a spirit of adoption, are enabled to call him, Abba, Father [Note: Romans 8:15.].” They go in and out before him with the liberty of endeared children: for “the Lord Jesus has made them free; and they are free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].” Formerly they were, as all men by nature are, in a servile spirit, doing every thing rather by constraint than choice: but now, “having no more the spirit of bondage to fear, they have received the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind [Note: 2 Timothy 1:7.];” and, under the influence of this spirit, they “walk at liberty [Note: Psalms 119:45.],” and account the service of their God to be perfect freedom.]

4. From the power of sin altogether—

[This is the most blessed part of their inheritance. A freedom from “the bondage of corruption is the most glorious part of the liberty of the children of God [Note: Romans 8:21.].” And that this is possessed by them, the whole Scriptures bear witness. Let the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans be read throughout, and this matter will appear in the clearest light. A believer is dead with Christ; and therefore cannot possibly live in sin [Note: Romans 6:1-2.]. The being under the covenant of grace ensures to him a victory over sin of every kind [Note: Romans 6:14.]. From the moment that he embraced this better covenant, he was made free from sin (from its dominion); and being “become a servant of God, he has his fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life [Note: Romans 6:22.].” The whole of this matter is placed, if possible, in a stronger point of view in the eighth chapter of the same epistle; where the Apostle gives precisely the same view of the whole of revelation as we have done, and ascribes to it precisely the same efficacy: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, (hath done; that is, he hath) condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:2-4.].” Thus does the whole revelation of God, whether Law or Gospel, when rightly viewed, appear to be, as it is beautifully designated by St. James, “a perfect law of liberty [Note: James 1:25.];” and thus it is found to be, by all who embrace it “in spirit and in truth.”]

In conclusion, let me urge you,

1. To enter with all diligence into the true spirit of the Scriptures—

[They are in themselves “a sealed book:” nor can any but the adorable Lamb of God open them to our view. But beg of him to take away the veil from them; and from your hearts also, when you read them [Note: ver. 14.]. Then will there be found a glory in them, even all the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. Be not contented with any thing short of this: for this alone will produce those glorious effects which are here ascribed to it [Note: ver. 18.].]

2. To make a right use of the liberty which they impart to you—

[There are some who profess godliness, and yet would “promise you liberty, whilst they themselves are servants of corruption [Note: 2 Peter 2:19.].” But it is not a liberty in sin that Jesus gives; but a liberty from sin [Note: Matthew 1:21.]. St. Paul carefully guards us on this head; saying, “Ye, brethren, have been called unto liberty: only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh [Note: Galatians 5:13.].” Your liberty is, to “run the way of God’s commandments with an enlarged heart [Note: Psalms 119:22.].” “Stand last, therefore, in that liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free; and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage [Note: Galatians 5:1.].” Use, I say, your liberty aright for a little while; and soon you shall be as free and happy as the very angels of God around his throne.]


Verse 18

DISCOURSE: 2012

THE EXCELLENCY AND EFFICACY OF THE GOSPEL

2 Corinthians 3:18. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

THE Jews, when compared with the heathen world, were highly privileged; but the dispensation under which they lived was in every respect inferior to that of the Gospel. Of this we are fully informed in the chapter before us. The Apostle, in vindicating his own character, incidentally mentions the blessings which the Corinthians had experienced by means of his ministry: hence he takes occasion to set forth the superior excellency of the Gospel above the law. In confirmation of this point, we will shew,

I. The excellency of the Gospel—

In the context the law is spoken of as a ministration of condemnation; whereas the Gospel is a ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness. Of the Gospel it may be said,

1. It is a revelation of the “glory of the Lord”—

[The law was in some degree a manifestation of the Divine glory; it displayed, however, chiefly the majesty and holiness of the Deity: but the Gospel displays the love and mercy of God; it exhibits all the perfections of God harmonizing and glorified in the work of redemption. Thus it is a revelation of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].”]

2. It manifests this glory to the soul—

[Moses veiled the Divine lustre which shined in his face. This was an intimation to the Jews that they could not comprehend the full scope of the law which he published [Note: ver. 13.]: but this veil is taken away by Christ [Note: ver. 14.]. The Gospel reflects Christ’s glory as a mirror reflects the sun — — — We behold that glory “with open, i. e. unveiled face.” This is the common privilege of “all” who believe.]

Nor is it more excellent in its discoveries than in its effects:

II. The efficacy of it—

The Apostle ascribes a wonderful efficacy to the Gospel. Experience attests the truth of his declarations. It transforms the soul into the Divine image—

[A view of Jehovah’s glory caused the face of Moses to shine; but a view of Christ’s glory in the Gospel changes our hearts. It renews us after the very image of our Lord and Saviour. It does this in every person who truly beholds it.]

Every fresh discovery which it makes to us of Christ’s glory increases that effect—

[The first exercise of faith in Christ makes a great change, but subsequent views of his glory advance the work of sanctification. In this way is our progress in holiness carried on to perfection.]

This power, however, it derives wholly from “the Spirit of the Lord”—

[The Gospel has not that power in itself. Were its power inherent, it would operate uniformly on all: but its operation is dependent on the will of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:11.]. The word is called “the sword of the Spirit.” It is the Spirit’s instrument whereby he subdues souls to the obedience of faith. Every fresh effect produced by it arises from the concurring operation of the Spirit: yet as it is the great instrument whereby the Spirit works, the effects are properly ascribed to it.]

Infer—

1. How great a blessing it is to have the Gospel preached to us—

[Nothing else will produce the effects here ascribed to the Gospel. The terrors of the law may alarm, but will not sanctify the heart; but the mild accents of the Gospel win the soul. A manifestation of Christ’s glory constrains us to obedience. Let all rejoice therefore in hearing the glad tidings. Let all endeavour to experience these glorious effects.]

2. Whence it is that many make so small a proficiency in holiness—

[Many truly desire to advance in holiness, but they seek it in dependence on their own strength. Hence they make but a small progress in the divine life. They should rather use the means prescribed in the text. They should be often occupied in surveying the glory of Christ. The discoveries of his glory would do more than all their legal exertions — — — Let every eye therefore be fixed on him, till the effects appear both in our hearts and lives. Our views of him ere long shall be incomparably brighter [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:12.]; then the effects also shall be proportionably increased [Note: 1 John 3:2.].]

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/2-corinthians-3.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, February 16th, 2020
the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
There are 56 days til Easter!
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology