Defence against the charge of self-recommendation, which St. Paul does not need (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). His sufficiency comes from God (2 Corinthians 3:4-6), who has made him minister of a covenant far more glorious than that given to Hosea (verses 7-11). This ministry needs no veil upon the face (verses 12, 13), such as to this day darkens the hearts of the Jews (verses 14, 15), though it shall one day be removed (verses 16-18).
2 Corinthians 3:1-11
St. Paul's ministry is his sufficient letter of commendation.
2 Corinthians 3:1
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? The last verse of the last chapter might be seized upon by St. Paul's opponents to renew their charge—that he was always praising himself. He anticipates the malignant and meaning smiles with which they would hear such words. The word "again" implies that this charge had already been brought against him, perhaps in consequence of such passages as 1 Corinthians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 4:11-14; 1 Corinthians 9:15-23; 1 Corinthians 14:18, etc. Such passages might be called self-laudatory and egotistical, were it not that (as St. Paul here explains) they arose only from a sense of the grandeur of his office, of which he was the almost involuntary agent, used by God as it seemed best to him. Hence he says later on (2 Corinthians 7:1-16 :18) that self-praise is no commendation, and that the true test of a man is God's commendation. The verb "I commend," technically used in the same sense as our "commendatory letters," occurs also in Romans 16:1. Or need we, etc.? The reading, ἢ μὴ, thus translated, is better supported than εἰ μὴ, unless, which would have a somewhat ironical force. The μὴ in the reading ἢ μὴ implies, "Can you possibly think that we need," etc.? Generally, when a stranger came to some Church to which he was not personally known, he carried with him some credentials in the form of letters from accredited authorities. St. Paul treats it as absurd to suppose that he or Timothy should need such letters, either from the Corinthians or to them. As some. He will not name them, but he refers to the Judaists, who vaunted of their credentials in order to disparage St. Paul, who was too great to need and too independent to use them. We can hardly, perhaps, realize the depth and bitterness of antagonism concealed under that word "some" in 1 Corinthians 4:18, Galatians 1:7; Galatians 2:12. It is not meant that there was anything discreditable in using such letters (for Apollos had used them, Acts 18:27), but the disgraceful thing was that St. Paul should be disparaged for not bringing them. Epistles of commendation. The phrase, ἐπιστολαὶ συστατικαί—"introductory letters"—was familiar in later Greek. In days when there were few public hostels, and when it was both a duty and a necessity for small and persecuted communities like those of the Jews and Christians to practise hospitality (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2. etc.), it was customary both for synagogues and Churches to provide their friends and emissaries with authentic testimonials. Otherwise they might have been deceived by wandering impostors, as, in fact, the Christians were deceived by the vagabond quack Peregrinus. We can easily see how the custom of using such letters might be abused by idle, restless, and intriguing persons, who have never found it very difficult to procure them. We find traces of their honest use by Phoebe, by Silas and Jude, by Apollos, by Mark, and by Zenas, in Romans 16:1; Acts 18:27; Acts 15:25; Colossians 4:10; Titus 3:13; and of their unfair use by certain Judaists, in Galatians 1:7 and Galatians 2:12. Nothing can more forcibly illustrate the necessity for St. Paul's protest against the idle vaunt of possessing such letters, than the fact that, more than a century afterwards, we find malignant innuendoes aimed at St. Paul in the pseudo-Clementines, under the name of" the enemy" and "Simon Magus" and "a deceiver." He is there spoken of as using letters from the high priest (which, indeed, St. Paul had done as Saul of Tarsus, Acts 9:1, Acts 9:2); and the Churches are warned never to receive any one who cannot bring credentials from James; so deep-rooted among the Judaists was the antagonism to the independent apostolate and daring originality of the apostle of the Gentiles! Dr. Plumptre quotes Sozomen ('H.E.', James 5:16) for the curious fact that the Emperor Julian tried to introduce the system of "commendatory letters" into his revived paganism. Or letters of commendation from you. The substitution of "letters" for "epistles" is an instance of the almost childish fondness for unnecessary synonyms, which is one of the defects of the Authorized Version. The true reading probably is "to you or from you" ( א, A, B, C). The word "commendatory" (sustatikon) is omitted in A, B, C. Or from you. It was worse than absurd to suppose that St. Paul should need those literae formatae to a Church of which he was the thunder; and nothing but the boundless "inflation" which characterized the Corinthians could have led them to imagine that he needed letters from them to other Churches, as though, forsooth, they were the primary Church or the only church (1 Corinthians 14:36 ).
2 Corinthians 3:2
Ye are our epistle. Their very existence as a Church was the most absolute "commendatory letter" of St. Paul, both from them and to them. Written in our hearts. The expression has no connection with the fact that the high priest bore the names of Israel graven on the jewelled Urim, which he wore upon his breast. St. Paul means that others may bring their "letters of commendation'' in their hands. His letter of commendation is the very name and existence of the Church of Corinth written on his heart. Known and read of all men. The metaphor is subordinated to the fact. All men may recognize the autograph, and in it were read the history of the Corinthian converts, which was written on the apostle's heart, and which therefore rendered the notion of any other letter of commendation to or from them superfluous and even absurd. The play on words (epigignosko and anagignosko) is similar to that in 2 Corinthians 1:13.
2 Corinthians 3:3
Manifestly declared. The fame and centrality of Corinth gave peculiar prominence to the fact of their conversion. The epistle of Christ ministered by us. The Corinthians are the epistle; it is written on the hearts of St. Paul and his companions; Christ was its Composer; they were its amanuenses and its conveyers. The development of the metaphor as a metaphor would be somewhat clumsy and intricate, but St. Paul only cares to shadow forth the essential fact which he wishes them to recognize. Not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; i.e. not with visible or perishable materials, but spiritual in its origin and character. The notion of "the finger of God" naturally recalled the notion of "the Spirit of God" (comp. Matthew 12:28 with Luke 11:20). Not in tables of stone. God's writing by means of the Spirit on the heart reminds him of another writing of God on the stone tablets of the Law, which he therefore introduces with no special regard to the congruity of the metaphor about "an epistle." But in fleshy tables of the heart. The overwhelming preponderance of manuscript authority supports the reading "but in fleshen tablets—hearts." St. Paul is thinking of Jeremiah 31:33, "I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts;" and Ezekiel 11:22, "I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh." The tablets were not hard and fragile, but susceptible and receptive. Our letters of introduction are inward not outward, spiritual not material, permanent not perishable, legible to all not only by a few, written by Christ not by man.
2 Corinthians 3:4
Such trust. The confidence, namely, that we need no other recommendation to or from you. Through Christ. Who alone can inspire such confidence in myself and my mission (1 Corinthians 15:10). To God-ward; i.e. in relation to God; towards whom the whole Being of Christ is directed (John 1:1), and therefore all the work of his servants (Romans 5:1).
2 Corinthians 3:5
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves. He here reverts to the question asked in 2 Corinthians 2:16. He cannot bear the implication that any "confidence" on his part rests on anything short of the overwhelming sense that he is but an agent, or rather nothing but an instrument, in the hands of God. To think anything as of ourselves. He has, indeed, the capacity to form adequate judgments about his work, but it does not come from his own resources ( ἀφ ̓ ἑαυτῶν) or his own independent origination ( ἐξ ἑαυτῶν); comp. 1 Corinthians 15:10. But our sufficiency. Namely, to form any true or right judgment, and therefore to express the confidence which I have expressed. Is of God. We are but fellow workers with him (1 Corinthians 3:19).
2 Corinthians 3:6
Who also. Either, "And he it is who;" or, "Who besides this power, has made us adequate ministers." Hath made us able ministers; rather, made us sufficient ministers. Of the new testament; rather, of a fresh covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). The "new testament" has not the remotest connection with what we call "The New Testament," meaning thereby the book—which, indeed, had at this time no existence. The word "testament" means a will, and in this sense implies neither the Hebrew berith nor the Greek diatheke, both of which mean "covenant." In one passage only of the New Testament (Hebrews 9:16, Hebrews 9:17) does diatheke mean a "testament" or "will." For the thought, see Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:11, 1 Timothy 1:12. Not of the letter, but of the spirit. In other words, "not of the Law, but of the gospel;" not of that which is dead, but of that which is living; not of that which is deathful, but of that which is life-giving; not of bondage, but of freedom; not of mutilation, but of self-control; not of the outward, but of the inward; not of works, but of grace; not of menace, but of promise; not of curse, but of blessing; not of wrath, but of love; not of Moses, but of Christ. This is the theme which St. Paul develops especially in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians (see Romans 2:29; Romans 3:20; Romans 7:6, Romans 7:10, Romans 7:11; Romans 8:2; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 5:4, etc.). Not of the letter. Not, that is, of the Mosaic Law regarded as a yoke of externalism; a hard and unhelpful "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not;" a system that possessed no life of its own and inspired no life into others; a "categoric imperative," majestic, indeed, but unsympathetic and pitiless. Both the Law and the gospel were committed to writing; each covenant had its own book; but in the case of the Mosaic Law there was the book and nothing more; in the case of the gospel the book was nothing compared to the spirit, and nothing without the spirit. Out of the spirit. That is, of the gospel which found its pledge and consummation in the gift of the Spirit. The Law, too, was in one sense "spiritual" (Romans 7:14), for it was given by God, who is a Spirit, and it was a holy Law; but though such in itself (in se) it was relatively (per aceidens) a cause of sin and death, because it was addressed to a fallen nature, and inspired no spirit by which that nature could be delivered (see Romans 7:7-25). But in the gospel the spirit is everything; the mere letter is as nothing (John 6:63). For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. This is one of the very numerous "texts" which have been first misinterpreted and have then been made, for whole centuries, the bases of erroneous systems. On this text more than any other, Origen, followed by the exegetes of a thousand years, built his dogma that the Scripture must be interpreted allegorically, not literally, because "the letter" of the Bible kills. The misinterpretation is extravagantly inexcusable, and, like many others, arose solely from rending words away from their context and so reading new senses into them. The contrast is not between "the outward" and the inward sense of Scripture at all. "The letter" refers exclusively to "the Law," and therefore has so little reference to "the Bible" that it was written before most of the New Testament existed, and only touches on a small portion of the Old Testament. Killeth. Two questions arise.
The answers seem to be that
2 Corinthians 3:7
The ministration of death. The ministration, that is, of the Law, of "the letter which killeth." St. Paul here begins one of the arguments a minori ad majus which are the very basis of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Written and engraven in stones; literally, engraved in letters on stones (Exodus 31:18). The reference shows that, in speaking of "the letter," St. Paul was only thinking of the Mosaic Law, and indeed specifically of the Decalogue. Was glorious; literally, occurred in glory, or, proved itself glorious. In itself the Law was "holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12), and given "at the disposition of angels" (Acts 7:53); and its transitory glory was illustrated by the lustre which the face of Moses caught by reflection from his intercourse with God (Exodus 24:16). Could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses (Exodus 34:29, Exodus 34:30). St. Paul has been led quite incidentally into this digression in the course of defending himself by describing the nature of his ministry; but it bore very definitely on his general purpose, because his chief opponents were Judaists, whose one aim it was to bind upon the Church the yoke of Mosaism. That they could not "behold" the face of Moses is the hagadah, or traditional legend, derived from Exodus 34:30, which says that "they were afraid to draw nigh to him. The reader may recall the beautiful lines of Cardinal Newman-
"Lord I grant me this abiding grace—
Thy words and saints to know;
To pierce the veil on Moses' face,
Although his words be slow."
Because of the glory of his countenance. This circumstance is so often alluded to as to have become identified with the conception of Moses. The Hebrew words for "a ray of light" and "a horn" are identical; hence, instead of saying that his face was "irradiated," the Vulgate says, Cornnta erat ejus facies; and even in our version of Habakkuk 3:4 we find "And he had horns [i.e. 'rays of light'] coming out of his hand." To this is due the mediaeval symbol of Moses with horns, as in the matchless statue by Michael Angelo. Which glory was to be done away. The Greek might be expressed by "the glory—the evanescing glory—of his countenance." It was not "to be done away," but from the first moment they saw it it began to vanish. The verb "to do away," implying annulment, and the being abrogated as invalid, is a characteristic word in this group cf Epistles, in which it occurs twenty-two times. This illustrates the prominence in St. Paul's thoughts of the fact that the Law was now "antiquated" and "near its obliteration" (comp. Hebrews 8:13). But in dwelling on the brief and transient character of this radiance, St. Paul seizes on a point which (naturally) is not dwelt upon in Exodus 34:1-35.
2 Corinthians 3:8
The ministration of the spirit. That is, "the apostolate and service of the gospel." Be rather glorious. A contrast may be intended between the ministration of the letter, which "became glorious," which had, as it were, a glory lent to it ( ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ), and that of the spirit, which is, of its own nature, in glory.
2 Corinthians 3:9
The ministration of condemnation. The same antithesis between the Law as involving "condemnation" and the gospel as bestowing "righteousness" is found in Romans 5:18, Romans 5:19. The glory; perhaps, rather, a glory; a stronger way of describing it as "glorious." Of righteousness. Involving the further conception of "justification," as in Romans 5:21; Romans 1:16, Romans 1:17; Romans 4:25; Romans 5:21.
2 Corinthians 3:10
For. He proceeds to show that the latter ministration was far more superabundant in glory. That which was made glorious, etc. Many various interpretations have been offered of this text. The meaning almost undoubtedly is, "For even that which has been glorified [namely, the Mosaic ministry, as typified by the splendour of his face] has not been glorified in this respect [i.e. in the respect of its relation to another ministry], because of the surpassing glory [of the latter]." In other words, the glory of Mosaism is so completely outdazzled by the splendour of the gospel, that, relatively speaking, it has no glory left; the moon and the stars cease to shine, they "pale their ineffectual fires" when the sun is in the zenith. The phrase, "in this respect," occurs again in 2 Corinthians 9:3 and 1 Peter 4:16.
2 Corinthians 3:11
For. An explanation of the "surpassing" glory of the later covenant founded on its eternity. That which is done away; rather, that which is evanescing; "which is being done away," as in 2 Corinthians 3:7. Was glorious… is glorious. The expression is varied in the Greek. The brief, the evanescent covenant was "through glory," i.e. it was a transitory gleam; the abiding covenant is "in glory;" i.e. it is an eternal splendour. It is, however, a disputed point whether St. Paul intended such rigid meanings to be attached to his varying prepositions (Romans 3:30, ἐκ πίστες … διὰ τῆς πίστεως: Romans 5:10, διὰ τοῦ θανάτου ἐν τῇ ζωῇ: Galatians 2:16, ἐξ ἔργων … διὰ πίστεως: Philemon 1:5, πρός τὸν κύριον … εἰς τοὺς ἁγιους). That which remaineth. The final, eternal, unshakable gospel (Hebrews 12:27). Is glorious; literally, is in glory. Christ is eternally the Light of the world (John 1:9; John 9:5); and Moses and Elias derived all their permanence of glory by reflection from this transfiguring light.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
The confidence inspired by this ministry and the veil on the hearts of those who will not recognize it.
2 Corinthians 3:12
Such hope. A hope based upon the abiding glory of this gospel covenant. Plainness of speech. The frankness and unreserved fearlessness of our language is justified by the glory of our ministry. It was impossible for Moses to speak with the same bold plainness.
2 Corinthians 3:13
And not as Moses. We need not act, as Moses was obliged to do, by putting any veil upon our faces while we speak. And here the image of "the veil" as completely seizes St. Paul's imagination as the image of the letter does in the first verses. Put a veil; literally, was putting, or, used to put, a veil on his face when he had finished speaking to the people. That the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished; rather, that the children of Israel might not gaze on the end of what was passing away. The object of the veil, according to St. Paul, was to prevent the Israelites from gazing on the last gleam of the covenant. In other words, he did not wish them to be witnesses of a fading glory. It is preposterous to imagine that St. Paul is here casting any blame on the conduct of Moses, as though he acted fraudulently or delusively. Moses was aware, and even told the people, float his legislation was not final (Deuteronomy 18:15 -19), but it would be quite natural that he should not wish the people to witness the gradual dimming of the lustre which, in St. Paul's view, was typical of that transitoriness. It seems, however, that St. Paul is here either
2 Corinthians 3:14
Their minds. This word is rendered" devices" in 2 Corinthians 2:11; "minds" in 2 Corinthians 3:14 and 2 Corinthians 4:4; and "thought" in 2 Corinthians 10:5. It means that their powers of reason were, so to speak, petrified. Were blinded; rather, were hardened. The verb cannot mean" to blind." By whom were their minds hardened? It would be equally correct to say by themselves (Hebrews 3:8), or by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), or by God (Romans 11:7, Romans 11:8). The same veil. Of course the meaning is "a veil of which the veil of Moses is an exact type." The veil which prevented them from seeing the evanescence of the light which shone on the face of Moses was symbolically identical with that which prevented them also from seeing the transitory character of his Law. It had been as it were taken from his face and laid on their hearts (see Acts 13:27-29; Romans 11:1-36.). Many commentators have seen in this verse a reference to the Jewish custom of covering the head with the tallith, a four-cornered veil, when they were in the synagogues. But this is doubtful, since the tallith did not cover the eyes. More probably his metaphor may have been suggested by Isaiah 25:7, "And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast ever all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations." Untaken away. There are two other ways of rendering this verse:
2 Corinthians 3:15
When Moses is read (Acts 15:21). The veil; rather, a veil; a veil of moral obstinacy, which prevents them from seeing the disappearance of the old covenant, as effectually as the veil on the face of Moses prevented them from seeing (as St. Paul viewed the matter) the disappearance of the transitory lustre on the face of Moses.
2 Corinthians 3:16
When it shall turn to the Lord. The nominative of the verb is not expressed. Obviously the most natural word to supply is the one last alluded to, namely, "the heart of Israel." The verb may have been suggested by Exodus 34:31. Shall be taken away; literally, is in course of removal. The tenses imply that "the moment the heart of Israel shall have turned to the Lord, the removal of the veil begins." Then "they shall look on him whom they pierced" (Zechariah 12:10); "He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations" (Isaiah 25:7).
2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is that Spirit. The "but" (Authorized Version, "now") introduces an explanation. To whom shall they turn? To the Lord. "But the Lord is the Spirit." The word "spirit" could not be introduced thus abruptly and vaguely; it must refer to something already said, and therefore to the last mention of the word "spirit" in 2 Corinthians 3:3. The Lord is the Spirit, who giveth life and freedom, in antithesis to the spirit of death and legal bondage. The best comment on the verse is Romans 8:2, "For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." All life and all religion had become to St. Paul a vision of all things in Christ. He has just said that the spirit giveth life, and, after the digression about the moral blindness which prevented the Jews from being emancipated from the bondage of the letter, it was quite natural for him to add, "Now the Lord is the Spirit to which I alluded." The connection in which the verse stands excludes a host of untenable meanings which have been attached to it. There is liberty. The liberty of confidence (Romans 8:4), and of frank speech (Romans 8:12), and of sonship (Galatians 4:6, Galatians 4:7), and of freedom from guilt (John 8:36); so that the Law itself, obeyed no longer in the mere letter but also in the spirit, becomes a royal law of liberty, and not a yoke which gendereth to bondage (James 1:25; James 2:12)—a service, indeed, but one which is perfect freedom (Romans 5:1-21; 1 Peter 2:16).
2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all. An appeal to personal experience in evidence of the freedom. With open face; rather, with unveiled face; as Moses himself spoke with God, whereas the Jews could not see even the reflected splendour on the face of Moses till he had shrouded it with a veil. Beholding as in a glass. This is at least as likely to be the true meaning as "reflecting as a mirror," which the Revised Version (following Chrysostom and others) has substituted for it. No other instance occurs in which the verb in the middle voice has the meaning of "reflecting,'' and the words, "With unveiled face," imply the image of "beholding." They are, in fact, a description of "the beatific vision." An additional reason for retaining the translation of our Authorized Version is that the verb is used in this sense by Philo ('Leg. Alleg.,' 3:33). The glory of the Lord. Namely, him who is "the Effulgence of God's glory" (Hebrews 1:2), the true Shechinah, "the Image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). Are changed into the same image. The present tense implies a gradual transfiguration, a mystical and spiritual change which is produced in us while we contemplate Christ. From glory to glory. Our spiritual assimilation to Christ comes from his glory and issues in a glory like his (1 Corinthians 15:51; comp." from strength to strength," Psalms 84:7). As by the Spirit of the Lord. This rendering (which is that of the Vulgate also) can hardly be correct. The natural meaning of the Greek is "as by the [or, from] the Lord the Spirit." Our change into glory comes from the Lord, who, as St. Paul has already explained, is the Spirit of which he has been speaking. No such abstract theological thought is here in his mind as that of the "hypostatic union," of the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is still referring to the contrast between the letter and the spirit, and his identification of this "spirit" in its highest sense with the quickening life which, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we receive from Christ, and which is indeed identical with "the Spirit of Christ."
2 Corinthians 3:1-5
"Do we begin again to commend ourselves?" etc. In the early Church it was customary for the member who was travelling into another locality to take with him a letter of commendation from the Church to which he or she belonged. The apostle says he did not require such a document from the Corinthian Church, as some others did, for they themselves were letters written on his own heart; and his ministry was a letter written on their hearts also. They were the living "epistles of Christ,... written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." Our subject is soul-literature, or Christianity written on the heart; and I offer five remarks.
I. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE MOST LEGIBLE FORM. There are some whose caligraphy is difficult to decipher and whose thoughts are difficult to understand; their ideas are misty and their style involved; but what is written on the soul is written so clearly that a child can make it out.
II. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE MOST CONVINCING FORM. Books have been written on the evidences of Christianity; not a few by the ablest men of their times, such as Paley, Lardner, Butler. But one life permeated and fashioned by the Christian spirit is a far more convincing power than any or all of their most magnificent productions. He who has been transformed by Christianity from the selfish, the sensual, and corrupt, into the spiritual, the benevolent, and the holy, furnishes an argument that baffles all controversy and penetrates the heart.
III. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE MOST PERSUASIVE FORM. There are many books "persuasive to piety," and many of them very powerful; but the most powerful of them are weak indeed compared to the mighty force of a Christly life. There is a magnetism in gospel truth embodied, which you seek for in vain in any written work. When the "Word is made flesh" it becomes "mighty through God."
IV. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE MOST ENDURING FORM. The tablet is imperishable. You may put truth on paper, but the paper will moulder; put it into institutions, but the institutions will dissolve as a cloud; put it on marble or brass, but these are corruptible.
V. Christianity written on the soul is CHRISTIANITY IN THE DIVINEST FORM. The human hand can inscribe it on parchment or engrave it on stone, but God only can write it on the heart. "The Spirit of the living God." Paul was but the amanuensis, God is the Author.
2 Corinthians 3:6
The ministry of the letter and the ministry of the spirit.
"The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." Notice—
I. The twofold MINISTRY. "Ministers... not of the letter, but of the spirit." What does this mean? Not the two dispensations, the Mosaic and the Christian; for both alike had "letter" and "spirit." Nor does it mean a double interpretation of the Scripture, the literal and the spiritual It means, I think, the word and the thought, the sentence and the sentiment. Christianity has both "letter" and "spirit." If it had no "letter," it would be unrevealed, a thought shut up in the mind of God; if it had no "spirit," it would be but a hollow sound. The words point to two distinct methods of teaching Christianity.
1. The technical method. Who are the technical teachers?
2. The spiritual. What is it to be a minister of the "spirit"? He is a man more alive to the grace than the grammar, to the substance than the symbols of revelation. He is a man who has a comprehensive knowledge of those eternal principles that underlie all Scriptures, and has a living sympathy with those eternal elements.
II. The twofold RESULTS. "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."
1. The result of the technical ministry. It "killeth."
2. The result of the spiritual ministry. "The spirit giveth life." "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." "The spirit giveth life"—life to the intellect, conscience, sympathies, the whole soul.
CONCLUSION. How little of this soul-life we have in congregations! Creed-life, sect-life, Church-life, we have in abundance; hut where is soul-life, the life of holy love, earnest inquiry, independent action, spiritual freedom in relation to all that is Christlike and Divine?
2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Divine revelation more glorious in Christ than in Moses.
"But if the ministration," etc. At the outset three facts are noteworthy.
1. The infinite Father has made a special revelation of himself to his human offspring.
2. This special revelation of himself has mainly come through two great general sources—Moses and Christ.
3. The special revelation of himself, as it came through Christ, far transcends in glory the form it assumed as it came through Moses. The essence of the revelation is the same, but the forms differ, and the form it assumes in Christianity are the most glorious. There are two facts here.
I. That the special revelation as it came through MOSES WAS GLORIOUS. It was so glorious that "the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses." Four things impress us with its glory as revealed in Moses.
1. The wonderful display of divinity attending its manifestation on Mount Sinai. The expression, "the face of Moses," refers to this (Exodus 34:1). What wonderful things Moses saw and heard during the forty days he was on the mount! "The Lord rose up and came from Seir with ten thousand of his saints," etc.
2. the magnificence of its religious scenes and celebrations. The temple, hew splendid! the priesthood, how imposing! the psalmody, how inspiring! "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O thou city of God."
3. The stupendous miracles that stand in connection with it. The wilderness was the theatre of magnificent manifestations—the pillar, the manna, the flowing rock, the riven sea, etc.
4. The splendid intellects which were employed in connection with it. Solomon, Elijah, Daniel, David, Ezekiel. For these reasons Divine revelation as it came through Moses was truly glorious.
II. That although this special revelation was glorious as it came in connection with Moses, it was MORE GLORIOUS as it came in connection with CHRIST. "How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?" etc. Confining our illustrations on this point to the passage before us, we observe:
1. The Christian form of revelation is more likely to give life than the Mosaic. In Moses it was the "ministration of death." The Jews exalted the "letter" that "killeth" above the "spirit that giveth life," and they got buried in forms. In Christ the revelation is the gospel in life.
2. The Christian form of Divine revelation is more emphatically spiritual than the Mosaic. It is here called the "ministration of the spirit." In Moses it was associated with numerous forms and ceremonies; in Christ there are only two simple rites, and the spirit throbs in every sentence.
3. The Christian form of Divine revelation is more restorative than the Mosaic. The apostle speaks of the one as the "ministration of condemnation," of the other as the "ministration of righteousness." Maledictions thunder in the former, beatitudes in the latter.
4. The Christian form of Divine revelation is more enduring than the Mosaic. "For if that which is done away [which passeth away] was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious." Judaism is gone; Christianity is the "Word of God, which abideth foreverse" It is the final revelation of Heaven to our world.
Such, then, is a brief illustration of the apostle's position; and the subject, in conclusion, serves several important purposes.
1. It serves to expose the absurdity of making Moses the interpreter of Christ. It has been common with professing Christians to look at the New Testament through the spectacles of Moses, and thus to Judaize Christianity. Much in popery, much, alas! in old puritanism, much even in modern theology, is but Christianity Judaized, a going back to the "beggarly elements."
2. It serves to show the wrongness of going to Moses to support opinions which you cannot get from Christ. You can support war, slavery, capital punishment, by going to Moses; but you cannot find the shadow of a foundation for these in Christ.
3. It serves to reveal the glorious position of a true gospel minister. To show this was the object of the apostle in the text. The position of Moses, David, Isaiah, and all the great teachers under the old administration was glorious, but it is scarcely to be compared with the position of him who preaches that Christ of "whom Moses and the prophets did write."
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
The gospel as a transcendent benefactor.
"Seeing then that we have such hope," etc. Amongst the invaluable services which the gospel confers on man, there are four suggested by the text. It gives him moral courage, spiritual vision, true liberty, and Christ-like glory. It gives him—
I. MORAL COURAGE. "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness [boldness] of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished," etc. This means that, seeing the revelation we have of God in Christ is not so terrible as his revelation in Moses, we have "great boldness." We need have no superstitious fear or dread. Unlike the Jews, who were afraid to look at the Divine radiance on the face of Moses, who trembled at the manifestation of God on Sinai, and who lacked the courage to look at the fact that their system was a temporary one, passing away; we have courage to look calmly at the manifestations of God and the facts of destiny. We use "great boldness." He who has the spirit of Christianity in him has courage enough to look all questions in the face, and to speak out his convictions with the dauntless force of true manhood.
II. SPIRITUAL VISION. "But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is done away in Christ." The "veil" of Moses was on his face, some material used for the moment and then withdrawn, but the "veil" referred to here was that "veil" of prejudice and traditional notions which prevented them from seeing when Paul wrote that the old dispensation has passed away before the brightness of the new. The souls of unrenewed men are so veiled by depravity that they fail to see anything in the great universe of spiritual realities. The spiritual is no more to them than nature is to men born blind. Now, the gospel is the only power under God that can take the "veil" from the soul, and enable us to see things as they are. Its grand mission is to open the eyes of the blind, etc.
III. TRUE LIBERTY. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." By the "Spirit of the Lord" here is meant the Spirit of Christ, his moral temper; and wherever this is, there is freedom.
1. Freedom from the bondage of ceremonial sin.
2. Freedom from the trammels of legality.
3. Freedom from the dominion of sin.
4. Freedom from the fear of death.
The Spirit of Christ is at once the guarantee and the inspiration of that liberty which no despot can take away, no time destroy—the "glorious liberty of the children of God."
IV. CHRIST-LIKE GLORY. "But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord," etc.
1. The glory of Christ was the glory of moral excellence. He was the "brightness of his Father's glory."
2. The glory of Christ is communicable. It comes to man through transformation "changed into the same image."
3. The glory of Christ which comes to man is progressive: "from glory to glory." The gopel alone can make men glorious.
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
2 Corinthians 3:1-6. - No letters of commendation needed; his converts were epistles.
In the close of the last chapter St. Paul had spoken of men who corrupted the Word of God (retailed it as a commodity for their own profit), and he had put himself and his ministry in contrast to them. Likely enough, this would provoke criticism. The quick interrogation comes - Was he commending himself, or did he need letters of commendation to them and from them? "Ye are our epistle written on his heart, known and read of all men—an epistle coming from Christ, and produced instrumentally by him as Christ's agent; not written with ink, but by the Spirit; "not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." With regard to the figure, it is probable that there was not another occasion in his life when it would have occurred to his imagination. Circumstances conspired with his state of mind. to produce it, and one can almost trace the sequence of associations out of which it came. What solicitude the former Epistle had given him! What would be the effect? Amid his thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 11:14) it was a matter of joy that he had written this letter, and he could now see God's hand very clearly in its production. Was not that Epistle a new and additional proof that he was Christ's apostle? Yet what was that Epistle, written with ink, to this "epistle of Christ," recorded on the soul, a part of itself, a part of its immortality? It was manifestly declared" that they were Christ's epistle, and it was equally clear that this epistle was due to his ministration. "Ministered by us." Had. they not given a new and striking evidence of the two facts, viz. Christ the Author of the epistle written on their hearts, and he the apostle, the ministerial agent of the work? It was a fresh motive to confidence: "Such trust have we through Christ to God-ward." Are we boasting of the late success of our Epistle—of our former successes? Nay; how can we be "sufficient of ourselves," or rely on our own wisdom and strength, when we have just confessed that we wrote to you "out of much affliction and anguish of heart, with many tears," and while the period of suspense lasted we were unfitted for our work, and at last, to rest in our spirit, we left Troas for Macedonia so as to see Titus the sooner? Nay; "our sufficiency is of God." It is he who also "hath made us able ministers of the New Testament." And wherein differs this new covenant from the old? Already he had spoken of "tables of stone" as contrasted with "fleshy tables of the heart," and the antithesis is resumed and further elaborated. The covenant is new, it is of the spirit, it is of the spirit that giveth life. Opposite in these particulars was the old covenant, the Mosaic Law, its ministers being cheifly engaged in executing a system of rules and ceremonials, adhering in all things to the exact language, and concerning themselves in no wise beyond the outward form. The external man with his interests and fortunes occupied attention. A nation was to exemplify the system, and therefore, by necessity, it largely addressed the senses, borrowing its motives and enforcing its penalties from a consideration of objects near and palpable. If we read Romans 7:1-25. we see what St. Paul meant by "the letter killeth." On the other hand, the dispensation of the spirit "giveth life." The antithesis is stated in the strongest possible form—death and life. This, accordingly, was the apostle's "sufficiency," a spiritual wisdom for enlightenment, a spiritual power for carrying out his apostolic plans, and an attained spiritual result seen in the recovery of Gentiles from the degradation of idolatry, and in the freedom of Jews from the bondage of the Mosaic Law.—L.
2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Ministry of the Old Testament compared with that of the New, and the superiority of the latter shown.
He speaks now of the "ministration of death," not of it as the ministry of the letter; and yet it was "glorious." Compared with the revelation made to Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, it was "glorious." Whether witnessing to the unity of God or to his providence over an elect race, it was an illumination, or splendour, unequalled in the centuries before Christ. Tribes were organized as a nation, bondmen transformed into free men; and, despite their proclivity to heathenish idolatry, they came finally to hold and defend the doctrine of one God, their Jehovah, their Lord of hosts, their Benefactor and Friend, as the doctrine underlying all their hopes and aspirations. The sanctity of human life which the great lawgiver made the foundation of his system, the rights of persons and property, the obligations of brotherhood among themselves, duties to the poor and the stranger, duties to their nation, reverence for the sabbath and its worship, obedience to God in the minutest things, were taught them with a precision and a force that largely succeeded in producing the only phenomenon of its kind in history—a nation educated in the sense of God, of his presence in their midst, and of his providence as an unceasing and omnipotent agency in their homes and business. What a "glory" there was in their literature we all know. No psalmody is given in the New Testament; none was wanted; inspired poetry reached its full measure of excellence in King David and his poetic successors; and the Christian heart, whether in prayer or praise, finds much of its deepest and most devout utterance in these ancient Judaean hymns. Reproduction is the test of enduring greatness. In this respect the genius and piety of David stand unrivalled. Whenever men worship God, he is the "chief singer" yet; nor have we any better standard by which to try the merit of our religious poetry and music than the similarity of their effect upon us to that produced by the Psalms of David. Last of all in the order of time, first in its importance, what a "glory" in him born of the Virgin Mary! On this system St. Paul made no war. What he antagonized was the misunderstanding and abuse of the system in the hands of Pharisees and Sadducees, and, especially in the shape it assumed among the Judaizers at Corinth and in Galatia. He calls the old covenant "glorious," a word he never uses but in his exalted moods of thought, True, it was "written and engraven in stones," but by whose hand? Even "the face of Moses' was more than the Israelites could bear, "for the glory of his countenance." The splendour irradiating Moses was transient—"which glory was to be done away;" but it did what it was intended to do by demonstrating where he had been and on what mission. Yet—the glory acknowledged—it was "the ministration of death." All the sublimity was that of terror, none that of beauty, when Sinai became the shrouded pavilion of Jehovah. "Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death." This external characterization was a symbol of its condemning power. "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." It was not in the language of the Law that David prayed, "Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me;" nor in sympathy with the Law that Isaiah spoke of the Anointed One, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;" bat in