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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 3

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Verses 1-18


N.B. A continuous outpour of argument and appeal, all “alive,” and quivering, thrilling, with quick emotion, from 2 Corinthians 2:17 to 2 Corinthians 6:10.

2 Corinthians 3:1.—Q.d. “There, he is at it again! [2 Corinthians 2:17, or perhaps cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Corinthians 9:21; or something he had said at Corinth, known to his readers]. Praising himself!” [Familiarly, “Blowing his own trumpet, since no one else will do it for him.”] “Am I?” (q.d. in 2 Corinthians 2:17). Letters of commendation.—Such as Apollos brought to Corinth (Acts 18:27); or such as this very letter became to Titus (2 Corinthians 8:17-19). Romans 16:1 is a good example; for Phœbe. These Christians travelling from Church to Church appear in 2 John 1:10-11, 3 John 1:5-9 [“I wrote unto the Church”]. Seen also in the Didache, xii., xiii. Perhaps such as came “from James” to Antioch (Galatians 2:12) carried such “letters.” These became a very common institution in the early Church. N.B., Paul himself had once asked the “authority and commission” of such letters to the synagogue of Damascus (Acts 26:12). Note the shorter reading.

2 Corinthians 3:2.—“Certainly, ‘to youwe need none. We, who know what place yon occupy ‘in our hearts,’ know that we do not; you—‘allof youcanread’ our love to you, and you ‘know’ that we do not.” In our hearts.—Others carry theirs in their hands.

2 Corinthians 3:3.—New turn given here to the figure. The Corinthians are a letter of commendation for him, not to themselves only, but to other Churches and the world. The Christians at Corinth are a credential for him so conspicuous that it is “known and read of all men.” Notice the adroit, courteous, ad homines argument. In 1 Corinthians 15:0 he urges that they cannot deny Christ’s resurrection without abandoning all hope of their own, and all reality in their salvation from sin. So here, they cannot deny his apostleship without also denying the work of the Spirit of God in their own heart. Ministered.—“Carried about” as his rivals did their letters. An epistle of Christ.—I.e. written by, and given to His servant Paul by, Christ Himself. The argument is that of 1 Corinthians 9:2-3. In the phraseology, rather than in the thought, are reminiscences of such Old Testament passages as Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26. So also the application of the metaphor, like the use of the original figure of “letters of commendation,” is modified almost from sentence to sentence. Thus a letter written with “ink” passes over into the “tables of stone” at Sinai (Jeremiah 31:33). Flesh … stone.—Plainly not here in any moral sense: “fleshen” [analogous to “wooden”] would exactly represent the thought. By the Spirit.—Note the capital letter rightly in the; His work, the “new creation” of 2 Corinthians 5:17, the experiences of their new life,—these are the writing of the “Living God.” Note the name, “Living God,” in 2 Corinthians 6:16; was Paul in Ephesus, as once he had been in Athens, “stirred … when he saw the city full of idols”? [Another impressively used Old Testament name in 2 Corinthians 6:18, “the Lord God Almighty.”]

2 Corinthians 3:4.—See Appended Note from Stanley. Such confidence, etc.—A real answer to the cry of 2 Corinthians 2:16, “Who is sufficient?” etc. The word “sufficient” and its cognates is here resumed in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6. [Say, “adequate to, competent to, up to the level (measure) of.”] He looks “toward God,” the source of his commission, the giver of adequate grace to fulfil it, the giver of his success at Corinth or elsewhere; he expects all from God, the source, “through Christ,” the channel.

2 Corinthians 3:5. To think … of ourselves.—Misleading to our modern English ears; clearer in Q.d. “to give ourselves any such confident encouragement, drawing our confidence of sufficiency from any presumed resources within ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 3:6.—“Proof that this competency comes from God. God gave him a further and a greater competency, which involves the less. God made him competent (2 Corinthians 1:22) to be a minister of a dispensation, which from its very nature must produce, when it took effect, exactly such a result as he counts the Corinthian Church to be” (Waite, in Speaker). Ministers.—Reverts to the word of 2 Corinthians 3:3; but the personal purpose of that “ministration” is gone from his thought; he is “carrying about and dispensing”—“administering”—something far greater and of more importance than any personal credentials, even of the best. A New Covenant—N.B. this in, correctly. To be studied with Matthew 26:28 [and this with Exodus 24:8]; Jeremiah 31:33-34. [This last in Hebrews 10:0 is the pivot around which turns an exposition of the “first” and the “second” (2 Corinthians 3:9), and in Hebrews 8:0 clenches the discussion as between the “new” and the “old”; both of which comparisons should themselves be compared with this of “letter” and “spirit,” which is also found in Romans 2:27-29; Romans 7:6.] The letter.—The Law of Moses, graven in so many letters and words on the tables of stone. [The Decalogue is, then, practically “the Law,” throwing light on Paul’s frequent discussions of “the law,” as affecting Christian thought and life.] The Spirit.—Capital S; the Holy Ghost, Who is the characteristic and crowning glory of the Gospel order. In the argument of Galatians 3:2; Galatians 5:5, “the Spirit” is the summary gift of that whole continuous “covenant” of which believers, pre- and post-Pentecostal both, are Abraham’s heirs. Killeth.—He explains how, in Romans 3:19; Romans 5:20, and, particularly, Romans 7:9-24. [See especially Romans 7:9; Romans 7:11; Romans 7:24, and Romans 8:2,] of which this verse—this word—is a summary. Giveth life.—John 6:63; 1 Corinthians 15:45 (very interesting), Galatians 6:8, cast light on this; as does Romans 8:11, where the action of the life-giving Holy Ghost is carried further.

2 Corinthians 3:7. Of death.—Though this was not its purpose (Romans 7:10), but its incidental result. Keep “written” distinct from “graven on stones”; not “written on stones.” “Written” is opposed to “glorious”; lit. “in letters,” “in glory,” respectively. From this point the chapter is framed on the lines of the narrative of Exodus 34:28-35; many words and terms of expression being borrowed from the LXX.

2 Corinthians 3:8. Glorious.—“With glory,” slightly changed from 2 Corinthians 3:7. Shall be.—Beet carries this forward into a future revelation of a glory for believers analogous to that which clothed Moses’ face. But is the “glory” in the second case anything but spiritual, and analogous to that in the first? “Shall be” occupies the (mental) point of time just before the advent of the “glorified” order which was just then becoming actual.

2 Corinthians 3:9.—Moses was a dispenser, administrator, of “condemnation,” in that he brought a Law to men which in issue, if not purpose, condemned them.

2 Corinthians 3:10.—The phraseology here is full of reminiscences of the LXX. In this respect.—Stanley: “In this instance of Moses”: “In this particular instance was fulfilled the general rule, that a greater glory throws a lesser glory into the shade.” Beet: “In this matter; in the comparison of the two Covenants.” Waite: “In this particular of comparative or relative glory.” Conybeare [and Howson]: “Literally, For that which has been glorified in this particular, has not been glorified, because of the glory which surpasses it.” “The moon is as bright after sunrise as before, but, practically, its brightness is set aside by that of the sun” (Beet).

2 Corinthians 3:11. Is done away.—“Is being done away,” now, historically, in that Pauline age. Prepositions changed; see how tries to show this. “The two prepositions … do not necessarily express the difference between transitoriness and duration [? permanence, as Farrar and others], but they may do so as matter of language, and the distinction is too much in accordance with the context to be set aside” (Waite, in Speaker). Beet says well: “In the history of the world, as in the experience of each individual, God speaks first in the form of Law, ‘Do this or die.’ When we hear the good news, ‘He that believes shall not die,’ the voice of condemnation loses its dread power, and comes to nought. But the good news of life will remain sounding in our ears for ever.”

2 Corinthians 3:12.—Returns to 2 Corinthians 3:4, but “confidence” is now “filled out into hope.” Also he was charged with insincerity; he repudiates the charge, “I speak openly, plainly, confidently; there is no concealment, nothing underneath.”

2 Corinthians 3:13.—Note that the A.V. of Exodus 34:33 inserts “till”; reading the story as that Moses hid the refulgence of the glory whilst he was speaking. The LXX. and Vulgate translate Exodus 34:33 otherwise. Paul follows for his purpose their account, that Moses put on the veil after he had finished speaking, to hide, not the unbearable refulgence of the glory, but its waning brightness. In 2 Corinthians 3:13 that which was passing away (R.V.) does not very definitely go beyond the literal glory mentioned in the narrative. But the further application to which the words so aptly lend themselves, is beginning to come into view.

2 Corinthians 3:14.—Like the “letters of commendation,” or the “triumph and the incense bearers” (2 Corinthians 2:14), the figure of the veil, even whilst he is using it, suggests to Paul another distinct, but related, use of it. Like the Tallith—the curious fringed scarf which to this day every born Israelite wears on head or shoulders at public worship—there is a veil on the heart of Israel as they read even the Law. Not merely is its waning glory concealed from them, but even its real Secret, “the Lord.”

2 Corinthians 3:15. Moses.—As in Acts 15:21.

2 Corinthians 3:16. Shall turn.—“Turn in,” as Moses did (Exodus 34:34). What is the nominative? Choose between

(1) “it” [=their heart];

(2) “a man,” margin;

(3) “Moses” [=The Old Covenant, or the people of Israel].

(1) most in favour;
(2) and
(3) are of course true, whether expressed here or not. Note: “But whensoever,” etc. (R.V.).

2 Corinthians 3:17.—“The Lord” in the passage and story from the Pentateuch “is,” practically, “the Spirit.” [Query, “corresponds to the Spirit in my allegory.” Thus, accepting

(3), As Moses turns in to the Lord (in the narrative), so the Old Covenant turns in to “the Spirit” (=the New Covenant, symbolised by its characteristic blessing, as in 2 Corinthians 3:6). So “is” (Galatians 4:25).] To Christians the Lord [=Jehovah] of the Old Testament is Christ. He who turns to Christ, finds that he has met with, and received, the Spirit. Remember the deep unity of Son and Spirit in the undivided Trinity; so that, e.g. in Romans 8:9-10—in redemption language and in regard to redemption facts, the one may often be interchanged with the other. “An administrative, not a personal, identity” (Beet). Liberty.—Once more, in a word a paragraph of another letter is condensed: here Galatians 4:1 to Galatians 5:1 are thus “packed away” into a single phrase.

2 Corinthians 3:18.—Note again the changing phrases; “The Spirit of the Lord” Christ is also Himself “the Lord the Spirit.” The name “Lord” belongs to Him also, equally with Father and Son. Observe “unveiled,” keeping up the story of Exodus. Also notice the “face” not the “heart,” is in this instance without the veil. Difficult, on lexical or grammatical grounds only, to decide between “beholding” and “reflecting.” Each is supported. [Winer (Moulton), p. 318, thinks that the middle voice fixes the sense as “Beholding (for ourselves) the glory of the Lord (as in a mirror).”]. Both are needed for the facts of Christian experience; we must first, like Moses, go in and “behold,” before we can come forth and “reflect.” Paul is, however, insisting that he (=“we”) has nothing to conceal, as Moses had; that, in fact, he had used “great boldness of speech.” Without a veil he had let what glory of the New Covenant he had received, and had to communicate, shine forth; reflecting it as Moses did, but not veiling it, as did Moses. On the other hand, Farrar, carrying on the thought into 2 Corinthians 4:3; 2 Corinthians 4:6 : “For God had shone in the hearts of His ministers only in order that the bright knowledge which they had caught from gazing, with no intervening veil, on the glory of Christ, might glow for the illumination of the world.” In favour of “beholding” is the progressive transformation, by assimilation, into conformity to the glory of Christ. [Stanley makes “from glory” the terminus a quo of the process; “to glory” the terminus ad quem; the completeness rather than the progressive character of it being in view.] 2 Corinthians 4:6 fixes, and expounds, “the glory of the Lord.”

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS—Chap. 2 Corinthians 3:1 to 2 Corinthians 4:6

This section has as the unifying thought, “Openness.”—We find

I. Open letters.

II. A law now open [unveiled].

III. An open [unveiled] Gospel.

IV. Open character and conduct of the ministers of the Gospel.


1. The Corinthians areletters patent” for Paul.—Not credentials merely to themselves, assuring them of his true Apostolic standing. [Nor are they merely a letter for his own personal reassurance, in any moment of faintness or discouragement.] They are carried about by him unsealed, “open,” to be his credentials to all who will take pains to examine them. [When Sanballat sent “an open letter” to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:5), the privacy of its contents unsecured by a seal, it was, and was meant to be, an insult. Paul is glad that, as part of the issues of his work, men should read “the epistle from Christ” with which his Divine Master has accredited him.] Happy that ministry whose “fruit” guarantees that there has been no mistake as to the “call.” Happy that people whose personal experience of blessing and life received through the human messenger, and whose joyful observation that newly quickened souls are by his words ever being added to the Church, agree to assure them that his letters of ordination, his commission of apostleship, still run in unabated validity. No need, as between them and him, that he should continually be vindicating his true ministerial status. “We know what he has done for us; we can no more doubt that he is a true minister, than that through him we have a place in Christ ourselves. Our Paul no true apostle? Nonsense! Look at us! Read us! You who depreciate him may bring your letters from Jerusalem and James, [from Rome or Lambeth, or Conference, or College]; his credentials are sufficient for us. We are his seals.”

2. A real reason, though not the strongest, for an open profession of Christ.—“Secret discipleship,” if such a thing were long possible, would be of no service as a “letter of commendation.” Something is due to the man, and to the Church, by whose instrumentality the life-giving Spirit has been “ministered” to a Christian man. [Very much is due, for the sake of those whom the preacher has still to quicken by his ministry. “Let your minister be manifestly, and to the gaze of all, a many-lettered man. They will hear him the more attentively, if your quickened life in the Spirit accredit him to their heart. For their salvation’s sake, be ye an unsealed ‘letter,’ which all may peruse, if they will.”] Something is due to Christ Who sends him. He also needs accrediting to the unsaved. [Though the words do not mean “a letter of commendation for Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:3).] A man’s changed life should be an open lettter.

3. It should be legibly and beautifully written.—[Drunken man, rolling up against a bishop: “You converted me.” “Yes, it looks like my work, not my Master’s.”] Too many Christians are at their best badly written letters; often the writing—though true enough—needs some discovering and deciphering. [Like the shabby, thumbed, torn “references” which the professional beggar brings out of his dirty pocket.] Some of these open letters accredit nobody, with any satisfactory evidence. [Poor credentials of the Gospel itself. When God’s Love first came to men, with what a perfect Open Letter it came “commended”! (Romans 5:8).] Because they are a letter not for Paul’s sake only, he might read fairly the most faulty Corinthian and understand him and do him justice, recognising in him a real work of the “quickening Spirit.” But others need to read these “letters,” and will not always do it with favourable eyes.

4. Moses came down from Sinai bearing two God-inscribed slabs of granite, as the tokens that he had been with God, Who made him His Mediator for Israel; he bore them in his hands. [As Paul’s rivals so bore their imposing credentials, perhaps from James.] “Look in my heart, Corinthians. See yourselves written there, deeply graven in my affection. ‘I have you in my heart’ (Philippians 1:7), ‘in my heart, to die and live with you’ (2 Corinthians 7:3). My love writes you there, on fleshen tables. Your witness, indeed, is not for me only, or chiefly. The tables of Sinai accredited Moses; but they were also Jehovah’s ‘testimonies’ to His own holy nature and will, and the standard of the holiness required of His people. Your ‘quickened’ life—‘quickened’ by no mere ‘letter’ of my message, but by ‘the Spirit’ who infused Himself into it—not only accredits me, but is a witness for Christ, of His mind and good pleasure towards His people. It is an exposition, it ought to be a standard of measurement, of the blessed purpose and contents of the ‘new Covenant.’ What is this purpose? To give life; to give the Spirit Who gives that life. The embodiment for the new Order is no mere formal, external Code of rules for conduct, but a Life, with a new Life principle in it. [A βίος which is the outgrowth of a ζωή, as Galatians 5:25.] The “letter” of the code will have its office and its necessary place in such a life, at least in that life’s earlier, weaker, formative stages. But the “glory” of the new life, and of the new Order to which it belongs, will be realised, partly in the very independence of such helps because of the better, higher, all-comprehending Law of the life within,—the life of the Spirit Who quickens.

II. The very Law itself was now unveiled.—Paul and his readers were living in one of the transition times of the world’s history. Ceaseless change, death and birth, the New springing out of the Old,—such are the invariable characteristics of the life story of Man and his World. But these were times of specially rapid and significant change. [There are “times and seasons” (Acts 1:7), periods of time, and points of time; the stretches of duration wherein the great clock is quietly, surely ticking on, and the marked moments when It strikes. Paul lived in a “season”; at one of the points when the striking of the clock proclaimed a new “time” begun.] One of those complete, but not violently, openly, cataclysmatic abolishings of the Old was taking place. [At the cession of Corfu by England to the Greeks, a large and costly and important fortification had first to be demolished. Gun-cotton, then a somewhat new thing in such use, was the agent employed; much curiosity to know what its action would be Fired by electricity. A dull, deep rumbling heard, but no great, earth-heaving convulsion seen or felt; no masonry flying into the air. But after a few moments it was seen that the immense fortification had quietly disappeared. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, the historic cessation of the sacrifices and the Jewish polity, were more really an end visible and catastrophic; but these had not yet taken place. Paul knew that on Calvary and at Pentecost the spark had been fired. He saw the old System disappearing; his Jewish-Christian brethren would not see, and so could not. “Their eyes were blinded.” Such critical periods always have men with clearer vision than their fellows; before the rest they discern the times.] The Old System, with its Shekinah-glory, its Sacrificial routine, its laws of clean and unclean, its separate nation physically sealed by circumcision, was fading away, dissolving before men’s eyes, becoming plainly a shadowy thing. There was appearing [projected like a new Image, a new picture, on Time’s great screen] a New System, in which the one conspicuous thing was a Person, Christ: “the end of the Law.” The old system was coming to an end, because its various lines of suggestion and teaching had arrived at Christ. The streams of history, prophecy, type, had found their way to the Sea, the end of their journey. The very Decalogue itself had arrived at Christ, to stand henceforth by His side, with a John Baptist voice and office, pointing, sending the guilty souls whom it “condemned” and “killed,” to the “Lamb of God” with a “Behold!” Moreover, it had reached One in Whose “Day” the Spirit was to secure for it a new glory, a fulfilment such as it had never received while itself was the distinctive, central fact of the old order.

2. The old had been a glorious system. The new was to surpass it.—In no other had God been so clearly revealed to men; as much as Mahometanism is vaunted as an advance upon African fetishism and idolatry, so much was Judaism more gloriously in advance of every other system, past, present, to come, except Christianity. No nation was “so great, or had God so near to them,” as Israel (Deuteronomy 4:7), until in Christ God created a Church, a new Israel, and came nearer still. Sin and Holiness had hardly any meaning outside the Old Order of the Law; holiness had hardly any existence. God’s character, God’s will, God’s redeeming purpose, His remedy for the ruin which even the heathen saw, but did not understand,—the light in Israel, at its most dim, had on all these points been a “glory” for the old Covenant, with which there was nothing in the world to compare. It is not Christian thought, to depreciate the Old Testament. It had been a moon and stars ruling and illuminating the deep night of earth. Now the Sun was arisen, and moon and stars were to lose their lustre in competition with His. [It had been a glorious illuminant for earth’s night; now one still better had come. The gas-jet shows as a dull silhouette, when seen projected upon the white, electric-lighted globe.] The revelation of God, of Sin and its Remedy, of the significance and the true goal of man’s Life, given to the world in Christ, has no serious competitor amongst the religions of the world. All this was dramatically told upon the top of Hermon. For a few brief moments human eyes saw Law, Prophets, Christ, side by side, speaking together of His “decease.” Men saw and heard the transfer of testimony and office from the lesser to the Greater. The Shekinah-cloud enveloped all three in its glory; it belonged to them all. When it was past, Moses was gone, and Elijah. The day of the Law and the Prophets was past. “Jesus only with themselves.” Something of this had been dramatically told at Sinai. Moses had veiled his resplendent face; the glory had waned and waned away beneath the veil; if men might have been permitted to see, they would have seen an ending of the glory caught on the Mount of the Law; though even then it would not have been given to them to see the End of that which was revealed. His day was not yet. And the Old, though God-given and “made glorious,” became a bondage, became an idol. Men gazed upon it, and saw nothing in it but itself. Men studied it; they had to defend it, to die for it; they began to pique themselves upon being its faithful guardians. They hugged the dying or dead thing the closer to their hearts, when the life was departing or gone. Their affection became mechanically rigid in its grasp. Their eye grew accustomed to the moonlight night; they resented and refused the day. Their devotion became a slavery; it fettered thought; it blinded the eye; it wove a veil for the very heart. [All partial truth may. (To be remembered that God’s “partial truth” is absolutely true so far as it goes. Unlike our “partial truth,” nothing in it needs unlearning before the new, complementary truth can be added. Our “partial truth” is often false because only relative, and is out of proportion, needing much adjustment before it can be made to fit into a new discovery.) The eye must not lose its power to receive new light, must not fill its vision with the familiar and precious thing so fully that it can see no new object.] How had Paul and his Christian readers escaped? “With unveiled face” they beheld with equanimity the glory fading fast from an unveiled Law; nay, with a new sense of “liberty” and a larger life. Why? The Spirit had led them into the presence of “the Lord” Christ. [Shall He one day so lead Israel in, into the Holy Place where “the Lord” dwells? (2 Corinthians 3:16).] They have come forth again, transformed into the same image, each of them a Moses with resplendent face; [albeit many of them know not how resplendent. See Separate Homily on “Unconscious Goodness.”] Their heart has a strange new sense of freedom. The old is still interesting, precious, glorious, not lightly to be cast away; but they have grown into something larger. [The man remembers vividly the day when the youth found himself to have grown past running after his boyish hoop; the woman the day when, with a little shock, she found herself grown too big to play with her splendid doll.] Liberty has come with the manhood of the days of the Spirit.

3. They see the ending of the Old, because they see that it has reached its End and has lost itself in its Fulfilments.—Now they see and understand the Law, indeed the entire Old Testament, and see it full of Christ. Familiar experience to every Christian reader of Old Testament. In it he (say) reads some passage, and passes on into the New Testament. Returning to the Old Testament, with his mind and his vision filled with the Christ he has seen there, he comes across his passage again, and finds himself saying, “Why, this might be written of Christ. It is truer of Christ than of the man to whom it originally belongs. Truer of Christ than of any man besides.” Or, it is an incident of the narrative; he rubs his eyes and looks wonderingly, “Is this David’s history, or Jonah’s, that I am reading,—or Christ’s?” Or, it is a priest, a prophet, a man, a child; familiar enough; yet, again and again, when, with eyes and heart full of the Christ into Whose presence he hasturned,” he reads the Old Testament, he finds the familiar features somehow transfigured. The same, yet somehow different. As if the Old Testament face had become tenanted, possessed, by another personality; as if Another looked out of the eyes of the Old Testament man. And this happens so often, and with such consistency of system and harmony, that a principle establishes itself, “The Old Testament is full of Christ.” A tentative, working hypothesis at first, each added fact that falls in with it strengthens the probability of its truth, till it rises to a practical certainty. In the end, the man whose unveiled heart has been in and gazed upon the glory of Christ in the New Covenant revelation—a glory which does not wane and die away as we are gazing on it—finds the presence of Christ, so constantly and so clearly, in the unveiled Law; sees so often the glory of the Old fade away, and almost the very Old itself, until only Christ, “the Lord” in His glory, is left visible; that he wonders how any heart can miss Him in the Old Testament, in its reading and its search. [The man who has the key is almost ashamed of proposing the riddle to another man, it seems so obvious. The hidden face once discovered in the puzzle pictures which amuse childhood, it is then impossible not to see it.] Sometimes language so obviously adapted to contain a larger meaning than was contemplated by the first who used or wrote it,—a vessel so obviously adapted for something larger and fuller than its Old Testament contents; sometimes a “staringly like” anticipation of Christ’s person, or work, or Sacrifice, unexpectedly flashing out upon the New Testament reader of the Old Testament; sometimes a real, but fitful, flash of resemblance [like those seen in a “family likeness”], seen, and then disappearing when looked for with closer purpose to discover it; sometimes highways, sometimes byways, of history or suggestion, leading with surprising and unlooked-for directness to Christ;—these things so continually occur and recur, that one cannot “turn in unto” even the Old Testament without at every turn meeting Him Who is its End, and therefore its Ending. All this pre-eminently true of “The Law” in its narrower sense. Its ritual system, the very details of its Sanctuary, so persistently, so consistently, lend themselves to suggest Christ and the Gospel; and often with such minuteness of complete suggestion; that, as the instances accumulate, it becomes, even mathematically calculated, almost as 2 Corinthians 8:1, that they should merely be coincidences; that the correspondences should be accident, and not Divine design. But to see the Christ there, in the midst of the passing away of the glory of the unveiled “Law” needs the unveiled heart, which as yet Israel does not possess. Such a heart is a gift, part of the life given by the quickening Holy Spirit, Who is the characteristic of the New Covenant.

[III. and IV. belong to chap. 4.]

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Responsibility and Sufficiency.

I. The responsibility of ministering the “New Testament.”

1. The Responsibility of ministering the Old was great. It was a sacred deposit from God; with real, if incomplete, truth in it. It had a “glory” of origin, of history, of office, and above all it was the root from which sprung Christ and the Gospel (Romans 9:4-5). Judaism was the providential nidus of Christianity. When the Virgin Israel had brought forth a Son, “born under the Law,” then she had done her greatest work. The Old Covenant had not existed in vain when it yielded up its life in giving historic birth to the New. The “librarians of the world” had had a weighty charge upon them in that age after age they “ministered” the written Truth and Law of God. Mosaism had been an episodic fact; for a special purpose it had been grafted on to the main stem of God’s redeeming purpose and work (Galatians 3:19). It had run its course by the side of that main purpose; an “after-thought,” a by-thought, providing for a special emergency which had arisen, so far as we may speak thus of any work and thought of God. Yet intrinsically it had been a great, a glorious system, and the responsibility of its “ministers,” from Moses onward, had been great. And because of the deeper issue which lay in the Law—its condemning effect—does every Christian preacher feel a new responsibility of being in any degree a minister of the “killing letter.” That it issued in death was a disparagement to the Law, only as this stood compared with the Gospel. Intrinsically it was an honour to the Law that it bore such clear, unflinching testimony to God’s holiness of nature and requirement, and also, indirectly, to the honourable possibilities of human nature. (“Man was made to live, then, up to that standard! Man can be commanded to live up to that, and the command have the reasonableness of possibility!”) It was no real disparagement to the Law that it could only guard and train and correct growth, and not give life. Law per se can do no more, under any conditions. It is itself a real forerunner, “preparing the way of the Lord” Christ, when it “condemns” and “kills.” The Gospel preacher of “the Spirit” needs to build upon the work of the Law. Just in proportion as he knows how, evangelically, to “minister the letter,” is his work thorough. And no part of his work presses more heavily upon the worthy minister than that of so preaching as to bring the sense of sin home to the conscience. Nothing needs more a sanctified judgment; some consciences are abnormally indurated, some morbidly tender; under the Gospel the demand of the Law must not be overpressed, any more than it must be understated. If his words may not only kill self-righteousness, but may even slay hope, “who is sufficient”? Whether to preach Law or Gospel, man’s sin or God’s grace, we feel keenly: “not sufficient of ourselves,” etc. Much greater, then,—

2. The responsibility of ministering the New is greater.—The treasure entrusted to him for distribution is more precious than the former. If the Old order had many “goodly pearls,” yet the New has the “one pearl, of great price.” Is it not easier to misrepresent the Gospel of life than the Law of death? Is there not more liability to make the Gospel too easy than to make the Law too stern? If a man needs wisdom and strength above his own, to preach the Law and to bring men to a sense of sin, how much more to awaken their death into life! To know that men are “dead”; that they must live again in the Spirit, or must abide in death eternally; that upon his skill and fidelity, in some one instance, or upon some one occasion, “life” (or death) may depend,—brings him back to Paul’s burdened sense of inadequateness for such a task. A responsibility so great becomes to some men a real temptation not to “use great plainness of speech,” to soften their tongue, to conciliate their hearers, to modify their message.

3. There is asufficiency,” however, even for this. “Through Christ,” “To Godward.”—Very graphic. He “stands in the presence of God.” All the minister’s work is done as though He were seen looking on. At every point the worker offers his work to God, with a perpetually renewed devotion of it to His glory and service. He has himself been “converted to God” (Acts 15:19), turned about, and set Godward. He does his work, facing Godward always. “Sets the Lord always before him,” and so is not “moved” even by a sense of personal inadequateness to his task, or by the fear of man, or by the consideration of the fateful issues which hang upon his ministry. He turns all his work toward God; seeks to give it a Godward direction. There is a supply of strength, in this realisation of Him Who is invisible. The man whose life and thought are filled with, and lifted up to the level of, “the powers of the world to come,” feels little force, whether deterrent or alluring, in the opinion of man, be it favourable or unfavourable. His soul is liberated from the slavery to which regard for man’s favour subjects the heart. He speaks out fearlessly, clearly, without diminishing or admixture, with “great boldness of speech,” the message he has first heard from God. [He who “sanctifies Christ as Lord in his heart” will not fear “men’s fear” (1 Peter 3:14-15).] That man has laid hold of the secret of steadfastness in opinion, of courage in utterance, of stability of character, of unwearying continuance in labour, who has come into, and abides in, the presence of God, and who directs himself and his every act Godward. He sees God; he is blind to man. “The Master praises; what are men?” And this is “through Christ.” Paul comes in nowhere! All communication between God and man has from the first been mediatorial, “through Christ.” All God’s advances toward man have been made along that path of approach; man has not—never has had—any way to “a Father” but this. Christ has all along been the great underlying Condition, the great Presupposition, in all intercourse between God and man. Paul’s strength, his endowment of adequacy for his responsible task,—he expects it, and receives it through this one, only Channel. He is

“Strong in the strength which God supplies

Through His Eternal Son.”

This alone ever makes a man “able” as a “minister of the new covenant.” This may co-exist with, and be the infused life and efficiency of, great natural fitness,—of gift, temperament, education, social position, sacred office; it can make all these its vehicles and organs, and in so doing puts on them their highest honour. But it is independent of these; and whether with or without them is the essential requisite. There is no “sufficiency,” where this is not found. The regard steadfastly directed Godward, the ceaselessly renewed supply of grace through the one Channel, Christ,—these alone will enable a man to bear the burden of the ministration, whether of Law or Gospel; certainly of the Gospel, and of an ambassadorship wherein his words force men upon sharp, decisive verdicts and issues; this alone will sustain a man who bears about a Gospel in whose words are certainly inherent a power to kill, or to quicken with the fulness of the life of the Spirit.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Glorious and More Glorious.”


1. The Infinite Father has made a special revelation of Himself to His human offspring.
2. This has mainly come through two great general channels—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.

I. Glorious as it came through Moses.—Evidenced by four things.

1. The wonderful display of Divinity attending the expression of it on Mount Sinai.
2. The magnificence of its religious scenes and celebrations.
3. The stupendous miracles that stand in connection with it.
4. The splendid intellects which were employed in connection with it.

II. More glorious as it appears in connection with Christ.—

1. The Christian form of revelation is more adapted to give life than is the Mosaic. “Millions, I will hope, were quickened by” the Mosaic. But men frequently died spiritually under it. Cf. the effect of an address from an ancient prophet, with the words of Christ, spoken through Peter on the Day of Pentecost.

2. The Christian form of revelation is more emphatically spirit than the Mosaic. In the Mosaic there was spirit; the elements of eternal truth, ethical and religious, were there, but nearly overlaid with ceremonial. In Christianity only Baptism and the Supper; and it throbs through every sentence with the eternal spirit of truth. [This is all very inadequate and inexact exegesis. It should be “Spirit.”]

3. Is more restorative.

4. Is more lasting. Moses is no longer our Master. Christianity is the permanent system; the final revelation of God to our world. There is nothing to succeed it.


1. Do not go to Moses to expound Christ.
2. Nor to support opinions (e.g. war, slavery, etc.) which cannot be supported from Christ’s Gospel.

3. The immense responsibility of men who have the Gospel.
4. The glorious position of a true Gospel minister.—In abstract, fromHomilist,” New Series, ii. 421.


2 Corinthians 3:6. The Deadly Letter; the Life-giving Spirit.

I. What this does mean.

II. What it does not mean.


1. Like many another phrase in this chapter, this particular saying is a summary of an extended paragraph found elsewhere in the pages of St. Paul. Romans 7:0 is concentrated into it. Not that this is a germ afterwards deliberately expanded into a paragraph. The truth which underlies germ and expansion, is habitual, fundamental, to all Paul’s thinking about Christian experience. Here it crops up at the surface in a phrase; there it lies, of set purpose all laid bare and exposed to examination.

2. Paul’s own experience is concentrated into it. Acts 9:0, with its companion, complementary, accounts in 22 and 26, give the externals of Paul’s “conversion.” In Philippians 3:4-11 (particularly 2 Corinthians 3:7) he analyses the inner process, and in 2 Corinthians 3:7 precisely fixes the critical point around which his new relation to God and the outflowing new life turn. In Romans 7:7 to Romans 8:4, whilst no doubt sketching a universal programme of the moral revolution culminating in Regeneration, and stating a universal formula of the conversion process, he is nevertheless drawing upon his memories of the heart-searchings of the three days’ darkness in Damascus, and of the earlier days when he felt the prick of the Master’s goad and kicked against it. Every man’s conversion is “universal.”

3. He had “profited in the Jew’s religion above many his equals” (Galatians 1:14). He had “lived a Pharisee,” and that, we may believe, of the best type. Christ’s charges of hypocrisy by no means lay against all Pharisees. These were not all “whited sepulchres.” Yet “blameless as he was in all the righteousness of the Law,”—and, let it be noted, it is with a Christian conscience reviewing these days, that he thus pronounces upon his Jewish life,—the Talmud and the New Testament, with fullest agreement in their evidence enable us to appreciate how almost entirely external was the righteousness he thus recalls; how very largely it amounted to a minutely faithful fulfilment of Rabbinical refinements upon the original legislation of Moses, which were childishly frivolous, when they were not an actual offence to the Divinity of that sacred code.

4. There arrived a day when the “commandment came,” particularly the “Tenth” of the “Words” of the Decalogue, which in effect sums up all the prohibitive enactments of the Divine Law; laying its forbiding hand upon every “coveting” of the natural heart for that which is against the mind and will of God, and the beneficent moral order of His world. For the first time, any adequate “knowledge of sin” awoke within the heart of Paul; it “came by the law.” He had hardly known that such a thing as sin was in him; he had done it so naturally that it excited no notice. Now the Law had been the revealer of sin. In the light of this new discovery the robe of his own righteousness showed seamy, “shabby,” utterly unfit for a garment in which a man might present himself before God. He discovered that whilst he had been busy in fulfilling a round of minutiæ of ordinances, even to learn which was an exercise and a study to fill a long and laborious lifetime, he had missed altogether the reality of obedience; that sin and righteousness lay quite apart from any mere mechanical fulfilment of such a code, or of any code, as such; that the very motives of the fulfilment, and the complacent satisfaction into which it was reviewed, were self-centered,—“gains to me”;—pride! Saul the Pharisee fell slain at the feet, and by the stroke, of the Law, as it stood before him for the first time “spiritual,” “holy, just, and good.” All self-complacency was gone from, and was from that moment impossible to, the man who now learned, “I am carnal, sold under sin.”

5. And a further stage was reached immediately. To attempt to set things right was the death of hope; the discovery of the wrong had been the death of peace. The man discovered himself helpless and a slave. Sin held him under its power. Resolve as he might, hate himself for his moral impotence as he might, bewail the moral division within him as he might, struggle as he might, he seemed to have no power but to sin. The discrepancy between the holy Law of God and his own unholy life and heart grew more and more glaring as the light came more clear and full. A new sinfulness was added to sinful acts, in that they were now done in the full light of a known command. And the deepest depth of self-slaying discovery was touched when he found the very commandment, whether precept or prohibition, arousing an innate opposition to its holy requirement; adding a new attractiveness to the forbidden fruit; and with a consuming intensity inflaming desire for it. And such sinfulness stood out clearly as “death,” in the new light of the unveiled Law. What had he ever done but sin! What could he hope to do but sin! What could he promise or purpose or perform,—he whose very heart found a new desireableness given to prohibited action! [No “bread so pleasant” as that “eaten in secret.” (“But you often want to change your baker!” said Jackson Wray.) No liquor so good as that which was smuggled. No garden so fair as that which is over the fence!]

6. This a universal experience. Even moralists, who are only half serious, like Gay in his fable of the young cock, or whose society verse lapses into occasional earnestness like his who cried, “Meliora video proboque, deteriora sequor.” But all noble souls feel it. “I certainly have two souls, for if there were only one, it surely could not be at the same time good and bad, nor could it at the same time love good and base actions, and also at the very same time wish the very same thing, and not desire to put the wish into action; but evidently there are two souls, and if the good soul gets the upper hand, then good will be done, and if the evil than shameful actions will be perpetrated” (Xenophon, Cyropedia, vi.). Action is always lower than knowledge, in the noblest heathen. “I should have lived better than I have done, if I had always followed the monitions of the gods” (Marcus Aurelius, Conf.). “The wages of sin is death.” And not that only, but, “To be carnally minded is death.”

7. Why could there not have been “a commandment given bringing life”? (a) Partly from the very nature and office of Law. It is directory, educational, not enabling. It is the model which trains the artistic sense; but the artistic sense and faculty cannot be given by the most perfect model. It is the standard which enables the student to measure his progress and to set before him the goal at which he is to aim. But the real conforming power, the real source of effort and endeavour, are within himself. Truth, beauty—at all events, moral truth, moral beauty—are external to the man, external to all men; and are altogether independent of personal, or racial, or interested estimate and approbation. They are of no school, of no age, of no one heart or intellect; they are universal, and of God. The Law is the fingerpost which points out, the wall of definition and of defence on either side of, the one Way of Life, as the Creator understands “Life” and designed “Life” for man. But the will and power to walk in the “Way” are within the man himself. The Law declares with authority what is Obedience, but only in a secondary sense does it offer any help to Obedience; just in that it makes the path definite, and would at once indicate divergence. The actual, concrete, Jewish “Law” said little about forgiveness, and offered no direct help to holiness. (b) But the more effectual reason why not, is found in the morally perverted heart and will of man. What was in design educational, for that reason became in fact condemnatory. The directorial rule reveals and convicts the discrepancies of the actually irregular line of life. The rebellion of the heart against restraint makes the Law irksome instead of helpful. The hedge which marks out the path for the willing traveller must pierce with its sharp thorns the man who is bent upon breaking through into the wide space—the “liberty”—on either hand beyond. The silly bird which will take its cage for a prison instead of a home; which will dash itself, perhaps even to its death, against bars which were intended for a protection, but in which it will only see a restriction upon its freedom; must hurt itself. If the letter “kills,” it is because the evil heart in man will not accept and use it as the guide of wise, safe, happy living, the guide to Life; because the heart resents its attempt to support inexperience and weakness, and to educate the moral sense, and its necessary exposure of moral immaturity, or failure, or revolt.

8. “To be spiritually minded—to mind the things of the Spirit—is Life.” “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.” He Who said so, and also that “the Flesh profiteth nothing,” is Himself the High Priest of a system, a new Law, “not of a carnal commandment, but of an endless life” (Hebrews 7:16). “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” [The cry of the shipwrecked man straining his eyes for the token of a sail, or for the breaking of the day. It is the eager longing of Wellington at Waterloo for the promised Prussian help.] The answer comes, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord!” which is expounded further on (2 Corinthians 8:2). “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” “In Christ Jesus;” the secret of Life and of the unity between Law and Life is there. (More of this under 2 Corinthians 3:17.) A new motive springs up in the heart where “the love of God is shed abroad by the Spirit which He hath given” (Romans 5:5). “We love Him because”—as on that Spirit’s authority we are made to know—“He first loved us.” And there is a new hope; for the same Spirit who brings peace, brings also power. The will is enabled with a new force. Sin no longer “has dominion”; the man is no longer “sold under sin.” A new direction to thought; a new attraction for the affections; a new bias and bent to the will. All the life, all the natural life, obeys a new directing principle, and becomes interfused with that yet truer life which is Life indeed. Peace, hope, liberty, victory,—all by the indwelling of the quickening Spirit. Deep problems of mental science underlie the method by which the fact of the adopting love of God towards the penitent, pardoned sinner is communicated to the heart; or by which the will is reinforced as with a power coming distinctly ab extra. But the fact is abundantly verified. Experience in every Church and age, and in thousands of cases of every variety of type and temperament, lights up the Scripture declaration. The Scripture declarations guard, in their turn, from the vagaries of unregulated, extravagant, or merely viciously personal, “experience.” And that a new idea should be a new motive, transforming a man, transfiguring his life, begetting a new life, is but a particular instance of a widely obtaining law. The new idea, the new power, are the gift and work of the Spirit Who is in the man who is in “Christ.” “The Spirit giveth life.”


1. Kingsley wrote to one of his curates—“a very new curate”—what has an applicability far beyond its original occasion: “Let not Swedenborg, or any other man, argue you out of the scientific canon that to understand the spirit of Scripture or any other words, you must first understand the letter. If the spirit is to be found anywhere, it is to be found by putting yourself in the place of the listeners, and seeing what the words would have meant to them. Then take that meaning as an instance (possibly a lower one) of a universal spiritual law, true for all men, and may God give you wisdom for the process of induction by which the law is to be discovered” (Life, ii. 95). Allegorising has run mad, and has in some quarters given a bad name to everything but the barest, most meagre, historical, naturalistic reading of what are indeed ancient books, but are very much besides. The Philonian method dealt with the Old Testament, the Origenic dealt with New and Old, in a fashion which made the stories of the Book very little more than so much convenient framework, and the persons so many happily serviceable starting-points, for fine theorising or fanciful moralising, whose value in no way depended upon the historicity or otherwise of the story or the saying which gave form and colour to the teaching. Sound allegorising is nothing but the sober, Spirit-guided development of the general principles which are carried by particular instances. The Scripture teaches by the concrete—the story, the biography—rather than by the abstract. [E.g. we need, and might have had, a chapter in A Treatise of Christian Ethics headed, “The Relation between Ignorance and Responsibility, and between Conscientiousness and Guilt.” Instead, we have the conscientious “chief of sinners,” Saul of Tarsus, and the prayer of the Redeemer on His cross for those who “knew not” what they did.] There are widening circles of application, all starting from the one central fact or truth, with a widening radius. The mischievous, untrue allegorising forsakes the centre, or disdains and denies it. The “letter” is the merely accidental, and more or less convenient, literary vehicle; the “spirit,” so called, the truth to be taught, is the alone really valuable and important. The erroneous thing is, so to say, a literary Gnosticism which refines away, or denies, the historic Word, hoping to retain the Idea; as the theologic Gnosticism refined away, or denied, the real humanity of the Divine Christ, and tried to retain a Divinity whose manifestation to man was but a phantom. Yet, as the Divinity of the Incarnate One must not be denied, and the humanity overprized; so the Letter is not all.

2. Loyalty to the written Word.—There is a “spirit” which has become incarnate in the “letter.” Whatever be the philosophic decision of the question whether or not words are, to the man himself, indispensable to thought; as a fact God’s thoughts have come to us in words. They have come to us in a Book. The experiment of the race all goes to show that outside this Book there is no certain, no clear knowledge, of the mind and will of God. Nature speaks with a stammer, and is intelligible, to any practical effect, only to those who have heard from the Book what it is she has to say. As indistinct, as variable, as scanty, of as little practical service, are the utterances of the “natural” conscience. Its “truths,” “innate ideas,” need interpreting and checking by the external Word. The witness of no two consciences agrees long together. God, duty, right, the hereafter of man,—if on these topics men forsake the written Word, there is no verifiable truth, none authoritative except to the man who propounds it—if even to him. It is not slavery to the “letter,” to refuse to go beyond the distinct teaching of the Bible, either by direct statement or by fair and necessary inference. That Book certainly gives but a narrow standing ground of dry land amidst a far-stretching, surrounding ocean of mystery. It is but a question of a step or two more beyond his fellows, when, forsaking this, the tallest man amongst them wades out into the depths, and finds himself out of his depth, and progress impossible. Or, to change the figure, there is no sure, safe walking out into these depths, except so far as the inquirer keeps hold of the rope which is fast to the Bible. Practically all the facts upon which religion can base itself, have for all the Christian centuries been long complete; all lie within the area of the completed “letter.” No new facts can be looked for; all that can be done is to examine these with ever fresh scrutiny, to see whether there may be in them anything which has hitherto escaped discovery. No such supplement, no such corrective appendix, is from time to time issued, whether in the larger knowledge of the universe, or in the intuitions of man’s heart, as may yield us something, or all, of the original Work. Christianity can never dispense with its foundation documents. The Christian speculator, during his excursions into the regions of the mysterious or the unknown, must never lose touch with his base, as the soldiers say. To be loyal to the Word is not to “kill,” but to assist, to nourish, to protect, knowledge. Not, “What do I think? what do my intuitions, my moral sense, teach me.” Not, “What do I feel must be true?” But, “What does God—not merely a Book—say?”

3. The historical Christ andthe Christian idea.”—Schelling (quoted in Luthardt, Saving Truths, p. 252), on the analogous hope to preserve the “ideas” of Christianity, whether or not the historical Christ be believed in and retained, says: “How frequently has not the historical character of Christianity been declared to be heathenish (not its external, but its higher facts, e.g., the pre-existence, the pre-mundane being of Christ, His position as Son of God), and on that account, as that which is no longer compatible with modern thought? The very essence of Christianity is, however, its historical character, not the ordinary part of its history, as, e.g., that its Founder was born under Augustus, died under Tiberius, but that higher history on which it properly rests, and which is its peculiar matter. I call it a higher history, for the true subject-matter of Christianity is a history in which divinity is implicated—a Divine history. That would be but a poor explanation, and entirely destructive of the peculiarity of Christianity, which should distinguish between the doctrinal and the historical, and consider the former the essential and special matter, and the latter as mere form and clothing. The history is not merely incidental to the doctrine, it is the doctrine itself. The doctrinal matter, which might perhaps remain after the excision of the historical, as, e.g., the general doctrine of a personal God, such as even rational theology sometimes admits, or the morality of Christianity would be nothing peculiar, nothing distinctive; … the history is the distinctive feature of Christianity. It is altogether incongruous to speak only of the teaching of Christ. The chief matter of Christianity is Christ Himself; not what He says, but what He is, what He did. Christianity is not directly a body of doctrine, it is a thing, an object; doctrine is but the expression of the thing.” [Schelling in some degree thus meets by anticipation the position of Ritschl. Luthardt goes on to speak of a “so-called liberal theology, which really sees nothing more in Christianity than a certain general religious feeling, or the mere force of civilisation.”]

4. Dogma and religion.—There is an embodiment of truth in formal statements of doctrinal confessions and creeds which is sometimes regarded as not helpful to, but as the death of, religious life, and indeed of the interests of truth itself. And in this connection the text is often quoted. [The use of this verse sometimes made, with that application, is a flagrant instance of the employment of the mere words of Scripture, apart from the context and connection, and without regard to the rule which requires some real analogy between the primary meaning of the passage and the matter to which it is sought to apply it. It was not because the Law of Moses was written, and so was fixed in unchanging record upon the tables of Sinai, that it wrought death; the Spirit which works life uses as His instrument a written Word.] It is, in reply, pointed out that what is known of any truth, can be stated inexact form, and demands to be so stated, and that the mind inevitably seeks to systematise its knowledge—to unify it. It is pointed out that if truth be objective, if, e.g., it be a real disclosure of a fact of God’s government of mankind in Christ, then once made, once ascertained to man, it abides true, and that putting it into formal shape and statement, or embodying it in a creed, is no more than Science does with its accumulating corpus of ascertained truth. It endeavours unceasingly to put into exact expression, and to co-ordinate into systematic relationship and statement, the results at which, from its own data, and by its own proper methods, it from time to time definitely arrives. It is urged that if Theology too be a science, if it deals with a section of the whole universe of facts which is capable of exact study, with its own appropriate methods, then results once arrived at abide valid, and not less so that formal, or confessional, expression has been given to them. If “Justification by faith” be really the method of a sinner’s acceptance with God, then it is of no age or Church; and if that formulation of God’s method be Scriptural, it is not to be challenged or set aside as a passing, or only relatively true, form of statement. If between the death of Christ and the pardon of sin there once be revealed or ascertained a relation which is independent of any act or feeling or change in the sinner himself, then true once this is true always. In this instance well appears what gives occasion to, and such justification as there may be found for, the revolt against the letter. In endeavouring to state this relation between the death of Christ and sin, it has been forgotten that all the phraseology, even though borrowed from Scripture, is analogical, drawing from the relations between man and man, a mutually corrective, mutually expository, and complementary series of illustrations for the relation between the sinner and God. It has been forgotten how imperfectly the whole “scheme” of the Atonement is revealed or comprehensible. There has been an unwise insistence on some particular mode of statement; there has above all been a zeal for one’s own particular phraseology and confessional form which has made the form everything, or at least has made it overshadow altogether the truth which this was designed to express or guard. But to remember this is far removed from any demand that all creeds, and the very statements of Scripture themselves, should be thrown afresh into the melting-pot, and be continually in a state of flux, nothing ever cast into permanent mould; and this only lest instead of the living, “growing” thing, there should come out the dead cult, to be the object of a truth-dishonouring, God-dishonouring idolatry of the “letter.” The “letter” is the body of “the spirit.” Can the spirit exist without a body? Without its own body? Is the identity of the body part of the unchanging identity of the truth? [As in the case of the ceaseless change of the component particles of the human body, whose ceaseless flux does not affect the identity, so in this case the essential form remains; the changing “body” does clothe the same truth; and receives its shape from the same informing truth. A spirit freed from, and independent of, the letter—is it parallel to the grotesque idea of Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, who imagines a grin which remains when the cat has faded away?]

2 Corinthians 3:6. “Letter and spirit.”—“Able ministers” misleading, to our ears. Connect closely with “sufficient,” “sufficiency.” “Killeth” cannot have so inadequate a reference as to the frequency of the death penalty under the Law.

I. Divine commands alone cannot produce obedience.—Owing to an imperfection not in the Law, but in human nature, which does not yield to the obligation: Conscience is on the side of the Law, but is overborne by the baser nature. The habitual failure of conscience produces habitual disquiet and misery, a constant sense of discord, a consciousness of powerlessness against evil;—Death. The Law even became the occasion of sin. Prohibition pro vokes the natural heart and irritates it to impatience of restraint. The restive horse rears against the bridle; at last throws off its rider. Then follows the licence of self-will,—Death. Christianity has a quickening power. The Law was inaugurated by the code of the Ten Words; Christianity by the code of a Perfect Human Life exhibited in Christ [written out on the fleshen tables of His heart and blameless life]. Christ not only obeyed the Law with an absolutely perfect obedience, but showed its new and sublimer meaning. Thus the code of human duty is presented in a form most intimate and intelligible and affecting. Christianity quickens by a secret influence on the heart. The higher nature receives an increase of power. Conscience is afresh enthroned, and governs; the Law is obeyed not so much because it is obligatory, but because it is loved. As natural weakness requires aid it turns ever anew to the Divine Source of strength, till the lower nature becomes subjugated, and the higher triumphant.

II. The intellectual deficiency and mischievousness of mere writing as a means of instruction.—Correspondence is at best a poor comfort in separation; is often obscure, and open to misinterpretation; the writer cannot be appealed to. An ancient writing, a holy writing, and that in translation, leaves many openings for misunderstanding and consequent mistake. Technical theological terms sometimes hinder spiritual life and growth, or kill them.

1. They were perhaps originally only imperfectly correspondent to the truth, and may come to be regarded with a reverence which belongs only to the words of Scripture, a reverence often innocent of their real sense. Hearers do not recognise old truth in new phraseology, and crucify the preacher.
2. Knowledge of, and sympathy with, the writer is indispensable to the understanding of his writings. So the knowledge of the Divine Author and the inspiration of His Spirit, are necessary to the interpretation of the Bible. The Christian man, and he only, is in a position to understand, and live by, the Scriptures. In constant contact with the Spirit, he is a constant recipient of moral and intellectual life.
3. Paul is not only the trustee of a Book, but the dispenser of the Spirit. What a noble view of the Christian ministry!—FromHomilist,” Third Series, ii. 101 sqq.

2 Corinthians 3:6. “Ministers of the New Covenant.”

I. Not of Naturalism.—Christianity is the grand subject of all true modern ministries, the one primary text of religious discourses the world over, the ages through. Had man retained primitive innocence, Nature would have been that grand text; budding earth, sparkling skies, murmuring brook, booming billow, beasts of the forest, fowls of heaven. Men would have seen in Nature what they cannot see now, true ideas of God; they would have found there food for souls. All the parts of material nature would have been regarded as embodiments of Divine thought and symbols of eternal truth. But, as it is, they cannot reach the spiritual significance of nature; if they could, it would not meet their spiritual exigencies or improve their spiritual condition. [How many sermons have nothing distinctively Christian,—in the topics they discuss; in their method of discussing even topics derived from Scripture; in their standards of judgment of men and conduct; in their lessons inculcated! Sermons to the Natural Man is a good and worthy book; but it is by a “spiritual” man. There are “Sermons by the Natural Man to the Natural Man.” The “natural” man does not mind “natural” preaching. They who preach thus are sure of a clientèle. Such preachers at least rouse no antagonism in the natural heart. Anybody is “sufficient for” these things! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:16).]

II. Not of Judaism.—It flamed, a grand torch for Truth, breaking the moral darkness of successive generations, and lighted great multitudes of souls into the calm heaven of eternity. But it is “done away.” [No man formally preaches Judaism. But there is a style of experience and a scale of enjoyment in the Divine life which is Jewish—Old Testament—not Christian. The man who is righteous only by shaping his course and character according to external commands, who can do nothing, and decide nothing, without a “text,” a positive plain rule, is a Jew, not a Christian, in the principle of his holiness. He who is hoping to sin and repent and find pardon, only then to sin and repent again, is living in the Jewish order, whilst the Christian covenant has now brought a larger, victorious grace. He who is only a penitent, and has not found or expected a peace which is a matter of consciousness, has not passed the John Baptist stage of the order of the dispensations. Much current, conventional, respectable morality is Jewish, the morality rebuked and superseded in the Sermon on the Mount by, “I say, unto you.” The thinker who only sees a Jesus of Nazareth, is a Jew (perhaps only a Pilate), not a Christian. He who calls the Spirit “it,” not “He” (John 15:16), who speaks of, and prays for, the Spirit to be “poured out,” and the like, should at least remember that this is Old Testament thought and language, still employed although Christ, the Introducer of the personal Holy Ghost to the Church, has spoken and done His work. Preachers in their doctrine, their people in their experience, need still to beware of making up their bread, or feeding upon a spiritual staff of life, with “the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” It is still on active sale in the world’s religious bread-shops.]—Founded upon a paragraph inHomilist,” Third Series, ix. 122.

2 Corinthians 3:17. The Liberty of the Spirit. “Where the Spirit,” etc.—“The Spirit” is the Holy Spirit; the characteristic, crowning privilege of the Christian dispensation. “The Lord” is the Lord Christ. The verse is another of the incidental, compressed embodiments of the habitual thought of Paul. We see it expounded by him in two leading passages.

I. The Law of Moses is a system of bondage; the Gospel is a system of liberty (Galatians 3:1 to Galatians 5:6).—

1. Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration would have kept Moses and Elijah and Christ! Law and Prophets and Gospel! Daybreak, Dawn, Day, all together. Moon and stars in all their number and glory, after the Sun was risen. He “knew not what he said,” indeed. And the Conservative, old-school, Jewish Christians who followed Paul into Galatia, would have tried the same impossible combination also. They were representatives of a large class who, in all times of revolutionary change, are not indeed insensible to the value and truth of the new order, but who are also, from long habit and honest appreciation, reluctant to part with the old, and are slow to take in the fact that the old is hopelessly past as to its form, whilst all that was really valuable in it is taken up by and into the new. The first time we hear of them, their line was definitely stated: “Except ye [Gentiles] be circumcised … ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5). After a long conference, Peter turned the vote upon the question by a speech in which he declared—and appealed to the confirmatory knowledge of all his hearers—the old system “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” Paul will have none of it for his Galatians. It is “a different gospel”; a true heterodoxy.

2. The case has its analogies to-day, wherever the externals of religion are so emphasised as to become for their own sake matters whose observance is righteousness, and their neglect sin. There are still consciences greatly distressed if one tittle of a cumbersome round of external ordinances has by any chance been forgotten, or has for any reason gone (blamelessly) unfulfilled. It is, moreover, easier to perform a round of duties, catalogued and prescribed and “ticked off” in the day’s list as each is accomplished, than to cultivate the holy life within, to wage the unceasing warfare there and to keep up the incessant guard over one’s own spirit. A piece of external asceticism is easier than an act of merely inward self-denial. To keep the Galatian converts at such a round of externalism was to keep them at a low level, and to make their life one of only an elementary type. For Galatians to assume the burden of the Mosaic ritual, was for men to put themselves into the position of children learning their A B C; it was for the heir who has come of age to put himself again under the tutors and governors and school-slave. These things had had their meaning, but the Gospel had evacuated them of meaning; even the sacred sign and seal, circumcision, was now nothing but a mutilation or a piece of surgery. For the man to tie himself to the “go-cart” which had supported the child’s tottering steps into steady walking, is not only folly; the man feels it a bondage.
3. And these Jewish teachers made the bondage a more serious one still. “Except … ye cannot be saved.” That the tedious, burdensome, often frivolously minute, Rabbinical glosses upon the original Law, as well as that Original itself, should be matters on which salvation hinged, was as serious as that it should be supposed (say) that sin can with us be atoned for by any round of external or ascetic actions. Serious, because it seemed to imply that the work of Christ was Dot by itself the sufficient ground of the sinner’s safety; that He needed a co-ordinate ground of acceptance with God to complement His work. And serious because the impossibility, too often most sadly verified by the most earnest souls, of keeping the Law, made salvation on this basis and condition impossible. “Away with it all! Stand fast in your liberty.… Be not entangled again” (Galatians 5:1). “The dispensation of the Spirit knows nothing of such parallel requirements in addition to, in competition with, the simple ones of Repentance and Faith, which He will also help you to fulfil.” Under the dispensation of the Spirit there must be no entangling of the soul with a system of externalisms or ceremonial, presumed in any sense to have merit attached to their fulfilment. “Ye are called unto Liberty!”

4. Under another aspect the Galatian controversy raised a wider, a universal, question. There are always two conceivable ways—two only—of finding for oneself a standing before a holy God. The one is by doing, by our own acts and their merit; the other by believing, by resting alone on the act and merit of Another. The “Jewish” and the “Gospel” plan respectively. “Faith and Works” is no stock theological topic of discussion. It is no academic issue which is raised. It is the vitally and perennially interesting one, always raised so soon as a man understands Sin, and himself, as a Sinner. The natural heart always propounds “Salvation by Works,” even when it has never heard of the term. For the acceptance of a guilty sinner—his justification before God—the way is now shorter. The Spirit teaches every man who will learn, that he need not encumber himself—as it is quite useless to do—with any fancied store of things he has done—or has not done—of things he has been—or has not been. As regards the past and its guilt before God, he is now free to find mercy and acceptance forthwith in the merit of Christ.

II. A larger, more generalised, thoroughly universal treatment of “bondage” and “liberty” appears in Romans 8:14-16. The antithesis between “servant” and “son” appears in the Galatian passage. But in the Roman letter the local colouring, the temporary shape, of the question is gone. Nothing is left but the sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, passing from the status and experiences of a servant, a bond-servant, of God into that of a son of God. There is a new name for the man, “child”; a new name for God, “Abba.” It is the summation in the life-history of the individual of the moral education of the race. Paul and his readers stood historically at the meeting-place of two stages in God’s leading of the world. Until the Day of the Spirit all God’s most holy and devoted people had been His servants. No most favoured one ever ventured, under that earlier order, to apply the name “Father” to God. The name “Father” rarely occurs at all, and never as the appellation of God habitually on the lips of an individual. “Like as a father, etc.,” “Doubtless Thou art our Father,” are rare expressions in the Old Testament, and are far beneath the privileged common use of the name “Abba,” which is for those who are no longer “servants,” but “sons.” David never said, as every Christian does, “Father.” And the converted man has his Old Testament stage too. Too many earnest people of God stop there, in these days of New Testament grace. They have received the Spirit, indeed. In their heart is many “a good thing towards the Lord their God.” They serve with a dutiful devotion, that after all is only “duty.” They ought to serve; they must serve. “These many years do I serve thee.” The son who talks and feels thus, is a servant still. The Spirit is in them a “Spirit of bondage.” And preeminently such is He to the awakened man, whose unavailing struggle with himself and the sin of his “flesh” is so graphically portrayed in chap. 7. The first impulse of the man to whom for the first time comes the knowledge of sin to any practical purpose, is to reform—to set himself to do right for the future. And his first and speedy discovery is that he cannot. He is not his own master. He must “serve sin.” He once neither knew nor fought against sin. Now he knows and fights and falls. Habits are iron bonds which he cannot break. Temptations are assaults to which he is dragged into yielding, as if by a power of evil within him. It is no “law of Moses” only, or chiefly. It is a “law of sin” in his members. Sin is known by every awakened man as not only a guilt and a defilement, but as a power, a bondage. The new life of the Spirit, the new life in Christ, brings a new power and a new liberty. The bondage is broken, “that henceforth he should not serve sin.” The Spirit Who “witnesses” that he is “a child of God,” and not a servant in his relation to God any longer, Who puts into his lips the new—the child’s—name for God, “Father,” and makes his heart and love those of a child towards God, releases him and energises him for the child’s life and service. The service is not less faithful and devoted than before, now that he is “a child” of God; but the “bondage” is gone out of it. In a perfect family life, in perfect filial love, the dutiful “bondage” and respectful “fear” of the servants are not found in the children. They have a larger, freer life, one which, sure of itself in the happy instinct of a loving heart, has not even an overshadowing, haunting, fettering fear of displeasing the father. The Spirit of the Lord is a “Spirit of adoption”—of sonship. Not only are the limbs free from the fetters of habit and from sin’s power. The heart is free, with the natural, unconscious, perfect liberty of the child in the home. This leads up to

III. Liberty from Law in the Christian life.—

1. James gives us, “The perfect Law of Liberty.” There is an ideal of Christian life in which the soul is “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” [Colossians 1:9, followed up by the happy consequences in life and practice enumerated in 2 Corinthians 3:10]; in which “an unction from the Holy One” so “teaches all things” that the man of God “needeth not that any man should teach him”; in which the very instincts of the heart “renewed in knowledge, after the image” of God would be a sufficient directory for all Christian living, passing continually the enactments of a perfect legislation within the parliament house of the inner man; when the heart knows and loves, always, and to the last degree of detail, what God wills; when the law of God without, and the heart and will within, coincide in their promptings; when the law and the love lie perfectly, closely, side by side; when the heart “runs in the way of God’s commandments.” It is clear that such a life in ideal needs no external direction, and feels no restraint. [The law-abiding citizen goes through life ignorant of very much of the legislation of his country, and finding nothing irksome or ungrateful about obedience to it; so perfectly obeying that obedience or law not are adverted to.]

2. But that is ideal, though approached more and more nearly as the life of the “son”—not the “servant”—is cultivated, and educated and developed. The positive, ab extra, legislation still has its value and office, and its necessity. The early days of the new life are days of childhood, with its ignorance and its weakness. The “law” trains and refines the newly awakened perception of what is sin and what is holiness. It may serve, or be needed, like the stake which supports the sapling, until this rises in established, self-supporting, self-guarding strength. Its “witness” is a defence against the peril of heedlessness or of declining watchfulness; its warning voice may arrest the very beginnings of divergence from the “perfect way.” It is needed as an absolute standard, to which the subjective pronouncements may be continually referred for confirmation, for revision, for the illumination of unsuspected error. There is an ever recurrent need that it should be made clear that Obedience and Right are objective, and are obligatory because of the Legislator’s will. No most intense love, no most utter trust in Christ, can dispense with the need of holiness in heart and life. If the “Law of Moses” do not now bind, there is a “Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) which does. Indeed, in regard to all the abiding principles which in the old Code appear in local, national, temporary dress, the Christian man is “under the law to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21).

3. Against the lawless freedom which is licence and even licentiousness, the Apostle’s instinctive recoiling, “God forbid,” is argument good enough. For it, “Whose damnation is just,” is the unerringly, instinctively, just verdict of the healthy life, rejoicing in the most abundant freedom of the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:17. The Freedom of the Spirit.

I. General statement of this truth.—The glory of the Old Covenant, symbolised by the glowing face of Moses, was of an inferior order to that of the New. As a rule of life, without the Atoning Blood to pardon sin and without the grace of the Spirit to make obedience possible, the Law had been but a ministration of condemnation. As a typical system, it had been destined to pass away on the appearance of the Antitype which fulfilled it. The Gospel was, in marked contrast, endowed with perpetuity and was a ministration of spiritual righteousness. Symbolically, and really, the early dispensation was protected from a too searching scrutiny, which might have revealed at the very moment of its introduction a Higher Object beyond itself which was yet to come. Those who are converted to Jesus Christ have escaped from the veil which darkened the spiritual intelligence of Israel. The converting Spirit is the source of positive illumination; but before He thus enlightens, He must give freedom from the veil of prejudice which denies to Jewish thought any real insight into the deeper sense of Scripture. The Christian student of the ancient Law seizes that sense, because he possesses the Spirit, and He gives liberty, and faculty, for inquiry. The specific liberty here is not merely liberty from the yoke of the Law; but liberty from the tyranny of obstacles which cloud the spiritual sight of truth; liberty from spiritual rather than from intellectual dulness; from a state of soul which cannot apprehend truth. The Spirit still gives this liberty. This is the enunciation of a master-feature of the Gospel. This liberty is the invariable accompaniment of His true action, the very atmosphere of His presence. Nor is the freedom which He sheds abroad a poor reproduction of the restless, volatile, self-asserting, sceptical temper of Pagan Greek life, adapted to the forms and thoughts of modern civilisation, and awkwardly expressing itself in Christian phraseology. He gives liberty in the broad, deep sense of that word. He gives freedom from error for the reason; freedom from constraint for the affections; freedom-for the will from the tyranny of sinful and human wills. Human nature has imagined such a freedom, but has sighed in vain for the reality. It is, in fact, a creation; the sons of God alone enjoy it. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

II. In more of detail.—

1. Mental liberty.—God has from the first consecrated liberty of thought. He has so ordered the framework of human social order that society cannot force the sanctuary of our thought. Without our consent society cannot enter within us (1 Corinthians 2:11). So, in the martyrdoms of the first three centuries, the strength of those who to the death bore their witness for not merely moral, but mental liberty, was strength given by the Spirit. Their testimony was His under whose illumination Christians became conscious of a new power, almost a new sense for the supernatural. To-day it is supposed that the Churches and their creeds, their “dogmas,” are enemies of religious freedom. To value dogma is invidiously contrasted with setting a value on Christian character and life; as though he who cares for the one must by some necessity neglect the other. The Church of the Future “will dispense with dogma.” In such talk, dogma is assumed, rather than stated in words, to be untrue. The leaven of Hegelian philosophy is in the current talking and thinking. There is no recognised rule for reason; in human opinion all is true, and yet nothing is true. All truth is partial, limited; all statements of truth are true and false at once. And the like. Further, the prevalence of experimental methods of inquiry leads many minds tacitly to assume that nothing is real, the truth of which cannot be established and tested by [physical] observation. Yet “Dogma” is a neutral, innocent word, suggesting lexically or by its history nothing untrustworthy or discreditable. The philosophers who denounce Christian “dogma” have their own “dogmas,” in the true sense, [and are sometimes “dogmatic” enough, in the accidental, evil sense]. “Dogma is essential Christian truth thrown by authority [N.B. this] into a form which admits of its permanently passing into the understanding and being treasured by the heart of the people.” Accordingly it is found abundantly in the New Testament; 1 Corinthians 15:0 is largely pure dogma. “The Divine Spirit, speaking through the clear utterances of Scripture, and [N.B.] the illuminated and consenting thought of Christendom, is the real Author of essential dogma.” Dogma is a restraint upon thought, only where liberty is mischievous or impossible. He who believes that revealed truths are true should not dislike their being stated dogmatically. To admit the truth of a position of course takes away the liberty to deny it. Every new discovery of ascertained truth takes something from freedom to think otherwise. The freest and most exact science known to the human mind has at its base axioms which cannot be demonstrated, yet cannot be rejected. Euclid begins by demanding a sacrifice of mental liberty. Refuse to submit to, accept, use, these dogmas; a man can go no further, and arrive at nothing. True or false, the dogmas of Christian truth are not discredited by being stated in dogmatic form. Submission to revealed truth [whether at the end of a personal investigation of its claim, or at the bidding of a Church, or in acquiescent following of the custom of a man’s circle] does involve some limitation of intellectual licence. The lamps in the streets do trench upon space where the passenger might walk. In English public and private life the supremacy of law curtails, whilst it gives and protects, personal freedom. “The free intelligence of the Church bows before the language of the Creeds, because that language guards a truth which the faith of the Church recognises as of heavenly origin.” Dogma stimulates thought, provokes it, sustains it at an elevation otherwise impossible. Dogma stimulates in its earlier, but petrifies into uselessness in its later, stage. No Christian who seriously believes that Jesus is God, that His Death is a World-redeeming Sacrifice, that the Eternal Spirit sanctifies the redeemed, that Scripture is the inspired Word of God, “that the Sacraments are the appointed channels whereby we partake of the Life of Jesus, can say that in himself these truths have petrified, arrested, stifled thought.”

2. Moral liberty.—In the kingdom of the Spirit alone is the will free. Naturally we are bound with fetters of habit, passion, prejudice; we hug our chains; even dare to promise men liberty, etc. (2 Peter 2:19). There is no such thing as a resurrection from moral slavery, except for the soul which has laid hold on a fixed objective truth. When at the breath of the Divine Spirit upon the soul heaven is opened to the eye of faith, and man looks up from his misery and his weakness to the Everlasting Christ upon His throne; then freedom is possible, for the Son has taken flesh, and died, and risen again, and interceded with the Father, and given us His Spirit “and His Sacraments,” expressly that we might enjoy it. “On the condition of submission?” Yes; but in obeying God, a man acquires not only freedom, but royalty, in its highest exercise of empire,—command over himself, a thing he best learns by voluntary submission. Bend the knee to that Christ of Bethlehem and Calvary, listen to the New Commandment as the Charter of freedom,—rise a king and priest to God and the Father! You have free access to the courts of heaven: you serve One Whose service alone is perfect freedom! Liberty of conscience and will is the greatest blessing of all “freedoms.” “It is freedom from a sense of sin, when all is known to have been pardoned through the atoning blood; freedom from a slavish fear of our Father in Heaven, when conscience is offered to His unerring Eye morning and evening by that penitent love which fixes its eye upon the Crucified; freedom from current prejudice and false human opinion, when the soul gazes by intuitive faith upon the actual truth; freedom from the depressing yoke of feeble health or narrow circumstances, since the soul cannot be crushed which rests consciously upon the Everlasting Arms; freedom from that haunting fear of death, which holds all who really think upon death ‘all their lifetime subject to bondage,’ unless they are His true friends and clients, Who by the sharpness of His own death has led the way and ‘opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.’ It is freedom in time also, and beyond, freedom in eternity. In that blessed world, in the unclouded Presence of the Emancipator, the brand of slavery is inconceivable. In that world there is a perpetual service; yet, since it is the source of love made perfect, it is only and by necessity the service of the free. For ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.’ ”—Adapted from Lid-don, “University Sermons,” iv. This last paragraph may itself suggest a Homily.

2 Corinthians 3:17. Christian Liberty and the Law.

I. The bondage.—“The condition of believers under the past dispensation … is spoken of as a certain species of restraint or bondage,—not the bondage, indeed, of slaves [?], and mercenaries, which belonged only to the carnal as opposed to the believing portion of the Church; but the bondage of those who, though free-born children, are still in nonage, and must be kept under the restraint and discipline of an external law. This, however, could in no case be the whole of the agency with which the believer was plied, for then his yoke must have been literally the galling bondage of the slave. He must have had more or less the Spirit of life within, begetting and prompting him to do the things which the law outwardly enjoined, making the pulse of life in the heart beat in harmony with the rule of life prescribed in the law; so that, while he still felt ‘as under tutors and governors,’ it was not as one needing to be ‘held in with bit and bridle,’ but rather as one disposed readily and cheerfully to keep to the appointed course.… So it unquestionably was with the Psalmist; … the law was not a mere outward yoke, nor in any proper sense a burden: it was ‘within their heart,’ they delighted in its precepts, and meditated therein day and night: to listen to its instructions was sweeter to them than honey, and to obey its dictates was better than thousands of gold and silver” [Fairbairn, Typology, ii. 193, 194. Does this do justice as to Acts 15:10? He says admirably as to]—

II. The liberty.—“When the believer receives Christ as the Lord his righteousness, he is not only justified by grace, but he comes into a state of grace, or gets grace into his heart as a living, reigning, governing principle of life. What, however, is this grace but the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus? And this Spirit is emphatically the Holy Spirit; holiness is the very element of His being, and the essential law of His working; every desire He breathes, every feeling He awakens, every action He disposes and enables us to perform, is according to godliness. And if only we are sufficiently possessed of this Spirit, and yield ourselves to His direction and control, we no longer need the restraint and discipline of the law; we are free from it, because we are superior to it. Quickened and led by the Spirit, we of ourselves love and do the things which the law requires.…” [As in an adult son] “the mind has become his from which the parental law proceeded, and he has consequently become independent of its outward prescriptions. [Strictly this last is only true in proportion as he has become possessed of the ‘mind.’] And what is it to be under the grace of God’s Spirit but to have the mind of God?—the mind of Him who gave the law simply as a revelation of what was in His heart respecting the holiness of His people. So that the more they have of the one, the less, obviously, they need of the other; and if only they were complete in the grace of the Spirit, they would be wholly independent of the bonds and restrictions of the law.” (Ib., p. 190.) The law was not made for a good man who stands in a right relation to the law of his country. So “to one who has become a partaker of ‘the Spirit of God’ the law, considered as an outward discipline placing him under a yoke of manifold commands and prohibitions, has for him ceased to exist. But it has ceased in that respect only by taking possession of him in another” (Ib., p. 191).

[Fairbairn adds (ib., p. 201):—

III. “From the law in its strict and proper sense—the law of the ten commandments—the freedom enjoyed by the Christian is not absolute, but relative only, just as the Israelites’ want of the Spirit was relative only. But in regard to what is called the ceremonial law the freedom is absolute; and to keep up the observance of its symbolical institutions and services after the new despensation entered was not only to retain a yoke that might be dispensed with, but also an incongruity to be avoided, and even a danger to be shunned. For, viewed simply as teaching ordinances … they were superseded … by the appointment of other means more suitable as instruments in the hand of the Spirit for ministering instruction to … men. The change then brought into the Divine administration was characterised throughout by a more immediate and direct handling of the things of God. They were now things no longer hid under a veil, but openly disclosed to the eye of the mind. Ordinances which were adapted to the state of the Church when neither was the Spirit fully given, nor were the things of God [by Him] clearly revealed, could not possibly be … adapted to the Church of the New Testament. The grand ordinance here must be the free and open manifestation of the truth—written first in the word of inspiration, and thenceforth continually proclaimed anew by the preaching of the Gospel; and such symbolical institutions as might yet be needed must be founded upon the clear revelations of the word—not like those of the former dispensation, spreading a veil over the truth, or affording only a dim shadow of better things to come.’ (Ib., p. 201.)]

2 Corinthians 3:17. Liberty from Law under the Dispensation of the Spirit.—The Christian religion as the Perfect Law of Liberty finds its perfection in the bestowment through the Holy Spirit of an internal freedom from the restraint of law which is quite consistent with subjection to external law as a directory of the life.

I. There is nothing more characteristic of the Christian economy of ethics than that it sets up an internal rule (Romans 8:2).—This interior rule responds to the exterior, and in a certain sense supersedes it. The external law ceases as a law of death; it has vanished with the conscience of sin removed in pardon. And in contrast to the Law which was against and over the soul in its impossibility of fulfilment, the Spirit of life within gives strength for all obedience; and the law to be obeyed is set up within us (Hebrews 8:10). This is more than the restoration of the almost effaced traces of the law engraven on the heart of universal man.… This internal law is supernatural; it is nature still, but nature restored and more than restored; a supernatural nature. This is the interior polity of holy government of which St. James speaks (James 1:25); perfect law becomes perfect liberty from external obligation. The nearer obedience is to the uniformity of the ordinances of nature—being conscious and willing obedience, though in its perfection not conscious of its willing—the nearer it approaches the Creator’s end.… In all the economy of the physical universe His law works from within outwardly, and there is no need of any outward statute to be registered for the guidance of His unintelligent creatures. The Divine Spirit in the heart of the regenerate man seeks to work out in a similar way a perfect obedience to the law of love.

II. In a loose and general way this may be called the rule of conscience (Acts 24:13; but this is pre-Christian).… We may speak of the internal law as that of Self-government restored. The rule of God’s Spirit in the spirit of the regenerate, is the administration of conscience or the renewed self, according to the normal idea of the Creator. Men thus trusted—under authority to that Holy Ghost, yet having their own souls under them—are in the highest and purest sense a law unto themselves (Romans 2:4). Yet this is only as under the law to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21), Who is the common Lord of all.

III. For there is still an external law … which is continued by reason of the weakness of the new nature.—

1. The external standard still maintains the dignity of law.… We are delivered from the law of sin and death, not from the law that directs to holiness and life. Written on the fleshly tables of the heart, the commandments are deposited also in an ark on tables of stone for common appeal amongst probationary mortals. The eternal morals of the old economy have not passed away. They are re-enacted under other forms, and re-written in the pages of the New Testament as [a] the Standard of requirement, [b] the Condition of the Charter of privileges, and [c] a Testimony against those who offend. [A good Homily in germ.]

2. The outward enactments are still the directory of individual duty.… The best Christians need a remembrancer; they obey the law within, but are not always independent of the teaching of the law without.

3. The external is the safeguard of the internal law: against its only or chief enemy, Antinomianism, which regards the law as abolished in Christ, or treats it as if it were so. Theoretical or theological Antinomianism … makes a Christian’s salvation eternally independent of any other obedience than that of the Gospel offer of grace.… There is a teaching which holds that the Substitute of man has not only paid the penalty of human offence, but has fulfilled the law also for the sinner; thus making the salvation of the elect secure. The believer has in this doctrine [call it “Vicarious Holiness”?] no more to do with a legal rule save as a subordinate teacher of morality. He will never to all eternity stand before any bar to be judged by the law.… This is the very truth of the Gospel so far as concerns the demand of the law for eternal and unbroken conformity with its precepts, … but there is only a step between precious truth and perilous error here.… There is also a prevalent practical Antinomianism (Galatians 5:13), sometimes connected with the theoretical renunciation of law. [It is] found in all communities, the disgrace of all creeds and confessions.… The written commandments are a safeguard.… If Christian people recite their Creed to keep in memory the things they surely believe, not less necessary is it that they should also recite the Commandments to keep in memory what they must do to enter into life.—Adapted. See also under 1 Corinthians 9:21.


2 Corinthians 3:2. “Living epistles.”

I. What they contain.—The record of ministerial faithfulness—and success.

II. Where they are written.—In the heart, as a testimony of Divine approval, as a certain proof of a Divine call.

III. By whom they are read.—By all men—easily with intelligent conviction.—[J. L.]

2 Corinthians 3:4-11. The Glory of the Christian Ministry.

I. Its foundation.—Trust in God through Christ. Divine sufficiency. Suitable qualifications.

II. Its function.—The ministration not of the letter, but of the Spirit.

III. Its means.—Not external, that dazzle and then vanish away. But the co-operation of the Holy Ghost.

IV. Its object.—Not condemnation and death, but righteousness and life.

V. Its reward.—Even now a more excellent glory. Hereafter a glory everlasting.—[J. L.]

Or thus:—

The New Testament Ministry

I. Has the vastest resources.
II. Effects the greatest wonders.
III. Secures the most enduring results.—[J. L.]

2 Corinthians 3:8. “The ministration of the Spirit.”

I. Deals with “the spirit” in man.
II. Is effectual only when in the power of the Holy Spirit.
III. Has for its great purpose the communication of the Holy Spirit, the characteristic, distinctive glory, and privilege of the Christian dispensation.

2 Corinthians 3:9. The Ministration of

I. Condemnation.—Reveals and enforces law. Convinces of sin. Brings condemnation.

II. Righteousness.—Satisfies the law. Teaches faith. Brings pardon and holiness.

III. II. therefore exceeds

I. in glory in that it perfects the work of the latter. Saves the sinner. Secures greater glory to God.—[J. L.]

2 Corinthians 3:18. Conformity by gazing.—Foundation and building not identical, yet related. So Judaism and Christianity. “Judaism contained not the completeness of Christianity; Christianity halted not at the beginnings of Judaism.”

1. They agree, in source, God; in purpose, to preserve the knowledge of the true God; in matter, a revelation of God’s will; Judaism, “coarse,” rude; Christianity, a life-inspired system.

2. They differ, in their method of revelation, by the Mediator and the Master; in their expositors; in the perpetuity of Christianity. “After Adamism, Noachism; after Noachism, Abrahamism; after Abrahamism, Judaism; after Judaism, Christianity; after Christianity,—Eternity!” Judaism limited; Christianity universal. Judaism veiled the light; in Christ the veil is gone. Text shows:—

I. Religion in its sanctity of nature.—Its one object is to change man into the image—of whom? Of God? Of Christ? No matter. God inconceivable and unconceived. The study of His works and even of His words alone only introduces man to “a Voice in the dark.” All we can know, or need to know, is embodied in Christ. Christ removes the two barriers—man’s incapacity, God’s invisibility. And Christ did not come to teach Dogma or merely create a religious “guild,” but to conform man to Himself. Look at Him in His many-sided, symmetrical, pure spirituality. See Him “crystalline-translucent” in conscience. See His deliberate, undeflected devotedness. His mind, Divine.

II. Manner of attaining conformity.—

1. “Beholding.” Not merely “staring at.” There must be the unveiled glass, and the unclosed eye.

2. Once more, neither is the study of His works and words enough. May read the New Testament once a year; may study critically, “with audacious freedom.” Men, acute enough, saw His works: their verdict was “Beelzebub,” “Blasphemer, enthusiast, traitor.”
3. Must bring Christ to study of Christ. May not repudiate His teaching and yet hope to understand Him.
4. This only “by the Spirit of the Lord,” “taking of the things of Christ,” etc. Unveiling the mirror; opening the eye.

III. Progressive conformity.—No hurry in God’s working. “If a young Christian begin young, the conformity shall fill a life of many years.” “Even God cannot create growth.”—Notes of sermon by John Burton, penes H. J. F.

[On the Old Testament passage underlying 2 Corinthians 3:7 to 2 Corinthians 4:6, particularly. “Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone,” the suggestion may be useful:—]

A Picture of True Glory.” [“Unconscious Goodness.”]

I. Involves fellowship with the Eternal.—Character is formed on the principle of imitation. This process perfected needs: a perfect model; the love of a perfect model; the knowledge of a perfect model.

II. Has an external manifestation.—Was it not a reflection of the moral glory of his soul, glorified by communion with God? The heart does—notwithstanding the possibility and the fact of successful hypocrisy—stamp itself upon the face. Stephen’s face. And upon the language yet more certainly. Upon our lives: “as the man thinketh in his heart so is he.” [A pregnant saying, capable of many readings: What he means, though he expresses himself badly in word or act, that is the man to be recognised; what his heart’s bent and love are, that surely the man becomes; a man will let slip a word, or do instinctively some action, which reveals the evil man of the heart under the plausible mask of the face.]

III. Is never self-conscious.—But greatness drowns egotism. The standard of judgment is outside the man’s self. He lives amongst a circle of persons and things which forms a true standard of measurement. Christian love, above all, casts out egotism; too eager about others to serve, or even think about, itself.

IV. Commands the reverence of society.—Conscience will instinctively respect true, unconscious greatness. Guilt will bow the wrong-doer in homage before it.—More fully inHomilist,” Third Series, vi. 343.


Chap. 3. Openness of Apostolical Service.—The whole argument of this passage is so interwoven with personal allusions, and with illustrations from a particular interpretation of a single passage in the Old Testament, that there is a difficulty in deducing any general truth from it directly.… It may be worth while to go through the various images which the Apostle has called up. First, there is the commendatory Epistle of the Corinthian Church, written on his heart. Next, the same Epistle written on their hearts and lives, read and re-read by the wayfarers to and fro, through the thoroughfare of Greece. Thirdly, the contrast between this Epistle, written on the tender human feelings, on the vibrations of the wind, by the breath of the Spirit; carrying its tidings backwards and forwards, whithersoever it will, with no limits of time or space, like the sweep of the wind on the Æolian harp, like an electric spark of light,—and the Ten Commandments graven in the granite blocks of Sinai, hard, speechless, lifeless. Fourthly, there rises into view the figure of Moses, as he is known to us in the statue of Michael Angelo, the light streaming from his face, yet growing dim and dark as a greater glory of another revelation rises behind it. Fifthly, the same figure veiled, as the light beneath the veil dies away and shade rests upon the scene, and there rises around him a multiplication of the figure, the Jews in their synagogues veiled, as the Book of the Law is read before them. Sixthly, the same figure of Moses once more, but now unveiled as he turns again to Mount Sinai and uncovers his face to rekindle its glory in the Divine presence; and now again, this same figure multiplied in the Apostle and the Corinthian congregation following him, all with faces unveiled, and upturned toward the light of Christ’s presence, the glory streaming into their faces with greater and greater brightness, as if borne in upon them by the Spirit or breath of light from that Divine countenance, till they are transfigured into a blaze of splendour like unto it.—Stanley, pp. 418, 420.

2 Corinthians 3:11. “That which remaineth.”—Christianity is connected with all those religions which have preceded it, and that not merely as one of them, but as their truth, their aim, as simply religion. Christianity is the absolute religion—the only true and intrinsically valid religion. Such is the pretension with which it entered the world, and which it constantly maintains. This may be called exclusiveness and intolerance, but it is the intolerance of truth. As soon as truth concedes the possibility of her opposite being also true, she denies herself. As soon as Christianity ceases to declare herself to be the only true religion, she annihilates her power, and denies her right to exist, for she denies her necessity. The old world concluded with the question, What is Truth? The new world began with the saying of Christ, I am the Truth. And this saying is the confession of Christian faith. The form which the Christian faith may assume may alter; the human notions by which it seeks to express itself may change; but Christian faith must declare itself to be the unchangeable truth. It must affirm that this truth is the answer to the old questions of human nature, and that all the religions which have been its predecessors were mostly preliminary and preparatory, and have found in it their aim and goal. Heathenism was the seeking religion, Judaism the hoping religion; Christianity is the reality of what heathenism sought, and Judaism hoped for.—Luthardt, “Saving Truths,” p.

20. He adds in notes:—

“Christianity is the religion which, in the person of its Founder, actually realises that union of man with God which every other religion has striven after, but none attained; and from this creative centre, by doctrine and moral influence, by redemption and reconciliation, restores the individual and the human race to their true destiny, to that true communion, to that mind with God in which all that is human is sanctified and glorified.” (Ullmann.)
“If we consider the different religions with respect to this fundamental problem [of the bringing together Creator and creature, Holy God and sinful man], we may say that heathenism knows not the problem; that Israel is living in the problem, and awaiting its solution; but that Christianity alone furnishes the solution, through its Gospel of the Incarnation of God [and the Atonement of the Cross]. (Martensen, Dogmatik.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/2-corinthians-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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