The Glory Of TheNew Covenant
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (vv. 7-18)
Verses 7-16 of this section constitute a long parenthesis. Let me show you how evident that is. Let us go back and read verses 5-6, and then connect with them verse 17, and you will see these two portions are intimately connected and how all the intervening verses come in parenthetically. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life…Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The apostle leads us through this lengthy parenthesis in order to contrast for us the fading glory of the old covenant with the unchanging, unending glory of the new covenant of grace.
First he says, “If the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?” Notice the two ministries that he contrasts, “the ministration of death” and “the ministration of the spirit.” The ministration of death was the law; the ministration of the Spirit is the gospel of grace. He has already called the law “the letter,” and a very exact translation of the first part of verse 7 would be, “If the ministration of death, the letter, engraven in stones, was glorious [and it was], how much more shall the ministration of grace be glorious?”
The reference, of course, is not to the first giving of the law but to the second. I wonder whether we are all familiar with the difference. When God first gave the law at Sinai He wrote that law Himself on tables of stone that He had prepared, and He gave them to Moses amid accompaniments of thunder and burning fire and a mighty voice that filled the people’s hearts with fear, so that even Moses himself said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” He calls that “God’s fiery law.” It was absolutely rigid; its principle was, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, burning for burning, cutting for cutting.” It was absolute intrinsic righteousness. Whatever a man actually deserved according to that law he was to receive. But before Moses came down from the mount, the people had broken that law. The first commandment was, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Exod. 20:3-5), and before Moses reached the foot of the mount the people were dancing around a golden calf. Moses knew if he had brought that law into the camp, there could be nothing but condign judgment. That holy law would of necessity have demanded the death of the entire people, so Moses broke those tables on the side of the mount, and came down empty-handed, and then he became the intercessor for the people and pleaded with God to show mercy.
The Lord said that He would destroy them but make of him a great nation. But Moses said, “Oh, no, if someone has to be destroyed, destroy me, and save the people,” and in that he manifested the spirit of Christ. And so he went up into the mount again for forty days, and this time God gave the law tempered with mercy, gave it recognizing the fact that the people themselves would not keep it, but provided with this second giving of the law a system of sacrifices whereby the penitent lawbreaker could draw nigh to God with that which typified the coming into the world of His blessed Son. It was still law, but it was law tempered by grace, and it meant so much to Moses to find out that the Lord had thoughts of grace in His heart for the poor people, that when he came down from the mount his very face was beaming because of his association with God. He had learned to know God in a new way during those forty days, and when the people saw the light shining from his face they were amazed, and Moses put a veil over his face until he had finished speaking with them, and when he went before the Lord again he took it off. The apostle tells us why he did that.
The thought many of us have had was that Moses put a veil over his face because the glory was so bright that the people could not look upon him, but here we are told by the Holy Spirit that he put a veil over his face because he knew that that glory was fading and passing, and he did not want the people to see the glory disappear. The glory of that covenant could not last because too much depended upon sinful men. And the glory faded and judgment took its place, and so even that second giving of the law proved to be a ministration of death instead of salvation, because of the sinfulness of man’s heart. But, says the apostle, if even that ministration came to the people in glory, how much more shall the ministration of the Spirit, the glad wondrous gospel of pure grace, excel in glory! And so we go today to a lost world to tell men that God’s face is shining with love and compassion upon humankind.
Oh, the glory of His grace
Shining in the Saviour’s face,
Telling sinners from above,
God is light, and God is love.
“If the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” The law is called, “the ministration of condemnation,” because it asked of men an obedience which sinful men were not able to give. The law came demanding righteousness, but the present message of grace is called “the ministration of righteousness,” because it comes giving righteousness to men who are unable to produce a righteousness of their own. This is what made it so precious to the apostle Paul. He had spent years of his life trying to produce a righteousness suited for God, but when he caught sight of the risen Christ and heard Him saying, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest,” and knew that blessed Savior had fulfilled the law for him, that He had died and had been raised again, Paul exclaimed, “[That I] might be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). Here is a ministration of glory indeed! “The glorious gospel,” it is called elsewhere, “of the blessed God.” That word translated “blessed” really means happy. Just think of it—the happy God! What is it that makes God happy? It is because He Himself has found a way whereby His love can go out to guilty sinners, and He can save the very vilest of men and make them fit for His presence. God is a lover of men. Judgment is His strange work, for “he delighteth in mercy” (Mic. 7:18). He hath “no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). But when He tested men under law, there was nothing but the curse for them, for they could not fulfill its requirements. Now God has met every need of sinful man in the cross of Christ, and He offers an untarnishable righteousness to those who trust His blessed Son. And the heart of God rejoices as His face shines upon sinners.
“For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” It is like the difference between the moon and the sun. At night as you look upon the moon shining it has wondrous glory, and your heart cannot but be stirred. But have you sometimes seen the moon hanging low upon the horizon after the sun had risen? What a pale, misty, watery-looking thing it was. It was the same moon that shone so brilliantly the night before, but its glory passed away in the light of the glory that excels, and so it is that the very highest point to which the Old Testament can bring us, the very highest experiences that Old Testament saints had under the law (and they were glorious in their way, they were precious experiences while they lasted, for there was a glory connected with God’s dealing with men under that old covenant), have no glory at all compared with the glory that excelleth. Have you ever noticed that even some of the most devoted saints in Old Testament times were never absolutely sure of their final salvation? Job was in utter bewilderment, David was perplexed, when Hezekiah received word that he was going to die, he turned his face to the wall and wept and sobbed, and was in great distress, but now in this New Testament dispensation of grace, the poorest, feeblest soul that trusts in Jesus may have absolute assurance of his perfect acceptance with God.
An old Scot lay suffering, and his physician had told him it was a matter of only a few hours or a few days at the most. A friend really interested in him came to spend a little time with him and said, “They tell me you will not be with us long. I hope you have got a wee glimpse of the Savior’s blessed face as you are going through the valley of the shadow.”
And the dying man said, “Away with the glimpse, man; it’s a full view of His blessed face I have had these forty years, and I’ll not be satisfied with any of your glimpses now.”
That is “the glory that excelleth,” the glory that shines in the face of a reconciled God because the sin question has been eternally settled. In view of this, says the apostle, “We use great plainness [or boldness] of speech.” I know that to some people the expressions that are used in these New Testament epistles must seem very bold; they cannot comprehend them. Speaking with a Roman Catholic priest a number of years ago about the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, I was telling him about the time when “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16), and I said, “When that time comes, I am going up with that ransomed throng, I am going to be caught up to be forever with the Lord.”
He looked at me a little puzzled, and said kindly, “My dear sir, you must think you are a very great saint to be so sure that you will be taken up at that time.”
I said, “No, it is not that I think I am a great saint, I am really one of the least of all saints, and I found out some years ago that I was a great sinner; but I found out that Jesus is a great Savior, and that He manifests great grace to great sinners by taking all our sins and settling for them on Calvary’s cross. And so I trust Him, and trusting Him I know my sins are gone, and therefore I am able to rest in His Word, “If I go…I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). “We use great boldness of speech.” I do not know anything but the gospel of the grace of God that gives this boldness of speech, this absolute assurance that sins are put away, and that one is saved for eternity. But this is the portion of those who have received in their heart the ministry of reconciliation.
“Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” Moses covered his face, as we have seen, that they might not see the glory fade. That fading glory pictures this old dispensation that is abolished. There is nothing of it left for us. There is a new dispensation in which we live which has taken its place. “But their minds were blinded”—those who have never moved out of the Old Testament into the New, they who attach all their hopes to the Old Testament—“for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.”
I wonder whether some of you are my Lord’s own brethren after the flesh, you belong to the nation of Israel, those whom we call the Jews, God’s earthly people. You are one for whom the Christian should have the deepest affection. You gave us our Savior and, under God, you gave us our Bible. God used Jewish hands to write this Bible, and a Jewish mother gave birth to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and yet we Christians are enjoying the glory of this new covenant and so many of you, God’s earthly people after the flesh, are without this blessing and without this joy. Yet, you still believe your Bible, you still believe the Old Testament, you still believe that those books that comprise the old covenant are really the Word of the living God. You read that Bible and still do not have peace, you have no assurance that your sins are forgiven, you do not know yet for certain that you are right with God, and that if called from this world you would go immediately to Abraham’s bosom. Do you know why? Your eyes have not yet been open to see Him of whom Moses and all the prophets spoke. Listen to this word spoken by a Jew, a Jew whose name was Simon Peter. He says, “To him [that is, to Jesus] give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Thousands of Jews have looked through the Old Testament telescope to Christ as the fulfillment of all the types and shadows of the law, the true Messiah of Israel, the promised Redeemer, that Righteousness which God promised to reveal in due time, and, finding Him, the veil has dropped from their hearts and they are rejoicing in the new covenant. This same privilege is yours. “For until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.” Think of reading the Old Testament with a veil over it, or with the veil over the heart. If you turn to the New Testament and see how wonderfully Christ fulfills all these types and shadows of the law and how truly all the prophecies are fulfilled in Him, the veil will be torn away, and you will be brought out into the full light and liberty of the glory of God. “Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.” And that veil will always remain upon their heart until they turn to God in repentance.
“Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” Observe, it does not simply say, “Nevertheless when they shall turn to the Lord,” but it says, “When
it shall turn to the Lord.” To what does the “it” refer? Go back to the preceding noun. “Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their
heart. Nevertheless when
it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” That is the end of the parenthetic portion of this section.
Following up what he has already said in verse 6 the apostle concludes the section like this, “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Spirit of the Old Testament. Turn where you will in the Old Testament, it has one theme, and that is Christ. He is the Spirit of the whole thing, and if you just see the letter and do not see Him, you have missed the purpose for which God gave His Book. “The Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The Lord Jesus Christ says, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The law puts man in bondage; Christ brings him out into liberty. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the
[unveiled face] of the Lord, are changed [the same word is rendered ‘transfigured’ in the Gospels] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Here is true Christian growth in grace. First, Christ has to be revealed to the soul, and then as you go on day after day, as you are occupied with Christ, you become like Him. You never have to advertise your holiness, you never have to say, “See how spiritual I am becoming, how Christlike I am.” This will not be necessary if your heart is taken up with the Lord Jesus. If occupied with Him, other people will soon realize that you are becoming more and more like Him as the days go by.
You remember Hawthorne’s story of “The Great Stone Face.” He tells of a lad who lived in the village below the mountain, and there upon the mountain was that image of the great stone face, looking down so solemnly, so seriously, upon the people. There was a legend that someday someone was coming to that village who would look just like the great stone face, and he would do some wonderful things for the village and would be the means of great blessing. The story gripped this lad, and he used to slip away and hour after hour would stand looking at that great stone face and thinking of the story about the one that was coming. Years passed, and that one did not come, and still the young man did what the boy had done, and went to sit and contemplate the majesty, the beauty of that great stone face. By and by youth passed away and middle age came on, and still he could not get rid of that legend; and then old age came, and one day as he walked through the village someone looked at him and exclaimed, “He has come, the one who is like the great stone face!” He became like that which he contemplated. If you want to be Christlike, look at Jesus. If you want to grow in grace, contemplate Jesus. You find Him revealed in the Word, so read your Bible and meditate upon it. We sing the song,
Take time to be holy,
Speak oft with thy Lord.
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer almost always interrupts when this hymn is given out, and says, “Please let me change that first line; let us sing it, ‘Take time to behold Him.’” As we behold Him we will become holy, for, “we all, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the unveiled face of the Lord, are changed, are transfigured, and transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
The Gospel Ministry
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (vv. 1-6)
We have already noticed that this is preeminently the epistle of Christian ministry, and in the section beginning with these verses the apostle undertakes to open up the nature of that ministry and the responsibilities connected with it.
Notice first, it is something that we have received from God. “Seeing,” he says, “[that] we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” I know that the gospel is from God because no man would ever have imagined such a message. I am somewhat familiar with most of the religious systems that have occupied the minds of men. For over forty years this subject has been my study above every other. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have read literally thousands of volumes setting forth the different religious views that have prevailed in this world for the last three or four thousand years of human history, and I want to say that you may put them all together, lump them together in one group, and then put the testimony of the Word of God in another by itself. All human religions teach men that there is something they can do and must do whereby they can placate God and earn their own salvation. The gospel, and the gospel alone, tells men that they are utterly helpless, that they can do nothing to merit divine favor, but that they do not need to do anything, for God Himself has come out in loving-kindness in the Person of His Son to save men by grace alone. This is no human thought; this did not come from the human mind; this is a revelation that came from heaven. We have received this ministry, and having received it we are accountable to God to pass it on to others. It was in His mercy that He made it known to us, and we ourselves have been saved through believing it.
Paul could say that there was a time when he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, when he hoped to work out a righteousness of his own, sufficient to admit him uncondemned into the presence of God. But there came a day when God in infinite grace revealed to Saul of Tarsus his own sinfulness and guilt, when he saw himself, not as a self-righteous Pharisee, but as the chief of sinners, and then in his deep, deep need he turned to Christ alone and found in Him a righteousness for his soul. It meant something to him when he said, “We have received this ministry.” He was referring to a very definite personal experience that he had gone through. I am wondering whether you know something of that; I wonder whether you have ever been brought by the Spirit of God to see your own innate sinfulness, your guilt, your lost condition, and not only your lost condition but your utter helplessness. I wonder whether God has ever revealed to you His own blessed Son in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), who came in grace from the heights of glory to the cross of shame and there gave Himself a ransom for all. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Receiving such mercy, what a responsibility now rests upon you to make it known to others. The apostle is speaking not merely of what we may call the official ministry of the church, of a man who proclaims the gospel from the public platform, when he says, “As we have received mercy,” but every Christian is the object of mercy, and therefore should boldly go forth to proclaim the gospel of the grace of God to others. We are not afraid now, we do not lose heart, as we go to men telling of great grace for great sinners.
On the other hand, the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of living the gospel. He says, “We have…renounced the hidden things of dishonesty.” It is not merely an intellectual thing with us. It is not simply that we come to the conclusion, after the process of logical investigation, that Jesus Christ is the divine, eternal Son of God, and confess that as a creedal statement, but we have turned to Him in heart, and turning to Him we have been delivered from our sins, and we have renounced those things in which once we lived, in which once we gloried, the activities of the flesh fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. The cross of Christ has brought these things to an end. In other words, the proclaimer of the gospel must himself be a holy man, he must live the truth that he preaches to other people. “We have…renounced the hidden things of [shame], not walking in craftiness,” not walking in guile, nor hypocrisy. There is nothing that is unreal, nothing that cannot bear the light in our behavior, but there is only that which can have the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Nor handling the word of God deceitfully.” Somebody has translated that, “Nor huckstering the Word of God.” We go to men and proclaim the gospel and tell them we are doing it for love of their souls. What a sinful thing if, when I profess to proclaim the gospel for love of the souls of men I should, after all, simply be preaching it for love of the money which might come to me, because Christ has said that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel. If I am going to devote all of my time to the preaching of the gospel, it is necessary that I be supported in some way, but if I make that the object, if I go out to preach as though simply performing something for which I am looking for temporal support, then I am a hypocrite and a sham, I am dealing with God’s truth as though it were butter and eggs and groceries. The apostle says we are not to do that. Paul might have been a wealthy man if he had pursued the path for which he was trained in early life. He might have been one of the most widely-recognized professors in Judea. He chose to become poverty-stricken in order to go out and preach Christ, and he was even ready to work with his hands making tents, when necessary to support himself and his companions. The preaching of the gospel was a commission given to him by the risen, glorified Lord, and he could say, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”
“Nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” I know it is possible to preach the gospel and to say things that are perfectly true, and yet the life that is behind the speaking be contrary to the message delivered. In a case like that there is no real power. The power of the Word is found when a man is walking with God in communion with the Holy Spirit. I have prayed thousands of times, and I dare to pray again, knowing that God may take me at my word if I fail, “O God, keep me from ever being able to preach the gospel without a clear conscience and the power of the Holy Spirit.” To attempt to do it is but to mock God, and to mock men for whom Christ died. “By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
The remarkable thing is that one can preach this gospel and yet not have men understand it; it does not seem to appeal to them. In the third chapter we read that when Moses is read there are certain ones who are blinded, and they cannot see that he speaks of Christ. But the same thing is true in the New Testament. You can preach it, men may sit down over the New Testament and read it carefully, and still it seems hazy, it seems that there is a veil over it. How do you account for that? Is the gospel then no clearer than the message of the Old Testament? How do you account for the apparent veil that hangs over the hearts of men as they read or hear the gospel? He explains it for us by saying, “If our gospel be hid [or veiled], it is [veiled] to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” The god of this world, or the god of this age, is Satan. That is a wonderful expression to use of him. The Lord Jesus called him the “prince of this world,” and now the apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit goes farther and calls him the “god of this age.” The Devil is the only god that Christless men know; they are led by the Devil captive to his will. There are men who even deny his existence, but the very fact that they refuse the gospel message shows that they are under his power. “If our gospel be [veiled], it is [veiled] to them that are lost.” Do you say, “I do not understand; I have heard this all my life, but it means nothing to me; I have heard those words over and over and over again, but they do not register with me, they do not mean anything to me”? Is that true of you? Then let me tell you seriously, tenderly, earnestly, the reason that you are lost, lost deliberately, willfully, is because of your own sin. That is why you cannot see nor apprehend the beauty, the preciousness of the gospel. “If our gospel be [veiled], it is [veiled] to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” It is Satan that holds you in his control. The reason you cannot believe is that you do not want to believe. If you would believe, it would mean the judging of those things in your life that are contrary to the Word of God. If any man says, “There are things in the Bible that I cannot believe,” I can tell him why. It is because there are things in his life that the Bible condemns, of which he does not wish to repent. There are sins that mean more to him than Christ. He would rather indulge in them than be delivered from them. The moment a man comes to the place where he desires God’s will above all else, and says, “I am ready to renounce my sin, to be freed from it,” that man will not have any trouble believing the gospel. Judge yourself in the presence of God, and you will be able to believe Him. Face your sins before God, and there will be no difficulty about believing.
Someone said to Sir Isaac Newton, “Sir Isaac, I do not understand; you seem to be able to believe the Bible like a little child. I have tried, but I cannot. So many of its statements mean nothing to me. I cannot believe; I cannot understand.”
Sir Isaac Newton replied, “Sometimes I come into my study and in my absent-mindedness I attempt to light my candle when the extinguisher is over it, and I fumble about trying to light it and cannot; but when I remove the extinguisher then I am able to light the candle. I am afraid the extinguisher in your case is the love of your sins; it is deliberate unbelief that is in you. Turn to God in repentance; be prepared to let the Spirit of God reveal His truth to you, and it will be His joy to show the glory of the grace of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Those who believe not do not desire this knowledge, “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” It says in our King James Version, “The glorious gospel.” That is precious, but it does not really give us the whole truth. It is not only that the gospel is in itself glorious, but the gospel that we preach is not a gospel of earth but it is the gospel of the glory of Christ. Christ is up there in glory at God’s right hand, and from the risen, glorified Christ comes this message of reconciliation to sinful men. That is why the apostle speaks of it in the way he does. Christ is the image of God, the manifestation of God. How Satan wants to keep men from coming into this place, and how God is yearning to have men know Him as revealed in His Son.
The gospel is not just a philosophy. What are men’s philosophies after all? Philosophy is the acting of mind upon mind, trying to explain things in a logical, reasonable, human way, and the stronger the mind of the speaker the more it impresses other people, and brings them to think as he thinks. Men depend upon logic, rhetoric, and eloquence in order to impress their fellows. But it was not so with the apostle Paul. He was afraid that mere human reason might overrule the power of the gospel, and so said, “Not with wisdom of words” (1 Cor. 1:17). Men like to hear lovely figures of speech expressed in beautiful language, but the business of the gospel preacher is not simply to reach the mind of man but to reach his conscience and his will, and when man’s conscience is exercised and his will is turned toward God, then his soul is saved through faith in Christ. But this is not the result of human effort, this is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that is why the servant of Christ needs to put his dependence entirely upon the Spirit of God.
Notice how the apostle closes this section. “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” He could not say in plainer words, “We are not trying to attract attention to ourselves, we do not want the result of our ministry to be that men will go about and say, ‘What a wonderful preacher Paul is! What an eloquent man is Apollos! What a marvelous exhorter is Simon Peter! How wonderful these men are!’” I have often felt ashamed at the foolish things well-meaning men have said in introducing servants of Christ to an audience. They make so much of the man, they have so much to say about his ability and his accomplishments, when it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that he can do anything at all. We should never forget that it is the Savior who counts, and the Word that God uses in the power of the Holy Spirit. So Paul says, “We preach not ourselves,” we do not want to attract attention to ourselves. Like John the Baptist we say, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). “We preach…Christ Jesus the Lord,” and it is only as He is exalted that men and women are blessed. It is only as He is exalted that sinners are saved. But what of the preacher? “Ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” That is all; just “your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Away back there in the beginning God looked upon a world of chaos wrapped in night, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep, and God said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” and He who “commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is our ministry, to bring all men to see the beauty of Christ, to see that, “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), that He is indeed the light of life.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy days be bright”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk,
Till traveling days are done.
Have you seen “the glory of God in the face of Jesus”?
Present Trial And Future Glory
2 Corinthians 4:6-18
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (vv. 6-18)
The verse with which we began our reading links very clearly with the first chapter of the book of Genesis. You remember we read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Some people imagine that we who are generally dubbed “fundamentalists” believe that that took place at about 10 o’clock in the morning in the year 4004 B.C. We do not believe anything of the kind. I have never yet met a fundamentalist who had any such crude conception of the time of creation.
What we do believe is that whenever creation took place, no matter how many millions or billions of years back, it was God who brought everything into existence—“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” We do not know the exact condition of the earth at that time, except that we are told in Isaiah 45:18 that “he created it not in
vain [or void], he formed it to be inhabited.” The earth, as God originally created it, was absolutely perfect, but the second verse of Genesis tells us that “the earth [became] without form, and void.” Something happened to that first creation; there was a fall, some great catastrophe happened, and so we have the condition depicted in that second verse. Therefore God began to work again in order to fit up this earth that it might be the stage upon which would be played the wondrous drama of redemption.
We are told that, “The Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Notice two things: the Spirit of God brooded—God spoke. “The entrance of thy words giveth light” (Ps. 119:130). We think of man as in very much the same condition as at that fall. “God hath made man upright” (Eccl. 7:29), but he fell and lost the robe of glory. We say, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and the first invention was that of the fig-leaf apron. Realizing his nakedness Adam made for himself an apron of fig-leaves. Through sin man fell into this chaotic condition, but God was going to work in order to lift him out of it. Man is in darkness, he is lost and wretched, and in redeeming him two great things are involved: first, the brooding of the Holy Spirit over the soul of man, for no man has ever been saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. The second thing is the message of the gospel. “God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” And here we read, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” And so we to whom that light has come, we who have believed the gospel message, have been brought out of nature’s darkness into this marvelous light of God, through the gospel.
The apostle now shows that we are entrusted with this message, to carry it to poor, lost men and women. We ourselves are just feeble, sinful creatures, not perfect by any means, but having a perfect Savior to proclaim and perfect salvation to preach. And so he says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels [he means our bodies], that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” I think you can see that the reference here is to the battle in the days of Gideon when his little army of three hundred surrounded the great camp of the Midianites. To every one of those soldiers had been entrusted an earthen vessel, and in that vessel was a light, a lamp of some kind. Gideon told the soldiers to surround the camp and to do whatever he did, and so at a given time he cried, “The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon,” and he broke the earthen vessel and the light shone out. The moment he did that, all the others did the same thing, and the Midianites sprang to their feet and thought there must be a tremendous army surrounding them. They felt there was no hope, and in their distress in the darkness they began to kill each other, and so Gideon’s army was victorious. It was a great victory won in a peculiar way. That is what every Christian is, an earthen vessel with a light in it. To you and to me there has been committed the glorious light of the gospel. We were once in darkness but are now in the light of the Lord. In order for a light to shine out of a vessel it has to be broken. Do you know why some people who know the gospel intellectually never win a soul to Christ? It is because the earthen vessel has never been broken, they have never been humbled and cast down in the presence of God. One may know all about the way of life and yet never communicate light to others, because that one has never been broken in the presence of God. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” The vessel has nothing to boast of; it is the light that accomplishes everything.
The apostle is thinking particularly of himself and his fellow workmen when he says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed.” We to whom has been committed the glorious ministry of the gospel, realize that we are to expect trouble. “We are perplexed,” often we hardly know which way to turn. But we are not in despair because we are assured that our blessed Master understands, and we are waiting word from Him. “Persecuted, but not forsaken.”
Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Saviour too,
Human hearts and looks deceive me,
Thou art not like them untrue.
“In the world,” says the Lord Jesus, “ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Our risen, glorified, triumphant Savior backs up every one of His persecuted, suffering people. “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” That simply means that we who are Christians are daily delivered over to death; that is, the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being made manifest in our daily lives. The Lord Jesus says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). If you had been living in the days when the Lord uttered those words, and you had seen a company of soldiers coming down the road, and a man in the midst bearing a cross on his shoulders, you would have said, “That man is going out to death.” Very well, “That is the place I want you to take for Me,” our Lord is saying. “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39). Take that place for Me, take the cross and follow Me. No matter what comes you are simply to be yielded, even to death, in order to glorify Me. That is what we glory in. “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” Elsewhere the apostle says, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). I wonder if any servant of Christ has ever suffered and endured more than the apostle Paul. But he gloried in it all because as he suffered for Jesus’ sake, the life of Jesus was being made manifest in his mortal body. Men could look at him and say, That is the way Christ would have us live. And so you and I are called upon to manifest the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” He is speaking, you see, as a servant of Christ who had been broken in order that the light might shine, in order to illuminate the darkened hearts of those Corinthians. We have been given up to tribulation, trial, and persecution that the light may shine through us to a lost world. That was so with the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24), and the same principle applies in regard to His servants. If you want to be of use to the Lord Jesus Christ, you must be prepared to take the place of death.
It was Arthur T. Pierson, I believe, who when visiting George Müller asked him, “Mr. Müller, would you be willing to tell me the secret of your great work and the wonderful things that God has done through you?”
Mr. Müller looked up for a moment, and then bowed his head lower and lower until it was down between his knees, and he was silent a moment or two, and then said, “Many years ago there came a day in my life when George Müller died. As a young man I had a great many ambitions, but there came a day when I died to all these things, and I said, ‘Henceforth, Lord Jesus, not my will but thine,’ and from that day God began to work in and through me.”
General Booth expressed it in a different way. J. Wilbur Chapman said to him, “Will you tell me the secret of the great work that you have accomplished?”
He said, in his straightforward way, as he looked right into the face of Doctor Chapman with that eagle eye of his, “Dr. Chapman, when I was a lad of seventeen, I determined that God should have all there was of William Booth.”
That is it! When I come to the place where I am through with my own ambitions, when I can say, “None of self, but all of Thee,” I understand what Paul means when he talks about “Bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.”
“So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” No man can live the life that Paul speaks of unless he has by faith seen the Lord Jesus Christ, the risen One up yonder. Who would want to identify himself with a dead Christ? But Christ has been raised again, and believing we speak of the mighty triumph of faith.
“Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Notice the many striking contrasts in these verses. First observe the contrast between perishing and being renewed. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” The outward man perishes. How well we know that! What is the outward man? It is the physical man, the body, and many of us realize that the outward man is perishing. There is not the elasticity in the step that there used to be, there is not the physical vigor that there once was. We tire a great deal more easily than we did some years ago. We do not remember things as well as we once did. And some of us have noticed a very strange thing about memory. We can recall very vividly things that happened away back in our early years; we remember the little incidents of childhood days, we remember the people who were kind to us in those days, and some of us have never gotten over the remembrance of those who were very unkind to us. We remember very vividly the experiences of our early school days and many of our early spiritual experiences, the time when God spoke to our young hearts, the exercises we went through, and then the moment of decision when we accepted Christ. These things we remember very well, but have a great deal of difficulty remembering what happened yesterday. We even go home from a meeting and someone says, “Was it a good sermon?”
And we say, “I think it was; yes, reasonably so.”
“Well, what was the text?”
“Well, I declare, I forget,” and we cannot call it back. Memory plays all kinds of queer tricks on us. Yes, the outward man is perishing, but “the inward man is renewed day by day.”
The inward man is the spirit, the soul, the real man, regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit. The body gets weaker and weaker, but the inward man gets stronger and stronger. The nearer we get to heaven, the more real the precious things of the Lord become to us. I think Bunyan’s picture is a very lovely one. He saw the aged saints lying on the shores of the river of life in the land of Beulah, and they could get glimpses every now and then of the glory of the celestial city. At times they could actually see the shining ones from the other side, and at others they thought they could even hear the voices of the saints and their songs of praise. I think the aged know much of that. God’s saints who have lived for Him through the years, and now have gotten very close to the end of this life, already seem to get the sounds and sights from the celestial city yonder to which they are going; and be assured that these things will become more and more real to you the closer you get to the end. “At eventide, it shall be light.”
“Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Here again we see a vivid contrast; first, the contrast between affliction and glory. You have known much of affliction as you have gone along the way. You have not lived your life without knowing a great many trials and afflictions; you have not failed to know suffering and bereavement and disappointment. There are times when the tears will flow. But now God puts in contrast to the affliction which you have known down here the glory that is coming by-and-by, and if the affliction has oppressed your heart, how the glory will overwhelm you when you are at home with Christ.
He speaks of the affliction as “light affliction,” but of the glory as a “weight” of glory. You have sometimes felt as though your affliction was very heavy, but it has no real weight at all in comparison with the glory that is coming. Therefore, if the affliction seems to have been very heavy when God calls it light, you can get some idea of the glory that awaits us. He says, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” It does not seem as though it has been just “for a moment.” I was talking to a dear saint who for over twenty years had been sitting in a wheelchair, and I said, “It is good to know that the Lord is coming, and then all this trouble will be over.”
“Oh, yes,” she said, “but it is so long, it has lasted so long. I wonder when it ever will come to an end.”
It seemed a long time, yet he says it is but for a moment. Suppose that one had spent his whole lifetime in this world in affliction and had lived to be seventy, eighty, or ninety years of age; after all, what is that compared with eternity? “We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Ps. 90:9). Our years pass as “a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4). “Our light affliction…is but for a moment.”
But notice what awaits us on the other side. “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” How strongly he puts that! It gives some conception of what is coming, what it will be by-and-by, when earth’s trials are past and we are at last in the glory with the Lord Jesus.
In the meantime, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” We are not to be occupied with present things that we see, but we should seek to be occupied with the things that are not seen, for they are, after all, the real things, the eternal things. The things that no human eye has seen are the things that are lasting. When everything that the eye looks upon will have vanished, we shall have Christ, we shall have heaven, we shall have the Holy Spirit, we shall have the love of the Father, we shall have communion with the people of God for all eternity, when earth’s vain shadows have passed away.
The State Of The Believer Between Death And Resurrection
2 Corinthians 5:1-8
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (for we walk by faith, not by sight:) we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (vv. 1-8)
In any discussion of the state of the believer between death and resurrection it is absolutely necessary, if we are to be at all intelligent as to it, to realize something of the truth of these verses. The first thing that we need to have clear in our minds is that there is an outward man and an inward man. The two are not to be confounded. There are materialists of different stripes who insist that the only man there is is the man that we can see from day to day, and that when death comes the entire man is laid away in the tomb, as some think, to remain in an unconscious sleep until the day of resurrection. But when we turn to the Word of God we do not find any such confusion of the outward with the inward man. The outward man is the physical man, the man that we see with the natural eye; the inward man is the man who dwells within this body, and that man we cannot see. I look over a great audience and I can see thousands of human forms, but I cannot see the inward man in any instance; I see only the outward. As you look up to the platform and see those of us standing or seated here, you are looking only at the tabernacles, the tabernacles of flesh in which we live.
You cannot really see us, for spirit is invisible to the natural eye. “The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” God is Spirit, and yet God is real. He “maketh his angels spirits” (Ps. 104:4), and yet angels are real. God is a Person; angels are personalities, and you and I are spirit personalities living for a little while in mortal bodies. But now see what we are told in the opening verses of this fifth chapter.
“We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved [that is, if this tenement of clay, this physical body passes away, even though it goes back to its native element, as is so often the case after being put away in the grave, if that should take place], we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Notice the distinction in every instance between ourselves and the houses in which we now live. Our earthly house is dissolving. Today I am looking into the faces of many who are growing old. It is a wonderful thing to grow old in Christ. Personally, I rejoice in every year that goes by. People say sometimes, “I don’t like getting old.” To be perfectly frank, I do, because I feel that every passing year is bringing me nearer the glory land, every passing year is bringing me nearer the time when I shall see the face of Him who loved me and gave Himself for me. Then too every passing year means just so much less conflict with the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and you know the Christian life is a conflict. How many temptations we have had to face! At times we have yielded, and other times through grace we have been enabled to overcome, but what a wonderful thing it will be when there is no more conflict, and no possibility of failure.
The old house is breaking down; with some of us the roof is thatched now with white hair, and we are reminded that day by day we shall soon move out unless Christ Himself returns. But we are not disheartened, we are not discouraged, for “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” My hope is brighter now than it ever was; my joy in Christ is greater than it has ever been; the world means less to me today than it has ever meant, and the applause of men means less. But the approval of the Lord means more than it has ever meant. I do not feel that I am getting old, it is just the body, the outward man that is perishing, just the old house that is breaking down. I am just as certain that I “have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” awaiting me, as I am that I am living in this tenement of clay, and that body will be like the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not enter that new body the moment I die. Some have thought that this Scripture teaches that when we leave this world we find awaiting us in heaven a body that serves us between death and resurrection, and then in resurrection we shall have a glorified body that takes the place of this intermediate body. But the verse itself contradicts that thought. It says this house not made with hands abides “
eternal in the heavens.” Between death and resurrection we pass out of the body and our pure spirits enter into the presence of the Lord.
“In this we groan.” That is a Scripture I do not have to expound to you. You live it out; you know what it is to groan. There are many things to make us do so. Some of us used to groan in the bondage of sin, but though delivered from that, we are still groaning as we wait for a resurrection body. There are so many aches and pains and sorrows and sufferings. “In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” That is, we are yearning for the time when we shall have our new body, we are looking forward to resurrection or change at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him.
But mark, even resurrection will not be a blessing if we are not robed in divine righteousness. And so the apostle puts in a word here lest people take it for granted that resurrection means salvation, for there shall be a “resurrection…both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). “They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). And so he speaks of resurrection as a “clothing upon.” “If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.” Writing to the church at Laodicea, where a great many who professed the name of the Lord were not really born again, the Savior says, “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). What a solemn thing it would be to stand before God as one risen from the dead and yet spiritually naked in His presence. You say, “Where can we find clothing suitable for the eyes of God?” It is that which He Himself provides. Isaiah says, “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10). And so in that day when we are raised from the dead or are changed by power divine, if we live to greet Him when He returns, we who have trusted Christ shall not be found naked, we shall be clothed in the righteousness of God.
“We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed,” we are not earnestly desiring to die, for that would not be a natural thing for any Christian. The Christian should not earnestly desire to die, and yet should be prepared for it, but he should also be prepared to live for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). And then he says that he would rather live to be a help and blessing to other people. And so we hope “not for that we would be unclothed,” but we do long to be “clothed upon.” That is, we would like to live to the second coming of our Lord Jesus to get our resurrection body in that wonderful hour of His triumph, “that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” And whether we live or die this is the final goal.
“Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.” It is a settled thing with God that someday we are going to have glorified bodies, and as proof of this He has already given us His blessed Holy Spirit to dwell within us, and He is the earnest of the joy that shall be ours by-and-by when we gather in His presence in the Father’s house. Because of this assurance, “We are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” We have no doubt as we think of any eventuality, whether living until Christ comes or dying. Notice that expression, “At home in the body.” I (the real I) am living in this body; the body is my house, my temporary house. I am at home in the body but I am absent from the Lord. He is up there in the glory. True, He has given me His Holy Spirit, as we have just seen, and by Him He dwells within me, but actually I am absent from the Lord. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” We take His word for it—faith is taking God at His word. We are living in the body, and are absent from the Lord, but, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” It will be even more blessed for us to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Here then in one verse we have summed up for us the believer’s state between death and resurrection. When death comes for the Christian, in that moment the believer is absent from the body and at home with Christ.
Observe, he does not go to sleep in the body. The “soul-sleepers” insist that in the hour of death the believer becomes absolutely unconscious and knows nothing until the resurrection. You may ask, “But has he not Scripture for that? Does not the Bible speak of those that ‘sleep in Jesus?’ Does it not say, ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed’ (1 Cor. 15:51)? Is not sleep unconsciousness?” Yes, for the body; it is the body that sleeps; but you see, when my body falls asleep in Jesus, I leave the body. “Oh,” you say, “I cannot understand that.” “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith believes the Book, and it says, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Notice how the apostle Paul speaks of this in the first chapter of Philippians. Here we see Paul in prison in Rome, waiting to be summoned before Nero, and he does not know what the outcome will be, whether he will be put to death or set free, and he writes to the Philippian friends and practically says, “Even if it were put up to me to choose, I do not know which I would desire, whether to die a martyr’s death or live a little longer”; but as he meditates upon it he says, “I really believe I would rather live a little longer and preach Christ to people.” “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Phil. 1:20). Is not that a lovely expression? I want Christ to be made large in my life; I do not want people to think a great deal of Paul but of Christ. I want to be used of God to make Christ seem great in the eyes of men and women, that “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” If I can glorify Christ better by living I want to live; if I can glorify Him better by dying I want to die. The only thing is, I want Christ to loom large in the eyes of people for whom He died. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). There is only one reason to live, and that is to glorify Jesus, and then if I die I will go to be with Jesus, so that will be better. “But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (vv. 22-24). You cannot attach the thought of soul-sleep to that. If Paul thought of death as unconsciousness until the resurrection hour, he would have been in no dilemma. He would have said, “Since death is unconsciousness, I want to live as long as I can in order to preach Christ,” but he says, “No, it would be better to die because it would mean to be with Christ.”
How did he know it would be far better? Well, you say, he was an inspired apostle and the Lord revealed it to him. That is true, but there is more than that. The apostle Paul at one time had been permitted to have a certain experience which proved to him beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is far better to be with Christ in heaven than to live for Him on earth. People often say, “We do not know anything about heaven. Nobody has ever come back to tell us what it is like.” But they are overlooking something. Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven, and He says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions [or abiding places].” Who are in those resting-places? All the saints who have gone on thus far. They are over yonder in the Father’s house. And then we have the testimony of this very man, the apostle Paul, for when we turn to the twelfth chapter of this epistle, we find him relating for us a most remarkable experience which he passed through. Wlien he went through this experience he was not conscious as to whether he was in the body or out of it. That is very interesting. Take our beloved friends who have died in Christ. We may sometimes think of them as in a very imperfect condition if their spirits are in heaven without the body, but Paul says, “If I was in the body I didn’t know it, and if I was out of it I didn’t miss it.” So our dear friends over yonder do not miss their bodies; they are perfectly intelligent and perfectly happy; they are really people even if out of the body. They are in heaven, in the royal garden, in paradise. They hear unspeakable things which it is not possible for a man to utter. Are they able to commune one with another? Oh, yes. Our blessed Lord has told us, even before the work of the cross was accomplished, of that rich man in hades, who looked across the great gulf and saw Lazarus and talked with Abraham, and among the lost the rich man was a personality, never to be rich again but to be poor. We read of “spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). What communion they have with each other over there! But the best of all is that they are with Christ.
Three Impelling Motives
2 Corinthians 5:9-14
Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us. (vv. 9-14)
In this section of the epistle the apostle Paul brings before us the three great motives that moved his heart as he went about through the world proclaiming the gospel of Christ. The first is this: He ever had it before his mind that all his work must soon be tested at the judgment seat of Christ. What a solemn reflection it is for a Christian to remember that everything he says and everything he does as a believer is someday going to be examined by the Lord Jesus, and he will be rewarded accordingly! This, of course, is an altogether different thing from the Christless soul standing before the Great White Throne to be judged for his sins. The judgment seat of Christ refers to that review which will take place when our blessed Lord returns again and gathers all His own before Himself. He says, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). The Son of Man is like one who has gone into a far country, but has left to his servants certain responsibilities and given them certain talents, and says, “Occupy till I come.” Then when He returns again He is going to examine all their work, and reward everything that was the result of His Holy Spirit’s control over their lives.
Notice the way the apostle puts it here. “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” This word translated “labor” really means “are ambitious.” It might be translated, “Wherefore we [are ambitious], that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” The apostle uses this same word in two other places in his letters. In one instance he tells us that he is ambitious not to build on another man’s foundation, but to preach the gospel in the regions beyond, a most worthy ambition. He was a true missionary. And then again, writing to the Thessalonian saints, he exhorts them to study to be quiet and to do their own business. That may be translated, “Be ambitious to mind your own business.” That is a wonderful ambition. So many are ambitious to mind other folks’ business that they do not have time for their own. “We [are ambitious], that, whether present or absent”—those words refer back to the first part of this chapter where we read, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Now he says, “We [are ambitious] that whether present in the body or whether with the Lord, whether we live or die, that we should be accepted of Him.”
In the epistle to the Ephesians he tells us that God has made us “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6). As believers we are all accepted
in Christ, but here we find that he is urgently desirous of being accepted
of Christ. Notice the difference. Accepted
in Him—that is my standing. God sees me in Him, and Christ Jesus is made unto me wisdom, even righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is my perfection. I am complete in Him. But now I who already am complete in Him, who already have been accepted in Him, am to be exercised about being accepted
of Him. Accepted of Him really means being well-pleasing to Him. You see, accepted
in Him is my standing, accepted o/Him has to do with my state. I wonder whether this is our ambition. Let us search our hearts and ask what our ambition really is. Is it to excel in some particular line for which you feel you are specially adapted? Is it to be thought well of by men and women like yourself? Or is it to be well-pleasing to the Lord, to have His approval?
I remember very well hearing Dr. G. Campbell Morgan say that a great crisis came into his life when he first gave up his place as a schoolmaster to become a minister of Christ. It was a very solemn moment when he was set apart to the work of the Lord, and when he got home that night and went into his room, he fell down on his knees before God, and he was sure he could hear the Lord saying to him, “Now, Morgan, you have been set apart definitely for the ministry of the Word. Do you want to be a great preacher, or do you want to be My servant?” His first thought was, “Oh, I want to be a great preacher; surely there is no more laudable ambition than that.” But why should the Lord put it that way—“Do you want to be a great preacher, or do you want to be My servant?” And he said, “Why can I not be His servant, and a great preacher?” He went through a time of real soul-struggle, and then the thought came that it might be in the will of God that as a servant of Christ his ministry should be a very obscure one, and he cried, “O blessed Lord, I would rather be Thy servant than anything else!” And God not only made him His servant but a great preacher. Sometimes we fulfill our deepest ambition by foregoing our own desires and saying, “Lord, I want to be Thy servant; just take me, make me, break me, do what Thou wilt with me.” You remember that through Jeremiah the Lord said to Baruch: “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not” (Jer. 45:5). So He says to every one of us, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.” But what should we seek? To be well-pleasing unto Him, so that whatever niche He calls upon us to fill we may fill it to His glory, and this in view of the judgment seat.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Have you ever as a Christian stopped to think of what a solemn thing it will be when your life’s work is ended, when all further opportunity for witnessing for Christ on earth will have gone by forever, when you stand in your glorified body before His judgment seat, and He will go back over all the way you have come, and will give His own estimate of all your service, of everything you have ever attempted to do for Him? Will He have to say at such a time, “You had a very wonderful opportunity to glorify Me, but you failed because you were so self-occupied, you were so much concerned about what people would think of you, instead of being concerned about pleasing Me; I will have to blot all that out, I cannot reward you for that, for there was too much self in that service”? And then He will point to something else, maybe something you had forgotten altogether, and He will say, “There! You thought you failed in that; didn’t you? You really thought you blundered so dreadfully that your whole testimony amounted to nothing, but I was listening and observing, and I knew that in that hour of weakness your one desire was to glorify Me, and though nobody applauded you I took note of it and will reward you for it.” What a joy it will be to receive His approval in that day. If we learn to live as Paul did with the judgment seat of Christ before us, we will not be men-pleasers, but we will be Christ-pleasers.
Notice the next motive that stirred the apostle’s heart to Christian endeavor. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” This, I think, is a forgotten note in modern preaching in many places. “The terror of the Lord.” Is there anything in God to be afraid of? Away back in the 1870s Theodore Parker preached a sermon that was widely published titled, “There Is Nothing in God to Fear,” and in some way or another that false note that he struck at that time went all over this land, and more or less had its influence upon thousands of preachers who read that eloquent sermon, and men came to the conclusion that there was nothing in God to fear, and so dropped the doctrine of eternal punishment for impenitent sinners. They forgot that the Bible said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31), and substituted a rosewater gospel of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, instead of the stern reality set forth in this Book. But there is something in God to fear, something that the Christless man may well fear, and that is God’s hatred of iniquity. God is of purer eyes than to look upon sin; He cannot but judge iniquity. And so the apostle said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” As he thought of Christians having to answer for their behavior at the judgment seat of Christ it at once brought home to his heart what a solemn thing it would be for unsaved men to face their sins at the great white throne. The apostle Peter says, “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:17-18). If our blessed Lord does not overlook one thing in the lives of His beloved people, but if everything is coming into the light in that day, what will it be for Christless men to have all their sins made manifest at His judgment bar, and to meet a just and awful doom? As Paul went out to this poor Christless world he realized he was going to men that were lost, not merely in danger of being lost someday, but lost here and now in this life. But he had a gospel for lost men, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and so he went to men with Christ. He did not go out to glorify himself or to get a certain reputation among men.
He says, “We commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.” When you find men who profess to be servants of Christ glorying in outward appearance, Paul says, you can contrast our behavior with theirs—we are made the very offscouring of the earth for Christ’s sake and are not seeking man’s applause, we are seeking the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ. There were those who said of Paul, “The man is insane; it is not natural that any man should be actuated by such motives as these; it is not natural for a man to live a life such as this.” Very well, he says, “Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.” We are not even concerned about insisting that we are sane; we are not even concerned about insisting that our words are words of sobriety; we leave that to God to judge. We proclaim the message in dependence on the Holy Spirit, and are not concerned at all about man’s approval or disapproval. Our business is to glorify Christ and to seek to save the lost. This is the ideal preacher of the Word. I never read words like these but I feel so condemned in my own conscience that I hardly know how to talk to other people. I can detect in my own heart so much pride, so much human ambition, so much selfishness, so much that is different from what was found in the Lord Jesus Christ, that I have to bow before Him and tell Him I am so unworthy to be His servant, and yet to plead with Him for Jesus’ sake to use one, even though unworthy, who at least has some little desire to see poor sinners brought to a saving knowledge of God’s beloved Son.
It is always comforting to know that everything that God has done in this world, He has done through imperfect instruments. He has never had a perfect instrument. I do not think of Jesus as an instrument, He was God—“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19)—but I am thinking of His prophets, His preachers, pastors, evangelists, teachers, apostles; they are all imperfect. A Peter denied his Lord, even a John and a James were ambitious to sit one on the right hand and one on the left hand of the Lord in His kingdom, and a Paul made a mistake at the last and insisted on going up to Jerusalem against the voice of the Spirit. Even the best of God’s servants have failed, and yet how gracious of Him to use them. He uses the message they bring, the truth they proclaim. He will deal with His servants Himself about their failure, but He will use the message when Christ is lifted up.
Now notice the last of these three impelling motives. Paul says, “For the love of Christ constraineth us.” I stop here in the middle of a sentence, for these words in themselves are enough; they complete our theme. What are Paul’s three impelling motives? First, a realization of the fact that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ; second, a recognition of the fact that men are lost and exposed to the judgment of God; and third, the love of Christ constraining, that all-conquering love that laid hold of the heart of proud, haughty, self-righteous, cruel Saul of Tarsus, that religious zealot who went forth with a heart filled with hatred for the name of Jesus, seeking to bind those that loved Him, to cast them in prison and compel them to blaspheme, in fact to put them to death if they did not renounce Christ. There he was, hastening on to Damascus with no thought in his soul that the time would ever come when he would be the greatest preacher of the gospel which he was then seeking to destroy, that this world should ever know. He fell to the ground, a light brighter than the sun shone round about him, and he heard a voice from the glory exclaiming in sweet accents, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” And trembling and astonished he exclaimed, “Who art thou, Lord?” And the answer came back, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:14-18). And in that one glorious moment the darkness disappeared from Saul’s heart, the veil was torn away, his eyes were opened, Christ filled the vision of his soul, and henceforth he could say, “The love of Christ; constraineth me.” That is what made him the man that he was, actuated, motivated by divine love. Do you know that love? Have you too been laid hold of by the love of Christ? Then may you go forth to make Him known to others.