“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” (2 Cor. 3:7-18).
Verses 7 to 16 of this section constitute a long parenthesis. Let me show you how evident that is. Let us go back and read verses 5 and 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 anything 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 done 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 mankind.
“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 Saviour 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” (Micah 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 fulfil 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 excelleth, 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 Saviour’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 Saviour, 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 My- self, 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 vail 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 Saviour 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 fulfilment of all the types and shadows of the law, the true Messiah of Israel, the promised Redeemer, that Righteousness which God promised to reveal to 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 fulfils 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 some day 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.”