2 Corinthians 3
The apostle’s statement is this, that there is now no veil over the glory of God. If there be any veil now, it is on our hearts. This is a solemn truth. All the glory, all that God is, shines in the face of Jesus; and there is no veil over it. The veil is all on us. This we find in the next chapter: “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 gospel of the glory of Christ” (for so it really is, not “glorious gospel”), “who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” This veil is on your hearts if the glory of Christ be hidden; for the apostle says, “We all, with open” (or unveiled) “face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord.” This is the glory of God displayed in Christ.
Now we will see what the Christian is, what his place is in this world, and how he gets there. The apostle shews us all this in contrast with the law. The Corinthians had called the apostleship of Paul in question; they had said he was not one of the chosen twelve. He had spoken a little about himself in the previous chapter; they had forced him to do so. Now the Corinthians had been going on badly, but afterwards they were going on better; and Paul could say that his mouth was open to them, and his heart enlarged towards them. He gave them many signs of his apostleship; but after all it was not needed. He needed not letters of commendation to or from them as others did, and as we do now; for they themselves were his epistle, known and read of all men. They were the witnesses of the truth of his ministry; and that, because they were manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by him—written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. Such then is the Christian—a person in whom the world can read Christ, because Christ has been engraved upon his heart by the Holy Ghost. Let us remember that it does not say this ought to be, but that it is so, whether he walks so as to manifest it or not. A child is a child, whether he act up to the relationship or not. The Christian is the epistle of Christ, to be read of all men; it is his place just as truly as the law was written upon tables of stone. He has to realise it. And more, beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image; he grows in it also. It is from glory to glory, and by the Spirit; and this is the Christian in contrast with the law. Law shews what a child of Adam ought to be. The Christian is the living epistle of Christ. The Holy Ghost engraves Christ upon our hearts, and then it comes out in our lives.
There is the greatest possible contrast between law and gospel. Paul calls the one the ministration of death and of condemnation, and the other the ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness. This is what I propose we should now look into. When Moses received the tables of stone the first time and came down from the mount, we hear nothing about the glory of his face. He never brought those first tables into the camp at all. He hears how the people are behaving, pleads with God for the sake of His great name, when God offers to destroy them, and make of him a great nation; but when he came down, and saw the calf and the dancing, he cast down the tables and brake them beneath the mount. How could he bring God’s law into the midst of the people who were breaking the very first command contained in it? When Moses entreats the Lord, as to His present government, the Lord forgave the people’s sin. Moses could not make atonement, and they were put back under law—the soul that sinneth it should die. Then he took with him two other tables like the first, and emboldened by God’s graciousness to him, he asks that he may see His glory. But this may not be; but He makes His goodness pass before him, and proclaims before him His gracious name in government, and then He put them under law again. Moses had proposed to make atonement for them, but could not; and God proclaimed Himself as the One who would by no means clear the guilty. After this, when Moses came down, all this intercourse with God caused his face to shine, and the people could not bear to see even the reflection of the glory of the Lord, so he puts a veil over his face. Here we learn that God deals in mercy with His people, but we do not get a perfect atonement made. The promise of a deliverer came in from the beginning, even in the garden of Eden; but there was only One who could make this atonement. In all the revelation of goodness one fundamental point was wanting, and that was the clearing the guilty. Then guilty Israel asked that a veil might be over his face, and to this day the veil is over their hearts; but when they shall turn to the Lord the veil shall be taken away. The law could but point in many sacrifices to the one perfect Lamb, and Israel could not see through the figures to the thing figured; but the veil is done away in Christ. There is no longer any veil over God’s thoughts towards us, although the god of this world may still keep it on men’s hearts. It is because this veil is done away with that it is called the gospel of the glory.
We find God acting according to two great principles—law and grace. Law is God requiring from man what man ought to be. It takes up all the relationships formed of God towards God and man. The duties were all there before the law was given, but it gave the rule of them, and attached God’s express sanction to them. The law came and claimed from man obedience. Our Lord sums up the whole law in two sentences: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” etc.; and, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The law came and claimed from man what he ought to be. It gave no life, no power, deliverance, or object to be a motive; it could not clear the guilty, nor was it any help or strength, although God does help His people at all times. But the law itself could do nothing but demand obedience; and as man was a sinner, and incapable of obedience to a holy law, it was a ministration of death and condemnation. There is no grace in law (the two are opposed to each other), but God’s grace dealt with individuals. The law was a ministration of death and condemnation because it gave from God what man ought to be, and what man is not. If a man’s heart is not exercised towards God, the law does not trouble him much. He thinks he has not done anything very bad; he is no worse than his neighbours; he has not committed any very gross sins. Besides, he says, God is merciful; for he is sure to bring in the thought of a little mercy to meet his need; for deep down in the heart of every man is the sense that he has sinned. He is pretty comfortable, and it is all very well as long as it is a question of natural conscience; not of God’s eye reaching the heart and thoughts. When the law says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” we are at once convinced of sin; we know that we do not. Who is as troubled at a loss to his neighbour as he would be at a loss to himself? But if we get a revelation of God ever so small along with the law, we are utterly condemned at once; for no flesh can stand His eye. Now one of two things will happen. You will either seek to hide from God, as Adam did in the garden of Eden, or you will seek to hide God from you, as Israel did when they entreated that Moses should put a veil upon his face: for if a man once gets but a sight of God, he can say with Job, “If I wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands never so clean; yet wilt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.” Whatever I may have thought of myself before, I see that in God’s eyes I am only like a man that is just dragged out of a ditch—utterly unclean. Under the law the soul may feel all right when it is not exercised towards God; but in His presence no man can stand it. Lust is there in the heart.
The principle of the law is, that what God is for me depends upon what I am for Him. But God has brought out that I am a sinner, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. It is a manifestation of death and condemnation, and nothing else. Law will never give peace. It is not grace; it is looking not at what the Lord does for me, but at what I find in myself for Him; and I may be under law in looking at the cross itself. I see a display of perfect love towards me on the cross, and I look into my heart and see there such a feeble response to His love that I begin to doubt whether I really love Him at all. It is quite right that I should desire to love Him; but it is not the gospel, and you can never get peace in this way. It is putting a question as to your relationship, founded on your conduct; and what confusion would it cause in a family if the children began to question whether they were their father’s children or not. I may ask, Am I walking according to my relationship? but I must not question whether I am a child or not. This is all law, though in a more subtle form. I am still looking to get peace in what I am for God, and not in what He is for me. This is the state of a Christian who has not found peace. Like the prodigal, who, far off from his father, asks to be made as one of his hired servants. When he comes into his father’s presence, no such word: he knew his relationship. Before he was only thinking of what he was to his father, and not of what his father was to him. In the first two parables in Luke 15 we get the grace that goes out to seek what was lost, and then reception on the return; and the Lord shews how the work goes on in the heart, how the soul is often still upon the principle of law, saying they are not what they would like to be. This is looking inside to see if they love God, and when they see no signs of love in their own hearts they then begin to doubt whether He loves them. This is a more subtle form of law; but it is still the same principle—looking at what I am for God, and not at what He is for me.
Now I turn to the gospel of the glory. Into the midst of a law-breaking world God came in grace. Before Jesus came God had not come out to man, and man could not go in to God. He gave man law and promises, but He did not Himself come to man. But the great fact that we have now before us is, that God has come. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us “; and man is gone right in—into the presence of God. When I say man, I mean Christ Himself; but who as the Forerunner has entered in for us within the veil. I find that God came in perfect goodness, and not in manifestation of His glory. He came when we were sinners and law-breakers, when we were far off. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” We get the manifestation of the purest love in our Lord’s life down here; His miracles were not only power, but power in love to meet every want in every man. He removed every effect of sin; He was the manifestation of God in perfect goodness; and the result was that man spit in His face and rejected Him. May the Lord give us all always to remember, that we are in a world that has rejected God when He was in it in grace! The world now is as bad as it was then; it is no more in relationship with God; souls are not nearer God by nature than they were. In fact, as we look around, we can see things are in a worse condition than they were. Sin has reached its climax. And it is not only that God has turned man out of the garden of Eden, but that when God came into this world man turned Him out. As Jesus Himself says, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” He passed through this world in goodness, healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him. The Son of God has been in the world, and been rejected by the world. God revealed Himself to us in the Person of His Son while we were sinners. He shews His perfect holiness in His life; this is brought out in a striking and touching manner when the poor leper comes to Him. He was with sinners unsullied by them; but there in perfect love. Here was one who came acknowledging His power, but doubting His love. And what is His answer? does He reproach him? No; His answer is, “I will: be thou clean”; and He put forth His hand and touched him. One who touched a leper was unclean like the leper; but Christ acquires no defilement by His contact with men, but cleanses them in grace. It was divine power touching and driving sin away: it was a most beautiful expression of what His grace is. But such as He was, they rejected Him; and in this act sin was completely manifested, for it was the rejection of God in goodness. But God uses this crowning act of man’s sin for his salvation; Christ was the Lamb of God, who puts away the sin of the world: and here we come to the cross. The work was done which was the expression and accomplishment of the height of wickedness on the part of man; but it did but manifest the supremacy of grace on God’s side. I get God’s righteousness against sin manifested, but more than that, God perfectly glorified. All Satan’s power is put forth, and it but serves to bring out God’s perfect love to the poor sinner. There where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; as it says, “If one died for all, then were all dead.” If you will not come to Christ, you are still preferring other things to Him; but there is a very solemn thought for you, and a solemn question for you to answer. Where are you going to spend your eternity? The question must be settled now in this life. Men shrink from the thought of eternity; and where there are infidel thoughts about God, they deny it altogether, or at least hope there will be none.
If I come to the cross, knowing that my sins brought Christ there, shall I find Him? No; when I get to the cross I find He is not there, and where does my faith know that He is? I know that my sins brought Him there, but my faith sees Him at the right hand of God, and that is why it is called the gospel of the glory; for He is entered into it for me. He is there now sitting at the right hand of God; but He has not got my sins upon Him now. No, He is sitting there because all my sins are clean gone for ever. By one sacrifice for sins He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified. When I come to give account of myself, whom do I find as judge? The very One who by Himself has put away my sins. For a soul perfectly established in grace there is no thought more happy than that of the judgment seat of Christ; for when I am manifested before it, it will be in my glorified body made like the Lord Himself. He said the work was finished, and the person who judges me is the One who bore all my sins away. The gospel of the glory is, that the One who died for my sins is there in the glory with all my sins put away for ever; and that is where the gospel in its fulness begins. It was not till Christ sat down at the right hand of God that the Holy Ghost came down, and that the disciples could go out in the power of the Holy Ghost. It is righteousness that has set the One who bore my sins at the right hand of God, and He is there without my sins upon Him; and having so borne them and glorified God as to them, it is the ministration of the Spirit—the Holy Ghost bearing witness in the gospel that the One who did it all is the One who is now exalted at the right hand of God. I see a Man in the glory, the Forerunner entered in for me. We had no part in this wonderful work that was done, except our sins and the hatred that put Him to death. He died, and God set Him in the glory because He had done a work which perfectly satisfied God. As we get in John, speaking of the Holy Ghost, He will convince the world of righteousness “because I go to my Father.” He sits there in the glory because the work is perfectly done—their sins put away for ever for all who believe. It also convinces of sin, because it was my sin which brought Him there on the cross, where He bore all, and perfectly satisfied the righteousness of God.
The law cannot give life; it can only convince of sin. The work was done between God and Christ; the whole question of sin was settled and done with, and He is my righteousness before God. God’s righteousness has been displayed in putting the Man who bore my sins at God’s right hand in glory. The Holy Ghost comes and says to me, You have no righteousness for God. Then I try to grow more holy. Quite right in itself that I should long after holiness; but as a means to peace it will not do. But here in Christ I have a divine righteousness that is fit to put me into glory. They that are led of the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. In the cross of Christ it is not merely that my debt is paid, for that might be, and yet I might have nothing as it were to live upon; but God has made me a joint-heir with Christ; and now down here I live looking for Him to come to take me to Himself, to be for ever with Him in the glory where He is.