An Epistle of Christ: Part 1

2 Corinthians 3
I. The apostle, in the beginning of this chapter, tells us what a true Christian is. He calls him an epistle of Christ. He is a person upon whose heart God has written Christ, as Moses wrote the law on tables of stone. This the apostle opens out; but first he states what Christians are in contrast with the law. A Christian is a person on whom Christ is engraved, not on tables of stone, but on the fleshy tables of the heart. If the heart is serious, one must see that many have not this. We see many persons very amiable, and others with a trying nature. But here it is not difference of mere natural character. This is not the point. Natural amiability of character is not Christ graved on the heart. It has nothing to do with being a Christian, which is a positive real work of God. It is the Holy Ghost engraving Christ on a man's heart, putting Christ into his thoughts, his words, and his ways, just as the law was put upon stones. Now a person may get angry at this; but nevertheless Christ is the object of a Christian's life, and your own conscience must judge if it is so with you. It is not that there is not failure. A man who is seeking to make money does not always succeed; but everybody knows what his object is. Just so Christ is the object of a believer's life.
God gave the law, not to make men righteous, but to prove that there was none righteous. The law condemns every one. It was the ministration of death. But after men had broken God's law, He sent His Son. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son.” God's Son has been in the world. How comes it that He is out of it? The world would not have Him. Men spit in His face. This is what the world has done. Now I do not ask you about duties; but I ask, Is Christ engraven on your heart? We cannot kill Him now; but our hearts can reject Him as much as ever the Jews did. An honest man—I do not speak of a Christian—will own that from morning to night Christ is not in his heart.
Now what was the apostle doing? When a Christian went from one place to another, it was customary to give him a letter of commendation. But, says the apostle, Do I want a letter? If one came to him to ask what he went about doing, he would say, Look at these Corinthians (for they were going on well then): they were his letter. How so? Because they were Christ's. Now I leave it with you as to whether Christ is on your heart. I do not ask if you love Him as you ought; for if you love Him at all, you will not say that; He is too precious for that. But if you are a Christian, you are sure there is not anything that you would not give for Christ. You may not be able to govern yourself, still Christ is the object of your heart.
Notice now another thing: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” It is not liberty to be fearing and trembling before God. “Liberty” is to be happy with Him. When the Holy Ghost begins to show me my sins, I have anything but liberty. I begin to be afraid of my sins; I do not know whatever to do with them. False liberty is taken away, and true liberty is not given. And this will always be the case until the perfect love of God is seen. Now law will never teach me that. Suppose I command my child to love me, and threaten him if he does not; will that make him love me? Why, it will make him tremble. This is what the law does. It cannot produce the love, it can but command. What is the effect? I cannot stand in its presence. When Moses had been up on the mount, his face shone. He had been with God. And when he came down with the two tables of the law, the children of Israel were afraid to come near him. He had to put a veil on his face for the glory of his countenance. After being in the presence of God's glory, they cannot bear to look on him. The only effect of the revelation of the glory of God is to drive me away as far as ever I can get from Him against whom I have sinned. There is not a pleasure in the world that the presence of God would not blast in a moment. There is not a happiness of man, as man, that is not spoiled by the very mention of the name of God. Now think what a terrible state that is to be in.
The apostle calls this claim of God by the law the “ministration of death” and “of condemnation “; because it claims righteousness, and does not produce the thing it claims. Whenever a person is looking to his conduct for what he ought to be, he is under the ministry of death and condemnation. That is not the way to get Christ written on the heart.
Before we turn to look at Christ as He is now, let us look at what He was, God manifest in the flesh. In what state did He find men when He came? He found them “all under sin.” And what does Job say of himself, as being in this condition? “If I wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands never so clean, yet thou shalt plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me. Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both. Let him take his fear away, then would I speak; but it is not so with me.”
Now what do I find in Christ when He came? I find “a daysman” —the very thing that Job wanted. Was there fear in Christ? Was any one afraid of Christ? If a sinner was ever so burdened, he could go to Christ and thus to God. Now here I find that though my sins hindered me from going to God, they could not hinder God from coming to me. You will never find a single case in which Christ did not receive the sinner with open arms-never. Now that is what you want. Christ did not say, Get righteousness and come up here, and I will have you. No; but He came down here to meet us here. This is an entirely new thing. Christ came in this way to win our hearts thus. And therefore they reproached Him with receiving sinners, and eating with them. It is quite true, He replied, but is not a father glad to receive his lost son? Even so is it with My Father in heaven; and therefore am I come to seek and to save that which was lost. Now this is grace.
But there is righteousness too. When the father fell on the neck of the prodigal, he was in his rags. The father could not bring him into the house in his rags; it would dishonor the house. So His blessed love goes on—and Jesus gives Himself for the sins, which unfit me for the Father's house. I see that the very Lord, against whom I sinned, has taken my sins and put them all away at the cross.
Now where do I see the glory of God? No longer on the face of Moses—I could not look on it there. But now I see it in the face of Jesus Christ. Ah! I say, that is the One who died for my sins. He could not bring my sins into the glory, and therefore He put them away. I have got His word and His work for it, and the glory for it too; and therefore God is now ministering righteousness. Now it is “the ministration of righteousness.” The sins are not passed over. He sweat great drops of blood for the sins. He has really gone through everything that holiness required on account of them, and now He is in the glory; so that every ray of the glory I look at is the proof that my sins are put away. When I see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, it is the very thing I like to look at; because the Man whom I see in the glory is the One who bore all my sins. Oh! I delight to look at Him. And this is the way I get Christ graven on my heart by the Holy Ghost. “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, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” It is the ministration of righteousness, because the Holy Ghost comes and tells me that there is a righteousness accomplished “by one man's obedience.” It is the ministration of the Spirit, because the Spirit is given on the foundation of the righteousness. And now the man is at liberty, because his conscience is perfectly purged. Here he will have trial and conflict, it is true; but as between himself and God he will never have anything but perfect peace.
This is God's way of graving Christ on the heart. First He gives a man the consciousness of being entirely condemned, showing him that his nature is enmity against God; that the law he has broken; and that when He has brought him to this in his conscience, then He shows him that the God against whom he sinned has come and wrought out a righteousness for him, and that this blessed Man is now in glory.
Now mark how the heart thus learns to trust God. What love! when I was in my sins, God came and put them away. My sins are the very thing that give the greatest proof of His love. He has given Christ for them. Well may I trust Him for everything else.
Let me now ask you, dear reader, if your confidence is in this God? Has your heart been brought to submit to His righteousness, for you have none of your own? Oh, it is the hardest thing for the heart to be broken down so as to be willing to have righteousness by the obedience of another! “By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:1919For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)). But if you have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ you will desire to “be found in him, not having your own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness, which is of God, by faith.”