Notes on 2 Corinthians: 3:12-16

2 Corinthians 3:12‑16  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 11
This leads the apostle in the Spirit to apply the incident of Moses with and without a veil, as before of the glory of his face. He glories that in the gospel all is open. It is no longer the unhappy though wholesome detection of sin in man, but the plain revelation of good from God in Christ, and this righteously through His cross, yea, gloriously in His place at God's right hand in heaven: the ground of our association with heaven now, and of glory there not in spirit only but in body at His coming. In Judaism man could not bear to hear the truth, which was the sentence of death to flesh; in Gentilism all was doubt or deception. In the gospel we can speak plainly: it is God's good news of His Son. There is no reason or motive for reserve, but just the contrary. We cannot be too open. So the love of God who gave such a treasure would have it. Leave darkness to Rabbis and philosophers, who love it rather than light.
“Having then such hope we use much openness of speech: and not as Moses used to put a veil on his own face, that the sons of Israel should not look steadfastly unto the end of that to be done away. But their thoughts were darkened [lit, hardened]; for until this very day the same veil at the reading of the old covenant abideth unremoved [lit. unveiled], which in Christ is done away.1 But unto this day when Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. But whenever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken off.” (Ver. 12-16.)
Christianity is no system of restraint as evil in the first man, with ordinances suited to the flesh in the world, and God afar off in the dark, but founded on the grace of Christ, who, after establishing righteousness by the cross, is gone up into heavenly glory, and is ministered by the Holy Ghost in power. Hence, the unseen, the future, and the everlasting converge on the believer now; and having such a hope one can be thoroughly outspoken: there are the strongest motives for openness in every way, in contrast with the dimness, distance and reserve of the law. Not only did God in Christ come down to man, but, now that his evil has been judicially and conclusively dealt with in the cross, man can go up—nay, has already sat down at His right hand—in the person of our Savior and head. The accomplishment of redemption, as it closed the ministry of death, opened the way and became the basis of the ministry of the Spirit, to abide in glory. The previous state of concealment, where man had such reason to dread the sight of glory according to the law, is set forth in Moses putting a veil on his face when he spoke with the children of Israel outside,2 whereas he invariably put it off whenever he went in before Jehovah.
The Christian position is in the fullest contrast with that of Israel, to which tradition and human thoughts of unbelief would ever in principle reduce us. It suits reason and conscience guided by it, and our estimate of self as well as of God, where Christ and His work have no distinctive and commanding place. Hence not only do the utmost extremes meet here, popish and puritanical, but also that via media, which pleases the moderate men of all parties, rationalist or nonconformist, who on the one hand rightly venerate the law, as clothed with God's authority, but on the other, see not the wholly new position grace has placed us in by redemption, answering to Christ glorified on high, who has sent down the Spirit that we might enjoy it to the full, and walk accordingly. For we find our privilege Godward typified in Moses unveiled, not with the veil on. We behold Christ and His work in the ritualistic system, which conveyed to the Israelite only precepts to kill a lamb, a goat, or a bullock, with the blood brought in before God, and to sprinkle themselves with the water of separation, or the like. The law made nothing perfect. It (and not the speculative thought of the Greek, nor the political wisdom of Rome) was the true nursery of man in his nonage, the divine pro-paedeutic, shutting up to the faith about to be revealed.
Israel through unbelief slighted grace when shown to them abundantly, and forgot the promises which God had made to the fathers, which faith would have remembered and felt the need of. They therefore doubted not for a moment their ability to keep His law, and so maintain their place with Him. Granted that this was their deepest ignorance, both of God as a judge according to law, and of themselves as guilty and powerless sinners; and that scripture reveals their ruin under law, that the Gentile should avoid the snare and find their resource, strength, and blessing, all and only in Christ by God's sovereign grace. How awful then the darkness which has deliberately put Christendom back into the self-same position of law, as the rule of people to live by, after the proclamation of God's mercy! This is what not only the multitude believe, but the doctors have taught, Protestant no less than popish; this is the prevalent doctrine, alike Presbyterian and Prelatical, Methodist or Congregational. It is the mind active and exercised on what God used as a probationary system, but as unable to look to the end of it as the Jew of old, as rebellious against its transitory character, as blind to the surpassing glory of what is now revealed in Christ.
It is solemn to reflect on those once the people of God, now Lo-Ammi, in zeal for their forms rejecting Christ who gives them their real meaning and chief, if not only, value. But so it is and must be. How could the infinite gift of the Son of God, and then the witness of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, in virtue of redemption, have any other consequence? It is the rejection of God's fullest grace and heavenly glory, not merely of the law which demanded and defined a man's duty. God would be a partner to His own utter dishonor if He passed by the refusal of His Son dying in love for man's sin, or despite to the Spirit of grace who testifies of it and Him. This the Jew, did formally, before God swept them from their land by the Romans, not because the scriptures are not express as to Christ and His work, but because of their own unbelief. “But unto this day, when Moses is being read, a veil lieth upon their heart.” (Ver. 13.)
It is humbling however to know that their hardening is but the shadow of a guiltier and incomparably wider unbelief which is settling down on Christendom, not profane only but even religious after the flesh, into more and more dense delusion and self-complacency in resistance of the Holy Spirit and an ignorant contempt of Christ's glory as of our own portion in and with Him. So proceeded the Jew with his darkened thoughts till divine judgment fell on their temple and capital. Their (it was no longer God's) house was left to them desolate; yet do they persist in their most ruinous infatuation, to be punished with a yet more awful tribulation, not (thank God) forever but till they say, as they will ere long, Blessed He that cometh in the name of Jehovah, and own in their rejected Messiah their Lord and their God. “Whenever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken off."3 (Ver. 16.) Alas! it is not so with Babylon as with Jerusalem. For the Gentile city of confusion there will be exterminating judgment without hope of recovery. It behooves then all the faithful to beware of the evils which end in such strokes from God; it becomes them to inquire whether they may not have fellowship with her sins, which dishonor the excellent name which He called upon them. To the law and to the testimony: if men speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in (or morning for) them.
“Until this very day,” says the apostle, “the same veil at the reading of the old covenant abideth unremoved, which in Christ is done away.” (Ver. 14.) So it was and so it is; but it is graver still and no less sure, that the same veil rests on the hearts of the baptized at the reading of the latest revelation of God, when they refuse to submit to the righteousness of God, and their eyes and hearts are turned away to self, or to the church so called, from the only true Light. They do not truly acknowledge the Son, nor own the present efficacy of His work. The veil will envelop the heart for them (perhaps we may say) no less than for Israel; and what greater danger can there be than that such darkness should prevail where Paul is read no less, yea, far more, than Moses? Is it not that, though it be for the Gentile the day of grace, their thoughts are increasingly darkened? Those born of God will no doubt come out of Babylon; for His grace will work, and it may be in ways we little anticipate, to extricate souls that they may await His Son from heaven. But there is no revival, no restoration, for corrupted Christendom. It is salt that has lost its savor, fit neither for land nor for dunghill, only to be cast out, or burnt with fire, recompensed at last as the great city recompensed during her unrighteous career. For strong is the Lord God that judges her.