Notes on 2 Corinthians 3:7-11

2 Corinthians 3:7‑11  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The apostle proceeds next, in a long parenthesis (7-16) to contrast the respective services of the law and of the gospel, the ever rising debate wherever Christ is named and known. And no wonder, for sovereign grace is not natural to the heart, though it alone reveals God fully. The believer himself never keeps grace fresh, pure, or even true, save as consciously in God's presence, with Christ before him. As in Christ thus, it is simple and appreciated as the one principle and power which snits either God on the one hand, or those He saves on the other. Grace alone puts each in the place which befits them. But the effect or assumption of the mind even in the believer to take up grace and reason it out, apart from present dependence, is as bad or worse than its use of the law; for conscience answers to the law when it condemns every evil way, but faith is needed for grace. Outside God's presence it is but allowance of sin. In His presence it deals with sin far more overwhelmingly than law, as is evident in the cross of Christ. Only there can the believer enjoy grace safely, happily, and holily: and there is no possibility of having peace in His presence but through grace—grace reigning through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
“But if the ministry of death in letter,1 graven on stones, came in with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently toward the face of Moses for the glory of his face, that was to be done away, how shall not the ministry of the Spirit more be in glory? For if the ministry of condemnation [have]2 glory, much more doth the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For even that which hath been glorified, hath not3 been glorified in this respect on account of the surpassing glory. For if that to be done away [was] with glory, much more what abideth [is] in glory?”
It is of moment to notice that the apostle reasons here on Ex. 34, not on Ex. 20 as in Heb. 12. It is a question, not of law pure and simple, when God's voice shook the earth, with a sight of terror which caused even Moses to be full of trembling; but of law when given the second time, accompanied by the mercy which not only forgave but accepted mediation. It was a mixture of law with grace, and precisely what people now conceive to be Christianity. But this is what is designated the ministry of death in letter, engraven on stones. For the second time, not the first, was it introduced with glory (ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ), and then, not before, was there any difficulty for the sons of Israel steadily to gaze at his face. Only then are we told that the skin of the face of Moses shone (Ex. 34), and that the Israelites were afraid to come nigh him. It was the glory of Jehovah which caused his face thus to shine, an effect entirely peculiar to the second occasion, Nevertheless this is styled “the ministry of death.” The mercy which had spared Israel did not alter its character, nor did the glory which shone in the Mediator's face. How different is that which the Spirit now ministers in a dead, risen, and glorified Christ! The reflection of glory in Moses' case was but a passing thing: it was neither intrinsic nor permanent, but to be done away. Not so Christ's. Here all that is the fruit of His work abides. It has everlasting value. It is no question of letter, nor of graving on stones, but of a divine Savior yet a man, who has glorified God atoningly as to sin, not in living obedience only, but up to death, the death of the cross, and is thereon glorified in heaven, yea, in God Himself, and gives the believer, once a wretched, guilty, and lost ginner, now washed, sanctified and justified, a righteous title to stand in perfect grace, to be with Him in glory, one with Him even now by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. This is the gospel, this the ministry of the Spirit which abides and is assuredly in glory.
But the law requires righteousness, and man being a sinner cannot yield it. Such is necessarily, therefore, a ministry of death (ver. 7), and the more brightly God's goodness shines, the worse it is for the sinner, for he is only the more proved worthless and guilty. In the gospel righteousness is revealed to faith, not required: for Christ Himself is the righteousness of the believer, and the work was done and accepted before God sent out the gospel of His grace to man. The Spirit, therefore, testifies to a Man at God's right hand, Who suffered once for sins on the cross, and declared that by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses. Hence the Holy Spirit as He sealed Christ the righteous One without blood when on earth, now seals us when washed from our sins in His blood, and rests on us as the Spirit of glory and of God. (Ver. 8.) We are put, therefore, in association with Christ on high and await His coming to bring us there. The law, on the contrary, not only kills but condemns; it brings sense of guilt on the conscience, and God as a judge of the evil actually done. Hence it can only be a ministry of condemnation (ver. 9), as well as death, whatever the glory that marked its enactment; whereas the gospel is the ministry of righteousness already accomplished in Christ and the portion of the believer; and that righteousness abides unchanged and glorious in Christ above. Hence the ministry of the Spirit is also that of righteousness. As the righteousness is a fact of free grace in One who loves us perfectly, so has the glory the same attraction, unlike the glory which alarmed Israel, even in the face of Moses. The light which shines from Christ glorified speaks of the efficacy of His sacrifice; the brighter the light, the clearer the proof that our every sin is cleansed away by His blood. It is the light of divine glory, doubtless, but flowing from, redemption. His title to be in heaven is not His person, but the work which God His Father gave Him to do, that as surely as we know Him in the Father, we should also know that we are in Him and He in us. Most wondrous yet the simple truth of Christ and the Christian. But what is so wonderful as the truth? Yet Christ accounts for it all, and His work brings us who believe into it all. Such is grace in the ministry of the Spirit by righteousness.
And as the glory of God's grace in Christ completely dims by excess of brightness His glory in the law, (ver. 10), so also does the transitory or temporary character of the latter proclaim its incomparable inferiority to the former which abides, (ver. 15), as indeed it ought, inasmuch as it flows from and expresses the will of God, while the other only condemns and executes sentence on the evil of man.
A few details may be useful in helping the reader to appreciate the remarkably compressed phraseology of these verses. ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ means that the law was introduced in or with glory, rather than it existed in glory. The verb is changed when we come to the Spirit and His ministry, subsisting in glory. It is an error, however, to suppose that the future ἔσται is one of time, but rather of inference. There is no allusion here to the coming glory. The apostle points emphatically to what the Spirit is ministering now. It is hard to express, but important to bear in mind, the abstract nature of the contrast, τὸ καταργούμενον and τὸ μένον, the present participle of character, apart from time, not of actual fact. Lastly, it is at best oversight to affirm that διἀ δόξης and ἐν δόξῃ present a mere variation, of expressions without a difference of meaning. Never does scripture thus change words without a fresh thought and a distinct purpose. έν δ is admirably adapted when connected (not with ἐγενήθη, but) with μένον, to set forth permanence of glory, διὰ δ. a mere accompanying condition of what was to pass away. Rom. 3:30; 5:1030Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. (Romans 3:30)
10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
, prove difference, not sameness, of force, whatever Winer may say (Moulton's edition, pp. 458, 512), or the commentators misled by such laxity, as Alford, Hodge, &c.