2 Corinthians 3:9

He speaks now of the "ministration of death," not of it as the ministry of the letter; and yet it was "glorious." Compared with the revelation made to Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, it was "glorious." Whether witnessing to the unity of God or to his providence over an elect race, it was an illumination, or splendour, unequalled in the centuries before Christ. Tribes were organized as a nation, bondmen transformed into free men; and, despite their proclivity to heathenish idolatry, they came finally to hold and defend the doctrine of one God, their Jehovah, their Lord of hosts, their Benefactor and Friend, as the doctrine underlying all their hopes and aspirations. The sanctity of human life which the great lawgiver made the foundation of his system, the rights of persons and property, the obligations of brotherhood among themselves, duties to the poor and the stranger, duties to their nation, reverence for the sabbath and its worship, obedience to God in the minutest things, were taught them with a precision and a force that largely succeeded in producing the only phenomenon of its kind in history - a nation educated in the sense of God, of his presence in their midst, and of his providence as an unceasing and omnipotent agency in their homes and business. What a "glory" there was in their literature we all know. No psalmody is given in the New Testament; none was wanted; inspired poetry reached its full measure of excellence in King David and his poetic successors; and the Christian heart, whether in prayer or praise, finds much of its deepest and most devout utterance in these ancient Judaean hymns. Reproduction is the test of enduring greatness. In this respect the genius and piety of David stand unrivalled. Whenever men worship God, he is the "chief singer" yet; nor have we any better standard by which to try the merit of our religious poetry and music than the similarity of their effect upon us to that produced by the Psalms of David. Last of all in the order of time, first in its importance, what a "glory" in him born of the Virgin Mary! On this system St. Paul made no war. What he antagonized was the misunderstanding and abuse of the system in the hands of Pharisees and Sadducees, and, especially in the shape it assumed among the Judaizers at Corinth and in Galatia. He calls the old covenant "glorious," a word he never uses but in his exalted moods of thought, True, it was "written and engraven in stones," but by whose hand? Even "the face of Moses' was more than the Israelites could bear, "for the glory of his countenance." The splendour irradiating Moses was transient - "which glory was to be done away;" but it did what it was intended to do by demonstrating where he had been and on what mission. Yet - the glory acknowledged - it was "the ministration of death." All the sublimity was that of terror, none that of beauty, when Sinai became the shrouded pavilion of Jehovah. "Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death." This external characterization was a symbol of its condemning power. "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." It was not in the language of the Law that David prayed, "Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me;" nor in sympathy with the Law that Isaiah spoke of the Anointed One, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;" but in contemplation of grace beyond Law, and therefore extra to the ordinary workings of the Mosaic economy. A provision existed for these spiritual anticipations, and it was a part of its excellence, the highest part, that it had on a few minds this prevenient influence. Still, the distinctive feature stands, "a ministration of death;" and to the hour when Jerusalem and her temple fell, Sinai was the mount that could not be touched without death. It had a glory, a derived and subordinate glory, and the glory itself was to die. Certain qualities of Hebrew mind under the system, methods of thought, poetic modes of looking at nature, cultivated instincts of providence, yearnings for spirituality, were to survive and attain their completeness; but the system was to end by the law of limitation organic in its structure. Now, on this basis, the glorious economy of which Moses was the minister, and the transientness of its duration, St. Paul builds an argument for the superior glory of the gospel. It is the "ministration" of the Holy Ghost. It is "the ministration of righteousness." Under the economy of grace the righteousness of God was first secured. That done, the justice of God appeared in the sinner's justification. And in this justification the converted man realizes that sense of demerit and guilt which arises in his personal instinct of justice, is met and satisfied; while, at the same time, gratitude and love are awakened by the unmerited goodness of God in Christ. The two stand together. They are inseparable in the constitution of the universe. They are inseparable by the laws of the human mind. The joy of the one is vitally blended with the gladness of the other; so that if the renewed heart feels its indebtedness to the mercy of God in Christ, it feels also that its salvation rests on the vindicated righteousness of God in Christ. It is what Christ is to the Father that makes him precious as the Christ of his faith, hope, and love. Most fitly, then, St. Paul presents the antithetic emphasis on condemnation and righteousness. Condemnation and righteousness are legal terms. The element of similarity in their common relation to Law is clearly recognized. Without this common element the antithesis could have no meaning. The dissimilarity is thus made vivid. "Much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory." Each is a "ministration," each a "ministration" of "glory," but the "ministration of righteousness doth exceed in glory." The idea is explained and strengthened yet further. A favourite thought of the Jews, and particularly of the Pharisees, was the perpetuity of the Law. After the Exile, this was the stronghold of patriotism, sentiment, and religion. On no other ground could Pharisaism have acquired its popular ascendency. This was the battle it was ever fighting for the nation - the dignity of the Law as seen in its permanent utility, since only thereby could Israel attain her true destiny and far surpass her ancient renown. Of course the anti-Pauline party at Corinth had much to say on St. Paul's view of the Law. Here, then, is an opportunity for him to defend his ministry. The point now is that the Mosaic ministration had no glory "in this respect," that is, in respect to the succeeding dispensation, which had entirely obscured its lustre. The once stately figure was not erect, but prostrated; it was disrobed of its gorgeous vestments; it wore no longer the breast, plate with its precious stones; its glory had departed; and all this "by reason of the glory that excelleth." If so, then how transcendent the splendour of the Spirit's dispensation? "If that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious." In the former Epistle he had written of various glories - one of the sun, another of the moon, still another of the stars, the radiance distributed over immeasurable spaces and among orbs widely different, each preserving from age to age its own distinctive splendour, every ray of light imaging the world whence it issued. A firmament was before his eye in its circles of magnificence. But now the glory, on which in other days he had looked with so much pride as a Pharisee, had passed forever from his sight. Yet, so far from feeling that there was loss, he exulted in the infinite gain, because "of the glory that excelleth." - L.

For if the ministration of condemnation be glory.
here replace death and life, because it is through condemnation that man becomes the prey of death; and the grace which reigns in him to eternal life reigns through righteousness (Romans 5:21). The contrast of these two words is very significant for Paul's conception of the gospel: it shows how essential to and fundamental in his idea of righteousness is the thought of acquittal or acceptance with God. Man is sinful, under God's condemnation; and he cannot conceive a gospel which does not announce, at the very outset, the removal of that condemnation, and a declaration in the sinner's favour. Mere pardon may be a meagre conception, but it is that without which no other Christian conception can exist for a moment. That which lies at the bottom of the new covenant, and supports all its promises and hopes is this, "I will forgive their iniquities," etc. Of course, righteousness is more than pardon; it is not exhausted when we say that it is the opposite of condemnation; but unless we feel that the very nerve of it lies in the removal of condemnation, we shall never understand the N.T. tone in speaking of it. It is this which explains the joyous rebound of the apostle's spirit whenever he encounters the subject: he remembers the black cloud, and now there is clear shining. He cannot exaggerate the contrast, nor the greater glory of the new state. The stars are bright till the moon rises; the moon herself reigns in heaven till her splendour pales before the sun; but when the sun shines in his strength there is no other glory in the sky. All the glories of the old covenant have vanished for Paul in the light which shines from the Cross and from the throne of Christ.

(J. Denney, B. D.)

Our estimate of any object is considerably enhanced by comparing it with others of inferior excellence. The size and capacity of the vessel which we say is the largest afloat are by an inexperienced eye more clearly discernible when she is seen in company with one of much smaller dimensions. By such comparison, however, we do nothing more than determine the relative value or properties of an object. Christ, for example, in asserting of Himself that, in respect of wisdom, He was greater than Solomon, instead of wishing us to depreciate the attainments of that illustrious king, intended us to consider him as by far the wisest of uninspired men; and our estimate of the wisdom of the one depends upon our acknowledgment of the great wisdom of the other. Paul says of the gospel, that it is a "better testament, a more glorious dispensation than the Mosaic"; but, in so expressing himself, he does not seek to lessen the worth, or to deny the Divine authority of the legal economy.

I. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE CHRISTIAN OVER THE MOSAIC DISPENSATION WILL BE APPARENT IF WE CONSIDER THE PERSONS BY WHOM THEY WERE RESPECTIVELY INTRODUCED. In tracing the origin of the Jewish economy we are led to ascribe its authorship to God. But although God may thus, in strict propriety of speech, be said to be the founder of the Old Testament dispensation, yet instrumentally may we assign this honour unto Moses. Moses was but a man, but Christ was God; the one was only a servant, the other was a Son over His own house. The fact of the incarnation gives a glory to the gospel which never could be claimed for the law. How important must that system have been in the estimation of the Infinite Godhead which demanded that the second person in the Trinity should be the immediate agent in publishing it to the world. Moses was not without his faults. No blemish attaches to Christ's character. Moses could teach the law of God, and institute His ordinances, but he could not enforce the one nor render the other available to salvation. Christ's words are spirit and life. The unequalled glory of Jesus must be diffused over His gospel.

II. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE CHRISTIAN OVER THE MOSAIC DISPENSATION IS EVINCED BY THE CHARACTER OF ITS REVELATIONS. However suited the institutions of Moses were to the time at which they were appointed, they are in their nature, and in the benefits which they procured, greatly inferior to those of Christ. The most precious truths were deposited under obscure symbols; the most imperative acts of worship were performed in expensive rites and burdensome ceremonials. Christianity, as a light from heaven, has brushed away the veil which concealed those things which man's interests required should be clearly unfolded. She comes to us in the form of mercy, and speaks in words of the tenderest compassion. The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. Turn, too, to the intolerable yoke of ceremonies which marked the Mosaic dispensation, as compared with the easy yoke of Jesus — how burdensome the one, how light and gentle the other!

III. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE CHRISTIAN OVER THE MOSAIC DISPENSATION IS APPARENT FROM THE MORE EXTENSIVE DIFFUSION OF ITS BLESSING. The religion of Moses was exclusively the religion of the Jews. It was intended not for the whole world, but only for one nation. Very different, however, is it with regard to the gospel. Devised and published for the exclusive benefit of none, but aiming at the happiness of universal man, its field is the world. Adjusted to the peculiarities of none, it seeks the salvation of all. As the acorn cast into the soil becomes the giant oak, so the gospel, originally small as a grain of mustard seed, is now the wide-spreading tree. Nor is its extension yet completed.


(J. Jeffrey.)

For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious
1. Now, first, as to the knowledge of God, His nature and attributes; that there is a God, that there is but one God of infinite justice, wisdom, and goodness, the supreme governor of the world, and a gracious rewarder of those that seek Him, is absolutely necessary to be known by all who would attain eternal life. And it cannot be doubted but that the faithful from the beginning of the world had this knowledge of God; but men had not so certain, so clear a knowledge of these things before the coming of Christ as we have now under the gospel. The doctrine of the ever blessed Trinity may perhaps be discerned in the writings of Moses and the prophets; but it is so legibly written in the writings of the apostles that there is no need of learning to discover it. The believers under the law were persuaded that all things were governed by an all-wise and all-powerful being; and yet the most enlightened of them were at a loss to account for the justice of Divine providence in suffering the wicked to prosper, and the righteous to be afflicted; but every common Christian is able to solve this difficulty by the help of what he hath learned from the gospel. Thus doth it appear that the knowledge which the Jews had of the nature and attributes of God was very short of ours.

2. And as the gospel gives us a more distinct account of the origin and demerit of sin than the law doth, so also doth it furnish us with a brighter discovery of the methods whereby the guilt of it is atoned. And, indeed, it would be no way to our advantage to be informed so fully of the malignity of our disease if we were not also instructed by what remedies it is to be cured. Such a manifestation as this of the mystery of our redemption was proper, after it was actually wrought; but so clear a knowledge of it was neither necessary nor expedient before it was effected.

3. And as we Christians have clearer notions of the expiation of sin than had the Jews, so by consequence must our assurances of our being justified, or having our sins pardoned, be stronger than were theirs.

4. And as the assurances given to us of this inheritance are greater than were afforded to the Jews, so, lastly, is the inheritance itself much more plainly revealed to us in the gospel than it was under the law. Thus have I given you a summary account of some of those great advantages which we enjoy under the dispensation of the gospel, above those which were held forth to the Jews under the economy of Moses. Great reason we have to thank God for these glorious privileges.

(Bp. Smalridge.)

I. THE GLORY OF THE MOSAIC ECONOMY. Its design was to maintain among the Israelites the knowledge of the one living and true God, and to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. The glory of the dispensation consisted in its establishing these two great ends. That glory appears —

1. In the purity of the principles which it inculcates. At the period of its promulgation the whole world had apostatised from the worship of the Most High; and idolatry led to the most ferocious cruelty, and sanctioned the basest pollutions. Now, it was the glory of the Mosaic economy that it opposed all this.

2. In the typical significance of the rites and ceremonies it appointed. It is Christ who holds the key of these types, and reveals all their fulness and significancy. At the same time the pious Israelite could penetrate through these, adumbrations and see their spiritual intention.

3. In the illustrious support it received from the attestation of miracles, and from the successive statements of inspired prophets.


1. In the clearness of the revelation given by it as to those truths which are most important to salvation. We have seen that the Mosaic dispensation was typical. It taught the first elements, but not religion itself, in the plenitude and lucidness of its discoveries.

2. In the spirituality of its nature. The religion of the Jews was national; there was but one temple, and that was at Jerusalem. The blessings bestowed on that people were mostly temporal. But this state of things no longer exists. Place is nothing in the estimation of God, and all the blessings of the gospel are spiritual.

3. In its universality. The Jewish system excluded from its benefits those who were not the children of Israel, but in the gospel none are excluded.

4. In its perpetuity.

(W. H. Murch.)

1. Our lives are full of fever and restlessness. In truth is quietness, and God only never changes. It is not simply that we and our works are passing; we might bear better all that if it were not for the changes which shake our beliefs.

2. But none of us have ever seen greater changes than Paul. The law seemed to him permanent: the sun might have been darkened, but the glory of Israel was for ever. Yet in a few short years and he is thinking of that glory as something which is done away, and seems to have gained a faith which soared above these passing things. He forgets to mourn over the glory which passeth away as his eye gladdens with the sight of a glory which excelleth. In all religion there are transient forms, and there are permanent elements.


1. We reach assurance in faith only as we find for ourselves the way up to Christ as the supreme authority of faith. We may approach the Divine Man —(1) Through the constitutional wants and capacities of our own souls. Our hearts are such echoes of Divinity that we should listen in expectation for the voice from above to speak again. Given the first man, Adam, and it is in order to expect the second Man, the Lord from heaven. Christ is the only perfect fulfilment of human nature; and we do need Him.(2) Through the world which seems to have been made for a Christ to come. The direction of the creation from the beginning has been ever to something higher and diviner. At first there was matter and motion; then worlds and life; then instinct, and life rising to self-consciousness; then reasoning, and thoughts of the spirit searching beyond the stars; and what wonder then if we see, standing at the end of it all, One in the form of man, yet having the glory of the Father's person. One who finishes the whole creation, as, in His own person, He binds it to the throne of God.(3) Through history, where we come upon increasing signs of a leading and gathering of events according to come higher law. Take the books of Moses, and compare them with contemporaneous traditions and beliefs! The Bible grows, according to some higher law, and for some perfect fruit to come, just as a plant which springs up from the ground feels the impulsion of something above the ordinary forces of the soil and the gravitation of the earth in which it strikes its roots. Follow this growth until you come to the age of its great prophecies, and you will find it more difficult still to explain it as a merely human product. When you reach the age of Isaiah, you see that all this growth is after a Messianic law. It is for a Christ to come. That is the law of the type of the whole dispensation. So we come to the gospels, and the presence of Jesus Himself. Nature and history have pointed towards Him that should come; and when He stands among men, declaring that in Him the law and the prophets are fulfilled, He is His own witness. He stands in the centre where all lights converge. Having this record of the Son of God on earth, it is easy to add the confession — never man was born as this Man; never man rose from the dead, and ascended, as this Man.

2. We have found the Messias; now how can we come down from Him to the present, so that we may know, for surety, amid the world's changes and confusions, that we have His mind?(1) Many men saw and heard and knew Jesus of Nazareth. They told others what they had seen and heard. Then many began to write out their knowledge of Jesus. The same power which prepared the world for, and led prophecy up to, secured a fitting representation of the Christ.(2) Under the law of the Spirit of Christ there were gathered up the writings of apostolic men. These men were fitted both by their personal position with Jesus, and by the special working in them of the power of the Holy Ghost, to be to us authorities for Jesus, and the first interpreters of the mind of Christ. We believe, accordingly, that this written Scripture is our supreme authority.(3) We must receive something of His Spirit ourselves. We must read tits words, and understand these authorities for Christ, in the spirit of Christ. The Bible is a gift of God to the spiritual mind of the Church. We live in the dispensation of the Holy Ghost.

II. CHRIST, THE SCRIPTURES, AND THE CHRISTLIKE HEART, ARE THE MEANS GIVEN TO MEN OF KNOWING THE ABIDING REALITIES, the true God and eternal life. And this is precisely what John said in John 21:20, "We know that the Son of God is come"; that was the disciple's positive knowledge of the historic Christ, "and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true"; that was the disciple's spiritual discernment of Jesus; "And we are in Him that is true"; that is the full and final security of Christian faith and truth.


1. A child once said to me, "Perhaps I shall not believe when I am a man all the things which you believe." Surprised for a moment, I reflected, Why, if it be true to itself and its God, should it not grow in its day beyond us in knowledge of Divine truth? I revere the fathers; but some things which they held belonged to the glory which was passing, not to the more excellent glory of that which remained. This, accordingly, has one application to parents who are sometimes troubled by the new questions which their children are asking.

2. The surface of religious life is now rippled with breezes of discussion, and one duty seems urgent. We should live and abide, as much as possible, with our own hearts in those truths which to us are most real and vital. For our own quietness and inner truth of faith we need to look away from this present, and to cherish in our thoughts those elementary Christian truths which belong to the heart of the Christian faith in all the ages. And these are not passing away.(1) The belief in God is not — how can it? — from the soul of man who is God's child. But from all our questionings we are learning, perhaps never before so deeply, what those old Hebrew words mean — the living God!(2) Again, men are disusing expressions of belief once common concerning the atoning work of Christ; and some say, So passes the glory of the Cross. Not so. The glory of the Cross can never pass, because it is the eternal glory of the love of God. Still upon our lips, although in simpler words of human love and need, you will hear the song of the ages, "Worthy the Lamb that was slain." God's Spirit is bringing closer home to our hearts the need there was for such sufferings as Christ's in the forgiveness of the sin of the world.(3) Again, there seems to have fallen over our pulpits a great silence upon the subject of the judgment-day. Perhaps God has seen fit to make this silence that our confused echoes of Jesus' gospel might die away, and men listen again with hushed hearts to His eternal words. We had to cease repeating the father's sermons upon sinners in the hand of God, at which once indeed the souls of men trembled, but by which now they are not moved, in order that we might begin to preach again, according to the warnings of our own hearts, the fearful wickedness and doom of a soul flying with wilful selfishness into the face of the glory of the loving, Christian God.(4) Neither are the motives to repentance and a godly life passing from us. The more we learn of our own evil nature, and our own weakness and need of being put and kept right, the more reason have we for the humble prayer of the heart for the forgiveness of sins, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

(Newman Smyth, D. D.)

The gospel is pre-eminently glorious, because it continues without change, and affords blessings in perpetuity to all who are willing to receive them. This perpetuity and unchangeableness are not the mere results of arbitrary power; but belong to it as a system suited in its nature to bless man at all times, and in all stages of his existence. It possesses the character of Him whose name is love and who never changes. Systems of religion, it is said, have risen up and had their day. Why may not this be the case with Christianity? The answer is easy. Because Christianity differs, in many material points, from every other form of religion.

1. It addresses itself directly to reason and conscience.

2. It puts no inordinate value on outward observances.

3. It not only disclaims fanaticism and superstition, but affords the only real security against those desolating evils.

4. It lays no restraints the design of which is not clearly benevolent.

5. The great founder of this religion has made all the duties which grow out of man's various relations a part of His system. As long as there are husbands and wives, parents and children, neighbours, etc., so long Christianity will be adapted to the circumstances of man. But it also institutes new relations. It makes, indeed, the human race all one family, offers to all one Saviour, and encourages all to say, "Our Father which art in heaven." Thus, then, there is no other religion like Christianity. So the passing away of dissimilar systems affords no presumption that this, which differs from them all, will also pass away. Because the places of sand and seaweed on the shore are changed by every rising tide, it does not therefore follow that the solid rocks will be removed.


1. All races.

2. Every variety of human character.

3. All classes and ranks.


1. It applies the strongest stimulus to the human mind, and gives the widest range to human thoughts.

2. Mark its treatment of man's affections and passions.(1) Take love. Its ordinary effects, when supremely fixed on worldly objects, are too well known. It is the religion of the Bible only, which turns it at once on objects worthy to be loved by rational and immortal beings.(2) Take hope, the mainspring of the soul. How important it is that man should have his hopes wisely directed. But in this case all human wisdom has utterly failed. Men have hoped for things unattainable, or for things which, when attained, have disappointed their expectations. But the gospel fastens the hopes of man on infinity and eternity, and gives for their warrant the sure promise of Jehovah, and the redeeming love of the Saviour.(3) Take the desire of pleasure. Here is one of the most fearful dangers to which human nature is exposed. The religion of Christ gives to the Christian pleasure without pollution. It allows everything which is not injurious, and adds joys which flow from the everlasting fountain of joy in heaven.


1. Conscience, from want of proper discipline and exercise, may be inert and feeble. Hence it is of unspeakable importance that we should have access to truth, which has power to awaken the slumberer within us. The Bible has that power, and it has been exerted times without number. It strikes on the heart of the sinner, even "when dead in trespasses and sins," and sends a thrill of powerful feeling through his whole soul.

2. By the communication of knowledge respecting our Creator, our relation and obligations to Him, and to one another, our conscience is most wisely directed.

3. No religion knows what to do with the guilty and troubled conscience, but the religion of the gospel.

IV. THE GOSPEL IS WONDERFULLY ADAPTED TO THE NATURE OF MAN, BECAUSE THE UNLIMITED REACH OF ITS TRUTHS IS SUITED TO THE PROGRESS OF OUR INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL FACULTIES. Such is the nature of man, that when he has attained an object, and ascertained its extent, and found just what it can do for him, he is at once disgusted. But the truths of Christianity are ever enlarging before the mind of the believer. The same is true in regard to the Christian's progress in holiness. Notice in conclusion some special blessings conferred by the gospel.

1. It confers upon individuals an elevation of character otherwise unattainable.

2. It gives to domestic life its choicest blessings.

(1)By making marriage a Divine institution.

(2)By determining the relative situation of husband and wife, parent and children.

3. It bestows its peculiar blessings on social life. Purifying all its fountains, and producing that gentleness and meekness, those "kind designs to serve and please," which give the highest charms and the most enchanting graces to social intercourse.

4. It confers inestimable benefits on man in the relations of civil life. Complete civil and political liberty never can be enjoyed by any people without the influences of pure Christianity. In the most celebrated republics of the heathen world there was nothing like the degree of true, rational, well-balanced, and well-secured freedom, which is now the birthright of the people of this country.

4. It affords the only security for the preservation of the dearest right of a freeman — his religious liberty.

(J. H. Rice.)

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