The Ministrations of Law and Gospel
2 Corinthians 3:7-11
But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious…


1. There must ever enter into our thought on matters of religion continued reference to the unchangeableness of God. If we were setting ourselves to scrutinize the arrangements of a finite, and therefore changeable agent; if we found that at one time he had given a law to his inferiors which worked out their death, and that afterwards he had sent forth another law which allowed of their life, we might conclude that he had, in the first instance, been making an experiment, and that, warned by its failure, he had turned himself to a new course of treatment. But we must not so reason in regard of God. He knew perfectly well when He issued the law that it would prove a ministration of death. And if the law and the gospel had been altogether detached, there would have existed great cause for marvel at God's appointing a ministration of death. But when it is remembered that the law was introductory to the gospel, so that the covenant of works literally made way for the covenant of grace, all surprise ought to vanish. From the earliest moment of human apostasy, God's dealing with the fallen had always reference to the work of atonement. Though by itself the law was a ministration of death, yet those who live under it were not necessarily left to die. Know we not that whilst this legal dispensation was in the fulness of its strength, there passed many an Israelite into the kingdom of heaven? We carry you to the scenes of temple-worship, and bid you learn from the emblematical announcement of redemption that no man died because living under the ministration of death; but that, even whilst the moral law was unrepealed, as a covenant it could weigh no one down to perdition who looked onward to the long-promised sacrifice.

2. But while the Divine goodness in the appointment of a ministration of death is thus vindicated, the law was actually a ministration of death. Could man, with all his industry, obey truly the moral law? If not, then the ministration of the law must have been a ministration of death, seeing, that if it cannot be fulfilled, it must unavoidably condemn. You shall take the Crucifixion as an answer to all questioning on the law being aught else than a ministration of death. Why, if man had a capacity for working out by his own strivings obedience to the law, and he could win to himself a crown of glory — why did Divinity throw itself into humanity, and achieve, through the wondrous coalition, the mastery over death, and Satan, and hell?

2. Though the law was thus a ministration of death, it was nevertheless glorious. It was mainly as a consequence of its own perfection that the law proved a minister of death. Had the law been a defective law, constructed so as to be adapted to the weakness of the parties on whom it was imposed, and not to the attributes of Him from whom it proceeded, it is altogether supposable that the result might not have been the condemnation of mankind. But if a law had been constructed which man could have obeyed, would it have been glorious? You tell me, in the fact of its being a practical and saving law, and allowing the wretched to work out deliverance from their wretchedness. Then it is glory that the law should make loop-holes for offenders, in case of being a rampart against offences; while the whole of the universe must have been shaken at God's overlooking of sin. We say not, it was glory that man should perish; but we do say it was glorious that the moral law was the transcript of the Divine mind.


1. The ministration of the Spirit is set in antithesis to the ministration of death. The great work which Christ effected was the procurement of life to those who were dead in trespasses and sins. We are legally dead — because born under the sentence of eternal condemnation — and we are morally dead, because insensible to our condition; and, if insensible, totally unable to reanimate ourselves. The legal death the Mediator may be said to have annihilated, for He bore our sins in His own body on the tree; and the moral death-for the destruction of this He made the amplest provision, procuring for us, by the merits of His passion, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.

2. The gospel in its every department is a ministration of righteousness, and therefore of spiritual life. It is the mightiest display of God's righteousness. Where has God equally shown His hatred of sin, His settled determination to wring its punishment from the impenitent? It is a system, moreover, whose grand feature is the application to man of the righteousness of Christ; "Christ is made unto us of God, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption," and therefore is He our life. And this gospel, moreover, while displaying a perfect righteousness which must be wrought for us, insists peremptorily on a righteousness which must be wrought in us by God's Spirit — the ministration of the Spirit thus making our own holiness, though it can obtain nothing in the way of merit, indispensably necessary in the way of preparation.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:

WEB: But if the service of death, written engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which was passing away:

The Ministration of the Spirit
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