2 Corinthians 3:9-11
For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.…
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.
I. Note THE SEVERAL SUCCESSIVE STEPS BY WHICH A CANDID MIND MAY COME TO SOME CERTAINTY IN THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS TO BE BELIEVED AND LOVED.
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.
III. NOTE THE DIRECT BEARINGS OF ALL THIS UPON PRESENT THINGS.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.