3:1-11 Even the appearance of self-praise and courting human applause, is painful to the humble and spiritual mind. Nothing is more delightful to faithful ministers, or more to their praise, than the success of their ministry, as shown in the spirits and lives of those among whom they labour. The law of Christ was written in their hearts, and the love of Christ shed abroad there. Nor was it written in tables of stone, as the law of God given to Moses, but on the fleshy (not fleshly, as fleshliness denotes sensuality) tables of the heart, Eze 36:26. Their hearts were humbled and softened to receive this impression, by the new-creating power of the Holy Spirit. He ascribes all the glory to God. And remember, as our whole dependence is upon the Lord, so the whole glory belongs to him alone. The letter killeth: the letter of the law is the ministration of death; and if we rest only in the letter of the gospel, we shall not be the better for so doing: but the Holy Spirit gives life spiritual, and life eternal. The Old Testament dispensation was the ministration of death, but the New Testament of life. The law made known sin, and the wrath and curse of God; it showed us a God above us, and a God against us; but the gospel makes known grace, and Emmanuel, God with us. Therein the righteousness of God by faith is revealed; and this shows us that the just shall live by his faith; this makes known the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, for obtaining the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The gospel so much exceeds the law in glory, that it eclipses the glory of the legal dispensation. But even the New Testament will be a killing letter, if shown as a mere system or form, and without dependence on God the Holy Spirit, to give it a quickening power.
7. the ministration of death—the legal dispensation, summed up in the Decalogue, which denounces death against man for transgression.
written and engraven in stones—There is no "and" in the Greek. The literal translation is, "The ministration of death in letters," of which "engraven on stones" is an explanation. The preponderance of oldest manuscripts is for the English Version reading. But one (perhaps the oldest existing manuscript) has "in the letter," which refers to the preceding words (2Co 3:6), "the letter killeth," and this seems the probable reading. Even if we read as English Version, "The ministration of death (written) in letters," alludes to the literal precepts of the law as only bringing us the knowledge of sin and "death," in contrast to "the Spirit" in the Gospel bringing us "life" (2Co 3:6). The opposition between "the letters" and "the Spirit" (2Co 3:8) confirms this. This explains why the phrase in Greek should be "in letters," instead of the ordinary one which English Version has substituted, "written and."
was glorious—literally, "was made (invested) in glory," glory was the atmosphere with which it was encompassed.
could not steadfastly behold—literally, "fix their eyes on." Ex 34:30, "The skin of his face shone; and they were AFRAID to come nigh him." "Could not," therefore means here, "for FEAR." The "glory of Moses' countenance" on Sinai passed away when the occasion was over: a type of the transitory character of the dispensation which he represented (2Co 3:11), as contrasted with the permanency of the Christian dispensation (2Co 3:11).