2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory…
When Moses, the minister of the Law, communed with God, his countenance became irradiated, and, on his return to the people of Israel in the camp, he was obliged to put a veil over his face. But that radiance did not last long. It faded from the prophet's countenance; and this is taken to illustrate the passing away of the glory of all that legal ministration. The Jews who rejected that gospel which St. Paul preached were still occupied with the Law. Moses stood before them still; and, when Moses was read, they failed to see that the lustre had faded from his face. Yet it was so. Not that the Law was at fault or obscure; not that Moses misled or clouded their minds. The veil was no more on his face, but on their hearts; and so they persisted, and the bulk of that nation still persist, in trusting to Moses and rejecting the more glorious ministration by Jesus Christ. The anti-Christian Jews are dimly reading the words of their lawgiver instead of rejoicing in the light of the Lord. But "we all," whether Jews or Gentiles in the flesh, who have believed the gospel, enjoy a ministration of righteousness and glory.
I. THE GLORY OF THE LORD. Moses said to Jehovah, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." And he had some vision of the Almighty, and heard Jehovah God proclaim his Name as he passed by; but the God of Israel said, "Thou canst not see my face." Now this, which was impossible under the old covenant, and which was thought of by the faithful as the blessing of a future state (Psalm 17:15), is not only possible but actual under the new covenant. Christ is the Image of the invisible God. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, He who of old surrounded himself with clouds or dwelt "in the thick darkness" now reveals himself brightly in his Beloved. The New Testament is, more fully than the Old, a revelation. God is revealed in a manner surpassing all the partial disclosures among the Jews, and correcting all the vain imaginations among the heathen. The holy Child was Immanuel, God with us. The Man who lived so purely, spoke so wisely, and suffered so patiently, revealed the unseen God; and God was glorified in him. So the apostle regarded Christianity as the breaking forth of new light on the human race, and that the very radiance of God in Jesus Christ his Son. So let us regard it. Truly the light is good - the inner light of the New Testament - the glory of the Lord.
II. CONTEMPLATION OF THAT GLORY. We behold it as one looks upon a mirror on which an object out of his reach is reflected. Our Lord has ascended to the Father, and we do not see him face to face in the present life, but we look on the Divine testimony, and, as we look, we gain "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ." In order to this, two things are necessary.
1. We must have our faces unveiled. The veil is prejudice or unbelief. The ignorance of God, long spread over the earth, is described by a prophet as "the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations." The removal of that covering or veil results in the turning of nations to the Lord. Alas, readers of the New Testament may be as blind to its true meaning and beauty as any Jews were in reading the Law. A vague light, perhaps, comes through the veil, but there is no clear discernment of that glory of the Lord which gives to the New Testament its surpassing power and value. St. Paul knew this well, and felt himself unable to make all men see what he saw. From some who heard him his gospel was hid. It was and is the preacher's duty to manifest and proclaim the truth; but blinded minds and veiled hearts could, and still can, defeat the testimony. St. Paul himself had once been very blind. When light shone in the face of the martyr Stephen as he stood before the council, "as it had been the face of an angel," Saul of Tarsus was only bewildered and irritated, and he consented to Stephen's death. Soon after, on his way to Damascus, a strong light from heaven shone round about him, and the voice of the Lord reached his car. Some holy light through the veil fell on his countenance, but the veil was not yet removed, and the Pharisee was not yet a Christian. Illumination came to him when, at the word of the disciple Ananias, the eyes of his body, which had been blinded by the sudden effulgence on the way, were opened, and at the same time the eyes of the inner man were freed from the scales of unbelief, and God shone into his heart.
2. We must form a habit of beholding that glory. We do not presume to say what amount of blessing may be gained through even a rapid or occasional glance cast on the Lord Jesus; but what the apostle intends is an habitual and daily contemplation of that "brightness of the Father's glory." No study of books, acquaintance with doctrines, or observance of rites can do for us what is done by the habit of "looking to Jesus."
III. THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF SUCH CONTEMPLATION. "Changed into the same image." A moral metamorphosis is wrought, not magically as by a spell or charm, but in the manner proper to a moral nature, by the moulding influence of a new habit of thought and affection. This proceeds on the well known principle that, whatever we look upon with frequency and with congenial feeling, stamps itself on our minds and characters. He who looks upon evil becomes evil. He who occupies himself with trifles grows trivial. He who associates with the wise grows wise. He who admires the good himself becomes good. So likewise he who beholds the pure and gracious image of God in the face of Jesus Christ is changed insensibly into that image, learns to think the thoughts of God and to exhibit the mind of Christ. Two important features of this great change are indicated in the text.
1. It is a progressive one. "From glory to glory." No doubt, if we could abide continually under the radiance of Christ, his glory would transform us more rapidly and completely than is the experience of average Christians. And we must not dwell on the idea of gradualness so as to excuse a low level of Christian attainment. But the truth lies here, that, as we receive out of Christ's fulness grace for grace, so are we transformed into his likeness from glory to glory, the light of the Lord gaining upon us and dispelling all the darkness until we are "light in the Lord."
2. While this change follows a law of moral influence, it is produced by the active operation of a Divine power - "as by the Lord the Spirit." The reference is to the Lord Jesus as "a quickening Spirit," who is here brought into contrast with Moses, the minister of the killing "letter." At the same time, we know from other Scriptures that the Lord pervades his Church on earth and renews men in his own image by the gracious presence and work of the Holy Ghost. Without this doctrine of spiritual operation, both direct and indirect, we fail to apprehend the transforming power of a pure Christianity. Note in conclusion:
1. The connection between faith and character. Some raise a cry that faith leads to mysticism and genders dispute, while nothing is wanted, nothing is to be valued, but an exemplary character and a good life. But what if such character and life are best attained by the habit of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? It might as well be said that it is of little consequence whether a man can see or is blind, so long as he walks and works well. He cannot walk or work well unless he can see. No more can one walk or act like Christ unless he looks to him in faith. Others raise a different cry. They are all for faith, and yet show no conformity to Christ. All such boasting is vain. The effect of beholding the glory of the Lord is to be changed into the same image. If there is no such change the faith is only in imagination, not in heart.
2. The far reach of the principle of assimilation to what we habitually and willingly behold. In this way are Christians conformed to Christ in this present time. But the principle carries much further. It is thus that the saints will be glorified with Christ at his appearing. "We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."
3. The evil case of those who see in Christ "no beauty that he should be desired." They miss both the way of peace and the way of holiness. Alas! when the gospel is set before them, the veil lies upon their hearts. They can see something to be admired in the wisdom of sages and the courage of heroes, and yet see nothing in the Son of God. They may look on nature with admiring eye, and see "the glory in the grass and splendour in the flower;" but Jesus Christ is to them "as a root out of a dry ground." Lord, remove the veil! Shine into these hearts with power! - F.
Parallel VersesKJV: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.