Living Epistles
2 Corinthians 3:1-5
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, letters of commendation to you…

This is one of those felicitous turns of expression which show the true genius; the sudden availing one's self of an adversary's argument against himself. "Ask for my letter of commendation? Well, who has such a letter as I can show? Ye are our epistle." Demosthenes uttered nothing finer than this, or so convincing.


1. The prime characteristic of a letter is its containing the mind of the writer. Can Christians represent the mind of Christ, as a letter contains your mind?

(1) A perfect Church is not needed for this; for the Corinthian community, like a defaced epistle, was blotted with serious imperfections. Still their general conduct could exhibit such an approximation to the Spirit of Christ that the apostle could afford to spread it open before all men, asking them to read and know it. It is not, therefore, our infirmities and sins which disqualify us from being epistles of Christ. A good writer can, when pressed, write on very unpromising material. It is not the kind of paper, but the writing, which men are anxious to see.

(2) The great difficulty with us all is the obstinate restlessness which keeps us from being written upon. But where this is overcome, and we present ourselves to the Lord, He will write His will concerning us so legibly that all shall acknowledge the finger of God — like the Pharisees, who "took knowledge of Peter and John, that they had been with Jesus."

2. When our Lord said, "I call you not servants but friends," He implied that they would be an epistle, the contents of which would command their intelligent sympathy. Not like a letter-carrier, who knows nothing of what he carries, but like a friend charged with a message of reconciliation in which he is warmly interested.

3. The great requisite of the epistle which we are considering is that it be manifestly from a living Writer. There are good letters whose authors are dead. Valuable; you keep them as curiosities. The religious life may present a faultless epistle of this kind — an evident regard to the will of Christ, but not to a living will. A conscientious executorship, but it is fulfilling the wishes of the dead! The life shows what Christ was, not what He is; what He said, not what He says. But we want to show letters of Christ of to-day. How different your manner when you bring me a letter on pressing business, and when you open a cabinet and produce a letter of Milton's! Now the former letter on business is what we want. Can I be the manifest epistle to others of a living Saviour? I know whether a man speaks to me as an antiquarian or as a believer, whether he comes to me with good news or to amuse me with information. You all know the difference between a lecture on Christianity and faith in a personal Redeemer; between a lecture on fire-escapes and making use of one when the house is burning. Let us speak, then, less of Christianity and more of Christ. Let Him show in us what He is. All sacrifice, all self-denial for His sake, is a most legible epistle of Christ. You know whether any one is repeating a lesson or speaking from his heart; whether he talks about business, or art, or science as from books or from experience or affection. Thus we shall show the hardly dry letter of Christ to men, or we shall show an old dry parchment copy, as we live day by day under the eye of our Lord and dwell in fellowship with Him by prayer and duty.

II. THE RECOMMENDATION OF THINGS AND PERSONS CONTAINED IN THESE LIVING EPISTLES. "Ye are our epistle." Your conduct serves as a letter of commendation — yea, better than a thousand! "Ye are my letter written in my heart." "we can prove this man to have been sent of God; our lives show what God has wrought through him. Receive him." Every Christian, every Church, is intended to be a letter of commendation. Certainly a minister is highly honoured with a good letter of introduction of this kind. An ignorant or wicked man hears a minister preaching the gospel. He says, "Why should I listen to that man? What recommends him to my confidence?" Now it is a great thing for him to read of holiness, purity, and love in the people who are associated with that minister. On the other hand, every inconsistent hearer cripples the minister, and resembles one of those Bellerophon's letters, where a person carries a letter of introduction containing a caution to beware of him. He is a public refutation of the preacher. He is a letter containing, "Do not believe a word he says." Conclusion:

1. The apostle does not say that the individual Christian is an epistle of Christ, but they are collectively declared to be so. Each is a word or sentence; all make up the letter. Sentences which are unmeaning, often in their connection make a grand meaning. Christ often makes great use of one person, as tie often uses one word or verse to console or teach. But the force of that word depends very much on its being known to be part of an inspired book. Let us all try together to form "the epistle of Christ."

2. Let people see and read the whole. Do not our passions, our selfishness, our indolence make us withhold it? Let us not incur the great sin of preventing poor sinners from seeing their Friend's own handwriting! Who can tell the effect it might have upon them?

3. But for this end we must all be in our place, like the separate words of a letter; one word blotted or missing often makes a great difference to the meaning. Keep the end of Church life in view; not comfort, but the exhibition of the letter.

(B. Kent, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?

WEB: Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as do some, letters of commendation to you or from you?

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