2 Corinthians 3:7-11
But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious…
Who does not yearn over the long-lost joys of his boyhood — the light heart, the game, the holiday, and the prize? And yet we think manhood a nobler thing even with the wrinkles on its brow. Who does not long for the simple faith of his early years? Yet those who have gone through the agonies of honest doubt know that the faith which can survive such a test is worth more than that which never suffered a pang. The springing corn with its emerald glow of fresh young life is glorious; but the rich harvest is rather glorious. A scaffolding is sometimes a thing of beauty, but the building which it surrounds deprives it of permanent interest. There is a disposition to praise the good old times; yet no man of competent mind can say that the times of limited education, restricted commerce, slow transit and spiritual despotism were better than these. There is, however, and always has been this conservative tendency, and the Church has never been freed from it. Even in the days of Paul there were Gentile Christians whose very Christ had come to them so dressed up in Jewish garments that they were anxious to retain as much as possible of the older dispensation. So Paul had to reassert here the spiritual nature of the gospel he had been the first to proclaim at Corinth. In order to understand the ministration of the Spirit —
I. CONTRAST SPIRIT WITH BODY. —
1. If we see several things united to each other by some secret bond, and subserving some secret purpose, we speak of them as a body, and that purpose as their uniting spirit. So a company of individuals instinct with a common idea are spoken of as bodies of men, and their common object as the spirit which actuates them. This arises, doubtless, from our consciousness that we are ourselves compounds of many parts over which a presiding spirit rules. Paul often speaks of the Church under this image — it is the Body of Christ inhabited by His Spirit.
2. Under the old dispensation a similar body grew up, and the religion of Moses, Samuel and Solomon, might be termed a ministration of the body. It consisted of innumerable regulations for the external management of the individual and the community. But the prejudices of the Jews led them to suppose that the body was of more consequence than the spirit; and directly the body considers itself the chief end of existence, the spirit is impaired. The man who sinks into such a condition becomes a morbid valetudinarian, a slave of his poor body; the institution thus perverted becomes obstructive of the end that called it into existence; and the Church that does so quenches the Spirit of God. When the Spirit works upon us we can never rest satisfied with the most careful attention to the most venerable rubric, but shall be moved to live a Divine life.
3. We have many institutions and societies, the body of which has sprung into existence under the direction of the Spirit. In proportion as they are imbued with that Spirit, they are parts of His scheme of mercy for a ruined world. But if we in our vanity make our own sanctuary or schools, organisations, church principles, etc., ends rather than means we deplete them of all their power.
II. CONTRAST THE SPIRIT WITH THE LETTER.
1. Take any word — of what does it consist? Of a few strokes in themselves, utterly unmeaning. Pronounce the word? It is a sound having no meaning in itself. You and others agree to represent certain ideas by that word; but there is no necessary connection between the word and the meaning; for the same word may convey ideas utterly dissimilar to different people or nations. Thus though the letter has great value, it is transitory, accidental, liable to change; but the thing connoted, or the spirit conveyed may have an undying worth.
2. We speak of the letter and the spirit of a law or a testament. The one may be observed while the other is violated. Often has the letter of the Divine law been kept, while its spirit has been trifled with, and vice versa. A Divine spirit penetrated the rules of the O.T. dispensation; the spirit of that covenant has been ministered afresh in the gospel, but the letter in which it has been conveyed by Moses and Christ has widely differed.
(1) At one time the nation and government of Israel was the form in which God's love and providence were made known to the world; but now the holy nation is found wherever hearts beat with childlike love to God.
(2) So the spirit of sacrifice was seen in the thank and burnt-offerings; but while the mode of expressing this is changed the spirit is not lost.
(3) The idea of holiness — separation to Divine use — was traced out in a marvellous detail, which has been for the most part superseded; yet the gospel puts holiness on an even higher elevation, exhibits it to our view in an embodiment of its loftiest perfection, and assures us that the same Spirit that was given to Christ is sent forth into our hearts.
III. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH, i.e., the dwelling in us of a living Christ, overpowering both the lower and more cultivated passions by Christlike and heavenly longings — the quickening of our whole spiritual being and alliance with God Himself. Now we must not forget that the ministration of the flesh, i.e., all that man has been able to achieve unaided by the Divine Spirit, has been in some respects glorious. There is an appalling grandeur in the efforts of men. The daring of Prometheus, the wisdom of Confucius, the conscience of Socrates, the mental affluence of Aristotle, the insight of Plato, the self-sacrifice of Buddha — still all this has no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth. The spirit soars into a region where the flesh in its most refined form cannot penetrate; it deals with problems that science cannot solve, and induces in human nature a new series of forces transcending reason, satisfying conscience, glorifying God.
IV. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE MINISTRATION OF DEATH AND THAT OF THE SPIRIT.
1. The ministration of the body was a ministration of that which is perishable and must die, and hence it is a ministration of death. The ministration of the flesh is a ministration of that which has no real vitality in it, and hence it, too, is a ministration of death. The ministration of the letter of the law was a ministration of threatening and destruction. But the ministration of the Spirit is eternal.
2. The whole of the ministration of death had a glory of its own. The Lord of life employed it to teach mankind lessons of life and happiness; but as sunrise is more glorious than the sublimity of the midnight storm, and the dayspring than the dazzle of the lightning, and the smile of spring than the magnificence of iceberg or desert mirage, so does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory all the ministration of death.
(H. R, Reynolds, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: