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author was still resident in the city of Corinth, and at work, he wrote the second Epistle; and having been more perfectly informed by Titus of the arguments and devices employed by the false teacher, he exposes them in bold and keen irony; and with cogent reasoning, and affectionate exhortations, endeavoured to rescue his spiritual children out of the hands of the destroyer.
It appears that the adversary had procured imposing letters of recommendation to the Corinthian church. In allusion to this, the Apostle observes, “Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you ?” Is it come to this, that I must try, by such means, to prove again my apostleship to you ? Assuredly not. I need no such letters to you; I require them not from you. “Ye are our epistle written on our hearts, known and read of all men : forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink,” like those of your deceivers, “ but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone,” like the law of Moses, to which some of you would foolishly return, “but in fleshy tables of the heart." St. Paul had powerful reasons for resting the defence of his apostleship upon his immediate call from Christ himself; but, unlike many moderns,—who assume apostolical succession, without possessing any apostolical resemblance,-he, according to the rule laid down by the Saviour himself, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” (Matt. vii. 20,) makes his principal stand upon the success of his ministry among them, as that which confirmed indisputably, before men, the divinity of his call. Not that he lost sight of his direct commission from his Lord : to this fact he alluded when he said, “ Am I not an Apostle ? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord ?" (1 Cor. ix. 1.) This was clear and satisfying to himself; and, when taken in connexion with his remarkable transition from being a fierce persecutor, to his becoming a humble follower and zealous Minister of Christ, ought also to have satisfied others. But he had to deal with men who had allowed themselves to be blinded by prejudice; and therefore he endeavours, if possible, to open their eyes, and to remove their injurious prepossessions, by adding, “ Are not ye my work in the Lord ? If I be not an Apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.” So in the context he rests his cause chiefly upon this proof, and makes it to bear powerfully upon the false teacher, who had nothing but his “letters of recommendation," of mere human authority, which probably were as questionable as himself. “Such trust,” says the Apostle, “have we through Christ to God-ward,” that we are his Apostles. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able Ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter,” (or law, properly so called, because written by God upon the two tables,)“ but of the
Spirit,”—the Gospel dispensation ; "for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”
This led him to refer to the attempts which were made to subvert the faith of the Jewish converts, by representing the law of Moses as superior to, or at least of equal importance with, the Gospel ; and in the verses which compose our text he exhibits, in a triumphant manner, its superabundant glory.
“The law,” in this passage, signifies, the Mosaic dispensation, which is “done away” by the Gospel. It is called “the ministration of death, and of “condemnation,” First, Because of the terror which it struck into the hearts of the Israelites at its promulgation, during the revealed majesty of its Lawgiver, and the condemnation which it produced in their conscience; Secondly, Because of the severe temporal punishments which it awarded to transgressors; and, Thirdly, Because it involves in condemnation and eternal death all who, regarding it as a perfect dispensation, seek to obtain divine favour by obeying its precepts and observing its ceremonies, instead of improving it as a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ.
The Gospel is called “the ministration of the Spirit,” and of “righteousness," because it reveals the only method by which we can become righteous before God, which was but dimly shadowed forth under the former dispensation; and also, under it, the Holy Spirit is shed forth in more rich and powerful effusions than under the law. The superior glory of the Gospel is therefore the subject of our dis
The text, however, intimates that the law had its glory. In attempting, therefore, an exposition of the passage, it will be proper to notice the peculiar glory of the law, and afterwards the excelling glory of the Gospel.
I. The glory of the law.
1. The Apostle refers to the remarkable circumstances which were connected with its manifestation. Israel had long been oppressed with the Egyptian bondage ; but the time of deliverance, as foretold to Abraham, (Gen. xv. 13, 14,) having arrived, God appeared in behalf of his persecuted people, that he might rescue them from the hand of their enemies, and lead them to the land which he had promised to their fathers. His power as well as justice was signally displayed in the abasement of Egypt. By the infliction of his plagues he unloosed the iron grasp of the oppressor, and conducted them forth with an outstretched arm.
A pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night, became their guide and defence. The Red Sea was divided before them, and they "passed through as on dry land :" the floods returning destroyed their foes, who had rashly presumed to follow. Manna from heaven fell around their tents, and became the abundant food of a vast multitude in the wilderness; while the flinty rock poured forth miraculous streams to quench their thirst. They encamped before Sinai, where Moses received direction from God to prepare the people for the
solemn glories which they were to witness in the delivery of the law. “ And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud ; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly." (Exod. xix. 16–18.) From this glory was the law of the Ten Commandments delivered by the voice of God himself. “ And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear : but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not." (xx. 18–20.) We are subsequently informed, that Moses was taken up to the mount, where he continued forty days; during which time he received from the Most High the ceremonial law by which the worship of the people was to be regulated, and also the pattern according to which the tabernacle was to be erected. The Ten Commandments were written and engraven on stones by the finger of God, and delivered to Moses, to be placed in the sanctuary. The effect of this intercourse with the Deity was such, that “the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance ;" so that for a time he had to wear a veil in their presence. In all this what a glorious demonstration of sole and supreme divinity is beheld! What a contrast between Jehovah and the divinities of Egypt and surrounding nations! between their peeping, muttering, and lying oracles, and the voice of Sinai's God! between the licentious abominations encouraged by idolatry, and the precepts of a righteous and holy law! Well might Moses exclaim, when reminding the Israelites of these glories, after a lapse of forty years, “ Ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? Unto thee it was showed that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him.” (Deut. iv. 32-35.)
2. There had been a previous dispensation of mercy from God,
which was not without its glory. But the law greatly surpassed it, To the Patriarchs God revealed himself, and made known his will by visions and dreams. These revelations, however, were made to individuals, and were often of a private character : or, when relating to mankind at large, they were not so full or clear as “the law and the Prophets.” And although TRADITION then stood unrivalled by any written record, and was the only method of transmitting revelation to posterity; though the period of the world's history was comparatively brief ; aided as it was by the extraordinary age of man, and by continued patriarchal inspiration, example, and authority; it failed to hold fast, and to transmit, the knowledge of God and of his will. The light of truth was hated and contemned, and gradually declined, until it was lost in the corruption and darkness of Pagan mythology. That dispensation had a glory in the judgments that were displayed, by which the insulted Majesty of heaven stood forth to avenge his own honour, and to make transgressors stand in awe. The flood, the destruction of the cities of the plain, and the confusion of tongues at Babel, must have made a deep and permanent impression upon the guilty race ; but as the light of vision and tradition had failed to persuade, so also did the voice of judgment to deter and reform. The prevailing depravity of the human heart soon erased what gracious impressions remained; the nations gave themselves up to work all manner of iniquity, and the worship and service of Jehovah were almost universally renounced. The law was also proclaimed publicly to the thousands of Israel, not by midnight dreams, or unexpected vision, but after due warning and preparation for such a solemn event : not in a brief sentence or two, which might leave on some minds a feeling of doubt and hesitation, but in a continuous and distinct enunciation of the Ten Commandments, each word of which fell with fearful weight upon every ear and heart in Israel's camp. To prevent any part of what they heard from dying away from their memories, it is engraven on stones by the Lawgiver himself: ordinances were appointed for perfecting and perpetuating their acquaintance with his will. The priesthood, the altar, and the sacrifice were presented daily before them; the glorious symbol of His presence resided in his sanctuary; the cloud of divine glory rested upon their tents; and, from time to time, his hand was stretched out to maintain his honour, as a God of holiness, against Priests or people who dared to profane his ordinances, or violate his holy law.
3. We further discover, in the glory of the law, a race of divinelyinspired Prophets; who, in successive ages, enriched the world with large communications of the mind of God concerning individuals, and nations, as well as the world at large ; and in his name, by instructions, exhortations, warnings, promises, and occasionally by stupendous miracles, and glowing predictions of the Messiah as “the Lord our righteousness;” (Jer. xxi. 6 ;) in whom all the ends of the earth might
have righteousness, strength, and salvation. (Isai. xlv. 22–24.) Thus did they endeavour to promote the knowledge of God, obedience to his will, and the salvation of man.
Objections have at times been raised against the divine government, on account of the feeble light afforded to the people at large, while the Jews were so highly favoured. It is, however, forgotten, or at least kept out of sight, that Israel was intended to be a light to the nations of the world; and that all the remarkable dispensations of providence and grace vouchsafed to them were exposed to the observation of the surrounding countries, and were generally known and recognised among them as manifestations of Jehovah's power, justice, of mercy. This was their privilege. It was therefore their duty to have sought a more intimate acquaintance with him, and with his worship; and their sin that they did not. If such events as those connected with the exodus were to take place in the present day, in behalf of such an enslaved and unwarlike people as the Jews, it would fill the world with astonishment: if the world were overrun with idolatry, with the exception of this divinely-emancipated race, it must be acknowledged, that such displays of supreme Godhead would render the idolatrous nations inexcusable, if they did not obtain a more perfect knowledge of this wonder-working Jehovah, to submit themselves to his service. Such, however, was the case; and the Most High, in righteous judgment, left them under the influence of their chosen and beloved idolatry: in mercy, however, and like a compassionate Father, on many occasions he endeavoured to reclaim them by the voice of his Prophets, and interpositions of divine providence and grace.
It must not be forgotten, that the above are imperishable evidences of Jehovah's existence and government. They are equally as strong at present, as they were when they took place ; and if their rejection involved the surrounding nations in inexcusable guilt, how much greater is the condemnation of those, in our day, who reject them, with all the accumulated evidence produced by the history of the Jewish nation, and the fulfilment of Scripture prophecy! Ilow ample and irresistible the proof, that “ men love darkness rather than light!”
For our instruction are the sacred records transmitted, that we may know that God, in all ages, has maintained a standing and incontestable evidence, before the nations, of his majesty, his unspotted holiness, and his inflexible justice,of his mercy and grace to all, in Every place, who fear him and work righteousness; and that, however glorious the Mosaic dispensation might have been, it was imperfect; it was a ministration of condemnation and of death to all who should regard it as complete in itself, rather than an introduction to,
II. The superior glory of the Gospel.
1. We notice the circumstances connected with its introduction. The predictions of the Messiah, during the previous dispensation, had greatly increased in number and clearness; and though, for some Vol. XXIII. Third Series. MARCH, 1844.