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The Two Covenants Compared
Summary —Paul's Letters of Commendation. The New Covenant and the Covenant of the Letter; or the Law and the Gospel. The First Written on Tables of Stone; Is a Ministration of Death; Was Glorious, But Is Done Away. That Which Remaineth, the New Covenant, Far More Glorious. The Veil Over the Face of Moses a Type of Blindness of Israel. The Transforming Power of the Gospel.
1–6. Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Paul had just spoken of his triumphs. Opposers, such as were in Corinth, might insist that he was boasting. Need we … epistles of commendation? No doubt there is a reference made to letters which the Judaizing teachers, who had come to Corinth, carried. They might need them, but he did not. 2. Ye are our epistle. The church itself owed its existence to him. He could point to his work, to the disciples, as his letter of commendation. He was known by his fruits. Written in our hearts. When he looked into his heart, he saw them enshrined there, and felt that he needed no commendation to them. 3. Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ. A beautiful conception. Christ is the author of the letter; Paul was the penman; the message was written on the fleshly tablets of the hearts of the brethren at Corinth. The means employed by Christ to convey the message was the Spirit which filled Paul. All men who could see the transformation effected in the lives of the Corinthians could read the epistle. Not in tables of stone. Instead of naming parchment, he mentions tables of stone, because he is about to compare the Old Covenant, of which its chief part, the Decalogue, was written on stone (Exod. 24:12) with the New Covenant. 4. Such trust have we, etc. That the church of Corinth is such an epistle as has just been described. 5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves. He would claim no credit for the work at Corinth, as though it was his own, for all his strength was of God. 6. Who hath made us able ministers of the New Testament. God gave Paul and his fellow-ministers their “sufficiency” (verse 5), who had made them able ministers of the gospel. New Testament. The New Covenant, the Covenant of Christ. This is here contrasted with the Old Covenant, 136the Jewish. One is the Law; the other the Gospel. Compare Hebrews, chapter 8. Not of the letter, but of the Spirit. The first, the law, was written (by letters written and engraven on stones, hence of the letter); the gospel is the dispensation of the Spirit. The letter killeth. The law. It condemns all who do not obey its commands, but could make no man perfect. The law places under the sentence of death. See notes on Romans 7:9, 10. The Spirit giveth life. The gospel bestows eternal life.
7–11. But if the ministration of death. The Old Covenant, the law is so called, because it places under the sentence of death. Written and engraven on stones. Only the Decalogue was written on stones. It was the central and most important part of the Old Covenant. Let it be noted that when Paul speaks of the law, or Old Testament, he includes the Decalogue, and does not mean simply the ceremonial law, as some have urged (Exod. 34:1). Was glorious. So glorious that even the face of Moses was made to shine as he carried down the tables of the law (Exod. 34:29) so that he had to veil his face. Which glory was to be done away. It was only temporary. 8. How shall not rather the ministration of the Spirit be with glory? The gospel, the ministration of life, must have still greater glory. It has a glory now, and will have a fuller glory in the day of the Lord. 9. If the ministration of condemnation. See verse 7, the law, including the Decalogue. The ministration of righteousness. The gospel. The first condemned; the second justifies men with the righteousness of Christ. With such transcendent blessings, it far exceeds in glory the Old Covenant. 10. For even that which was made glorious. The Old Covenant. As the glory of the moon and stars fades out before the glory of the sun, so its glory disappears in a comparison with the exceeding glory of the gospel. 11. For if that which is done away was glorious. That which was glorious in the Old Covenant, or law. It includes the Decalogue (@verse 7). The whole is done away. This clear and emphatic statement is made on account of the Judaizing teachers of whom we find many traces in the two Letters to the Corinthian church. It is clearly asserted that the Old Covenant, “the ministration of death written and engraven on stones,” is done away. We are “not under the law, but under grace.” Compare Hebrews 8:13. But if that which was done away is glorious, much more is that glorious which abides forever.
12–18. Seeing then we have such hope. The blessed gospel hope. With such a hope he has boldness to declare the gospel truths boldly and without reserve. 13. And not as Moses, etc. The veil Moses put over his face (Exod. 34:33) is used by Paul as a symbol to show that all was not made plain in the law of Moses, and that there is still blindness on the part of Israel. Could not stedfastly look to the end, etc. The brightness with which the face of Moses shone was to be done away. The veil prevented the children of Israel from observing its fading glory. This typifies the fact 137that they should not see the end of the law itself which was to be abolished. 14. But their minds were blinded. So blinded that they cannot see to this day that it has been set aside by the New Covenant, and that its types, figures and shadows find their fulfillment in Christ. Which veil is done away in Christ. Meyer, with many other able critics, contends that the proper translation of the latter part of the verse is: “It not being disclosed that the Old Covenant is taken away in Christ.” So also Conybeare and Howson. This is no doubt the meaning. 15. When Moses is read, etc. The law, or Old Testament. They read it in their synagogues, but do not understand it. The trouble, too, is in their heart. They are blinded by their prejudices. 16. When it shall turn to the Lord. The heart. Then the veil of blindness will fall away so that they will see clearly. 17. Now the Lord is that Spirit. The New Covenant is of “the Spirit.” See verses 3, 6, 8. But turning to the Lord is entering into this covenant, for the “Lord is that Spirit.” The Spirit is Christ's presence with us. There is liberty. He who comes into this covenant of the Spirit is freed from the bondage of the law. 18. But we all. All Christians. With open face. Without a veil. Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord. Looking to Jesus and beholding in his covenant, in our hearts and minds as in a mirror, and contemplating his glory. Are changed. To look to Jesus has a transforming power. If we gaze upon him, we will become like him. As Moses unveiled before the Lord shone with the glory of the Lord, so we shall reflect the glory of Christ, and show forth his likeness. From glory to glory. Developing from one stage of glory to a higher one. Even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Rather, “The Lord the Spirit,” as in the Revision. Verse 17 declares the Lord is the Spirit. Our glory is from the Lord the Spirit. The figure here is a very beautiful one. By gazing upon the Lord we become like him and show forth his glory. 137
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