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EFFICACY OF THE GOSPEL
41. Now the meaning of the contrasting clause, “the spirit giveth life,” becomes clear. The reference is to naught else but the holy Gospel, a message of healing and salvation; a precious, comforting word. It comforts and refreshes the sad heart. It wrests it out of the jaws of death and hell, as it were, and transports it to the certain hope of eternal life, through faith in Christ. When the last hour comes to the believer, and death and God’s judgment appear before his eyes, he does not base his comfort upon his works. Even though he may have lived the holiest life possible, he says with Paul (1 Cor. 4:4): “I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified.”
42. These words imply being ill pleased with self, with the whole life, indeed, even the putting to death of self. Though the heart says, “By my works I am neither made righteous nor saved,” which is practically admitting oneself to be worthy of death and condemnation, the Spirit extricates from despair, through the Gospel faith, which confesses, as did St. Bernard in the hour of death: “Dear Lord Jesus, I am aware that my life at its best has been but worthy of condemnation, but I trust in the fact that thou hast died for me and hast sprinkled me with blood from thy holy wounds. For I have been baptized in thy name and have given heed to thy Word whereby thou hast called me, awarded me grace and life, and bidden me believe. In this assurance will I pass out of life; not in uncertainty and anxiety, thinking, ‘Who knows what sentence God in heaven will pass upon me?’”
The Christian must not utter such a question. The sentence against his life and works has long since been passed 244by the Law. Therefore, he must confess himself guilty and condemned. But he lives by the gracious judgment of God declared from heaven, whereby the sentence of the Law is overruled and reversed. It is this: “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life” (Jn. 3:36).
43. When the consolation of the Gospel has once been received and it has wrested the heart from death and the terrors of hell, the Spirit’s influence is felt. By its power God’s Law begins to live in man’s heart; he loves it, delights in it and enters upon its fulfilment. Thus eternal life begins here, being continued forever and perfected in the life to come.
44. Now you see how much more glorious, how much better, is the doctrine of the apostles—the New Testament—than the doctrine of those who preach merely great works and holiness without Christ. We should see in this fact an incentive to hear the Gospel with gladness. We ought joyfully to thank God for it when we learn how it has power to bring to men life and eternal salvation, and when it gives us assurance that the Holy Spirit accompanies it and is imparted to believers.
“But if the ministration of death, written, and engraven on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look stedfastly upon the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which glory was passing away: how shall not rather the ministration of the Spirit be with glory? For if the ministration of condemnation hath glory, much rather doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.”
GLORY OF THE GOSPEL
45. Paul is in an ecstasy of delight, and his heart overflows in words of praise for the Gospel. Again he handles the Law severely, calling it a ministration, or doctrine, of death and condemnation. What term significant of greater abomination could he apply to God’s Law than to call it a doctrine of death and hell? And again (Gal 2:17), he calls it a “minister (or preacher) of sin;” and (Gal 3:10) the message which proclaims a curse, saying, “As many as are of the245works of the law are under a curse.” Absolute, then, is the conclusion that Law and works are powerless to justify before God; for how can a doctrine proclaiming only sin, death and condemnation justify and save?
46. Paul is compelled to speak thus, as we said above because of the infamous presumption of both teachers and pupils, in that they permit flesh and blood to coquet with the Law, and make their own works which they bring before God their boast. Yet, nothing is effected but self-deception and destruction. For, when the Law is viewed in its true light, when its “glory,” as Paul has it, is revealed, it is found to do nothing more than to kill man and sink him into condemnation.
47. Therefore, the Christian will do well to learn this text of Paul and have an armor against the boasting of false teachers, and the torments and trials of the devil when he urges the Law and induces men to seek righteousness in their own works, tormenting their heart with the thought that salvation is dependent upon the achievements of the individual. The Christian will do well to learn this text, I say, so that in such conflicts he may take the devil’s own sword, saying: “Why dost thou annoy me with talk of the Law and my works? What is the Law after all, however much you may preach it to me, but that which makes me feel the weight of sin, death and condemnation? Why should I seek therein righteousness before God?”
48. When Paul speaks of the “glory of the Law,” of which the Jewish teachers of work-righteousness boast, he has reference to the things narrated in the twentieth and thirtyfourth chapters of Exodus—how, when the Law was given, God descended in majesty and glory from heaven, and there were thunderings and lightnings, and the mountain was encircled with fire; and how when Moses returned from the Mountain, bringing the Law, his face shone with a glory so dazzling that the people could not look upon his face and he was obliged to veil it.
49. Turning their glory against them, Paul says: “Truly, we do not deny the glory; splendor and majesty were there: 246but what does such glory do but compel souls to flee before God, and drive into death and hell? We believers, however, boast another glory,—that of our ministration. The Gospel record tells us (Mt 17:2-4) that Christ clearly revealed such glory to his disciples when his face shone as the sun, and Moses and Elijah were present. Before the manifestation of such glory, the disciples did not flee; they beheld with amazed joy and said: “Lord, it is good for us to be here. We will make here tabernacles for thee and for Moses,” etc.
50. Compare the two scenes and you will understand plainly the import of Paul’s words here. As before said, this is the substance of his meaning: “The Law produces naught but terror and death when it dazzles the heart with its glory and stands revealed in its true nature. On the other hand, the Gospel yields comfort and joy.” But to explain in detail the signification of the veiled face of Moses, and of his shining uncovered face, would take too long to enter upon here.
51. There is also especial comfort to be derived from Paul’s assertion that the “ministration,” or doctrine, of the Law “passeth away”; for otherwise there would be naught but eternal condemnation. The doctrine of the Law “passes away” when the preaching of the Gospel of Christ finds place. To Christ, Moses shall yield, that he alone may hold sway. Moses shall not terrify the conscience of the believer. When, perceiving the glory of Moses, the conscience trembles and despairs before God’s wrath, then it is time for Christ’s glory to shine with its gracious, comforting light into the heart. Then can the heart endure Moses and Elijah. For the glory of the Law, or the unveiled face of Moses, shall shine only until man is humbled and driven to desire the blessed countenance of Christ. If you come to Christ, you shall no longer hear Moses to your fright and terror; you shall hear him as one who remains servant to the Lord Christ, leaving the solace and the joy of his countenance unobscured. In conclusion:
“For verily that which hath been made glorious hath not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasseth.”247
52. The meaning here is; When the glory and holiness of Christ, revealed through the preaching of the Gospel, is rightly perceived then the glory of the Law—which is but a feeble and transitory glory—is seen to be not really glorious. It is mere dark clouds in contrast to the light of Christ shining to lead us out of sin, death and hell unto God and eternal life.
This article was made available on the Internet via REFORMATION INK (www.markers.com/ink). Refer any correspondence to Shane Rosenthal: firstname.lastname@example.org
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