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Ministers of the New Covenant
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; 3and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
1. Do we begin It appears that this objection also was brought forward against him — that he was excessively fond of publishing his own exploits, and brought against him, too, by those who were grieved to find that the fame, which they were eagerly desirous to obtain, was effectually obstructed in consequence of his superior excellence. They had already, in my opinion, found fault with the former Epistle, on this ground, that he indulged immoderately in commendations of himself. To commend here means to boast foolishly and beyond measure, or at least to recount one’s own praises in a spirit of ambition. Paul’s calumniators had a plausible pretext — that it is a disgusting 359359 “Mal sonnante aux aureilles;” — “Sounding offensively to the ears.” and odious thing in itself for one to be the trumpeter of his own praises. Paul, however, had an excuse on the ground of necessity, inasmuch as he gloried, only because he was shut up to it. His design also raised him above all calumny, as he had nothing in view but that the honor of his apostleship might remain unimpaired for the edification of the Church; for had not Christ’s honor been infringed upon, he would readily have allowed to pass unnoticed what tended to detract from his own reputation. Besides, he saw that it was very much against the Corinthians, that his authority was lessened among them. In the first place, therefore, he brings forward their calumny, letting them know that he is not altogether ignorant as to the kind of talk, that was current among them.
Have we need? The answer is suited (to use a common expression) to the person rather than to the thing, though we shall find him afterwards saying as much as was required in reference to the thing itself. At present, however, he reproves their malignity, inasmuch as they were displeased, if he at any time reluctantly, nay even when they themselves constrained him, made mention of the grace that God had bestowed upon him, while they were themselves begging in all quarters for epistles, that were stuffed entirely with flattering commendations. He says that he has no need of commendation in words, while he is abundantly commended by his deeds. On the other hand, he convicts them of a greedy desire for glory, inasmuch as they endeavored to acquire favor through the suffrages of men. 360360 “Par la faueur et recommandation des hommes;” — “By the favor and recommendation of men.” In this manner, he gracefully and appropriately repels their calumny. We must not, however, infer from this, that it is absolutely and in itself wrong to receive recommendations, 361361 “Letres recommandatoires;” — “Recommendatory letters.” provided you make use of them for a good purpose. For Paul himself recommends many; and this he would not have done had it been unlawful. Two things, however, are required here — first, that it be not a recommendation that is elicited by flattery, but an altogether unbiassed testimony; 362362 “Enucleatum testimonium;” — “Vn vray tesmoignage rendu d’vn iugement entier auec prudence et en verite;” — “A true testimony, given with solid judgment, with prudence, and with truth.” Cicero makes use of a similar expression, which Calvin very probably had in his eye — “Enucleata suffragia;” — “Votes given judiciously, and with an unbiassed judgment.” — (Cic. Planc. 4.) — Ed. and secondly, that it be not given for the purpose of procuring advancement for the individual, but simply that it may be the means of promoting the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. For this reason, I have observed, that Paul has an eye to those who had assailed him with calumnies.
2. Ye are our Epistle. There is no little ingenuity in his making his own glory hinge upon the welfare of the Corinthians. “So long as you shall remain Christians, I shall have recommendation enough. For your faith speaks my praise, as being the seal of my apostleship.” (1 Corinthians 9:2.)
When he says — written in our hearts, this may be understood in reference to Silvanus and Timotheus, and in that case the meaning will be: “We are not contented with this praise, that we derive from the thing itself. The recommendations, that others have, fly about before the eyes of men, but this, that we have, has its seat in men’s consciences.” It may also be viewed as referring in part to the Corinthians, in this sense: “Those that obtain recommendations by dint of entreaty, have not in the conscience what they carry about written upon paper, and those that recommend others often do so rather by way of favor than from judgment. We, on the other hand, have the testimony of our apostleship, on this side and on that, engraven on men’s hearts.”
Which is known and read It might also be read — “Which is known and acknowledged,” owing to the ambiguity of the word ἀναγινωσκεσαι, 363363 Calvin has had occasion to notice the double signification of this word when commenting on 2 Corinthians 1:13. An instance of the ambiguity of the word occurs in Matthew 24:15, where the words ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω are understood by Kypke as the words, not of the evangelist, but of Christ, and as meaning — “He who recognises this, (that is, the completion of Daniel’s prophecy by the ‘abomination of desolation standing where it ought not,’) let him take notice and reflect, while most other interpreters consider the words in question as an admonition of the evangelist to the reader — “Let him that readeth understand or take notice.” — Ed. and I do not know but that the latter might be more suitable. I was unwilling, however, to depart from the common rendering, when not constrained to do so. Only let the reader have this brought before his view, that he may consider which of the two renderings is the preferable one. If we render it acknowledged, there will be an implied contrast between an epistle that is sure and of unquestionable authority, and such as are counterfeit. 364364 “Celles qui sont attitrees et faites à plaisir;” — “Such as are procured by unfair means, and are made to suit convenience.” And, unquestionably, what immediately follows, is rather on the side of the latter rendering, for he brings forward the Epistle of Christ, in contrast with those that are forged and pretended.
3. Ye are the Epistle of Christ Pursuing the metaphor, he says that the Epistle of which he speaks was written by Christ, inasmuch as the faith of the Corinthians was his work. He says that it was ministered by him, as if meaning by this, that he had been in the place of ink and pen. In fine, he makes Christ the author and himself the instrument, that calumniators may understand, that it is with Christ that they have to do, if they continue to speak against him 365365 “De son apostre;” — “Against his apostle.” with malignity. What follows is intended to increase the authority of that Epistle. The second clause, 366366 “Le dernier membre de la sentence;” — “The last clause of the sentence.” however, has already a reference to the comparison that is afterwards drawn between the law and the gospel. For he takes occasion from this shortly afterwards, as we shall see, to enter upon a comparison of this nature. The antitheses here employed — ink and Spirit, stones and heart — give no small degree of weight to his statements, by way of amplification. For in drawing a contrast between ink and the Spirit of God, and between stones and heart, he expresses more than if he had simply made mention of the Spirit and the heart, without drawing any comparison.
I will make, says he, a new covenant with them, not such as I had made with their fathers; but I will write my laws upon their hearts, and engrave them on their inward parts. Farther, I will take away the stony heart from the midst of thee, and will give thee a heart of flesh, that thou mayest walk in my precepts.
(Ezekiel 36:26, 27.)
Paul says, that this blessing was accomplished through means of his preaching. Hence it abundantly appears, that he is a faithful minister of the New Covenant — which is a legitimate testimony in favor of his apostleship. The epithet fleshly is not taken here in a bad sense, but means soft and flexible, 367367 “Vn cœur docile et ployable, ou aisé à ranger;” — “A heart that is teachable and flexible, or easy to manage.” as it is contrasted with stony, that is, hard and stubborn, as is the heart of man by nature, until it has been subdued by the Spirit of God. 368368 “Jusques à ce qu’il soit donté et amolli par le sainct Esprit;” — “Until it has been tamed and softened by the Holy Spirit.”
4. And such confidence As it was a magnificent commendation, that Paul had pronounced to the honor of himself and his Apostleship, lest he should seem to speak of himself more confidently than was befitting, he transfers the entire glory to God, from whom he acknowledges that he has received everything that he has. “By this boasting,” says he, “I extol God rather than myself, by whose grace I am what I am.” (1 Corinthians 15:10.) He adds, as he is accustomed to do by Christ, because he is, as it were, the channel, through which all God’s benefits flow forth to us.
5. Not that we are competent.
“Non point que soyons suffisans;” — “Not that we are sufficient.”
When he thus disclaims all merit, it is not as if he abased himself in merely pretended modesty, but instead of this, he speaks what he truly thinks. Now we see, that he leaves man nothing. For the smallest part, in a manner, of a good work is thought. In other words,
“Pour le moins;” — “At least.”
it has neither the first part of the praise, nor the second; and yet he does not allow us even this. As it is less to think than to will, how foolish a part do those act, who
arrogate to themselves a right will, when Paul does not leave them so much as the power of thinking aught!
See Institutes, volume 1. — Ed.
Papists have been misled by the term sufficiency, that is made use of by the Old Interpreter.
Wiclif (1380) following, as he is wont, the Vulgate, renders the verse as follows: “Not that we ben sufficiente to thenke ony thing of us as of us: but oure sufficience is of God.” — Ed.
For they think to get off by acknowledging that man is not qualified to form good purposes, while in the mean time they ascribe to him a right apprehension of the mind, which, with some assistance from God, may effect something of itself. Paul, on the other hand, declares that man is in want, not merely of sufficiency of himself, (αὐτάρκειαν,) but also of competency (ἱκανότητα,)
“La disposition, preparation, et inclination;” — “Disposition, preparation, and inclination.”
which would be equivalent to idoneitas (fitness), if such a term were in use among the Latins. He could not, therefore, more effectually strip man bare of every thing good.
Charnock, in his “Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” makes an interesting allusion to Calvin’s exposition of this verse. “Thinking,” says he, “is the lowest step in the ladder of preparation; ‘tis the first act of the creature in any rational production; yet this the Apostle doth remove from man, as in every part of it his own act, (2 Corinthians
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.
The word signifies — reasoning: no rational act can be done without reasoning; this is not purely our own. We have no sufficiency of ourselves, as of ourselves, originally and radically of ourselves, as if we were the author of that sufficiency, either naturally or meritoriously. And Calvin observes, that the word is not αὐτάρκεια, but ἱκανότη” — not a self ability, but an aptitude or fitness to any gracious thought. How can we oblige him by any act, since, in every part of it, it is from him, not from ourselves? For as thinking is the first requisite, so it is perpetually requisite to the progress of any rational act, so that every thought in any act, and the whole progress, wherein there must be a whole flood of thoughts, is from the sufficiency of God.” — Charnock’s Works, volume 2, p. 149. — Ed.
6. Who hath made us competent. 376376 “Lequel aussi nous a rendus suffisans ministres;” — “Who also hath made us sufficient ministers.” He had acknowledged himself to be altogether useless. Now he declares, that, by the grace of God, he has been qualified 377377 It is justly observed by Barnes, that the rendering in our authorized version — “Who hath made us able ministers” — “does not quite meet the force of the original,” as it “would seem to imply that Paul regarded himself and his fellow — laborers as men of talents, and of signal ability; and that he was inclined to boast of it,” while instead of this “he did not esteem himself sufficient for this work in his own strength, (2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5); and he here says, that God had made him sufficient: not able, talented, learned, but sufficient, (ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς); he has supplied our deficiency; he has rendered us competent or fit; — if a word may be coined after the manner of the Greek here, ‘he has sufficienced us for this work.’” The unhappy rendering referred to had originated (as is shown by Granville Penn) in the circumstance, that the Vulgate having rendered the expression — qui idoneos nos fecit ministros, Wiclif translated it as follows: which made us also able mynystris, and that, while Erasmus suggested that it should be rendered — qui idoneos nos fecit ut essemus ministri, quasi dicas, idoneavit — who fitted or qualified us to be ministers — and while, besides, in the first translation from the original Greek, in 1526, Tyndale rendered — made us able to minister, Wiclif’s original version from the Latin was recalled, and is now the reading of our authorized version. — Ed. for an office, for which he was previously unqualified. From this we infer its magnitude and difficulty, as it can be undertaken by no one, that has not been previously prepared and fashioned for it by God. It is the Apostle’s intention, also, to extol the dignity of the gospel. There is, at the same time, no doubt, that he indirectly exposes the poverty of those, who boasted in lofty terms of their endowments, while they were not furnished with so much as a single drop of heavenly grace.
Not of the letter but of the spirit He now follows out the comparison between the law and the gospel, which he had previously touched upon. It is uncertain, however, whether he was led into this discussion, from seeing that there were at Corinth certain perverse 378378 “Mauuais et inconsiderez;” — “Wicked and reckless.” devotees of the law, or whether he took occasion from something else to enter upon it. For my part, as I see no evidence that the false apostles had there confounded the law and the gospel, I am rather of opinion, that, as he had to do with lifeless declaimers, who endeavored to obtain applause through mere prating, 379379 “Il auoit affaire auec des gens qui sans zele preschoyent l’Euangile, comme qui prononceroit vne harangue pour son plaisir, et n’ayans que le babil, pourchassoyent par cela la faueur des hommes;” — “He had to do with persons, who without zeal preached the gospel, like one that makes a harangue according to his own liking, and while they had nothing but mere talk, endeavored by this means to procure the applause of men.” and as he saw, that the ears of the Corinthians were captivated with such glitter, he was desirous to show them what was the chief excellence of the gospel, and what was the chief praise of its ministers. Now this he makes to consist in the efficacy of the Spirit. A comparison between the law and the gospel was fitted in no ordinary degree to show this. This appears to me to be the reason why he came to enter upon it.
There is, however, no doubt, that by the term letter, he means the Old Testament, as by the term spirit he means the gospel; for, after having called himself a minister of the New Testament, he immediately adds, by way of exposition, that he is a minister of the spirit, and contrasts the letter with the spirit. We must now enquire into the reason of this designation. The exposition contrived by Origen has got into general circulation — that by the letter we ought to understand the grammatical and genuine meaning of Scripture, or the literal sense, (as they call it,) and that by the spirit is meant the allegorical meaning, which is commonly reckoned to be the spiritual meaning. Accordingly, during several centuries, nothing was more commonly said, or more generally received, than this — that Paul here furnishes us with a key for expounding Scripture by allegories, while nothing is farther from his intention. For by the term letter he means outward preaching, of such a kind as does not reach the heart; and, on the other hand, by spirit he means living doctrine, of such a nature as worketh effectually (1 Thessalonians 2:13) on the minds of men, 380380 “Es cœurs des auditeurs;” — “In the hearts of the hearers.” through the grace of the Spirit. By the term letter, therefore, is meant literal preaching — that is, dead and ineffectual, perceived only by the ear. By the term spirit, on the other hand, is meant spiritual doctrine, that is, what is not merely uttered with the mouth, but effectually makes its way to the souls of men with a lively feeling. For Paul had an eye to the passage in Jeremiah, that I quoted a little ago, (Jeremiah 31:31,) where the Lord says, that his law had been proclaimed merely with the mouth, and that it had, therefore, been of short duration, because the people did not embrace it in their heart, and he promises the Spirit of regeneration under the reign of Christ, to write his gospel, that is, the new covenant, upon their hearts. Paul now makes it his boast, that the accomplishment of that prophecy is to be seen in his preaching, that the Corinthians may perceive, how worthless is the loquacity of those vain boasters, who make incessant noise 381381 “Crient et gazouillent;” — “Cry and chirp.” while devoid of the efficacy of the Spirit.
It is asked, however, whether God, under the Old Testament, merely sounded forth in the way of an external voice, and did not also speak inwardly to the hearts of the pious by his Spirit. I answer in the first place, that Paul here takes into view what belonged peculiarly to the law; for although God then wrought by his Spirit, yet that did not take its rise from the ministry of Moses, but from the grace of Christ, as it is said in John 1:17 —
The law was given by Moses;
but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
True, indeed, the grace of God did not, during all that time, lie dormant, but it is enough that it was not a benefit that belonged to the law. 382382 “Il suffit, que ce n’estoit point par le moyen de la loy: car elle n’auoit point cela de propre;” — “It is enough that it was not by means of the law; for it did not belong peculiarly to it.” For Moses had discharged his office, when he had delivered to the people the doctrine of life, adding threatenings and promises. For this reason he gives to the law the name of the letter, because it is in itself a dead preaching; but the gospel he calls spirit, because the ministry of the gospel is living, nay, lifegiving.
I answer secondly, that these things are not affirmed absolutely in reference either to the law or to the gospel, but in respect of the contrast between the one and the other; for even the gospel is not always spirit. When, however, we come to compare the two, it is truly and properly affirmed, that the nature of the law is to teach men literally, in such a way that it does not reach farther than the ear; and that, on the other hand, the nature of the gospel is to teach spiritually, because it is the instrument of Christ’s grace. This depends on the appointment of God, who has seen it meet to manifest the efficacy of his Spirit more clearly in the gospel than in the law, for it is his work exclusively to teach effectually the minds of men.
When Paul, however, calls himself a Minister of the Spirit, he does not mean by this, that the grace of the Holy Spirit and his influence, were tied to his preaching, so that he could, whenever he pleased, breathe forth the Spirit along with the utterance of the voice. He simply means, that Christ blessed his ministry, and thus accomplished what was predicted respecting the gospel. It is one thing for Christ to connect his influence with a man’s doctrine. 383383 “Au ministere de l’homme qui enseigne;” — “To the ministry of the man that teaches.” and quite another for the man’s doctrine 384384 “La doctrine de l’homme, c’est à dire, son ministere;” — “The doctrine of the man, that is to say, his ministry.” to have such efficacy of itself. We are, then, Ministers of the Spirit, not as if we held him inclosed within us, or as it were captive — not as if we could at our pleasure confer his grace upon all, or upon whom we pleased — but because Christ, through our instrumentality, illuminates the minds of men, renews their hearts, and, in short, regenerates them wholly. 385385 The reader will find the same subject largely treated of by Calvin, when commenting on 1 Corinthians 3:6. See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, pp. 128-9. — Ed. It is in consequence of there being such a connection and bond of union between Christ’s grace and man’s effort, that in many cases that is ascribed to the minister which belongs exclusively to the Lord. For in that case it is not the mere individual that is looked to, but the entire dispensation of the gospel, which consists, on the one hand, in the secret influence of Christ, and, on the other, in man’s outward efforts.
For the letter killeth. This passage was mistakingly perverted, first by Origen, and afterwards by others, to a spurious signification. From this arose a very pernicious error — that of imagining that the perusal of Scripture would be not merely useless, but even injurious, 386386 “Dangereuse;” — “Dangerous.” unless it were drawn out into allegories. This error was the source of many evils. For there was not merely a liberty allowed of adulterating the genuine meaning of Scripture, 387387 “De corrompre et desguiser le vray et naturel sens de l’Escriture:” — “Of corrupting and disguising the true and natural meaning of Scripture.” but the more of audacity any one had in this manner of acting, so much the more eminent an interpreter of Scripture was he accounted. Thus many of the ancients recklessly played with the sacred word of God, 388388 “Can you seriously think the Scriptures,” says Revelation Andrew Fuller, in his Thoughts on Preaching, “to be a book of riddles and conundrums, and that a Christian minister is properly employed in giving scope to his fancy in order to discover their solution? [...] All Scripture is profitable in some way, some for doctrine, some for reproof, some for correction, and some for instruction in righteousness, but all is not to be turned into allegory. If we must play, let it be with things of less consequence than the word of the eternal God.” — Fuller’s Works, volume 4, p. 694. The attentive reader cannot fail to observe, how very frequently our author exposes, in the strongest terms, the exercise of mere fancy in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 294. — Ed. as if it had been a ball to be tossed to and fro. In consequence of this, too, heretics had it more in their power to trouble the Church; for as it had become general practice to make any passage whatever 389389 “Vn propos et vn mot;” — “A passage and a word.” mean anything that one might choose, there was no frenzy so absurd or monstrous, as not to admit of being brought forward under some pretext of allegory. Even good men themselves were carried headlong, so as to contrive very many mistaken opinions, led astray through a fondness for allegory.
The meaning of this passage, however, is as follows — that, if the word of God is simply uttered with the mouth, it is an occasion of death, and that it is lifegiving, only when it is received with the heart. The terms letter and spirit, therefore, do not refer to the exposition of the word, but to its influence and fruit. Why it is that the doctrine merely strikes upon the ear, without reaching the heart, we shall see presently.
7 But if the ministry of death. He now sets forth the dignity of the gospel by this argument — that God conferred distinguished honor upon the law, which, nevertheless, is nothing in comparison with the gospel. The law was rendered illustrious by many miracles. Paul, however, touches here upon one of them merely — that the face of Moses shone with such splendor as dazzled the eyes of all. That splendour was a token of the glory of the law. He now draws an argument from the less to the greater — that it is befitting, that the glory of the gospel should shine forth with greater lustre, inasmuch as it is greatly superior to the law.
In the first place, he calls the law the ministry of death. Secondly, he says, that the doctrine of it was written in letters, and with ink. Thirdly, that it was engraven on stones. Fourthly, that it was not of perpetual duration; but, instead of this, its condition was
temporary and fading. And, fifthly, he calls it the ministry of condemnation. To render the antitheses complete, it would have been necessary for him to employ as many corresponding clauses in reference to the gospel; but, he has merely spoken of it as being the ministry of the Spirit, and of righteousness, and as enduring
for ever. If you examine the words, the correspondence is not complete, but so far as the matter itself is concerned, what is expressed is sufficient.
Piscator brings out the comparison here drawn by the Apostle between the law and the gospel, as presenting eight points of contrast, as follows: —
1. Novi Testamenti. (New Testament.)
1. Veteris Testamenti. (Old Testament.)
2. Spiritus. (Spirit.)
2. Literae. (Letter.)
3. Vitae. (Life.)
3. Mortis. (Death.)
4. Inscriptum cordibus. (Written on men’s hearts.)
4. Inscriptum lapidibus. (Written on stones.)
5. Semper durans. (Everlasting.)
5. Abolendum. (To be done away.)
6. Justitiae. (Righteousness.)
6. Damnationis. (Condemnation.)
7. Excellenter gloriosum. (Eminently glorious.)
7. Illius Respectu ἄδοξον. (Comparatively devoid of glory.)
8. Perspicuum. (Clear.)
8. Obscurum. (Obscure.)
Piscatoris Scholia in Epist. 2, ad Corinth. — Ed. For he had said that the Spirit giveth life, and farther, that men’s hearts served instead of stones, and disposition, in the place of ink
Let us now briefly examine those attributes of the law and the gospel. Let us, however, bear in mind, that he is not speaking of the whole of the doctrine that is contained in the law and the Prophets; and farther, that he is not treating of what happened to the fathers under the Old Testament, but merely notices what belongs peculiarly to the ministry of Moses. The law was engraven on stones, and hence it was a literal doctrine. This defect of the law required to be corrected by the gospel, because it could not but be brittle, so long as it was merely engraven on tables of stone. The gospel, therefore, is a holy and inviolable covenant, because it was contracted by the Spirit of God, acting as security. From this, too, it follows, that the law was the ministry of condemnation and of death; for when men are instructed as to their duty, and hear it declared, that all who do not render satisfaction to the justice of God are cursed, (Deuteronomy 27:26,) they are convicted, as under sentence of sin and death. From the law, therefore, they derive nothing but a condemnation of this nature, because God there demands what is due to him, and at the same time confers no power to perform it. The gospel, on the other hand, by which men are regenerated, and are reconciled to God, through the free remission of their sins, is the ministry of righteousness, and, consequently, of life also.
Here, however, a question arises: As the gospel is the odor of death unto death to some, (2 Corinthians 2:16,) and as Christ is a rock of offense, and a stone of stumbling set for the ruin of many, 391391 The occasion of the ruin of unbelievers is explained by Calvin at considerable length in the Harmony, vol. 1, pp. 148, 149. — Ed. (Luke 2:34; 1 Peter 2:8,) why does he represent, as belonging exclusively to the law, what is common to both? Should you reply, that it happens accidentally that the gospel is the source of death, and, accordingly, it the occasion of it rather than the cause, inasmuch as it is in its own nature salutary to all, the difficulty will still remain unsolved; for the same answer might be returned with truth in reference to the law. For we hear what Moses called the people to bear witness to — that he had set before them life and death. (Deuteronomy 30:15.) We hear what Paul himself says in Romans 7:10 — that the law has turned out to our ruin, not through any fault attaching to it, but in consequence of our wickedness. Hence, as the entailing of condemnation upon men is a thing that happens alike to the law and the gospel, the difficulty still remains.
My answer is this — that there is, notwithstanding of this, a great difference between them; for although the gospel is an occasion of condemnation to many, it is nevertheless, on good grounds, reckoned the doctrine of life, because it is the instrument of regeneration, and offers to us a free reconciliation with God. The law, on the other hand, as it simply prescribes the rule of a good life, does not renew men’s hearts to the obedience of righteousness, and denounces everlasting death upon transgressors, can do nothing but condemn. 392392 “Elle ne nous pent apporter autre chose que condemnation;” — “It can bring us nothing but condemnation.” Or if you prefer it in another way, the office of the law is to show us the disease, in such a way as to show us, at the same time, no hope of cure: the office of the gospel is, to bring a remedy to those that were past hope. For as the law leaves man to himself, it condemns him, of necessity, to death; while the gospel, bringing him to Christ, opens the gate of life. Thus, in one word, we find that it is an accidental property of the law, that is perpetual and inseparable, that it killeth; for as the Apostle says elsewhere, (Galatians 3:10,)
All that remain under the law are subject to the curse.
It does, not, on the other hand, invariably happen to the gospel, that it kills, for in it is
revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith, and therefore it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. (Romans 1:17,18.) 393393 Turretine, in his Institutes of Controversial Theology, (volume 2,) gives a much similar view of the matter, of which Calvin here treats. “Quando lex vocatur litera occidens, et ministerium mortis et condemnationis, (2 Corinthians 3:6, 7, 8, 9,) intelligenda est non per se et naturâ suâ, sed per accidens, ob corruptionem hominis, non absolute et simpliciter, sed secundum, quid quando spectatur ut fœdus operum, opposite ad fœdus gratiae;” — “When the law is called a killing letter, and the ministry of death and condemnation, (2 Corinthians 3:6,7,8,9,) it must be understood to be so, not in itself and in its own nature, but accidentally, in consequence of man’s corruption — not absolutely and expressly, but relatively, when viewed as a covenant of works, as contrasted with the covenant of grace.” — Ed.
It remains, that we consider the last of the properties that are ascribed. The Apostle says, that the law was but for a time, and required to be abolished, but that the gospel, on the other hand, remains for ever. There are various reasons why the ministry of Moses is pronounced transient, for it was necessary that the shadows should vanish at the coming of Christ, and that statement —
The law and the Prophets were until John —
— applies to more than the mere shadows. For it intimates, that Christ has put an end to the ministry of Moses, which was peculiar to him, and is distinguished from the gospel. Finally, the Lord declares by Jeremiah, that the weakness of the Old Testament arose from this — that it was not engraven on men’s hearts. (Jeremiah 31:32,33.) For my part, I understand that abolition of the law, of which mention is here made, as referring to the whole of the Old Testament, in so far as it is opposed to the gospel, so that it corresponds with the statement — The law and the Prophets were until John. For the context requires this. For Paul is not reasoning here as to mere ceremonies, but shows how much more powerfully the Spirit of God exercises his power in the gospel, than of old under the law.
So that they could not look. He seems to have had it in view to reprove, indirectly, the arrogance of those, who despised the gospel as a thing that was excessively mean, 394394 “Trop abiecte et contemptible:” — “Excessively mean and contemptible.” so that they could scarcely deign to give it a direct look. “So great,” says he, “was the splendor of the law, that the Jews could not endure it. What, then, must we think of the gospel, the dignity of which is as much superior to that of the law, as Christ is more excellent than Moses?”
10. What was rendered glorious. This is not a correction of what goes before, but rather a confirmation; for he means that the glory of the law is extinguished when the gospel comes forth. As the moon and stars, though in themselves they are not merely luminous, but diffuse their light over the whole earth, do, nevertheless, disappear before the brightness of the sun; so, however glorious the law was in itself, it has, nevertheless, no glory in comparison with the excellence of the gospel. Hence it follows, that we cannot sufficiently prize, or hold in sufficient esteem the glory of Christ, which shines forth in the gospel, like the splendor of the sun when beaming forth; and that the gospel is foolishly handled, nay more, is shamefully profaned, where the power and majesty of the Spirit do not come forth to view, so as to draw up men’s minds and hearts heavenward.
12. Having therefore this hope. Here he advances still farther, for he does not treat merely of the nature of the law, or of that enduring quality of which we have spoken, but also of its abuse. True, indeed, this also belonged to its nature, that, being covered with a veil, it was not so manifest to the eye, and that by its brightness it inspired terror, and accordingly Paul says elsewhere, what amounts to the same thing — that the people of Israel had received from it the spirit of bondage unto fear. (Romans 8:15.) Here, however, he speaks rather of an abuse that was foreign and adventitious. 399399 “D’vn abus accidental, et qui estoit venu d’ailleurs;” — “Of an abuse that was accidental, and that had come from another quarter.” There was at that time in all quarters a grievous stumbling-block arising from the wantonness of the Jews, inasmuch as they obstinately rejected Christ. 400400 “De ce qu’ils reiettoyent Iesus Christ d’vne malice endurcie;” — “Inasmuch as they rejected Christ with a hardened malice.” In consequence of this, weak consciences were shaken, being in doubt, whether they should embrace Christ, inasmuch as he was not acknowledged by the chosen people. 401401 “Veu que le peuple esleu ne le recognoissoit point pour Sauueur;” — “Inasmuch as the chosen people did not acknowledge him as a Savior.” This kind of scruple the Apostle removes, by instructing them, that their blindness had been prefigured even from the beginning, inasmuch as they could not behold the face of Moses, except through the medium of a veil. As, therefore, he had stated previously, that the law was rendered glorious by the lustre of Moses’ countenance, so now he teaches, that the veil was an emblem of the blindness that was to come upon the people of Israel, for the person of Moses represents the law. The Jews, therefore, acknowledged by this, that they had not eyes to behold the law, except when veiled.
This veil, he adds, is not taken away, except by Christ. From this he concludes, that none are susceptible of a right apprehension, but those who direct their minds to Christ. 402402 “Ceux qui appliquent leur entendement à cognoistre Christ;” — “Those who apply their understandings to the knowledge of Christ.” In the first place, he draws this distinction between the law and the Gospel — that the brightness of the former rather dazzled men’s eyes, than enlightened them, while in the latter, Christ’s glorious face is clearly beheld. He now triumphantly exults, on the ground that the majesty of the Gospel is not terrific, but amiable 403403 “Aimable, et attrayante;” — “Amiable, and attractive.” — is not hid, but is manifested familiarly to all. The term παῤῥησία confidence, he employs here, either as meaning an elevated magnanimity of spirit, with which all ministers of the Gospel ought to be endowed, or as denoting an open and full manifestation of Christ; and this second view is the more probable, for he contrasts this confidence with the obscurity of the law. 404404 “We speak not only with all confidence, but with all imaginable plainness; keeping back nothing; disguising nothing; concealing nothing; and here we differ greatly from Jewish doctors, and from the Gentile philosophers, who affect obscurity, and endeavor, by figures, metaphors, and allegories, to hide everything from the vulgar. But we wish that all may hear; and we speak so that all may understand.” — Dr. Adam Clarke. — Ed.
13. Not as Moses Paul is not reasoning as to the intention of Moses. For as it was his office, to publish the law to his people, so, there can be no doubt that he was desirous, that its true meaning should be apprehended by all, and that he did not intentionally involve his doctrine in obscurity, but that the fault was on the part of the people. As, therefore, he could not renew the minds of the hearers, he was contented with faithfully discharging the duty assigned to him. Nay more, the Lord having commanded him to put a veil between his face and the eyes of the beholders, he obeyed. Nothing, therefore, is said here to the dishonor of Moses, for he was not required to do more than the commission, that was assigned to him, called for. In addition to this, that bluntness, or that weak and obtuse vision, of which Paul is now speaking, is confined to unbelievers exclusively, because the law though wrapt up in figures, 405405 “Figures et ombres;” — “Figures and shadows.” did nevertheless impart wisdom to babes, Psalm 19:7 406406 “The clause rendered in our authorized version — making wise the simple, is rendered by Calvin, instructing the babe in wisdom. In Tyndale’s Bible the reading is, ‘And giveth wisdom even unto babes.’ Babes is the word used in most of the versions.” — Calvin on the Psalms, vol. 1, p. 317, n. 2. — Ed.
14. Their understandings were blinded. He lays the whole blame upon them, inasmuch as it was owing to their blindness, that they did not make any proficiency in the doctrine of the law. He afterwards adds, That veil remaineth even until this day. By this he means, that that dulness of vision was not for a single hour merely, but prefigured what the condition of the nation would be in time to come. “That veil with which Moses covered his face, when publishing the law, was the emblem of a stupidity, that would come upon that people, and would continue upon them for a long period. Thus at this day, when the law is preached to them, in
hearing they hear not, and in seeing they see not.
There is no reason, however, why we should be troubled,
as though some new thing had happened. (1 Peter 4:12.)
God has shown long ago under the type of the veil, that it would be so. Lest, however, any blame should attach to the law, he again repeats it, that their hearts were covered with a veil
And it is not removed, because it is done away through Christ. He assigns a reason, why they are so long in blindness in the midst of light. For the law is in itself bright, but it is only when Christ. appears to us in it, that we enjoy its splendor. The Jews turn away their eyes as much as they can from Christ. It is not therefore to be wondered, if they see nothing, refusing as they do to behold the sun. This blindness on the part of the chosen people, especially as it is so long continued, admonishes us not to be lifted up with pride, relying on the benefits that God has conferred upon us. This point is treated of in Romans 11:20. Let, however, the reason of this blindness deter us from contempt of Christ, which God so grievously punishes. In the mean time, let us learn, that without Christ, the Sun of righteousness, (Malachi 4:2,) there is no light even in the law, or in the whole word of God.
16. But when he shall have turned to the Lord. This passage has hitherto been badly rendered, for both Greek and Latin writers have thought that the word Israel was to be understood, whereas Paul is speaking of Moses. He had said, that a veil is upon the hearts of the Jews, when Moses is read. He immediately adds, As soon as he will have turned to the Lord, the veil will be taken away. Who does not see, that this is said of Moses, that is, of the law? For as Christ is the end 407407 “La fin et l’accomplissement d’icelle;” — “The end and accomplishment of it.” of it, (Romans 10:4,) to which it ought to be referred, it was turned away in another direction, when the Jews shut out Christ from it. Hence, as in the law 408408 “En lisant la Loy;” — “In reading the Law.” they wander into by-paths, so the law, too, becomes to them involved like a labyrinth, until it is brought to refer to its end, that is, Christ. If, accordingly, the Jews seek Christ in the law, the truth of God will be distinctly seen by them, 409409 “Ils y trouuerout clairement la pure verité de Dieu;” — “They will clearly discover in it the pure truth of God.” but so long as they think to be wise without Christ, they will wander in darkness, and will never arrive at a right understanding of the law. Now what is said of the law applies to all Scripture — that where it is not taken as referring to Christ as its one aim, it is mistakingly twisted and perverted. 410410 “C’est la destourner hops de son droit sens et du tout la peruertir;” — “This is to turn it away from its right meaning, and altogether to pervert it.”
17. The Lord is the Spirit. This passage, also, has been misinterpreted, as if Paul had meant to say, that Christ is of a spiritual essence, for they connect it with that statement in John 4:24, God is a Spirit. The statement before us, however, has nothing to do with Christ’s essence, but simply points out his office, for it is connected with what goes before, where we found it stated, that the doctrine of the law is literal, and not merely dead, but even an occasion of death. He now, on the other hand, calls Christ its spirit, 411411 “L’esprit de la Loy;” — “The spirit of the law.” meaning by this, that it will be living and life-giving, only if it is breathed into by Christ. Let the soul be connected with the body, and then there is a living man, endowed with intelligence and perception, fit for all vital functions. 412412 “Tous mouuemens et operations de la vie;” — “All the movements and operations of life.” Let the soul be removed from the body, and there will remain nothing but a useless carcase, totally devoid of feeling.
The passage is deserving of particular notice, 413413 “Voici vn beau passage, et bien digne d’estre noté;” — “Here is a beautiful passage, and well deserving to be carefully noticed.” as teaching us, in what way we are to reconcile those encomiums which David pronounces upon the law — (Psalm 19:7,8) — “the law of the Lord converteth souls, enlighteneth the eyes, imparteth wisdom to babes,” and passages of a like nature, with those statements of Paul, which at first view are at variance with them — that it is the ministry of sin and death — the letter that does nothing but kill. (2 Corinthians 3:6,7.) For when it is animated by Christ, 414414 “Quand l’ame luy est inspiree par Christ;” — “When a soul is breathed into by Christ.” those things that David makes mention of are justly applicable to it. If Christ is taken away, it is altogether such as Paul describes. Hence Christ is the life of the law. 415415 “La vie et l’esprit de la Loy;” — “The life and spirit of the Law.”
Where the Spirit of the Lord. He now describes the manner, in which Christ gives life to the law — by giving us his Spirit. The term Spirit here has a different signification from what it had in the preceding verse. There, it denoted the soul, and was ascribed metaphorically to Christ. Here, on the other hand, it means the Holy Spirit, that Christ himself confers upon his people. Christ, however, by regenerating us, gives life to the law, and shows himself to be the fountain of life, as all vital functions proceed from man’s soul. Christ, then, is to all (so to speak) the universal soul, not in respect of essence, but in respect of grace. Or, if you prefer it, Christ is the Spirit, because he quickens us by the life-giving influence of his Spirit. 416416 “Par l’efficace et viue vertu de son Sainct Esprit;” — “By the efficacy and living influence of his Holy Spirit.”
He makes mention, also, of the blessing that we obtain from that source. “There,” says he, “is liberty.” By the term liberty I do not understand merely emancipation from the servitude of sin, and of the flesh, but also that confidence, which we acquire from His bearing witness as to our adoption. For it is in accordance with that statement —
We have not again received the spirit of bondage, to fear, etc. (Romans 8:15.)
In that passage, the Apostle makes mention of two things — bondage, and fear. The opposites of these are liberty and confidence. Thus I acknowledge, that the inference drawn from this passage by Augustine is correct — that we are by nature the slaves of sin, and are made free by the grace of regeneration. For, where there is nothing but the bare letter of the law, there will be only the dominion of sin, but the term Liberty, as I have said, I take in a more extensive sense. The grace of the Spirit might, also, be restricted more particularly to ministers, so as to make this statement correspond with the commencement of the chapter, for ministers require to have another grace of the Spirit, and another liberty from what others have. The former signification, however, pleases me better, though at the same time I have no objection, that this should be applied to every one according to the measure of his gift. It is enough, if we observe, that Paul here points out the efficacy of the Spirit, which we experience for our salvation — as many of us, as have been regenerated by his grace.
18. But we all, with unveiled face. I know not how it had come into the mind of Erasmus, to apply to ministers exclusively, what is evidently common to all believers. The word κατοπτριζεσθαι, it is true, has a double signification among the Greeks, for it sometimes means to hold out a mirror to be looked into, and at other times to look into a mirror when presented. 417417 “It is made use of in the former sense by Plutarch, (2. 894. D.) It is more frequently employed in the latter signification. Thus Plato says, Τοις μεθυουσι συνεβουλευε κατοπτριζεσθαι — “He advised drunken persons to look at themselves in a mirror.” So also Diogenes Laert. (in Socrate) Ηξιου δε τους νεους συνεχως κατοπτριζεσθαι. He thought that young men should frequently look at themselves in a mirror. — Ed. The old interpreter, however, has correctly judged, that the second of these is the more suitable to the passage before us. I have accordingly followed his rendering. 418418 Wiclif (1380) following, as he is wont to do, the Vulgate, renders as follows: “And alle we that with open face seen the glorie of the Lord.” Calvin’s rendering, it will be observed, is — “In speculo conspicientes;” — “beholding in a mirror.” — Ed. Nor is it without good reason, that Paul has added a term of universality — “We all,” says he; for he takes in the whole body of the Church. It is a conclusion that suits well with the doctrine stated previously — that we have in the gospel a clear revelation from God. As to this, we shall see something farther in the fourth chapter.
He points out, however, at the same time, both the strength of the revelation, and our daily progress. 419419 “Le proufit ou auancement que nous sentons en cela tous les iours;” — “The profit or advancement, which we experience in it every day.” For he has employed such a similitude to denote three things: first, That we have no occasion to fear obscurity, when we approach the gospel, for God there clearly discovers to us His face; 420420 “Car là Dieu se descouure à nous face à face;” — “For God there discovers Himself to us face to face.” secondly, That it is not befitting, that it should be a dead contemplation, but that we should be transformed by means of it into the image of God; and, thirdly, that the one and the other are not accomplished in us in one moment, but we must be constantly making progress both in the knowledge of God, and in conformity to His image, for this is the meaning of the expression — from glory to glory
When he adds, — as by the Spirit of the Lord, he again reminds of what he had said — that the whole excellence of the gospel depends on this, that it is made life-giving to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit. For the particle of comparison — as, is not employed to convey the idea of something not strictly applicable, but to point out the manner. Observe, that the design of the gospel is this — that the image of God, which had been effaced by sin, may be stamped anew upon us, and that the advancement of this restoration may be continually going forward in us during our whole life, because God makes his glory shine forth in us by little and little.
There is one question that may be proposed here. “Paul says, that we behold God’s face with an unveiled face, 421421 Granville Penn renders the verse as follows: “And we all, looking, as in a glass, at the glory of the Lord with his face unveiled,” and adds the following note: “St. Paul contrasts the condition of the Jews, when they could not fix their eyes on the glory of the unveiled face of Moses, with the privilege of Christians, who are empowered to look, as in a mirror, on the open and unveiled face of Christ; and in that gazing, to be transformed into the same glorious image: The ‘unveiled face,’ therefore, is that of our Lord, not that of the beholder.” — Ed. while in the former Epistle we find it stated, that we do not, for the present, know God otherwise than through a mirror, and in an obscure manner.” In these statements there is an appearance of contrariety. They are, however, by no means at variance. The knowledge that we have of God for the present is obscure and slender, in comparison with the glorious view that we shall have on occasion of Christ’s last coming. At the same time, He presents Himself to us at present, so as to be seen by us, and openly beheld, in so far as is for our advantage, and in so far as our capacity admits of. 422422 “Tis not a change only into the image of God with slight colors, an image drawn as with charcoal; but a glorious image even in the rough draught, which grows up into greater beauty by the addition of brighter colors: Changed (saith the Apostle, 2 Corinthians 3:18) into the same image from glory to glory: glory in the first lineaments as well as glory in the last lines.” — Charnock’s Works, volume 2, p. 209. — Ed. Hence Paul makes mention of progress being made, inasmuch as there will then only be perfection.