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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?”