“But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away; how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?” – 2 Cor. iii. 7,8.
WE have been requested to give our understanding of this text; and such light as we have we freely offer; not however as an oracle for others, but earnestly desiring that those who read may carefully and prayerfully compare what we say with the unerring and infallible standard of truth, and subscribe to our views only so far as they shall find them established by the word and Spirit of our Lord.
In the subject on which our comment is desired, the apostle is contrasting the distinct ministrations of death and life, of letter and spirit, of law and gospel, and while he presents himself as a minister of Christ, an apostle of the Lamb, he would have his brethren understand that he is not like Moses, a minister of the law. Under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, this apostle labored much to draw the line of distinction clearly between the two dispensations, the two covenants, and to combat that propensity which he found even among the children of God, to confound them together.
In writing to this church he saw no necessity for an introductory letter or epistle of commendation, as he could claim the members of this church as witnesses. Their very existence as a gospel church presented an incontestable demonstration of his doctrine and of his calling of God; not that Paul could claim them as his workmanship, or that their conversion to christianity was the result of his labor, but rather that his credentials as an apostle were written by the same Spirit in the heart of every child of God. He could refer them to the work of the Spirit on their hearts, which they had experienced, to witness the truth of his doctrine. And here permit us to say, Paul has introduced a rule to be observed by all the churches of Christ, and by all the children of God, for trying those who profess to be the ministers of the word. Their testimony, if it be the truth of God, will be in perfect harmony with what the Holy Ghost has said in the scriptures, and what he has indelibly written in their hearts, in their experiences. And what the here says upon the subject of the ministrations, is confirmed by the manifest handwriting of the Holy Ghost upon their hearts.
By the ministration of death, we must understand the Sinai law, as that law or covenant only was written and engraved in tables of stones, and it was only when Moses descended from Mount Sinai with that law that his face shone so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold him. Although the whole administration of Moses, including the ministration of death, yet, as only the covenant of the ten commandments were written upon the tables, we must consider that covenant as being especially intended in the text. While thousands of Gentiles as well as Israelites are looking to that law for life, and vainly hope to be justified before God by their obedience to its precepts, the apostle declares it to be the minister of death. “For if,” says he, “a law had been given that could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” And again, he informs us that by the deeds of the law, no flesh shall be justified. The object and design of the law was not to give life, nor to open up a way by which guilty sinners could save themselves, bur rather that every mouth might be stopped, and the whole world appear guilty before God. The exhibition of a perfect standard, shows the exceeding sinfulness of sin. But still there was a glory in that ministration, as illustrated by the lustre of the face of Moses, for as Moses was designed to personate that law, so the insufferable brightness of his countenance was to show that the law of God possessed a glory which depraved sinners can neither comprehend nor attain unto. The glory of that covenant was indicated by the awful display of the majesty of God upon the Mount. The cloud was upon the mountain, emblematic of the dark prospect which is before the soul that looks to the law for life. The life of God is hidden from mortal scrutiny when Moses or the law is read, as God himself was hidden from the eyes of the children of Israel by the cloud which covered the mountain. And the thunderings, and lightnings, the trumpet and the voice of words which Israel could not endure, and which made Moses himself to fear and quake, was well calculated to show the peculiar nature and glory of the law in its application to an awakened or quickened sinner. That ministration was glorious in its exhibition of the justice of God in his demands, and in the execution of wrath, notwithstanding its weakness through the flesh to do those things which Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh to accomplish. All that law could do for transgressors was to administer death; and hence it is denominated the ministration of death. But the apostle contrasts the glory of this ministration with the gospel, or ministration of righteousness. There can be no doubt that the former was glorious, but he clearly demonstrates that the latter very far excels in glory.
First, as a covenant. The new covenant, as God himself promised, is a better one, embracing better promises, and made perfectly secure by a better surety. The new covenant was better than the old because it rested not on the conditional obedience of those whom it embraced, as did the old. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they break, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them, unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jer. xxxi. 31-34. Heb. viii. 8-12; and x. 16-18.
To a child of God who has in his own experience been brought to witness the perfection, majesty, righteousness and justice of the law of God, and afterwards felt the application of the new covenant, by the Spirit writing the law of love, joy, gratitude and praise in his inward parts, who has known the Spirit’s work in the administration of that circumcision which is not outward in the flesh, but inward, in the heart, and no in the letter, bu tin the spirit, and whose praise is not of men, but of God, there can be no arguments necessary to convince him of the superior glory of the new covenant over the glory of the old covenant. All the promises and provisions of the old were, “yea,” and “nay,” or, in other words, all depended on the faithful performance of the things which it enjoined, demanding everything of the poor, distressed, bankrupt sinner, and furnishing him with nothing; cursing him for every offence or failure. But the new covenant provides everything unconditionally. It is not “yea,” and “nay,” but yea and amen. The sure mercies of David. The everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure, sure in all things, abounding from first to last with Jehovah’s wills and shalls. Giving to the heirs of salvation the law in their hearts, and not on tables of stone that can be broken. Truly the apostle may say, If that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
Again. There is a difference in the glory of the two ministrations. The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth were brought by Jesus Christ. So great then as is the disparity between Moses and Christ, is that between the two covenants. One was a law of carnal commandments, the other is the power of an endless life. One adapted to the fleshly or carnal state of Israel, the other applicable only to the true, spiritual family of God. The one gendering to bondage, having no power to set the captive free, the other is Jerusalem which is above, and which is free, and is the mother of all who, like Isaac, are the children of the promise. The old covenant was faulty. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith; Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant.” &c.; and, “In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” – Heb. viii. 7,8 and 13. The glory of the first “was to be done away,” or superceded. In this sense we understand that the old covenant decayed, waxed old, and was, when Paul wrote to the Hebrews, ready to vanish away. The perfections of God, which were exhibited in the law, cannot change in themselves, but that law or covenant which cannot change in themselves, but that law or covenant which exhibited them in that form, was by its own limitation to continue only until he should come of whom it was written in the volume of the book, to do the will of God, and then he should take away the first and establish the second. Then should the sceptre depart from Judah, and the lawgiver from between his feet, and the reign of the Shiloh should be ushered in, with its surpassing glory. But the ministration of righteousness was to endure forever. In this new ministration, Christ and not Aaron occupies the priesthood. The glory of Aaron’s priesthood is superceded; Christ has become a priest forever, after the order of Melchisedec. This change of the priesthood from the hands of the sons of Levi, to Christ, rendered a change of the law indispensible, for under the Levitical priesthood the people of Israel received the law, and there was in that priesthood a want of perfection. The offereings which were made under it could not take away sins. Its bleeding victims could only point to Christ, and their blood to his blood in the new testament, or new covenant, which was shed for many.
How then shall it be otherwise than that the ministration of the spirit shall excel the glory of that of wrath? The one administers condemnation and curses to as many as are under it, the other administers righteousness, not only commensurate to the law’s demands, but everlasting righteousness, and eternal glory.
New Vernon, N.Y.,
October 15, 1846
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 690 – 695