|RPM, Volume 13, Number 4, January 23 to January 29, 2011|
To understand the Scripture, to see in it the mind of the Holy Spirit, to be deeply penetrated with, and inwardly possessed of the heavenly wisdom, holy instruction, and gracious revelation of the counsels and will of God unfolded therein, demands much and continual patient and prayerful study. As in business, diligence and industry lead on to prosperity and success, and sloth and idleness are the sure road to ruin--so in the greatest, most serious, and important of all business, the concerns of the soul, there is a holy diligence, a heavenly industry, whereby it thrives and grows, and there is a slothful indolence whereby it becomes clothed with rags. (Prov. 23:21.) No slothful member was ever a pillar or an ornament to a church; no slothful minister was ever a benefit or a blessing in a pulpit.
In opening this part of our subject, we shall keep as closely as we can to the Scripture, not only that we may not darken counsel by words without knowledge, but that we may speak, as far as we know and understand it, after the mind of Christ, and according to the teaching and testimony of the Holy Spirit in the word and in the heart.
The plainest, simplest idea of the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel is, that it is a service put into the hands, and committed to the trust of chosen men of God. We hope to show in due time what should be considered a call to the ministry of the word, but for the present let it suffice to say with the Apostle—"No man takes this honor unto himself, but he who is called of God, as was Aaron." (Heb. 5:4.)
We shall assume, then, that the ministers of the gospel are men chosen of God, to this high and honorable employment, and by him especially qualified, commissioned, and sent to preach the word of life. By being thus chosen and set apart, they become servants of Christ and ministers of the New Testament. They are not the servants of men, (1 Cor. 7:23,) though servants to the Church for Jesus' sake; (2 Cor. 4:5;) yes, though free from all men, are willing to make themselves servants to all, that they may win souls to Christ. (1 Cor. 9:19.) Still less are they servants of sin, for "to whom men yield themselves servants to obey, his servants they are to whom they obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness." (Rom. 6:16.) Their grand distinguishing mark, their highest honor, their dearest privilege, is to be servants of God and of his Son Jesus Christ. Such was Paul; (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1;) such was Peter; (2 Pet. 1:1;) such was Jude; (Jude 1;) and such was John; (Rev. 1:1;) and to show that this title and office were not confined to the apostles, we find that such were Timothy and Epaphras. (Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24; Col. 4:12.)
There is, however, a broad and marked distinction between being a servant of Christ and being a minister of Christ, which it may be worth while to notice. The term "servant" expresses and includes all that they are towards GOD; the term "minister" all that they are towards MAN. Let us more fully open this, as the distinction between the two terms may not have occurred to some of our readers, and yet important practical conclusions follow from it.
1. As "servants of Christ," he alone is their Master. It was he and he alone who chose them, qualified them, commissioned them, and sent them. To him and to him alone they look for direction, instruction, food, and maintenance. His will must be their will, his word their warrant, his guidance their path, his displeasure their dread, and his approbation their reward. In proportion as they believe, feel, and realize this, will they preach his word with holy boldness, and move on in their rough and rugged path in sweet liberty and gracious confidence. There is no service so bondaging, burdensome, and miserable (that to sin only excepted)--as service to man; there is no service so free, noble, and happy as service to God. Just in proportion, then, as we feel that we are servants of God, do we rise up above fear and bondage; and just in proportion as we become servants of man, do we sink down into darkness and chains.
2. But they are "ministers of Christ" as well as "servants of Christ." Observe the distinction between the two. As redeemed and called, (1 Cor. 7:22, 23,) as followers of Christ, (John 12:26,) as taking his yoke upon him, (Matt. 11:29,) as having the kingdom of God set up in their heart, (Rom. 14:17, 18,) as of that chosen seed which is accounted to the Lord for a generation, (Psalm 22:30,)--all the saints of God are his servants; (Rev. 2:20;) but all are not the servants of God in the higher sense of the term, as serving him in the gospel, and, therefore, not ministers.
The word minister, as distinct from servant, means one to whom is committed a service for the use and benefit of others. This may, at first sight, seem to be a distinction without a difference; but it will be found not to be so when we look at its bearings and practical results. Thus, as regards their choice, commission, and qualification, the preachers of the gospel are servants of Christ; but as this service is committed to them for the benefit of the people of God, they are ministers of Christ. They are, therefore, servants to the Church, and for the Church, but not servants of the Church. They are Christ's servants, not the Church's servants, for as Christ alone called them, qualified them, commissioned, and sent them, it is nothing but anti-Christian tyranny and a vile usurpation for any church to claim and treat them as its servants, and therefore make them servants of men. But as this is a narrow point, and many churches here greatly err, considering, because they choose and pay their minister, they are as much his master as a banker is to a clerk, or a draper to an assistant, we shall treat it somewhat fully, and as fairly as we can for both sides, for a minister may as much err in claiming to be a lord over God's heritage--as a church may err in degrading him into its servant.
The Lord, then, by his grace, chooses and calls men to be his servants, that they may be employed in his service for the benefit of others. He is their sole and only Master, but he uses them to accomplish his gracious purposes. This is beautifully illustrated in the instance of Paul, who seems to have been selected as the pattern of a minister, as well as of the patience of Jesus Christ to those who would hereafter believe in him to life everlasting. (1 Tim. 1:16.) He received a ministry from the hands of the Lord, when he first called him by his grace—"But rise, and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared unto you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto you." (Acts 26:16.) He therefore says of himself—"But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood;" (Gal. 1:15, 16;) and again—"Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Eph. 3:7, 8.) No, so urgently was it laid upon him that he says—"For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me." (1 Cor. 9:16, 17.)
Now, we do not mean to say that we are all to have our call as clear as his, or our credentials as indisputable. We have instanced him as a pattern to show in the brightest and clearest light what is meant by a minister of the gospel, and that he is a servant of God for the use and benefit of his people. If we follow Paul from the first day when he preached Christ in the synagogues at Damascus that he is the Son of God, (Acts 9:20,) to his last testimony when, having fought a good fight and finished his course, his departure was at hand, and he was looking and longing for his crown, (2 Tim. 4:6-8,) his whole life and labors were for the good of others. He was ever the Lord's servant, ever "free," (1 Cor. 9:1,) and to those who would bring him into bondage, he would give place by subjection, no, not for an hour. (Gal. 2:4, 5.) With him it was a small thing to be judged of any man's judgment, (1 Cor. 4:3,) and he ever stood fast in the liberty with which Christ had made him free; (Gal. 5:1;) and yet, though thus fully and blessedly free from all men, he made himself servant unto all, that he might gain the more. (1 Cor. 9:19.)
The more that Paul's life and labors, experience, example, and words are studied and meditated upon, the clearer will be our views of the ministry of the gospel, and the more distinctly shall we see the line which separates the true ministers of Christ from the false apostles, the deceitful workers, who transform themselves into the apostles of Christ. (2 Cor. 11:13.) We see in Paul the union of the highest liberty with the lowest service; of the fullest freedom from man with the greatest devotedness to man; of the most glorious revelations of Christ with the most toilsome labors, severe sufferings, painful privations that could be endured for his name's sake; and though not a whit behind the very chief apostles, yet in his own eyes ever less than the least of all saints--and the chief of sinners. (2 Cor. 11:5; Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:15.)
The word "ministry," then, as we have pointed out, and conspicuously seen in him, implies a service for the benefit of others. It is now, therefore, necessary to show its nature and character.
Its leading feature and grand distinguishing character is that it is the ministry of the New Testament; in other words, that it is a gracious means of communicating the blessings of the new covenant to the souls of men. In 2 Cor. 3 the Apostle, by contrasting in various points the law and the gospel, very clearly and beautifully unfolds what the nature and character of the ministry of the New Testament is. If we carefully examine this chapter, and trace out the line of argument contained in it, we shall see that the Apostle lays down seven points in which the ministry of the two covenants stands in broad contrast and visible distinction from each other. He prefaces this contrast by the words—"Who also has made us able ministers of the New Testament;" and closes it with—"Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not." (2 Cor. 4:1.) We have thought, therefore, that we could not, in opening this part of our subject, better break ground than by tracing out the points of distinction laid down by the Apostle.
The different points of contrast thus laid down are these—
1. The first distinctive feature of the ministry of the gospel is that it is "the ministration of the SPIRIT." This is its distinguishing glory. The law is but the letter, written and engraved in stones; but believers are "the epistle of Christ, written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." (This word is sometimes quoted, and even printed in some Bibles "fleshly;" but in the original, as in our version, the words are distinct both in form and meaning. "Fleshy" signifies soft and tender—the heart of flesh as distinct from the heart of stone; (Ezek. 36:26;) whereas "fleshly" means what is corrupt and evil, (2 Cor. 1:12; Col. 2:18; 1 Pet. 2:11,) and is generally translated "carnal.")
There was indeed a glory of its own in the law, as typified by the glory of the face of Moses when he came down from the Mount; but this glory fades and grows pale by the side of the glory of the gospel. "But if the ministration of death, written and engraved 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. 3:7, 8.) The Apostle, therefore, asks the Galatians, "This only would I learn of you, Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law--or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:2.) "I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ." (Gal. 3:5.) The "hearing of faith" means the gospel, as is plain from Romans 10:14-17. When Peter preached the gospel in the house of Cornelius, we read—"While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word." (Acts 10:44.) So was it at the memorable day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:38, 39.) So under Paul's preaching at Antioch in Pisidia; (Acts 13:52;) at Ephesus; (Acts 19:6;) at Thessalonica; (1 Thess. 1:5, 6;) at Corinth. (2 Cor. 11:4.)
And though in those days there were extraordinary gifts of the Spirit which were gradually withdrawn as the canon of the Scripture was closing, yet the peculiar glory of the ministry is still the same as "the ministration of the Spirit." If the question be asked, "What is meant by the ministration of the Spirit?" we answer, the means whereby the Spirit is communicated to the souls of men. And if it be further asked, "How does the gospel do this?" we reply, that the Holy Spirit uses it as a means of communicating his graces, operations, and influences--for he works in and by the word; and when he himself comes and dwells in the soul, making the body his temple, it is not in a visionary way, without the word, but through the gospel coming "in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance." (1 Thess. 1:5.) This is beautifully opened up by the Apostle—"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:13, 14.)
He traces out four distinct and progressive steps—1. They heard the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation; 2. They believed in the Son of God, as preached in this gospel; 3. They were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; 4. he became, by his indwelling, the pledge of their inheritance. (Compare Rom. 8:9, 23.) It is thus that the preached gospel is "the ministration of the Spirit."
2. It is, therefore, also the ministration of LIFE; for "the letter kills, but the spirit gives life." (2 Cor. 3:6.) By the word "spirit" here is meant, not the Holy Spirit, but the gospel as being, as we have shown, the ministration of the Spirit; and by "the letter" is meant, not the letter of the gospel, but the law which was given in letters on the two tables of stone, and which is said to kill, as cursing and condemning all found under it, and slaying the soul that is brought under its inward sentence. The gospel, then, in the hands of the servants of God, is a ministration of life; for, as made life and spirit to the soul, one part of its work is to quicken dead sinners into spiritual life. God is said, therefore, "to beget us with the word of truth," (James 1:18,) and the regenerate are declared to "be born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever." (1 Pet. 1:23.)
Jesus is the Life, (John 14:6,) and as such he quickens whom he will; (John 5:21;) but it is through his word that he quickens; for he has "the words of eternal life," and the words that he speaks, "they are spirit and they are life." (John 6:63, 68.) "In him was life" originally and eternally, (John 1:4,) and that life he communicates to those who are his, even that "eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began, but has in due time manifested his word through preaching." (Titus 1:2, 3.)
And as through the gospel this life is communicated, so it is through the gospel that it is maintained. How many a poor dying soul, condemned by law, condemned by conscience, has been brought out and up into the light, life, and liberty of the gospel by the preached word. How many a drooping head has been raised up; how many a backsliding heart recovered and healed; how many a cold, lifeless frame warmed into life and feeling; how many a hard, frozen soul, apparently impenetrable to love or fear, has in a moment, by one soft word spoken by a servant of God, been softened, melted, and dissolved into a flood of contrition, humility, and brokenness before the Lord, in which it was hard to say which most prevailed--love to Jesus, or hatred of self. We cannot enlarge on this point, but every servant of God will have his own thankful record, his own grateful Ebenezers, how the gospel has been made a ministration of life to him, and through him of life to others.
3. Another feature of the gospel, as a service committed to the trust of the servants of Christ, is that it is a ministration of RIGHTEOUSNESS. The law was a ministration of condemnation, and it was given for that purpose, as the Apostle so cogently argues—"Now we know that whatever things the law says, it says to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:19, 20.) And again "Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid; for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." (Gal. 3:21, 22.) As, then, the law is the ministration of condemnation, so the gospel is the ministration of righteousness, and the two are therefore contrasted by the Apostle in the chapter before us—"For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory." (2 Cor. 3:9.) But in what sense is the gospel, and especially the preached gospel, "the ministration of righteousness?" In this, that it preaches, holds forth, and instrumentally brings near the righteousness of Christ as that by which, and by which alone, we are justified before God. The Apostle, therefore, says—"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:21-24.)
"The righteousness from God" here spoken of, is not God's own personal, intrinsic righteousness, whereby he is eternally holy and just, but the way by which he justifies a sinner and accounts him righteous. Now this is "without the law," that is, distinct from and independent of the law, but is manifested—where? In and by the gospel, through which it is proclaimed and made openly known. He therefore adds—"Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." (Rom. 3:25.) Where has God "set Christ forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood?" In and by the gospel, as he further adds—"To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus." (Rom. 3:26.) "To declare at this time his righteousness." What time? The time of the gospel. And how declare it? By the preached word. It is thus that "the gospel is made the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes;" for "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God;" and as faith believes what God declares, it receives justification from the mouth of God.
To proclaim, reveal, and seal this upon the heart is the grand and effectual province and work of the gospel—"Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38, 39.) As the gospel, then, when preached with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, (1 Pet. 1:12,) is made a means of lodging this sentence of justification in the heart, it is emphatically "the ministration of righteousness." No one was ever justified--but by faith. And by faith in whom? In Jesus Christ. But how was this faith raised up in the heart? By the gospel which testifies of him reaching the heart as a word from God, for "with the heart man believes unto righteousness." (Rom. 10:10.) The Lord says, "I bring near my righteousness." (Isa. 46:13.) But how and where? In and by and through the gospel, for "therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith." (Rom. 1:17.) If, then, the gospel be, as thus explained, the ministration of righteousness, we may well ask, How can any man, be it in church or chapel, be a servant of God or a minister of Jesus Christ who does not preach full and free justification by Christ and Christ alone, as the Lord our righteousness? (Jer. 23:6;) as "of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?" (1 Cor. 1:30.)
4. The next distinguishing feature of the gospel as a ministration is, that it is a ministry of LIBERTY. "Now the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Cor. 3:17.) The law knows nothing and speaks nothing of liberty. On the contrary, it "genders to bondage," that is, begets in every one under its sensible spirit and influence a most miserable state of mind under which he becomes shut up as in a prison-house under its condemning sentence, aggravated by the accusations of a guilty conscience, the fear of death, the dread of judgment, and the temptations of the devil. Now, as opposed to and contrasted with this miserable ministry of bondage, the gospel proclaims and brings liberty. Thus the blessed Lord read and applied to himself the prophecy of Isaiah 61 in the synagogue of Nazareth—"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:18, 19.) The same anointing which rested on him as the Head without measure, (John 3:34,) rests on his ministers according to their measure, for to every one of his servants is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ, (Eph. 4:7; 1 Cor. 12:11,) and they have an anointing which they have received of him, (1 John 2:27.)
As, then, he preached liberty to the captives, so do his ministering servants proclaim the opening of the prison to them that are bound, by holding forth the forgiveness of sins through his precious blood. As, then, they thus preach peace by Jesus Christ, (Acts 10:36,) and the Spirit attends their testimony with power, it comes with a blessed liberating influence, into the heart. Nothing can stand before the power of the gospel. Every lock, bar, and bolt must give way when "the Breaker comes up, and their King passes before them, and the Lord at the head of them," (Micah 2:13,) to break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron. (Isa. 45:2.)
The gospel is "the perfect law of liberty," (James 1:25,) therefore the very perfection of liberty. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus," is the pure language of the gospel; and if no condemnation, no bondage; for what brings the soul into bondage? The guilt of sin lying on a burdened conscience, with an evil heart of unbelief suggesting a thousand gloomy fears, and shutting out, as it were, the sweet voice of mercy. We often get, it is true, into bondage, but never through the gospel, but rather from not believing the gospel; nor can we be delivered from bondage but through the gospel, and by believing the glad tidings which it proclaims and brings.
As, then, the servants of Christ preach the gospel in its purity and power, and the blessed Spirit, by attending and accompanying their word to the heart, reveals the love, and blood, and grace of the Lord the Lamb, and faith is given to receive and believe it, the soul is brought forth, according to the strength of its faith, out of this miserable bondage into the liberty of truth, according to the Lord's promise—"If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31, 32.)
5. The next point of contrast is, that the law was a veiled dispensation; whereas the gospel is an UNVEILED one. That the law was what we have termed a 'veiled dispensation' was plainly shown by the veil of the temple, and more especially, as the Apostle here argues, by the veil over the face of Moses. But it was a veiled glory—veiled under a worldly sanctuary (Heb. 9:1) and a multitude of rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices, and what the Apostle calls "carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation;" that is, the time of the gospel. (Heb. 9:10.) But as opposed to and distinct from this, the gospel is an unveiled dispensation; for the old veil is done away in Christ.
As the Ministry of the Gospel is, as we have already shown, an ordinance peculiar to the New Testament, it is very evident that unless we have clear views of the grand points of difference which distinguish the two Covenants, the Old and the New, from each other, we shall have but dim, confused conceptions of its true nature and character; and may thus run great risk either of misunderstanding it through ignorance, or legalizing it through self-righteousness. But to obtain these clear views, two things are needful—
1. An experience of these two covenants in our own bosom, that by feelingly and experimentally knowing both law and gospel in their separate spirit and power, we may discriminate between the two with all that peculiar keenness and nicety of insight into their distinctive character which nothing but such a personal, living acquaintance with each of them can produce; and,
2. An understanding heart in the word of God, that we may see clearly traced by the pen of the Holy Spirit in the Scripture what we have felt and known of these two covenants in our own soul. These two things mutually help each other. If there be no light within, there will be no light without; where there is a veil upon the heart, there will be a veil upon the word, as the Apostle speaks in the chapter we are now considering. (2 Cor. 3:14, 15.) Similarly, the same blessed Spirit, when he takes away the veil from off the heart, takes away the veil from off the word; and as what he writes in the heart (Jer. 31:33) is in harmony with what he has written in the word, the two correspond, like the wax to the seal, or the coin to the die. In the mouth of these two witnesses every truth becomes established; and the more closely and fitly they agree, the greater is the strength of their united testimony. In proportion, then, as we are so led and favored, we move on safe ground; and as the word of truth is thus made a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, under its guidance we step firmly and boldly forward, with an enlightened understanding, an established judgment, a willing mind, and an approving conscience. It is in this way and in this spirit that we commenced, and, with the Lord's help and blessing, hope to pursue to the end the subject of our present Meditations.
Our readers will doubtless remember that the part of our subject which we are now considering is to show the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel; and that taking for our text 2 Cor. 3 we are opening the leading points of difference between the two dispensations—the law and the gospel. Some of these distinctive points of difference we have already considered, and need not refer to them. The point at which we abruptly broke off in our last section was to show that among the other distinctive differences between the law and the gospel, as traced out by the Apostle, one was that the law was a veiled dispensation, whereas the gospel is an unveiled one.
Here, then, we resume our subject; and to lay down this point of distinction more clearly, we shall quote the words of the Apostle which we shall endeavor to open—"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts." (2 Cor. 3:12-15.)
If the chapter from which these words are quoted be carefully read, it will be plainly seen that the chief line and main force of the argument pursued therein are based upon this ground that, while each dispensation had a glory of its own, the glory of the gospel far outshone the glory of the law. But the question would naturally arise—"How do you prove the distinctive glory of these two dispensations; and what authority have you for your assertion that the glory of the former exceeds the glory of the latter?" "How," it might also be asked, "was the glory of the old dispensation visibly manifested?" To this last question the Apostle would answer, By the shining of the face of Moses, which was a reflection of the glory of God seen by him on Sinai's top. This shining of the face of Moses was, therefore, to the children of Israel a visible symbol that he had conversed with God, and as the typical mediator of that dispensation had brought down that glory with him. It was thus made plainly evident that there was a glory in that dispensation, if its very reflected image shone so brightly in the face of its typical mediator before assembled Israel.
But now comes that peculiar transaction on which the Apostle lays so much stress, and on which he bases such a remarkable development of heavenly truth. Moses put a veil over his face. This the Apostle explains to have been a symbolical act, and that it represented that the dispensation of which he was the typical mediator was a veiled dispensation; whereas the gospel is an unveiled one. This veil symbolized, according to the Apostle, two things—
1. The veil over the dispensation itself.
2. The veil over the hearts of the children of Israel.
Now the effect of these two concurring circumstances was that "they could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished;" that is, Christ, who is "the end of the law." It would take us too far from our present subject to dwell upon these points at any length; but we shall require a little space clearly to lay open the distinctive character of the ministry of the gospel as an unveiled dispensation, for it is a point of great importance in showing its true nature and character.
All under the law was veiled. The ark of the covenant, where God dwelt between the cherubim, and which was the peculiar symbol of his visible presence, was hidden by a veil. All the Levitical rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices were representations of "good things to come;" (Heb. 9:11;) that is, of Christ and the blessings and benefits that were to come through him; but they were veiled, partly by their own shadowy nature, (Heb. 10:1,) and partly by the ignorance and unbelief of Israel, to whom they were given. But Christ being now come "a High Priest of good things to come," and having put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, the veil between God and us is rent in twain from the top to the bottom, as the veil of the temple was when he yielded up the spirit, laying down, by a voluntary act, the life which he had taken. (Matt. 27:50, 51; John 10:17, 18.) He has thus consecrated for us a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, that we may have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. (Heb. 9:11, 12, 26; 10:19, 20.) Thus the veil was actually taken away by the sacrifice and blood shedding of Jesus on the cross. But there is the veil also upon the heart. This, too, must be taken away. But how? By "the Lord the Spirit," as the Apostle so clearly speaks—"Nevertheless, when it," that is, Israel, "shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit," that is, the Holy Spirit, by whom it is taken away. We thus see that one grand distinctive feature of the glory of the gospel is the removal of the veil—
1. Its actual removal from the face of God by the sacrifice, blood shedding, and death of his dear Son; and
2. Its removal from the face of our heart by the Lord the Spirit taking it away by an inward revelation of Christ.
Now what follows from this removal of the veil, both actually and experimentally? Two things. One known only to ourselves, the other known and seen by others.
1. The one known to ourselves is thus unfolded by the Apostle—"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18.) The word "open" should have been translated, as it is in the original "unveiled," for by the present rendering much of the force and beauty of the Apostle's words is lost. "But we all," that is, all we who believe, "with unveiled face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image." We, he would say, are not like Israel after the flesh, whose minds are blinded; the same veil remaining not taken away which now hides from them the glory of Christ, as the veil of old hid the glory of the face of Moses. This veil was actually done away in Christ, and this veil has been experimentally taken off our heart by the Spirit; and the blessed fruit and consequence of this removal is that we see as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and are thereby changed into the image of Christ, and reflect his glory, as the face of Moses was changed to reflect the glory of God. But what is this glass? The gospel, which is a reflection of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and is therefore called "the glorious gospel of Christ." (2 Cor. 4:4.)
Now from this beholding with unveiled face as in a glass the glory of the Lord, there follow certain important fruits and consequences, all which determine the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel.
There is a being "changed into the same image." This is in analogy with the shining of the face of Moses. By looking on God, he caught the reflection of his glory. His very face was changed thereby, and a conformity wrought in it to the glory which he saw in his communion with God. So by beholding the glory of Christ, as shining forth in the gospel, there is a being changed into the same image—an internal reflection of his glory, a being "transformed in the renewing of the mind;" (Rom. 12:2;) "a putting on of the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created him;" (Col. 3:10;) a putting on of Christ, as having been baptized into Christ; (Gal. 3:27;) a forming of Christ in the heart; (Gal. 4:19;) yes, Christ himself in it the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27.) And all this from glory to glory—each successive view of the glory of Christ in the gospel producing a corresponding glory in the soul; but all "by the Spirit of the Lord."
Now from this internal experimental renewing in the spirit of the mind, certain fruits spring, certain CONSEQUENCES flow—
1. A renouncing of the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness. (2 Cor. 4:2.) An unveiled gospel is utterly opposed to dishonesty and craft; and a heart from which the veil has been taken away will not allow the mouth to speak, or the feet to walk in such accursed ways of hypocrisy and deceit. But while the veil is on the heart there is a veil on the gospel; and what is the consequence of this double veil? What we see all round us—universal dishonesty and craft in men who call themselves ministers of Christ, so that we can scarcely find anywhere a truly honest man; that is, one honest to God, honest to himself, and honest to the souls of men.
2. Another fruit of this removal of the veil is "not handling the word of God deceitfully." (2 Cor. 4:2.) All ministers fly to the word of God, and try to prove their views and doctrines from that infallible source of truth; as they well know that by that unerring standard every doctrine must be tried. But some through ignorance, and others through willfulness, handle it deceitfully. Not beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and not being changed into the same image, they have no internal perception of the glory that shines forth in the gospel as a revelation of the wisdom, grace, and love of God, and therefore they cannot understand its spiritual meaning. Not seeing the glory of Christ as its central sun, through the veil of ignorance and unbelief being on their mind, they must needs, as the Apostle speaks elsewhere, "corrupt the word of God." (2 Cor. 2:17.) (The word "corrupt" means literally, deal with it as dishonest sellers of wine do with their wines; that is, dilute it with water, as our modern publicans do their beer and liquors.)
Now whether this corrupting and adulterating of the word of God be done through a spirit of willful enmity, love of filthy lucre, ambition, thirst for human applause, or spring from mental darkness, ignorance, and unbelief; the result, if not the sin, is the same—a poisoning of the wells of truth. But the servant of Christ, first from divine light, God having shone into his heart to give him the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ; (2 Cor. 4:6;) and, secondly, from divine life, producing and maintaining the fear of God in his bosom, cannot handle the word of God deceitfully, or corrupt and adulterate it. In his view and feelings, to handle the word of God deceitfully is one of the worst of sins—as gross, as grievous spiritually as for a servant to embezzle his master's goods, a steward to falsify his employer's accounts, a trustee to defraud the widow and the orphan of property entrusted to him on their behalf; no, in some respects worse, inasmuch as God is greater than man, the soul than the body, and eternity than time. The honor of God, the witness of conscience, the blood of souls, the joys of heaven, the horrors of hell, all, all as with one voice testify against a dishonest minister and a dishonest ministry. How can he then handle the word of God deceitfully?
3. From this internal work and witness, testifying against all deceit and dishonesty, springs another fruit—"great plainness or 'boldness' (margin) of speech." (2 Cor. 3:12.) If we carefully read the context we shall see how the Apostle contrasts this great plainness, or boldness of speech, with the veil over the face of Moses—"Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech; and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished." (2 Cor. 3:12, 13.) "And not as Moses." Why not? Because that was a veiled dispensation; and there was, therefore, a veil on the tongue, as a part of the face. The types and figures, rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices of that dispensation spoke as with a veiled voice; therefore obscurely, not plainly; timidly, not boldly. But the gospel is an unveiled dispensation. The veil taken off the face removes the muffle from the tongue, (the veil worn in Eastern climates was a thick covering, completely hiding the features and muffling the voice.) and the servant of Christ speaks plainly. His speech and his preaching, like Paul's, are "not with enticing words of man's wisdom," wrapped up in, and obscured by high-flown expressions and flowery language, but "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power;" not "in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Cor. 2:4, 13.) They are thus the "words of the wise, which are as goads" to urge on and stimulate the sluggish soul, and "as nails fastened in the heart by the masters of assemblies, as given them from one Shepherd." (Eccles. 12:11.)
And as they use great "plainness," so do they use great "boldness" of speech (margin). There was, in a certain sense, a timidity under the law. The law, indeed, itself did not speak timidly, for it spoke with thunders and lightnings, and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud; but it produced timidity in those who heard it. It engender to bondage. (Gal. 4:24.) Only once a year, and then not without blood, could the high priest enter into the holiest place. (Heb. 9:7.) When given on Mount Sinai, bounds were set unto the people round about, and a caution given, "Take heed to yourselves that you go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it." When on the third day there were thunders and lightning, a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, all the people that were in the camp trembled; and, as recorded by the Apostle, "so terrible was the sight that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake." (Exod. 19:16; Heb. 12:21.) Its spirit was "the spirit of bondage to fear;" (Rom. 8:15;) and its ministration, therefore, not only at first was in the same spirit, but this spirit of fear and bondage was ever kept up by displays of the justice and wrath of God against sin and disobedience, both in the wilderness and all through the history of that dispensation.
But the gospel is a revelation of the full forgiveness of sins through the blood of the Lamb; a proclamation of mercy for the vilest and worst of transgressors; a message of reconciliation to enemies and aliens by wicked works; a declaration of free, sovereign, and superabounding grace, which, in its swelling tide, rises high above, and covers all the aboundings of sin of every name, shape, line, and magnitude. As then, this precious gospel is believed and received into the heart, it imparts and inspires a holy boldness, a gracious confidence, which manifests itself inwardly in the approaches of the soul to God, (Eph. 3:12; Heb. 4:16; 10:19, 22,) and, outwardly, by a bold, outspoken testimony.
With what boldness did Peter and John speak, so that the rulers of the people and the elders of Israel marveled at it. Nothing daunted by all their threatenings, how they and their fellow-worshipers prayed that "with all boldness they might speak the word of God;" and how, in immediate answer to prayer, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the word of God with boldness." (Acts 4:13, 29, 31.) So, no sooner was Christ revealed to the soul of Paul as the Son of God, than "he preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus." (Acts 9:27.) A timid ministry is not the ministry of the gospel. Carnal boldness, presumptuous confidence, daring language, are, indeed, as foreign to its character and spirit, as sneaking cowardice or timid unfaithfulness; but a gracious, holy boldness, a fearless disregard of smiles or frowns, character or consequences, opposition or approbation, pay or popularity, will always distinguish the servant of Christ from the common word of self-seeking, men-pleasing ministers. (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4-6.)
4. But there is another fruit of beholding with unveiled face as in a glass the glory of the Lord; there is a being "changed into the same image." Those whom God "did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son," (Rom. 8:29,) his suffering image here, his glorified image hereafter. It is of the first image of Christ, his image when here below, into which an unveiled view of his glory changes the believing soul. In the gospel, as in a glass, is seen the image of Christ as he appeared in the flesh. His dying, bleeding love; his pity and compassion to the children of men; his meekness and lowliness; his gentleness and calmness, for he neither strived, nor cried, nor did any man hear his voice in the street; his holy wisdom; the warmth of his zeal, yet the tenderness of his heart; his submission to the will of God in all things; his forbearance with his disciples; his endurance of the contradiction of sinners against himself; his condescension to all, his denial of help to none; his holiness without asceticism, and separation from the world without seclusion; his faithfulness without anger, and rebukes without bitterness; these, and other features of the image of Christ as beheld in the gospel, are, as it were, copied in the heart, and manifested by the words and actions of his servants.
Has he not left us an example that we should follow his steps? (1 Pet. 2:21;) and do we not read—"He who says he abides in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked?" (1 John 2:6.) Not that any one of his followers, whether private Christians or public ministers, can be so conformed to the image of Christ inwardly, or so reflect it outwardly as fully to carry out the words of the Apostle. But the Lord Jesus is the pattern set before us, which is to be looked at and into, as beaming, to a spiritual eye, with ineffable grace and glory. Nor let any one think that this can be effected by any will or wish, strength or wisdom of our own. This is far out of the sight of human eye, far beyond the reach of human hand. It is the especial work of the Holy Spirit to impress this image of Christ upon the heart; for the Apostle adds, "Even as by the Spirit of the Lord." It is he who takes the veil off the heart; it is he who reveals Christ to the soul; it is he who manifests his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth; (John 1:14;) it is he who takes of the things of Christ, and shows them to his disciples; (John 16:15;) who testifies of him to them, and glorifies him in them; (John 15:26; 16:14.) This possession of the Spirit of Christ, this conformity to the image of Christ, this knowledge of the mind of Christ, (1 Cor. 2:16,) this walking after the example of Christ will always distinguish the servant of Christ from all others. It is true, lamentably and painfully true, that there is not one of them who does not fall short, woefully short, of this inward and outward image of Christ. But there are some faint glimmerings of this image in all his true servants; for why do we love them, respect them, receive them, or hear them? Is it not for the resemblance that they bear to their Lord, from the knowledge that they have of him, from his gracious words that they speak, and from his Spirit which they manifest? What other claim have they upon our notice or attention? The image of Christ which we see in their words, in their spirit, in their actions, may be very weak, and, as it were, broken, like the image of the sun in ruffled water, but it is there, or we have no warrant to receive them as his servants—for "if any man has not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his;" (Rom. 8:9;) and if there comes any unto us and bring not the doctrine of Christ, to know and abide in which is to have both the Father and the Son, we are not to receive him into our house, or bid him God speed. (2 John 9, 10.)
This may seem hard doctrine, and to draw a very narrow line; but the question is, Is it scriptural truth? Is it according to the unerring standard of the word of God? And must we lower that standard because so few can come up to it, and, if rigidly adhered to, it seems to cut off so many from being true ministers of Christ? Every point that we have advanced, every step that we have taken, has been rigidly after the word of truth. We well knew when we undertook the task that our views would appear rigid, narrow, and exclusive; and simply for this reason, because they would strip so many of their claims and pretensions to be counted servants of God. But what other standard can we take than the word of God? And if we take that, we must take it in its purity, lest we do the very thing which we have been condemning—"corrupt the word of God," adulterate it either by lowering and watering away all its spirit and strength, or by drugging it with stupefying ingredients to please the palate and benumb the brain.
If a man brings with him neither the doctrine of Christ in his mouth, nor the Spirit of Christ in his heart, nor the example of Christ in his life--will any one kindly tell us what claim he has on our ears, our respect, or our affections? The question is not whether we are cutting off this or that minister, but whether our standard of receiving any man whatever as a servant of Christ shall be the word of God or the word of man. For, be it observed, we have not set up a high standard. We have said nothing about a man's depth of experience, clearness of call to the work, ability in it, or blessing upon it. All we have done or wish to do is to set up a true standard, or rather to point out, from the word of God, the true nature and character of the ministry of the gospel; and upon this ground to urge that, unless a man come to us with those marks, be they strongly or faintly stamped upon him, we are not called upon to receive him as a servant of Christ.
But it may be said, "Yes, we fully agree with you that the word of God must be our only standard; nor do we object to the chapter which you have taken to show from it the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel. But are we bound to take your exposition of it? You have labored hard to impress your views upon us; but we are not tied to your views or anybody else's. Do allow us to have an opinion and a judgment of our own." Unquestionably; we give as well as claim the right of private judgment. To refuse this is the very essence of Popery, and foreign alike to our intentions and spirit. We want no one to call us master, or believe anything because we believe or assert it. All that we can do, or wish to do, is to bring forward and open to the best of our ability the word of God. In reading the writings of good men, we have felt that we can receive nothing from them but what they show from the word of truth. Let us be read and judged by the same rule. Compare all that we advance with the Scriptures. Then let our views be received or rejected as each man's own judgment or conscience may approve or condemn.
The two remaining points of the Apostle's comparison between the two dispensations we shall handle with great brevity, as they are, in fact, involved in that point of contrast which has formed the subject of our present article. These are, the one, that the law is done away, but the gospel abides; and the other, that the law leaves the hearer dead in his sins, while the gospel leads him on, step by step, from glory to glory.
6. The law is done away, but the gospel abides. The passing away of the old dispensation is a remarkable feature of its character. Whatever glory, therefore, it might have, it was transient and transitory. This the Apostle clearly states—"For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious." (2 Cor. 3:10, 11.) It is "done away." It was symbolized when first given by a tent or tabernacle, as an emblem that it was not to be of stable endurance. It became in course of time old and worn out; not in itself, for, like its typical Mediator, as a revelation of the justice and anger of God against sin, its eye never becomes dim, nor its natural force abated; (Deut. 34:7;) but "weak through the flesh," (Rom. 8:3,) that is, of those to whom it was given. Therefore, as decaying and waxing old, when it had accomplished its purpose, and the Son of God had fulfilled it, it vanished away. (Heb. 8:13.) But the gospel abides, and will abide to the end of the world. To mix, then, law and gospel, is to mix the decrepitude of old age with the vigor of ever-blooming youth, death with life, flesh with spirit, and beggarly elements with the Person and work of the Son of God. We cannot now enter fully on this point, but it is of vital importance, especially at this present time, when Popery, which is but a resuscitation of the old Levitical dispensation, in its priests, its sacrifice of the mass, its forms, vestments, and ceremonies, is knocking hard for admission into our high places.
7. The law leaves the hearer dead in his sins, while the gospel leads him on, step by step, from glory to glory. Equally brief must we be on the last point of contrast, the leading on "from glory to glory." This is intimated by the words, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18.) The words "from glory to glory" may mean either from one glory of Christ seen in him to a corresponding glory reflected in the soul--or from one degree of grace in the heart to another degree of grace. As both these interpretations are admissible, and indeed combine and coalesce in one, we shall take them both.
We have already shown that a view of the glory of Christ in the glass of the gospel has a transforming efficacy. There is indeed no other way of an inward conformity to his image. But he is so supremely, so ineffably and infinitely glorious, that only a few beams and rays of his glory strike the eye when the Spirit takes off the veil and manifests him to the heart. Yet each ray has a penetrating, enlightening, and transforming efficacy. Now the more that the glorious gospel is looked into, and the more that the glory of Christ is seen in it, the more there will be of this transforming by the renewing of the mind. (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23, 24; Col. 3:10.) For the most part we learn the knowledge of Christ by degrees and usually by slow degrees, for we are dull scholars, needing line upon line; and after all it is but here a little and there a little that we do know after many years of school discipline. (Isa. 28:10.) But there is this peculiar feature in the gospel, as distinct from the law, that the more the law is looked into, the darker is the mind, the heavier the bondage, the more confused the thoughts, the stronger the corruptions of the flesh. You may look at and into the law until you sink into black despair; and the deeper you sink, the more will it press you down. But the more you look at and into the gospel, and the more that the Person and work, blood and righteousness, grace and glory of the Lord Jesus are seen in it, the more light you will have in your mind, the more life in your soul, the more stability in your thoughts, the more peace in your conscience, and the more love in your affections.
But it is time for us to pause, though the subject would invite us on until we knew not where to stop. In our next section we hope to gather up our threads, and complete our sketch of the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel. In resuming our subject—the Nature and Character of the Ministry of the Gospel, we feel more and more, at each advancing step, the urgent necessity that is laid upon us of adhering as closely as possible to the word of truth in all that we bring forward upon a matter so difficult and yet so weighty. Let us name a few reasons which impose this necessity upon us.
1. As the ministry of the gospel is purely and wholly an ordinance of divine appointment, it is only from the word of God that its true nature and character can be clearly ascertained.
2. Our own views of the ministry, in its various bearings, have been, we hope we may say, all founded on the word of truth. We have found, from long experience, that in no other way could our mind be clearly instructed, our heart firmly established, or our conscience fully satisfied. We have in times past read upon this point, as on many others, the writings of men; but we have ever found that when we turned from the word of God to listen to the word of man, our mind got full of confusion, and, instead of obtaining light, peace, and satisfaction, we reaped little else but doubt, darkness, and uncertainty.
3. But thirdly. We have undertaken a task of no little difficulty, and yet of great importance. We have not only to satisfy our own mind, and enjoy the verdict of our own approving conscience, under the teaching and the testimony of the blessed Spirit, but we have to satisfy the judgment and commend ourselves to the conscience of a large circle of gracious readers, who can and will receive nothing from us or from any other man which is not fully proved from, and confirmed by the word of God.
4. There are also "many adversaries," from whom we can expect little else but opposition and contradiction, and against whom our only defense must be the truth as our shield and shield.
5. But fifthly. The ministry is with us and many others not a mere matter of theory and speculation, but one of vital and practical importance, in which we require to be specially instructed, held up, and supported by the unerring word of God, that we may not be drawn aside by the craft and subtlety of man, or by the deceitfulness of our own hearts, but move and act according to his revealed will and the dictates of a tender and enlightened conscience. We are surrounded on every side by men professing to be ministers of the gospel; and we are thus often placed in circumstances where we must, as a practical matter, come to some decision in our own mind who are and who are not sent servants of Jesus Christ. Now unless we have, more or less, an instructed mind, an established judgment, and an approving conscience, we cannot walk uprightly and equitably either before God or man, when we have to act, and that decidedly, upon this important point. This takes a very wide sweep, and may embrace in its circle very many of our readers. Pastors, deacons, and members of churches are especially and vitally interested in this matter. Indeed, we may say that all who know and love the truth, all who desire to preach or hear the gospel preached in its purity and its power, all who are jealous of the Lord's honor and glory, all who are seeking the good of their own soul and that of others, all who hate and abhor error and evil, all who feel a deep and warm interest in the cause of God and truth with which they are especially connected, all who grieve over the declension visible on every side, all who are anxious for the rising generation, and that they may hand down the gospel which they have received untainted and unadulterated—all such as these, and we trust we have many such among our readers, find and feel that it is with them not a light question to decide who are, and who are not, the true servants of Christ.
Indeed, it often becomes a matter of urgent practical necessity with those who wish to act in the fear of God. How can a church, for instance, choose a pastor, or procure a supply for a vacant pulpit--or how can members join or continue united with a church, without bringing this point to some practical conclusion? Is it not, in all those cases, of very great importance to know who are and who are not servants of Jesus Christ? It is also a matter which deeply concerns the conscience; for if to receive one of Christ's servants is to receive Christ, and to despise one of Christ's servants is to despise Christ, (Luke 10:16; John 13:20,) we may be much perplexed in mind, if we do not actually sin against the Lord, unless we have some spiritual judgment and discernment in this important matter. These considerations will amply show how necessary it is for us to move at every step in the fullest harmony with the word of truth.
With these prefatory remarks, which, we trust, will not be considered uncalled for or out of place, we now resume our subject.
We attempted to show in our last two sections, by an exposition of the Apostle's argument, 2 Cor. 3, the distinctive glories of the law and the gospel, and that in some particulars the glory of the new dispensation outshone that of the old. There are, of course, other points of contrast between them; but we dwelt particularly upon those which are brought forward in that chapter.
But though we thus insisted upon the superior and surpassing glory of the gospel, let no one gather from that any idea that we think lightly of, or disparage, or set aside the glory of the law. The law, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, as applied to the conscience in its curse, spirituality, and condemnation, has a glory peculiarly its own, for in it the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness. It is the ministration of condemnation, and death; it brings the sinner in guilty before God; it stops his mouth, cuts to pieces all his righteousness, beats out of his hand all excuses, reaches to the thoughts and intents of his heart, and slays him as to any hope or help in self. There is a glory in this; for as God is glorious in his justice, his holiness, his anger against transgression and sin, the law is glorious as the revelation of his righteous displeasure, and the means, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, of making it feelingly and experimentally known. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20.)
"Where no law is, there is no transgression." (Rom. 4:15.) But if there be no knowledge of sin, no conviction of it, no guilt under it, where can there be room for any manifested pardon of it, or any deliverance from its guilt, fear, burden, or bondage? The gospel, it is true, is more glorious, as revealing pardon, justification, reconciliation, and salvation, and especially as giving the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But the law, as revealing God's justice, holiness, majesty, and dreadful indignation against sin to the conscience by the Holy Spirit, has a glory of its own, only inferior to the glory of the gospel. "The Lord kills and makes alive; he brings low and lifts up." (1 Sam. 2:6, 7.)
"The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." (Rom. 7:12.) Is there no glory in this? The law is spiritual; by its spirituality the inmost thoughts and intents of the heart are brought to light and condemned; and by its curse falling upon every one who continues not in all things written in the law to do them, all hope of salvation by works is effectually cut away. It is needful to bear these things in mind, lest in setting forth the superior glory of the gospel, we should tacitly seem to set aside the glory of the law. These considerations are not, indeed, necessary for the clear statement of our present subject, and yet we have thought it best to make them, lest it should appear from our silence on the point that we had wholly passed them by. We now, then, advance a step further in our attempt to unfold the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel.
There is a necessary connection between the gospel and the 'ministry of the gospel'. If, then, the gospel be so glorious, the ministry of the gospel will be glorious also; for the gospel is reflected upon and made known by the ministry—"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace." (Isa. 52:7.) But why should his very feet be beautiful? Because of the beauty of the good tidings which he brings. We find, therefore, the Apostle immediately after he had said—"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord," (2 Cor. 3:18,) adds, "Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not." (2 Cor. 4:1.) He thus connects the gospel with the ministry of the gospel. To all believers the gospel is the ministration of righteousness, liberty, etc.; for through it these blessings are communicated to their soul. But all believers are not privileged to minister in the gospel, nor to proclaim with authority, as servants of Christ, the good tidings which have gladdened their hearts. They are "the body of Christ, and members in particular." "But are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers?" No. God has set some in the Church to fulfill these offices; (1 Cor. 12:27-29;) and those only who are "allowed, (or rather 'approved,') of God to be put in trust with the gospel," (1 Thess. 2:4,) can preach it with acceptance. The testimony of God in his word still stands good—"I sent them not nor commanded them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all, says the Lord." (Jer. 23:32.)
But now comes an important question. How shall those trustees of the gospel be able to testify of the glory of the gospel so that power, unction, and savor may rest on their testimony? The Apostle shall answer this question. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6.) He compares here the shining of God into the heart of his servants, to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, with that wondrous work in creation, when God said, "Let there be light, and there was light." This brings us at once to this point, that unless a man has had the shining in of this light of the knowledge of the glory of God into his heart, he cannot know the gospel experimentally, and, therefore, cannot preach it experimentally. A minister is not only a servant of Jesus Christ, a trustee, and an ambassador, but also a witness. As none could be an Apostle but a witness of his resurrection, (Acts 1:22,) so none can be a minister of the gospel who has not seen by faith a risen Christ, and beheld his glory at the right hand of the Father.
The Lord, therefore, said to Paul when he made him a minister, "But rise, and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared unto you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto you." (Acts 26:16.) He was to bear witness of the things which he had seen, and of those things in which the Lord would further appear unto him. This was confirmed by the words of Ananias—"And he said, The God of our fathers has chosen you, that you should know his will, and see that Just One, and should hear the voice of his mouth. For you shall be his witness unto all men of what you have seen and heard." (Acts 22:14, 15.)
Similar is the language of Peter—"And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to them that obey him." (Acts 5:32.) Of the false prophets we read that "they follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing." (Ezek. 13:3.) Having, therefore, "seen nothing," that is, of the Person, work, grace, glory, bounty, and blessedness of the Lord—having seen nothing of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, they can witness of nothing. Thus their ministry is "a thing of nothing, and the deceit of their heart." (Jer. 14:14.) How different from this is the language of John—"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:1, 2, 3.)
Now if we look at the Apostle's words in which he speaks of this divine shining into the heart, we shall see its connection with the gospel, and, therefore, the ministry of the gospel—"But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." He calls it "our gospel," that is, the gospel which he and his fellow-apostles preached, and "the glorious gospel of Christ." When, therefore, God shines into the heart to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, it is in the light of the glorious gospel of Christ that this knowledge is given.
We have thus arrived, step by step, to this point—
1. That the gospel is a glorious dispensation, as containing in its bosom the gift of the Holy Spirit, the communication of divine life, justification by Christ's righteousness, liberty of spirit, a revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, a perpetual permanency, and a transforming efficacy. These seven points have passed successively under our notice, and, therefore, need not be further dwelt upon.
2. That the ministry of the gospel is a proclamation, a preaching, a testifying of this glorious gospel, and is, in the hands of the Spirit, a blessed means of communicating to the souls of men the rich blessings which the gospel contains in its bosom.
3. That those only can truly testify of this glorious gospel into whose hearts God has shined, to give them the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
We are brought by these considerations to see something of the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel--that it consists in preaching Christ from an experimental knowledge of the glory of God as shining forth in his Person and work. The word "face," we may here remark, may be rendered "Person," for it is in the Person of Christ that the glory of God is seen, he being "the brightness of his glory and the express image of his Person." (Heb. 1:3.) What was the grand subject of Paul's ministry? Christ! "Whom we preach." (Col. 1:28.) But to preach Christ is to preach the whole of Christ—Christ as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life;" Christ as "of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." It is to preach the Person of Christ, and therefore his Deity and eternal Sonship; his holy and pure humanity; his blood shedding, sacrifice, and death; his glorious resurrection and ascension; his present advocacy and mediation; his sovereign rule as King; his prevailing intercession as Priest; his wise and holy teaching as Prophet; his second coming without sin to salvation, and his judging of the world in righteousness. Christ, therefore, is the sum and substance, the object and subject, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of the gospel. All its glad tidings are tidings of him; its message of peace, its embassy of mercy, its proclamation of grace are from him; its power, its authority, its influence are by him. All its doctrines, all its promises, all its precepts, all its ordinances derive their very being, and all their virtue and validity from him, and testify of him.
We see, then, how comprehensive the ministry of the gospel is, as embracing all that the Holy Spirit has revealed in the word of the Person, work, blood shedding, obedience, life, death, and resurrection, grace and glory, beauty and blessedness of Immanuel, God with us. All that he is as God and the Son of God, all that he is as man and the Son of man, all that he was, did, and suffered on earth, and all that he is and does in heaven, so far as it is revealed in the word of truth, is the gospel; for it is all full of precious news and happy tidings for the people of God.
Now, that the ministry of the gospel may be in full accordance with the gospel thus revealed and brought to light in the Person and work of the Son of God, and stored up in the Scriptures which testify of him, it must be a clear reflection of the grace and glory thus manifested. And not only so, but it must be penetrated and imbued with the Spirit and grace of the gospel. Besides which, it must exhibit the sanctifying, transforming influence of the gospel, as a revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
These three points are closely connected with, and flow immediately from beholding with unveiled face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord.
Let us look at this a little more closely. Three things of the greatest importance in the ministry of the gospel are secured thereby—
1. Purity of doctrine. What room can there be for error, if we are privileged to see, with unveiled face, the glory of Christ? Such a view of his glory must chase away all darkness and all error. Lies and falsehood cannot live in a heart into which God has shone, to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
2. Secondly, there is secured thereby a gracious, saving experience of the power of the gospel. What experience is to be compared with the blessed shining in of God into the heart? This chases away all airy notions and dim speculations, all mere letter knowledge and doctrinal theory, and becomes the well-spring of a life of faith in the Son of God.
3. Thirdly, the sanctifying, renewing, and transforming influence of this beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord secures vital holiness and practical godliness.
We thus see that the ministry of the gospel is not a mere preaching of Christ with the utmost soundness and clearness of doctrine, but embraces also an experimental knowledge of the grace and glory of Christ, that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, and a life, walk, conduct, and conversation corresponding thereto.
Are we not thus brought to the good old division—doctrine, experience, and practice? We may have arrived at this point by a circuitous way; but we believe it has been step by step according to the word of truth.
But what a wonderful field does this open for the servants of God to walk in. What room is here afforded for the exercise of every gift and every grace. Take the whole range of divine truth, from the glorious Trinity, the sovereignty of God, the everlasting covenant, the election of the vessels of mercy, down to the simplest statements which fell from the Lord's lips in addressing the multitude. The ministry of the gospel embraces them all. Take the whole range of Christian experience, from the first sight of the convinced sinner to the last hallelujah of the expiring saint. The ministry of the gospel enters into each and all. Take the whole of vital, practical godliness; range through every precept of the New Testament. The ministry of the gospel embraces and enforces every precept there revealed. What room is thus afforded for all the ability, all the gifts, all the wisdom, all the discernment, all the experience, all the power, and all the usefulness of all the true ministers of Jesus Christ. There need be no grudging here. The field is wide enough for thousands of ministers, were the Lord but pleased to send them, and raise up a people to hear and receive them. Whatever talent, learning, or education a man may have, here it may be put to a good use. Whatever gifts of utterance a man may possess, here is a wide, effectual door for it. A Peter, who had been on the mount of transfiguration; a Paul, who had been caught up into the third heaven; a Stephen "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit;" an Apollos, "an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures;" a Barnabas, the very son of consolation; a holy John, who had lain in the Lord's bosom, and many of less known name and fame found room in this field for the exercise of every gift and every grace bestowed upon them by the Holy Spirit.
O, our unbelieving hearts; O, our narrow minds; O, our slender abilities, weak gifts, and feeble graces! Let none complain of the narrowness of the gospel field. Is the love of God in the gift of his dear Son a narrow love? Is the Person of Immanuel a narrow object of faith? Is his work, his blood, his righteousness, his sufferings and death, his resurrection and present intercession? Is his compassion, faithfulness, and tender mercy? Is his presence, Spirit, and ceaseless watchfulness and care? Is his second coming in the clouds of heaven—are these wondrous and divine realities, the present support and comfort, all the salvation and all the desire of thousands of poor and needy followers of the Lamb, narrow, limited, contracted? O shame be upon us if we think for a moment that the ministry of the gospel, whose high, holy, and happy privilege it is to testify of these divine and heavenly realities, is a narrow field. Let us rather, if engaged in it as servants of Christ, beg of the Lord to enlarge our hearts and open our mouths; and, if hearers, that he would bless their testimony to our soul, that we may see and feel more and more what a glorious gospel the gospel of Christ is. Indeed, it must be glorious, as revealing in a way beyond every other way, and illuminating, with a luster surpassing the brightness of the sun, the most glorious attributes of God.
1. Is God glorious in his HOLINESS? (Exod. 15:11.) The gospel reveals this holiness, sets it visibly forth, and brings it conspicuously before our eyes in the Person of "the Holy One of Israel," as he appeared on earth—in our blessed Lord, who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." (Heb. 7:26.) The gospel is declared to be the "holy commandment delivered unto us;" (2 Pet. 2:21;) our calling by it is a "holy calling;" (2 Tim. 1:9;) our conversation in it a "holy conversation;" (2 Pet. 3:11;) as the elect of God we are "holy and beloved;" (Col. 3:12;) our very bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit should be presented "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God;" (1 Cor. 3:17; Rom. 12:1;) and the gracious Lord will, at the great day, present all his saints "faultless before the presence of his glory, holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight." (Col. 1:22.)
2. Is God glorious in his WISDOM? The gospel is the greatest display of the wisdom of God, which he has ever afforded or ever will afford. It harmonizes all his attributes, reconciles his justice and mercy, pardons sin and yet condemns it, saves the sinner and sanctifies him, defeated Satan by the seed of the woman whom he had tempted, and by death destroyed him who had the power of death. Angels read in the gospel the wisdom of God; (Eph. 3:10;) and while it outwits, destroys, and brings to nothing all the wisdom of this world, it is "the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which he ordained before the world unto our glory." (1 Cor. 1:18-24; 2:6, 7.)
3. Is he glorious in POWER? The gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes." (Rom. 1:16.) "The preaching of the cross is to those who perish foolishness, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor. 1:18.) The speech, therefore, and the preaching of the gospel, is "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that the faith of the hearers should not stand in the wisdom of men, but the power of God." (1 Cor. 2:4, 5.)
4. Is he glorious in his LOVE? Where is there such a display of his love as in the gift of his dear Son, such a revelation of it as in the Person of Jesus Christ, such a proclamation of it as in the gospel? This is the very language of the gospel—"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16.) And again—"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10.)
5. Is God glorified in having a people to love and obey him, and bring forth FRUIT? "Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples." (John 15:8.) But how can this fruit be brought forth, except by being dead to the law, and married to Christ in and by the gospel? "Wherefore, my brethren, you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that you should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God." (Rom. 7:4.)
Thus in every way the gospel may well be called "the glorious gospel of Christ." And how blessed is it that the glory of God, which is, and must be the great end of all his works, should so harmonize with the salvation of our souls that God is more glorified in pardoning our sins than in punishing them, in saving our souls than in damning them, in taking us to heaven than in sending us to hell.
What glorious tidings are these for the servants of Christ to proclaim. Well might the Lord bid his disciples, "go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Well might he bid them in the words of the prophet, "Strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you." (Isa. 35:3, 4.) And again, "Comfort you, comfort you my people, says your God. Speak you comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." (Isa. 40:1, 2.) What tidings to tell to poor guilty sinners, that mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other; that God can be just, scrupulously and inflexibly just, and yet the justifier of him who believes in Jesus; that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus; that none shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect; that all things work together for their good; and that neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This then, is the gospel—this the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel. Happy they who from a sweet experience of its power preach this gospel; happy they who hear, believe, and obey this gospel; happy they who live this gospel, and happy they who die in the faith, hope, and love of this gospel!
We hope that we shall not weary our readers by dwelling at so great a length on the subject now before us. We would gladly indeed bring our "Meditations on the Ministry of the Gospel" into a shorter compass, but two things much hinder the fulfillment of this desire—
1. The wide extent and deep importance of the subject itself, which will therefore hardly admit of a brief and superficial treatment.
2. The character of our own mind, which cannot be satisfied except by entering thoroughly into every point of divine truth which presents itself to our view, so as not only fully to understand it ourselves, but to endeavor that our readers should fully understand it also. But to do this properly, space is required; and this, when readers are not deeply interested in the subject, or do not see the importance of the various points brought before them, often appears unnecessarily verbose.
Bear with us, then, kind readers, if we seem to protract our subject to any undue degree of wearisome length. Writers, like preachers, are not often fair and impartial judges of the length of their own compositions; and not being weary themselves, can hardly think they may weary their readers. We will do our best to condense our thoughts and avoid undue verbosity, but we cannot promise any such brevity as would impair the completeness of the subject, or leave any part obscure. But if, in our anxiety to do this, we should be a little, or more than a little tedious, you have this remedy against us, which you have not against the preacher—that you can read as much or as little as you like, and when and where you like, and are not tied to your seat until we have bestowed all our tediousness upon you.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.|
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to RPM, please select this link.