But we all - All Christians. The discussion in the chapter has related mainly to the apostles; but this declaration seems evidently to refer to all Christians, as distinguished from the Jews.
With open face - compare note on I Corinthians 13:12. Tyndale renders this: "and now the Lord' s glory appeareth in us all as in a glass." The sense is, "with unveiled face," alluding to the fact II Corinthians 3:13 that the face of Moses was veiled, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look on it. In contradistinction from that, Paul says that Christians are enabled to look upon the glory of the Lord in the gospel without a veil - without any obscure intervening medium.
Beholding as in a glass - On the word "glass, and the sense in which it is used in the New Testament, see the note on I Corinthians 13:12. The word used here ́ katoptrizomenoi has been very variously rendered. Macknight renders it, "we all reflecting as mirrors the glory of the Lord." Doddridge, "beholding as by a glass." Locke, "with open countenances as mirrors, reflecting the glory of the Lord." The word ́ katoptrizō occurs no where else in the New Testament. It properly means to look in a mirror; to behold as in a mirror. The mirrors of the ancients were made of burnished metal, and they reflected images with great brilliancy and distinctness. And the meaning is, that the gospel reflected the glory of the Lord; it was, so to speak, the mirror - the polished, burnished substance in which the glory of the Lord shone, and where that glory was irradiated and reflected so that it might be seen by Christians. There was no veil over it; no obscurity; nothing to break its dazzling splendor, or to prevent its meeting the eye. Christians, by looking on the gospel, could see the glorious perfections and plans of God as bright, and clear, and brilliant as they could see a light reflected from the burnished surface of the mirror. So to speak, the glorious perfections of God shone from heaven; beamed upon the gospel, and were thence reflected to the eye and the heart of the Christian, and had the effect of transforming them into the same image. This passage is one of great beauty, and is designed to set forth the gospel as being "the reflection" of the infinite glories of God to the minds and hearts of people.
The glory of the Lord - The splendor, majesty, and holiness of God as manifested in the gospel, or of the Lord as incarnate. The idea is, that God was clearly and distinctly seen in the gospel. There was no obscurity, no veil, as in the case of Moses. In the gospel they were permitted to look on the full splendor of the divine perfections - the justice, goodness, mercy, and benevolence of God - to see him as he is with undimmed and unveiled glory. The idea is, that the perfections of God shine forth with splendor and beauty in the gospel, and that we are permitted to look on them clearly and openly.
Are changed into the same image - It is possible that there may be an allusion here to the effect which was produced by looking into an ancient mirror. Such mirrors were made of burnished metal, and the reflection from them would be intense. If a strong light were thrown on them, the rays would be cast by reflection on the face of him who looked on the mirror, and it would be strongly illuminated. And the idea may be, that the glory of God, the splendor of the divine perfections, was thrown on the gospel, so to speak like a bright light on a polished mirror; and that that glory was reflected from the gospel on him who contemplated it, so that he appeared to be transformed into the same image. Locke renders it: "We are changed into his very image by a continued succession of glory, as it were, streaming upon us from the Lord." The figure is one of great beauty; and the idea is, that by placing ourselves within the light of the gospel; by contemplating the glory that shines there, we become changed into the likeness of the same glory, and conformed to that which shines there with so much splendor.
By contemplating the resplendent face of the blessed Redeemer, we are changed into something of the same image. It is a law of our nature that we are moulded, in our moral feelings, by the persons with whom we associate, and by the objects which we contemplate. We become insensibly assimilated to those with whom we have social contact, and to the objects with which we are familiar. We imbibe the opinions, we copy the habits, we imitate the manners, we fall into rite customs of those with whom we have daily conversation, and whom we make our companions and friends. Their sentiments insensibly become our sentiments, and their ways our ways. It is thus with the books with which we are familiar. We are insensibly, but certainly moulded into conformity to the opinions, maxims, and feelings which are there expressed. Our own sentiments undergo a gradual change, and we are likened to those with which in this manner we are conversant.
So it is in regard to the opinions and feelings which from any cause we are in the habit of bringing before our minds. It is the way by which people become corrupted in their sentiments and feelings, in their contact with the world; it is the way in which amusements, and the company of the frivolous and the dissipated possess so much power; it is the way in which the young and inexperienced are beguiled and ruined; and it is the way in which Christians dim the luster of their piety, and obscure the brightness of their religion by their contact with the "happy and fashionable world. And it is on the same great principle that Paul says that by contemplating the glory of God in the gospel, we become insensibly, but certainly conformed to the same image, and made like the Redeemer. His image will be reflected on us. We shall imbibe his sentiments, catch his feelings, and be moulded into the image of his own purity. Such is the great and wise law of our nature; and it is on this principle, and by this means, that God designs we should be "made" pure on earth, and "kept" pure in heaven forever.
From glory to glory - From one degree of glory to another. "The more we behold this brilliant and glorious light, the more do we reflect back its rays; that is, the more we contemplate the great truths of the Christian religion, the more do our minds become imbued with its spirit" - Bloomfield. This is said in contradistinction probably to Moses. The splendor on his face gradually died away. But not so with the light reflected from the gospel. It becomes deeper and brighter constantly. This sentinient is parallel to that expressed by the psalmist; "They go from strength to strength" Psalms 84:7; that is, they go from one degree of strength to another, or one degree of holiness to another, until they come to the full vision of God himself in heaven. The idea in the phrase before us is; that there is a continual increase of moral purity and holiness under the gospel until it results in the perfect glory of heaven. The "doctrine" is, that Christians advance in piety; and that this is done by the contemplation of the glory of God as it is revealed in the gospel.
As by the Spirit of the Lord - Margin, "Of the Lord of the Spirit." Greek "As from the Lord the Spirit." So Beza, Locke, Wolf, Rosenmuller, and Doddridge render it. The idea is, that it is by the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of the law, the spirit referred to by Paul above, II Corinthians 3:6, II Corinthians 3:17. It is done by the Holy Spirit procured or imparted by the Lord Jesus. This sentiment is in accordance with that which prevails everywhere in the Bible, that it is by the Holy Spirit alone that the heart is changed and purified. And the "object" of the statement here is, doubtless, to prevent the supposition that the change from "glory to glory" was produced in any sense by the "mere" contemplation of truth, or by any physical operation of such contemplation on the mind. It was by the Spirit of God alone that the heart was changed even under the gospel, and amidst the full blaze of its truth, Were it not for his agency, even the contemplation of the glorious truths of the gospel would be in vain, and would produce no saving effect on the human heart.
1. The best of all evidences of a call to the office of the ministry is the divine blessing resting on our labors II Corinthians 3:1-2. If sinners are converted; if souls are sanctified; if the interests of pure religion are advanced; if by humble, zealous, and self-denying efforts, a man is enabled so to preach as that the divine blessing shall rest constantly on his labors, it is among the best of all evidences that he is called of God, and is approved by him. And though it may be true, and is true, that people who are self-deceived, or are hypocrites, are sometimes the means of doing good, yet it is still true, as a general rule, that eminent, and long-continued success in the ministry is an evidence of God' s acceptance, and that he has called a minister to this office. Paul felt this, and often appealed to it; and why may not others also?
2. A minister may appeal to the effect of the gospel among his own people as a proof that it is from God, II Corinthians 3:2-3. Nothing else would produce such effects as were produced at Corinth, but the power of God. If the wicked are reclaimed; if the in temperate and licentious are made temperate and pure; if the dishonest are made honest; and the scoffer learns to pray, under the gospel, it proves that it is from God. To such effects a minister may appeal as proof that the gospel which he preaches is from heaven. A system which will produce these effects must be true.
3. A minister should so live among a people as to be able to appeal to them with the utmost confidence in regard to the purity and integrity of his own character, II Corinthians 3:1-2. He should so live, and preach, and act, that he will be under no necessity of adducing testimonials from abroad in regard to his character. The effect of his gospel, and the tenor of his life, should be his best testimonial; and to that he should be able to appeal. A man who is under a necesity, constantly, or often, of defending his own character; of bolstering it up by testimonials from abroad; who is obliged to spend much of his time in defending his reputation, or who chooses to spend much of his time in defending it, has usually a character and reputation "not worth defending." Let a man live as he ought to do, and he will, in the end, have a good reputation. Let him strive to do the will of God, and save souls, and he will have all the reputation which he ought to have. God will take care of his character; and will give him just as much reputation as it is desirable that he should have; see Psalms 37:5-6.
4. The church is, as it were, an epistle sent by the Lord Jesus, to show his character and will, II Corinthians 3:3. It is his representative on earth. It holds his truth. It is to imitate his example. It is to show how he lived. And it is to accomplish that which he would accomplish were he personally on earth, and present among people - as a letter is designed to accomplish some important purpose of the writer when absent. The church, therefore, should be such as shall appropriately express the will and desire of the Lord Jesus. It should resemble him. It should hold his truth; and it should devote itself with untiring diligence to the great purpose of advancing his designs, and spreading his gospel around the world.
5. Religion has its seat in the heart, II Corinthians 3:3. It is engraved there. It is written not with ink, or engraved on stone, but it is written by the Spirit of God on the heart. That professed religion, therefore, which does not reach the heart, and which is not felt there, is false and delusive. There is no true religion which does not reach and affect the heart.
6. We should feel our dependence on God in all things, II Corinthians 3:5. We are dependent on him:
(1) For revelation itself. Man had no power of originating the truths which constitute revelation. They are the free and pure gift of God.
(2) For success in saving souls. God only can change the heart. It is not done by human reasoning; by any power of man; by any eloquence of persuasion. It is by the power of God; and if a minister of religion meets with any success, it will be by the presence and by the power of God alone.
(3) We are dependent on him for the power of thought at all; for clearness of intellect; for such a state of bodily health as to permit us to think; for bright conceptions; for ability to arrange our thoughts; for the power of expressing them clearly; for such a state of mind as shall be free from vain fancies, and vagaries, and eccentricities; and for such a state as shall mark our plans as those of common sense and prudence. On such plans much of the comfort of life depends; and on such plans depends also nearly all the success which people ever meet with in any virtuous and honorable calling. And if people "felt," as they should do, how much they are dependent on God for the power of "clear thinking," and for the characteristics of sound sense in their schemes, they would pray for it more than they do; and would be more grateful that such a rich blessing is so extensively conferred upon people.
7. Religion has a living power, II Corinthians 3:6. It is not the letter, but the spirit. It is not made up of forms and ceremonies. It does not consist in cold, external rites, however regular they may be; nor in formal prayer, or in stated seasons of devotion. All these will be dead and vain unless the heart is given to God, and to his service. If these are all, there is no religion. And if we have no better religion than that, we should at once abandon our hopes, and seek for that which does not kill, but which makes alive.
8. The office of the ministers of the gospel is glorious, and most honorable, II Corinthians 3:7-9. It is "far more" honorable than was the office of Moses; and their work is far more glorious than was his. his consisted in giving the Law on tables of stone; in the external splendor which attended its promulgation; and in introducing a system which must be soon done away. His was a ministry "of death" and of "condemnation." theirs is a ministration by which the Holy Spirit is communicated to people - through them as channels, or organs by which the saving grace of that Spirit is imparted; it is a work by which people are made righteous, justified, and accepted; it is a work whose effects are never to fade away, but which are to live amidst the splendors of heaven.
9. The responsibility and solemnity of the work of the ministry. It was a solemn and responsible work for Moses to give the Law amidst the thunders of Sinai to the children of Israel. It is much more solemn to be the medium by which the eternal truths of the gospel are made known to people. The one, imposing as it was, was designed to be temporary, and was soon to pass away. The other is to be eternal in its effects, and is to enter vitally and deeply into the eternal destiny of man. The one pertained to laws written on stone; the other to influences that are deeply and forever to affect the heart. No work can be more solemn and responsible than that through which the Holy Spirit, with renewing and sanctifying power, is conveyed to man; that which is connected with the justification of sinners; and that which in its effects is to be permanent as the soul itself, and to endure as long as God shall exist.
10. We see the folly of attempting to be justified by the Law, II Corinthians 3:7, II Corinthians 3:9. It is the ministration of death and of condemnation. It speaks only to condemn. Law knows nothing of pardon. It is not given for that purpose; and no perfect law can contain within itself provisions for pardon. Besides, no one has ever complied with all the demands of the Law; no one ever will. All have sinned. But if all the demands of the Law be not complied with, it speaks only to condemn, James 2:10. If a man in other respects has been ever so good a citizen, and yet has committed murder, he must die. So says the Law. If a man has been ever so valiant, and fought ever so bravely, and yet is guilty of an act of treason, he must die. The question is not what he has been in in other respects, or what else he may, or may not have done, but has he committed This offence? If he has, the Law knows no forgiveness; and pronounces his condemnation. If pardoned, it must be by some other system than by the regular operation of Law. So with the sinner against God. If the Law is violated, it speaks only to condemn. If he is pardoned, it can be only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
11. The danger of grieving the Holy Spirit, II Corinthians 3:8. The gospel is the field of the operations of the Holy Spirit in our world. It is the ministration of the Spirit. It is the channel by which his influences descend on man. To reject that gospel is to reject Him, and to cut off the soul from all possibility of being brought under his saving influence and power forever." He strives with people only in connection with the gospel; and all hope, therefore, of being brought under his saving power, is in attending to that gospel, and embracing its provisions. The multitudes, therefore, who are rejecting or neglecting that gospel, are throwing themselves beyond his saving influences; and placing themselves beyond the possibility of salvation.
12. We see the "guilt" of neglecting or rejecting the gospel. It is the scheme, and the only scheme for pardon, II Corinthians 3:8-10. It is a far more glorious manifestation of the goodness of God than the Law of Moses. It is the glorious and benevolent manifestation of God through the incarnation, the sufferings, and the death of his Son. It is the only plan of pardoning mercy that has been, or that will be revealed. If people are not pardoned through that, they are not pardoned at all. If they are not saved by that, they must die forever. What guilt is there, therefore, in neglecting and despising it! What folly is there in turning away from its provisions of mercy, and neglecting to secure an interest in what it provides!
13. The gospel is to spread around the world, and endure to the end of time, II Corinthians 3:11. It is not like the institutions of Moses, to endure for a limited period, and then to be done away. The cloud and tempest; the thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai which attended the giving of the Law, soon disappeared. The unusual and unnatural splendor on the countenance of Moses soon vanished away. All the magnificence of the Mosaic ritual also soon faded away. But not so the gospel. That abides. That is the "last" dispensation; the "permanent" economy: that under which the affairs of the world are to be brought to an end. That is to pervade all lands; to bless all people; to survive all revolutions; to outlive all the magnificence of courts, and all the splendor of mighty dynasties, and is to endure until this world shall come to an end, and live in its glorious effects forever and ever. It is, therefore, to be the fixed principle on which all Christians are to act, that the gospel is to be permanent, and is to spread over all lands, and yet fill all nations with joy. And if so, how fervent and unceasing should be their prayers and efforts to accomplish this great and glorious result!
14. We learn from this chapter the duty of preaching in a plain, simple, intelligible manner, II Corinthians 3:12. Preaching should always be characterised indeed by good sense, and ministers should show that they are not fools, and their preaching should be such as to interest thinking people - for there is no folly or nonsense in the Bible. But their preaching should not be obscure, metaphysical, enigmatical, and abstruse. It should be so simple that the unlettered may learn the plan of salvation; so plain that no one shall mistake it except by his own fault. The "hopes" of the gospel are so clear that there is no need of ambiguity or enigma; no need of abstruse metaphysical reasoning in the "pulpit." Nor should there be an attempt to "appear" wise or profound, by studying a dry, abstruse, and cold style and manner. The preacher should be open, plain, simple, sincere; he should "testify" what he feels; should be able to speak as himself animated by "hope," and to tell of a world of glory to which he is himself looking forward with unspeakable joy.
15. It is the privilege of the Christian to look on the unveiled and unclouded glory of the gospel, II Corinthians 3:12-13. He does not look at it through types and shadows. He does not contemplate it when a veil of obscurity is drawn designedly over it. He sees it in its true beauty and splendor. The Messiah has come, and he may contemplate openly and plainly his glory, and the grandeur of his work. The Jews looked upon it in the light of "prophecy;" to us it is history. They saw it only through obscure shadows, types, and figures; we see it in open day, may survey at leisure its full beauty, and contemplate in the fullness of its splendor the gospel of the blessed God. For this we cannot be too thankful; nor can we be too anxious lest we undervalue our privileges, and abuse the mercies that we enjoy.
16. In reading the Old Testament, we see the importance of suffering the reflected light of the New Testament to be thrown upon it, in order correctly to understand it, II Corinthians 3:13-14. It is our privilege to "know" what the institutions of Moses meant; to see the "end" which he contemplated. And it is our privilege to see what they referred to, and how they prefigured the Messiah, and his gospel. In reading the Old Testament, therefore, there is no reason why we should not take with us the knowledge which we have derived from the New Testament, respecting the character, work, and doctrines of the Messiah; and to suffer them to influence our understanding of the laws and institutions of Moses. Thus shall we treat the Bible "as a whole," and allow one part to throw light on another - a privilege which we always concede to any book. There is no reason why Christians in reading the Old Testament should remain in the same darkness as the ancient, or the modern Jews.
17. Thus read, the Old Testament will be to us of inestimable value, II Corinthians 3:14. It is of value not only as introducing the gospel; as furnishing predictions whose fulfillment are full demonstration of the truth of religion; as containing specimens of the sublimest and purest poetry in the world; but it is of value as embodying, though amidst many types and shadows and much obscurity, all the great doctrines of the true religion. Though to the Jews, and to the world, there is a veil cast over it; yet to the Christian there is a beauty and splendor on all its pages - for the coming of Christ has removed that veil, and the sense of those ancient writings is now fully seen. True piety will value the Old Testament, and will find there, in the sweetest poetry in the world, the expression of feelings which the religion of the Messiah only can produce; and pure and elevated thoughts which could have been originated by nothing but his anticipated coming: It is no mark of piety or of wisdom to disparage the Jewish Scriptures. But the higher the attainments in Christian feeling, the more will the writings of Moses and the prophets be loved.
18. People may have the Bible, and may read it for a long time, and often, and yet not understand it, II Corinthians 3:15. So it was, and is with the Jews. The Scriptures were attentively read by them, and yet they did not understand them. So it is still. There is a veil upon their heart, and they are blinded. So it is often now with others. People often read the Bible and see little beauty in it. They read, and they do not understand it. The reason is, the heart is not right. There should be a correspondence of feeling between the heart and the Bible, or a congeniality of view in order to appreciate its value and its truth. No man can understand or appreciate Milton or Cowper who has not a taste like theirs. No man can understand and appreciate a poem or an essay on patriotism, who is not a lover of his country; or on chastity, who is impure; or on temperance, who is intemperate; or on virtue in general, who is a stranger to virtue in every form. And so in reading the Bible. To appreciate and understand fully the writings of David, Isaiah, Paul, or John, we must have their feelings: our hearts must glow with their love to God and the Redeemer; we must feel as they did the guilt and burden of sin; and we must rejoice as they did in the hope of deliverance, and in the prospect of heaven. Until people have these feelings, they are not to wonder that the Bible is to them a dead letter, or a sealed book, and that they do not understand it, or see any beauty in its pages.
19. This chapter furnishes an argument for the fidelity and truth of the statement of Paul, II Corinthians 3:15. The argument is, that his description is as applicable to the Jews now as it was in his own time - and that, therefore, it must have been drawn from nature. The same veil is on their hearts now as in his time; there is the same blindness and darkness in regard to the true meaning of their Scriptures. The language of Paul will accurately express that blindness now; and his description, therefore, is not drawn from fancy, but from fact. It is true now in regard to that singular people, and it was true in his own time; and the lapse of 1,800 years (circa 1880' s) has only served to confirm the truth of his description in regard to the people of his own nation and time.
20. That veil is to be removed only by their turning to God, II Corinthians 3:16. It is only by true conversion that the mind can be brought to a full and clear understanding of the Scriptures; and that event will yet take place in regard to the Jews. They will still be converted to the Messiah whom their fathers killed, and whom they have so long rejected; and when that event shall occur, they will see the beauty of their own Scriptures, and rejoice in the promises and glorious hopes which they hold out to the view.
21. The duty of "meditating" much on the glory of the gospel, II Corinthians 3:18. It is by that we are purified. It is by keeping it constantly before the mind; dwelling on it splendor; thinking of its glorious truths, that we become transformed into the same image, and made like God. If the character is formed by the objects which we contemplate, and with which we are familiar; if we are insensibly moulded in our feelings and principles by that with which we constantly associate, then we should "think" much of the truths of the gospel. We should pray much - for thus we come in contact with God and his truth. We should read the Scripture much. We should commune with the good and the pure. We should make our companions of those who most love the Lord Jesus, and most decidedly bear his image. We should think much of a pure heaven. Thus shall we be moulded, insensibly it may be, but certainly, into the image of a holy God and Saviour, and be prepared for a pure and truly heaven.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing 2 Corinthians 3:18:
2 Corinthians 3:18
2 Corinthians 4:1
2 Corinthians 4:1
2 Corinthians 4:2
2 Corinthians 4:2
1 John 3:2
1 John 3:2
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