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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Commentary On Corinthians Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

12. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:

12. Habentes igitur hanc spem, multa fiducia (vel, libertate) utimur.

13. And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:

13. Et non quemadmodum Moses (Exodus 34:33-35) ponebat velamen ante faciem suam, ut non intuerentur filii Israel in finem eius quod aboletur.

14. But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.

14. Sed excoecati sunt sensus eorum: nam usque in hune diem velamen illud in lectione Veteris Testamenti manet: nec tollitur, eo quod aboletur per Christum.

15. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.

15. Sed usque in hodiernum diem, quum legitur Moses, velamen eorum cordibus impositum est.

16. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.

16. At ubi conversus fuerit ad Dominum, auferetur velamen.

17. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

17. Dominus Spiritus est: ubi autem Spiritus Domini, illic libertas.

18. 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.

18. Nos autem omnes retecta facie gloriam Domini in speculo conspicientes, in eandem imaginem transformamur a gloria in gloriam, tanquam a Domini Spiritu.

12. Having therefore this hope. Here he advances still farther, for he does not treat merely of the nature of the law, or of that enduring quality of which we have spoken, but also of its abuse. True, indeed, this also belonged to its nature, that, being covered with a veil, it was not so manifest to the eye, and that by its brightness it inspired terror, and accordingly Paul says elsewhere, what amounts to the same thing -- that the people of Israel had received from it the spirit of bondage unto fear. (Romans 8:15.) Here, however, he speaks rather of an abuse that was foreign and adventitious. There was at that time in all quarters a grievous stumbling-block arising from the wantonness of the Jews, inasmuch as they obstinately rejected Christ. In consequence of this, weak consciences were shaken, being in doubt, whether they should embrace Christ, inasmuch as he was not acknowledged by the chosen people. This kind of scruple the Apostle removes, by instructing them, that their blindness had been prefigured even from the beginning, inasmuch as they could not behold the face of Moses, except through the medium of a veil. As, therefore, he had stated previously, that the law was rendered glorious by the lustre of Moses' countenance, so now he teaches, that the veil was an emblem of the blindness that was to come upon the people of Israel, for the person of Moses represents the law. The Jews, therefore, acknowledged by this, that they had not eyes to behold the law, except when veiled.

This veil, he adds, is not taken away, except by Christ. From this he concludes, that none are susceptible of a right apprehension, but those who direct their minds to Christ. In the first place, he draws this distinction between the law and the Gospel -- that the brightness of the former rather dazzled men's eyes, than enlightened them, while in the latter, Christ's glorious face is clearly beheld. He now triumphantly exults, on the ground that the majesty of the Gospel is not terrific, but amiable -- is not hid, but is manifested familiarly to all. The term parresia confidence, he employs here, either as meaning an elevated magnanimity of spirit, with which all ministers of the Gospel ought to be endowed, or as denoting an open and full manifestation of Christ; and this second view is the more probable, for he contrasts this confidence with the obscurity of the law.

13. Not as Moses Paul is not reasoning as to the intention of Moses. For as it was his office, to publish the law to his people, so, there can be no doubt that he was desirous, that its true meaning should be apprehended by all, and that he did not intentionally involve his doctrine in obscurity, but that the fault was on the part of the people. As, therefore, he could not renew the minds of the hearers, he was contented with faithfully discharging the duty assigned to him. Nay more, the Lord having commanded him to put a veil between his face and the eyes of the beholders, he obeyed. Nothing, therefore, is said here to the dishonor of Moses, for he was not required to do more than the commission, that was assigned to him, called for. In addition to this, that bluntness, or that weak and obtuse vision, of which Paul is now speaking, is confined to unbelievers exclusively, because the law though wrapt up in figures, did nevertheless impart wisdom to babes, Psalm 19:7

14. Their understandings were blinded. He lays the whole blame upon them, inasmuch as it was owing to their blindness, that they did not make any proficiency in the doctrine of the law. He afterwards adds, That veil remaineth even until this day. By this he means, that that dulness of vision was not for a single hour merely, but prefigured what the condition of the nation would be in time to come. |That veil with which Moses covered his face, when publishing the law, was the emblem of a stupidity, that would come upon that people, and would continue upon them for a long period. Thus at this day, when the law is preached to them, in

hearing they hear not, and in seeing they see not.
(Matthew 13:13.)

There is no reason, however, why we should be troubled,

as though some new thing had happened. (1 Peter 4:12.)

God has shown long ago under the type of the veil, that it would be so. Lest, however, any blame should attach to the law, he again repeats it, that their hearts were covered with a veil

And it is not removed, because it is done away through Christ. He assigns a reason, why they are so long in blindness in the midst of light. For the law is in itself bright, but it is only when Christ. appears to us in it, that we enjoy its splendor. The Jews turn away their eyes as much as they can from Christ. It is not therefore to be wondered, if they see nothing, refusing as they do to behold the sun. This blindness on the part of the chosen people, especially as it is so long continued, admonishes us not to be lifted up with pride, relying on the benefits that God has conferred upon us. This point is treated of in Romans 11:20. Let, however, the reason of this blindness deter us from contempt of Christ, which God so grievously punishes. In the mean time, let us learn, that without Christ, the Sun of righteousness, (Malachi 4:2,) there is no light even in the law, or in the whole word of God.

16. But when he shall have turned to the Lord. This passage has hitherto been badly rendered, for both Greek and Latin writers have thought that the word Israel was to be understood, whereas Paul is speaking of Moses. He had said, that a veil is upon the hearts of the Jews, when Moses is read. He immediately adds, As soon as he will have turned to the Lord, the veil will be taken away. Who does not see, that this is said of Moses, that is, of the law? For as Christ is the end of it, (Romans 10:4,) to which it ought to be referred, it was turned away in another direction, when the Jews shut out Christ from it. Hence, as in the law they wander into by-paths, so the law, too, becomes to them involved like a labyrinth, until it is brought to refer to its end, that is, Christ. If, accordingly, the Jews seek Christ in the law, the truth of God will be distinctly seen by them, but so long as they think to be wise without Christ, they will wander in darkness, and will never arrive at a right understanding of the law. Now what is said of the law applies to all Scripture -- that where it is not taken as referring to Christ as its one aim, it is mistakingly twisted and perverted.

17. The Lord is the Spirit. This passage, also, has been misinterpreted, as if Paul had meant to say, that Christ is of a spiritual essence, for they connect it with that statement in John 4:24, God is a Spirit. The statement before us, however, has nothing to do with Christ's essence, but simply points out his office, for it is connected with what goes before, where we found it stated, that the doctrine of the law is literal, and not merely dead, but even an occasion of death. He now, on the other hand, calls Christ its spirit, meaning by this, that it will be living and life-giving, only if it is breathed into by Christ. Let the soul be connected with the body, and then there is a living man, endowed with intelligence and perception, fit for all vital functions. Let the soul be removed from the body, and there will remain nothing but a useless carcase, totally devoid of feeling.

The passage is deserving of particular notice, as teaching us, in what way we are to reconcile those encomiums which David pronounces upon the law -- (Psalm 19:7,8) -- |the law of the Lord converteth souls, enlighteneth the eyes, imparteth wisdom to babes,| and passages of a like nature, with those statements of Paul, which at first view are at variance with them -- that it is the ministry of sin and death -- the letter that does nothing but kill. (2 Corinthians 3:6,7.) For when it is animated by Christ, those things that David makes mention of are justly applicable to it. If Christ is taken away, it is altogether such as Paul describes. Hence Christ is the life of the law.

Where the Spirit of the Lord. He now describes the manner, in which Christ gives life to the law -- by giving us his Spirit. The term Spirit here has a different signification from what it had in the preceding verse. There, it denoted the soul, and was ascribed metaphorically to Christ. Here, on the other hand, it means the Holy Spirit, that Christ himself confers upon his people. Christ, however, by regenerating us, gives life to the law, and shows himself to be the fountain of life, as all vital functions proceed from man's soul. Christ, then, is to all (so to speak) the universal soul, not in respect of essence, but in respect of grace. Or, if you prefer it, Christ is the Spirit, because he quickens us by the life-giving influence of his Spirit.

He makes mention, also, of the blessing that we obtain from that source. |There,| says he, |is liberty.| By the term liberty I do not understand merely emancipation from the servitude of sin, and of the flesh, but also that confidence, which we acquire from His bearing witness as to our adoption. For it is in accordance with that statement --

We have not again received the spirit of bondage, to fear, etc. (Romans 8:15.)

In that passage, the Apostle makes mention of two things -- bondage, and fear. The opposites of these are liberty and confidence. Thus I acknowledge, that the inference drawn from this passage by Augustine is correct -- that we are by nature the slaves of sin, and are made free by the grace of regeneration. For, where there is nothing but the bare letter of the law, there will be only the dominion of sin, but the term Liberty, as I have said, I take in a more extensive sense. The grace of the Spirit might, also, be restricted more particularly to ministers, so as to make this statement correspond with the commencement of the chapter, for ministers require to have another grace of the Spirit, and another liberty from what others have. The former signification, however, pleases me better, though at the same time I have no objection, that this should be applied to every one according to the measure of his gift. It is enough, if we observe, that Paul here points out the efficacy of the Spirit, which we experience for our salvation -- as many of us, as have been regenerated by his grace.

18. But we all, with unveiled face. I know not how it had come into the mind of Erasmus, to apply to ministers exclusively, what is evidently common to all believers. The word katoptrizesthai, it is true, has a double signification among the Greeks, for it sometimes means to hold out a mirror to be looked into, and at other times to look into a mirror when presented. The old interpreter, however, has correctly judged, that the second of these is the more suitable to the passage before us. I have accordingly followed his rendering. Nor is it without good reason, that Paul has added a term of universality -- |We all,| says he; for he takes in the whole body of the Church. It is a conclusion that suits well with the doctrine stated previously -- that we have in the gospel a clear revelation from God. As to this, we shall see something farther in the fourth chapter.

He points out, however, at the same time, both the strength of the revelation, and our daily progress. For he has employed such a similitude to denote three things: first, That we have no occasion to fear obscurity, when we approach the gospel, for God there clearly discovers to us His face; secondly, That it is not befitting, that it should be a dead contemplation, but that we should be transformed by means of it into the image of God; and, thirdly, that the one and the other are not accomplished in us in one moment, but we must be constantly making progress both in the knowledge of God, and in conformity to His image, for this is the meaning of the expression -- from glory to glory

When he adds, -- as by the Spirit of the Lord, he again reminds of what he had said -- that the whole excellence of the gospel depends on this, that it is made life-giving to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit. For the particle of comparison -- as, is not employed to convey the idea of something not strictly applicable, but to point out the manner. Observe, that the design of the gospel is this -- that the image of God, which had been effaced by sin, may be stamped anew upon us, and that the advancement of this restoration may be continually going forward in us during our whole life, because God makes his glory shine forth in us by little and little.

There is one question that may be proposed here. |Paul says, that we behold God's face with an unveiled face, while in the former Epistle we find it stated, that we do not, for the present, know God otherwise than through a mirror, and in an obscure manner.| In these statements there is an appearance of contrariety. They are, however, by no means at variance. The knowledge that we have of God for the present is obscure and slender, in comparison with the glorious view that we shall have on occasion of Christ's last coming. At the same time, He presents Himself to us at present, so as to be seen by us, and openly beheld, in so far as is for our advantage, and in so far as our capacity admits of. Hence Paul makes mention of progress being made, inasmuch as there will then only be perfection.

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