Notes of a Gospel Address on 2 Corinthians 3; 4:1-6
The apostle speaks in these chapters of the new covenant as the glad tidings preached in the world, and declares that “If our gospel be veiled it is veiled in them that are lost.” The new covenant is the disposition of God toward man, and this disposition is expressed in Christ. It is helpful to get out of our minds the idea of the covenant as an agreement between two parties, and to see that it means the disposition of God made known to us in Christ. It has been pointed out that a testament is the expression of the disposition of the testator toward those named in the testament.
The old covenant was given by Moses and written upon two tables of stone. It was a covenant of demand and it expressed the disposition in which God as Lawgiver took up Israel. He came out to make His righteous demand known to them. The Ten Commandments were first uttered audibly in the ears of the people by the voice of God, and afterwards written by His finger upon the two tables.
But man was not able to answer to the demand of God; he was not what he ought to be. Instead of being righteous he was a sinner, instead of being a law-keeper he was a law-breaker. In fact, when Moses brought the tables down from God at the first, Israel was already plunged in idolatry.
When God spoke His demands audibly, they were not able to endure the word but fled from the voice of God. They pleaded that Moses should speak to them and not God. Indeed, Moses also says, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” Though he was under grace, he could not comfortably listen to the demand of God upon the people.
The way the law was given was an indication of the distance of the people from God. It was by the disposition of angels. It was an angel that appeared to Moses in the burning bush. No doubt it was Jehovah, but Jehovah in His representative, and that representative an angel. It was also an angel at Sinai, Jehovah speaking by angelic means. So Stephen tells the Jews that they had received the law by the disposition of angels, and had not kept it. And in Hebrews we are told, “if the word spoken by angels was steadfast,” etc. These scriptures proves what I have said, that God approached Israel by angelic means in giving the law.
An angel was a poor representative of God. It was not God Himself drawing near to them by a person in whom they could confide, but by a being whom they knew not, and of whom Israel was always afraid. Then again, it was not possible for an angel to be in contact with man so as to sympathize with him and comfort his heart. There is a vast distance between a man and an angel, and there is also a vast distance between an angel and his Creator. It all showed that God was keeping man at a distance while pressing upon him his obligations. But who could stand in the presence of the demand of God? The psalmist says, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.” People hope to be justified in the day of judgment, but it is a vain hope, because if God enters into judgment with any man his condemnation is certain. No man could hope to merit blessing on the ground of what he is. We have naturally high thoughts of ourselves, but we cannot get others to think so highly of us as we do of ourselves; and if our fellow men who are as bad as ourselves cannot be made to altogether justify us, what about God who is righteous and holy and the contrast of all that we are?
The old covenant was all demand. It was the creditor telling the debtor what he had to pay. But payment never was made. He held out His hands that man might pay into them that which he owed, but He has to say at the finish, “All day long have I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and gains-saying people.”
When we come to the new covenant we come to a very different line of things. The word has been spoken by the Lord. It is not the ministry of angels. All that is over. God has drawn near to us in Christ. We need not be afraid to hearken to the word spoken by Him. It is altogether different from law. It is not now what man ought to be and do. It is not, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” It is not a demand for righteousness from man, and a curse pronounced because he has none, but it is righteousness ministered to man. It is not what man ought to be, but what God is.
God has approached us in Christ. How near He has come! I could not speak to an angel, but I could to a man; and it is in a Man that God has drawn near to me. They wondered at the words of grace that proceeded out of His mouth. He says, “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). This is very different from the old covenant. This is glad tidings to the poor. It is the Creditor coming out to the debtor in a very different disposition than at Sinai. It is the grace of God preached by Him who was full of grace and truth. Christ has come to tell man that God was favourable to Him, to tell him of forgiveness, to tell him that if he has no righteousness for God, God has righteousness for him; to tell him that God has got bread for the hungry, and clothing for the naked. Who could not listen to this?
God Himself has drawn near to man in Jesus. He came to speak a word in season to the weary. There is no demand and no curse. Moses says, as it were, to the debtor, “If you have nothing to pay, you are cursed.” Jesus says, “When they had nothing to pay He frankly forgave them.” This is the disposition in which God has drawn near to man in Christ.
Jesus did not find men better than they were seen to be at Sinai. They were the same in His day as in the day of Moses. But what could Moses do for the people if they failed in their duties? He could not make atonement for them. He found them dancing around a calf of gold when he brought the law to them, and in his great love for the people he went back to God and offered himself a sacrifice for their sin. He says, “Blot me out of thy book.” But God refuses him. Moses, however favoured of God, needed a sacrifice to be offered for himself, for he was a sinner like all other men. The mediator of the old covenant could not make atonement.
What about the Mediator of the new? What has He done? He offered Himself without spot to God. He gave Himself a ransom for all. He went to the cross and made propitiation. God has not refused that sacrifice. It was a sweet savour to God. He raised the One who offered it from the dead, and all the glory of God rests in His face. All that God is in His nature and attributes rests with satisfaction in Him. Righteousness, holiness, truth, power and love shine forth in Him, and all these are in man’s favour. There is no demand upon man for anything. It is God directing attention to Himself as expressed in Jesus. God has made Him to us righteousness, holiness, and redemption. And it was the love of God that brought this great salvation about.
When Israel had failed through their idolatry, and the sacrifice that Moses offered had been refused, he came back with the glory shining in his face. He had asked God to show him His glory, but this was denied him; for Moses desired to see the face of God, but he was told that no one could see the face of God and live. He was, however, put in a cleft of the rock, and God passed by proclaiming His name, and speaking of mercy, goodness and forgiveness; and this glory Moses saw when God had passed by, and the light of it rested in his face. But Israel was still in the state to which judgment applied, and the glory in the face of the mediator only gave emphasis to the demand of God upon them, to which they had so signally failed to answer. Hence they were terrified, and could not bear to look at the face of Moses.
But now the glory is in the face of the One who has made propitiation. It is in the face of Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. The glory in the face of Moses repelled, and spoke of the curse and of death and condemnation, but the glory in the face of Jesus is attractive; it speaks of forgiveness, and peace, and salvation. This glory has no need to be covered up. The light is sweet. It makes no demand for righteousness from you. You are not told to be better first, if you are to find favour with God. You will do just as well as if you were perfectly righteous. God has made Christ all you need. God has clothing for the naked. Christ is to be a Covering for all. Isaiah spoke of Christ when he said, “A man shall be as a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest.” If you want covering from the divine wrath, you find it in Christ. God has raised Him up that He may be this to you. In view of the judgment of this world-system, God has got a covering for men. Noah built an ark for the saving of his house. You have not to build yourself a hiding-place in view of coming wrath. God has prepared one for you. Christ at His right hand is your refuge. To Him the gospel directs you. There is salvation in Him, and in no other. If you get hold of the glory of the Lord, you will know the disposition of God towards you. God has given Him this place at His right hand, and the disposition of God is made known in the place in which He has set Christ. In the past dispensation if you desired to know the disposition of God toward the people, you could have read it upon the two tables of stone; but today you must read it in Christ: “Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.” God wants you to know that He is favourable to man, and you are invited to turn to Him in whom that favour is expressed. All that God is, is in your favour; the glory in the face of Jesus says so. It must be so, for it is in the face of the One who has given Himself a ransom for all; hence God looks out upon all in perfect grace.
Are these glad tidings veiled? If so, the veil must be upon the heart, for there is no veil upon the glory. Under law the glory was covered by a veil. Moses put a veil on when he spoke to the people. Today if there is a veil anywhere it is upon the heart. What will make that veil drop off? It will drop off if your heart turns to the Lord. When Moses turned to the Lord to speak to Him, he took off the veil. In this he was a figure of Israel. When he was speaking to the people, his back was to the Lord and the veil was on his face, for the people could not bear to look at the glory. So Israel is turned away in heart now from the Lord. They have turned their back upon Him, and while they remain in this state the veil is upon their heart; but when that heart of theirs shall turn to the Lord, as it will in a coming day, the veil will be taken away—it will drop off.
I could understand a person saying, “In all this you make nothing of me. Is it of no importance what I am? Am I to be satisfied with what God is irrespective of what I myself am?” Yes, this is just the truth. God turns you to Him that you may find all you need in the One He has raised up for your salvation. But perhaps you say, “Is there to be no change in me?” Surely there will be, and a great one, but it will be brought about by no effort of yours. The contemplation of the glory in the face of Jesus will change you. You do not first make yourself better, and afterwards come to Jesus. First turn to Him and find in Him all your deep need perfectly met, and when the glory of the Lord becomes attractive to your heart, so that you delight to draw near and contemplate it, you will be changed into the same image, and the result will be that you will come out down here in the moral features of Christ.