A Study of 2nd Corinthians 3:11
“For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.”
(2 Corinthians 3:11)
There are some very remarkable and blessed truths set forth in this chapter, and before entering upon the great text which I have ventured to read I would like to draw your attention to one or two verses which precede it. If we go to the beginning of the chapter where the Apostle Paul having stated the fact that whatever false teachers required by way of letters of commendation or recommendation, he himself needed no such thing. He had an abiding epistle, a letter which would always manifest him to be a minister of Christ, a servant of the Most High God, and that letter was in the Church at Corinth: “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, know and read by all men.” (2 Cor. 3:2) The effect of his ministry under the unction of the Holy Ghost was such as to make the Corinthians manifest as being the church of the living God. They were to the praise of the glory of God’s grace, so that as a letter written is legible and is read by those to whom it is sent, by whom it may be opened, so these Corinthian Christians having the writing of God, “not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of their hearts,” (2 Cor. 3:3) were legible. They could be read as having been with Jesus and learned of Him. So were the early Christians in Jerusalem, so were the apostles. The enemies of Christ took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus, and if we have had the Holy Spirit working in us and writing divine truths on our hearts, we are “the epistles of Christ,” and in so far as God may have used a minister here and there to effect this work, we are the epistles of such and such a minister. “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone but in fleshly tables of the heart.” Have we had that writing? Has God written His mercy on our spirits? Has the finger of God written divine love in the fleshly tables of our hearts? Has He written pardon on our consciences? Has He written some knowledge of Christ by a revelation of Him in us? Then we are Christ’s epistles, and every child of God seeing us and hearing us speak of the things done in us, will say in the language of their own mind, or in the language of the text, “Here is an epistle of Christ; here is a sinner who has prized Christ above the world, who has cast his idols of silver and gold and wood and stone and imagination which he made for himself to the moles and the bats, that he may “serve the living and true God and wait for His Son from heaven, even Jesus who delivered him from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:10) What a wonder it is that Christ has any epistle in this chapel! And as the Corinthian Church, as a church, was manifestly an epistle of Christ, may God grant that we here may be such an epistle. You cannot write it yourself. No man can do it. He may be a minister to minister truth to you, but the writing must be by the Spirit of the living God. O what a wonder it is that the Holy Ghost has ever condescended to write upon our hearts that which will make us an epistle of Christ! Now may this be commended to you. May it become before you so important a truth that you may seek to be epistles of Christ! You won’t wear phylacteries on your brows and tell everybody how good you are. You won’t go into the temple to pray and thank God you are not as bad as other people, but you will walk humbly. Grace will make you little, weak, poor, helpless; grace will come to you and tell you there is enough in Christ for your needs; a robe to cover you, blood to cleanse you, grace to save you, power to sustain you, wisdom to guide you, love to bear with you, and patience and intercession so that you shall notwithstanding all the opposition reach heaven. Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ and the declaration was the writing, and the manifestation of that was the reading of that writing by all who are able to read it. It is legible writing, but it is not everybody who has an eye to read it.
Then the apostle declares that God had made him and his fellow-apostles and Timothy beloved ministers of the New Testament, that is of the gospel of Christ. A minister such as he describes himself in the First Epistle in that determination which he expresses: “I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) “Not of the letter.” This word, not of the letter, means not of the law. You may call a man who preaches dry doctrine a letter-man; but strictly, the meaning here is that the apostle was not a minister of the law, but of the gospel; for the letter, that is the law, killeth as everyone knows who has heard it and been claimed by it and condemned. The letter killeth, the law killeth; the Spirit, that is the gospel, giveth life. “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly,” (John 10:10) and says Paul, “We are made, have not grown into it, have not come by it by human learning; have not come by it in any way of that sort, but God has made us so.” When the Lord calls a man to be a minister He makes him a minister of the Spirit, that is of the gospel, a true minister of the gospel, and in ministering the gospel he will pick up cases unknown to him. He will speak of that blessed One who came that His people might have life and that they might have it more abundantly, and as his testimony is owned by the Spirit and applied, that will make him an able minister to certain individuals, and such individuals will be his crown and joy and rejoicing in the day of the Lord. What an honour to be amongst them! I grow old, have grown old in the ministry, but the Lord only knows how unworthy I feel to be, and how unfit I am to be a minister of the Spirit, a minister of the gospel, the glorious gospel of Christ. And how the Lord has borne with me, and how His people have borne with me, I can say sometimes, is more than I can understand, only that God will do what He will. I think it would be as I view it now, not a little sin in me, if I said He had never made anybody an epistle of Christ by me. There are some in heaven who were made epistles of Christ through the ministry of a poor unworthy creature. Now this is a great matter. God only can make a minister, and is it not one of the saddest signs of the Lord’s absence from us and of His displeasure with us as a body of people, that there are comparatively speaking very few, apparently very few who are made able ministers of the New Testament. O that God would arise and have mercy on Zion! One of the evidences that He is coming to do that, and of His presence, will be that He will have servants who will take pleasure in the stones and the dust of Zion.
And then from this declaration concerning his ministry and who made him a minister, the apostle proceeds to the great subject which he just hints at in the verse I have introduced. “Made us able ministers, not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter killeth but the Spirit giveth life,” and says: “If the ministration of death,” that is the letter which killeth; if the ministration of the law “written and engraven in stones was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away, how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?” Here we have two ministrations the same as in the preceding verse, the letter and the spirit. Here the law and the gospel; condemnation and justification; Moses and Christ; a commanding law which kills, a blessed Spirit that gives life; that does not come to a man and command him to be holy, but comes to a wretch and says: “You are sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus, and called.” (Jude 1) That is the ministration of glory, and if, says Paul, the first ministration that kills is glorious, how much more shall this letter ministration that gives life be glorious!
Now my friends, it is a great thing to know the first ministration; a very great blessing to know it by the power of the Holy Ghost. And I am disposed to say what I have said to you before for years past occasionally, that the present condition of things in the experience of young people is not for good. There is such an absence of distinct teaching, such an absence of the knowledge of the law, such an absence of that application of a killing letter that kills a sinner, that many of whom we can hope well are confused and scarcely know where they are. Now I pray God will bring this ministration to some of you. It never troubles me to find people in trouble about their soul. I am never afraid of them going into black despair when God the Holy Ghost lays hold of them and brings them to feel this killing letter, this condemnation. He says to them, “Pay God all you owe Him. If you fall into prison you must go and abide there until you have paid the uttermost farthing.” And the apostle goes on to speak of those two ministrations by contrast until we come to the text; and he will have it, in the contrasts which he makes by the Holy Ghost, that the glory of the law is inferior to the glory of the gospel; that the glory of the law is for a time in some cases, and the glory of the gospel is for eternity in those very cases. So he comes to this statement which is as it were a double one: “For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.”
We have first of all to notice what it is that is done away, this is the question in the mind. What is it that is done away? And seeing it was done away, what is the glory of it? If a thing fades, has it any glory? If the glory it appeared to have fades away, what can be said? Let us then look a little at this, what is it that is done away and then notice what the glory of it was. It is nothing more, nothing less than the letter, the law, written by the finger of God on tables of stone, engraved on tables of stone. It is written; the writing was the writing of God, and this was the law. And there are some important things said of it, which if we know, will show that we have known the work of the law. It is said that it kills, “the letter killeth.” It did not kill in Eden while Adam and Eve were innocent. It had no terrors for them, had no condemnation for them. When every evening they took their tale of obedience to their Creator and Law-giver and God, there was no law to interpose itself between them and Him; there was nothing in the law to say, “You must not come to God.” They were in their manner and according to God’s creation of them and of the law under which they were, and which was written in their hearts, perfect. They met, they answered the letter; they came to the reed that measured them, to the balance in which they were, and there was no fault found. But when sin came in then it was changed altogether, and the letter that approved of them, that weighed them and found nothing wanting, measured them and found them not according to God’s will, that same letter began now to be a killing letter to them. It killed all that innocence; it killed all that beautiful innocence that was in them by creation, and they knew evil. Yes, they knew evil. They knew they were naked; they knew that, and the letter killed them, it condemned them, it left them no loophole, no way of escape. Now if we have entered into this by experience we have been killed, and know that we are dead. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in an experimental way, and that is how I would deal with it by the help of God. Using another figure, going as it were from the letter to another figure, in the Romans he says: “You know the law, you know the rigor of your late husband, how he ruled you, how he commanded you, how he found fault with you, how nothing was right that you did, nothing came to his standard, nothing reached his measure in you, nothing that you did pleased him, he killed you.” O what an experience this is, is it not? What a solemn experience have some of us passed through under this letter! How it came to us, how constantly it found fault with us, revealed this sin and that sin, and brought to light things which we were ignorant of until it made them known to us, and then dealt a stroke that brought us to death. This experience solemn, painful, wholesome, is blessed in the issue of it, blessed experience! He who has it cannot think that himself, until he comes to be married to another, even Jesus Christ. This is the letter, this is that which is done away.
There are two things more that I would mention in this. The first is, that it gives the law great strength in the conscience. The strength of sin is by the law, and the strength of the law to condemn is our sin, and very solemn it is to be in this condition. It gives a sting, it puts a sting into the conscience; it lays a rule in the mind; it lays a claim on the person, the whole person; it claims him for God; it condemns him because he has given himself to another, to the god of this world, and O that is very solemn! It stirs up sin, because sin is so easily provoked by what opposes it. It stirs up sin and the man in whom it is working thinks that every sin now is painfully alive; sins of which he was before quite ignorant.
The other thing is that this very letter, this ministration of death, has a peculiar glory in it, and that glory is seen by all who are under its power. The law has a peculiar glory, and the glory of it is this, that it reveals God in His greatness, in His just claims, and in His condemnation of the person who does not meet with it, does not answer its claims. Now dear friends, if you know the law, and as many of you as do know it, you will say how true this is. We were alive till the law came; when it came, sin revived and we died. (Rom. 7:9)
Now the apostle says this is done away, and we must inquire by the help of the Lord into this great matter; for salvation is here, in the doing away of the law, so that if it be not done away for us and in us, we have no proper ground to hope that we belong to the Lord. It is done away first, by Christ on the cross. It was by dying that Christ became the end of the law to everyone that believeth, (Rom. 10:4) by His holy life. By His pains and agony and bloody sweat and shame and ignominious death, Jesus Christ made an end of this law, that is to say He fulfilled it, and it found in Him everything that it could claim and demand. Paul’s language is, “You are dead to the law by the body of Christ;” (Rom. 7:4) dead to it because Christ came into it, came under it, paid it, suffered it, suffered its curse, and therefore it having all it could ask from Christ, is dead to the people for whom He rendered that full tale and paid all. O sinner, this is an important point in vital religion! “Ye are dead to the law,” says Paul by the body of Christ; by the death of Christ a sinner becomes dead to that killing ministration, that ministration of condemnation.
Now in experience how does this come to be known? Sometimes very gradually. That which is here to be done away waxes old and vanishes away, not all at once. Every glimpse of the gospel that a sinner is favoured with weakens the law, every touch of infinite love and kindness a sinner gets weakens the law in him, every help he receives, every invitation that is sent to him, every glimpse he gets of the glory of Christ, every hope he feels in Christ weakens the law in his conscience and brings him to feel a hope in the mercy of God that one day the law will be a dead letter to him and have nothing to say, as Toplady beautifully puts it: “The terrors of law and of God, With me can have nothing to do; My Saviour’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.” Now if any here can say that although they have not had such a revelation of Christ as would have killed the law in them if they had it, yet can say they have had such glimpses of Christ, such intimations of His mercy, such answers to prayers, such access to the throne of God’s heavenly grace as moved and warmed and helped and melted them, it may be said to such that it is waxing older and older by the coming in of mercy it becomes more and more ready to vanish away. Now is there any gospel to such people? It is all gospel that they have got, it is all mercy that melted them, all love that drew them, all kindness that gives them a hope. All the beauty and the loveliness and the mercy that they saw and felt, all came from the gospel, that is the ministration of life, the ministration of the Spirit in their hearts. That it is that bids a sinner to cry out, and shall make him cry out when it is more fully accomplished: “The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do.” Its power waxes old and is ready to vanish away. You do not feel that bitter condemnation that you used to do. Cannot some of you say its condemnation waxes old, you are not condemned at every turn? No, the law of faith has no condemnation about it; against this grace of the Spirit there is no law. It may be weak faith, but there is no killing commandment to slay you because it is weak. There is no law against love. It may wax cold, but He who gave it will kindle it again sooner or later. There is no law against the graces of the Spirit. It is the gospel that begets these graces of the Holy Ghost, and it is the gospel that maintains their life and renews it from time to time, and as its power decays and is ready to vanish away, so also the glory of it goes.
What is the glory of the law? That it reveals God. Can that go away? Yes, it gives place to another revelation made by the gospel. The law has justice; the gospel has justice and also love. The law condemns; the gospel justifies and has justification; and love and mercy come in by degrees. So the condemnation of the law and the beauty of the law and the glory of the law, which an enlightened conscience acknowledges to be glory indeed, vanish away, and the sinner gets nearer to Christ than to Moses, nearer to Mount Zion than to Mount Sinai, nearer to love than to God’s anger, nearer to grace than to legal obedience; and O how good it is to a sinner to find this coming to him from time to time – “that which is waxing old and decaying is ready to vanish away!” (Heb. 8:13) Yea, sometimes people have found that when they have been blessed with liberty and access they have almost broken out into full liberty, as if they could say, “Why the Lord is mine and I have got the gospel in my heart.” Wait on the Lord, I would say; wait on the Lord. Some man might come and say, “You ought not to be in bondage, you ought to be at liberty.” But then who is it that gives liberty? “God hath not given us the Spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of love and of power and of a sound mind.” (Rom. 8:15; 2 Tim. 1:7) The Lord never condemns little faith. He may chide a poor sinner and say, “Wherefore dost thou doubt?” But He never brings the Ten Commandments to little faith and says, “You have failed in one point and therefore you are guilty of all,” (James 2:10) because faith does not belong to the law. This blessed faith which we call saving faith is under the gospel. The law demands a full tale of obedience, that is perfection. Faith may be very imperfect in itself as a grace, but it looks to a perfect Christ and pleads a perfect Saviour, and therefore is pleasing to God. I say, if the Lord gives us wisdom to look at this point, we may find instruction and encouragement. The Lord never condemns little faith; there is no law against it. Blessed be God for that!
Then the authority of the law is done away. Christ did away with that for ever on the cross, and it begins to give way from the conscience every time the gospel is received in any measure in the light and power and glory of it. It has authority and the law loses its authority. You may sometimes be just as in a balance, one day under the law, O how solemn! The next under the gospel, O how sweet! Why, the gospel says: “Christ is the Friend of sinners.” Is it not sweet? “Christ is the Friend of sinners, be that forgotten never.” So that the authority of the law waxes old. It is done away sooner or later in the conscience, even as it was done away by Christ on the cross, and now it makes things quite different. The gospel shows things in another light. Why, a sinner will condemn himself for his poor prayers, and the gospel comes in and says: “Pray without ceasing; (1 Thess. 5:17) cry night and day to God; (Luke 18:7) make known your requests; (Phil. 4:6) open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” He does not say, “Come when you are good, when you are perfect.” He does not say, “Come when you are a saint and not a sinner;” but it says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble.” (Ps. 50:15) It says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
So the law is done away as to its authority; and lastly, it is done away as to its power to condemn. Yes, in the face of Christ you will see such beauty, such glory, such a gospel, as will make you say from your heart, “I am dead to the law by the body of Christ,” and the law has no power to come in and condemn you. You will condemn yourself often for your sins and your failures and your shortcomings, but Christ comes in with a full gospel and shows perfection as being in Himself; and then the law has got nothing to say, nothing to say. It is not this – the sinner has grown better, that he has become less and less a sinner in his nature. No, there is no betterment there. But this is it, that though we are vile, Christ is holy; and if He stands for us, and faith will see Him standing for us, then all is well. This condemning power of the law is removed from the church by the body of Christ, and poor helpless, hopeless, guilty, falling, failing worms are accepted in the Beloved, accepted in Christ, pleasing to God in Christ. Now they can look on the law, they can see its glory, they can see how good it was in itself and ever will be. They can see how reasonable its commandments were in their consciences. The inequality was not in the law, but in themselves; the wrong was in themselves and this made the law weak. This can be seen in the gospel, that is, regarded by all who are brought into the gospel. The law was weak, weak in this – it could never justify a sinner. It can receive pleasure and satisfaction from one who obeyed it perfectly, but it could never help a sinner. It says to a sinner, “run,” but gives him no feet, no strength. It says to him, “serve God,” but never tells him how or helps him to do it. Here is its weakness. Now says Paul in the Romans: “What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:3,4) It does not say to us, “You should get rid of the flesh.” No, we must wait for that. But “who walk not after it,” obey it not, love it not. Bless God for this and for the experience that some of us have had of the passing of the law! Passing away of the law, not only on Calvary’s tree, but in a crucified conscience, a conscience condemned to death, a conscience that ratified the sentence, a conscience that said, “God is just, God is right, God is holy, in that very law that curses him, God is just.” Then he looks in this and says: “Why, it has nothing to do with me, it cannot come near to me to curse me, because the Son of God, Jesus Christ, obeyed it, fulfilled it, and the Spirit’s witness in my conscience is that He obeyed it and fulfilled it for me. Therefore the terrors of law and of God, with me can have nothing to do. O glorious gospel! If you have received it you will enter into what Paul speaks of the glorious gospel of Christ. It is glorious, unspeakably, immeasurably, eternally glorious. But the law, very glorious as God’s word, as God’s revelation of His character and of His just claims on the creature man, being fulfilled by Christ, taken out of the way by the death of Christ, its glory vanishes in the light of that abiding, that excelling glory.
“If that which is done away is glorious.” Now it is done away from the conscience, will it follow people? No, it won’t appear against the church in eternity. No. If you get a sight given to you which John had given to him, you in your manner and he in his and the measures will be different; you will feel filled with wonder, love, and praise. What was the sight? “I saw a Lamb in the midst of the throne of God, a Lamb as it had been slain.” (Rev. 5:6) O what a sight! All the wisdom, and all the love, and all the blessedness, and all the grace, and all the gifts of life and goodness that God bestowed upon the church, all given to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Therefore when the four beasts and the four-and-twenty elders are around the throne, in the midst of it is the Lamb, and there is no law to condemn them, there gospel reigns, righteousness reigns, mercy reigns, truth reigns, love reigns, and living fountains of waters flow. No law there to condemn. The covenant of grace reigns and all its rich provisions are opened there. The law is done away.
Now my brethren, look for this. You who have never had it, may God grant you may not be discouraged on that ground; rather may you be made earnestly to seek that the law may pass away from your conscience, even as it passed away from the church when Christ said, “It is finished.” A revelation of Christ will do it; yes, fully, sweetly, powerfully do it in your consciences, so that you will be happy. “Much more that which remaineth is glorious,” and this remaining glory is the glory of the ministration of life, the glory of the everlasting gospel, which may we know. Amen.
We looked this morning at some of the removable and removed things, shaken things removed, all of them comprised in the law, the ministration of death, the letter that killeth. We saw how it was removed, first by Christ on the cross. He answered the law, it received absolute satisfaction and honour at His hands. We saw it removed gradually in many cases from the conscience as the gospel came in by little and little. The power of the gospel, the efficacy of the blood of Christ brought by the Spirit waxes the law, makes it wax old and decay, and it is ready to vanish away, and a revelation of Christ takes it away. The atonement removes it, all claims are met, debts are paid, bondage is broken, and the soul goes free. Well then a worldly professor might say, “There is nothing more to fear.” O deluded soul, this is not meant for you! If you live and die in presuming that, what an end yours will be! Everyone for whom Christ took the law away and in whom it is removed sooner or later comes to feel that he is the very last person in the world to expect and look for such a blessing; but the presumptuous, the Pharisee, the perfect person who can thank God that he is not as other men, not as bad as a publican, he will find that the law is alive to him, that it has authority over him, that it will deal with him for his sins, that it will bring them to his remembrance. None can fully imagine what memory and conscience, moved by a condemning law authorized and applied by God in eternity, will do for a lost person. How intensely will a lost person live over again his life on earth in bitter remembrance with the curse of God filling his whole being! May such an end never come to us.
Now this evening by the Lord’s help, I am to look and direct your attention to that which remains. This is the covenant of grace, the gospel of the grace of God, the gospel of the kingdom; and first of all let us notice this ministration of life, for that is what it is called, the quickening Spirit. This ministration of life embraces the entire, the whole covenant of grace, wherein is the Person of Christ, His blessed work of redemption, sent by the Father in His electing love, freely coming of His own love and will; and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ coming to quicken the dead into life, to bring the law to kill them that they may be dead to it, and reveal Christ crucified, that by Him they may be dead to it, and it dead to them. And this covenant of grace, this glorious gospel, is differently spoken of in the Scriptures, that is to say, various terms are employed to set it forth. In the Revelation it is called the everlasting gospel. An angel was seen flying in heaven having the everlasting gospel to preach. (Rev. 14:6) The everlasting gospel means the everlasting love of God, the eternal redemption by Christ, (Heb. 9:12) and the washing of regeneration by the renewing of the Holy Ghost; (Titus 3:5) the bringing into gospel liberty of all bought by Christ, their final perseverance in the way of tribulation, their holding on to Christ through thick and thin, through evil report and good report, and their eventual coming into heaven; without beginning in the heart of God, beginning at the incarnation of Christ to be more fully manifested than ever it had been before, and brought by the Spirit to individual sinners redeemed. O what a sweet gospel this is! What a gospel! In it are everlasting righteousness, everlasting strength, eternal redemption, an eternal inheritance, an eternal excellency, everlasting love. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” (Jer. 31:3) My brethren, whether we apprehend it or not, this is a truth, the church lives in eternities; eternities embrace her. I have mentioned some of them. All in God, all flowing from God, brought to the church of God by the Holy Ghost.
Can any poor sinner here say in his heart, “O I wish that religion were mine, I wish the Lord would bless me with some of these eternities, with an everlasting love, an everlasting righteousness, an eternal redemption, an eternal refuge and an eternal excellency?” Are you sick of time things, are you sick of self, are you weary of sinning, do you long to be holy, long to know the Lord for yourself? Well now, what I would say to you is this: “Then shall you know if you follow on to know the Lord, His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He will come unto you as the rain, as the early and latter rain upon the earth.” (Hos. 6:3) And when He so comes then you will say, “The preacher never told us half of the excellency of Christ, of the beauty of His righteousness, of the glory of His gospel,” and the preacher will heartily agree with you. O to be embraced in these eternities! O eternal love! Blessed day, when that love breaks in upon a sinner! O everlasting righteousness! Glorious day when that is revealed in a sinner! O eternal redemption! Wondrous hour when that broke the prison doors open and called to the sinner, the prisoner, “Come forth,” and gave him full liberty! O wondrous Person, Jesus Christ, who is the only hiding-place, the sure refuge, the strong habitation for His people! And wonder of wonders is it to him to whom this Man Christ Jesus is made known; who knowing Him in the revelation of His Spirit says: “He is altogether lovely, the chiefest among ten thousand; (Songs 5:10,16) He bought me with His blood, delivered me from my sins, broke my chains, gave me grace, gave me liberty, gave me life. All-over glorious is such a Lord, such a Head, and such a Saviour. This gospel is an everlasting gospel, and this is set out in this chapter in the ministration of life, the ministration of glory, the ministration of righteousness, and the remaining ministration: “Much more is that which remaineth glorious.” If a removed law is glorious as a discovery of God’s character, as I mentioned this morning, if a removed law is glorious even as it condemns a sinner, even in its weakness and inability to help a sinner; how much more shall that which cannot be moved be glorious, inasmuch as it helps a sinner, saves him, teaches him, draws him from hell into heaven, from sin to holiness, from guilt to justification, from pollution to sanctification, from life to death, from self to God!
It remains in many particulars, and I would enter a little into some of those particulars now by the help of the Lord. Let me once more say to you, beware of generalities. Perhaps some of you may be able to say in the general remarks that I have said: “We like them, we approve of them.” Now let us come to particulars and see if you like and approve of them. Is it not a mercy that the fountain open for sin and uncleanness remains? (Zech. 13:1) Are we not constantly contracting guilt and pollution? And if this fountain did not remain, what would become of us? “The blood of Christ, a precious blood, cleanses from all sin,” and the Lord said that there should be opened a fountain for sin and uncleanness and all causes and matters of separation from Himself. The law typified this, shadowed it out beautifully, when it made provision in the ashes of the red heifer and running water to be sprinkled on a person who had become defiled and was therefore ceremonially unfit for the service of God. The sprinkling of that according to God’s ordinance cleansed the man from his disability; and this continued, it ran through the whole of that dispensation, was part of it, an integral part of it, and continued till the whole came to an end. The type is beautiful. O but the Antitype! O to realize that your conscience defiled by some sin, by some worldliness, by something wrong, is cleansed by the blood of Christ! My brethren, John says in his Epistle, “These things I write unto you that ye sin not.” The tendency of God’s doctrine is toward holiness, “but if any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and His blood cleanseth from all sin.” (1 John 2:1) This remains. As long as we live here we shall need the continuance to us of this fountain. You may often get away; you will never come back, you must be brought back. You can defile yourself, but you cannot wash yourself; the blood of Christ must cleanse you. You can let idols in, you cannot turn them out. This remains. O the glory of it, the beautiful power of it, the holiness of it, that one separated from his God by some particular sin should be returned to his God in gracious experience by the blood of Jesus Christ! This is one of the most hopeful doctrines, one of the most powerful inducements to holiness, that any child of God can ever have brought to his notice by the eternal Spirit. For he will grieve that his sins broke Christ’s heart, and he will desire that he should not indulge in those things, in those sins that wound Christ and drive the Spirit from his breast. That remains. That remains for sins, that their sins may not shut them out from the communion with God, may not harden their hearts, may not continue as a pollution upon them; but that should be washed away.
Secondly this remains everlasting righteousness. Under the law a righteous man lost his righteousness when he failed in something. When he turned from the path of integrity into some devious path, he lost his righteousness, and God said it should not stand him in good stead. The gospel acts another part, has another voice, and goes another way. It reveals not a wrought righteousness by the sinner, but a righteousness wrought for the sinner, a righteousness of which Daniel speaks. Speaking of the Messiah he says: “He shall bring in everlasting righteousness, make an end of sin, and finish transgression.” (Dan. 9:24) Yes dear friends, this remains, and it becomes an experience in the hearts of the saints.
“Dry doctrine cannot save us, light hearts or smooth behaviour,” but an imputed righteousness saves a sinner, an imputed righteousness justifies a sinner, and brings him before God as a person without sin. Yes, Hart is right when he says:
“Righteousness to full perfection,
Must be brought, lacking nought,
Fearless of rejection.”
That righteousness is Christ’s. “This is the name whereby He shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness.” (Jer. 23:6) Faith receives that, faith cleaves to it, faith loves it, faith works in the heart and brings a sinner to say: “Surely in the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” (Isa. 45:24) Faith alone will make it thine own, O believer! Faith alone will tell thee in the light and power of the Spirit that Christ wrought this robe for thee, that thou mightest stand before God spotless and without blame. What when you fail, what when you turn to some vanity, is this lost? The sense of it is, but itself remains. The enjoyment of it is lost; itself continues. And what will God do? He won’t say as in Ezekiel that the righteousness which you have shall not avail you. He will reprove you for your sins. Yes, that is one of His blessed methods, He will reprove you for your sins, but He will not undo this. He will not strip you of this robe. “Once applied ’tis always on. ‘Tis Jehovah’s own providing.” It is His own imputation, it is His own sentence in the conscience. “He hath not seen perverseness nor iniquity in Jacob.” (Numbers 23:21) This righteousness stands, it remains. If you have received it by faith, it remains. If you are wanting it in your soul’s experience, it remains. If you have lost the sense of it, it remains; and what you need is not another justification, not a different robe, not a better, but this brought home again by the Holy Ghost.
The love of God remains. Yes, I wish we felt it always, but we do not; still it remains. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” (Jer. 31:3) The Lord rests in His love, His kindness, in His purposes. He accomplishes His will with love, His will, His goodwill as He dwells in the bush. He accomplishes all His purposes. His love is on a sinner; it remains. Can you find a reason why it should be taken away? Can you bring forth a reason why God who has loved you with an everlasting love should take it away from you? “Yes,” the sinner may say, “I can find plenty of reasons, and they are all comprised in one – my sins, my sins.” Luther found that. Said he one day to a good man, O my sins, my sins, my sins!” Are your sins a reason why God should take it away? You say, “Yes.” Do you know what you are saying? Have you become a sinner since God loved you? Have you fallen into sin since He loved you? What does He say? “I knew thee, that thou wouldest deal treacherously. (Isa. 48:8) I knew it.” When did God set His love on a sinner? In what case was the person loved of God? When God set His love on thee was when thou wast in thy blood, when thou was dead and loathsome and helpless and naked, “Thy time was a time of love.” (Ezek. 16:6-8) Now I am speaking experimentally, because the love of God was not set in eternity on good people. But look at this great point of experience. When did God begin to show His love? When He quickened you. When did He let out a little of His love? When He gave the Spirit of grace and of supplication. When did He show more? When He answered some prayer. When did He show still more? When He forgave your sins, melted your heart. When was it fuller? When Christ was revealed in you and formed the hope of glory in you. Now if all these acts of love were done and manifested with regard to you as a sinner, in sin and in certain terrible conditions, can there be in you afterwards any reason why that love should be taken away? He rests in His love. This remains, not decays. Natural religion decays. Many things fall from us, many shakable and removable things are taken and removed by God Himself, but this remains. The love of God, it altereth not, it changeth not. “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Mal. 3:6)
This also remains the compassion of the Saviour, the compassion of Jesus Christ. “Able He is to have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way.” Compassion is relative. Compassion is the sweet tenderness of the Lord Jesus toward sinners in trouble and distress. Compassion is the pity of Christ toward an afflicted saint. Compassion will show itself, must reveal itself, cannot be content to be shut up; it must flow out in acts. Compassion comes where misery is. Has Jesus this compassion for you? Did He ever show it to you? Was that ever made good in your heart: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, saith the Lord, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem?” (Isa. 66:13) Is sin your burden and your trouble? Is doubt an affliction to you? Is fear of having no interest in God a trouble? Are your failings a trouble, your feelings a trouble? Are matters in providence a trouble? Is your heart wrung with anguish sometimes? Well, then you need compassion. Compassion is in His heart. I would not speak carelessly, thoughtlessly, but I would like to say we may welcome those troubles that make room for the compassion of Jesus Christ. Much more, this remaining matter is glory.
Come afflicted sinner, come burdened soul, come with your anguish and your troubles and your sorrows and your difficulties and your pains, and you will find that though an earthly friend fails you and really can never be of assistance to you except as an instrument, you will find that the Lord Jesus is full of compassion, able to have compassion, to sympathize with, and to succour all tempted souls. And it is very wonderful to see the cause and secret of this. What is it? “In that He Himself hath suffered.” Christ as the Man Christ Jesus, has an acquired ability to succour and sympathize with the tempted. It is written: “He is able to succour them that are tempted, in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted.” (Heb. 2:18) Because He suffered He can sympathize with sufferers. What was His suffering to the imputed sin that He had to bear? What is your suffering sin in some form? O then, His bowels will move and flow to you in some message of mercy, some touch of love, some influence of grace, so that you will find His ability to succour you is not an empty word!
This remains too in the gospel, namely the power of Christ. He is called the power of God because all God’s works in salvation are accomplished by Christ. When Paul was sorely troubled with the thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him lest he should be exalted above measure, what brought Paul to reconciliation with that trouble? What brought his will into unison with Christ’s will? What enabled him to choose the affliction with grace, rather than to miss the affliction and miss grace? It was the power of Christ that rested on him. He got that great word, you remember, after thrice seeking the Lord. The Lord said to him: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” (2 Cor. 12:7-9) So that brought him rather to glory in his infirmity that the power of Christ might rest upon him. And this is called everlasting strength. “Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” (Isa. 26:4) That will do, that will carry you through your afflictions, that will give you victory over your sins, that will enable you to submit to the will of God, that will sanctify evil to you, comfort you, support you, and give you the final victory.
This remains, and it remains for mighty works. It remains for one mighty work yet to be done, namely this to raise the bodies of His saints and “fashion them like unto His glorious body, according to the power whereby He is able to subdue even all things unto Himself.” (Phil. 3:21) This power is in Christ. What can He not do? Is there a devil He cannot subdue, rebuke, and put under your feet? Is there a sin He cannot bring down and give you victory over? All things are possible to the Lord Jesus.
His power remains; and this also let me say remains, namely, that wondrous and ever-present, never-failing Bread and Water of life for His children. Yes faith needs nourishment, and you won’t get nourishment out of what has been called “dry doctrine.” You won’t get nourishment out of notions, you won’t get nourishment in any way or from anything save the works of faith and good doctrine which are in nothing less than the flesh of Jesus Christ and His blood. You remember Paul exhorted the Hebrews to obey the ministers who ruled over them, and told them that they must do it because those ministers watched over their souls; but this is the great reason that he gives for their obedience: “Considering the end of their conversation, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” (Heb. 13:7,8) O what a subject, what a subject for the ministry, Jesus Christ as the Bread of life, Jesus Christ as having the Water of life to give, which if a man drink he shall never thirst! What a ministry must that be that is filled with Jesus Christ and the unction of the Holy Ghost! My friends, happy is the sinner who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, who can say, “As the heart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God;” (Ps. 42:1) who can never find satisfaction in anything, any subject, save this one – Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Now I mentioned at the beginning this evening, the covenant, and said that it embraced everything. Let me in concluding this part of the subject bring the covenant before you. The covenant of grace is the divine pact entered into by the Trinity; it is made for the church of God. It is the eternal love of God flowing in His free choice of His people. The agreement of the Son of God to become Man and bear the imputed sins of His people and take them away by the sacrifice of Himself. It is the agreement of the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity, to come and quicken the souls that Christ bought. And this covenant made in the Trinity, by the Trinity, remains. You remember that the Israelites were complained of by the Lord and charged by Him with breaking the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “which My covenant they brake, saith the Lord, though I was a Husband to them. But it shall come to pass after those days, saith the Lord, I will make a new covenant, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, which covenant they brake though I was a Husband unto them; but this shall be the covenant, namely I will put My laws into their mind and write them in their heart; I will be to them a God and they shall be to Me a people, and they shall no more say every man to his neighbour and to his brother, know the Lord, for all shall know Me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, for I will forgive their sins and remember their iniquities no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34) This remains, and in the Psalms you have this declaration respecting it: “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips.” (Ps. 89:34) This all-inclusive covenant holds the church; has in it the atonement and justification and sanctification and redemption. It has in it final perseverance. It has in it heaven. These things remain.
Lastly, heaven remains. The great end of the Jewish dispensation was the preaching of Christ by type and shadow and ceremony. Everything was secondary to that; the people were typical. Everything pointed as with the finger of God to Him who was to come, who was to redeem the church and be her life and her All and in all. When Christ came that passed away; it was the shadow, Christ is the body. It was a shadow of good things to come. Christ brought these good things. It was not an everlasting foundation. The priesthood was not made with an oath, and therefore could be abolished. All, all passed away. Now there remains this blessed thing – everlasting love; everlasting grace shall land His people in heaven to enjoy everlastingly the presence and the love and the goodness of God. The church must go there; as Canaan was the land of promise to the Jews, so heaven is the land of promise to the church. As Canaan flowed with milk and honey, heaven flows with eternal bliss and glory. O what a heaven remains to the people of God! It is called rest. “We which have believed do enter into rest,” (Heb. 4:3) and that is the beginning of the eternal rest of the church. Now says Paul, “That which remaineth” after the first dispensation, after that glorious display of God in the old covenant. This remains the new covenant; and if the first was glorious, how much more glorious is this remaining one! This dispensation that can know no end. What is the glory of it? Let me say in two or three words.
First, the free love of God in the sovereign gift of Christ, in the sovereign choice of His body the bride, the free love of God.
Second, the coming of Christ in Person, when according to Scripture the Son of God became incarnate; the work of that Person, the realization in His body and soul and life and death of the whole law in its length and breadth and depth and height, in its every claim, in the removing of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. In the quickening of the church by the Holy Ghost, in the application to her of the blood of Christ. This is the glory. A glorious Head, a glorious body; a glorious Husband, a glorious wife. The bride, the Lamb’s wife clothed in garments of wrought gold and needlework and brought to the King in that blessed condition. This is the glory. All the wisdom and all the greatness and all the goodness of God shine in this remaining dispensation.
Now my brethren, if we have an interest in this, what is one effect? This, namely that we are an everlasting foundation: “The righteous is an everlasting foundation.” (Prov. 10:25) God builds her. He builds for eternity, we build for a day. “Much more that which remaineth is glorious.” The beauty of God, the kindness of God, shall shine through eternity in this new covenant, in this everlasting mercy of the ever-blessed God. Well might the Holy Ghost call the gospel of Christ a glorious gospel. Well might it be called the everlasting gospel. It shall know no end. Its propagation in the world shall come to an end when the great purpose of God that it should “cover the earth as the waters cover the sea;” when the last vessel of mercy shall have been gathered; when the full purpose of God in the covenant of grace shall have been answered in the earth, even the propagation of the gospel, the preaching of it shall come to an end; but the gospel itself, the love of God and the effect of the gospel in the glorious church which shall be in heaven this, this remains. May we be found there. O to be inside this! This is heaven. But to be outside it, to be under the dominion of sin, to have no part nor lot in this matter, who can properly express the terribleness of it? Who is able to set forth the awfulness of that sinner’s condition who is outside this?
The Lord give you, dear hearers, hearts to consider your latter end, faith in the bleeding Lamb, and gather you unto His beloved Son and make you, as the Scripture speaks, branches in the living Vine, stones in the heavenly building, priests in the divine kingdom, and kings over sin and self. Amen.
Preached At Galeed Chapel, Brighton, on Lord’s day morning June 11th, 1922 – By J.K. Popham