The Spirit Transforming
2 Corinthians 3:18
Just as there are certain verses in the Old Testament and the Gospels which give us a miniature of the redemptive work of Christ for God’s people—such, for example, as Isaiah53:5 and John 3:16—so in the Epistles there are some condensed doctrinal declarations which express in a few words the entire work of the Spirit in reforming, conforming, and transforming believers. 2 Corinthians 3:18 is a case in point: "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." This important passage supplies a brief but blessed summary of the progressive work of grace which is wrought in the Christian by the indwelling Spirit. It focuses to a single point the different rays which are emitted by the various graces which He communicates to them, namely, that wherein the saint is slowly but surely conformed unto and transfigured into the very image of the Lord.
There are many parts in and aspects of the Spirit’s work in reforming, conforming and transforming the believer, but they are here epitomized in one brief but most comprehensive statement, which we now propose to examine and expound. As an aid to this, let us proceed to ask our verse a number of questions. First, exactly what is meant by "the glory of the Lord," into "the same image" of which all believers "are changed"?—are—not, "shall be." Second, what is "the glass" in which we are beholding this glory? Third, what is denoted in the we are "changed into the same image from glory to glory." Fourth, what is the force of "we all with open face" are beholding this glory? Finally, how does the Spirit of the Lord effect this great change in believers? Are they entirely passive therein, or is there an active co-operation on their part?
Perhaps it will help the reader most if we first give brief answers to these questions and then supply amplifications of the same in what follows. The "glory of the Lord" here signifies His moral perfections, the excellencies of His character. The "glass" in which His glory is revealed and in which those with anointed eyes may behold it, is the Holy Scripture. Our being "changed into the same image" has reference to our sanctification, viewed from the experimental side; that it is here said to be "from glory to glory" intimates it is a gradual and progressive work. Our beholding that glory with "open face" means that the veil of darkness, of prejudice, of "enmity," which was over our depraved hearts by nature, has been removed, so that in God’s light we now see light. The Spirit effects this great change both immediately and mediately, that is, by His direct actions upon the soul and also by blessing to us our use of the appointed means of grace.
"The glory of the Lord." This we have defined as His moral perfections, the excellencies of His character. The best theologians have classified God’s attributes under two heads: incommunicable and communicable. There are certain perfections of the Divine Being which are peculiar to Himself, which in their very nature cannot be transmitted to the creature: these are His eternity, His immutability, His omnipotence, His omniscience, His omnipresence. There are other perfections of the Divine Being which He is pleased to communicate, in measure, to the unfallen angels and to the redeemed from among men: these are His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His holiness, His righteousness, His wisdom. Now, obviously, it is the latter which the Apostle has before him in 2 Corinthians 3:18, for believers are not, will not, and cannot be changed into the "same image" of the Lord’s omniscience, etc. Compare "we beheld the glory ... full of grace and truth" (John 1: 14)—His moralperfections.
The "glass" in which the glory of the Lord is revealed and beheld by us is His written Word, as is clear by a comparison with James 1:22-25. Yet let it be carefully borne in mind that the Scriptures have two principal parts, being divided into two Testaments. Now the contents of those two Testaments may be summed up, respectively, in the Law and the Gospel. That which is outstanding in the Old Testament is the Law; that which is preeminent in the New Testament is the Gospel. Thus, in giving an exposition or explanation of the "glass" in which believers behold the Lord’s glory, we cannot do better than say, It is in the Law and the Gospel His glory is set before us. It is absolutely essential to insist on this amplification, for adistinctive "glory of the Lord" is revealed in each one, and to both of them is the Christian conformed (or "changed") by the Spirit.
Should anyone say that we are "reading our own thoughts into" the meaning of the "glass" in which the glory of the Lord is revealed, and object to our insisting this signifies, first the Law,we would point out this is fully borne out by the immediate context of 2 Corinthians 3:18, and what is found there obliges us to take this view. The Apostle is there comparing and contrasting the two great economies, the Mosaic and the Christian, showing that the preeminence of the one over the other lay in the former being an external ministration (the "letter"), whereas the latter is internal (the "spirit"), in the heart; nevertheless, he affirms that the former ministration "was glorious" (v. 7), and "if the ministration of condemnation beglorious" (v. 9), "for even that which is made glorious" (v. 10), "if that which was done away was glorious" (v. 11)—all being explained by the fact that the glory of the Lord was exhibited therein.
In the "glass" of the Law the Lord gave a most wondrous revelation of His "glory." The Law has been aptly and rightly designated "a transcript of the Divine nature," though (as is to be expected) some of our modems have taken serious exception to that statement, thereby setting themselves in opposition to the Scriptures. In Romans 8:7 we are told "the carnal mind is enmity against God," and the proof furnished of this declaration is, "for it is not subject to the Law of God," which, manifestly, is only another way of saying that the Law is a transcript of the very character of God. So again we read, "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7:12): what is that but a summarized description of the Divine perfections! If God Himself is "holy and just and good" and the Law is an immediate reflection of His very nature, then it will itself be "holy and just and good." Again, if God Himself is "love" (1 John 4:8) and the Law is a glass in which His perfections shine, then that which the Law requires, all that is required, will be love, and that is exactly the case: Matthew 22:37-39.
What a word is that in Exodus 24:16, "And the glory of the LORD abode upon Mount Sinai." Yes, the glory of the Lord was as really and truly manifested at Sinai as it is displayed now at Mount Zion—that man in his present state was unable to appreciate the awe-inspiring display which God there made of His perfections, in no way alters that fact, for He is a God to be feared as well as loved. In the "glass" of the Law we behold the glory of the Lord’s majesty and sovereignty, the glory of His government and authority, the glory of His justice and holiness. Yes, and the "glory" of His goodness in framing such a Law which requires us to love Him with all our hearts, and for His sake, His creatures, our neighbors as ourselves.
But the "glory of the Lord" is further manifested in the "glass" of the Gospel, in which God has made a fuller and yet more blessed revelation of His moral perfections than He did at Sinai. Now the Gospel necessarily implies or presupposes the following things. First, a broken Law, and its transgressors utterly unable to repair its breach. Second, that God graciously determined to save a people from its curse. Third, that He purposes to do so without making light of sin, without dishonoring the Law, and without compromising His holiness—otherwise, so far from the Gospel being the best news of all, it would herald the supreme calamity. How this is effected, by and through Christ, the Gospel makes known. In His own Son, God shines forth in meridian splendor, for Jesus Christ is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His Person. In Christ the veil is rent, the Holy of Holies is exposed to full view, for now we behold "The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6).
In the Gospel is displayed not only the amazing grace and infinite mercy, but also and mainly the "manifold wisdom" of God. Therein we learn how grace is exercised righteously, how mercy is bestowed honorably, how transgressors are pardoned justly. God did not deem it suitable to the honor of His majesty to sovereignly pardon sinners without a satisfaction being offered to Himself, and therefore did He appoint a Mediator to magnify the Law and make it honorable. The great design of the incarnation, life and death of Christ, was to demonstrate in the most public manner that God was worthy of all that love, honor and obedience which the Law required, and that sin was as great an evil as the punishment threatened supposed. The heart of the glorious Gospel of Christ is the Cross, and there we see all the Divine perfections fully displayed: in the death of the Lord Jesus the Law was magnified, Divine holiness vindicated, sin discountenanced, the sinner saved, grace glorified, and Satan defeated.
The Unregenerate See It Not
Though the glory of the Lord be so plainly revealed in the two-fold "glass" of the Law and the Gospel, yet the unregenerate appreciate it not: concerning the one it is said, "But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart" (2 Cor. 3:15); and of the latter we read, "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Cor. 4:4). The unregenerate are blind to the loveliness of the Divine character: not that they have no eyes to see with, but they have deliberately "closed them" (Matthew 13:15); not that they are not intellectually convinced of the Divine perfections, but that their hearts areunaffected thereby. It is because man is a fallen depraved and vicious creature that he is not won by "the beauty of holiness."
"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Clearest possible proof of this was furnished when the Word became flesh and tabernacled among men. Those who had been "born of God" (John 1:13) could say, "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). But different indeed was it with those who were left in their natural state—they, notwithstanding their education, culture, and religion, were so far from discerning any form or comeliness in Christ, that they cried, "Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil" (John 8:48). Yet it is as plain as a sunbeam that the blindness of the Pharisees was due neither to the lack of necessary faculties nor to the want of outward opportunities, but entirely to the perverted state of their minds and the depraved condition of their hearts—which was altogether of a criminal nature.
From what has just been pointed out, then, it is plain when the Apostle declares, "but we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18), that a miracle of grace had been wrought in them. As spiritual blindness consists in an absence of relish for holy beauty—which blindness is capable of being greatly increased and confirmed through the exercise and influence of the various corruptions of a wicked heart, and which Satan augments by all means in his power—so spiritual sight is the soul’s delighting itself in Divine and spiritual things. In regeneration there is begotten in the soul a holy taste so that the heart now goes out after God and His Christ. This is referred to in Scripture in various ways. It is the fulfillment of that promise "And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God" (Deut. 30:6).
This new relish for spiritual things which is begotten in the soul by the immediate operations of the Spirit is also the fulfillment of, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26); and of, "I will give them an heart to know Me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be My people" (Jer. 24:7). So also, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped" (Isa. 35:5). Of Lydia we read, "Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14). To the Corinthian saints the Apostle wrote, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts" (2 Cor. 4:6). In consequence thereof, the happy subjects of this work of Divine grace perceive and relish the holy character of God and are enamored with His perfections. (Please click here to continue reading, "The Spirit Transforming")