W. T. Turpin.
Publisher: G. Morrish
2 Corinthians 3:7 — 4:9.
There is a great contrast introduced, in this third chapter, between the ministry which had its day on this earth and that ministry which is now in progress, and, I may say, very near its close. It is of importance to understand what is the character and nature of these two ministries. They are in complete contrast, the former not answering in any measure to the latter. There is a distinct and definite ministry from heaven at this present moment, which has for its object a formative character in God's people. There are two things that stand out very prominently indeed in this ministry in contrast with the former ministry and when I speak of that, of course I refer to that which was instituted on this earth at Mount Sinai, given to Moses with a distinct and highly definite purpose of God in it. These two things which mark the present ministry from the heavens are quite apart from, and not to be found in, the ministry from Sinai. They are spoken of in this third chapter, and cannot have escaped your attention: they are liberty and a formative efficiency. These are the great characteristics of the present ministry. I will speak presently of what the purpose of God is with respect to the character which this is intended to produce in God's people; but these are the two great features of it: liberty in contrast with bondage, and a formative power in contrast with the entire absence of anything of the kind in the ministry from Sinai.
To be simple about it: when the ministry of Sinai came it was embodied in the ten commandments, which were written upon tables of stone, and were given by God in the character of one who was making a demand upon man as he was, he being incompetent to answer it. That was the special characteristic of it. It was God demanding; God come to look for that which man had not to give. He looked, for instance, for righteousness, but man had none; He looked for a character suitable to Himself in the then revelation of His character, but man had not that suitability, and the consequence was that man, being unable and incompetent to render to God what God was claiming from him, fell under the condemnation and power of death which was attached to that ministry. Hence it was "the ministration of death." (Chap. 3:7.)
And that must be always a ministry of death which makes a demand upon man in the flesh. I do not care what it is; even the most exalted ministry that could be conceived from the heavens, if that ministry were to come and claim from us on the ground of what we are, it would be a ministration of death, just as the Sinai ministry was. The moment a demand is made by God upon man as he is, that instant condemnation is fixed upon the creature on whom the demand is made. That is the special mark of what we may call the Sinaitic ministry — that worn-out system which is now passed away, in God's grace. The consequence of that ministry was bondage and not liberty; hence you see the apostle, in contrasting it here in this chapter, says, "The Lord is that spirit." It should be a small s; it is not the Holy Ghost: what he means to say is that the Lord is the spirit of all that is in the Old Testament. You will find certain things represented in the former thing, in the way of types, and so on; but the spirit of it all was the Lord Himself. Then you have the Holy Ghost in the next clause: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty." This marks the new position in connection with this new ministry. The Holy Ghost is there; but if the Holy Ghost be there, then there must have been previously a ministration of the very thing that was formerly demanded, namely, righteousness; because it is the ministry of righteousness, and glory, and the Spirit, in contrast with the ministry of bondage, death, and condemnation.
Well, now, that is simple enough, at least as to the doctrinal part of it. The previous order of things, and, I may say, that which people want to revive in a mongrel way now, consisted in God making demands upon man in the flesh; and, if God do so, man must necessarily come into the condemnation which inevitably flows from it, for he has no righteousness for God. But now what comes out is this: that God, from the glory, from the very place where that blessed One is at the right hand of God, ministers to a creature upon this earth a righteousness that he had previously demanded from him. He ministers it to him, instead of looking that man should be up to the glory of God, from which he had fallen so far short. It is a ministry of glory, and of righteousness, and of the Spirit; that is, the Holy Ghost is the characteristic power of everything which is based upon this righteousness — the pedestal upon which it all stands.
But there is something more, an exceedingly blessed and important element, in this second ministry, far beyond what I have spoken of as to righteousness and the Spirit. It is its formative power; the effect of being under the ministry of glory is to be transformed into the likeness of the blessed One in whose face the glory shines. The law never did that. The law never made a man like itself; but condemned him for his unlikeness. It cursed him on account of his shortcomings; and, let me say, that if it did not do that it would cease to be the law. You will thus see the folly of taking away the penalties of the law. What good would it be if they were taken away? If you take away the penalties of the law you destroy the whole power of it. The law, without the necessary penalties, is a miserable thing, good for nothing. The principal constituent element of law, its characteristic, its very nature, was this, that it condemned men for being short of its requirements. Man was short of the chief requirements of the law of God, and it condemned him necessarily because of it.
What is it that suits a poor, wretched creature now, in the full consciousness of his shortness, and inability, and feebleness? Just this, that the very thing that he had not for God, God has for him! Man had no righteousness; God gives him righteousness. He was under bondage; God gives him liberty. He could not stand in the presence of the glory; God ministers glory to him. And the necessary consequence of that is, the formative power of which I was speaking.
I ask you affectionately, are you in the liberty of that ministry? Do you know, in your soul and in your conscience, the liberty that comes from being under that ministry? That you have got a righteousness which is suited to the presence of God, and that the glory from whence that righteousness is ministered to you, and the One in whose face the whole glory of God shines, is just the One who suits you; and beside that, as you look at that blessed One in all the glory of God where He is, do you know the transforming power and effect of that vision, producing in its feeble measure (because of the vessel upon which it acts) something of the likeness of Christ, "changed into the same image from glory to glory"?
You see, it is a wonderful thing to think of, what the purpose of God is about it; and this is where the deficiency is in every one of our souls. The thought of God is to have a people on this earth walking in the steps of His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the heavens. That is His thought, His present thought about His people; and if you and I have not in our souls the sense of that, that God is seeking to have a people upon this earth in their feeble measure the reflection of His own Son in the heaven, how can we have that communion with God which apprehends His things? If the thought of God be to have a heavenly people upon this earth, in the life of His Son, you cannot go on with this world; and if this be not God's thought, what is? If God be seeking to have a heavenly people — a people in their practices, and ways, and walk, and character, and relationships, heavenly; if that be His thought, then we cannot possibly go on with the world. I do violence at once to the purpose of God if I do.
If we mean to go on with the world, I think it would be far more honest if we said, "No, God has not such a thought in His mind at all. His purpose is to have a people here to enjoy the world as much as they can; that is His purpose." I think it is a great deal better that we should be honest with our hearts and conscience. There is nothing God hates and detests so much as unreality. The great thing that He is looking for in His people is reality, and not to be trifling with conscience about these things. Better for us to give a denial to the fact, and say, "God has no such purpose; Christ did not go up to heaven to form a people like Himself, and the Holy Ghost did not come down to keep a people like Christ." It is better to say so at once, and then go on hard and fast with the world. There is nothing so miserable and detestable as a sort of truckling with this wretched, polluted world, taking just as much of Christianity as you think will suit you. This is exactly what people are doing. They take just as much of the truth of God as they think will put some sort of status upon them; but the part that cuts them, that strips them of the thing their heart clings to, they turn it aside. It reminds me of what used to be done in days gone by, and is even now very common: people take and read the word of God — the Old Testament; they find most wonderful promises and blessings, and prospects for the Jew, and they take these to themselves with the most perfect self-complacency; but what is done with the curses? They quietly leave those. This is exactly what people are doing with their consciences in reference to the truth. They take as much of the truth of God as suits them, (what a terrible snare it is!) just as much as will make their consciences easy to go on with the devil and the world; but the part that cuts them asunder, that exposes them for their worldliness, that brings them in as short of this wonderful testimony, and shows them up with the light of God streaming upon them in all its brightness and glory — they turn aside from that. Believe me, you must either take Christianity or leave it. You cannot mix Christianity and earthly religion. This is what people are trying to do, but it is the destruction of the testimony of the people of God in these last times where it is the case. They are semi-Christians and semi-Jews. They find that God gave certain things to a people on this earth, and they take them for themselves, thus setting aside the heavenly character of the testimony committed to His saints.
But when I open such a scripture as this for instance, a scripture that shows me the beloved Son cast out of this earth, rejected, refused, and despised, spit upon by the world and the people of the world, and the glory of God put in the face of that blessed One up there whom man despised, I have no question whatever about the character of the ministry, and about the character of the glory. The very rejection of Christ upon the earth, and the very glory of Christ in the heavens, opens my heart to all the liberty that is up there, but equally shuts me up to the narrowness of His path down here. You cannot help it. And therefore I feel it is really of moment to bring people to an issue with their consciences about it; and I do feel it is a solemn thing to stand here and say it; I feel, before God, it is a very responsible thing, to speak any word for God in such a moment as this; but there is nothing that is working more mischief and more harm at the present time amongst the people of God than that sort of half-and-half bowing to the truth. There is a want of straightforward, open facing of the question with conscience, a turning aside of the edge and power of the word of God from the soul, And not only so, but some are positively seeking by the Scriptures to vindicate this degradation of the truth of God. I say it is a very solemn thing, and one which every one of us ought to seriously lay to heart. Do we really mean to be governed in our ways by the thoughts of God? May He give you and me a firmer grasp in our conscience as to what the character of the thing is that He has introduced from heaven in connection with the glorified Man up there! His purpose is to find down here on this earth a people in some little measure after the fashion of that blessed One who is in glory. That is His purpose and thought.
And therefore you get that last verse of the third chapter, which comes in in connection with this: "We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord;" not like Moses, who had his face covered that the children of Israel could not look upon it. You remember the circumstance which the Holy Ghost refers to. Moses went up to the mount to receive the tables of testimony, and when he came down the second time, his face shone; and the shining of Moses' face, as he came down, was the reflection of the condemning power of that law which man could not stand, and therefore he covered his face, not when he went in to God, but when he came out to man. Man could not look at him, because every ray that shone from that face made a demand upon man which he could not meet. But here is a more brilliant glory: a glory that shines, not from the face of a poor weak man like Moses, but the whole glory of God itself, the unsullied radiancy of His glory, the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of His own Son. Is not that a wonderful thing, that you are positively capable of looking at the radiancy of the glory of God as it streams from that blessed face? Capable of gazing at it! Why? Because we have got righteousness under our feet instead of condemnation, and the Holy Ghost in us instead of our being in bondage; and every ray of glory that shines from that blessed face in the heavens is the reflection to our souls of the completeness, and sufficiency, and fulness of His finished work the eternal pedestal of blessedness He has set us upon.
But there is more than this. As I look at that glory it has a formative power in me. I tell you, beloved brethren, and I say it to myself, as well as you, what we all stand in need of (I speak especially to those who have a genuine desire in their souls to be a little more after the power of this ministry) is, to be long enough in the presence of that blessed Christ who is glorified to catch the features of that Christ, and so have Him engraven upon the "fleshy tables of our hearts." That is what is wanted. It is not an effort. You might try to be like Christ in glory until you were worn out with trying, and you would not catch one feature of His. The very fact of your striving proves your inability. But what is it? It is a thing that nobody can explain. I do not believe you can ever convey to another what it is to sit engrossed with that blessed One who is there in glory. Who could explain? It is a thing that a person may speak of out of the fulness of his own heart; but who could convey either the satisfaction of it, or the effect of it upon oneself, individually? The word of God speaks to me of the fact, but there is no man living, nor has there been one, who could convey to another, be he ever so intelligent, or spiritual, or earnest, the sense which his heart gets while he sits as clay in the hands of that glorious potter. It is impossible to describe it, and yet it is a reality. It is a reality, that the person who sits in the company and presence of the glorified Christ, insensibly to himself, contracts moral likeness to Him.
When Moses came down from the mount, though it was the mount of condemnation, there was a glory streaming from his face which no one could look at; but there was only one man in the whole of that company who was insensible to the fact that there was glory in his face, and that was himself. Where did he get that glory? He went up and he was alone with God in the mount, and the glory, though it was a question of condemnation, was reflected upon his face when he went down. You and I, with unveiled face, no veil either on us, or on that blessed One up there (for I think the passage will bear the thought of that), there is neither a veil upon Christ nor upon us, everything is open, unveiled; and, as we by faith look at that blessed One, as we sit before Him, as we are sufficiently passive in His presence, He is engraven on our hearts by the Spirit, and when we come down there is the reflection upon us.
You know perfectly well what it is to meet a person who gives your heart the sense that he has been with Christ, who reminds you of Christ. But how seldom is it the case! What I feel so deplorable, and what one mourns over, is that, even with reference to the very best of things, we leave so much the impress of ourselves upon them, instead of Christ. That is what is so sad. In what is done for Christ, we are more impressed with the one who is doing it than the One for whom it is done. What one longs for, what one's heart yearns after, is to be just like clay in the hands of the potter, as our hymn expresses it:
"Thou art the Potter, we the clay."
God's thought is that we should be as clay, absolutely passive, so that the Potter might leave the mark of His own beautiful hands upon us. What a wonderful thing it would be if that were the case with us, as we move through these scenes of sorrow, and difficulty, and trial, and temptation, and besetment, surrounded by all that is in this poor, wretched, miserable world that the devil will head up with his masterpiece of iniquity against Christ, if we were distinguished, not so much by what we say and do, as by the way that hand governs us, controls us, guides us — the hand of the Potter. That is the meaning of this last verse of Corinthians 3. As I said before, it is not an effort, it is not grasping after something, it is not seeking to possess yourselves of anything, it is simply this — "We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image." That is the clay entirely under the hand of the blessed Potter.
It is a wonderful thing, that God should take such a thing as clay to reflect His glory in. I will speak of that more fully presently but what I want to press now is that there is this formative power in this ministry. Instead of demanding or seeking for anything from us, it brings to us from the heavens the thing we could not give, and besides that, it transforms us into the image and likeness of Christ, as we are sufficiently like clay in His hands.
Now, may I ask affectionately — and I do not want to make anybody depressed or morbid — but I ask, how much of our time do we really sit down and sit before the Lord? How much time and leisure have we, not merely from the business of this world, but even supposing our service is for the Lord, how much time have we for this that I am speaking of? Do we not know that in order that there may be great outgoings, there must be great incomings? There will be no out-shining, if there is not in-shining. What is it then? Simply this, that my heart and soul have leisure enough, both from the things without and within, to sit down in the solitude of the presence of that blessed, holy, glorious Person who is in heaven, finding my delight in Him for His own sake. Now what do you and I know about that? What do we know positively, in our own souls, of that blessed, wonderful retirement, sitting in the company of Christ, blind to all else save His beauty and His glory, deaf to every other sound but that of His voice!
"Oh for a heart submissive, meek,
My great Redeemer's throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone."
Would not a person come out from a scene like that redolent of Christ?
Some one once said to me, speaking of another, "I like to be in the company of So-and-so." I replied, "Why?" The answer was, "Because they always remind me of a third person." "Who is that?' "The blessed One in glory." Oh, what a blessed thing it is to walk through this world, and, as we meet one another, in our business, our households, or domestic relationships, to remind each other of that One in glory, to have the fulness of that Christ in measure reproduced in poor, wretched creatures like you and me! It is a most blessed thing — the most marvellous ministry that could be conceived.
Well, now, if you come to the fourth chapter, there are only three things I will speak of in connection with this ministry. They are in the seventh verse. He says "we have this treasure," and it is "in earthen vessels," and there is what is called "the excellency of the power," or, as I believe it should be, "the surpassingness of the power." These are three wonderful things to get before our thoughts.
"This treasure," what is it? I do not think the treasure is so much the estimate that my heart forms of Christ, as the value that God has found in Him. That is the reason, I believe, why it is called a "treasure." I do not deny the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is to be a treasure to His people, because you get the Scripture elsewhere: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also;" but here the treasure, which is, of course, Christ, is presented more as it is looked at from God's side. It is the treasure in God's estimation. It is what the thought of God is as to this blessed One, Christ is His treasure. How did that treasure come into the vessel? Look at the sixth verse for a moment. He says: "For God, who commanded that out of darkness light should shine, hath shined in our hearts, for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." That is the way the treasure comes in. It is not that I have possessed myself of the treasure. It is a wonderful thing — it sustains one's heart — to think of the sovereignty of the grace of God; to think of that sovereign grace in its actings as well as its purposes. How, then, did this treasure find its way into our hearts? Let me ask, how did light come into this dark world? Remember this, the sun was not the creature of the first day; it was created afterwards. How then did light come? What was the light of the first three days in the old creation? This: "God said, Let there be light; and light was." Just so spiritually in our hearts: God, in His wonderful, blessed, sovereign way of dealing, God Himself, who commanded that out of darkness light should shine, is the God who has shone in our hearts. It is not merely a ray from Him, or some emanation from Him, but God Himself shining; that is a very different thing; God Himself shining; in a man's heart, in all His blessed, illuminating power, "for, or in order to, the shining forth of the radiancy of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
Take an instance of it. This very Saul of Tarsus himself, on the road to Damascus, a persecutor, who had never had a good thought of Christ, nothing but hatred, a man who thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, suddenly, in a moment, without the slightest warning, saw "a light from heaven above the brightness of the sun," a light that put out the sun, shining in his noonday splendour, and the Saviour in glory was revealed in his soul. He is thus the living instance of the way this blessed treasure is deposited in a man's soul. Paul himself, who was writing this, is the living instance of the way in which God would command the light to shine out of darkness in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The whole glory of God is thus expressed.
And you cannot understand one single thing about the glory of God, except as you understand how it is seen in the face of Jesus Christ, and it is in the presence of that glory that my conscience is dealt with; and if you think you can learn God in any other way, you are seriously mistaken, because the moment you bring your understanding or your mind to bear upon the things of God, apart from your conscience, there is the greatest danger of shipwreck as to faith. If I really see the whole glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ, I cannot help being challenged in the depths of my conscience, and that is the blessedness of it. There are royal roads to learning in other things, but not in this. The moment you have to do with God and Christ, you are convicted, and the earliest expression of your heart in the presence of that glory must be, "I abhor myself." And yet, as I have said, this leads to confidence, and is the only thing that is formative in our hearts.
That is the first thing. Next observe where this treasure is placed; that is the second point in the verse: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." You may have often observed that when man has anything valuable, he generally encases it in something that is far more valuable. The outside coverings of man's valuable things are generally a great deal more brilliant and valuable than the thing that is inside. The casket eclipses the jewel. Not so with God. He takes His treasure, the costliest thing, the most valuable and precious to Him, and puts it in the most contemptible vessel that you could conceive, that is, a poor, fragile vessel of clay. This is what he calls an earthen vessel; a poor, perishing, fragile vessel of clay.
But then he has a purpose in this; it gives Him the opportunity of doing two things. First, His delight is to make everything of the treasure, and secondly, He is pleased to bring out the surpassingness of the power. There is not only the surpassing glory of the treasure, but the surpassing power with which He works in the vessel — the vessel broken to atoms; indeed, not worth anything until it be broken to pieces; but behind this poor vessel there is surpassing power. This, indeed, is a wonderful sight to look at. The whole power of God goes along with the poor vessel, into which He puts this treasure. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassingness of the power should be of God and not of us." But we have not only to accept the breakings that God brings upon us; but beside that, and in addition to that, we must keep the sentence of the cross, the death of Christ, which has given us liberty from the condemnation to which we were exposed — we must keep that death upon ourselves. God breaks the vessel; but we must keep the sentence of death upon it as well, in order "that the surpassingness of the power may be of God and not of us."
I do not pursue this further, but would ask you to think of these three things which are connected with this ministry: first, the vessel of clay, just what you and I are; secondly, a treasure placed in it of surpassing glory; and thirdly, a power that is surpassing in its efficiency behind it; and that power ever working in company with nothingness and weakness and self-abnegation, as well as a complete, utter, thorough denial of the flesh and the world. You cannot have power otherwise; and there is no manifestation of Christ, no shining forth of Christ, except as this vessel is entirely as clay in the hands of the potter. There is no shining in, or shining out either. It must be clay for Christ, the treasure, to shine into, and clay for the Holy Ghost to bring the features of Christ out of, so that others may see them.
The picture alluded to here is, no doubt, Gideon's army. They put the light into the pitcher, but the light never shone out until the pitcher was broken. They had to break the pitchers, and then the light shone. And no doubt the Spirit of God alludes to that fact here. You have the shining in of the glory, and you have the surpassing power working that it may shine out. These two things go together, namely, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shining into our poor earthen vessels, or pitchers, and the surpassing power of God that works through these vessels for the display of the brilliancy of Christ.
How little our hearts are really up to God's wonderful purpose in giving such a ministry as this from those opened heavens! How little of affection there is in our hearts to enter into the purpose of God and into His thought, that, in a world which rejected His Son, cast Him out, despised Him, nailed Him to the cross, there should be those who should be the expression, the manifestation, of that blessed, wonderful One whom the world rejected, but whom God glorified! Do our hearts desire that? Is that what we long for? Is that our purpose and object? Is that what we propose to ourselves? God will help us if we have such purpose of heart. Can we say to Him, I have only one desire, that I should be upon this earth a vessel in whom the display of the glory of Thy Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, should be found in every circumstance here? God delights to help us, and you will have the comfort, the sustainment, of being in communion with His thought. I do not know any greater comfort in the whole word of God. Oh, the blessedness and rest of having through grace common mind with the Lord in any little measure! God and His people of one mind about those things that relate to the glory of His Son. It is most wonderful grace on His part to bring us into such a place that we can have like mind with Him, and to enable us by such surpassing power.
Suppose I see one turning his back upon everything in this world, who looks for nothing in it, who has no interests here, who does not expect anything, and would not take anything from the world. I say, What surpassing power is displayed in that man! If I see a poor, feeble creature lying on a bed of sickness, racked with pain, the poor body pressed down with disease, morn, noon, and night, and one who might be tempted to say, What good am I, a trial to every one about me, and a burden to myself? — yet if I see, amid all the weariness and pain, instead of complaint, satisfaction; instead of querulousness, rest and quietness; instead of quickness of temper, the blessed manifestation of Christ in meekness and endurance, I say, What a surpassing power there is there!
That is what this ministry is able to do, beloved friends, and that is God's thought about us in relation to it. There is not a circumstance in life, or a detail in our history, or a position that we can be called into, whether sickness or health, pain or its absence, prosperity or loss, trial or ease, there is not a single thing too many for the one who is satisfied to be clay in the hands of surpassing power. And more than that, it is in these very circumstances that Christ is endeared to us, for He alone is our sufficiency for all. Also, it is where we are, not where we would be, that the blessed God desires to have His Son seen in us.
This is the testimony that is really lacking at this moment. Every one has heard us speak of doctrines, and we are supposed to be clear about them, but people are amazed to see so little of the doctrines practised, because they fail to see anything correspondingly in us. Oh, for that manifestation of the truth, that exhibition of Christ which would stop the mouth of the rejecter, and would commend itself to the consciences of men! And hence says the Holy Ghost, "by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." (Ver. 2.) Men would be forced to say, Though I hate those people because they are so narrow, yet at the same time my conscience is bound to give this testimony, that they seek to please God. Herein is the efficiency of the power manifested, that in every circumstance, every service, everything I have to do, I am to be an expression of the skill of the Hand that is leading me.
The Lord, by His Spirit, give our hearts to desire to be His handiwork, to say in reality, and to act it as well, Lord Jesus, take me and form me after the fashion of Thine own heart, place me where Thou wiliest, only grant me this desire, that Thou mayest be magnified in my body, whether I live or die! Oh, may our hearts prize more than ever this blessed ministry, characterised as it is by such glories as we have had before us!