(Translated from the French.)
(1.) THE VAIL ON MOSES FACE.
2 COR. 3
The excellency of the ministry of the gospel consists in its simplicity. The main difficulty, both for the servant of the gospel and the hearers, lies in keeping this simplicity in view, for the ministry is generally looked upon as capable to be served only by the learned, and Christianity is for most but a tradition. "Seeing, then," says the apostle, "that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech." The excellency of the ministry consists on the one hand in the truth which it presents, and on the other in the saving grace of God which can meet the sinner, who had nothing to expect but His righteous judgment. As to the true condition of man in the presence of God, every distinction disappears before this truth: "There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:22, 23.) Once this truth is established there is no hindrance to the presentation of the word of the ministry in its power and adaptability to the lost sinner. That there is no difference in the light of the glory of God must be accepted by every servant of the new covenant. To deny the lost and ruined condition of man is, in fact, to make the death of Christ of none effect, and to rob the ministry of the new covenant of all its excellency, bringing it down to a mere system of morals. It may be allowed to be better than other systems, still it would be but one of the many resources for the moral development of man, not the sole "power of God unto salvation."
It is, therefore, of all importance to have a clear conception of the gospel. It may make it more difficult to use great plainness of speech, but not more so than in the time of Paul. He had succeeded when he had put on the same platform the pious Jew and the idolatrous Gentile, the learned Greek with the uneducated Scythian. In the present day it is just as difficult to convince Christians by birth that they must perish in their sins if they do not give up traditional Christendom for Christ, as it was for Paul to convince the Jews that they were no better than the Gentiles.
"And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished." The apostle contrasts the simplicity and boldness of his ministry - both as regards the hopeless ruin of man and the abounding, grace of God - with the dimness in which both these points were seen through the vail of Moses. This dimness had its necessary place for that time. Although God had made known His ways to Moses personally and shown him the mystery of His grace, the public ministry of Moses was that of law and not of grace. "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)
The people had thoughtlessly entered into a covenant with God when they said, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." (Ex. 19:8) "But when the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die." (Ex. 20:18, 19.) There was terror, but no dimness; Moses had no covering over his face when he descended from the mountain after his first stay of forty days. (Ex. 32) The sins of the people caused him to come down. "And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides . . . and the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables." (Ex. 32:15, 16.) Here was the covenant in the hands of the mediator; all was plain and concise. "And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount." (Ex. 32:19.) This action was full of meaning: the people had broken the covenant, and the mediator of the covenant bore testimony to it, and judgment follows. No vail was necessary on that occasion; the mediator had testified that the covenant was broken.
Afterwards he intercedes for the people, and Jehovah proposes to send an angel to bring them into the land Canaan which He had promised them. (Ex. 32:30, 34, and 33:1-3.) But this could not satisfy the heart of Moses; he is troubled, and asks Jehovah to show him His way and Himself to go with them. "If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us? So shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth. And Jehovah said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken; for thou hast found favour in My sight, and I know thee by name." Moses encouraged, and anticipating the word of Him to whom he testified - unto him that hath shall be given - continues his intercession and says, "I beseech thee, show me Thy glory." (Exod. 33:15-18.) Moses had seen the glory of God in a wonderful way when the law was given, but in the tent of the congregation erected outside the camp Jehovah had spoken with Moses face to face, "as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Ex. 33:11), and he now seeks a more excellent glory than that of the law. For behind the law - the end of the law - a way of God and a glory of God remained, and the glory of the law served only to prepare and introduce these. It was that glory which Moses had to hide, because the time of its manifestation according to the counsels of God had not yet come.
This glory revealed to Moses is in reality the glory of God in the face (i.e. in the person) of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6.) It was thus proclaimed: "I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah all before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy." (Ex. 33:19.) The sovereignty of God in grace is an essential part of His glory. Israel had destroyed itself, and their only resource remained in Jehovah Himself. (Hosea 13:9.) When all is lost, then is the time for grace to show itself, but the glory of this grace must be seen from a suitable standpoint. Moses was to be put in the cleft of the rock that he might see the glory. For this purpose Moses, after he had hewn two tables of stone like the first two which were broken, ascends the mount Sinai a second time. "And Jehovah descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Jehovah." (Ex. 34:5.) After having passed forty days and forty nights upon the mount (Deut. 10:10), Moses descended from the mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in his hand, and he knew not "that the skin of his face shone while he talked with God." (Ex. 34:28, 29.)
There is a transforming power inherent in grace. Forty days of intimate intercourse with God had exerted a wonderful influence upon Moses. On the one hand he had learnt, through the experience of his own heart, the blessing of the grace with which he had communed; on the other he remained perfectly unconscious of the visible result which was the outcome of this intercourse. Blessed are we if we know the secret of communion with divine grace. The heart is refreshed, while the believer is kept in all humble path wondering that anyone should look at him. In fact, we may be sure that we shall never be used in the service of God till we have come to count ourselves as nothing. When God makes our face to shine for others we ought to be the very last to know it.
The people fear the glory in the face of Moses more than the two tables in his hands. Such is man! He is quite ready to promise obedience to the law for his whole life, but the nearer God seeks to approach man in grace, the further he draws back. Distance from God is the natural element of man, and gladly does he remain at this distance, even when it is proclaimed that the cross has removed all hindrances, so that a sinner may approach God. Jehovah bore with a people which was under the curse of a broken law, and Moses had thus learned the way of Jehovah. But it was just this glory which he was obliged to vail, "because the children of Israel could not stedfastly look on the end of that which is abolished." (2 Cor. 3:13.) For Moses the question of human righteousness on the principle of law was settled. He could look on the end, "for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth." (Rom. 10:4.) But the majority in Israel could not look beyond the law, but sought for righteousness through it, while all the time they were under the curse. "For His own sake," not on account of their righteousness, God did bring Israel temporarily into the land, but as regards individual dealings He acted as He said to Moses, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious." Everyone, therefore, who was quickened by His grace could, according to this principle, look beyond the law and see the glory in the face of Moses.
As long as the vail remained on the face of Moses grace was necessarily hidden. But now, says the apostle, no darkness exists. The ministry is the ministry of the glad tidings of the grace of God (Eph 3:2; Acts 20:24), the glad tidings of the "glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4), the glad tidings of the blessed God. (1 Tim. 1:11.) It reveals fully the glory of this grace whose rays illuminated the face of Moses, and the tables of the law in his hand could not dim it. "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17.)
Is the proclamation of the "gospel of the grace of God" characterised in our day by this great "plainness of speech" as it was with Paul?
Is not rather the modern preaching of the gospel to he compared to Moses with the two tables of the law in his hand and with the vail hiding the glory of the grace on his face?
The present time resembles much that of the apostles as regards the acceptance of the testimony of God's free grace. Paul, writing to the faithful of the nations, speaks of the vail on Moses' face. Legal righteousness, ceremonial holiness, philosophical wisdom form equally great hindrances to the acceptance and understanding of the grace of God. Modern Christendom in its main characteristics makes the vain attempt to unite the principles of law and grace. The upshot is a conventional righteousness, for grace and formality result only in obedience to traditions and commandments of men and in self-willed ministry, just as grace and wisdom result in philosophy and vain deceit. (Compare Gal. 5 and Col. 2) All these are but reproductions of Moses with the two tables of the law in his hand and the vail on his face. This is manifest in a remarkable way when we think what importance is given to the tables of the law in the chief religious systems. The doctrine of grace may be expressed with much clearness and conciseness in so-called articles of faith, and may be preached with full understanding from the pulpits. But all this clearness of exposition is much darkened through a ritual which establishes legal righteousness and ascribes a certain efficacy to sacraments. There are many true servants of God who proclaim solemnly that man must be born again to see or enter into the kingdom of God, and who testify to the cross of Christ as the sole power of salvation for sinners. Yet when they minister the sacraments they are like Moses with the vail on his face, and the precious grace which they had preached with great joy and to the edification of many must be kept in the background.
May the Lord give grace to all His servants who labour in the ministry, that they may always be and remain in the position where they may be able to use great plainness of speech.
(2.) THE VAIL DONE AWAY IN CHRIST.
We cannot sufficiently admire the wisdom of God who has given us a detailed history of Israel, for it is written especially "for our admonition." It shows clearly and distinctly that man is unable to preserve. his position before God when he is put under responsibility. Yet the whole history cannot produce this conviction in the conscience; only the quickening power of the Spirit of God can show man his hopeless ruin brought about through sin. But once truly convicted of sin, he is able to profit by the teaching of the history of Israel as to the fruitlessness of the law. "He that is spiritual judgeth all things." (1 Cor. 2:15.)
But their history teaches us yet more. It shows us in an especial manner the blinding power of traditional religion, even where it is connected with an originally divinely-appointed organisation. Such a system tends only to blind man as to his position before God. "Their minds are blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament." (2 Cor. 3:14.) Their own history in the desert, the song of Moses in testimony against them (Deut. 32), the testimony of Samuel against the evil of the priesthood, the ministry of the prophets bringing low their pride (Hosea 6:5), while strengthening the saints for the fight through His gracious promises, the captivity of Babylon and the deliverance, the renewal of the word of the Lord through John the Baptist (Luke 3:2), and that after a sad silence of 400 years, the ministry of the Lord Himself; and later that of His apostles with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, all was unavailing to remove the vail from the face of Moses. "Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart." (2 Cor. 3:15.)
The vail can be taken off the face of Moses only under one condition. Moses and Elias appeared with Jesus at His transfiguration on the holy mount, but disappeared at these solemn words, "This is My beloved Son: hear Him." (Luke 9:28-36.) Taught of God, we come to Jesus, and then learn to look back upon Moses. We must do this before we can look from Moses to Christ with intelligence and profit. If we know the Lord, the vail drops from the face of Moses, "which is done away in Christ." (2 Cor. 3:14) After the disciples had seen the Lord risen from the dead, He opened their understanding that they might know the Scriptures. "And He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me." (Luke 24:44.) The conversion of Paul the Pharisee to the faith of Jesus presents us with a remarkable example of the removal of the vail in Christ. From the moment that the Lord appeared to him on the way, and that he saw that the Jesus of Nazareth, against whom he verily thought that he ought to do many things (Acts 26:9), was in truth the Lord of glory, from that moment the vail was removed from the face of Moses as well as from his own heart. The same man, who was more zealous than, all his contemporaries for the religion of his fathers, was made especially competent, after he had in his own heart learned the reality (the body of Col. 2:17), to show others the danger of keeping to the shadow when the body had been revealed. He too could clearly see the glorious end which previously had been proclaimed in the shadows of the law, viz., "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth" (Rom. 10:4), for the law and the prophets prophesied until John.
The vail was taken off in Christ in such a way that Paul could show the Jews through the history of the people of Israel the sovereign grace of God towards them as a nation, and at the same time prove that as a nation they never could hope to stand before God under the law, as they had imagined in their foolishness. Likewise, the apostle could throw down from their lofty station those who said, "We know that God spake unto Moses" (John 9:19), and show that they had as little claim to the glory of God as the sinner of the Gentiles. "For He saith unto Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Rom. 9:15.)
The true character of Moses' ministry as the mediator of the old covenant could only be known by a man in Christ after the vail had been removed from the face of Moses. A man who thus is under grace can not only see the glory of this grace under the vail on the face of Moses, but also understand, through the removal of this vail, the true character of the law as the ministration of death and judgment. "Do we make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law." (Rom. 3:31.) The man in Christ fully owns the authority of the law; he owns that for the man in the flesh the law can only mean death and judgment, and thus establishes the authority of the law. "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good." (Rom. 7:12.) For the man in Christ the law has been established, because Christ has magnified it both in life and death. "Jehovah is well pleased for His righteousness' sake; He will magnify the law, and make it honourable." (Isa. 42:21.) Christ was "made under law, to redeem them that were under law." (Gal. 4:4, 5.) The introduction into the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free - the liberty of worship - gives us a true insight into the bondage from which they had been set free, and into the curse from which they had been redeemed. Those who know these things would not like to frustrate the grace of God, nor make the death of Christ of none effect by going back to the law for help, for they have learned that nothing but the fullest grace could meet their needs. The vail has been removed from the face of Moses, and now grace shines out in clear, bright rays.
To the man in Christ the removal of the vail from the face of Moses is of special importance, because that which was before an insupportable yoke becomes thereby a living reality. See how Peter speaks of it: "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (Acts 15:10, 11.) When Peter knew the Lord this whole system, with its heavy yoke of carnal ordinance, was imbued with living power. The moment the vail fell from the face of Moses all the solemn commandments about sacrifices, priesthood, order, fat, etc., became "living oracles"; they all spoke of Christ. The law itself was a prophecy. The shadow received - now that the body, Christ, had appeared - a meaning and an interest, while by itself it had been uninteresting and insupportable. The shadows can now with profit be used to show the reality, i.e. the manifold riches of the graces of Christ, for "the body is of Christ." (Col. 2:17.) But to impose them again as duties would be to deny Christ, or to imitate them as examples would be to put those far off again who "were made nigh through the blood of Christ." (Eph. 2:13.)
In Christ, the true Rock cleft for us, the glory of God is manifested and His name proclaimed, "if so be that ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Peter 2:3); and here is this grace, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious." (Ex. 33:19, 22.) "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4, 5.) This is the easy yoke and the light burden which Jesus lays upon those who follow Him, and this is their true honour and glory. They are justified, sanctified, and a royal priesthood, therefore able to show forth the praises of Him who hath called them "out of darkness into His marvellous light." Every dimness regarding Moses is gone; the law is now apprehended as that which only ministers condemnation; and instead of making it of none effect by accommodating it to man, it is now seen to reveal the total ruin of man.
The prophetic character of the law is not only made plain, but also rejoices the heart, showing us in beautiful types "the good things to come" which we already enjoy in Christ. Yet the types remain far behind the reality; they are only shadows, not the things themselves, just as a portrait representing a beautiful scene remains far inferior to the scene itself. The vail is done away in Christ, and Moses shows himself as the herald of grace - grace in electing love, grace which quickens the sinner dead in trespasses and sins, grace which opens the eyes to see the glory of Christ in His Person and in His work, grace which is the way of God bearing the misery of the people, in short, "grace which reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 5:21.)
There are two things of deepest importance for us. We read: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3.) A man thus quickened feels the power and knows the blessing of the commandment: "Look unto Me, and be ye saved." (Isaiah 45:22.) He that is born of God finds alone rest by looking away from himself to Christ. For him Jesus the crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God. But when led on through the Holy Spirit in the teaching of the cross, he understands too the truth about the substitution of Christ, viz., that God "hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21), then is the one who is born of the Spirit capable of viewing the thin,, from another standpoint. He can then turn his looks back from Christ to himself, from that which grace has made him in Christ to that which he finds himself to be through painful experience. Christ becomes for him the true light, and he himself "light in the Lord." The man, new born, is thus able to solve the contradictions which he finds in himself, and to justify God in His ways of grace.
(3.) THE VAIL ON THE HEART OF ISRAEL.
The people of Israel, in spite of their vaunted veneration of Moses, did not in reality receive him as the messenger of God. They rejected him in Egypt, saying, "Who made thee a prince or a judge over us?" (Exodus 2:14.) And afterwards, when, sent of God, he presented himself again with the manifest tokens of the reality of his mission, they murmured against him again and again. At the close too he bears testimony to them, "Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you." (Deut. 9:. 24.) "For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord; and how much more after my death?" (Deut. 31:27.) But when Jesus, "the true and faithful witness," "the true light," came, the Jews rejected His claims by putting forth those of Moses. This is one of the traits of the evil heart and perverted will of man. He refuses constantly to own the rights of God. Despisers of His grace in Christ, they pretend to own His rights in the law, and use the law to reject Christ. But Jesus would not admit the pretended submission of the Jews to Moses: "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me. But if ye believe not his writings, how can ye believe My words?" (John v. 40-47.) The vail was upon their hearts when they read Moses.
The gospel of the grace of God is the revelation of the glory of God in the person and the work of His Son Jesus Christ. It is the perfect expression of that name which God had proclaimed to Moses. (Exodus 34:6.) The word, "true and worthy of all acceptance," is, "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (1 Tim. 1:15.) The only ground on which God addresses man in the ministry of reconciliation is that he is a lost sinner. Peter told Israel as a people, "Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities." (Acts 3:26) But in spite of the clearness of the testimony the vail remained upon their heart; they looked constantly to Moses. They confirmed their national crime when they rejected the Holy Ghost who spoke to them through Stephen, and killed him, as they had before denied and killed the Son.
When the apostle of the Gentiles was called, he testified of the perfect glory of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38, 39.) But the vail remained on their hearts. "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." (Acts 13:46.)
Let us turn now our attention to a truth which is much represented in our days, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." (Zech. 4:6.) It is possible to preach the gospel of the grace of God in a very full and clear manner; but while it is opened to those "that find knowledge" (Prov. 8:9), it remains as to its true meaning, hid without the quickening, power of the Spirit, and the grace is not apprehended. In the same manner we may be forced through the clearness of the exposition to accept with the understanding the doctrine of the grace, and all the time the heart remain unconscious of its own needs, and show soon that it rejects the grace of God, and that independence instead of boast in Christ is its sole principle. When the Lord said to the Jews who had been attracted by His miracles, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting, life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for Him hath God the Father sealed," what did they answer? "What shall we do that we might work the works of God?" (John 6:27, 28.) Man with the vail upon his heart is ready to do, but refuses a God who gives. He is ready to labour honestly and diligently to establish his own righteousness, but refuses to submit himself to the righteousness of God. To submit is to own God's grace, i.e. that God of His own free gift, for His own sake, can give to man what he did not deserve, and what he had no right to demand of God. The vail must be taken from his heart to see these things, and then the vail drops at the same time both from his heart and from the face of Moses.
"Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away." (2 Cor. 3:16) There is only one power which can turn the evil heart of Israel to the Lord; miracles are for this powerless. The history of that people was full of miracles from the beginning; nevertheless they were "a perverted and crooked generation." When Jesus in His great condescension invited them to come to Him, He adds, "But I said unto you, that ye also have seen Me, and believe not." (John 6:36) Although Jesus had spoken to them "as never man spake," the servants who testified this of Him were interrupted angrily by the religious leaders, "Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?" (John 7:46-49) They had been eye witnesses of His miracles, "but though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him." (John 12:37.) And when the Holy Ghost came down from heaven as witness of the glory of Him whom they had crucified, enabling uneducated and ignorant men to testify of Him with such clearness and boldness, they are reminded of the word, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye." (Acts 7:51.) What more could God do for Israel that He had not done? They are without excuse and righteously afflicted with blindness till this day.
But though the Lord could do no more for Israel, He can for His own sake do the wonderful work in them of turning their hearts to Himself. And this will happen. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you." (Ezek. 36:25, 26.) "I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for Mine holy name's sake." (v. 22.) "Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel." (v. 32.) The Spirit quickens. God alone has life in Himself; He alone can communicate life. The Spirit, where He works for salvation for this ministry, opens the eyes to see and the ears to hear, and then the vail is removed from the heart and the heart is won for the Lord.
But is it only a question of Israel, or are not the words of the apostle also addressed to us and meant for our instruction? Often we learn our position best when we see it mirrored in that of others. Surely not without a purpose does the apostle, through the Holy Spirit, refer to the future conversion of Israel when writing to the converted of the nations. The Corinthians might easily think that a cultivated civilisation could only be advantageous to the cause of the gospel. But Paul refuses such an auxiliary from the outset. His testimony among them was "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1 Cor. 2:4, 5.) Those wise Greeks had drawn the line of civilisation, and considered those barbarians who stood outside of this line. But their wisdom was linked with the grossest superstition.
In distinction to the wise Greek is the pious Jew who testified to the oneness of the Godhead. But the testimony of Paul was the same to both, although they stood opposed to one another, "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." (1 Cor. 1:23) The vail was on the heart of the latter as well as of the former; they were equally opposed to the doctrines of grace. The apostle counted solely upon the power of God to remove the vail and to open the way for the reception of His testimony. When the Lord Jesus was on the point of leaving His disciples, He gave them the promise, "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning." (John 15:26, 27) This double testimony is equally necessary, viz., the testimony of the servants of God and the quickening testimony of the Spirit. The clearest exposition and the most pointed proofs are unavailing without the quickening power of the Spirit. And because He is the Spirit of truth, He boars testimony in the soul which is quickened by Him, "because the Spirit is truth." (1 John 5:6-10.)
Although there may be individual cases in which God sends a "strong delusion, that they should believe a lie," it cannot yet be said that the great mass of nominal Christians has been given over to delusion in the judgment of God as Israel has been. Yet morally an equally dense vail rests upon the hearts of the great bulk of those who call themselves Christians, as regards the true gospel, as on the heart of Israel in respect of the coming Messiah. Leaving out popery, which has evidently an anti-Christian character, how does it stand with the great number of Protestants by birth and tradition, even with those who read the New Testament, if it is really read at all? The Holy Scriptures are read by the light of tradition, i.e. with a mirror, which alone is sufficient to make the Word of God void and of none effect. They are read like the writings of any human author, whereas this Word comes to man with divine authority, representing God's thoughts and demanding the obedience of faith; or else one looks in the Holy Scriptures for accounts, annals, histories, without heeding in the least the truths connected with the facts, i.e. the teaching of the gospel. Therefore they may be read without the living power of the Spirit being in the least felt - a power which speaks to sinners or disciples now as directly as in the first days of the Church, when this Word issued from the lips of the Lord or of His apostles. (Heb. 2:3.) And thus the word becomes true: "The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." (2 Cor. 3:6.)
Christianity exists, the presence of the Church is owned; but these two facts only help to keep the vail on the heart when the New Testament is read. To hold fast Christianity as known, to confess one or other of its many forms of worship, is generally considered sufficient to make a Christian. But there is little desire to know God as revealed in Christ. The foundation principles of the gospel are dimmed or made powerless through human additions. The strife between Protestants and Catholics is more regarding the senselessness of the Catholic faith than regarding the vital question of saving faith as it was at the time of the Reformation. Unto this day the vail is upon the mass of the Protestants when they read the Holy Scriptures. They stumble at the threshold: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) Allowing the fullest value to sound criticism, recognising all the light which the discoveries of recent travellers have thrown on Holy Scriptures, and accepting thankfully the many helps which are offered to the student of Scripture, yet we maintain that all these things by themselves are powerless to remove the vail from the heart. The law could not give life, and these things can do it just as little. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth." (John 6:63.)
In this, as in many other cases, the Lord is above men: "Now the Lord is that Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:17.) God allows man to bring out all his resources to make evident the distance which exists between man and God. Thus in this particular case, where the gift of life is in question, the line of separation is drawn very clearly. "I am the life," says Jesus; "I am [not shall be] the resurrection and the life." "The Son quickeneth whom He will." "The last Adam is a quickening spirit." "The life is the light of men." The quickened soul sees in the Lord Jesus the salvation of God.
When the Lord spake with Nicodemus the subject was, so to speak, "man." "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast-day, many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man. But there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night and said unto Him, Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles which thou doest except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 2:23-25; 3:1-3.)
Nicodemus is presented to us as an honest man who values the miracles of the Lord rightly and owns that they confirm His divine mission. Nicodemus was "ruler of the Jews," one of the religious authorities of that day; yet at the very outset he meets with a statement which confounds him. The vail was on his heart, and he hesitates (an instance of the curious inconsistency of man) to accept a doctrine, although presented by One whom he owns "a teacher come from God," because this doctrine silenced his understanding. It is therefore possible to accept the mission of Jesus, supported as it is by glorious, incontestable proofs; but without the quickening power of the Holy Ghost it is impossible to accept the doctrine. Only he who is born again can see and believe that the same Person can be teacher and doctrine at the same time.