The Glory of the Gospel above That of the Law

Editor's note: This sermon, originally preached by Simeon, is included in Horae Homoleticae, a 21-volume collection of his works originally published in 1832. Edited slightly here for length and modern spellings.

"If that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious"(2 Cor. 3:11).

In vindicating his claim to apostolic authority, the apostle appeals to the Corinthians against the false teachers with proofs and evidences of his divine mission, since the work of God upon their hearts clearly showed that his ministrations among them had been attended with a power that was more than human (vv. 2,3,5; with 1 Cor. 9:2). By thus substantiating his title to apostolic authority, he is led almost incidentally to mention the excellency of the Gospel which he was sent to preach. Then he goes on to show that the deference due to him was all the more, in proportion to the excellency of the Gospel which he ministered to them.

Dignified as the status of Levitical priesthood was, it was not to be compared with that of those who preached the Gospel. The Law, as ministered in the "letter" of it, proved fatal to all who trusted in it, but the Gospel was a source of "life" to all who warmly embraced it. The one, as a mere "letter, killed." The other, as a quickening "spirit, gave life" (v. 6).

Having touched upon this point, the apostle now proceeds to expand it more fully with the words of this text. For a fuller understanding of this we shall consider:

I. The Different Terms by which the Law and the Gospel are Described Here
The Law is called "the ministration of death and of condemnation." As given to Adam in paradise, the Law "was ordained to life," and would have entitled him to life if he had continued to obey it (Romans 7: 10). But as it was republished by Moses, it was never intended to give man any title to life. Nor could it possibly give life, because every human being is corrupt and is incapable of giving to it perfect obedience (Galatians 3:21; Romans 8:3). The Law is a perfect transcript of God's mind and will. It makes known to man the whole extent of his duty. It requires a perfect obedience to every one of its commands. If transgressed in any one particular, it denounces death. It says to every soul of man, "The soul that sins, it shall die."

At the very time that it so rigorously demands perfect obedience, it neither imparts to man any strength for obedience, nor does it provide any remedy for a single act of disobedience. So it is called in our text "a ministration of death and of condemnation." Its voice to everyone is, "Do this and live; transgress and perish."

But as every man has transgressed it, and so can never do all that it commands, it condemns to death every child of man. As the apostle Paul has said: "As many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse. For it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the Law to do them'" (Gal. 3:10). It is not enough to desire to do them, but to do them. And not only do some, but all.

 Nor is it temporarily, but in continuance-from the first to the last moment of our lives. Nor can there be any exception in favor of someone, for everyone must stand or fall, be saved or cursed according to this law. Consequently, since everyone is born under this law, "every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19).

The Gospel is called "a ministration of righteousness and of the Spirit." Since the Law condemns all, the Gospel applies a remedy. It reveals a Savior who by his own obedience unto death has "made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in an everlasting righteousness" (Dan. 9:24). This righteousness is revealed to us in the Gospel to be apprehended by faith (Rom. 3:22).

It is actually given to, and put upon, "all who believe" in Jesus (Rom. 3:21-22). This righteousness is totally independent of any obedience to the Law on our part. It exists in Christ alone, and it is imputed to us by faith (Romans 4:5, 6). So far from being augmented by any works of our own, it is made void by the smallest dependence that we have on our own works (Gal. 2:21; 5:4). We must renounce all hope in ourselves before we can have any part in the righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:9).

So the Gospel is called "a ministration of righteousness" because it reveals righteousness commensurate with all the demands of the Law, and offers that righteousness to every man who will believe in Christ. It declares that "Christ himself is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believes" (Rom. 10:4). The Law was given as a ministration of death specifically to shut men up to this righteousness and to constrain them to seek salvation in the way provided for them (Gal. 3:22-23).

The Gospel is also "the ministration of the Spirit." In the first stages, the spirit was given in his miraculous powers to attest the truth and divine authority of the Gospel. That purpose having been fully answered, his miraculous powers are no longer exercised. But his gracious influences still continue, and will continue to the end of time. He is still sent "to convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." It is still his office "to glorify Christ," and to "take of the things that are Christ's, and to show them unto us." He still enlightens the mind and sanctifies the souls of them that believe. He is still, as the Comforter promised to the Church, operating in the saints as "a Spirit of adoption," "witnessing with their spirits that they are the children of God," and "sealing them unto the day of redemption." To no one is he imparted for these purposes except through the Gospel of Christ. But wherever the Gospel is faithfully ministered, he accompanies it with these blessed influences, producing holiness and comfort in all who truly receive it.

Thus the Gospel supplies what the Law knew nothing about. As we have said before, the Law spoke nothing of pardon to the guilty or of strength to the weak. But the Gospel administers both. And that in such an abundant measure as is adequate for all the needs of the whole world. It ministers righteousness sufficient to justify the most guilty sinner upon earth. It imparts the Spirit so that the weakest may be more than conqueror over all the enemies of his soul.

Corresponding with this description of the Law and of the Gospel were the following:

II. The Different Degrees of Glory Belonging to Each
1) The Law was truly glorious. It was proclaimed by God himself with an audible voice in the midst of such displays of glory as had never before been seen upon earth. So that it might never be forgotten, it was written also by the finger of God in tables of stone. Moreover, the person through whom it was given to Israel had such glory imparted to him that the people of Israel were no more able to look steadfastly upon his face than upon the face of the meridian sun.

While this reflected a very high degree of glory upon the Law itself, it was intended specifically to intimate to all Israel that they were unable to apprehend the full scope and the meaning of the Law (v. 13)! They thought it was a covenant by means of which they could obtain acceptance with God. Instead, it had an infinitely higher office, that "of a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). But this, which was its chief glory, they were not able to discern.

In consequence of their ignorance of its true meaning, they supposed it to be of everlasting obligation. Instead, with all its attendant rites and ceremonies, it was only to continue until Christ should come, and then to give way to a more perfect dispensation. Still, when all the circumstances associated with its declaration are considered, it was yet exceeding glorious.

2. But the Gospel was far more glorious. As imparting life, it must necessarily be far more glorious than that which only brought death. For the Law really did bring death inasmuch as if there had been no law, there would have been no transgression; consequently there would have been neither sin nor death (Rom. 4:15; 1 John 3:4).

In revealing such a way of salvation too, it is inconceivably glorious. How mysterious is the record, "that Godhas given unto us eternal life; and this life is in his Son; that whoso has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God, has not life" (1 John 5:11-12). Finally, "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we who had no righteousness might be made therighteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Well is this called "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God"! For in it are "riches" of love that are altogether "unsearchable," and heights and depths that can never be explored.

Another ground of excellence is that the Gospel also transforms the soul into the divine image. This exalts it infinitely above the Law. Instead, the Law irritates and inflames the corrupt principle within us, rather than tending to put all in subjugation to it (Rom. 7:5, 8). But the Gospel both frees us from the dominion of sin and liberates us from all its penal consequences: "The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free from the Law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2).

The Gospel also, as being God's last dispensation, will endure forever. The Law, which was only introductory to it, is completely abolished. In this respect also its superiority to the Law is therefore great and indisputable.

Comparing the two, we see the difference between them. The luster imparted by one was external, on the face of Moses. The change that is wrought by the other is internal, in the heart and in the soul. In the one, the radiance shone from only one person. In the other, it is conferred on all who believe. In the one, it passed quickly away. In the other, it is abiding, even to the end of life, and throughout eternal ages. In the one, it is veiled from the sight of all. In the other, it is to be displayed for the instruction of all, that all may see in it the hand of God (vv. 2, 3) and learn to glorify its divine author (Matt. 5: 16).

It may be said that "that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels." For in truth, although the Law shone like the starry heavens on the brightest night, the Gospel, like the meridian sun, has eclipsed its splendor and cast a veil over all its glory.

Nor let this be a matter of speculation only. For let us consider:

III. The Conduct which This Superior Dispensation Demands
1) Of Ministers. The result of these considerations upon the apostle was to make him "use great plainness of speech." Unlike Moses, he would not "put a veil upon his face" to hide any part of the splendor of this Gospel (vv. 12, 13). Instead, he would preach it with all fidelity, and by the fullest possible "manifestation of it, commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2).

This is what we must do, and it is indeed through grace our delight to do it. Yes, brethren, we declare to you freely that the Law, as a covenant of works, is abolished. A new covenant with a better Mediator and with better promises is proposed to you in the Gospel. This new covenant provides, as you have heard, righteousness for the guilty and strength for the weak. It authorizes every believer to say, "In the LORD I have righteousness and strength" (Isa.45:24).

O that we might be instrumental to bring you into a near and full acquaintance of this better dispensation! Never should we forget that our one great office is to make it known to you, and to bring you to the enjoyment of all its blessings. We would go up to the holy mount ourselves to receive it from God, and we would come down with it in our hands and in our hearts to proclaim it to you (1 Cor. 15:3; 1 John 1:1-3).

We do proclaim it to you at this moment. We do declare it to you, that the most guilty sinner in the universe may now find acceptance with God through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. We also declare that a new heart shall be givenyou, and a new spirit shall be put within you, and the whole law of God be written in your hearts, if only you will believe in him. For he will send down his Holy Spirit upon you, as he has promised, and by his gracious influences upon your soul will "cause you to keep his statutes and his judgments" (Ezek.36:25-27).

All this shall be "ministered unto you abundantly through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," if only you will come to him. Then it shall be given to you "freely, without money and without price." Your minds should be intent upon this great subject. You should seek to grow daily in its knowledge. You should come up to the house of God with the same preparation of heart to receive the Word of God from your ministers as the Israelites did to receive the Law from the hands of Moses. Your state of mind should be like that of Cornelius and his company when Peter came to preach the tidings of salvation to them: "Now are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded you of God" (Acts

10:33).

As there is no veil put over our face, so you should beg of God that no veil will remain on your hearts. The Law was hid from Israel without involving them in any guilt or danger, if only they complied with it as far as it was revealed to them. But "if the Gospel be hid from you, you must eternally perish" (2 Cor. 4:3). It is the only possible way of salvation, and it can only save by operating effectually both on the understanding and the heart (1 Thess. 2: 13). So beg God to upset the devices of Satan, who continually strives to hide this Gospel from you. Entreat him "to shine into your hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4-6).

At the same time, you must remember that in this respect the obedience that you pay must correspond with the privileges that you enjoy. Being liberated from the Law, you are freed also from all servile hopes and fears. So your service must be no longer that of a slave, but of a child. You must serve God, not in oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the Spirit (Rom.7:6). In this way you will obtain all the blessings which the Gospel is intended to impart.

For the intent of this Gospel is to assimilate you to that Savior who proclaims it to you. While you receive it from him, a portion of his splendor must cling to you so that all who behold you may see truly that you have been with Jesus. You must be "his epistle" to an ungodly world. So plainly must the characters be written on your heart and life, that they may be "known and read of all men." This writing must daily be more visible. Daily shall the radiance around you increase, if you live near to the Lord and contemplate continually the wonders of his love. For "if with unveiled face you behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, you shall be changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord" (v. 18).

Charles Simeon (1758-1836) was an influential Anglican minister based in Cambridge. He was instrumental in the founding of the Church Missionary Society and the beginnings of the Protestant missionary movement. Simeon is perhaps best remembered for his monumental volumes of sermons and his influence on the expositional homiletics of modern Evangelical preaching.

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