In his exposition of 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, the puritan Richard Sibbes provides, in one glorious paragraph, a summary of his view of the relationship of Christ to all Scripture. He writes:

  • Christ is the scope of the whole Scriptures – from the first promise of the blessed seed, “The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head” (Gen 3:15), to the end of the book.
  • The Scriptures are nothing without Christ – law and gospel would be dead letters without Christ
  • Christ is “that Spirit” which gives life to all the Scriptures
  • Moses without Christ is but a shadow without a body, or a body without a soul.
  • Without Christ the brazen serpent, the ark, the sacrifices, and everything else are nothing because Christ is “all in all.”
  • The kings, priests, and prophets are all types of Christ
  • All the promises were made and fulfilled in Christ
  • The ceremonial law all aimed at Christ
  • The moral law drives us to Christ
  • Christ is the Spirit of all
  • The Scripture without Christ is but a mere dead thing; a shell without a kernel (p. 207).

Sibbes goes on to show how the covenant of grace under the gospel is more excellent that the administration of this same covenant in the time of the law. Notice that – Sibbes is not saying that the Old Testament was all law and the New Testament was all gospel. Rather he sees the gospel in both Testaments; but in the Old Testament, it is administered through more of a legal framework. He argues that the gospel has four excellencies in the New Testament compared with the time of the law:

1. In its scope: We all (all sound Christians) have eyes opened; all sorts of believers (Jews and Gentiles) behold His glory.

2. In its experience: We all with open face, freely, boldly, and cheerfully, look upon the glory of God in the gospel, as opposed to the bondage of ceremonies and of the law. ”In a great part they had little gospel and a great deal of law mingled with it. We have much gospel and little law. We have more freedom and liberty.”

3. In its clarity: We see Christ more clearly. We have the opportunity to see Christ in the glass of the Word and sacraments; they saw through a world of ceremonies; for them Christ was swaddled and wrapped up in a lot of types.

4. In its power: The Spirit works more strongly now; the veil has been taken away and believers are being changed from glory to glory.

I must admit it’s not always clear in what sense Sibbes is using “law” (is it the moral law? the ceremonial law? or is it the time of the law, the Old Testament?). However his basic point is clear, and he concludes by exhorting us to seriously consider the excellent time God has allowed us to live – a time in which we are able to see Christ better than our forefathers ever saw – and to respond to the Lord’s graciousness with thankfulness and obedience.

Sermon by Richard Sibbes: “Excellency of the Gospel Above the Law” from 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.  Excerpted from: Sibbes, Richard. Works of Richard Sibbes, Vol. 4:203-249.  Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001.

  • Bob Kuo

    Dr. Murray,

    I recently saw that someone has published one of Sibbes books with a similar title on Amazon called, “Glorious Freedom: The Excellency of the Gospel Above the Law” for Kindle at Is this the same content?



  • C.V.

    Thanks for a great post. My question is, what now is our relationship to the law? Since we live in a time where we can see the glory of Christ more clearly than under the old covenant, should we still look to the law as a guide to live thankful lives?

    When I read passages like Romans 7, where it says that we are dead to the law so that we might be married to another, that is Christ, and also in Romans 7: 6 it says that we have been delivered from the law so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit, and not the oldness of the letter. It appears to me that God’s word is telling us to “walk in the Spirit” and to allow ourselves to be “led by the Spirit”, and that under the New Covenant, we are to look to the Holy Spirit living within us to guide us into obedience and holiness. This becomes especially clear when we continue reading into Romans 8. The bulk of this chapter is about walking in the Spirit since we are now dead to the law.

    What is your take on these things?