The Freedom of the Spirit
2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

1. To possess the Lord Jesus Christ is to possess the Holy Ghost, who is the minister and guardian of Christ's presence in the soul. The apostle's conclusion is that those who are converted to Jesus have escaped from the veil which darkened the spiritual intelligence of Israel. The converting Spirit is the source of positive illumination; but, before He enlightens thus, He must give freedom from the veil of prejudice which denies to Jewish thought the exercise of any real insight into the deeper sense of Scripture. That sense is seized by the Christian student of the ancient law, because in the Church of Christ he possesses the Spirit; and "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

2. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ because He is sent by Christ, and for the purpose of endowing us with Christ's nature and mind. His presence does not supersede that of Christ: He co-operates in, He does not work apart from, the mediatorial work Of Christ. To possess the Holy Spirit is to possess Christ; to have lost the one is to have lost the other. Accordingly our Lord speaks of the gift of Pentecost as if it were His own second coming (John 14:18). And, after telling the Romans that "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His," St. Paul adds, "Now if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin." Here Christ's "being in" the Christian, and the Christian's "having the Spirit of Christ," are equivalent terms.

3. Freedom is not an occasional largess of the Divine Spirit; it is not merely a reward for high services or conspicuous devotion. It is the very atmosphere of His presence. Wherever He really is, there is also freedom. He does not merely strike off the fetters of some narrow national prejudice, or of some antiquated ceremonialism. His mission is not to bestow an external, political, social freedom. For no political or social emancipation can give real liberty to an enslaved soul. And no tyranny of the state or of society can enslave a soul that has been really freed. At His bidding the inmost soul of man has free play. He gives freedom from error for the reason, freedom from constraint for the affections, freedom for the will from the tyranny of sinful and human wills.

4. The natural images which "are used to set forth the presence and working of the Holy Spirit are suggestive of this freedom. The Dove, which pictures His gentle movement on the soul and in the Church, suggests also the power of rising at will above the dead level of the soil into a higher region where it is at rest. The "cloven tongue like as of fire" is at once light and heat; and light and heat imply ideas of the most unrestricted freedom. "The wind" blowing "where it listeth"; the well of water in the soul, springing up, like a perpetual fountain, unto everlasting life — such are our Lord's own chosen symbols of the Pentecostal gift. All these figures prepare us for the language of the apostles when they are tracing the results of the great Pentecostal gift. With St. James, the Christian, no less than the Jew, has to obey a law, but the Christian law is "a law of library." With St. Paul, the Church is the Jerusalem which is "free"; in contrast with the bondwoman the Christian is to stand fast in a liberty with which Christ has freed him; he is "made free from sin, and become the servant of righteousness." St. Paul compares "the glorious liberty of the children of God" with the "bondage of corruption"; he contrasts the "law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus," which gives us Christians our freedom, with the enslaving "law of sin and death." According to St. Paul, the Christian slave is essentially free, even while he still wears his chain (1 Corinthians 7:22). Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is —


1. From the first God has consecrated liberty of thought by withdrawing thought from the control of society. Society protects our persons and goods, and passes judgment upon our words and actions; but it cannot force the sanctuary of our thought. And the Spirit comes not to suspend, but to recognise, to carry forward, to expand, and to fertilise almost indefinitely the thought of man. He has vindicated for human thought the liberty of its expression against imperial tyranny and official superstition. The blood of the martyrs witnessed to the truth that, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is mental liberty.

2. In the judgment of an influential school dogma is the enemy of religious freedom. But what is dogma? The term belongs to the language of civilians; it is applied to the imperial edicts. It also finds a home in the language of philosophy; and the philosophers who denounce the dogmatic statements of the gospel are hardly consistent when they are elaborating their own theories. Dogma is essential Christian truth thrown by authority into a form which admits of its permanently passing into the understanding and being treasured by the heart of the people. For dogma is an active protest against those sentimental theories which empty revelation of all positive value. Dogma proclaims that revelation does mean something, and what. Accordingly dogma is to be found no less truly in the volume of the New Testament than in Fathers and Councils. It is specially embodied in our Lord's later discourses, in the sermons of His apostles, in the epistles of St. Paul. The Divine Spirit, speaking through the clear utterances of Scripture, is the real author of essential dogma; and we know that "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

3. But is not dogma, as a matter of fact, a restraint upon thought? Unquestionably. But there is a notion of liberty which is impossible. Surely a being is free when he moves without difficulty in the sphere which is assigned to him by his natural constitution. If he can only travel beyond his sphere with the certainty of destroying himself, it is not an unreasonable tax upon his liberty whereby he is confined within the barrier that secures his safety. Now truth is originally the native element of human thought; and Christian dogma prescribes the direction and limits of truth concerning God and His relations to man.

(1) Certainly the physical world does not teach us that obedience to law is fatal to freedom. The heavens would cease to "declare the glory of God" if the astronomers were to destroy those invariable forces which confine the movement of the swiftest stars to their fixed orbits. And when man himself proceeds to claim that empire which God has given him over the world of nature, he finds his energies bounded and controlled by law in every direction. We men can transport ourselves to and fro on the surface of this earth. But if in an attempt to reach the skies we should succeed in mounting to a region where animal life is impossible, we know that death would be the result of our success. Meanwhile our aeronauts, and even our Alpine climbers, do not "complain of the tyranny of the air."(2) So it is in the world of thought. Look at those axioms which form the basis of the freest and most exact science known to the human mind. We cannot demonstrate them, we cannot reject them; but the submissive glance by which reason accepts them is no unworthy figure of the action of faith. Faith also submits, it is true; but her submission to dogma is the guarantee at once of her rightful freedom and of her enduring power.

(3) So submission to revealed truth involves a certain limitation of intellectual licence. To believe the dogma that God exists is inconsistent with a liberty to deny His existence. But such liberty is, in the judgment of faith, parallel to that of denying the existence of the sun or of the atmosphere. To complain of the Creed as an interference with liberty is to imitate the savage who had to walk across London at night, and who remarked that the lamp-posts were an obstruction to traffic.

4. They only can suppose that Christian dogma is the antagonist of intellectual freedom whose misery it is to disbelieve. For dogma stimulates and provokes thought — sustains it at an elevation which, without it, is impossible. It is a scaffolding by which we climb into a higher atmosphere. It leaves us free to hold converse with God, to learn to know Him. We can speak of Him and to Him, freely and affectionately, within the ample limits of a dogmatic definition. Besides this, dogma sheds, from its home in the heart of revelation, an interest on all surrounding branches of knowledge. God is everywhere, and to have a fixed belief in Him is to have a perpetual interest in all that reflects Him. What composition can be more dogmatic than the Te Deum? Yet it stimulates unbounded spiritual movement. The soul finds that the sublime truths which it adores do not for one moment fetter the freedom of its movement.


1. There is no such thing as freedom from moral slavery, except for the soul which has laid hold on a fixed objective truth. But when, at the breath of the Divine Spirit upon the soul, heaven is opened to the eye of faith, and man looks up from his misery and his weakness to the everlasting Christ upon His throne; when that glorious series of truths, which begins with the Incarnation, and which ends with the perpetual intercession, is really grasped by the soul as certain — then assuredly freedom is possible. It is possible, for the Son has taken flesh, and died, and risen again, and interceded with the Father, and given us His Spirit and His sacraments, expressly that we might enjoy it.

2. But, then, we are to be enfranchised on the condition of submission. Submission! you say — is not this slavery? No; obedience is the school of freedom. In obeying God you escape all the tyrannies which would fain rob you of your liberty. In obeying God you are emancipated from the cruel yet petty despotisms which enslave, sooner or later, all rebel wills. As in the material world all expansion is proportioned to the compression which precedes it, so in the moral world the will acts with a force which is measured by its power of self-control.

3. As loyal citizens of that kingdom of the Spirit which is also the kingdom of the Incarnation, you may be really free. "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Political liberty is a blessing; liberty of thought is a blessing. But the greatest blessing is liberty of the conscience and the will. It is freedom from a sense of sin when all is known to have been pardoned through the atoning blood; freedom from a slavish fear of our Father in heaven when conscience is offered to His unerring eye by that penitent love which fixes its eye upon the Crucified; freedom from current prejudice and false human opinion when the soul gazes by intuitive faith upon the actual truth; freedom from the depressing yoke of weak health or narrow circumstances, since the soul cannot be crushed which rests consciously upon the everlasting arms; freedom from that haunting fear of death which holds those who think really upon death at all, "all their lifetime subject to bondage," unless they are His true friends and clients who by the sharpness of His own death has led the way and "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." It is freedom in time, but also, and beyond, freedom in eternity. In that blessed world, in the unclouded presence of the emancipator, the brand of slavery is inconceivable. In that world there is indeed a perpetual service; yet, since it is the service of love made perfect, it is only and by necessity the service of the free.

(Canon Liddon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

WEB: Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Spiritual Liberty
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