2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
I. NOTE THE GREAT PRINCIPLES IN THE TEXT.
1. Christianity is a spirit.
(1) There is a "letter" and a "spirit" in everything. These two things are quite distinct. The letter may be changed, the spirit may be unchangeable. The same spirit may require for its expression to different minds different letters. The spirit may not only cease to be represented, but may be positively misrepresented, by its form. Christ, e.g., enjoined the washing of one another's feet where washing the feet was a common service; but we smile at the professed obedience to this precept every year of his holiness of Rome.
(2) The Old Testament was a letter in which there was a spirit. The very idea of a letter supposes that something is written. And, further, that spirit, so far as it went, was the same as in the gospel; the law represented the same ideas and sentiments as the gospel, but in a different way, and with different results, so as to justify the calling of one a "letter" and the other a "spirit." The first, though not without spirit, had more letter in it; and the second, though not without letter, has more spirit in it. Christianity is like a book for men, which assumes many things that children must have in most explicit statement. It is more suggestive than explanatory, trusts more to conscience than to argument, and appeals more to reason than to rule. Its doctrines are principles, not propositions; its institutions are grand outlines, not precise ceremonies; its laws are moral sentiments, not minute directions.
2. Christ is the Spirit of Christianity.
(1) The fact of there being a revelation at all is owing to Christ. But for Him the beginning of sin would have been the end of humanity, But God had, in anticipation of the fall, devised a plan of redemption. Forfeited life was continued because of Christ. Whatever was done was for Him. The great events of past times were preparatory to Him. Prophets spoke of Him, kings ruled for Him, priests typified Him. According to Christ's contemplated work men were treated. But if the law was through Christ as its grand reason, how much more is the gospel! For now He is not the secret but the revealed agent of God's providence. What was done before was done because of Him, what is done now is done directly by Him. He realised the conceptions expressed by Judaism, made its figures facts, its predictions history.
(2) Christ is the Spirit of Christianity, as He is the personal representation of its truths. The gospel is Christ. It shines in Him as in a mirror, it lives in Him as in a body. Is God the prime idea of all religion? "He that has seen Me has seen the Father." Is the moral character of God as important as His existence? Behold "the image of the invisible God" as "He goes about doing good." Is reunion with God the great need of humanity? It is consummated in the Incarnation. Do we want law? "Walk even as He walked." Do we die? "Christ, the firstfruits of them that slept." Are we sighing for immortality? "This is the eternal life."(3) The Holy Spirit, by whom spiritual blessings are conveyed, is emphatically the Spirit of Christ. This Spirit, the closest and most quickening contact of God with our souls, is the fruit of the reconciliation with God effected by Christ. That effected, Christ went to heaven that He might give us this "other Comforter, even the Spirit of truth."
3. Christ, as the Spirit of Christianity, is the Spirit of liberty." The genius of a spiritual life is to be free. "The law was not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient." The more spiritual men are, the less do they require external regulations; and one of the most striking features of Christianity is its comparative freedom from such. It is a "law of liberty," in the sense of leaving us at liberty upon many points; moral excellence is its requirement, not ceremonial exactness. Its law is summed up by love to God and man. You do not need to fetter a loving child with the rules you lay upon a hireling. The gospel is spiritual in its form, because it is spiritual in its power. In the following verse a sublime truth is set before us. The liberty of the gospel is holiness. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death": only the Spirit can do this. The letter may keep sin down, but the spirit turns it out. The letter may make us afraid to do it, the spirit makes us dislike to have it. And is not that liberty, when we are free to serve God in the gospel of His Son, free to have access to Him with the spirit of adoption, free to run the way of His commandments, because "enlarged in heart"? He is the slave whose will is in fetters; and nothing but the Spirit, the Lord, can set that free.
II. THE SUBJECT IS FRUITFUL IN REFLECTIONS AND ADMONITIONS.
1. The text is one of a large class which intimate and require the divinity of Christ. The place assigned to Christ in the scheme and providence of God is such that only on the supposition of His Divine nature can it be understood and explained. Destroy Him, take Him away, and you do not merely violate the language, but annihilate the very life of God's covenant. If Christianity be what we are accustomed to regard it, He who is its Spirit, in the way and for the reasons which itself explains, can be no other than the "true God and eternal life."
2. We see the greatness of the privileges with which, as Christians, we have been favoured, and the source of their derivation. The apostles do employ language severely depreciating in its tone, when contrasting previous economies with our own. "Darkness," "flesh," "letter," "bondage," "the world," are set against "light," "spirit," "grace," "liberty," and "the kingdom of God" and "of heaven." And the reason of our being so blessed is to be found in Christ. Shall we not be grateful? And shall not gratitude express itself in holiness? "Ye are not under the law, but under grace," and the great worth of this position is in the facilities for sanctification which it affords.
3. Let us give to the personal element in Christianity its proper place and power. In the apostles' writings there was an indestructible connection of every principle of the gospel with the personal Christ. Everything was "in Him." Christ was Christianity. He is "the Truth," "the Way," "the Life," the "peace," "hope," and "resurrection" of men; He is their "wisdom," "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption." Religion is not merely a contemplation of truth, or a doing of morality; it is fellowship with God and with His Son. We are to love Christ, not spiritual beauty; to believe in Christ, not spiritual truth; to live to Christ, not spiritual excellence.
4. Our subject instructs and encourages us in connection with the diffusion of our religion through the earth. The gospel is a spirit. Well, indeed, might we despond, when contemplating the powers of darkness, if we could not associate with our religion the attributes of spirit. But, said Christ, "the words that I speak unto you are spirit and life." And our subject also teaches charity. Can there be any heart unaffected when the promise of "liberty," in its highest state and completest measure, is before us? Can you dwell upon the hard bondage of the souls of men, both in civilised and uncivilised conditions, and not long to "preach deliverance to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound"?
(A. J. Morris.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.