2 Corinthians 3:6


The warm and affectionate nature of the apostle had embraced the religion of Christ with a fervour, an attached devotion, exceeding even that which he had shown in his earlier days towards the dispensation in which he had been nurtured, Not that he had lost any of the reverence, the affection, he had cherished towards the covenant which God had established with his Hebrew ancestors; but that the new dispensation was so glorious to the view of his soul that it shed its brightness upon the economy which it replaced. The contrast drawn here seems almost depreciatory of that Law which was "given by Moses," when that Law was brought into comparison with the "grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ."

I. THE NEW IS BETTER THAN THE OLD. If God is a God of order, if progress characterizes his works, if development is a law of his procedure, then it is only reasonable to believe, what we find to be the ease, that that which displaces and supersedes what was good is itself preferable and more excellent.

II. THE SPIRIT IS BETTER THAN THE LETTER. Yet "the letter" was adapted to the childhood of the race, and was indeed necessary for the communication of the spiritual lesson to be conveyed from heaven. But Christianity cannot be compressed into any document; it is itself a spirit, unseen and intangible, but felt to be mighty and pervasive.

III. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS BETTER THAN CONDEMNATION. The old covenant abounded in prohibitions and in threats of punishment. The Law, when broken, as it incessantly was broken, is a sentence of condemnation to all who are placed under it. But it is the distinctive honour of Christianity that it brings in a new, a higher, an everlasting righteousness. It has thus more efficacy than the most faultless law of rectitude, for it supplies the motive and the power of true obedience.

IV. LIFE IS BETTER THAN DEATH. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die - such is the import of the old covenant, which thus ministered death to those who were under it. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" - such is the evangel of the new covenant to mankind. Death is the emblem of all that is dark, dreary, and repulsive; life is fraught with brightness, beauty, joy, and progress. Well might the apostle rise to fervid eloquence when depicting the incomparable moral excellence and beauty of the covenant of Divine grace. And justly might he deem his office one of highest honour and happiness, as bringing salvation and a blessed immortality to the lost and dying sons of men.

V. ETERNAL GLORY IS BETTER THAN TRANSITORY AND PERISHABLE SPLENDOUR. There was a glory in the scene and circumstances amid which the Law was given; there was a glory in that code of piety and rectitude which was then conferred upon the chosen nation; there was a glory in the illumined countenance of the great lawgiver when he came down from the mount. But this glory was for a season, and indeed it almost lost its title to be spoken of as glory, by reason of the glory that excelleth. The ministration of the Spirit, of righteousness, that which remaineth, this is encompassed with a halo, an aureole, of spiritual and heavenly splendour which shall brighten until it merges in the ineffable glory of eternity. - T.







Who hath made us able ministers of the New Testament.
Two things are implied.

I. First, GIFTS — natural endowments. A minister of the New Testament ought to have intellectual qualifications.

II. But now, in the second place, there are SPIRITUAL QUALITIES which are higher, more wonderful, and even more essential. One would rather have a feeble intellect with a pure and devout heart than the brightest intellect without these glorifications of the soul. What are these spiritual qualities which unite to make an able minister of the New Testament?

1. First and most manifest is that which Paul himself indicates in the account of his own mission. The man who is to preach so as to move men's hearts must preach out of the depth of the faith that is in his own heart; he must be a man of faith. How can a man preach the New Testament unless he believes it?

2. Yet, again, a man who would be an able minister of the New Testament must be one who is emphatically true. What a mighty force is the man to whom, as we listen, our secret heart says, "We know that he believes and feels all that." The transparency of truth is one of the grandest qualifications for a New Testament preacher.

3. Yet, again, another qualification for such work is courage. If he sees error he must point it out, even though he may wound some in doing it; if he sees fashionable folly and sins drawing men away from the simplicity that is in Christ, he must expose them.

4. And then, finally, an able minister of the New Testament will think only of Christ and not of himself.

(J. G. Rogers, B. A.)

For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life
1. The New Testament means God's revelation through Christ, in contradistinction to His revelation through Moses. Though both are admitted to be "glorious," the latter is shown to be "more glorious"; for the one is the dispensation of "righteousness," the other of "condemnation"; the one is permanent, the other is "done away"; the one so opens the spiritual faculties that the mind can look at it "with open face," the other through the prejudices of the Jewish people was concealed by a "veil."

2. This Christianity is the grand subject of all true ministry.(1) Not naturalism. Had man retained his primitive innocence nature would have been his grand text. But since the Fall men cannot reach the spiritual significance of nature, and if they could, it would not meet their spiritual exigencies.(2) Not Judaism. Judaism, it is true, came to meet man's fallen condition; it worked on for centuries and rendered high services. But it had its day, and is no more; it is "done away." Note —

I. THE TWOFOLD MINISTRY. I do not think that Mosaism and Christianity are here contrasted. It would scarcely be fair to denominate Judaism a "letter." There was spirit in every part; think of the revelations of Sinai and of the prophets. Christianity itself has "letter" and "spirit." If it had no "letter," it would be unrevealed, and if it had "letter" only, it would be empty jargon. All essences, principles, spirits, are invisible, they are only revealed through letters or forms. The spirit of a nation expresses itself in its institutions; the spirit of the creation expresses itself in its phenomena; the spirit of Jesus in His wonderful biography. The text therefore refers to two methods of teaching Christianity.

1. The technical. The technical teachers are —(1) The verbalizes, who deal mainly in terminologies. In the Corinthian Church there were those who thought much of the "words of man's wisdom."(2) The theorists. I underrate not the importance of systematising the ideas we derive from the Bible; but he who exalts his system of thought, and makes it a standard of truth, is a minister of the "letter." Can a nutshell contain the Atlantic?(3) The Ritualists. Men must have ritualism of some kind. What is logic but the ritualism of thought? What is art but the ritualism of beauty? What is rhetorical imagery but the ritualism of ideas? Civilisation is but the ritualising of the thoughts of ages. But when the religious teacher regards rites, signs, and symbols as some mystic media of saving grace, he is a minister of the "letter."

2. The spiritual. To be a minister of the spirit is not to neglect the letter. The material universe is a "letter." Letter is the key that lets you into the great empire of spiritual realities. To be a minister of the spirit is to be more alive to the grace than the grammar, the substances than the symbols of the book. A minister of the "spirit" requires —(1) A comprehensive knowledge of the whole Scriptures. To reach the spirit of Christianity it will not do to study isolated passages, or live in detached portions. We must compare "spiritual things with spiritual," and, by a just induction, reach its universal truths. Can you get botany from a few flowers, or astronomy from a few stars, or geology from a few fossils? No more can you get the spirit of Christianity from a few isolated texts.(2) A practical sympathy with the spirit of Christ. We must have love to understand love. The faculty of interpreting the Bible is of the heart rather than the intellect. Christianity must be in us, not merely as a system of ideas, but as a life, if we would extend its empire.

II. THE TWOFOLD RESULTS.

1. The result of the technical ministry of Christianity.(1) The verbalist "kills." "Words are the counters of wise men, but the money of fools." Words in religion, when they are taken for things, kill inquiry, freedom, sensibility, earnestness, enthusiasm, moral manhood.(2) The theorist kills. The Jews formulated a theory of the Messiah; He did not answer to their theory; so they rejected Him. Souls cannot feed upon our dogmas. The smallest seed requires all the elements of nature to feed on and grow to perfection; and can souls live and grow on the few dogmas of an antiquated creed?(3) The Ritualist kills. The ceremonial Church has ever been a dead Church. "Letter teaching" reduced the Jewish people to a "valley of dry bones."

2. The result of the spiritual ministry of Christianity. "It giveth life." "It is the Spirit," said Christ, "that quickeneth," etc. He who in his teaching and life brings out most of the spirit of the gospel will be most successful in giving life to souls. His ministry will be like the breath of siring, quickening all it touches into life. Such a ministry was that of Peter's on the day of Pentecost. Words, theories, rites, to him were nothing. Divine facts and their spirit were the all in all of his discourse, and dead souls bounded into life as he spoke

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

I. THE MINISTRY OF THE LETTER.

1. The ministry of Moses was a formal ministry. It was his business to teach maxims and not principles; rules for ceremonials, and not a spirit of life. Thus, e.g., truth is a principle springing out of an inward life; but Moses only gave the rule: "Thou shalt not forswear thyself," and so he who simply avoided perjury kept the letter of the law. Love is a principle; but Moses said simply, "Thou shalt not kill, nor steal, nor injure." Meekness and subduedness before God — these are of the spirit; but Moses merely commanded fasts. Unworldliness arises from a spiritual life; but Moses only said, "Be separate — circumcise yourselves." It was in consequence of the superiority of the teaching of principles over a mere teaching of maxims that the ministry of the letter was considered as nothing.(1) Because of its transitoriness — "it was to be done away with." All formal truth is transient. No maxim is intended to last for ever. No ceremony, however glorious, can be eternal. Thus when Christ came, instead of saying, "Thou shalt not forswear thyself," He said; "Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay"; and instead of saying, "Thou shalt not say, Fool, or Raca," Christ gave the principle of love.(2) Because it killed; partly because, being rigorous in its enactments, it condemned for any nonfulfilment (ver. 9). "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy." And partly it killed, because technicalities and multiplicities of observance necessarily deaden spiritual life. It was said by Burke that "no man comprehends less of the majesty of the English constitution than the Nisi Prius lawyer, who is always dealing with technicalities and precedents." In the same way none were so dead to the glory of the law of God as the Scribes, who were always discussing its petty minutiae. Could anything dull the vigour of obedience more than frittering it away in anxieties about the mode and degree of fasting? Could aught chill love more than the question, "How often shall my brother offend and I forgive him"? Or could anything break devotion more into fragments than multiplied changes of posture?

2. Now observe: No blame was attributable to Moses for teaching thus. St. Paul calls it a "glorious ministry"; and it was surrounded with outward demonstrations. Maxims, rules, and ceremonies have truth in them; Moses taught truth so far as the Israelites could bear it; not in substance, but in shadows; not principles by themselves, but principles by rules, to the end of which the Church of Israel could not as yet see. A veil was before the lawgiver's face. These rules were to hint and lead up to a spirit, whose brightness would have only dazzled the Israelites into blindness then.

II. THE MINISTRY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.

1. It was a "spiritual" ministry. The apostles were "ministers of the spirit," of that truth which underlies all forms of the essence of the law. Christ is the spirit of the law, for He is "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." And St. Paul's ministry was freedom from the letter — conversion to the spirit of the law. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.

2. It was a "life-giving" ministry.(1) Note the meaning of the word. It is like a new life to know that God wills not burnt-offering, but rather desires to find the spirit of one who says, "Lo! I come to do Thy will." It is new life to know that to love God and man is the sum of existence. It is new life to know that "God be merciful to me a sinner!" is a truer prayer in God's ears than elaborate liturgies and long ceremonials.(2) Christ was the spirit of the law, and He gave, and still gives, the gift of life (ver. 18). A living character is impressed upon us: we are as the mirror which reflects back a likeness, only it does not pass away from us: for Christ is not a mere example, but the life of the world, and the Christian is not a mere copy, but a living image of the living God. He is "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."

3. Now such a ministry — a ministry which endeavours to reach the life of things — the apostle calls —(1) An able — that is, a powerful — ministry. He names it thus, even amidst an apparent want of success.(2) A bold ministry. "We use great plainness of speech." Ours should be a ministry whose very life is outspokenness and free fearlessness, which scorns to take a via media because it is safe, which shrinks from the weakness of a mere cautiousness, but which exults even in failure, if the truth has been spoken, with a joyful confidence.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

I. THE RELATION BETWEEN LETTER AND SPIRIT.

1. A letter is a sign of a certain sound; an integral pert of a word, with no meaning out of a word; and if one should occupy himself with any one letter, even all the letters in succession, and never form the word, he misses the purport for which the letters exist. On the other hand, if you take away the letters of a word, thinking them nothing, you find yourself at last without the word. The vocable is gone, and what comes of the meaning?

2. Everything that God has made has a letter and a spirit. The sun, stars, flowers, brooks, and the great sea itself are letters. And God has taken care to keep us from looking at these things as only letters. He has surrounded them with a certain glory which is continually reminding us that they are intended to be formed into words and sentences to express great truths regarding God. What idea would infinitude convey to me unless I had the picture in the great vault of heaven or the wide sea? Yet there are some who go through the world and recognise only one letter and another. To them a tree is only a tree, the sea only a body of water, and the sky a great concave in which the stars appear to be. Others perceive a connection between the different facts. Others go farther and observe law. Others, however, see the grand truth which the whole was made to teach regarding the character of God and His will, and the natural and moral history of man. He only sees the spirit who sees this.

3. As opposed to spirit, then, the letter means(1) Outwardness. He who confines himself to form, whether as to the world, the Bible, worship or conduct, is a man of the letter. The Pharisees were such, and failed utterly to see the spirit, and lost all wish for it. All O.T. worshippers who saw nothing in the ceremonial higher than the ceremony; those who imagine that a mere outward observance of God's laws is all; those who think their presence in the church, or their bodily communicating at the Lord's table is all that is required, all belong to the letter. Extreme partisans of the spirit are perhaps not more exempt from this danger than others. The cry for spirit may be a phrase by which painfully solid things are made nebulous, and little left strong and certain but self. The last degradation of the word is reached when it indicates a superfine way of making things that are too real — thin, hazy, and uncertain.(2) Isolation.(a) Take a letter of a word and place it out by itself. It was more than a letter while in the word, but now it is only letter. So with a word taken out of a sentence, a sentence out of a paragraph era passage out of a book. The meaning of each separate part is that which is intended to be expressed by the whole.(b) This holds in the book of nature. Take a tree, e.g. Can it be understood without reference to air and light and soil? But its meaning is visible when placed in the general economy of nature. So it is with the stream that runs down the hillside, the bird that sports in the air, etc. There is no object so small that you can grasp it by itself. For the understanding of a blade of grass you require a knowledge of all the sciences.(c) The principle holds, too, as to the Bible. No word, or phrase, or chapter of it has its true meaning looked at apart from the rest. The spirit of the Bible is the meaning of the whole Bible. The spirit of Christianity is its grand central idea and purpose of bringing men to God's likeness and fellowship, and glorifying God in the salvation of men. In this gospel there are many parts, and all are needed, but all have only one end and aim, and that one end and aim is the spirit; and if the separate parts are taken away from this one end and aim, they become letter. Hence, if any one part is contemplated habitually apart from the great aim, it becomes letter. If a man take up any promise, commandment, doctrine, or ceremony, and think of it as if it were the be all and the end all, he is making it letter. Any attribute of God by itself is letter, for God's attributes are not separate existences, but each is in reference to all. It is doubt, less to guard us against this ever-pressing danger that the Word of God mixes up ideas in a way almost unparalleled in human literature. Doctrines are intertwined with duties, and so blended with facts that it is often a task of difficulty to sunder them and look at one by itself.

4. The way to reach the spirit is not by destroying or making light of the letter — or any letter. It is by the letter and all the letters that we reach the spirit; and our concern ought to be to know what is genuine letter, and to keep every letter in constant connection with the central spirit. Suppose a scholar spend his time on the mere words of his lesson, without trying to grasp the meaning, would the remedy be to erase the words? Or because some might dwell exclusively on pictures in the book, meant to illustrate the text, and never think of the meaning — would that be a good reason for taking out the pictures? And yet this minimising process forms nearly the whole plan of many for getting at spirit. Their recipe is short and simple — destroy the letter. Let them apply this to the study of human institutions, to the study of botany or astronomy, and see what wealth of insight into law and principle will accrue. Do the millions of stars, the multiplicity of herbs and flowers, seem intended for such a formula?

5. All the letters of a word are, or ought to be, needful to the word. Sometimes the only difference between two words that mean very different things is found in one letter. And no letter, nor any number of letters, will ever be anything without the grand spirit of the whole; but no letter, however trivial it look, is poor with the spirit in it. The greatest truths shine in a single rite or word when filled with the spirit of the whole, as the laws of light and gravitation are shown in a single drop of dew. The little creek, so insignificant and even unseemly when the sea has ebbed, is a fine sight when it is filled and brimming with the swelling tide. That is the water of the great sea that floods it, and there, too, great ships that have crossed the ocean can float.

II. THE OPPOSITE INFLUENCES OF LETTER AND SPIRIT.

1. "The letter killeth," not, of course, in virtue of its being letter, for God made the letter, which was never intended by Him to kill, but to give life by leading to the spirit. But —(1) Letter kills when men take it as the whole and never go beyond it, or when they are so much occupied about it as to have no thought for the spirit. Thus, the very grandeur of the material universe leads some men to rest in it. Many are so occupied with the arrangements and laws of nature that they never think of its spirit. And many more are so engrossed in the material business of the world that they seldom think of any significance in it at all. Some are killed by the beauty of the letter, some by the wonderful shape and order of the letters, others by the immediate utility they find in the letter. Do not imagine that it is only the letter of God's Word that kills; the letter of His works kills also. And the letter of other books often kills men mentally. When men read without thinking, or for amusement, or for the sake of reading, or, worst of all, of being able to say that they have read; they will certainly by and by have the capacity of thought dwarfed or quite killed out. It is known even that men have been intellectually killed by a liberal education. The faculties are so gorged with facts and words, which remain only facts and words, that they never play spontaneously and naturally again. So, men are killed by the letter in a far more serious sense when they look merely to the beauty of the Bible, or when they dwell on some other external aspects of it, or when they lose themselves in forms and ceremonies and outward observances. Sometimes they cherish hostility to the truths that dare to seem to rival their favourite doctrines, or come in the least competition with them. Whenever men arrive at this they are in process of being killed.(2) The abundance of letter kills. It is well known how dangerous to the spirit a multitude of Ceremonies is. And a great number of doctrines marked off with minute logic, and pressed upon the soul, has the like effect.(3) The letter kills with certainty when formally installed in room of the spirit, as it was in our Lord's time. The Jews, as a whole, clung so fondly to the letter that they hated the spirit.(4) The letter kills by being made hostile to the spirit through disproportion and caricature, as when the doctrine of the Divine Sovereignty is so held as to be in actual opposition to the grand revelation that God "willeth not that any should perish," etc. If God is love, what can His Sovereignty mean, but the reign of love? The letter kills, when the doctrine of Justification by faith is so held as to clash with the imperative and absolute obligation on all to obey always all the commandments of God.

2. The spirit gives life.(1) It alone mingles with our spirits. This is the great reason. We live on meaning, not on form or husks. And it is not any partial sense, but the central idea of the whole that sustains. The Spirit of God does not use the mere outward observance, but the drift or object of it.(2) The spirit of the Bible gives life, for the spirit is Christ. "The Lord is that spirit." The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of the Bible; and the spirit of the Bible gives life, because when one imbibes the spirit of the Bible he embraces Christ. Let our idea of Christ be drawn from all parts of the Bible, and let the idea of Christ in turn illuminate and vivify all; thus only, and thus surely, shall we escape from the letter that killeth to the spirit that giveth life.(3) The spirit gives life by awakening love to God, which is life.

(J. Leckie, D. D.)

Homilist.
The text teaches —

I. THE POWERLESSNESS OF DIVINE COMMANDS ALONE TO PRODUCE OBEDIENCE. This does not prove any imperfection in the law, which, being Divine, is perfect. The failure of obedience is due to the imperfection of human nature, which does not yield to the obligation. The conscience, indeed, is on the law's side, but such is the strength of the lower nature that the man is hurried by animal impulse to sin.

1. Then one of two things happens. Either the habitual failure of the conscience produces habitual wretchedness, in a consciousness of powerlessness against evil, which may well be named death, or the law becomes the occasion of sin. The appearance of prohibition provokes the lower nature and irritates it to impatience of restraint. Now the consciousness of sin renders the man reckless, and to get rid of the uneasiness, the rider is thrown. When conscience thus loses dominion and ceases resistance, the man is given over to the licence of self-will and undergoes moral death.

2. On the other hand, the Spirit which characterises Christianity has a quickening power. The Spirit of Christ quickens —(1) By means of a perfect and most moving instance of obedience. In the Old Testament we do not meet with any such instance. Christ not only obeyed the law as it was intended to be obeyed, but opened it in a new and sublimer meaning, so that the imitation of Him is a new command. His example is presented in a form most intimate and intelligible, and it is the example of One who, in His very obedience, binds us to Himself by the tie of the tenderest and mightiest gratitude. And then, since Christ is God, and the revelation of the Father, the gratitude which He inspires becomes Divine love, and throws its full strength into obedience to the Divine commands.(2) By a secret influence on the heart. He is the Creator, and His noblest creative work is the moral regeneration of the human soul. He renders the heart perceptive of the beauty of Christ's character, and sensitive of the proper impressions. Thus our higher nature receives an incalculable increase of power. Conscience is re-enthroned and governs, but the law is obeyed not so much because it is obligatory, as because it is loved.

II. THE INTELLECTUAL DEFICIENCY AND MISCHIEVOUSNESS OF MERE WRITING AS A MEANS OF INSTRUCTION.

1. As a vehicle of meaning, writing is immeasurably inferior to a living presence. The correspondence of distant friends is but a poor comfort in their separation. It is often obscure, and is liable to misunderstanding. If the writing in question is holy writing, the evil arising from ignorance or misunderstanding is augmented. To receive a falsehood as God's word is intellectual and moral death. Spiritual death is sometimes the effect of the letter of theological system. Technical terms are regarded by many with a reverence as great as are the words of Scripture. There are congregations to whom a man may preach with living eloquence the very truths which kindled the zeal of St. Paul and St. John, but his audience, not hearing the familiar dialect, are deaf to the music, blind to the glory, and dead to the spirit of the discourse.

2. Knowledge of the author, and sympathy with him, is indispensable to the understanding of his writings. Unless we had something in common with writers, not a line of the literature of the world would be intelligible. By the human nature, common to all ages, we understand the writings of Greece and Rome; but a higher than the spirit of man is necessary to the reading of Holy Scripture, even the living Spirit of truth and holiness, by whom it is inspired.

(Homilist.)

I. THE LETTER, OR THE LAW, KILLETH, because —

1. It denounceth death.

2. It can only convince and condemn.

3. It awakens the sense of sin and helplessness.

4. It excites sin and cannot either justify or sanctify.

II. THE SPIRIT, OR THE GOSPEL, GIVETH LIFE, because —

1. It declares the way of life. It reveals a righteousness which delivers us from the law and frees us from the sentence of condemnation.

2. It is that through which the Spirit is communicated as a source of life. Instead of a mere outward exhibition of truth and duty, it is a law written on the heart. It is a lifegiving power.

3. The state of mind which it produces is life and peace. The Spirit is the source of eternal life.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)

By the letter is meant the moral law. Note —

I. HOW AND WHY THE LETTER KILLS.

1. By its manifestation of that disruption which lay concealed under the happy outflow of young and brimming life. That strong energy, which is the core of our human nature, is brought up sharp by a relentless voice that refuses it its unhindered joy. It clashes against the obstinate resistance which bars its road with its terrible negative, "Thou shalt not covet"; and, in the recoil from that clashing, it knows itself to be subject to a divided mastery. It knows itself to be capable of violent variance with God, to be somehow spoilt, disordered, corrupt. The unity of sound organic health has suffered rupture. It has in it the evidences of a disorganisation and a dissolution, which is death. "I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died."

2. And the law not only declared sin to be there, but it also provoked the sin, which fretted at its checks, into a more abundant and domineering extravagance. "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence." Curiosity, imagination, vanity, impulsiveness — all are set astir to overleap the barrier, to defeat the obstacle that so sharply traverses its instinctive inclinations. "The law entered that offence might abound," and where offence abounded, death reigned, for the end of sin is death.

3. And the letter killed also by convicting. Over against the very men whom it irritated into revolt it stood as a judgment which could not be gainsaid nor denied. And they knew the sting of its terrible truth. Its wrath unnerved them, and-its presence confounded. They were shut up within the prison-house of a criminal doom, and that justly. It killed, and this by God's own intention. "Yea, sin, that it might appear sin, worked death by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." Better far that the secret poison should be brought out into violent action. Its sickness, its pain — these are, after all, proofs of capacity to struggle; these are methods of liberation. The body is releasing itself from disease through these bitter experiences; and let, then, the letter kill. Let death dig in its fangs. Let the doom deepen and darken. So only shall at the last the spirit of the resurrection quicken.

II. Through sin the letter slew, and what is more, THERE WAS NO HOPE OF RELIEF OR ESCAPE THROUGH MAN'S SPIRITUAL ADVANCE, FOR THE HIGHER THE LAW THE SHARPER ITS SWORD OF JUDGEMENT. As man's apprehension grew more spiritual, the discovery of his fall become more desperate. The law slew because it was just and pure and holy, and the quickened spiritual instincts would but learn the touch of a more biting terror; so that when at the last hour of that old covenant there stood upon the earth a Jew greater than Moses or Abraham, who accepted the hereditary law and promulgated it anew, with all the infinite and delicate subtlety which the mind of One who was one with the Giver of the law could convey into its edicts, so that it comprehended the entire man in its grip, why, such a gospel, if that Sermon of the Mount had been all, would have struck the very chill of the last death into the despairing soul, who listened and learned that not one jot or tittle of that law could fail. The sermon that some lightly affect to be the whole gospel of Christ would be by itself but a message of doom.

III. MAN LIES THERE DEAD BEFORE HIS GOD — DEAD, UNTIL — WHAT IS IT, THIS SWEET AND SECRET CHANGE? What is it, this breaking and stirring within his bones, as when the force of the spring pricks and works within the wintry trunks of dry and naked trees? As he lies stung and despairing, there is a change, there is an arrival. Far, far within, deeper than his deepest sin, behind the most secret workings of his bad and broken will, there is a breaking and a stir, there is a motion and a quiver and a gleam, there is a check and a pause in his decay, a quickening is felt as of live flame. What is it? He cannot tell; only he knows that something is there and at work, strong and fresh and young; and as it pushes and presses and makes way, a sense of blessing steals into his veins, and peace is upon his hunted soul, and the sweet soundness of health creeps over his bruises and his sores; and he who has faith just suffers all the strange change to pass over him and to work its goodwill, as he lies there, feeding on its blessedness, wondering at its goodness, sending up his heart in silent breaths of unutterable thanks. So it is come. St. Paul saw those lame and impotent men rise and leap and sing at the coming of the new force, under the handlings of the new ministry; and, so seeing, he knew the full meaning of the Lord's promise that the Spirit should come, and that every one born of the Spirit should be even as the Spirit. And the essence of the change is this — that God, Who in His manifestation of the letter stood there over against man, has now passed over on to the side of the men whom His appeal has overwhelmed. He, the good Father, is bending over the sinner, and entering within his human spirit by the power of His own Holy Spirit, is inspiring him with His own breath. God Himself in us fulfils His own demands on us. God Himself moves over to our side to satisfy the urgency of His own will and word. In Him we do what we do, and we are not afraid, though the Son of God has come "not to destroy that law, but to fulfil it " — yea, even though from us is required a righteousness exceeding that of Scribe and Pharisee. We are not afraid for "the Spirit giveth life." God has come over to our side, but He has not ceased to stand over there against us. There He still stands as of old, and His demands are the same; still it is true as ever that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The revelation of the letter of the moral law holds good for us as much as for the Jew; and it is because that letter inevitably holds good that God has Himself entered within us, and striven for its fulfilment.

(Canon Scott-Holland.)

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