Reading: 2 Corinthians 3.
We do not make a great deal of the ecclesiastical calendar as such - the special times and seasons of the year because it is a part of our religion - but sometimes it is good and well to dwell upon the great epochs which lie at the very foundation of our faith, such as the birth of our Lord, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and the coming of the Spirit. Today that latter is in many minds, the day of Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit. And I think, dear friends, nay, I am sure, that we, the Lord's people are always in need of both reminders and fuller instruction as to what that really means. For it was indeed a great, a great thing that happened. The whole of the dispensations turned upon it. Up to the time of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the conditions of one dispensation obtained. From that day the whole dispensation changed, and entirely new conditions came in. I say today we need to know the greatness of the change and the changes which have come with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The chapter which we have just read, as a portion of a much larger argument or setting forth of truth, ought not to be confined or restricted to the verses marked by chapter 3. This chapter embodies something momentous and tremendous of that very change of dispensations, from Moses to Christ and from Moses to Christ ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. And the difference is marked by the prevailing word throughout the chapter: glory! Glory! Underline it: verse 7, verse 8, twice in verse 9, twice in verse 10, verse 11, three times in verse 18. In eighteen verses, the one word occurring ten times, really indicating what this is about. And then lay beside it the word or the Name: "Spirit". You find that this is a governing and ruling matter: the Spirit and Glory. And the argument of the apostle is just this: that there was a glory which faded, which went out in the Old Dispensation, and that dispensation resolved itself into a dispensation which was anything but glory. But, by the coming of the Spirit, a dispensation of glory came in, and a glory which never was before: a new glory, a fuller glory, and a glory with a new meaning.
To just analyse and sum up this chapter, we may put over it the statement that the theme here is glory; let that be said. The medium of glory is the Spirit; He is clearly set forth here as the Spirit of glory, the medium of the Glory. The instrument of the glory - the Word of God, the Word of God becoming alive by the Spirit and producing glory, as we shall see. The sum of the glory is Christ: "when it shall... turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away" - the glory breaks out. Or, if we pursue this a little further than the mark of chapter 3, we come on to this: "God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"; the sum of glory is Christ. The place of the glory is the heart of the believer: "has shined in our hearts... has written on hearts... tables of flesh". The place of the glory is the heart of the believer. The effect of the glory in the heart is transformation. We are being transformed as we behold the glory, into the same image "from glory to glory". And the power of the glory is liberty; "where the Spirit of the Lord is (or where the Spirit is Lord) there is liberty". That's the chapter in brief, in outline. Don't think I am going to take all that and comment upon it, it's simply a statement: that with the coming of the Spirit the way has been opened up and the glory has come in.
But you notice, through this chapter and what Paul is writing, there are these fundamental contrasts. These fundamental contrasts which are of such tremendous importance. And dear friends, I do not feel that I can put sufficient emphasis and stress upon this matter; it goes far deeper, and more into the present situation than most of us realise. My difficulty is to make it clear, make it plain. Here we are in the presence of something of tremendous importance to Christians, because after all, and this I'm sure you will agree with, the real need where we Christians are concerned is that our Christianity shall be glorious! And that we should be glorious Christians, in the right sense. Well, you agree with that, but how? And it is by, not only recognising, but coming into the good of these fundamental contrasts which are presented to us in this chapter. There is this contrast at the heart of the others: the contrast between the Law given by Moses, and the Revelation given in Jesus Christ. There's the contrast between tables of stones, and hearts of flesh and so on. But right at the centre of these contrasts there is this one:
"The Letter Killeth, the Spirit Giveth Life."
Now let us be very clear as to what that means; that is not a contrast between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. It cannot be that. The "letter", the letter there is the Word of God, but it is not set in contrast to the Holy Spirit as necessarily bringing death while the Spirit brings Life. I want you to be very clear in your mind about that. You see, when you use that phrase: "the letter killeth", don't think for a moment that that means that the Word of God brings death! You have got to get it in its setting, and understand what it is the apostle is saying here. It is between legalism in relation to the letter or the Word of God, and Life which comes by the Holy Spirit's action upon the Word of God. This is what the apostle is saying here, as he has said much more fully in other parts of his writings. He is saying: "Look here, because of a state in persons, 'their heart was hardened', because of a state in persons, the Word only comes to them as a legal statement of 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not'." It is something imposed upon them; it becomes a heavy and dead weight upon them; it just is a matter of oppression: "Now you must do this, and you must do that, you must do the other thing and you may not do these things". And so it may be the Word of God, but because of a state in those concerned, it becomes simply legalistic, and therefore it becomes bondage. It is the same Word, it's the same Word, it is all the Word of God, but it is the effect that it has upon us, and that depends entirely upon our state.
In his first letter to
the Corinthians the apostle had a lot to say at the beginning,
which bears I think, very much upon this matter. You remember
how in that part which is marked by our chapter 2, he is
speaking about "the wisdom of this world". The wisdom of this
world. Now, he is talking to Christians, "the wisdom of
this world" and the utter inability to understand the
things of the Spirit of God by reason of natural wisdom. Yes,
you may have all the wisdom of the philosophers, all the wisdom
of the great Greek world and empire, and yet you are utterly
incapacitated where the things of the Spirit of God are
concerned. It is no use! It is no use approaching the things of
God, the Word of God, with the most complete intellectual outfit
naturally, whether you are born with it, or whether you're
trained to it. You may bring the fullest, ripest scholarship,
the best education, the finest brain to the Word of God, and...
there's no Life. It doesn't produce Life; it is all dead. You
handle the Word of God in that way and it does not communicate Life
to anybody. It is very wonderful, of course, it may be very
interesting, almost fascinating, but afterwards... has it
ministered Life? And has it resulted in this transformation into
the same image? No! And I am going further.
We may have the most thoroughgoing knowledge of the Bible, so that we are able to analyse every book of the Bible, and have it there in our head clearly, and tell anybody at any moment what is in this book, and this chapter and that. We may have the whole thing, and yet it may still be in the natural mind, and neither change us nor the people to whom we give it. And worse than that, worse than that, it may entirely incapacitate us for understanding spiritual things. We may be altogether in another realm from what is real spiritual understanding. It is necessary, dear friends, for you to recognise this, that it is not a matter of Bible knowledge, though that is so important. It is not a matter of brain and intellect and scholarship, it is not at all a matter of our attainments in that realm, however valuable such things may be, given the other. But it is a matter of "God having shined into our hearts to give the knowledge".
Another Kind of Knowledge by the In-Shining
An altogether different knowledge comes by the in-shining. Now, I take it that this natural knowledge, this natural wisdom of which the apostle spoke in his first letter corresponds to the tables of stone. After all, tables of stone are cold, dead things! Hearts of flesh are warm, living things! And that's the difference between a natural apprehending, grasping and handling of the Word of God, however great may be the natural ability in that realm, the difference between that and the Spirit revealing God's Christ in His Word in our hearts: they are two different worlds! I am not talking now about the unsaved on the one hand and the saved on the other; I am discriminating as this word does, between the people of God! Israel were the people of God; but you see, there was just this objective attitude to things, they were not spiritual people; spiritual men and women. And when we say "not spiritual" we mean they had not got the Holy Spirit indwelling and working. After all, everything was outward. And so they came to the Law as something written on tables of stone, and said: "Now, it says, 'Thou shalt, thou shalt and thou shalt not, thou shalt not.'" And it was all there like that as cold commandments and there was no corresponding light in their hearts; no Spirit indwelling! And so, it was dead; and it killed.
I know how hopeless it is
to try and explain this. But you see, take even the commandments
written on tables of stone: how do they affect you, dear friend?
How do they affect you? Now you can take any one of those
commandments, "Thou shalt not... steal" you feel bad about that? As
a Christian, do you feel bad about that? That's a terrible,
terrible rebuke to you, and terrible warning, terrible
commandment... if you do that in any way whatsoever, and there
are ten thousand ways in which you can do it. How do you look at
that? What does that say to you? Does it just say, "Thou shalt
not steal"; a cold commandment, imposing something upon you? Or
has the Spirit of God in you taken up that with all the rest,
and said: "Look here, here's Christ. Christ, rather than draw to
Himself, even what belonged to Him, to say nothing of what
belonged to other people and didn't belong to Him, rather than
draw to Himself, simply was always thinking rather of how He
could give rather than get." It's a principle, you see. Stealing
embodies a principle. It means that you are drawing to yourself;
you are going to have for yourself willy-nilly, anyhow you are
going to get that because you want it! It's a spirit, it's a
principle. And lawfully or unlawfully.
Stealing is unlawful, but
when you lift it into the realm of the spiritual, you see
something infinitely more than just, "You shall not go out and
take something from somebody that doesn't belong to you";
stealing, in that ordinary sense. You see behind... behind
there's the nature and the disposition of God. Behind there is
the disposition of God; behind every commandment. We need to
have every commandment dealt with in this way to see behind
there is the disposition of God, the nature of God. That is
mediated to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit, that a really Holy
Spirit governed life doesn't want to be "getting" all the time,
even to the point of taking what they have no right to have.
But, right round the other way, right round the other way: the
really Holy Spirit-governed child of God doesn't need to come
under an awful weight of condemnation when it's said, "thou shalt
not steal," or thou shalt not do any of the other things. The
Spirit inside has dealt with that quite alright, quite well,
quite thoroughly and changed the disposition, changed the
desire. But you see something has got to be done inwardly,
otherwise the "letter kills", brings death. But the same
"letter" taken up by the Holy Spirit, illuminated, brings Life.
It brings Life. The Word comes to life, and makes us live. "Written",
says the apostle, "in our hearts"; written, "not on
tables of stone", but "in our hearts", in hearts of
flesh. Along one line, there's no glory at all; no glory, but
along this other line there is glory.
I am compelled to close at this point, but I want you to grasp one thing, just to carry away with you this one thing. There is a tremendous difference, indeed, there is all the difference of two worlds, even amongst Christians, of those on the one side who have the Word of God, believe it to be the Word of God, would lay down their lives for it as the inspired Word of God and yet, and yet... it is just a book of commandments, and laws, and regulations and what-not. Then on the other hand, those to whom this Book has come alive by the Holy Spirit, and they are seeing by the Holy Spirit far more than just the written letter. If you get into the one realm, you see, you get a dozen, more, a score, a hundred different interpretations of the same passage of Scripture, and you are all at variance. One says it means this, and another says it means that, and that's because it is all approached by the natural mind. It's still the Word of God; it's still the Word of God. The only way to get over that, the only way to come to oneness of mind, oneness of heart, oneness of understanding, and to move livingly with the Lord, is for the Spirit Himself, who knows what the meaning is, dwelling in our hearts, to tell us that. Not to go beyond the Scripture, that's not what we're talking about, extra to the Scripture, but bearing witness in our hearts that this is God's mind about that.
And so I say to you: the Holy Spirit has come, He has come to take up the Word of God, and pass it from becoming just a book of commandments, into the realm where it becomes the Book of Life, that we really live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord, that His Word is made alive to us by the Holy Spirit in that true sense of Life. We may be fascinated with its studies and its subjects, and think that's life, but that's not what I am talking about. It may be tremendously interesting, but that's not what I mean. Life is something which changes us, that's the point; transforms us. Now the test then, of whether we have even the Word of God in a legal realm, or an intellectual realm, or whether we have it in the Spirit, is the effect that it has in our lives: the transforming effect or, to gather it all up again into this word - glory! Glory! And if you know what I am trying to talk about, you know how great a thing that is.
Have you, have you really, dear friends, come to know so truly, so really, the Holy Spirit indwelling as Teacher, as Illuminator, that you have passed out of the merely intellectual realm where the Word of God is concerned, into the realm where the Heavens are opened and the Word of God lives for you? That is a dispensational matter. And it makes a very great deal of difference in which realm we live. I'm trying to say to you that the greatest treasure that a Christian can have, is a Holy Spirit-illuminated Word of God. It makes a tremendous amount of difference. It doesn't mean that we know everything that is here all at once, for we go on in this realm of vast, vast fulnesses and we shall never exhaust them. But, it's alive, it's alive! We are not just studying it as dead matter - it is alive to us! Is it like that with you? Well, you see, it is a question of whether you have really grasped the significance of the day of Pentecost; the dispensation changed on that day from the one to the other. Are you living in the old... tables of stone, objective presentations of Divine commandments? Or are you living in this dispensation where, "God has shined into your heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus"? Mark you, always through the Scriptures, by the Word of God; not something extra but something there. And yet, and yet, and yet something more than the letter... there is the blessed, powerful witness of the Spirit to the meaning, the meaning there. You may have that; that is our birthright in this dispensation.
Oh, for more Holy Spirit indwelt and taught children of God! Taught children of God who really know what is theirs by right in this dispensation: to have the Holy Spirit within. Not just believing in the truth, the doctrine, the statement that it is so, but being in the good of it, knowing it to be true: the Holy Spirit is in me! And the Holy Spirit is teaching me, and the Holy Spirit is showing me what God means by His Word. I am coming as the Holy Spirit teaches and instructs and illuminates, to see God meant more than ever I realised He meant when He said that, and that, and that! You see, it is a living relationship by the Holy Spirit, and when it is like that, it is glory; the burden goes, the strain goes, the onus goes off of us. It's Life, it's really Life - indeed it is glory!
Now it is a fact, you see, that you can pass from one realm into the other, even as a Christian; pass from that realm where, though you believe in the Lord and you have the Lord, and you know you are saved, and yet there is a dome over you, a brass dome over your head where the Word of God is concerned, and you fumble and try to find your way about, and what does it all mean? And then you can have that dome removed or split, and the Spirit shine right into your spirit and the whole thing becomes illuminated. It is the same Word, but it is two different dispensations.Well, I have stated the facts, and I know them to be facts. But you, if you do not know what I am speaking about, well, you go and have some dealings with the Lord on this matter. It must be like that, for the ministration of the Spirit is glory in relation to the Word of God.