2 Corinthians 3:17
(17) Now the Lord is that Spirit.--Better, the Lord is the Spirit. The words seem at first inconsistent with the formulated precision of the Church's creeds, distinguishing the persons of the Godhead from each other. We apply the term "Lord," it is true, as a predicate of the Holy Spirit when we speak, as in the Nicene Creed, of the Holy Ghost as "the Lord, and Giver of life," or say, as in the pseudo-Athanasian, that "the Holy Ghost is Lord;" but using the term "the Lord" as the subject of a sentence, those who have been trained in the theology of those creeds would hardly say, "The Lord" (the term commonly applied to the Father in the Old Testament, and to the Son in the New) "is the Spirit." We have, accordingly, to remember that St. Paul did not contemplate the precise language of these later formularies. He had spoken, in 2Corinthians 3:16, of Israel's "turning to the Lord;" he had spoken also of his own work as "the ministration of the Spirit" (2Corinthians 3:8). To turn to the Lord--i.e., to the Lord Jesus--was to turn to Him whose essential being, as one with the Father, was Spirit (John 4:24), who was in one sense, the Spirit, the life-giving energy, as contrasted with the letter that killeth. So we may note that the attribute of "quickening," which is here specially connected with the name of the Spirit (2Corinthians 3:6), is in John 5:21 connected also with the names of the Father and the Son. The thoughts of the Apostle move in a region in which the Lord Jesus, not less than the Holy Ghost, is contemplated as Spirit. This gives, it is believed, the true sequence of St. Paul's thoughts. The whole verse may be considered as parenthetical, explaining that the "turning to the Lord" coincides with the "ministration of the Spirit." Another interpretation, inverting the terms, and taking the sentence as "the Spirit is the Lord," is tenable grammatically, and was probably adopted by the framers of the expanded form of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 380). It is obvious, however, that the difficulty of tracing the sequence of thought becomes much greater on this method of interpretation.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.--The Apostle returns to the more familiar language. To turn to the Lord, who is Spirit, is to turn to the Spirit which is His, which dwelt in Him, and which He gives. And he assumes, almost as an axiom of the spiritual life, that the presence of that Spirit gives freedom, as contrasted with the bondage of the letter--freedom from slavish fear, freedom from the guilt and burden of sin, freedom from the tyranny of the Law. Compare the aspect of the same thought in the two Epistles nearly contemporary with this:--the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, those children being partakers of a glorious liberty (Romans 8:16-21); the connection between walking in the Spirit and being called to liberty (Galatians 5:13-16). The underlying sequence of thought would seem to be something like this: "Israel, after all, with all its seeming greatness and high prerogatives, was in bondage, because it had the letter, not the Spirit; we who have the Spirit can claim our citizenship in the Jerusalem which is above and which is free" (Galatians 4:24-31).

Verse 17. - Now the Lord is that Spirit. The "but" (Authorized Version, "now") introduces an explanation. To whom shall they turn? To the Lord. "But the Lord is the Spirit." The word "spirit" could not be introduced thus abruptly and vaguely; it must refer to something already said, and therefore to the last mention of the word "spirit" in ver. 3. The Lord is the Spirit, who giveth life and freedom, in antithesis to the spirit of death and legal bondage (see ver. 6; and comp. 1 Corinthians 15:45). The best comment on the verse is Romans 8:2, "For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." All life and all religion had become to St. Paul a vision of all things in Christ. He has just said that the spirit giveth life, and, after the digression about the moral blindness which prevented the Jews from being emancipated from the bondage of the letter, it was quite natural for him to add, "Now the Lord is the Spirit to which I alluded." The connection in which the verse stands excludes a host of untenable meanings which have been attached to it. There is liberty. The liberty of confidence (ver. 4), and of frank speech (ver. 12), and of sonship (Galatians 4:6, 7), and of freedom from guilt (John 8:36); so that the Law itself, obeyed no longer in the mere letter but also in the spirit, becomes a royal law of liberty, and not a yoke which gendereth to bondage (James 1:25; James 2:12) - a service, indeed, but one which is perfect freedom (Romans 5:1-21; 1 Peter 2:16).

3:12-18 It is the duty of the ministers of the gospel to use great plainness, or clearness, of speech. The Old Testament believers had only cloudy and passing glimpses of that glorious Saviour, and unbelievers looked no further than to the outward institution. But the great precepts of the gospel, believe, love, obey, are truths stated as clearly as possible. And the whole doctrine of Christ crucified, is made as plain as human language can make it. Those who lived under the law, had a veil upon their hearts. This veil is taken away by the doctrines of the Bible about Christ. When any person is converted to God, then the veil of ignorance is taken away. The condition of those who enjoy and believe the gospel is happy, for the heart is set at liberty to run the ways of God's commandments. They have light, and with open face they behold the glory of the Lord. Christians should prize and improve these privileges. We should not rest contented without knowing the transforming power of the gospel, by the working of the Spirit, bringing us to seek to be like the temper and tendency of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and into union with Him. We behold Christ, as in the glass of his word; and as the reflection from a mirror causes the face to shine, the faces of Christians shine also.Now the Lord is that Spirit,.... "The Lord", to whom the heart is turned, when the veil is removed, is Jesus Christ; and he is "that Spirit", or "the Spirit": he, as God, is of a spiritual nature and essence; he is a spirit, as God is said to be, John 4:24 he is the giver of the Spirit of God, and the very life and spirit of the law, without whom as the end of it, it is a mere dead letter: or rather as by Moses in 2 Corinthians 3:15 is meant, the law of Moses, so by the "Lord" here may be meant the Gospel of Christ: and this is that Spirit, of which the apostles were made ministers, and is said to give life, 2 Corinthians 3:6.

And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty; which may be understood of the third person in the Godhead; where he is as a spirit of illumination, there is freedom from former blindness and darkness; where he is as a spirit of regeneration and sanctification, there is freedom from the bondage of sin, and captivity of Satan; where he is as a comforter, there is freedom from the fear of hell, wrath, and damnation: where he is as a spirit of adoption, there is the freedom of children with a father; where he is as a spirit of prayer and supplication, there is liberty of access to God with boldness, Though rather the Gospel as attended with the Spirit of God, in opposition to the law, is here designed; and which points out another difference between the law and the Gospel; where the law is, there is bondage, it genders to it; it has a natural tendency to it: quite contrary is this to what the Jews (i) say, who call the law, "liberty": and say,

"that he that studies in the law, hath , "freedom from everything":''

whereas it gives freedom in nothing, but leads into, and brings on persons a spirit of bondage; it exacts rigorous obedience, where there is no strength to perform; it holds men guilty, curses and condemns for non-obedience; so that such as are under it, and of the works of it, are always under a spirit of bondage; they obey not from love, but fear, as servants or slaves for wages, and derive all their peace and comfort from their obedience: but where the Gospel takes place under the influence of the Spirit of God, there is liberty; not to sin, which is contrary to the Gospel, to the Spirit of God in believers, and to the principle of grace wrought in their souls; but a liberty from the bondage and servitude of it: a liberty from the law's rigorous exaction, curse, and condemnation, and from the veil of former blindness and ignorance.

(i) Zohar in Gen. fol. 90. 1. & in Exod. fol. 72. 1. & in Numb. fol. 73. 3.

2 Corinthians 3:16
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