Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/On the Spirit and the Letter/Chapter 24
Chapter 24.—The Passage in Corinthians.
In the passage where he speaks to the Corinthians about the letter that kills, and the spirit that gives life, he expresses himself more clearly, but he does not mean even there any other “letter” to be understood than the Decalogue itself, which was written on the two tables. For these are His words: “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who hath made us fit, as ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which was to be done away; how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more shall the ministration of righteousness abound in glory. A good deal might be said about these words; but perhaps we shall have a more fitting opportunity at some future time. At present, however, I beg you to observe how he speaks of the letter that killeth, and contrasts therewith the spirit that giveth life. Now this must certainly be “the ministration of death written and engraven in stones,” and “the ministration of condemnation,” since the law entered that sin might abound. But the commandments themselves are so useful and salutary to the doer of them, that no one could have life unless he kept them. Well, then, is it owing to the one precept about the Sabbath-day, which is included in it, that the Decalogue is called “the letter that killeth?” Because, forsooth, every man that still observes that day in its literal appointment is carnally wise, but to be carnally wise is nothing else than death? And must the other nine commandments, which are rightly observed in their literal form, not be regarded as belonging to the law of works by which none is justified, but to the law of faith whereby the just man lives? Who can possibly entertain so absurd an opinion as to suppose that “the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones,” is not said equally of all the ten commandments, but only of the solitary one touching the Sabbath-day? In which class do we place that which is thus spoken of: “The law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression?” and again thus: “Until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law?” and also that which we have already so often quoted: “By the law is the knowledge of sin?” and especially the passage in which the apostle has more clearly expressed the question of which we are treating: “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet?”
- 2 Cor. iii. 3–9.
- Rom. v. 20.
- Rom. iv. 15.
- Rom. v. 13.
- Rom. iii. 20.
- Rom. vii. 7.