“THE letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6.
This is a plain statement of the inspired Word, and ought to be believed by every Christian, at least.
And that it is a fact, and one which is capable of practical illustration in human affairs, can, we think, be demonstrated to all candid people, whether Christians or not.
It is just the danger that we shall have a practical illustration of it in this government, that now demands the attention of every American citizen.
What letter is it that killeth? The verse in which the words occur says that it is the letter of the New Testament, and there is also a Spirit; and it is said that the “Spirit giveth life.”
The apostle in this chapter of his epistle to the Corinthians speaks of the ministration of the letter, and the ministration of the Spirit, and says (verse 6) that Christians had not been made ministers of the letter, but of the Spirit.
In the following verse he speaks of the “ministration of death”—the ministration of the letter, which “killeth”—as being that which was “written and engraven in  stones” in the days of the children of Israel. That was the law of God—the ten commandments.
In that law there is death, but no life, for the sinner; and this truth embraces every individual on the earth.
Yet that law is an essential part of God’s government. It is the standard of righteousness, and could not be altered, even to save the life of the Son of God. For it was the penalty of the violation of that law which the Son of God paid in man’s behalf, upon the cross.
The ten commandments are the letter of righteousness; but they only condemn the sinner to death. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth,” or giveth life.
Now it is proposed by a very large part of the religious population of this country, to “put God into the Constitution,” by inserting in that document—which is the fundamental law of the land—a clause recognizing God as the ruler of the nations, and making his Word the basis of national and State legislation. This change in the basis of our government has been attempt several times already, and is about to be attempted again.
This, then, if it succeeds, will be to put into the fundamental law of the land the letter of righteousness. But inseparable from this will be the terribly significant fact,—“the letter killeth.”
Let us see. The letter of righteousness—the decalogue—demands the death penalty for every violation of it. This is the penalty which God himself has fixed, and it can no more be separated from his law than God himself can be.
But this law, with its death penalty, all people, even the best, are prone to violate. Since this is so, therefore, how long will it be after the letter of righteousness has been put into the fundamental law of the land, before every man, woman, and child in the land will be under sentence of death?
God’s government provides a means by which this death sentence is suspended, and an opportunity given the transgressor to escape it altogether; but human governments cannot proceed upon this basis. Their laws must be executed; and the only delay that can intervene is that necessary to establish the guilt of the violator. Everybody knows that this is the plan upon which all human governments are, and must be conducted.
What, then, do these religious people want by their scheme to “put God in the Constitution”? Do they want to kill off all the people of the country, themselves included? This is the only logical result which the success of their scheme could have.
No; it cannot be that they want to put themselves under sentence of death; for no “reformer,” even of the most fanatical sort, ever wanted to reform himself in this way. It will be necessary to exempt themselves, and all who are willing to be reformed to their standard and scheme of righteousness. But they will have enough appreciation of the logic of the situation to bring the penalty upon such as stand out against it; and persecution, imprisonment,—yes, and even death, will assuredly be the lot of some. In this, the promoters of the like scheme have never failed in the past.
Civil governments can appropriate the forms of righteousness, and the forms only. And whenever this is done, it becomes literally and visibly true that “the letter killeth.” But life, not death, is the object of government; and only the government of God can provide the Spirit which “is life, because of righteousness.”