For circumcision truly profits, if you keep the law: but if you be a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.…
I. MERELY OUTWARD RELIGION IS NO TRUE RELIGION AT ALL.
1. The apostle is proving that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin. He has shown this respecting the Gentiles. He next comes to the Jew, and there is a harder task, for the Jew was so blinded, prejudiced, and self-righteous. There was nothing which the Jew more gloried in than in that of circumcision. God having, as they said, promised Abraham that, if his children transgressed, He would remember their compliance with this ordinance, and deliver them on account of the merit of circumcision. They accounted this one rite equal to the keeping of all the commandments of God. But in this they showed a lamentable ignorance of their own Scriptures (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 9:25; Jeremiah 4:4). Surely these are sufficiently plain as to the utter outward worthlessness of circumcision. So, with regard to the other rites, when the Jews would substitute them for true religion, then they became an object of aversion to God (Isaiah 1:13, etc.). What is there in outward rites and practice which, of itself, can be acceptable to God, who is a Spirit. Worship offered to the Divine being must have some correspondence to His nature, and accordance with His will and Word. If God had a body, and were not a Spirit, then a religion of bodily exercise might serve without any regard to the inward state of the worshipper's mind and heart. But God has no corporeal form, and therefore bodily service, without spiritual worship, is no worship at all. If, again, God were a stock or a stone, then a religion which exercises neither the mind nor the spirit might satisfy His claim. But when God is a pure Mind, a great Spirit — when God is love, and claims all souls as His, then to attempt to put Him off with outward forms is an insult to His spiritual character and His holy majesty.
2. Are there none of you who have thought that, if you came to church once or twice a week, this alone proved that you were good Christians? And yet it might be that there was only a bodily attendance: your minds might have been at home, or with your business, or with the last pleasure. And so with baptism, which has taken the place of circumcision. The Scripture itself guards us against not resting in the mere outward form or outward rite (1 Peter 3:21). And yet many, if baptized with water, never examine themselves as to whether they have also been baptized with the Holy Spirit. And so the spirit of formality can turn even the Lord's Supper, which is meant to deepen penitence, and to call forth simple glory in the Cross of Christ, into self-righteous formality and a judaizing ceremony.
II. THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY OF AN INWARD WORK OF DIVINE GRACE. "For he is a Jew which is one inwardly," etc.
1. This may be learned from the Old Testament. Moses taught (Deuteronomy 30:6) that true circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, a Divine work, inwardly wrought.
2. What was the design of this peculiar rite?
(1) St. Paul says, "Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised." So, in Genesis 17, God calls it a token of the covenant betwixt Him and Abraham. In that covenant God had engaged to make Abraham a father of many nations; to be a God to him and his seed after him, and in this all blessings are comprehended; and if Abraham had not believed God, he would not have complied with a rite so painful to flesh and blood. Thus, in its very origin, this rite was connected with faith, and if used without faith, it did not answer its original design.
(2) But, again, this rite also denoted that man is by nature, from his very birth, a sinner; that the covenant of grace requires blood to be shed in order to atone for him; that there must be the inward mortification of the body of sin; and that there must be a marked distinction in spirit between the people of God and the children of the world. It especially set forth Christ the Mediator of the covenant who should arise of the seed of Abraham, who should shed His blood in atonement for sin, through whom also should be given the Holy Spirit, who should impart a new nature, a new heart, and should enable men to mortify their sinful lusts, and thus to become a peculiar people, separate from the world indeed, zealous of good works. But all this spiritual meaning was lost where men used only the outward form. Hence the declaration of vers. 25-29.
3. To this rite of circumcision our Lord personally submitted. He had not the personal need which others had. It was because He had consented to be made under the law, to be obedient unto the law for men, yea, to shed His blood for the atonement of the sins of men. As He ended, so He began His life, with shedding His sacred blood. Here was part of the vicarious obedience paid by Christ to the law, whence our safety, our peace, our happiness, our salvation.
4. But now, under the gospel, the outward rite is gone with the types of the ceremonial law, but the inward blessing is as important as ever. We are by nature born in sin; we have to look with faith to the blood of the everlasting covenant; we have, through the help of the Holy Spirit, to mortify our members which are on earth; we have to come out of the world. Especially we have to receive Jesus as the Messiah in all His offices, and we are to depend on Christ, in the fulness of His grace, for the help of the Holy Spirit, to regenerate, to mortify, and to sanctify. These things are not less essential to our religion than they were to the Jew; without them our Christianity is nothing worth. Whatever outward things the Christian may do, he will never allow himself to forget the necessity of inward piety. But in his zeal for spiritual religion he need not neglect the few or simple ordinances of religion; but while using all means must trust to Christ only.
(J. Hambleton, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.