In Him you were also circumcised in the putting off of your sinful nature, with the circumcision performed by Christ and not by human hands.
I. ITS NATURE. It is not external, but internal, wrought by the Spirit and not by the hands of men. It is "of the heart in the spirit, and not in the letter" (Romans 2:29). It is "the circumcision of the heart," so often spoken of even in Old Testament times (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 44:7; Acts 7:51), which ought to have accompanied the external rite. The Colossians, as Gentiles, were circumcised in this spiritual sense on the day of their conversion.
II. ITS EXTENT. "In the putting off the body of the flesh; "not in the mere cutting off of a part of the body, as in the external rite of Judaism. This language marks the completeness of the spiritual change and its effects upon both body and soul.
1. The body of flesh is more than the mere body, which is not "put off," for it is not evil, but becomes "the temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19). It is the body in its fleshliness, regarded as the seat of the lusts which war against the soul and bring forth fruit unto death. The expression is similar to "the old man which is corrupt" (Ephesians 4:22), "the body of sin" (Romans 6:6), and "sinful flesh," or, literally, "the flesh of sin" (Romans 8:3). The spiritual circumcision implies, not the mere putting off of one form of sin, but the putting off the whole of the power of the flesh.
2. The putting off of the body of flesh implies deliverance from the dominion of sin - dying to sin as a controlling and regulating power, so that the body, hitherto "the instrument of unrighteousness," becomes "an instrument of righteousness unto God" (Romans 6:13).
III. ITS AUTHOR. "In the circumcision of Christ;" that is, the circumcision wrought by Christ through his Spirit. Its Author is not Moses or Abraham, but Christ himself, by virtue of our union with him. The formation of Christ in the soul as the Author of a new spiritual life is "the circumcision of Christ;" it is the new birth, which, under the power of the Holy Spirit, casts off the power of corruption. It is wrought by the Lord the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18), and is the result of Christ dwelling in us by faith (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:5-8). This is the true circumcision, "whose praise is not of man, but of God." - T. C.
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.I. IS INWARD AND SPIRITUAL.
II. IS COMPLETE. Manual circumcision was the cutting away of only a small part of the flesh. But the spiritual circumcision consists in putting off the whole body of our corrupt nature — the entire fleshly principle.
III. IS DIVINE. "By the circumcision of Christ." It is wrought, without hands, by the inward power of the Divine Spirit of Christ.
IV. IS REALIZED BY THE THOROUGH IDENTIFICATION OF THE BELIEVER WITH CHRIST IN HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION.
V. IS WROUGHT IN THE SOUL BY A SPIRITUAL BAPTISM. "Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him."
VI. IS RECEIVED BY FAITH. "Through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead." Faith is not a natural product of the human heart. It is a Divine gift, bestowed on man by a Divine operation.
(G. Barlow.)I. EVERY REAL CHRISTIAN HAS EXPERIENCED THE TRUE CIRCUMCISION. The argument is that circumcision was unnecessary, since the Colossians had undergone the new birth which it signified.
1. It is spiritual, and plainly distinguished from that which was made with hands. The idea was not a novel one (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7; Acts 7:51; Romans 2:28-29).
2. The true character of the operation is the putting off of the body of the flesh, "the old man," corrupt human nature, with all its carnal instincts and tendencies. Manual circumcision cut off only a small part of the flesh, the spiritual is an entire transformation of the whole man. Old habits are abandoned, evil associations forsaken, and the soul is ushered into a new life, with new thoughts, affections, etc. It is a putting on of the new man.
3. It is Divine, "the circumcision of Christ," ordained and communicated by Him, with Him for its author and model.
II. THIS TRUE CIRCUMCISION IS REALIZED ONLY IN UNION WITH CHRIST IN HIS DEATH, BURIAL, AND RESURRECTION.
1. The Saviour died for us, and when the anxious sinner trusts Christ he is regarded as having died with Him.
2. The reality of death is evinced by burial, and the death of the believer with Christ is the casting off of the body of the flesh. The old man is sepulchred.
3. The soul in regeneration arises with Christ to a new and holy life.
III. THIS UNION IS REALIZED IN THE BAPTISM. It is generally assumed that the allusion here is to immersion.
1. But it is difficult to see any resemblance between this and the depositing of Christ's body in a rock-hewn sepulchre. The reference is to the baptism of the Spirit — the Washing of regeneration (1 Corinthians 12:13, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:14). The theory of immersion is that it is the profession of a regeneration which has already taken place; but with St. Paul the burial and resurrection are coincident with the baptism. It is quite possible to die and rise with Christ without water baptism, but not without the baptism of the Spirit.
2. Why does Paul speak disparagingly of "hand-wrought" circumcision, and proclaim its needlessness, if he is to pass immediately to speak of the efficacy of "hand-wrought" baptism? To introduce that would be to introduce the very element of ceremonialism which he is denouncing.
IV. THE PRINCIPLE THROUGH WHICH THIS SPIRITUAL BAPTISM IS RECEIVED — "through faith."
1. It is surprising that so many should regard the baptism in which the disciple is said to rise with Christ as that of water. No one is raised out of water by faith, but by the arms which immersed him. The baptism of the Spirit is received by faith: an unbeliever cannot receive it.
2. "In the operation of God" does not mean that that is the origin but the object of faith. If I believe in the power that raised Christ, I believe in the power which has accepted His suretyship for me. This faith regards Christ's resurrection as the keystone of Christianity, the centre of confidence, the only basis of hope.
(J. Spence, D. D.)
I. The apostle opposes the position that ALL CHRISTIAN MEN BY VIRTUE OF THEIR UNION WITH CHRIST HAVE RECEIVED THE TRUE CIRCUMCISION, of which the outward rite was the shadow, and therefore now obsolete.
1. The language points to a definite past time. When they became Christians a change passed over them parabled by circumcision,(1) It is not made with hands, i.e., it is not a rite but a reality, not transacted in the flesh but in the Spirit, not a removal of ceremonial impurity, but a cleansing of the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6).(2) It consists in the putting off of the body of the flesh "the sins of" is an interpolation — a complete stripping off from oneself, as of clothes, in contrast with a removal of a small part of the body. It is true that Christian men, alas! realize this by slow degrees; but on the Divine side it is complete. Christ gives perfect emancipation, and if it is only partial it is because we have not taken the things that are freely given. The foe may keep up a guerilla warfare after he is substantially defeated, but his entire subjugation is certain if we keep hold of the strength of Christ.(3) It is of Christ; not that He submitted to it, but instituted it.
2. What is the bearing of this statement on the apostle's purpose? That circumcision is an anachronism, "as if a flower should shut, and be a bud again."(1) The true centre of gravity, of Christianity, then, is in moral transformation. Surely Christ who gives men a new life by union with Himself by faith has delivered man from the "yoke of bondage," if He has done anything at all. How far away from Paul's conception, then, are those which busy themselves with punctilios of observance! But the hatred of forms may be as completely a form as the most elaborate ritual. We need to have our eyes turned away to the far higher thing, the service of the transformed nature.(2) The conquest of the animal nature is the certain outcome of union with Christ and that alone. Paul did not regard matter as evil, as the Colossian teachers did, nor the body as the source of all sin. But he knew that the fiercest temptations came from it, and that the foulest stains upon the conscience were splashed from the mud which it threw. It is a matter of life and death to find some means of taming the animal that is in us all. We all know of wrecked lives which have been driven on the rocks by the wild passions of the flesh; and when we come to add its weaknesses, limitations, and needs, and remember how high purposes are frustrated by its shrinking from toil, and how often mists born from its undrained swamps darken the vision of truth and God, we do not need to be Gnosties to believe that goodness requires the flesh to be subdued. But no asceticisms or resolves will do what we want. Much repression may be affected by force of will, but it is like a man holding a wolf by the jaws. The arms begin to ache and the grip to grow slack, and he feels his strength ebbing, and knows that as soon as he lets go the brute will be at his throat. Nothing tames the wild beast in us but Christ. He binds it in a silken lash, and that gentle constraint is strong because the fierceness is gone. Christianity would be easy were it a round of observances. Anybody can fast or wear a hair shirt, but the putting off of the body of the flesh is a harder thing. Emotion, theology, ceremonial, may have their value, but a religion that includes them all and leaves out the subjugation of the flesh is worthless. If we are in Christ we shall not live in the flesh.
II. Paul meets the false teaching by a reference to CHRISTIAN BAPTISM AS BEING THE CHRISTIAN SIGN OF THE INWARD CHANGE.
1. The form of expression in the Greek implies that the circumcision and burial with Christ in baptism are contemporaneous. You have been baptized — does not that express all that circumcision meant and more?(1) This reference is quite consistent with the subordinate importance of ritual. Some forms are necessary to a visible Church, and Christ has given us two: one symbolizing the initial spiritual act of Christian life, and the other the constantly repeated process of Christian nourishment.(2) The form here presupposed is immersion.(3) There are but two theories: the one is that baptism effects the change, and elevates it into more than the importance of which Paul sought to deprive circumcision, confuses the distinction between the Church and the world, lulls men into a false security, obscures the central truth of Christianity that faith makes a Christian, gives the basis for a portentous sacer-dotalism, and is shivered to pieces against the plain facts of daily life. But it is conclusively disposed of by the words, "through faith in the operation," etc. What remains, then, but that baptism is associated with the change, because in the Divine order it is meant to be its outward symbol?
2. Note the thoroughness of the change. It is more than a circumcision; it is burial and resurrection.(1) We partake of Christ's death inasmuch as —
(a) (b) (a) (b) (c) (A. Maclaren, D. D.) I. II. III. IV. V. VI. (Bishop Alexander.)
(b) (a) (b) (c) (A. Maclaren, D. D.) I. II. III. IV. V. VI. (Bishop Alexander.)
(a) (b) (c) (A. Maclaren, D. D.) I. II. III. IV. V. VI. (Bishop Alexander.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.) (Bishop Alexander.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)