For circumcision truly profits, if you keep the law: but if you be a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.…
I. THERE ARE SOME WHO ARE ONLY CHRISTIANS OUTWARDLY AND OTHERS WHO ARE ALSO CHRISTIANS INWARDLY. This difference appears —
1. In the different characters given those who profess the same faith and true religion (Matthew 13:47, 48). The tares and the wheat and the goats and the sheep, the wise and the foolish (Matthew 25), are in the Church.
2. In the different effects religion has on the lives of those who are called Christians. There are some whose religion makes them holy, others who have nothing but an idle form (2 Timothy 3:5). The knowledge of some is confined to their heads, it never gets down to their hearts (Titus 1:16). Others, by reason of their light, dare not venture on an ill thing, more than on a precipice. The pretended religion of others leaves them loose.
3. In the different acceptance which persons' prayers get. Some are very pleasing, others God abhors (Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 66:2, 3; Isaiah 1:11).
4. From the different feeling which those have of the advantage of religion, the ordinances and duties thereof. Some are acquainted with the gain of religion, and, from their own experience, can give a solid reason why they follow it (1 Timothy 6:6). But unto others all these things are but as empty husks (Proverbs 14:10). They abide in the outer court of religion all their days.
5. In the different effects of the religion which those profess. Grace is of a growing nature (Proverbs 4:18). And the longer that saints have a standing in religion they will be the more firmly rooted (Psalm 92:13, 14; Proverbs 26:14). But others think they are right, and they seek no farther, and some, instead of growing better, grow worse and worse (Revelation 3:16).
6. In the different passage which those have out of time into eternity. Death is the point at which we all meet; but it is the point where outside and inside Christians part forever (Psalm 37:37, 38).
II. THE CAUSES OF THIS DIFFERENCE.
1. The different way that persons come by their religion. There is a difference —
(1) In the weight which their entering on their religion had on their spirits. Some come very lightly by their religion; hence it sits lightly upon them, and often goes as lightly from them. They venture upon building a tower without counting the cost. To others it is not so easy, but they are brought to the utmost seriousness in the matter (Luke 14:28, 29); hence they go to the bottom of the matter, while others satisfy themselves with superficial work.
(2) In the depth of their conviction and humiliation (Luke 6:48, 49). The plough of conviction lightly going over the fallow ground of the heart is sufficient to make an outside Christian (Matthew 13:5, 20). But it must be carried deeper to make an inside Christian, even to the root of the most inward beloved lust, and to the discovery of Christ for sanctification, as well as justification.
(3) In the issue of their exercises about their soul's case. In the one they have issued in the change of their nature (Ezekiel 36:26); but in the other, whatever stir has been made in the affections, the stony heart has remained untaken away (Matthew 13:5).
2. The different ways in which professors follow religion.
(1) Some make religion their main business (Genesis 5:24). And this makes an inside Christian (Psalm 119:6). Others make religion but a bye-work; their main business is of another kind. In regard to the one, all things else about him bow to his religion; whereas, as to the other, he makes his religion bow to his other designs.
(2) They follow religion from. different principles, motives, and ends.
(a) Some follow it from a natural conscience. Fear of punishment, or hope of reward, are powerful enough to make an outward Christian. But an inside Christian has a gracious principle of love to God and holiness implanted in him which incline him unto holiness.
(b) Some aim at approving themselves to men in their religion (Matthew 6:2), and others study to approve themselves to God (2 Corinthians 5:9).
III. WHAT IS THE OUTSIDE AND LETTER OF RELIGION WHICH ONLY MAKES AN OUTSIDE CHRISTIAN AND WHAT IS THE INSIDE AND SPIRIT OF IT WHICH MAKES A CHRISTIAN?
1. The outside of religion is that part of it which lies open to the view of the world by which men form their estimate, not God (1 Samuel 16:7). It comprehends all Church privileges, duties, and attainments lying open to the view of men.
2. The letter of religion is that part of it which is agreeable to the letter of the law, whether in externals or internals. And it comprehends not only the outside, but internal dispositions and attainments as to the matter of them; for example, Judas's sorrow for sin, the stony ground's joy at receiving the seed of the Word, and the hypocrite's delight in approaching God (Isaiah 58).
3. The inside of religion is that part of it which is open to the all-seeing eye of God (Matthew 6:4).
4. The spirit or spirituality of religion is the eternal grace joined to the external performance (John 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:5).
IV. NOT THE FORMER, BUT THE LATTER, SORT OF RELIGION MARKS A TRUE CHRISTIAN. This is evident if we consider —
1. That there is nothing in the outside or letter of religion but what man may reach in an unregenerate state, in which no man can ever please God (Romans 3:8).
2. That the outside and letter of religion may be without any true love to God in the heart, which yet is the substance of practical holiness and the comprehensive duty of the whole law (Ezekiel 33:31).
3. That the outside and letter of religion may consist with the reign of sin in the heart (2 Timothy 3:5).
4. That men are in religion only what they are before God, not what they are before men (Genesis 17:1).
(T. Boston, D. D.)
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.