Circumcision has value if you observe the Law, but if you break the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
I. SYMBOLIC RELIGION. The law of all symbolism in religion is wrapped up in the words, "Circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the Law." That is, the sign is of worth just in so far as it leads to, and attests, the thing signified.
1. Personal value. Man's nature is complex, and the spiritual and the sensuous react on each other. Hence a definite, tangible sign may help the spirit. So circumcision: God's people. So baptism and the Lord's Supper now.
2. Relative value. An attestation of spiritual truths can be emphasized by an outward sign. So circumcision spoke forcefully to the heathen around, and so perhaps baptism and the Lord's Supper have such use now.
II. A TRUE SPIRITUALISM. That, however, which is educative and attesting has no intrinsic worth. Hence:
1. The unvalue of mere symbolism: a childish trifling. Nay, worse - a perpetual condemnation, mocking the reality with the shadow.
2. The supreme value of true spiritualism. If the lesson is learnt, and the witness borne, the work is done; for "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him," etc. So the man of circumcised heart was the true Jew; the man of baptized spirit, and who feeds upon Christ by faith, is the true Christian. Let us learn, in the best sense, "Thou God seest me." - T.F.L.
For circumcision verily profiteth if thou keep the law.I. ITS INSTITUTION (Genesis 17:9). It is called "the covenant," and "the token of the covenant," which God established with Abraham and his seed. So circumcision was not of man's invention, but of God's appointment. And baptism is not a ceremony introduced into the Church by the invention of man. Christ said, "Go and baptize all nations," etc.
II. THE HISTORY OF THE ORDINANCE.
1. It commenced with adults (Genesis 17:23). We do not read about the state of mind of all these adults. It is certain that Ishmael differed exceedingly from Isaac and from his father. So baptism was first amongst adults. You remember the instance of Lydia. She having her heart opened, was afterwards baptized, and her house, without any specific mention of the character of the parties composing her household.
2. It continued not amongst adults, but on children (Genesis 21:4). And this became a custom in Israel. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were as truly circumcised as Moses and Aaron; Jeroboam and Ahab as David or Hezekiah. And thus it came to pass, by the continuance of the outward ordinance, not waiting upon the individual character, but taking its rise on the eighth day of the child's age, there came to be an Israel in two senses — spiritual, inclusive of that chosen people that God reserved to Himself; and national, inclusive of the others, together with the mixed multitude which knew not God. And so the apostle tells us, "All are not Israel that are of Israel." Now the analogy here again is perfect. Baptism, which commenced with adults, soon proceeded among the children; the children of the baptized converts, were themselves baptized. There is no especial commandment for the purpose. None was needed, because the earliest Christians, who were Jews, regarded their children as entitled to the same privileges as themselves. It would have been strange if Christianity, placing before them greater privileges in every other respect, had restricted them in this. They were in the habit of bringing their children as Jews; to do so as Christians, at the same age, was natural. But if instead of presenting them at eight days old, they were to keep them back till they had formed some judgment of their character, then, indeed, a special commandment would have been required, because they would have been called to change their already established practice. The same consequences would naturally follow which followed in the case of Israel. There would grow up a baptized community, a variety of characters. All would not be Christians which were of Christendom; as all were not Israelites, indeed, who were of Israel in the flesh.
III. THE NATURE OF THE ORDINANCE AND THE ABUSE OF IT (Romans 4:11).
1. Here faith is distinguished from circumcision. It was enjoyed by Abraham previous to the circumcision; and he received the circumcision — a sign, and declared also to be a seal, to him of the righteousness of the faith which he had before. Nothing less than this could ever have been supposed to belong to circumcision by any believing Israelite. Remembering it was a seal to his father Abraham of the righteousness of faith, he would look upon it as a seal to himself in like manner, and would ask for it as a seal upon his child also, and would give thanks unto God that his infant might be sealed in like manner. He would presently find, indeed, that many have the seal Who grow up without the faith. But would their falling off alter his view of the ordinance of God? No. He would be called to distinguish between the ordinance itself and the abuse of it, into which the nation had fallen; and he would endeavour, amidst all the degeneracy of the people around him, to rise into holy confidence that God would bless His own ordinance, and as he found that faith working within him, he would appeal to that ordinance as a proof of God's loving kindness to him. Now here the analogy is the same. Baptism was, indeed, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which the first adult Christian had, being yet unbaptized. It does not follow that no persons were baptized except true believers. We know of one who was baptized, and the apostle told him that he had "neither part nor lot in the matter." But all who made a profession of faith were baptized. If the answer were the answer of a good conscience, then baptism was all that it was intended to be — a seal to them of the righteousness of the faith which God had given them. But afterwards, when the infants of those believing parents were baptized, it would presently appear that many were baptized in the flesh who lived without God in the world: and the faith of the believer would then be put to a trial. Baptism has been abused, as circumcision was.
2. See, then, how circumcision was abused. It is the nature of the human heart to desire to escape punishment without desiring to avoid sin; and therefore the tendency of man always has been to substitute some form for real religion. The Jews boasted of being the children of Abraham, and placed their confidence in that for escape from punishment. There is nothing that the Scripture is more express against than this resting in outward privileges, as if they could give them safety with God (Matthew 3:8, 9; John 8:33, etc.; Acts 7:51; Romans 2:28, 29). How awful is the analogy here. With regard to the outward forms of religion, there remains a large class of persons amongst ourselves who place the same sort of bold reliance upon the outward ordinance of baptism that the Jews placed upon their being the children of Abraham. Read from ver. 17 in its application to yourselves: most remarkable it is, by the transposition of a few words — changing "Jew" for "Christian" and changing "circumcision" for "baptism." Oh, be assured that while circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of Abraham's faith, the baptism which is of the heart is the purifying power of God.
(H. McNeill, D. D.)1. Are intended to promote holy living.
2. If this end be accomplished they are invaluable.
3. If not our very religion becomes irreligion.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
For he is not a Jew that is one outwardly.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.)
1. Therefore to explicate this necessary point, consider some things by way of foundation.(1) We find it such a sin that generally the people of Israel were guilty of, insomuch that the great contestation between the prophets in the Old Testament and the Israelites living then, between Christ and His apostles and the Jews living then, to have been upon this very particular. No minister, no sermon, could take them off from this, that because they had the external privileges, therefore they did belong to God, and were the children of Abraham.(2) If you look over all Christianity you shall find this the universal sin, whereby Christ and regeneration with powerful godliness is wholly neglected, and a fleshly carnal confidence in the titles and ordinances of Christianity established.(3) To demonstrate the connaturality of this sin, observe how ingenious the fleshly minds of men have been by arguments and opinions to encourage a carnal confidence in these externals.
2. While we give this explication, you must by way of caution take heed of two other extremes.(1) To cry down the very being and use of these external ordinances as being but forms, and the spiritual frame of the heart is made all in all.(2) We are also deficient when, although we do not cry down forms wholly, yet we give too little to these institutions of Christ.
3. Consider why people are so apt to rest upon these as comfortable testimonies, and there are several reasons.(1) Because they being duties commanded, when performed, that gives some ease and comfort to a natural conscience.(2) We are apt to rest in these things because they are easy to be done; whereas the way of mortification is tedious to flesh and blood. Hence it is called crucifying the flesh, and cutting off the right hand, and pulling out the right eye.(3) Men rest upon these because they are ignorant of the work and necessity of regeneration. The apostle calls circumcision of the heart, circumcision made without hands; and so baptism and the sacraments in the heart, which are not visible in the eyes of the world, make us esteemed before God. Be not, then, idol Christians that have eyes and see not, hearts and understand not the inward virtue and spiritual efficacy of Christ in His ordinances.(4) They put confidence in them because they are ignorant of the righteousness by faith in Christ.(5) Men rest on them because they look on these duties as satisfactory and compensatory to God.(6) Carnal people rely on these because they mistake the nature of them. They look upon them as those things which will of themselves make them acceptable to God, notwithstanding any preparation or spiritual managing of them. Whereas setting aside the Word of God that works the first grace in us, all other duties they are but as garments to the body, which cannot warm a dead body, but if there be life in the body to heat them first, then they will increase the heat. And thus it is here: if there be spiritual life in thee, and thou put it forth in these duties, then these duties will corroborate and strengthen it more.
(A. Burgess.)1. That they are not may appear in that the Scripture makes it not only possible for such to be damned, but doth foretell even actual damnation, and that to the greater part of such persons.
2. The Scripture reckons the condition of a man with these privileges and one without them in the same condition if there be not holiness. Thus Jeremiah makes the uncircumcised in heart, though circumcised in flesh, all one with the worst of heathens, the Moabites and the Ammonites. And to this purpose, also, the apostle in the verses before, "Shall not thy circumcision be accounted uncircumcision if thou keep not the law?" So that as long as wickedness is in thy life, thy baptism doth no more advantage thee than the heathen's no-baptism.
3. The Scripture goeth higher, and doth not only make them equal with pagans, but God professeth His abomination of all their religious service, and thy wickedness is more noisome than all thy religion is well-pleasing. See Isaiah 1, how God expresseth Himself concerning the sacrifices and new moons of the sinful Israelites. He hated them; they were an abomination to Him. It was like cutting off a dog's head. Oh, how contrary are God's thoughts and thy thoughts about the same religious duties! The prophet Haggai also (Haggai 2) doth by an excellent instance show, that if a man be unclean and sinful, his holy services do not take off from his uncleanness, but his uncleanness defiles them.
4. These are so far from being signs without grace, that they will be aggravations of thy condemnation. As in some countries when their malefactors were to be burnt at the fire, they poured oil and pitch to increase their torment the more, so will every sacrament, every prayer, every church privilege, make hell the hotter for thee.
(A. Burgess.)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.
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).
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.)
I. THE PARALLEL BETWEEN OUTWARD JUDAISM AND OUTWARD CHRISTIANITY.
1. The Jews place their confidence in being the seed of Abraham, being circumcised, and having the true religion and worship of God among them, and consequently despised all the world besides, and thought that therefore they should certainly be saved, let them lead what lives they would. It is this notion that the Baptist tacitly reproves in Matthew 3:8, 9. But many among us build upon no better a foundation. What great difference is there between being natural-born Jews and being born of Christian parents? between an outward circumcision and an outward baptism? between an external profession of the law of God given by Moses and an external profession of the gospel of Christ? And yet are there not too many of us that hope to be saved merely on account of these things? Far am I from undervaluing these privileges, but to rest upon them alone is just the folly of a man, that, being born to a good estate, riotously spends it all, and yet thinks to die rich. Baptism and the profession of a holy religion are unspeakable blessings; but they were granted us that we might be obliged to forsake the devil and all his works, and follow the example of our Lord. If we do not make use of our baptism and profession, they will signify nothing to us.
2. The Jews boasted in being skilful in the knowledge of their law (vers. 19, 20), and the more they excelled in this the better Jews they took themselves to be, and the more acceptable to God, and the more they despised their inferiors in this knowledge (John 7:49). Hence, instead of practising the law their study was taken up in speculations about it. And are there not some now that make Christianity little more than a mere speculation, or a set of orthodox opinions? And too many, who read the Word of God, but with no intent to better their lives, but merely for the confirmation of some notion they have taken up? Others study Scripture merely for the sake of its language, which they so wretchedly misapply that it is little better than jargon and cant. With some of these, to be a good Christian is to be able to dispute about articles of faith. With others of them, Christianity is but talking warmly in Scripture phrase about matters they never troubled to understand — such regard with contempt those plain simple Christians that heartily believe their creed, and endeavour to serve God, but yet trouble not about points of speculation. This is the worst representation of Christianity that can be (Romans 2:13; John 13:17; John 2:3, 4).
3. The Jews had an extraordinary zeal for things indifferent, and not commanded of God (Mark 7:7-9). What a stir did they make about their phylacteries, which they were abundantly more careful to have tied on their heads than to have the law of God written upon their hearts. What conscience did they make of cleansing cups and platters, etc. (Matthew 15:1; Mark 7:2). We who know better are apt to deride these superstitions; but are not many of us as foolish? Is it not as great piece of superstition to make it a matter of conscience to forbear the use of an indifferent thing when God hath not forbid the use of it, as it is to make it a matter of conscience to use an indifferent thing when God hath not commanded it? And those who think to recommend themselves to God merely by a conformity to the forms prescribed in the worship of God, without any inward devotion, are as much devoid of the life of God as any I have now represented.
4. The Jews showed a greater zeal for rituals than for the moral duties of the law (Matthew 23:23; Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:12; Matthew 15:8). Now, consider whether we also do not frequently thus play the Jews with God. Hath not the world experience of some who would not, for any consideration, swear an oath, that yet will make no scruple of using very indirect arts for the promoting their own interests? These are those who are very strict in keeping the Lord's day; but yet they are not so strict in keeping faith and trust, and preserving their minds from worldliness and sensuality.
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF INWARD RELIGION.
1. The inward Jew is one who is "an Israelite indeed" (John 1:47). A true disciple of Christ is one who is so far from vaunting himself in the outward privileges he enjoys, that he draws from hence an argument of working out his salvation with greater fear and trembling, knowing that the greater advantages he enjoys above others involve him in greater obligations to outstrip them in holiness.
2. He is one that hath quitted his mind of all its sinful prejudices, so that he is always prepared to receive any truth of God, though conveyed to him by mean instruments, and though never so disagreeable.
3. He is one that gives every duty its due and just place in his esteem, preferring inward acts of piety, and so ordering his devotions towards God that they promote the duties he owes to his neighbour.
4. He is one who endeavours to yield a universal obedience to the laws of God, not picking and choosing those that are easiest and least repugnant.
5. He seeks not the praise of men, but hath a mighty care to approve himself to God.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. HE IS NOT A TRUE CHRISTIAN WHO ONLY BEARS THE VISIBLE BADGES OF CHRISTIANITY, BUT HE WHO, WITH THE VISIBLE BADGES, ALSO PARTAKES OF THE INVISIBLE GRACE (Mark 16:16).
1. One may be baptized in the name of Christ, and yet be even at the last only an outside Christian (as in our text, and Acts 8:13, 21). But he is a true Christian who has the invisible grace signified by baptism. See the difference in this (Matthew 3:11, and 1 Peter 3:21).
2. Persons may be admitted to the Lord's table, and yet not be true Christians. They may be admitted to an external partaking of the children's bread, and yet be but dogs in the sight of the heart-searching God (Luke 12:26; Matthew 22:13). But he is a true Christian who is admitted to communion with God in that ordinance (Song of Solomon 5:1; John 6:57). The one is held in the outer court, the other is admitted into the inner, and is there feasted.
II. HE IS NOT A TRUE CHRISTIAN WHOSE OUTWARD MAN ONLY IS CLEANSED FROM THE POLLUTIONS OF THE WORLD, BUT HE WHOSE INWARD MAN IS ALSO CLEANSED. Saving grace penetrates to the inside (Psalm 24:3, 4; Luke 28:11; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10). A blameless life in the world, though good in itself, yet comes not the length of true Christianity.
1. There are several things that may in some measure cleanse the conversation from gross pollutions.(1) Good education and company, as in the case of Joash under the tutorage of Jehoiada. This may chain men's lusts, though it cannot change their nature.(2) A good natural temper and disposition. But no man is born a true Christian, as he is with his natural temper; religion is a supernatural temper (2 Peter 1:4).(3) Their being kept out of the way of temptation. The outward cleanness of many is owing more to circumstances than to any gracious disposition. Many have kept right as long as they were not tried, but so soon as the trial comes they give way.(4) The workings of a natural conscience under a rousing ministry (Mark 6:20).(5) Self-love, fear of punishment, and hope of reward, are powerful incentives, where God's authority is but little valued (Matthew 6:2; Ezekiel 8:12).
2. But the true Christian has this cleanness of the outward conversation, and goes farther.(1) He joins internal purity to external (Psalm 24:4; Matthew 5:8; Galatians 5:24).(2) Even his external purity is from religious motives, springs, and principles (Genesis 39:9).
III. HE IS NOT THE TRUE CHRISTIAN WHO ONLY PERFORMS THE DUTIES OF EXTERNAL OBEDIENCE, BUT HE WHO ALSO WITH THEM JOINS THE DUTIES OF INTERNAL OBEDIENCE.(1) A man may perform the external duties of morality towards his neighbour, and yet be no more than an outward Christian. He may be just in his dealings with men (Luke 18:11), and be liberal towards the needy (1 Corinthians 13:3). True Christianity makes a good neighbour; but when a man is nothing else he is but half, and hardly half, a true Christian.(2) A man may perform the outward duties of piety towards God, yet after all be but an outside Christian.(a) Persons may be very punctual in their attendance at public ordinances, and behave themselves gravely and attentively (Isaiah 58:2; Ezekiel 33:1; Ezekiel 31), and be at much pains in following ordinances from place to place (John 6:24, 26), and talk well of what they hear (1 Corinthians 13:1), and after all be but outside Christians.(b) They may be praying persons, and so carry religion into their families, and into their closets (Jeremiah 12:2; Hebrews 12:17).(c) They may also be sufferers for religion (1 Corinthians 13:3). Hypocrisy is such a salamander as can live in the fire of persecution; and many whom the violent wind of persecution has not been able to drive off the Lord's way, the warm sun of prosperity has done their business.(3) They may join both the outward of the first and second tables, and yet be but outside Christians (Luke 18:12; Philippians 3:6). All this may be, and yet not beyond the boundaries of Pharisaical righteousness (Matthew 5:20).
2. The inside exceeds the outside Christian.(1) He performs the duties of evangelical obedience, in subjecting his whole heart and soul to the Lord, as well as the outward man (John 4:23; Philippians 3:3; Galatians 5:24).(2) He is unreserved and universal in his obedience, which the outside Christian never is.(3) His obedience is son-like, the other is servile and slavish. The highest principle with the hypocrite is fear of punishment, and hope of reward (Hosea 10:11), their highest end is themselves (Hosea 10:1). Jehu professed zeal for the Lord, but in effect it was but zeal for a kingdom. The inside Christian serves God as a son does his father. Prompted by love to Him, and aiming at His honour (1 Corinthians 10:31).
IV. HE IS NOT A TRUE CHRISTIAN WHO HAS INSIDE RELIGION ONLY IN THE LETTER OF IT, BUT HE WHO ALSO HAS IT IN ITS SPIRITUALITY.
1. A man may carry his religion into internals, and yet be but a Christian in the letter. He may do and have that in religion which no eye but God sees or can see, and yet be no true Christian (Jeremiah 17:9, 10; Jeremiah 3:10).(1) A natural conscience may cheek for sins that no eye sees but God's (Romans 2:15).(2) An unsanctified desire of salvation, in the way of the covenant of works, may carry a man to the internals in religion (Romans 10:3). Observe the case of the young man in Matthew 19:16-20.(3) Light may be strong, and kept strong by the common operations of the Holy Spirit, in an unholy heart. Thus, Balaam durst not entertain a thought of cursing Israel; though he would fain have gained the wages of unrighteousness.
2. The true Christian has inside religion, not in the letter only, but in the spirituality thereof (Philippians 3:3), which consists —(1) In the graciousness of the principle (1 Timothy 1:5). Their inward religion is the fruit of their new nature; it is natural, and not forced by terrors or necessity.(2) In the holiness of their aim (Colossians 1:10).
(T. Boston, D. D.)
But he is a Jew which is one inwardly
(C. Neil, M. A.)
(H. Allon, D. D.)
Homilist.To be a Jew in the proper sense was a high privilege indeed. It was to bear "the highest style of man." St. Paul could give no sadder state of the unevangelised Gentiles than that they were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. On the road to Damascus he had beheld the True Jew. This was the Messiah Himself, the only type and model henceforth of a Jew. Saul's zeal for Judaism was not diminished but rather increased by the heavenly vision. Yet it took a wholly new direction from the fundamental change in his conception of what Judaism was. True Judaism has three characteristics: —
1. It is not a thing of mere observances, but a hidden life, a sanctification of the affections, right direction of the will, a regal power which holds all inferior faculties in subjection, which mortifies all worldly and carnal lusts, and is in all things obedient to God's blessed will.
2. It is spiritual, not a literal Judaism, not in bondage to statutes and rules, but taking the principle of the law, which being written on the heart, the Lawgiver's intention is carried out in life. It is an energy which goes beyond the rules of justice to the unconstrained works of reverence, love, and pity.
3. And then, just because it is thus hidden and spiritual, the being and the beauty of it are manifest to God rather than man. Let us come to our Great High Priest for this circumcision of the heart.
(Homilist.)I. The state of THE UNDERSTANDING. "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened." It is in this faculty that the work of grace commences, in order to bring into a right state this leading power by which all the rest are governed. If we are Christians inwardly, then our understandings will be so enlightened as that all the truths of God essential for us to know shall be so clearly discerned as to exercise an influence as powerful as their importance demands. Hero is the great cause of error in those who fancy they have already acquired a right knowledge of the truth because they have been instructed in the Christian theory. They rest in the knowledge of some general propositions; and this is perfectly consistent with complete spiritual blindness. Christ prayed for His disciples, "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth." The truth of God, when apprehended by the understanding in the light of the Holy Spirit, exerts its own sanctifying influence on the soul.
II. In the state of THE JUDGMENT. "And this I pray," said the apostle (Philippians 1:9, 10), i.e., that we may come to such conclusions in our judgment respecting the truth which our understanding has admitted as shall render our knowledge of the truth practical. What is faith, in fact, intellectually considered, but an expression of our judgments on Divine truth? What is the faith of credit but the expression of our judgment on the credibility of that which we believe? And what is the faith of trust and reliance which justifies but the expression of our judgment that the great truths of Christianity are worthy of being admitted into our spirit, and rested and acted upon? It is here that we find a great difference between outward and inward Christians. The judgment of the former respecting Divine things seldom, if ever, amounts to more than a general belief of their truth. But he who possesses inward religion has been brought to this serious judgment, that he must be born again, or he cannot enter the kingdom of God; that Christ must be received, and His atonement embraced personally; that he must yield obedience to His laws. And thus it is that the state of our religion is, to a great extent, regulated by the state of our judgment in Divine things. If this judgment is weak and feeble there is little effect produced. If it is strong, and the truth of God form the continual basis of our judgment, there will be a decision of mind which operates as a principle, and rapidly becomes a habit.
III. In the state of THE WILL. When this is right, it will be clearly manifested in —
1. Submission to the Divine authority — i.e., a full acknowledgment that we belong to Christ, and have no right to ourselves. When we are brought to this state, everything that God has fixed as the object of our choice will be accepted by us readily, constantly, and fully.
2. Acquiescence in all the dispensations of Providence, even in the infliction of pain and trouble. Inward religion always brings us to imitate Him who said, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
IV. In the state of our PRINCIPLES. All are men of principle, some way or other. Sometimes the principles may be right, sometimes wrong. It is only he who is a Christian inwardly that has a principle capable of universal reference, and thus of uniform operation. The grand principle on which the men of the world act is to live to themselves. The blindness of their understanding conceals from them those true and holy principles which ought to govern their feelings and life. If we are Christians inwardly, new principles are fixed in our heart and are operating there; and they all resolve themselves into this: "We are not our own; we are bought with a price," etc. And how easy of application this is! What a universal rule it affords for the government of all our actions! If this great principle entirely governs us, it is impossible for us to be practically wrong.
V. In the state of THE FEELINGS. There are some who deny that feeling forms any essential part of religion. They might as well say, either that man has no feelings, or that there is one faculty of the mind which religion does not control. We do not say that these deep emotions are always visibly expressed, but wherever there is true piety there will be strong feelings. Look at man as God has made him, and then say if it would not be strange if the great things of eternity could be set before him, and cordially believed by him, without producing lively and constant emotion. Whatever danger may be ascribed to religious emotions, the real danger will be found to be, not so much in the emotion itself, as in the opinions and principles by which it is directed. The feelings that arise from right principles and opinions will seldom be wrong. Conclusion: As an inference from this passage, I would say —
1. That those external things which do not promote this state of mind are, as to us, whatever they may be to others, of no value at all (ver. 25). No person derives benefit merely from having heard the name of Christ, by being acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity. This doctrine of the difference between a merely outward religion, and one which is enthroned in the heart and reigns over the whole man, separates the chaff from the wheat, and ought to lead to the inquiry, in what manner we are affected by our external privileges.
2. Let not those be discouraged who find that their understandings, judgments, will, principles, and feeling are not yet exactly in the state that has been described, if they are penitently and earnestly seeking inward religion. God will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax.
3. When we thus bring our character and experience to the test of God's holy Word, there is an impression which may almost naturally be made on our mind. We may think these requisitions of Almighty God to be somewhat severe and rigorous. But let us correct ourselves. He requires all this of us, not only as He is our Judge, but as He is our Saviour.
(Gervase Smith, D. D.)
And circumcision is that of the heart.
I. HUMILITY. Humility, a right judgment of ourselves, cleanses our minds from those high conceits of our abilities and attainments which are the fruit of a corrupted nature. It convinces us that in our best estate we are of ourselves sin and vanity; that we are insufficient to help ourselves; that without the help of the Spirit of God we can do nothing but add sin to sin; that it is He alone who works in us to will or do that which is good. A sure effect of having formed this right judgment will be a disregard of the honour that cometh of men.
II. This knowledge of our disease disposes us to embrace with a willing mind that FAITH which alone is able to make us whole. The best guide of the blind, the surest light of those who sit in darkness, the most perfect instructor of the foolish, is faith. But it is such a faith as is mighty to the overturning of all the prejudices of corrupt reason, all false maxims and evil customs and habits. All things are possible to him who thus believeth. The eyes of his understanding being enlightened he sees what is his calling, viz., to glorify God who hath bought him with a price. He feels what is the exceeding greatness of His power who is able to quicken the dead in sin. This faith is not only an assent to all, even the most important, truths of Scripture, but the conviction of Christ's personal love who "gave Himself for me." Such a faith cannot fail to show evidently the power of Him who inspires it, by delivering His children from the yoke of sin, and "purging their consciences from dead works."
III. Those who are thus by faith born of God have also strong consolation through HOPE — even the testimony of their own spirit with the Spirit which witnesses in their hearts that they are the children of God. It is that Spirit who works in them that clear and cheerful confidence that their heart is upright toward God; who gives them the expectation of receiving all good things at Christ's hand; who assures them that their labour is not in vain.
IV. Yet lackest thou one thing. If thou writ be perfect add to all these LOVE, and thou hast the circumcision of the heart. Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment.
1. To God.
2. To our neighbour.
3. To our brethren in Christ.
(J. Wesley, M. A.)
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Whose praise is not of men, but of God.
I. MEN DO NOT PRAISE IT.
1. They have a difficulty in understanding it. It consists so much of feelings and experiences with which they have no sympathy.
2. They fail to appreciate what they cannot understand. Surely it is enough to do good, and harm nobody, and there can be no need for so much praying, crying, and love.
3. They make its possession no standard of worth. Their heroes are of quite another order. If they should admire a philanthropist, it will be because they view his public usefulness quite apart from his spiritual principles.
4. They often bitterly hate and persecute it.
II. ITS PRAISE IS OF GOD.
1. Why does He commend it? Because —(1) Of its intrinsic excellence. There is an inherent worth about humility, goodness, devotedness to God, self surrender to Him, the entire circumcision of the heart.(2) It is the produce of His own grace and power. Wherever spiritual religion exists it has been imparted supernaturally by the power of the Holy Ghost.(3) It reflects His own image and character. God must approve Himself, and therefore He must admire all that resembles Himself.
2. How does He show it?(1) By the inward witness of His Spirit; giving to the humble and happy soul a sweet and secret sense of His approval.(2) By outward tokens of success and prosperity, as in the history of Abraham, Moses, David, and Daniel.(3) Hereafter by open acknowledgment of His own elect in the day of judgment. Conclusion: The love of praise will influence you, among other motives, in matters of religion. Will you, then, seek to please men or God? If you please men, you must displease God; and what will their commendation and applause do for you in the article of death, or in the hour of judgment? Therefore —
1. Seek only to please God.
2. Be satisfied with His approval.
3. Thus overcome the worldly lust of fame.
4. And enjoy perfect peace.
5. And show yourself a pattern of high and genuine heroism.
(T. G. Horton.).
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