Is this blessing only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness.
1. The righteousness of faith without circumcision. In Gem 15. we have the record of Abraham's justification; the institution of circumcision is narrated in Genesis 17., fourteen years after. Abraham, therefore, was justified "in his Gentile-hood" (see Godet). Therefore, he is the father of Gentile believers; and in so far as he is the father of Jewish believers, it is because they are believers, not because they are Jews.
2. Circumcision a seal of the righteousness of faith. God strengthens man's faith by visible signs and seals of the faith and of its results. So to Abraham circumcision was an abiding pledge that God accepted his faith for righteousness. And likewise the existence of a separated nation was a testimony to the world. But it was the faith alone that was effectual; circumcision did but attest.
II. HERITAGE. The whole world is promised to the heirs of Abraham as a heritage; this of itself might suffice to show that the heirs are not merely descendants according to the flesh. But the condition of such inheritance shall show the meaning.
1. If the heritage were through Law, then faith and the promise fail.
(1) "Faith is made void;" for it cannot grasp an impossibility, nor can it rightly lay hold of that which must be worked for.
(2) "And the promise is made of none effect;" for an unfulfilled Law works God's wrath towards man, which is in utter contrariety to the fulfilment of a promise of love.
2. Therefore the heritage is of faith, that it may be according to grace, etc.
(1) Faith the sole condition of promise, that while God's grace gives freely, man may freely receive.
(2) Faith the sole characteristic of the heirs of the promise, that so the seed may be, not merely that which is of the Law (even combined with faith), but that which is of faith (apart from Law), comprising beth Jews and Gentiles who are the spiritual children of the great believer.
III. POSTERITY. But it might be objected that an Israel according to the flesh was necessary, in order that the spiritual Israel might be at last accomplished. Truly. But, to cut away the last ground of boasting, even the Israel according to the flesh was the gift of God through faith.
1. The obstacles to such faith. "His own body," etc. And this all full in view: "he considered."
2. The warrant of faith. While viewing the obstacles, he staggered not.
(1) God's promise "A father of many nations." "So shall thy seed be.
(2) God's power. "Able to perform;" "quickeneth the dead," etc. "Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." As before, it was virtually the faith of his spiritual salvation; yes, the very faith which laid hold of the promise of posterity - a posterity that they deemed according to the flesh. Let us learn that by faith we may be righteous, by faith we may possess the earth, By faith we may impress for good the generations following. What an heirship is possible through the faith of one believer! - T.F.L.
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only?...Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.Colossians 2:11, 12). And the eucharist succeeds to the passover, in connection with that redemptive act to typify which the passover was instituted (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8). The eucharist itself has become a sacrifice to be offered up by priestly hands. Note —
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE AND EFFICACY OF CHRISTIAN BAPTISM AS IT STANDS RELATED TO CIRCUMCISION.
1. Circumcision did not confer on Abraham the righteousness of faith, nor was it a pre-required condition of it; it was simply given as "a sign" and for "a seal" of a righteousness which was already in possession. And so of baptism. This does not itself wash away sin; it is not a condition pre-required in order to this; but it is given as "a sign" and for a Divine "seal" of the fact that, for all believers, sin has been put away by the sacrifice of Christ.
2. But the following texts may be cited in opposition: Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3; John 3:5. All this is quite true. But the water referred to is the water of which the water in baptism is but the outward sign; which really washes away sin, and secures the answer of a good conscience towards God. What this water is, of which that in baptism is but a type (1 Peter 3:21); of which the prophet Ezekiel declared that by the sprinkling thereof Jehovah would cleanse His people from all their filthiness and from all their idols (Ezekiel 36:25); in respect to which David made earnest request (Psalm 51:7); may be sought for in that "water of purification" which was provided by mixing with clear water from a running brook the ashes of the burnt red heifer. The great reality will be found in that mingled stream of "blood and water" which flowed on Calvary (John 19:34; 1 John 5:6-8). That "fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness" was the atonement completed. To be "born of water" is to have the atonement effectually applied. We maintain that the water and the Spirit, in regeneration, are distinct, and produce distinct results; that the water in baptism is significant, not of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, but of the forgiveness and purgation of sin; and moreover that the purgation always precedes the renewing. And so baptism with water is always associated with the remission of sins, as that which shall remove out of the way the fatal obstruction to the incoming of the quickening Spirit (cf. Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38, and Acts 22:16).
3. Baptism does not itself wash away the sin. It is not the medium through which the real Divine washing is imparted. But it is a "sign" that the washing is needed, and has been provided for; and, to all believers, it is a "seal," given by Christ Himself, that the iniquity is purged. As circumcision was to Abraham, so is baptism to the believer in Jesus — he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he already had before he was circumcised.
II. THE BEARING OF THIS ON INFANT BAPTISM.
1. It is maintained that the Lord Jesus gave no authority for the baptism of any but actual adult believers. It is at once admitted that, when an assembly of adult Jews or Gentiles heard the preached gospel for the first time, the rite of baptism was only to be administered to those amongst them who were prepared intelligently to make this confession of faith. But it does not follow that the children of such individuals were not to be admitted with them to this sacred rite. We know that children were so admitted into the kingdom of God amongst the Jews; as we know also that all Hebrew-born male infants were required, by Divine command, to be circumcised when eight days old. And the apostles, being Jews, would doubtless continue to act as Jews, unless expressly forbidden so to act by the Master. We know of no such prohibition. Jesus encourages the little ones to be brought to Him, for that "of such is the kingdom of God." St. Paul addresses children in the church assemblies as if they, as a matter of course, constituted part of such assemblies (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20). And when we read of the apostles baptizing whole households, we are not told that the infants were excluded.
2. But is not this the word of the Master, "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved"? Truly. And is it not manifest that tender infants cannot believe? Certainly. But what follows? That infants ought not to be baptized, because they cannot believe? Must it then also follow that infants, dying in infancy, cannot be saved, because that they cannot believe, and because it is written, "He that believeth not shall be damned"? But in whose right, then, do they come to inherit eternal life? In their own? What then did Jesus mean when He said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," etc., "Ye must be born again"? According to that teaching, not even infants can enter into the kingdom of God, except they be born of water and of the Spirit. But if they need the thing signified by baptism; if that thing has been provided for them through the great Mediator; if, though they cannot personally believe, they are graciously susceptible of that thing; and if all who die in infancy do really become participators in it, then who is he that "shall forbid water," that they should not be baptized?
3. But "they ought not to be baptized, because they cannot make a personal profession of faith." Could then the infant children of Abraham and his descendants make a personal profession of faith? Clearly not. And yet, by God's own appointment, the "sign" and "seal" of "the righteousness of faith" was to be put upon every one of them when eight days old. Yet the children of Christian parents are as capable of the righteousness of faith as were the children of Hebrew parents.
4. The principle on which some Christians proceed is to exclude as many as possible from the Church. That of the Lord and His apostles was to include as many as possible. The former said, in respect to the "little children, of such is the kingdom of God"; and in respect to earnest adult workers in the cause of righteousness, "He that is not against us is on our part." And one of the latter states that "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the (believing) wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the (believing) husband"; and he adds, "Else were your children unclean; but now they are holy" (1 Corinthians 7:14). Now, children who may be pronounced "holy" must be proper subjects of baptism. Why may they not have been consecrated and sealed as holy in baptism? But, assuming that both parents and children, admitted into the Church of Christ by baptism, are present in the Church assembly, while his pastoral is being read, the apostle would have them to remember that the fact that they are thus admitted and present, even though it be through the bath of baptism, does not do away with their reciprocal obligations, but renders them still more urgently imperative. Therefore the loving words of exhortation to both (Ephesians 6:1-4).
(W. Tyson.)1. It looks a rational system to make sure of the thing signified ere you impress the sign. We read of this one convert and that other having believed and been baptized, and this should be the order with every grownup person. But mark how it fared with Abraham and his posterity. He believed and was circumcised; and it was laid down for a statute in Israel that all his children should be circumcised in infancy. In like manner, the first Christians believed and were baptized, and then their children. Express authority is needed to warrant a change; but it is not needed to warrant a continuation. It is this want of express authority which stamps on the opposite system a character of innovation. When once bidden to walk in a straight line, it does not require the successive impulse of new biddings, to make us persevere in it. But it would require a new bidding to justify our going off from the line. Had the mode of infant baptism sprung up as a new piece of sectarianism, it would not have escaped notice. But there is no record of its ever having entered amongst us as a novelty; and we have therefore the strongest reason for believing that it has come down in one uncontrolled tide of example and observation from the days of the apostles. And if they have not given us any authority for it, they at least, had it been wrong, and when they saw that whole families of discipleship were getting into this style of observation, would have interposed and lifted up the voice of their authority against it. But we read of no such interdict. We have therefore the testimony of apostolic silence in favour of infant baptism.
2. But is it not wrong when the sign and the thing signified do not go together? Yes. In the case of an adult the thing signified should precede the sign. But in the case of an infant the sign precedes the thing signified. The former has been impressed upon him by the will of his parent, and the latter remains to be worked within him by the care of his parent. If he do not put forth this care, he is in the fault. He is like the steward who is entrusted by his superior with the subscription of his name to a space of blank paper, on the understanding that it was to be filled up in a particular way, agreeable to the will of his lord; and, instead of doing so, has filled it up with matter of a different import altogether. The infant, with its mind unfilled and unfurnished, has been put by the God of providence into his hands; and after the baptism which he himself hath craved, it has been again made over to him with the signature of Christian discipleship, and, by his own consent, impressed upon it; and he, by failing to grave the characters of discipleship upon it, hath unworthily betrayed the trust that was reposed in him. The worthies of the Old Testament circumcised their children in infancy, and the mark of separation reminded them of their duty to rear them as a holy generation; and many a Hebrew parent was solemnised by this observance to say, like Joshua, that whatever others should do, he with all his house should fear the Lord; and this was the testimony of God to Abraham, that He knew him, that he would bring up his children after him in all the ways that he had himself been taught; and it was the commandment of God to His servants of old, that they should teach their children diligently of the loyalty and gratitude that should be rendered to the God of Israel. And if this be enough to rationalise the infant circumcision of the Jews, it is equally enough to rationalise the infant baptism of Christians. The parent of our day, who feels as he ought, will feel himself in conscience to be solemnly charged that the infant whom he has held up to the baptism of Christianity, he should bring up in the belief of Christianity. It is well that there should be one sacrament in behalf of the grownup disciple, for the solemn avowal of his Christianity before men, and the very participation of which binds more closely about his conscience all the duties and all the consistencies of the gospel. But it is also well that there should be another sacrament, the place of which in his history is at the period of his infancy, and the obligation of which is felt, not by his conscience still in embryo, but by the conscience of him whose business is to develop and to guard and to nurture its yet unawakened sensibilities. This is like removing baptism upward on a higher vantage ground. It is assigning for it a station of command and of custody at the very fountainhead of moral influence.
3. Baptism, viewed as a seal, marks the promise of God, to grant the righteousness of faith to him who is impressed by it; but, viewed as a sign, it marks the existence of this faith. But if it be not a true sign, it is not an obligatory seal. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. But he who is baptized and believes not shall be damned. It is not the circumcision which availeth, but a new creature. It is not the baptism which availeth, but the answer of a good conscience. God hath given a terrible demonstration of the utter Worthlessness of a sign that is deceitful, and hath let us know that on that event as a seal it is dissolved. When a whole circumcised nation lost the spirit, though they retained the letter of the ordinance, He swept it away. Beware, ye parents, who regularly hold up your children to the baptism of water, and make their baptism by the Holy Ghost no part of your concern or of your prayer — lest you thereby swell the judgments of the land, and bring down the sore displeasure of God upon your families.
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
I. FAITH ALONE COULD ADMIT JEWS OR GENTILES TO THE SPIRITUAL FAMILY OF ABRAHAM.
2. Faith was indispensable for the Jews, although descended from Abraham, and circumcised (ver. 12; chap. Romans 2:28, 29; 9:6, 7). For neglecting this truth, and unduly trusting in their privileges of birth and circumcision, Christ rebuked them in Matthew 3:9; John 8:39; and in the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:22, 23).
II. CIRCUMCISION HAD A TWO-FOLD ASPECT.
1. To Abraham and adult proselytes it was a seal of antecedent faith (ver. 11).
2. To infants receiving it, as did Jesus when eight days old, it was the seal of their admission into covenant with God; an incentive and pledge of future faith. If a child did not receive it, "he hath broken My covenant" (Genesis 17:14).
III. ANALOGY BETWEEN BAPTISM AND CIRCUMCISION.
1. St. Paul implies this when naming baptism (Galatians 3:26, 27, 29) in connection with the Christian's adoption into the family of Abraham and heirship of the promises.
3. To infants, baptism is, like circumcision, the seal of admission to covenant; pledge and incentive to future faith. The analogy of Genesis 17:14, "he hath broken My covenant," bears strongly on need of infant baptism.Conclusion:
1. Examine ourselves as to performance of covenant promises made to God in baptism and renewed in confirmation.
(A. Scott Robertson, M. A.)
That he might be the father of all them that believe.
I. ABRAHAM WAS HIMSELF FAITHFUL. In him was most distinctly manifested the gift of faith. In him, long before Luther, long before Paul, was it proclaimed that man is "justified by faith." "Abraham believed in the Lord and He counted it to him for righteousness" (ver. 13; cf. Genesis 15:6). Powerful as is the effect of these words when we read them in their untarnished freshness, they gain immensely in their original language, to which neither Greek nor German, much less Latin or English, can furnish any full equivalent. "He supported himself, he built himself up, he reposed as a child in his mother's arms" in the strength of God; in God whom he did not see, more than in the giant empires of the earth, and the bright lights of heaven, or the claims of tribe and kindred, which were always before him. It was counted to him for "righteousness." "It was counted to him," and his history seals and ratifies the result. His faith transpires not in any outward profession, but precisely in that which far more nearly concerns him and every one of us, in his prayers, in his actions, in the justice, the uprightness, the elevation of soul and spirit which sent him on his way straightforward without turning to the right hand or to the left. His belief, vague and scanty as it may be, even in the most elementary truths of religion, is implied rather than stated. It is in him simply "the evidence of things not seen," "the hope against hope." His faith in the literal sense of the word is only known to us through "his works." He and his descendants are blessed, not, as in the Koran, because of his adoption of the first article of the creed of Islam, but because he obeyed (Genesis 26:5; Genesis 18:19).
II. HE WAS THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL. In modern times it has too often happened that the doctrine of "faith" has had a narrowing effect on those who have strongly embraced it. It was far otherwise with Paul, to whom it was almost synonymous with the admission of the Gentiles. It was far otherwise with its first exemplification in Abraham. His very name implies this universal mission. "The Father" (Abba); "The lofty Father" (Ab-ram); "The Father of multitudes" (Ab-raham); the venerable parent, surveying, as if from that lofty eminence,, the countless progeny who should look up to him as their spiritual ancestor. He was, first, the Father of the chosen people, the people who by reason of their faith, though in one sense the narrowest of all ancient nations, yet were also the widest in their diffusion and dispersion — the only people that, by virtue of an invisible bond, maintained their national union in spite of local difference and division. But he was much more than the father of the chosen people. It is not a mere allegory or accidental application of separate texts, that justify St. Paul's appeal to the case of Abraham as including within itself the faith of the whole Gentile world. His position, as represented to us in the original records, is of itself far wider than that of any merely Jewish saint or national hero; and he is, on that ground alone, the fitting image to meet us at the outset of the history of the Church. He was "the Hebrew" to whom the Arabian no less than the Israelite tribes look back as to their first ancestor. The scene of his life, as of the patriarchs generally, breathes a larger atmosphere than the contracted limits of Palestine — the free air of Mesopotamia and the desert — the neighbourhood of the vast shapes of the Babylonian monarchy on one side, and of Egypt on the other. He is not an ecclesiastic, not an ascetic, not even a learned sage, but a chief, a shepherd, a warrior, full of all the affections and interests of family and household, and wealth and power, and for this very reason the first true type of the religious man, the first representative of the whole Church of God. This universality of Abraham's faith — this elevation, this multitudinousness of the patriarchal character has also found a response in later traditions and feelings. When Mohammed attacks the idolatry of the Arabs, he justifies himself by arguing, almost in the language of Paul, that the faith he proclaimed in one supreme God was no new belief, but was identical with the ancient religion of their first father Abraham. When the Emperor Alexander Severus placed in the chapel of his palace the statues of the choice spirits of all times, Abraham rather than Moses was selected as the centre, doubtless, of a more extended circle of sacred associations.
I. AS A GRAND TYPE OR EXAMPLE OF BELIEVERS (cf. Genesis 4:20, 21).
II. AS THE FIRST OF THE SAINTS. No doubt Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Shem were saved by faith, but still it was not until the time of Abraham that one was chosen in whom this great truth should be clearly and conspicuously exemplified.
III. AS THE FEDERAL HEAD of the faithful. All believers are accounted as his seed, so that the promises made to him are also made to them, and the covenant entered into with him is also the same as that entered into with them. We have now another head, that is, Christ, and in Him the promises of God assume a far higher and more spiritual aspect than they did in regard to Abraham; but still the headship of Abraham is not destroyed, but absorbed. So far as God's covenant with him extended, it is still firm and binding, and it belongs to all his seed, even all believers. It was a germ, out of which has sprung the higher covenant of God in Christ; but still we shall find in it much which may excite our interest, provoke our gratitude and determine our conduct.
(T. G. Horton.)I. HOW THEY ARE RECKONED.
1. Not by birth.
2. Not according to law.
3. But by faith.
II. HOW THEY ARE DISTINGUISHED.
1. By the true circumcision of the heart, which is both a sign and a seal of the righteousness of faith.
2. By walking in the steps of Abraham's faith.
III. WHAT ARE THEIR PRIVILEGES.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
Who walk in the stops of that faith of our father Abraham
1. A simple child-like dependence on the naked word of God.
2. An acceptance of and trust in God's promised Saviour.
3. A renouncing of his own works as meritorious.
4. A faith that wrought by love, making him the friend of God (James 2:23).
5. One that overcame the world, leading him to seek a hotter country (Hebrews 11:10).
(T. Robinson, D. D.)
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