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THE CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART.
Rom. ii, 29.
-Circumcision is that of the heart. Our
UR blessed Saviour, who came into the world to fulfil all righteousness, legal as well as evangelical, and by both to become the Lord our righteousnessa, when the time of his circumcision was come, according to the law of Moses, submitted to that painful rite, and thereby obliged himself to all other observances of the Mosaic institution : but with this intent, that the world might be freed from that ritual religion for the future, and pay a more rational and spiritual service to the Almighty. He, as the representative of mankind, became, once for all, entirely obedient to that law, and then cancelled all obligation to it for the future; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and nailing it to his cross, and for ever after taking it out of the way b: and from the galling yoke of a law of numerous and very burdensome ceremonies translated us into the glorious liberty of the children of God”, to a religion that will perfect our natures, to a service that is the truest freedom, to a yoke that upon all accounts is easy, and a burden that is light.
For it is to be considered, that, although by the coming of Jesus Christ there is a great and very a Matt. iii, 15; Jer. xxiii. 6.
c Rom. viii. 21.
b Col. ii. 14.
happy alteration and improvement made in the manner of our worshipping and serving God; yet still he must be served and worshipped, but in a way far more agreeable both to his nature and our own. And the liberty into which we are translated by the gospel is by no means licentious and uncontrolled, but only what it obliges us to is more rational, and therefore more natural to us, and consequently more easy to be done than the ceremonial observances of the Jews, which had much of labour and bodily toil in them, but tended little to purify the heart, or improve the most excellent part of man, his soul. We have likewise greater assistances from above to perform our duty acceptably, and greater indulgence when we do amiss, which does mightily take off from the difficulty of our task, and makes the Christian religion like the obedience of sons to an indulgent parent; whereas that of the Jews was, in comparison, like the drudgery of slaves under a severe and rigorous master, or the discipline of schoolboys under a harsh, imperious pedagogue. For so in scripture the law is called a bondaged, and a schoolmaster, to bring, or educate, and train that people up, till the coming of Christ e.
But now, though the old ritual law be abolished, and one far more excellent established in its room; yet he that came not to destroy the law, but to complete and fill it up, has spiritualized many of its ceremonies, and made the inner man the subject of what was then performed by and upon the outward. Instead of the frequent external washings and cleansings that were enjoined the Jews, we Christians are now obliged to purity of heart, and to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of spirit, as well as flesh, perfecting interior holiness in the fear of God. Their sacrifices of bulls and goats and lambs are now changed into the offering up our whole selves to God, and mortifying our brutish affections and lusts; and our sin-offering is a broken spirit, and a contrite heart; and devout affections heavenward in prayer are as incense of a sweetsmelling savour; our freewill offerings are extraordinary charities ; and the great initiating and distinguishing rite of circumcision is Christianized likewise, (if I may have leave to use that word,) and raised into the circumcision of the heart.
e Gal. iii. 24.
d Gal. iv. 3.
In discoursing upon which words I shall,
I. First, endeavour to shew what that spiritual circumcision of the heart is, to which we Christians are obliged, together with the happy effects of it. And,
II. Secondly, in what respects it answers to that of the Jews which was outward, and in the letter; whereby we shall see that we are as much bound to the circumcision of the heart as they were to that of the foreskin.
1. As for the first thing to be done, viz. to shew wherein the circumcision of the heart consists, it is in general the freeing our souls from all superfluity of naughtiness, as the apostle expresses it; the cutting off, and utter rejection of all spiritual impurities, which are the tainted fountain of the carnal ones, and bringing all the powers of our inner man, our understanding, will, and affections, into entire obedience to God.
More particularly, it is humbly and readily to submit our weak, imperfect understandings to Him, and give a full and free assent to whatever we have upon his testimony, who it is impossible should either be deceived or deceive. It is unfeignedly to believe and embrace as true, whatever he has been pleased to reveal to mankind, however seemingly repugnant to what we thought before: casting down imaginations, or reasonings, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God f. For otherwise, with intolerable arrogance and impiety, we set up our own ignorance and prejudice, as the measure even of divine truth; which is the ready way, as we see by sad experience, to fill the church with heresy, and all places with infidelity and atheism and profaneness, and every evil work.
Not that there is no use to be made of our reason in such matters, but only that we should use it with meekness and humility, and believe (what it is a wonder any reasonable man should ever question) that it is very possible for God to reveal what man with his utmost improvements cannot fully comprehend. Every notion therefore, how fond soever we may be of it, that contradicts and will not submit to what is evidently revealed by God, every good Christian is obliged to cut off and throw away as an unnatural tumour and excrescency; and with all the speed he can, rid his mind of it, for fear of the dangerous consequences of suffering it to continue.
And this is the circumcision of the understanding, the happy effect of which, in short, will be our being led by the Spirit of the only wise God into the knowledge of the most exalted and most concerning truths, which are able to make us wise to salvation, and which were therefore revealed that they might do so; and be as a glorious light shining in a dark place, to direct us in our researches, and prevent our stumbling upon dangerous errors and delusions, and being lost and bewildered in them beyond recovery, to which we should otherwise be continually liable in this our benighted state; and the more so, the more we trusted to that blind guide, our own understanding, which knows so little, yet thinks it knows so much.
f 2 Cor. x. 5.
And really if we consider how highly beneficial God's revelations are to us in all respects, and what a mighty influence they have upon our happiness in both worlds ; what abundance of anxiety of mind, and tremulous uncertainty they ease us of, relating to the nature of the Supreme Being, and what will make us acceptable to him; and what clear notions they give us of a future state, and what admirable directions how to attain its happiness, and avoid its misery, both which shall be the greatest and eternal; and concerning which tủe wisest men had but very dark, imperfect apprehensions, before God was pleased, of his great goodness, to make them known to mankind : if we thus consider, we shall find that nothing is more to be rejoiced in than those divine revelations, and nothing more advantageous to us than entirely to believe and embrace them.
As for the circumcision of the will, it is an entire and cheerful submission to the good pleasure of God in all his disposals, how much soever against our own inclinations, and the choices we would make for ourselves if left to our own option; in full and firm persuasion that as he best knows what are the most effectual means to make us happy, so his