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Hitherto we have been employed in a survey of “ the fountain" that is “ opened for sin and
" “ for all uncleanness." We now proceed to contemplate the stream that flows from it. Hitherto we have been gazing on the tree of life; let us now draw near, and take of the fruit thereof, that we may eat and live for ever. No prohibition exists to deter us from this act of faith; but, on the contrary, we have every encouragement thereto. Let us then, with fervency of spirit, fall on our knees and pray, that God would “ grant us the true circumcision of “ the Spirit.”
The necessity of regeneration, or of a change of heart, is the same under every dispensation. Our Lord's awful words, addressed to Nicodemus, « Except a man be born again, he can“ not see the kingdom of God,” had both a retrospective and a prospective scope. They related to all who had lived before the æra of the incarnation; and to all who should live between it and the consummation of all things. To the attainment of this grace, all forms, rites, sacraments, doctrines, and even redemption itself, are subservient. These are the means; and that is the end proposed by them. It is the seed of eternal life.
Circumcision was the sacrament of regeneration under the Old Testament dispensation. It was the outward and visible sign of that inward and spiritual grace, which consists in the pardon of sin, and the renewal of the soul in holiness. It taught, as hath been before observed,—The radical corruption of human nature, derived from our birth; the necessity of mortifying the flesh and its members---of putting off the old man and putting on the new
of a separation in heart and conduct from the world which lieth in wickedness; (for circumcision was the foundation-stone of that partition-wall which separated and distinguished the Jews from all other nations)-of a chearful obedience to all the revealed will of God, however grievous, painful, shameful, or even ridiculous, any act of submission thereto may appear in the eyes of the world and of unsanctified reason.
This rite is abolished under the New Testament dispensation by the authority of the great Lawgiver; because the blood of the covenant of which it was a memorial, and which it was designed to prefigure, is now shed for us. The Jewish perseverance therefore in the observation of it, is declaring in act, what that obstinate people do assert, that the blood of the everlasting covenant has not been poured out, nor the reconciliation made. This inference from a perseverance in the abrogated ordinance made St. Paul speak so strongly of the conduct of the Judaizing professors of Christianity among the Galatians. Gal. v. 2, 3, 4. But, though the rite is abolished, the necessity of the inward and spiritual grace signified by it remains in full force. For "that which is born of the "flesh is" still "flesh;" all that we derive by natural generation from our parents, is a mass of corruption; and hence the interposition of Almighty power, for creating us anew in Christ Jesus, is indispensable. On this account, another sacrament has been instituted in the church, in lieu of circumcision, which is nearly of the same import, and, allowing for the change of circumstances produced by the advent of Christ, teaches the same truths.
Regeneration then is “the true circumcision, so called for the purpose of distinguishing it from that which is outward in the flesh. It is denominated the “ circumcision of the Spirit, because the Holy Ghost is the agent who produces it; for those who are made partakers of it, are « born not of blood, nor of the will of “ the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
For the purpose of exciting fervency in praying for “ the true circumcision of the Spirit, let it be remembered, that a previous state of universal depravity is supposed in all the recipients of this grace; and that, without a con sciousness of the disease, we can neither earnestly nor unfeignedly desire or pray for the remedy. Let the reader therefore inquire, whether he be truly acquainted with his own moral state. It is also to be observed, that “the cir“ cumcision of the Spirit” is indispensable to salvation; for, without it, we are utterly disqualified for every spiritual employment and pleasure. Without it all external ordinances and observances are useless, and tend to increase our guilt and condemnation. There is no middle state between life and death, nature and grace, the flesh and the Spirit. Every reader is either a regenerate, or an unregenerate person; circumcised by the Spirit of God, or 46 uncircumcised in heart.” How close should be our scrutiny of ourselves! and how earnest our souls in the use of this petition of the collect, “ Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit !"
But it may be asked, How shall I determine whether I am made a partaker of this precious boon, or not? This will be clearly decided, while we attend to the end for which we solicit
it, viz."that our hearts and all our members being mortified from all carnal and worldly lusts, we may in all things obey God's blessed "will, through the same his Son Jesus Christ "our Lord." Now if this blessed effect, the mortification of the flesh and its lusts, be, in any degree, produced within us, so that we cordially desire its accomplishment in the total destruction of sin within our bosoms, and can sincerely join with the church in her prayer to God to hasten it; the effect affords evidence of the cause which produces it. Such a desire can only flow from "the true circumcision of
"the Spirit." But in whatever degree our carnal and worldly lusts be mortified, still we have need to urge our plea for increasing sanctification; and our church supposes all her members to be ready to concur in the language of the Apostle, "Not as though I had already "attained, either were already perfect; but I "follow after, if so be that I may apprehend "that for which also I am apprehended of "Christ Jesus;" and that is a perfect freedom from sin, and a full conformity to the image of God.
The first object of concern to a penitent sinner is his own heart, because it is the mainspring of emotion and action; and till the mainspring of a disordered machine be so rectified as to perform its functions in a due manner, it is in vain to look for regularity in the movements of the subordinate and dependent parts. The pharisaic formalist, through ignorance of himself and of God, reverses the order of things, by endeavouring to drain the stream of corruption, while the fountain is permitted to pour forth its corrupt waters. He tries to remove
the more troublesome symptoms of the moral disease, without applying any remedy to the seat of it. He washes the outside of the cup and platter, while within he continues full of hypocrisy and iniquity. The instruction of our church is of a different kind. She directs us to begin with the heart, and every conscious member of her community sees the wisdom of this procedure. The heart is the seat of the affections. In the tendency of these true devotion consists. These therefore must flow in their proper channel, before the members can be employed to their right end. These will obey the bias or governing principle of the will; and when this is turned heavenward, they also become instruments of righteousness unto God.
Nothing will satisfy a man, who is a partaker of “ the true circumcision of the Spirit,” but a consecration of his heart and all his members" to the glory of God in the obedience of faith. He is painfully conscious, that “ his heart and “ all his members" have been under the dis graceful dominion of “ worldly and carnal « lusts.” He still finds ... the flesh lusting
against the Spirit," and the world rivalling God in his affections. He longs for the anihilation of every feeling, which is hostile to the honour of his redeenring God; and therefore he earnestly implores a larger measure of those effects which are produced by " the true cir“ cumcision of the Spirit, that his heart and all “his members being mortified from all carnal “ and worldly lusts, he may in all things obey " God's blessed will.” And though he does not expect complete emancipation till his last enemy shall have executed his appointed commission, yet, in the interval, he groans being