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THE CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART.
[Preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, before the University, on January 1, 1733.]
Circumcision is that of the Heart, in the Spirit, and not in the
1. IT is the melancholy remark of an excellent man, that, he who now preaches the most essential duties of Christianity, runs the hazard of being esteemed, by a great part of his hearers, a setter forth of new doctrines. Most men have so lived away the substance of that religion, the profession whereof they still retain, that no sooner are any of those truths proposed, which difference the Spirit of Christ from the spirit of the world, than they cry out, "Thou bringest strange things to our ears; we would know what these things mean:" though he is only preaching to them Jesus and the resurrection, with the necessary consequence of it. "If Christ be risen, ye ought then to die unto the world, and to live wholly unto God.”
2. A hard saying this to the natural man, who is alive unto the world, and dead unto God; and one that he will not readily be persuaded to receive as the truth of God, unless it be so qualified in the interpretation, as to have neither use nor significancy left. He "receiveth not the words of the Spirit of God,” taken in their plain and obvious meaning. They are foolishness unto him: neither (indeed) can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned:" they are perceivable only by that spiritual sense, which in him was never yet awakened; for want of which he must reject as idle fancies of men, what are both the wisdom and the power of God.
3. That "circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter;" that the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of him that created it, is one of those important truths, that can only be spiritually discerned. And this the Apostle himself intimates in the next words, “Whose praise is not of men, but of God." As if he had said, “Expect not, whoever thou art, who thus followest thy great Master, that the world, the men who follow him not, will say, Well done, good and faithful servant!' Know, that the circumcision of the heart, the seal of thy calling, is foolishness with the world. Be content to wait for thy applause, till the day of thy Lord's appearing. In that
day shalt thou have praise of God, in the great assembly of men and angels."
I design, first, particularly to inquire, wherein this circumcision of the heart consists? And, secondly, to mention some reflections, that naturally arise from such an inquiry.
I. 1. I am, first, to inquire, wherein that circumcision of the heart consists, which will receive the praise of God? In general we may observe, it is that habitual disposition of soul, which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness, and which directly implies, the being cleansed from sin, from all filthiness of flesh and spirit," and by consequence, the being endued with virtues, which were also in Christ Jesus; the being so, "renewed in the spirit of our mind," as to be "perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect."
2. To be more particular. Circumcision of heart implies, humility, faith, hope, and charity. Humility, a right judgment of ourselves, cleanses our minds from those high conceits of our own perfections, from that undue opinion of our own abilities and attainments, which are the genuine fruit of a corrupt nature. This entirely cuts of that vain thought, I am rich, and wise, and have need of nothing; and convinces us, that we are by nature "wretched, and poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked." It convinces us, that in our best estate, we are of ourselves all sin and vanity; that confusion, and ignorance, and error, reign over our understanding; that unreasonable, earthly, sensual, devilish passions, usurp authority over our will: in a word, that there is no sound part in our soul, that all the foundations of our nature are out of course.
3. At the same time we are convinced, that we are not sufficient of ourselves to help ourselves; that, without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing but add sin to sin: that it is He alone who worketh in us by his almighty power, either to will or do that which is good; it being as impossible for us even to think a good thought, without the supernatural assistance of his Spirit, as to create ourselves, or to renew our whole souls in righteousness and true holiness.
4. A sure effect of our having formed this right judgment of the sinfulness and helplessness of our nature, is a disregard of that "honour which cometh of man," which is usually paid to some supposed excellency in us. He who knows himself, neither desires nor values the applause which he knows he deserves not. It is therefore “a very small thing with him, to be judged by man's judgment.” He has all reason to think, by comparing what it has said either for or against him, with what he feels in his own breast, that the world, as well as the god of this world, was "a liar from the beginning." And even as to those who are not of the world, though he would choose, if it were the will of God, that they should account of him as of one desirous to be found a faithful steward of the Lord's goods, if happily this might be a mean of enabling him to be of more use to his fellow-servants, yet as this is the one end of his wishing for their approbation, so he does not at all rest upon it. For he is assured, that whatever God wills, he can never want instruments to perform;
since he is able, even of these stones, to raise up servants to do his pleasure.
5. This is that lowliness of mind, which they have learned of Christ, who follow his example and tread in his steps. And this knowledge of their disease, whereby they are more and more cleansed from one part of it, pride and vanity, disposes them to embrace, with a willing mind, the second thing implied in circumcision of heart, that faith which alone is able to make them whole, which is the one medicine given under heaven to heal their sickness.
6. The best guide of the blind, the surest light of them that are in darkness, the most perfect instructer of the foolish, is faith. But it must be such a faith as is "mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong-holds," to the overturning all the prejudices of corrupt reason, all the false maxims revered among men; all evil customs and habits; all that "wisdom of the world which is foolishness with God;" as "casteth down imaginations [reasonings] and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringeth into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
7. All things are possible to him that (thus) believeth:" "the eyes of his understanding being enlightened," he sees what is his calling, even to glorify God, who hath bought him with so high a price, in his body and in his spirit, which now are God's by redemption, as well as creation. He feels what is "the exceeding greatness of his power," who, as he raised up Christ from the dead, so is able to quicken us, dead in sin, "by his Spirit which dwelleth in us." This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith :" that faith, which is not only an unshaken assent to all that God hath revealed in Scripture, and in particular to those important truths, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners:""He bare our sins in his own body on the tree:" " He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world;"* but likewise the revelation of Christ in our hearts; a divine evidence or conviction of his love, his free, unmerited love to me a sinner; a sure confidence in his pardoning mercy, wrought in us by the Holy Ghost: a confidence, whereby every true believer is enabled to bear witness, I know that my Redeemer liveth;" "that I have an Advocate with the Father; that Jesus Christ the righteous, is my Lord, and the propitiation for my sins." I know he hath loved me, and given himself for me. He hath reconciled me, even me to God; and I have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins."
8. Such a faith as this, cannot fail to show evidently the power of him that inspires it, by delivering his children from the yoke of sin, and "purging their consciences from dead works ;" by strengthening them so, that they are no longer constrained to "obey sin in the desires thereof;" but instead of "yielding their members unto it, as
*N. B. The following part of this paragraph is now added to the Sermon formerly preached.
instruments of unrighteousness," they now yield themselves entirely "unto God, as those that are alive from the dead."
9. Those who are thus by faith "born of God," have also "strong consolation through hope." This is the next thing which the circumcision of the heart implies: even the testimony of their own spirit, with the Spirit which witnesses in their hearts, that they are the children of God. Indeed it is the same Spirit who works in them that clear and cheerful confidence, that their heart is upright toward God; that good assurance, that they now do, through his grace, the things which are acceptable in his sight; that they are now in the path which leadeth to life, and shall, by the mercy of God, endure therein to the end. It is he who giveth them a lively expectation of receiving all good things at God's hand; a joyous prospect of that "crown of glory, which is reserved in heaven" for them. By this anchor a Christian is kept steady in the midst of the waves of this troublesome world, and preserved from striking upon either of those fatal rocks, Presumption or Despair. He is neither discouraged by the misconceived severity of his Lord, nor does he "despise the riches of his goodness." He neither apprehends the difficulties of the race set before him, to be greater than he has strength to conquer, nor expects them to be so little as to yield in the conquest, till he has put forth all his strength. The experience he already has in the Christian warfare, as it assures him, his "labour is not in vain," if "whatever his hand find to do, he do it with his might;" so it forbids his entertaining so vain a thought, as that he can otherwise gain any advantage, as that any virtue can be shown, any praise attained, by faint hearts and feeble hands or indeed by any but those who pursue the same course with the great Apostle of the Gentiles, "I (says he,) so run, not as uncertainly, so fight I, not as one that beateth the air. But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away."
10. By the same discipline is every good soldier of Christ, to inure himself to "endure hardships." Confirmed and strengthened by this, he will be able, not only to renounce the works of darkness, but every appetite too, and every affection, which is not subject to the law of God. For "every one," (saith St. John,) "who hath this hope, purifieth himself even as he is pure." It is his daily care, by the grace of God in Christ, and through the blood of the Covenant, to purge the inmost recesses of his soul, from the lusts that before possessed and defiled it; from uncleanness, and envy, and malice, and wrath; from every passion and temper, that is after the flesh, that either springs from, or cherishes his native corruption: as well knowing, that he whose very body is the temple of God, ought to admit into it nothing common or unclean; and that holiness becometh that house for ever, where the Spirit of holiness vouchsafes to dwell.
11. Yet lackest thou one thing, whosoever thou art, that to a deep humility, and a steadfast faith, hast joined a lively hope, and thereby in a good measure cleansed thy heart from its inbred pollu
tion: If thou wilt be perfect, add to all these, charity; add love, and thou hast the circumcision of the heart. "Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment. Very excellent things are spoken of love; it is the essence, the spirit, the life of all virtue. It is not only the first and great command, but it is all the commandments in one. Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are amiable or honourable; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, they are all comprised in this one word, love. In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness; The royal law of heaven and earth is this, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength."
12. Not that this forbids us to love any thing besides God: it implies, that we "love our brother also." Nor yet does it forbid us (as some have strangely imagined) to take pleasure in any thing but God. To suppose this, is to suppose the Fountain of holiness, is directly the Author of sin: since he has inseparably annexed pleasure to the use of those creatures, which are necessary to sustain the life he has given us. This therefore can never be the meaning of his command. What the real sense of it is, both our blessed Lord and his Apostles tell us too frequently and too plainly to be misunderstood. They all with one mouth bear witness, that the true meaning of those several declarations, "The Lord thy God is one Lord;" "Thou shalt have no other gods but me;" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength;" "Thou shalt cleave unto him;" "The desire of thy soul shall be to his Name:" is no other than this. The one, perfect Good, shall be your one ultimate end. One thing shall ye desire for its own sake. The fruition of Him that is All in all. One happiness shall ye propose to your souls, even an union with him that made them: the having "fellowship with the Father and the Son:" the being "joined to the Lord in one spirit." One design you are to pursue to the end of time. The enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things, so far as they tend to this. Love the creature-as it leads to the Creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought, and word, and work, be subordinate to this. Whatever ye desire or fear, whatever ye seek or shun, whatever ye think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end as well as source of your being.
13. Have no end, no ultimate end but God. Thus our Lord, "One thing is needful." And if thine eye be singly fixed on this one thing, "thy whole body shall be full of light." Thus St. Paul, This one thing I do; I press toward the mark, for the prize of my high calling in Christ Jesus." Thus St. James, " Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded." Thus St. John, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." The seeking happiness in what gratifies either the desire