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ST. MARY'S, OXFORD, BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
ON JANUARY 1, 1733.
ROMANS ii. 29.
6 Circumcision is that of the Heart, in the Spirit,
and not in the Letter."
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 bearers, 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 pot 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 obvi. ous meaning.. “ They are foolishpess unto him : neither VOL. VII.
(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 sbalt thou have praise of God, in the great assembly of men and angels.”
I design, first, particularly to enquire, Wherein this Circumcision of the Heart consists? And, secondly, to mention some reflections, that naturally arise from such an enquiry. : I. 1. I-am, first, to enquire, 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, 6 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 off 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 as. sistance 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 chuse, 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-seryants, 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 assuted, 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 bis 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 instructor of the foolish, is Faith. But it must be such a faith as is "mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong-bolds," to the overturn. ing all the prejudices of corrupt reason, all the false maxim's reyered 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 bis 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 diviné 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 recon. ciled 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 shew 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 instruments of unrighteousness," they now yield themselves entirely t6 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
* N. B. The following part of this paragraph is now added to the Sermon formerly preached,