« PreviousContinue »
seal of the righteousness of the faith which Abraham had, being yet uncircumcised, that is, long before cir. cumcision was instituted, it scaleda promise which was made long before the transactions recorded in the 17th of Genesis ; and as circumcision is also declared to be a token of the covenant, spoken of in this 17th chapter, established by God with Abraham and his seed; it is undeniable, that this covenant called the covenant of cir. cumcision, and the anterior promise,are substantially the same. Circumcision is certainly not a seal of one thing, and a token of another. Or if it should be contend. ed, that seal and token are not of exactly equivalent im." port, yet, circumcision had respect to the first transac. tion as well as to the last, and to nothing but promise. *
On the whole it seems undeniable that Abraham was respected altogether as a saint ; that God was his God, upon this ground ; that he was in covenant with God years before circumcision was instituted ; that the relation, which subsisted between God and him, was altogether spiritual ; that the blessings promised were wholly by grace ; that they were embraced by faith ; and therefore, that all the transactions of God with him, so far, were as removed as possible from all ciples, and from a mere temporal or civil alliance.
* It is a pitiful explanation which is given by some writers of this righteous. ness of faith, which is mentioned here, and in many other places of the scripture; that it means the reality, or the morally right nature of Abraham's faith ; and therefore has no respect to the object of faith, or the faith of any other person." That which St. Paul meant, by calling circumcision the seal of the righteousness of Abraham's faith is simply this, that the alacrity, promptitude and cheer. fulness, with which he received and obeyed this self denying duty, was a seal, token, or confirming evidence, of the sincerity of his faith." ' Andrews's Vindication, page 39. According to this construction, the whole design of circumcis. ion, in all the innumerable, cases in which it has been practiced, was to assure Abraham and the world, that his faith was not insincere, but sincere faith ; or true faith in opposition to that which is mere pretence. But the sincerity of A. braham's faith wanted no such confirmation. The attestation of God who knew his heart ; and his own works, furnished such proof of this, as rendered every other evidence altogether superfluous. James tells us how Abraham's faith was justified, or proved to be genuine. It was not by circumcision, but by his works. James ii. 22, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect ?" The sealing respected nothing done by man. It respected the promise of God, with the blessing which it secured. Man cannot seal his own actions. He is a mere recipient of the blessing. The rightcousness of faith was not peculiar to Abraham. It was enjoyed by his progenitor Noah. Hebrews xi 7. " By faith Noah, being warned of God, of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an Ark to the saving of his house ; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” See an ingenious illustration of the righteousness of faith, by Edward Williams, D. D. in his work entitled, Antipodobaptism Examined, Vol. I. shapter 2. See also, Dr. Stephen Welt's Dissertation on Infant Baptism, page 14.
The land of Canaan was indeed promised to him not however as a mere temporal acquisition, or for po. litical purposes ; but as a part of the inheritance of grace; as the cradle of the Church during its minority; as subservient to the diffusion of the blessing, which was to be transmitted through his natural descendants ; as a theatre on which was to be transacted, the great work of our redemption; and as a type of heaven. It was promised in the same light that godliness, under the latter dispensation, has a promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.”
God promised also that he would make of Abraham a great nation ; but it was not to be such in the ordi. nary acceptation of the words, for his posterity' have never been such. The obvious meaning is, that his posterity should be exceedingly numerous ; and that they should be contradistinguished from the world, as a holy people. The promise that he should be the heir á of the world, it is evident, has also the same spiritual meaning. For Paul says, Romans iv. 13, that this promise," was not through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
This view of the character and moral state of Abraham, anterior to the appointment of circumcision, ought to have its due influence upon our minds, in estimating the nature and design of the covenant transsactions, recorded in the 17th of Genesis. It can hardly be imagined that it was the divine plan, that what was so favorably begun in the spirit, should end in the flesh. After having elevated this patriarch to the honor of be. ing the father of the whole family of the faithful to the end of the world ; after having admitted him to such a free and covenant intercourse as his peculiar friend ; after multiplying benedictions so altogether spiritual ; it cannot readily be supposed, that he should sink him down to the pitiful condition, of being the founder of a mere political society; that too in a transaction introduced with uncommon solemnity.
a free and coorld; after havlamily of th
. CHAPTER IV.
Respecting the Covenant of Circumcision.
portance to undertempt to analyse
ture of this
IN the seventeenth chapter of the book of Genesis we are presented with what has been commonly denominated, the Covenant of Circumcision.
This covenant we shall now attempt to analyse. It. is of the last importance to understandaccurately the na. ture of this covenant; in what respects it agrees with, or is distinguishable from, any other covenant which inay be found mentioned in the scriptures; the nature and extent of its promises; with whom it is established; and in what way its blessings are transmitted and enjoyed.
That we may look at the subject fairly, and prosecute our analysis upon secure principles, it may be proper to put down all that is said upon it in this chapter. “ And when Abraham was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared unto Abraham, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God, walk before me and be thou perfect ; and I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And A. braham fell on his face; and God talked with him, say, ing ; As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham ; for a father of many nations have I made thee ; and I will make thee exceeding fruitful ; and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my cov. enant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and thy seed after thee, the land,
wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession ; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou and thy seed after thec, in their generations. This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you, and thy seed after thee. Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you. ' And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised a. · mong you, every man child in your generations, he
that is born in the house, or bought with thy money must needs be circumcised. And, my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncir. cumcised man child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people ; he hath broken my covenant.” The 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27 verses, only inform us of Abraham's compli. ance with the command of God. He circumcised himself, Ishmael, and all that were born in his house, or bought with his money.
I. The first thing which claims to be noticed, respect. ing the covenant transaction recorded here, is, that circumcision itself was not the covenant. It was but the token of it. It is indeed called the covenant. But the meaning of this language is fully explained by what is said in the eleventh verse of the chapter. " And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you." Paul gives the same explanation, Rom. iv. 12. “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal, of the righteousness of the faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised." That which is a token, sign, or seal of a thing, cannot at the same time be the very thing of which it is a token. The language is metonymical. Christ says, in the institution of the supper, referring to the bread before him, " This is my body.” All pro. testants understand the meaning to be, this is a symbol of my body. The literal construction involves the most glaring absurdity.
If circumcision be only a token, then it was really no part of the covenant. And if it was no part of the covenant, certainly it was not a condition of it. A con: dition is always an essential part of the covenant, to which it belongs. Exclude the condition, and the covenant is destroyed.
It may in this connexion be farther remarked, that the painful nature of the operation, which took place when a person was circumcised, though it was a yoke, which required some selfdenial patiently to bear,* was no more inconsistent with the supposition, that the coy. enant, of which circumcision was a token, was exclu. sively of a gracious nature, than the innumerable distresses which have always been a part of the experi. ence of the children of faith, are inconsistent with their being interested in the blessings of grace. Selfdenial is the narrow path by which all the people of God, un. der every dispensation, enter the gates of the heavenly city. To them it is given, not only to obtain salvation thirough, but to suffer, for the sake, of their adorable Redeemer. Faith must be tried. Self must be sub. dued. God must be enthroned. To all does the lan. guage of the Apostle Peter apply. i Peter i. 6. " Though now for a season (if need be) ye are in . heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, may be found un. to praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Je. sus Christ.”
II. The next thing which claims to be noticed res. pecting the covenant here mentioned, is, that the promises of it, allowing for some yerbal variations, are the same with those, which had been before made in the antecedents covenant transactions with Abraham. The first promise respects the multitude of Abraham's posterity. The 2 and 6 verses are, " And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and I will multiply thee exceed. ingly. And thou shalt be a father of many nations,
* Acts xv. 10.