“He is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God” (Romans 2:29-30).
The outward position of the Jew was right enough. The nation so favoured of God was honoured and privileged above all others. They had been separated to God and were not to be reckoned among the nations. “Much every way” was their profit as being the peculiar, distinguished, chosen people. Above all, of them Messiah came—He who is “over all, God blessed for ever.” But an inward condition was called for, suitable to the outward position which was theirs. If this was lacking the other was of little worth. The favour in which they stood outwardly, increased their responsibility. If there were not the proper answer to it, it would but be for their judgment. The ordinances, the ritual, the outward forms and ceremonies—the sacrifices and offerings—were ordained of God, but if their spirit did not respond, if it was not in accordance with the observances, then all was valueless, and worse than valueless, with Jehovah their God.
He was a Jew who was one inwardly—one who in truth, in the hidden man of the heart, was set apart for God. Circumcision was the external sign. Abram received it as the sign of the righteousness of faith which was his before he was circumcised. Heart-faith brought him into accord with the mind of God. This was within.
The external mark was to remind him and his household that they were to be here wholly for God. Circumcision in its true character was that which was of the heart, in the spirit, and not merely in the letter.
Losing its significance Israel boasted in that which was only external. They called those of the nations “uncircumcised dogs;” they scorned and slighted them as of no worth to God. Thus their lives were contrary to God’s thoughts, though their position was right. Through them the name of God was blasphemed because their condition in heart and spirit was not in harmony with their position externally. “God is no respecter of persons;” said Peter, “in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:34-35).
When Israel’s condition, as a whole, was corrupt, the sect of the Pharisees arose. They separated themselves from the mass of the nation. They took a place distinct from the rest as being more devoted, more devout. Strict in observance of ritual, tithing mint, and rue, and cumin, careful in carrying out details of the ceremonial law, they prided themselves in their position, and made broad their phylacteries to indicate their peculiar faithfulness to the letter of the Holy Scriptures.
They made clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within they were full of extortion and excess. Boastfulness, hypocrisy, arrogance and intolerance marked them. They were but whited sepulchres; dead men’s bones were inside, while that which was fair to see was without. Strong indeed are our Lord’s denunciations of and warnings to them. Their position was worthless, while their condition was discordant with all that was of God. “Letter,” not “heart” and “spirit,” characterized them.
And has not all this a serious bearing upon ourselves as Christians today? Is there not dire danger of our being content with an ecclesiastical correctness? Their position was worthless, while our spirit and heart are not in accordance with God.
A mere externalism may particularize us—a Sunday Christianity; perhaps only a Sunday morning Christianity. We may think ourselves correct as to our observances; we may quote proof-texts for our manners of procedure; we may criticize unsparingly those who differ from us; we may draw nigh to God with our lips, and our heart be far from Him.
In letter we may be exact, in doctrine we may be clear, but in spirit we may be hard and judicial and un-Christlike; clear and cold; correct and Christless.
Must not this attitude of mind be obnoxious to our God in His holiness, His grace, His goodness?
It has been said that there are three characters of separation. There is a physical one, such as monasteries and convents indicate, where votaries shut themselves away. This is outward separation. There is a legal separation, some one says, “You ought not to do this, you ought not to go here or there.” It may be, in large measure, that the fear of man rules in the minds of such. They ask, “What will Mrs Particular say?” or, “How will Mr. Strict view this?” There is nothing for our God in this, nor in any separation marked by a spirit of bondage.
But there is a spiritual separation. In this case the heart is delighting in God. It is nourished up in words of faith and of sound doctrine. It is finding its joys in communion with God and in abiding in Christ. It is keeping itself in the warmth and blessedness of the love of God. The satisfied heart is separated in truth to God. So, “we are the circumcision,” says the apostle, “which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).
This is true godliness. This is “inwardly.” This is delightful to our God and Father.
With our Lord Jesus it was ever thus “I delight to do Thy will, O my God, yea, Thy law is within My heart” (Ps. 40:8). “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). He was inwardly all that He was outwardly. There was no hypocrisy with Him. All was in the heart and in the spirit, and all was for God’s good pleasure.
And for us in our measure as we follow His steps, often so far off, this may be true, and we know that God hath “set apart him that is godly for Himself” (Ps 4:3). External correctness may be only for ourselves and not for God at all. It may be to please “the flesh” and give us a sense of being right, and so lead us, Pharisee like, to despise others. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” was the cry of old, and it echoes clown the centuries to us today. Surely we should humble ourselves before our gracious God and our Father as we consider our ways, and seek to be Jews truly and really, circumcised in heart and spirit. Then shall our praise be not of men, not of one another, but of God
The fact that Judah means “praise” may be noted. The Jews coming naturally of that stock would know the meaning and understand the apostolic allusion. So Jews in truth are those who have God Himself before them, and when every man has his praise of God their portion will not be forgotten.
Help and Food 1928