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For the Circumcision; or Sunday after the Circumcision.]
ROMANS iv. 11.
That he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised.
NE of the most difficult things which
against, with respect to those whom they converted from the Jewish to the Christian religion, was, the great fondness which these people entertained for the ceremonial part of the law of Moses, called by St. Paul "the law "of works." They firmly believed the truth of the Christian religion, and that it was the only way of salvation; but, at the same time, they believed that the ceremonies of the Jewish law, also, (more especially that of circumcision,) were necessary to render the Christian, as well as the Jew, acceptable to GOD. This prejudice had been deeply rooted in their minds, by early instruction;
and by long prac much pains and This occasioned
by their Jewish education; tice; so that it required time to get the better of it. the apostles, particularly St. Paul, to be very earnest in convincing the converts that christianity had entirely set aside the ceremonial law of Moses; and that, consequently, there was no sort of occasion, in any one who embraced the faith of CHRIST, whether Jew or Gentile, to observe any of those forms. or ceremonies, which had made part of the Jewish system of worship. It was to give them just notions in this matter, that a council of the apostles was held at Jerusalem, (as related in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts,) which came to a solemn de termination, that the converts should not be "burthened" with these things; and it was principally for the same purpose, that St. Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans. In that chapter of it, from whence the epistle for the day is taken, the apostle dwells particularly on this point. He proves that the favour of GOD was not to be obtained by any Jewish rite; but only by sincere faith, that is, by a faith shewing itself in a good christian life; and that Abraham himself, the father of the Jewish nation, was not justified by circumcision, but by that faith which had manifested itself, in his offering up his only
son Isaac, long before he had been circumcised. Hence he argues, that, as Abraham was justified (or obtained GOD's favour) before he was circumcised; so he became "the "father of all them that believe, though "they be not circumcised:" in other words, that he was a proof and an example, to all who should come after him, that it was not the mere observance of any outward ordinance that can render a man acceptable with GOD, and save his soul; but that lively faith alone, which firmly believes GOD's word and promises, and brings forth holiness and virtue as its natural fruits.
But though St. Paul has argued so strongly against Jewish ceremonies, and has shewn that they cannot have any value in the sight of GOD; yet, he by no means considers the ordinances of the christian church in the same point of view. These had been instituted by CHRIST himself, and were therefore regarded, both by St. Paul and the other apos tles, with the utmost reverence. They knew, indeed, and have taught all christians, that the proper dwelling-place of religion is the heart; and that the best means of shewing it is, by living a life of godliness, purity, and charity but, they were also sensible, that outward rites and ordinances were very necessary, as helps to devotion; as proper methods
of promoting decency and order in the affairs of religion; as badges of that profession, to which christians belong; and as means of grace and spiritual strength. They, therefore, constantly and solemnly enjoined christians, not only to observe the principal ordinances of religion, that of keeping holy the sabbath, and serving GOD, on that day, in public worship; but also to fulfil, faithfully and reverently, the sacramental ordinances of the christian church, Baptism, and the Supper of the LORD. The church to which we belong, my friends, is modeled as nearly after the pattern of that in the apostles' days, as the differences of times, places, and states of society, would permit. Setting aside the inspiration, and miraculous gifts, of the ministers of the gospel in the apostolical age, the orders and degrees in both are similar, and their rules and ordinances the same. Like the early church, we have the ordinance of Baptism, by which we are introduced into CHRIST's religion; we have the solemn laying of hands upon baptized children, by the Bishop, called Confirmation; and we have the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, celebrated, for the same purposes as in the early church; that is, in thankful remeinbrance of our blessed LORD's death and passion, and to shew forth his death till he
come." So that, if it be a desirable thing (as it, doubtless, must be to every serious christian) to serve GOD by the same outward rites, which the primitive believers observed; it does not seem that we can do it more effectually, than by a solemn and conscientious fulfilling of the ordinances of the esta blished church of the country.
But, however apostolical these forms of our church may be, and however necessary as a means of salvation; yet, they are only means, and must not be depended on, as all-sufficient in themselves, for obtaining the favour of GOD, unless they are united with sincere faith, and a steady endeavour to fulfil his commandments. Speaking of circumcision, St. Paul says, in his epistle to the Galatians," in CHRIST JESUS neither "circumcision availeth any thing, nor un"circumcision, but a new creature :” and in the same way, except the ordinances of our church be followed up by a change of heart, and an improvement in conduct; by repentance for past sin, and earnest endeavours to live a christian life; they will avail nothing. The means will not have obtained that end for which they were instituted; and, consequently, be of no service to those who have depended upon them for salvation. In order to make this more clear to you, I