Verse 23. "And Abraham took Ishmael, &c." - Had not Abraham, his son, (who was of age to judge for himself,) and all the family, been fully convinced that this thing was of God, they could not have submitted to it.A rite so painful, so repugnant to every feeling of delicacy, and every way revolting to nature, could never have sprung up in the imagination of man.To this day the Jews practice it as a Divine ordinance; and all the Arabians do the same. As a distinction between them and other people it never could have been designed, because it was a sign that was never to appear.The individual alone knew that he bore in his flesh this sign of the covenant, and he bore it by the order of God, and he knew it was a sign and seal of spiritual blessings, and not the blessings themselves, though a proof that these blessings were promised, and that he had a right to them.Those who did not consider it in this spiritual reference are by the apostle denominated the concision, Phil. iii. 2, i.e., persons whose flesh was cut, but whose hearts were not purified.
THE contents of this chapter may be summed up in a few propositions:-
1. God, in renewing his covenant with Abram, makes an important change in his and Sarai's name; a change which should ever act as a help to their faith, that the promises by which God had bound himself should be punctually fulfilled. However difficult it may be for us to ascertain the precise import of the change then made, we may rest assured that it was perfectly understood by both; and that, as they had received this name from God, they considered it as placing them in a new relation both to their Maker and to their posterity. From what we have already seen, the change made in Abram's name is inscrutable to us; there is something like this in Rev. ii. 17: To him that overcometh will I give a white stone, and a NEW NAME-which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. The full import of the change made in a soul that enters into covenant with God through Christ, is only known to itself; a stranger intermeddleth not with its joy. Hence, even men of learning and the world at large have considered experimental religion as enthusiasm, merely because they have not understood its nature, and have permitted themselves to be carried away by prejudices which they have imbibed perhaps at first through the means of ignorant or hypocritical pretenders to deep piety; but while they have the sacred writings before them, their prejudices and opposition to that without which they cannot be saved are as unprincipled as they are absurd.
2. God gives Abraham a precept, which should be observed, not only by himself, but by all his posterity; for this was to be a permanent sign of that covenant which was to endure for ever. Though the sign is now changed from circumcision to baptism, each of them equally significant, yet the covenant is not changed in any part of its essential meaning. Faith in God through the great sacrifice, remission of sins, and sanctification of the heart, are required by the new covenant as well as by the old.
3. The rite of circumcision was painful and humiliating, to denote that repentance, self-denial, &c., are absolutely necessary to all who wish for redemption in the blood of the covenant; and the putting away this filth of the flesh showed the necessity of a pure heart and a holy life.
4. As eternal life is the free gift of God, he has a right to give it in what way he pleases, and on what terms. He says to Abraham and his seed, Ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and he that doth not so shall be cut off from his people. He says also to sinners in general, Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Repent, and believe the Gospel; and, Except ye repent, ye shall perish. These are the terms on which he will bestow the blessings of the old and new covenants.And let it be remembered that stretching out the hand to receive an alms can never be considered as meriting the bounty received, neither can repentance or faith merit salvation, although they are the conditions on which it is bestowed.
5. The precepts given under both covenants were accompanied with a promise of the Messiah. God well knows that no religious rite can be properly observed, and no precept obeyed, unless he impart strength from on high; and he teaches us that that strength must ever come through the promised seed. Hence, with the utmost propriety, we ask every blessing through him, in whom God is well pleased.
6. The precept, the promise, and the rite, were prefaced with, "I am God all-sufficient; walk before me, and be thou perfect." God, who is the sole object of religious worship, has the sole authority to prescribe that worship, and the rites and ceremonies which shall be used in it; hence he prescribed circumcision and sacrifices under the old law, and baptism and the eucharist under the Gospel; and to render both effectual to the end of their institution, faith in God was indispensably necessary.
7. Those who profess to believe in him must not live as they list, but as he pleases. Though redeemed from the curse of the law, and from the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish Church, they are under the law to Christ, and must walk before him - be in all things obedient to that moral law which is an emanation from the righteousness of God, and of eternal obligation; and let it ever be remembered that Christ is "the author of eternal salvation to all that obey him." Without faith and obedience there can be no holiness, and without holiness none can see the Lord. Be all that God would have thee to be, and God will be to the"' all that thou canst possibly require. He never gives a precept but he offers sufficient grace to enable thee to perform it. Believe as he would have thee, and act as he shall strengthen thee, and thou wilt believe all things savingly, and do all things well.