Romans 2:28, 29
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:…
Religion may be conceived of as external or internal. According to the former view, we regard the religious man as one who in the sight of others observes the ceremonies of religion, attends Divine service, and conforms to the outward ordinances of Scripture. According to the latter view, we think of the heart of the man as moved by inward impulses, affected by certain sentiments, forming religious resolves, and conscious of holy affections.
I. A GENERAL MISTAKE CORRECTED: THE PRONENESS OF MANKIND TO LAY THE STRESS OF RELIGION UPON OUTWARD OBSERVANCES. The Jew grounded his self-satisfaction upon his initiation into the covenant by circumcision; upon his religious dress, with its phylacteries and fringes; upon his prayers, fasting, and tithes. The heathen religion consisted mainly in superstitious ceremonies, sacrifices, and incantations. And the people's query to John the Baptist, "What shall we do? like the jailor's request of Paul, What must I do to be saved?" shows this natural tendency, which begets in our day nominal Christianity; that contents itself with baptism and the Lord's Supper, reading the Bible, and subscribing to societies. Their religion ends there - mere formalism. Its causes may be found in the following circumstances.
1. We are under the governance of the senses. We like, and need to a certain extent, the visible signs and seals of religion, and thus run the risk of exalting unduly their importance. Resting in the embodiment, we neglect the spiritual significance.
2. It saves the trouble of investigating our spiritual condition. Definite rules please us, by relegating to codes or authorities the difficulty and weariness of understanding principles, and deciding as to times and degrees and dispositions of religious service.
3. The rites may be performed without necessarily renouncing pleasurable vices. There is a sort of compromise effected, such and such duties condoning such other laxities. Even asceticism is easier than rigorous inward control and mortification. To depreciate internal religion is evidently wrong:
(1) From the whole tenor of Scripture in many places. Even the Law of Moses affirmed the necessity of loving God with all the heart and soul. The prophets constantly denounced sacrifices which represented no moral feeling, no inward confession of sin or respect to the glory of God.
(2) The intent of religious observances is as means to an end, and to stop at the means is to frustrate the aim of ceremonies, which are designed to purify our conceptions of righteousness, to strengthen our aspirations after the noble and the good, and to leaven the whole life with godliness.
II. A WRONG CONCLUSION OBVIATED: THAT EXTERNAL OBSERVANCES MAY BE DISREGARDED. It is man's habit, as Butler has remarked, when two things are compared, to fancy that the one adjudged less preferable may be wholly neglected. "These ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone." The practice of religion demands some outward rites.
1. Expression is helpful to our thoughts. Singing increases thankfulness; written vows stamp themselves on the memory. And the symbolic acts of a religion thus lend impressive definiteness to our inward decisions.
2. The union of Christians is assisted by participation in the same rites. Attending the same gatherings, affixing the same badge to the breast, cements the conviction of brotherhood, and renders co-operation possible.
3. The honour of God is subserved by outward worship and confession. His glory is in revelation, and by visible adoration the Church reflects his radiance and becomes the light of the world. There is a moral obligation resting on the disciples of Christ to respect the institutions he himself established.
III. THE TRUE RELATION OF EXTERNAL TO INTERNAL RELIGION.
1. The external observance must be the outgrowth of the inward condition. The sign of a change of heart or disposition. The profession is designed as an index to the soul, a dial-plate of the inner workings; otherwise it is false and worthless, a mockery and an injury. Hence the anxiety of the gospel method to reform and renew the heart, that from a pure spring pellucid rills may flow. "Make the tree good, and its fruit will be good also." Even moral acts have no beauty in them if performed from unworthy motives. To give merely because we are importuned, or to head a subscription list, is not liberality.
2. When there is a conflict between moral duties and religious observances, then only can the latter be neglected. Whilst both are commanded, the moral obligations have the additional sanction of arising from the light of nature. Our Saviour showed that it was better to rescue an ox or a sheep than to keep the sabbath. He declared the Pharisees not to understand the statement, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." They did not perceive that the general spirit of religion consists in piety and virtue, as distinguished from outward forms and regulations. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."
IV. THE DIVINE APPROVAL WHICH CROWNS A TRULY RELIGIOUS LIFE. "Whose praise is not of men, but of God." The supreme object is to please him who alone can really see our thoughts and aims, and judge righteous judgment. Men praise where they should blame, and censure when they ought to approve. As Paul cried, "I appeal unto Caesar," so we may appeal unto God. His praise is worth having. The degrees in his university mean merited honours. All our inward strivings against temptation and struggles to hold fast to faith in his Word he has witnessed. Human eyes can only discern our failures or our seeming successes, but Christ's "eyes of flame" test the gold of our actions. And the commendation of the Lord implies blessed reward, to be publicly conferred hereafter. With him is no inadequacy of testimonials to express his sense of his people's services. - S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: