For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
These Philippians had admitted certain new men that preached traditional and additional doctrines, the law with the gospel, Moses with Christ, circumcision with baptism. To these new converts these new doctors inculcated often that charm, "Ye are the circumcision" whom God hath sealed to Himself; will you break this seal? Now St. Paul meets with these men in their own haunt, and even in the sound of the word they so often pressed. "They press upon you circumcision, but beware of concision, of tearing the Church of God; for we are the circumcision. If, therefore, they set up another, and continue a figure after the substance Christ Jesus is manifested, a legal circumcision in the flesh after the spiritual circumcision of the heart, their end is not circumcision but concision."
I. BEWARE. This caveat shows us —
1. God's loathness to lose us. That we are here now is sufficient argument for this. Who of us has not done something since yesterday that has made him unworthy to be here today? If God were weary of me, and would fain be rid of me, He could find enough in me now and here to let me perish. Is not the spirit of slumber in me, the spirit of detraction in another, of impenitence and facility to admit temptations in others, enough to justify Him? But He would not have the death of any, but would have all men be saved, and so says, "beware."
2. Consider the way by which He leads us to Him. He declares His will towards us in a law. He bids and forbids. There had passed a contract between us and Him — Believe, do, and thou shalt live. We say, "Thy will be done," which supposes that that will is made known. And that will has been manifested in the law within, the Mosaic law, and the gospel, and not only does God thus speak to us, but He calls upon us; gives us a law and bids us "beware" of breaking it.
3. Nothing exalts God's goodness more than this, that He multiplies the means of mercy, so that no man can say, Once I might have been saved, once God opened to me a door, but I neglected that, and God never came more.
(1) God hath spoken once in His Scriptures, and we have heard Him twice (Psalm 62:11) at home in our own reading, and again and again in His ordinances.
(2) There is a language in the heavens (Psalm 19:2). This is the true harmony of the spheres which every man may hear. Though he understand no tongue but his own, he may hear God in the seasons, in the vicissitudes of Church and State, etc. This is God's English to thee, and His French, Latin, Greek, to others.
(3) But then God translates Himself in particular works. Nationally: He speaks in particular judgments or deliverances to one nation. Domestically: He speaks that language to a particular family; and so personally. God will make a fever speak to me that there is no health in me; my adversity that there is no safe dependence but in Him; even my sin shall be a sermon to me.
(4) God hath spoken to us in the death and resurrection of His Son.
II. BEWARE OF THE CONCISION. There is a certain elegant and holy delicacy and juvenility in St. Paul's choosing the words of musical cadence — circumcision, concision; but then this presents matter of gravity. Language must wait upon matter, and words upon things. Concision is the severing of that which should be entire — in the state, the aliening of the head from the body; in the Church to constitute a monarchy, an universal head; in the family, to divide man and wife. But more particularly consider —
1. The concision of the body; disunion in doctrinal things.
(1) This that should be kept entire is Jesus.
(2) "Every spirit which dissolveth Jesus" (1 John 4:3), that makes religion serve turns, that admits so much gospel as may advance present businesses, every such spirit is not of God.
(3) Not to profess the whole gospel, not to believe all the articles of faith, this is a breaking of what should be entire.
(4) The advancement of a private interpretation to an article of faith mars the peace and rends the unity of the Church. Let us therefore (Psalm 137:6) prefer Jerusalem before our chief joy, love of peace by or forbearance on all sides, rather than cictory by wrangling and uncharitableness.
2. The concision of the garment; disunion in ceremonial things. To a circumcision of the garment, to a paring away such ceremonies as were superstitious and superfluous, we came at the beginning of the Reformation. But those churches that came to a concision of the garment, an absolute taking away of all ceremonies, neither provided so safely for the Church itself nor for her devotion. Ceremonies are nothing, but where there are none order and obedience, and, presently, religion, will vanish.
3. And therefore beware of tearing the body or the garment, lest the third be induced, the tearing of thine own spirit from that rest it should receive in God; for when thou has lost thy hold of those handles which God reaches out to thee in the ministry of His Church, and hast no means to apply the promises of God to thy soul, when anything falls upon thee to overcome thy moral constancy; thou wilt soon sink into desperation, which is the fearfullest concision of all. When God hath made me a partaker of the Divine nature, so that now in Christ Jesus He and I are one, this were a dissolving of Jesus of the worst kind imaginable to tear myself from Jesus, or by any suspicion of His mercy, or any horror of my own sins, to come to think myself to be none of His.
1. This is treason against the Father; a cutting off of the power of God.
2. Treason against the Son; a cutting off of the wisdom of God.
3. Treason against the Holy Ghost; the cutting off of comfort.
(John Donne, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.