Behold, you are called a Jew, and rest in the law, and make your boast of God,…
In our last section we saw how the apostle takes the Jewish critic through the leading principles of the Divine judgment. In doing so, he had a practical end in view. He meant to bring home to the Jewish heart the fact of sin and danger, and thereby to lead the censorious, self-righteous Jew to humiliation and salvation through Christ alone. The present section contains the pointed application of the principles to the Jewish ease. And here we have to notice -
I. THE POSITION ASSUMED BY THE JEWS AS THE DIVINELY ENLIGHTENED LEADERS OF MANKIND. (Vers. 17-20.) The apostle states the Jewish assumption admirably. They were proud of their name: "Thou bearest the name of a Jew" (Revised Version). But this was because they had received the Law; and so they "rested in" or "upon the Law;" they made their possession of the Law the basis of their confidence and tranquility. Their notion was that men entrusted with such a literature had nothing in the world to fear. Moreover, it was from God, and why should they not regard them- selves as his favourites, and "make their beast" about him? And the book did not remain unread; they sought from it a "knowledge of his will;" were able, consequently, to exercise judgment "regarding things that differed" (δοκιμάζεις τὰ διαφέροντα), and received a general enlightenment through the Law. Not only so, but they believed in their mission; they were to be guides of the blind, lights to those in darkness, correctors (παιδευτὴν) of the foolish, teachers of babes, having at least the form (μόρφωσιν) of knowledge and of truth in the Law. In short, the Jews set themselves at the head of humanity as the qualified leaders and instructors of mankind. Now, it is a great assumption for any men to make. Yet the Jews were not singular in their assumption. It is made daily by men with far less reason, perhaps, than they. The leaders of thought, "the men of light and leading," who profess to know how much is given us to master, and how much remains "unknowable and unknown," must accept of the reasonable judgment of their less pretentious fellows, and, as superior persons, must be amenable to morals. By their fruits we shall know them. By their lives we shall be able to estimate the value of their principles. If they are benefactors of their species, if they promote the real welfare of mankind, well and good. If they are hindrances, then they cannot resist being condemned. It is this line the apostle adopts in this passage.
II. THE PRETENTIOUS TEACHERS WERE, AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE GREAT HINDRANCE TO THE DISSEMINATION OF DIVINE KNOWLEDGE. (Vers. 21-24.) The first fact Paul dwells on is that these Jews preached too little to themselves. They fell into the error of teaching others what they did not feel inclined to practise themselves. And so he catalogues certain sins of which he knew them to be guilty. It would seem that they stole, committed adultery, were guilty in heathen temples of sacrilege, and, in short, led such unworthy lives as to make God's Name a reproach and ground of blasphemy among the Gentiles. The morality of the teachers thus became the great hindrance to the acceptance of Divine truth. Now, there can be little doubt that the crimes of professed Christians constitute in heathen lands today a chief obstacle to the reception of the gospel; missionaries meet this difficulty constantly. But we ought to apply the canon to the pretentious teachers of our time, and it will be found that their lives are morally defective when judged by the standard of the gospel they affect to despise. The morality of a George Eliot, a G. H. Lewes, or a J. S. Mill, who affected to be moral teachers of their time, will not bear any very close inspection; and even those of the same school, whose lives are outwardly blameless, fall far beneath the self-sacrificing enthusiasm which Christianity fosters, and in multitudes of cases secures. The test is sure and infallible. Men and women that are morally easy-going, that are practically selfish and indifferent in large degree to the circumstances and suffering of their fellows, are unfit to be the teachers of their generation. And their teaching is as sure to prove a failure in the end, as the teaching of Judaism was among the Gentiles.
III. THE JEWS HAD A FALSE CONFIDENCE IN THE RITE OF CIRCUMCISION. (Ver. 25.) Their notion was that circumcision constituted something like the" hall-mark" on real silver, and distinguished them from all the mere electro-plating of the Gentiles. They thought that immoral conduct could not obliterate the value of the fleshly rite. This is the mistake made by all who lay undue emphasis upon rites and ceremonies. They fancy they have a value altogether independent of moral states and moral living. The apostle has consequently to draw attention to the fact that circumcision only profited one who kept the Law. It was then a sign of the covenant, and was taken along with the perfect obedience to the Law which had been rendered. But if a circumcised person turned out a Law-breaker, the circumcision really passed into uncircumcision. In other words, the Jew could break the covenant seal by breaking the Law of the covenant. This is a very solemn and weighty truth. It has its application to the covenant signs of the Christian dispensation. It is perfectly possible for persons who have become members of the visible Church, by a course of reckless living to break their covenant sign, and to be in God's sight disfranchised. Let no undue value be assigned to rites and ceremonies. They cannot be separated from moral states and conditions.
IV. THE JEWS IGNORED THE POSSIBILITY AND EXISTENCE OF THE CIRCUMCISED IN HEART. (Vers. 26-29.) If a circumcised person may forfeit his position as in covenant with God by breaking the Divine Law, on the other hand, an uncircumcised person, a Gentile, may so keep God's Law as to be entitled to a position in covenant with him. His uncircumcision in such a case, Paul maintains, should be counted or "reckoned for circumcision." Here the apostle is contending for the admission of Gentiles to the visible Church without the necessity of circumcision. Many a Gentile, like Cornelius, or like the centurion in the Gospels, put to shame the less earnest and less devout Jews. The high morality of such men was a standing condemnation (κρινεῖ) of the pretentious Jew. Accordingly, Paul proceeds to affirm that the circumcision of the heart, not the mere circumcision of the flesh, is the all-important matter. There is a circumcision of the heart which checks the unholy tendencies within, and secures the reality, of which outward circumcision is but the type. Of it God, the Searcher of hearts, is the true Judge. He rejoices in it, and regards those who have submitted to it as his true people. The circumcised in flesh may secure praise from men, but the circumcised in heart look for approbation to God only. It is for us all to seek the inward and spiritual circumcision, the true sign of membership in God's invisible kingdom. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,