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OF THE NATURE OF REGENERATION, AND ITS NECESSITY, IN ORDER TO JUSTIFICATION AND SALVATION.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.—Galat. vi. 15.
THERE are two Epistles of St. Paul, namely, that to the Romans, and this to the Galatians, which are principally and particularly designed to confute a false persuasion, which had prevailed amongst many Christians, especially those who were converted from Judaism—that it was not enough for men to embrace and confess the Christian religion, unless they kept the law of Moses, or at least submitted to that great precept of circumcision; the neglect whereof, among all the affirmative precepts of the law, was only threatened with excision, or being cut off from among the people. And of the prevalency of this error, and the great disturbance which it made in the Christian church, we have a particular account, Acts xv. where a general council of the apostles is called, and a letter written, in their names, to all the Christian churches, to rectify their apprehensions in this matter (ver. 24. of that chapter): “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls saying, Ye 355must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment,” &c.
And upon this occasion likewise it was, that St. Paul wrote this Epistle to the Galatians, as likewise that to the Romans; in the former of which, after he had at large confuted this error, (which he calls the preaching of another gospel, than what the apostles had preached, and the Christians first received;) in the beginning of the fifth chapter he exhorts them to assert the liberty, which Christ had purchased for them, from the obligation of the law of Moses: (ver. 1, 2.) “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing;” not that hereby he condemneth circumcision, as a thing evil in itself; for God never instituted or commanded any thing that was so; but he opposeth the opinion of the necessity of it to our justification and salvation, when the gospel had so plainly taken away the obligation and use of it; and consequently to affirm still the necessity of it, was really to renounce Christianity. For if Judaism was still the way to salvation, Christianity was to no purpose; and if Christianity be now the way, then the obligation to the Jewish religion was ceased. To avoid the force of this reasoning, it was not enough for the false apostles to say (as it seems they did) that Christians were not obliged universally to the whole law of Moses, but principally to the law of circumcision; because circumcision being the sign and badge of that covenant, whoever took that upon him, did thereby own his obligation to the whole law: (ver. 3, 4.) “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, 356that he is a debtor to do the whole law: Christ is become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace;” that is, whoever of you expect and profess to be justified by the law of Moses, ye take away the necessity and use of the Christian religion; and are fallen from grace; that is, do in effect renounce the gospel; for “we, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith,” (ver. 5.) we by the Spirit, in opposition to circumcision, which was in the flesh, do expect to be justified by the belief of the gospel. “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision;” (ver. 6.) that is, now under the dispensation of the gospel by Christ Jesus, it signifies nothing to a man’s justification or salvation, whether he be circumcised, or not circumcised, whether he be a Jew or a gentile. All that the gospel requires as necessary to these purposes, is, that we perform the conditions of the gospel, that so we may be capable of being made partakers of the blessings of it.
Now as the great blessing and benefit of the gospel is variously expressed, as, by the forgiveness of our sins, by our acceptance with God, or (which comprehends both) by our justification, sometimes by adoption, and our being made the sons and children of God, sometimes by redemption, and (which is the consummation of all) by salvation and eternal life: I say, as the blessing and benefit of the gospel is, in Scripture, expressed to us by these several terms, which do in effect all signify the same thing; so our duty, and the condition the gospel requires on our part, is likewise as variously expressed; sometimes, and that very frequently, by the word faith, as being the great source and principle 357of all religious acts and performances; but then this faith must not be a bare assent and persuasion of the truth of the gospel, but such an effectual belief as expresseth itself in suitable acts of obedience and holiness, such as the apostle here calls πίστις δι᾽ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη, “a faith which worketh by love,” a faith that is inspired and acted, or rather consummate and made perfect by charity (for so the word doth often signify), and then this phrase will be just of the same importance with that of St. James: (chap. ii. 22.) “By works is faith made perfect.” Sometimes, and that also very frequently, the condition of the gospel is expressed by words which signify the change of our state, as by repentance, conversion, regeneration, renovation, sanctification, the new creature, and the new man, which expressions are all so well known, that I need not refer to particular texts; sometimes the condition of the gospel is expressed by the visible and sensible effects of this inward change in our outward life and actions; as, namely, by obedience and keeping the commandments of God. So (Heb. v. 9.) Christ is said to be “the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him;” where obedience is plainly put for the whole condition of the gospel, the performance whereof entitles us to eternal life and happiness.
Now that by these various expressions, one and the same thing is certainly intended and meant, viz. the condition of the gospel; that which is required on our part, in order to our full and perfect justification and acceptance with God, is evident beyond all denial; by comparing the three different ways whereby St. Paul doth express the same proposition for sense and substance; in which he tells us 358what it is that will avail to our justification under the gospel; that is, according to the terms of the Christian religion; that is, neither here nor there, that it signifies nothing whether a man be circumcised or not, but that we be so qualified as the gospel requires, that the conditions upon which the blessings of the gospel are promised be found in us. And there are three texts wherein the same thing is plainly intended in three very different expressions. (Gal. v. 6.) “In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith, which is consummate, or made perfect by charity.” (Gal. vi. 15.) “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but a new creature.” (1 Cor. vii. 19.) “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing: but the keeping of the commandments of God.” It is evident, that in these three texts the apostle designs to say the same thing; and consequently, that faith which is made perfect by charity, and the new creature, and keeping of the commandments of God, are the same in sense and substance, viz. the condition of our justification and acceptance with God under the covenant of the gospel, or in the Christian religion.
I shall at present, by God’s assistance, handle the second of these texts. “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but a new creature.” And here the condition of the gospel is expressed to us, by the change of our state, which in Scripture is called our regeneration, or becoming new creatures, and new men. Circumcision was but an outward sign and mark upon the body, and the flesh, though it did indeed prefigure and typify the inward circumcision of the 359heart, the giving of men new hearts, and new spirits, under the more perfect dispensation of the gospel: but now in Jesus Christ, that is in the Christian religion, the presence or the want of this outward mark will avail nothing to our justification: but that which was signified by it, the renovation of our hearts and spirits, our becoming new creatures, is now the condition of our justification and acceptance with God.
The false apostles, indeed, did lay great stress upon the business of circumcision, not so much out of zeal to the law of Moses, as to avoid persecution: (ver. 12.) “They constrain you to be circumcised, only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.” For, at that time, though the Christians were persecuted, yet the Jews by the Roman edicts had the free exercise of their religion, and therefore they gloried in this external mark of circumcision, because it exempted them from suffering; but St. Paul gloried in his sufferings for Christ, and the marks of that upon his body, (ver. 14.) “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ;” and (ver. 17.) “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He tells them, what necessities soever they might pretend of circumcision, either for their justification or salvation, the true ground of all was to save themselves from temporal sufferings; and that in the Christian religion it signifieth nothing to recommend them to the favour of God, whether they were circumcised or not; nothing would be available to this purpose, but the renovation and change of their hearts and lives. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but a new creature,; καινὴ κτίσις, a new creation, to intimate the greatness 360of the change, which Christianity, thoroughly entertained, made in men.
Having thus cleared the occasion and meaning of these words, I come now to consider the particulars contained in them; namely, these two things.
First, That the gospel had taken away the obligation of the law of Moses. “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision.”
Secondly, That, according to the terms of the Christian religion, nothing will avail to our justification and acceptance with God, but the real renovation of our hearts and lives; “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision: but a new creature.”
I. That the gospel hath taken away the obligation of the law of Moses. In Christ Jesus, that is, now under the dispensation of the gospel, “neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision.” There was never any general obligation upon mankind to this rite of circumcision, but only upon the seed of Abraham; but yet upon the preaching of the gospel, many of the Jewish Christians would have brought the gentiles under this yoke; pretending that Christianity was but a superstructure upon the law of Moses, which, together with the gospel, was to be the religion of the whole world; and there was some colour for this, because our Saviour himself submitted to this rite, and was circumcised; which the apostle takes notice of in the 4th chap, of this Epistle, (ver. 4.) “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law;” that is, circumcised. And it is true, indeed, that our blessed Saviour was circumcised; but. not to signify to us the perpetuity of circumcision, and the continuance of it under the 361Christian religion, but for a quite different end; as a testimony of his obedience to that law, which, though afterwards it was to expire, yet was to be obeyed whilst it was in force, by all that were born under it; he was “made under the law,” and it be came him, who came to teach mankind obedience to the laws of God, “to fulfil all righteousness” himself: and therefore the apostle, in this .Epistle, where he takes notice of this, that Christ was “made under the law,” gives this reason of it, that he might be the fitter to free those who were under it from the servitude of it; he was “made under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law;” and that those who were in the condition of servants before, might be set at liberty, and “receive the adoption of sons.”
But how did his being “made under the law,” qualify him “to redeem those who were under the law?” Thus—by submitting to it himself, he shewed that he owned the authority of it, and that he had no malice nor enmity against it; or, as he himself expresses it, that he “came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it.” And being fulfilled, and having served the time and end for which God intended it, it expired of itself; like a law which is not made for perpetuity, but limited to a certain period. And our blessed Saviour, who came with greater authority than Moses, and gave greater testimony of his Divine authority, had sufficient power to declare the expiration of it; and by commissioning his disciples, before and after his death, to preach the gospel to the whole world, he put an end to that particular law and dispensation, which only concerned the Jewish nation, by giving a general law to all mankind.362
So that from the death of our Saviour, and his ascension into heaven, upon which followed the general publication of the gospel, the law of Moses ceased; and, according to our Saviour’s express appointment, proselytes were to be admitted into the Christian church only by baptism, and not by circumcision. And if circumcision, which was the sign of that covenant, was laid aside, then the whole obligation of that law and covenant which God had made with the Jews was also ceased. It was once, indeed, the mark of God’s chosen and peculiar people; but now that God hath revealed himself to the whole world by his Son, and offers salvation to all mankind, gentiles as well as Jews, “the wall of separation is broken down,” and circumcision, which was the mark of distinction between Jews and gentiles, is taken away; and therefore, he is said to have “made peace by his cross,” and to have “blotted out and taken away the hand-writing of ordinances, nailing it to his cross;” that is, from the time of his death, to have taken away the obligation of the law of Moses, though it was a good while after, before the Jews were wholly weaned from the veneration and use of it.
Nay, it was some time before the apostles were clearly convinced that the gospel was to be preached to the gentiles; this being one of those truths, which our Saviour promised after his departure, his Spirit should lead them into the perfect knowledge of; and then they were fully instructed, that the law of Moses was expired, and that it was no longer necessary to the salvation of men, that they should be circumcised and keep that law. And though it was once enjoined by God himself to the Jews, and their obedience to it was necessary to their acceptance 363with God; yet now, by Christ Jesus, God hath offered salvation to men upon other terms; and whether they were circumcised or not, was of no moment to their justification or salvation one way or other; but provided they performed the condition of this new covenant of the gospel, they were all alike capable of the Divine favour and acceptance.
But I proceed to that which I mainly intend to prosecute from these words; and that is the
II. Second particular in the text; namely, that according to the terms of the gospel, and the Christian religion, nothing will avail to our justification and acceptance with God, but the real renovation of our hearts and lives; “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision: but a new creature.” For the full explication of this, I shall do these three things.
First, Shew what is implied in this phrase of “a new creature.”
Secondly, That this is the great condition of our justification and acceptance with God, and that it is the same in substance with “faith perfected by charity,” and with “keeping the commandments of God.”
Thirdly, That it is very reasonable it should be so.
1. What is implied in this phrase of “a new creature.” It is plain, at first sight, that it is a metaphorical expression of that great and thorough change which is made in men by the gospel, or the Christian religion. The Scripture sets forth to us this change by a great variety of expressions; by conversion, and turning from our iniquities unto God; by repentance (h signifies a change of our mind and resolution, and is in Scripture called repentance from dead works, and repentance unto 364life); by regeneration, or being born again; by resurrection from the dead, and rising to newness of life; by sanctification, and being washed and cleansed from all filthiness and impurity; which three last metaphors are implied in baptism, which is called regeneration. (Tit. iii. 5.) “According to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” and our being “born again of water and the Holy Ghost;” (John iii. 3.) “Except a man be born again,” &c. and (ver. 5.) “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God;” and “the purifying of our consciences;” (Heb. x. 22.) “Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water;” and “the answer of a good conscience towards God;” (1 Pet. iii. 21.) “Baptism doth now save us; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God;” and finally, our being “baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ;” (Rom. vi. 3, 4.) “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” And lastly, this change is set forth to us by renovation, and our being made new creatures and new men; (2 Cor. v. 17.) “Therefore, if any man be in Christ/ that is, professeth himself a Christian, “he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.” And so likewise, (Ephes. iv. 22, 23, 24.) this great change is expressed by “putting off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, 365which is corrupt according to the lusts of deceit; and being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” The expression is very emphatical, “renewed in the spirit of our minds;” that is, in our very minds and spirits, to signify to us that it is a most inward and thorough change, reaching to the very centre of our souls and spirits. And Coloss. iii. 9, 10, 11. it is represented much after the same manner; “Seeing ye have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” Which is the same with what the apostle says here in the text, that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature;” that is, these external marks and differences signify nothing: but this inward change, “the new creature—Christ formed in us;” this in the Christian religion is all in all.
But that we may the more clearly understand the just importance of this metaphor of “a new creature,” or a new creation, I shall,
First, Consider what it doth certainly signify, by comparing this metaphorical phrase with other plain texts of Scripture.
And, secondly, That it doth not import what some would extend it to, so as to found doctrines of great consequence upon the single, strength of this, and the like metaphors in Scripture, without any manner of countenance from plain texts.
First, I shall consider what this metaphor doth 366 certainly import, so as to be undeniably evident from other more clear and full texts of Scripture; namely, these two things:
1. The greatness of this change.
2. That it is effected and wrought by a Divine power:
1. The greatness of this change; it is called καινή κτίσις, a new creation; as if the Christian doctrine, firmly entertained and believed, did, as it were, mould and fashion men over again, transforming them into a quite other sort of persons, than what they were before, and made such a change in them, as the creating power of God did, in bringing this beautiful and orderly frame of things out of their dark and rude chaos. Thus the apostle represents it: (2 Cor. iv. 6.) “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness (alluding to the first creation), hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We are translated from one extreme to another; (Acts xxvi. 18.) when our Lord sends Paul to preach the gospel to the gentiles, he tells him what a change it would make in them, by “opening their eyes, and turning them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” And St. Peter expresses the change which Christianity makes in men, by their being “called out of darkness into a marvellous light; (1 Pet. ii. 9.) And so St. Paul, (Eph. v. 8.) “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.”
And, indeed, wherever the doctrine of Christ hath its full effect, and perfect work, it makes a mighty change both in their inward principles and outward practice; it darts a new light into their 367minds, so that they see things otherwise than they did before, and forms a different judgment of things from what they did before; it endues them with a new principle, and new resolutions, gives them another spirit, and another temper, a quite different sense and gust of things from what they formerly had. And this inward change of their minds necessarily produceth a proportionable change in their lives and conversations, so that the man steers quite another course, acts after another rate, and drives on quite other designs from what he did before.
And this is remarkably seen in those who are reclaimed from impiety and profaneness to religion, and from a vicious to a virtuous course of life. The change is great and real in all; but not so sensible and visible in some, as others; in those who are made good by the insensible steps of a pious and virtuous education; as in those who are translated out of a quite contrary state, and “turned from the power of Satan unto God,” and “translated out of the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of Christ;” which was the case of the heathen world, in their first conversion to Christianity.
2. This change is effected and wrought by a Divine power, of the same kind with that which created the world, and raised up Christ Jesus from the dead; two great and glorious instances of the Divine power; and to these the Scripture frequently alludes, when it speaks of this new creation. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts. Like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also are raised to newness of life,” saith St. Paul. (Rom. vi. 4.) And to the same purpose the same apostle speaks, (Ephes. i. 19, 20.) “And that ye 368may know what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the operation of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” So that our renovation, and being made new creatures, is an instance of the same glorious power, which exerted itself in the first creation of things, and in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead; but not altogether after the same manner, as I shall shew under the next head.
I should now, in the second place, proceed to shew, that this metaphor of a new creation doth not import what some men would extend it to, so as to found doctrines of great consequence upon the single strength of this and other like metaphors of Scripture, without any manner of countenance and confirmation from plain texts. But this I reserve to another discourse.369
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