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aversion for these wicked guides; and to implore his believing brethren not to yield to their devices. The terms in which he describes the character of those perverters of the truth, are exceedingly strong.
"Beware," he exclaims, "of dogs." There is peculiar force in the application of such a name, to the Judaizing instructors who were then disturbing the church. It was usual with the Jews to distinguish the Gentiles, by the opprobrious appellation of "dogs :" and it was in accommodation to this custom, that the Lord Jesus Christ replied to the woman of Canaan, “It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs."* St. Paul intends to say, therefore, that the name which they thus contemptuously cast upon others, might be more properly applied to themselves; being exactly descriptive of that greedy and rapacious disposition, by which these teachers, for the sake of their own personal advantage, accommodated their doctrines to the corrupt views of men. That such was the character of those persons against whom he was writing, is evident, not only from a subsequent verse of the present Chapter,† but from descriptions of them in other of the apostolic writings. In the Epistle to the Romans, they are said to be men who "serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly ;"+ and in the Epistle to Titus, they are represented as "teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake."; To such persons, the expression here used by St. Paul was obviously appropriate. Their neglect of the cardinal doctrine of justification by faith, and their continual enforcement of the efficacy of the works of the law, were in adaptation to the pride and the prejudices of their hearers; for fear of offending whom, and Rom. xvi. 18. § Tit. i. 11.
*Matt. xv. 26. † See Verse 19.
thereby interfering with their own interests, they preached, not what was wholesome truth, but what was palatable to the carnal mind. Such men as these have their representatives in all ages: but let us pass on to the next part of the delineation before us. "Beware," says he, in reference to the same corrupters of the gospel, "of evil-workers." He means to assert, that these individuals were active and laborious, but their exertions were all for a wicked purpose; and the sense of his words is precisely expressed by Solomon, when, among seven things that are abominable before heaven, he mentions "feet that be swift in running to mischief."* The Judaizing teachers of the Apostle's day were distinguished by their incessant pursuit of their object: for it is a melancholy reality, that the friends of the Redeemer too frequently bear no comparison with his enemies, in the steadiness and enthusiasm of their efforts for the promotion of the cause dear to their hearts. The last name here applied to these persons, is one of a singular description. "Beware," he tells the Philippians, "of the concision." The present is the only place, throughout the whole New Testament, in which the word before us occurs. It seems to be a term of derision; and to be given to the false teachers in allusion to another name, which they, in common with the rest of the Jews, assumed as their peculiar title. We find, from several places in the Epistle to the Romans, that the Jewish people were called "the circumcision;" in reference to that initiatory rite, by which they entered into the visible church of God. This distinguishing appellation was, without doubt, made a subject of vain boasting by those pretended Christian teachers, who were endeavoring to enforce upon the reception + See Chapters iii. iv.
* Prov. vi. 18.
of believers the rituals of Moses: and St. Paul appears, by thus changing the name, to cast ridicule upon the subject of their pride; and to intimate, that those who advocated a ceremony which was now done away, deserved to be distinguished by no better a title than that of useless mutilators of the flesh.
It is by these three successive terms, that he expresses his strong disapprobation of those perverters of truth, who were then assaulting the faith of believers. To you of the present day the admonition has no farther application, than simply to put you upon your guard against all exhibitions of the gospel, in which the minister of Christ does not lead you at once, and exclusively, to the atoning blood of the Lamb slain for sinners; in which any encouragement is offered to the pride of your own works and deservings; and, thereby, the whole character of the religion of Jesus, as a free gift to ruined offenders, utterly destroyed. From representations thus dishonoring to your divine Master, turn away with fear and trembling. Saved by the righteousness of Christ, and by that alone, ascribe all the glory where it is due; and, to the exclusion of every human pretension and plea, let your scheme of faith be that which Leighton, in his quaint but forcible language, has thus expressed: "Seek and wait for thy pardon as a condemned rebel, with thy rope about thy neck."*
The Apostle, after this description of those insidious and arrogant teachers, sets forth, in distinct contrast, the character of real Christians. He begins with asserting, that, whatever might be the claims of these wicked leaders, the title which they adopted belonged strictly to the servants of Jesus. "For we are the circumcision," he declares; as if he had said: Those * See his Commentary on I. Peter; at Chap. v, verse 6.
men whose principles I am opposing, rest with Pharisaic complacency upon a profitless rite; the renewed disciples of Christ, on the contrary, are possessed of that inward and spiritual character, of which this was only the sign; and who, therefore, most deserve the name in question, you can without difficulty decide. The words of St. Paul, in this place, are similar to a passage in his Epistle to the Romans, where he observes; "He is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."* In what respects believers were distinguished from those formal advocates of Judaism, he next proceeds to state; and his declaration sets forth, for your instruction, three important and interesting marks of a genuine disciple.
The first distinguishing feature which he mentions, is that of a spiritual service to the Lord." We are the circumcision," he says, "which worship God in the spirit." It is evidently the meaning of the Apostle, that the renewed servant of the Lord Jesus Christ gives up his heart, and inward affections, to the Author of his creation and redemption; in distinction from those carnal professors, whose only idea of true religion is that of an outward and ceremonial homage. In this description of the character of God's converted children, he alludes indirectly to those deceivers of his time, who reduced the way of salvation to a mere observance of external forms. In its general application, however, it pronounces condemnation upon those who pursue the like bleak and barren career, in every age of the world; and carries your minds to that portrait drawn by your incarnate Master: "The hour cometh, and now is,
*Rom. ii. 29.
when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him."* Permit me, then, for a moment to present this part of the real Christian's character to your view, for the instruction of those who, by a public profession, name the name of Christ. The believer looks up to God as his providential Governor and Guide: and while he traces, through past years, all the gracious dealings of his hand, his heart expands; he rises on the wings of devout and holy gratitude; and, with the Psalmist, his soul utters the cry, the cry, "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name !" But this same person, who thus acknowledges and feels the gifts of the Almighty, in the daily bounties of his providence, turns to him as the Author of still nobler benefits. A rebel, he finds himself restored; an offender against the divine law, he sees himself pardoned ; and, in his own guilty and ruined person, perceives the promise fulfilled, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." At this spectacle of unmerited mercy to the chief of sinners, he glows with a flame of steady, warm, and humble thankfulness. Christ is presented to him as the grand object of his affections. The world sinks beneath his feet. His whole life is a course of love for that adorable Father, "who hath delivered him from the power of darkness, and hath translated him into the kingdom of his dear Son." This, my dear brethren, is what is intended, in the description now under review. St. Paul carefully distinguishes between a religion of the heart, and a mere outward attendance upon ordinances and seasons; and intimates, that he who is bought with a price, should glorify God "in his spirit, which is God's."||
* John, iv. 23. †Ps. cii. 1. ‡ Isaiah, i. 18. § Col. i. 13. I. Cor. vi. 20.