Deut. X. 16.
" Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked."
It is a thing much to be observed, that many of the outward and
visible signs, which God has ordained His people to use in wor-
shipping Him, have somewhat in them to remind us in some
way of suffering, affliction, pain, self-denial, death. Thus Sacrifice,
which was the great act of solemn worship among the Patriarchs
and Jews, was the slaughter of some innocent animal, and the
pouring out of its blood before God. Thus the Holy Communion
is the remembrance of our Saviour's death, His violent and
bitter death. Thus Baptism, the entrance into the Kingdom of
Heaven, when performed in that way which the Church in her
Prayer Book prefers, is also a memorial of His death and rising
again ; of His death, by the burial of the Child, just for a moment,
under the water ; of His Resurrection, by the same Child's being
immediately lifted out of the water into the minister's arms. It
is a memorial of our Lord's death : and it is also a token, pledge,
and mean of a real death which the baptized person does at the
same time undergo — an inward death unto sin and a new birth
unto righteousness ; and it is a token of the sort of life to be led
hereafter in this world — a life according to that death ; as St.
Paul said, " I die daily :" a life in which a man has continually
to keep himself in order, to deny himself many things which he
would like, and to choose and embrace many things which he
naturally dislikes. This is the sort of life of which Holy Baptism
is the beginning, and it is signified to us by the very act of
But of aU Church ceremonies, there is none which so distinctly
sets before us our call to suffer, as that which has from the
beginning always gone along with Baptism -, the signing the
newly baptized with the sign of the Cross. The Cross is the
very height and depth of all suffering : the very name presently
tells us of a Soul exceeding sorrowful even unto death ; of sweat
like great drops of blood falling down to the ground ; of a burden
too heavy to be borne ; of reproach, scorn, shame, spitting ; of
scourging and a crowm of thorns ; of Hands, and Feet, and Side
pierced ; of crying with a loud voice, and yielding up the Ghost :
all this and more, more than man's heart can understand, comes
into a Christian's mind when he hears of the Cross. What, then,
can we understand by the Cross marked on us from our very
childhood, but that we too are to go on in suffering and self-denial ?
that though our Lord's yoke is easy, and His burden light, to
such as are renewed by His Spirit, yet in itself it is very bitter,
" full," as the Prophet says, " of gall and travail."
Now such as the baptismal Cross is in the Christian life, such
was Circumcision among Goo's ancient people. It was His mark,
made for life, in the very flesh of those who belonged to Him,
setting them apart, in a manner, for suffering and self-denial. It
was a foretaste of the Cross ; and, as such, our Saviour Himself
received it. By permitting Himself as on this day to be brought
and placed in the Priests' arms, and His Sacred Flesh to be pierced,
and Blood shed, — by the pain which His tender infant Body now
suffered, — He did, as it were, offer unto His Father the first-
fruits of that full harvest of suffering, which was finally to be
gathered in upon the Cross. He sanctified our lesser sorrows,, and vexations, as He was afterwards to sanctify in
His agony and passion our more grievous and heart-searching
trials : our great disappointments, our shame, want, sickness, and
death. Certainly, when we look at His course in this His lower
world, beginning with endurance of the sharp circumcising knife,
and ending with. My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken Me?
it does seem strange that we should any of us expect to pass
through Hfe in ease and quietness, or think it hard if we have
not our own way in all things. "The Disciple is not above his
Master, nor the Servant above his Lord. It is enough for the
Disciple if he be as his Master, and the Servant as his Lord."
Thus, whether we look to our Lord's own example, or to the
sacramental ways which He has ordained, both of old and now,
to bring His people near Him, either way we are taught to count
them happy which endure ; to consider affliction and trouble as
God's seal, set upon those who particularly belong to Him ; and
to fear nothing so much as receiving our consolation in this
' world.
But if this be so, then just in such measure as we are going on
prosperously and at ease, have we need to mortify ourselves, and
keep our passions in order ; that by our own doing, if so please
God, we may provide for ourselves something like that due
chastening, which our afflicted brethren really have to endure.
This, our self-denial, we must practise in little matters : it should
accompany us in our every- day walk, as every Jew bore about
with him the mark of Circumcision, visibly impressed on his
flesh : as every Christian was continually reminding himself, in
old time, by the sign of the Cross, Whose he was, and Whom he
served. We must not keep our patience and self-command to be
exercised only on great and solemn occasions : we must be con-
tinually sacrificing our own wills, as opportunity serves, to the
will of others : bearing without notice sights and sounds that
annoy us ; setting about this or that task, when we had far rather
lie doing something very different ; persevering in it often, when
we are thoroughly tired of it ; keeping company for duty's sake,
when it would be a great joy to us to be by ourselves : besides all
the trifling untoward accidents of life : bodily pain and weakness
long continued, and perplexing us often when it does not amount
to illness : losing what we value, missing what we desired : dis-
appointment in other persons, wilfulness, unkindness, ingratitude,
folly, in cases where we least expected it. There is no end, in
short, of the many little crosses, which, if quietly borne in a
Christian way, will, by God's grace, do the work of affliction, and
help to tame our proud wills by little and little.
I say, tame our proud wills, because Holy Scripture sets forth
this as one of the particular objects for which circumcision was
appointed, that God's people might learn by it, not only to get
over what are commonly called the Lusts of the Flesh, but the
angry, and envious, and proud feeling also ; as the Text seems
especially to hint : Circumcise there/ore the foreskin of your heart,
and be no more stiff-necked. As if stubbornness, and obstinacy,
and, in one word, wilfulness, (for that is the meaning of a stiff
neck,) were to be cured by the same kind of discipline as sensual
passions, lust, and greediness. We know what power may be
gained over these by duly and prudently mortifying the body.
Fasting, for example, tends to cure greediness : when people are
used now and then to go without anything to eat, it makes them
more moderate and less particular in all their refreshments of
that sort. If they can go without, much more can they content
themselves with less than they would like, or with what is un-
palatable to them : much more can they give up something in
this and in other trifling matters, for those who are in want or in
sickness. In short, it is not hard to understand how the body,
which greatly affects the mind, may be tamed and brought into
subjection, by a quiet and discreet method of Fasting, accom-
panied, of course, with Alms and Prayer.
And a little consideration will shew, that the same discipline
must do great good to the passions of the soul too. We see that
St. Paul reckons among the works of the flesh, not only " adultery,
fornication, uncleanness,lasciviousness," but also "hatred, variance,
emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, envyings ;" and, in a word, all
wilfulness. Any thing, however small, by which the Almighty
uses people not to have their own way, even in respect of bodily
comfort, is meant by Him to keep down all these bad passions,
and not our bodily appetites only. For what are all our passions,
left to themselves, but so many wills of our own, set up against or
besides the will of God ? And if in any one respect we do from
the heart acknowledge the goodness and reasonableness of
sacrificing our will to His, how can we quite forget that to do so
is equally good and reasonable in every other respect .'' If we
abstain from indulging our bodily appetites, for the sake of
pleasing God and obtaining His Grace, is there not so far a
better chance of our remembering Him, when we are tempted to
indulge discontented, unkind, proud thoughts, wilful tempers of
any sort ?
I do not of course mean that this benefit follows upon the mere
outward exercise of fasting, but only if a person seta about it
religiously, in the fear of God, in desire to draw near to Christ,
and in humble obedience to His will, made known in His Gospel
and by His Church. Otherwise mere fasting, as well as mere
prayer, or mere reading, or mere going to Church, may be turned
into a snare of the Devil. But it is not therefore to be omitted,
any more than those other holy exercises ; but practised, as I
said, in the fear of God : the want of which fear alone it is, which
can ever make any person easy in depending on one or other
holy duty, so as to leave out the rest.
Therefore, as we keep under the body in order that it may the
better serve the soul, so ought we very carefully to keep under
the soul itself, watching and restraining within our hearts, and
in our behaviour, even in our chance words, gestures and looks,
every movement of the proud and wilful spirit : which indeed is
the very thing which the Holy Prophet means, in bidding us
circumcise the foreskin of our heart.
Nor let us rashly imagine, that even when we are directly em-
ployed in serving God and doing our duty, we are safe against
such wilfulness. Remember, we have a subtle Enemy, who can
transform himself into an Angel of light : who persuaded God's
own people of old to think, without any manner of question, that
when they were killing God's own Apostles, they were doing God
service. Certainly, in proportion as we serve God and humbly
obey Him, we have a promise of protection against the snares of
of the Evil one : yet as long as we are in this world, we dare not
expect to be quite safe. We are not safe in reading the Scrip-
tures, we are not safe in Prayer, we are not safe in Almsdeeds,
we are not safe in Fasting, we are not safe in Sacraments. In
each and in all of these, there is room for the proud will of man
to set itself up, against the pure and acceptable and perfect will
of God.
Thoughts, for example, such as these, will sometimes come into
our minds, in our public and private devotions : " Might not this
prayer have been put in better words ? might not this service have
been wiselier ordered ? might not this or that rule of the Church
have been more discreetly omitted ?" Such thoughts are permitted
for our trial, whether at the bottom of all our goodness there be
not some lurking seed of wilfulness : they are intended indeed for
all mischief by the Enemy, but God means them to be subdued
by us, and so to make our crown (so be it) surer and brighter.
"What are we to do with them, when they come ?
If they mingle with our devotions, if they interrupt our prayers,
we must of course put them down at once, as we would any other
worldly disturbance.
If they make us openly disobedient to any rule of the Church,
then surely they cannot be quite right : that surely is a case in
which the stiff neck, the wilfulness of the natural man, requires
to be subjected even by violence, and brought into captivity.
We ought to obey God rather than man : God's plain command
of humility and obedience, and not giving offence, rather than
the scruples and doubts of our own (perhaps) deceitful hearts :
God's voice in His Church, with which He has promised to be,
rather than the private opinion or example of this or that good
It is the neglect of this caution which has made so many
Heresies and Schisms in the Church, so many mistaken and
wrong wavs of setting about God's work. They come of the
carnal heart, the wilful mind : and therefore the Apostle reckons
seditions and heresies amongst the works of the Flesh : and they
must be put down and guarded against in the same way as other
works of the Flesh, by using to deny and distrust ourselves in
the very first beginnings of every thing ; no more expecting to
have our own way all clear and comfortable in the service of
God, than in matters of this world ; and making up our minds to
obey, though we may not see all the reasons of the command.
This is good part of what Moses meant, by calling on us to
circumcise the foreskin of our heart. Whoever will- really call
himself to account, how he has practised this in the year that is
past, and will resolve heartily, in the fear of God, to watch and
deny his will and mind, as well as his body, in the year that
now begins, he will at least have begun that year well : and
if he keep his vow, there are sure promises for him, that he
will be nearer God at the end of the year ( if he live to
see it) than he now is : through Him who beginning this day
from Circumcision, and passing by the way of the Cross, is set
down at the right hand of God.

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