The Galatians and other Gentiles were justified by faith in Christ without circumcision. They thus became children of Abraham, because Abraham was justified by faith in Christ without circumcision. They thus became heirs also of the inheritance promised to Abraham, because Abraham received the promise of the inheritance by faith, without circumcision. Therefore, since they were children of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise to Abraham, and had the righteousness which fully entitles them to the inheritance, —all without circumcision, —and since in all this they were exactly as Abraham was, and were walking in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had being yet uncircumcised, what possible need could there be of circumcision?
This is the answer that was made to the demands of the Pharisees who believed, who insisted that Gentiles who believe in Christ must be circumcised in order to be saved. This is the answer, in both Romans and Galatians, to the contention of the Pharisees who believed. This is the Christian argument.
But to this they came back with the question, “What profit was there ever in circumcision? What was circumcision for? How did it ever come in? And why should it ever have come in?” And they argued, even admitting that Abraham had all this before he was circumcised, and the Gentiles now coming in and finding it all by faith without circumcision, just as Abraham did, the fact is that after Abraham got it all by faith, he was circumcised. Then, admitting that these have it all by faith, as he got it, why should not these be circumcised after they have it by faith, just as Abraham was circumcised after he got it by faith? Thus, claimed the Pharisees, it is not enough to say that Abraham received this by faith without circumcision, and that the Gentiles have gone far enough when they have received it all without circumcision, as did Abraham; because, when Abraham had received it without circumcision, he was afterward circumcised. Then the Gentiles have not gone far enough in the way of Abraham unless they, having what Abraham had without circumcision, also, as did Abraham, go yet farther, and be circumcised.
This was the claim of the Pharisees who believed, and who went everywhere in opposition to the work of Paul, insisting that all the Gentiles who believe in Christ must be circumcised in order to be saved.
And this same question is raised; even to this day, by many persons. Even today there are large numbers of people who ask the question, “Why should not Christians be circumcised, because surely Abraham was circumcised, and he is the father of all them that believe?” So that, though the same contention is not still carried on that was started by the Pharisees of Jerusalem in the days of the apostles, yet really the same query abides. And Romans and Galatians—Galatians particularly—is, even today, present truth; not only because of its insisting upon the everlasting truth that those who are justified by faith, as was Abraham, without circumcision are the children of Abraham, and heirs of the promise without circumcision.
Why, then, was Abraham circumcised after he received the righteousness and the promises, and yet his true children—his children by faith—now be not circumcised? The answer is: For the simple reason that circumcision was not in the original plan. It was no part, and is no part, of the original order of God in justification or salvation. The truth is that if Abraham had continued to walk in the faith in which he walked before he was circumcised, he never would have been circumcised, nor any of his children.
Why, then, was Abraham circumcised? It is important to know. And in order to know, it is important to look at the record in the Bible; for it is all there, and it is all plain. Notice, in Gen. 11:29-32 is the record of Abram’s leaving his native country. Then Gen. 12:1 tells us that the Lord “had said” unto Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee.” This shows that it was in obedience to the call of the Lord that Abram left his country, though his father’s house and his kindred were with him in this. And it was at that time, when God “had said” to him thus, that God also showed that he would justify the heathen through faith; for then it was that he preached the gospel unto Abram, saying, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8).
After his father died, Abram came into the land of Canaan, and then it was that “the Lord appeared unto Abram and said, “Unto thy seed will I give this land”” (Gen. 12:7). But Abram’s kindred were yet with him; and though the Lord had now promised him the land, he had not yet showed it to him as he had said he would do, and he could not show it to him until he had become separated from his kindred as well as from his country and from his father’s house. But in the thirteenth chapter, Lot and his people, the only kindred that were with him, did separate from him; and just then, “after that Lot was separated from him,” the Lord said unto Abram, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever” (Gen. 13:14, 15). And the land, which Abram then saw, and which was then promised to him, included “the world;” for this promise was “the promise, that he should be the heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13).
Then in Genesis 15, Abram said to the Lord “Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them:” and he said unto him, “So shall thy seed be.” And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:3-6).
At the same time the Lord said to him: “I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.” And Abram asked, “Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” In answer the Lord made a covenant with Abram, —a covenant of sacrifice, —pledging his own life to the fulfillment of all that he had promised and spoken; for he told Abram to take “an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle dove, and a young pigeon.” And when Abram had divided them all in the midst except the birds, and had laid the pieces one against another upon the altar in sacrifice to God, and watched the sacrifices until the going down of the sun, then “a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him,” and “when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.” And “the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “Unto thy seed have I given this land”” (Gen. 15:7-18).
Thus Abram had received the blessing of God, which was to make him a blessing to all nations; he had received the promise of the world for an inheritance; he had received the promise of the seed in whom all nations should be blessed; he had received the righteousness of God; and God had made his covenant with him, in which he pledged himself: and all this by faith alone, utterly without circumcision, and with no mention or even hint of circumcision, or of any necessity for it. Thus the Lord had given to Abram, and by faith Abram had received, all that the Lord has to give anybody, and all that anybody ever can receive. And it was, and is, altogether of faith, and faith alone—faith without works, without circumcision.
In the sixteenth chapter of Genesis, “Sarai said unto Abram. Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai” (Gen. 16:2). Hagar conceived and bore Ishmael. And we know, from the other scriptures, that this whole arrangement was altogether a scheme of the flesh, springing wholly from distrust of the promise of God, springing from unbelief; and Abraham had to repudiate it all, and bear the fearful test of the offering of his only son Isaac, on Mount Moriah, before he recovered his true standing in faith alone. It was an effort of themselves to fulfill the promise of God, which, in the nature of things, God alone could fulfill. It was an effort of the flesh to do the works of the Spirit, and so was a lapse by Abram from the true faith and work of God, into unbelief and the plans of self and the works of the flesh. Then it was that circumcision came in. And it was because of this that circumcision did come in. It was a mark made in the flesh as a reminder, a humiliating reminder, of Abram’s resort to the flesh; and thus also a reminder that every one who bore it must not make the same mistake that Abram did, but must remain true to the faith and work of God.
Consequently, it is written: “Circumcision verily profits if thou keep the law, but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.” And Abraham was “the father of circumcision” to them who are of the circumcision, when, and only when, they walked “in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.” Thus it was “a token that God had cut them out and separated them from all nations as his peculiar treasure” (“Spirit of Prophecy.” Vol. I, page 262). This must be so until the seed should come in the line of Abraham, in whom alone all these things can be fulfilled.
Thus it is perfectly plain that if Abraham had been faithful to that which he received from God by faith, he never would have been circumcised. And it is equally certain that when any one, receiving by faith in Christ alone, as Abraham received it, that which Abraham received, he needs not to be circumcised.
Since the Seed has come who is the giver of all the promises, who is the pledge of the covenant, who is the one from whom must come all that was promised to Abram, and which Abraham received by faith alone, then, whosoever believes in Him and walks by faith alone in him, as did Abram before he was circumcised, in the nature of things he needs not be circumcised. For the fruit of this faith was in Abram, and is in every one who believes, the keeping of the commandments of God. (Gen. 26:5; 1 Cor. 7:19). And so it is written: “If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision” (“Patriarchs and Prophets,” page 364).
And since the faith of Jesus brings to the believer in Jesus, and gives to the believer in Jesus, the perfect keeping of the law of God, the perfect righteousness of God, there is “no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision.” And let all the people say, Amen.
This is the mighty truth that Paul saw. This is the mighty truth that Stephen saw. And though it is made so plain in the Scriptures, and is now so plain to us, yet to the carnally minded Jews and the formalistic “Pharisees, which believed,” it seemed but the uprooting of all religion, and as fairly an attack upon the very foundations of the Throne.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | December 5, 1899]