Christian Perfection – 07: The Circumcision of the Heart
By: Frank L. Hoffman
Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
(Wesley’s writings are in bold)
From all my research, it appears that God’s intent for circumcision was to set His people apart with a very personal physical reminder of who He is and of the Law and covenants He had given them.
Before we go on with this discussion, it is important to remember that neither circumcision or the Law would have been necessary if God’s human creations had remained obedient to Him in the Garden of Eden. Both circumcision and the Law are part of the concessions that God granted the sinful human race to help lead them back to being in His creation intent and heavenly will.
It was not considered proper for even males to look upon another unclothed male, as we come to understand from the story of the time after The Flood, when Noah became drunk and uncovered himself, and his sons backed into the tent to cover him (Genesis 9:21-23). Thus, the intent of circumcision was as a very personal sign, that each male would be reminded of, several times a day. It was not the physical circumcision that made a person a Jew, it was how that constant reminder changed that person into a son of God, who in turn would lead his whole family to Him. Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote (Romans 2:28-29 NASV):
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, nor by the letter [of the Law]; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
The prophet Ezekiel, speaking for God, describes this heart change that is brought about by the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27 NASV):
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
This is the Hebrew [Old] Testament description of what happens when a person is born-again. It is also the key to our understanding of what must take place for anyone to fully appreciate the journey to Christian perfection.
I also find it quite interesting that John Wesley seems to have fully understood all of this, as we have read so far and will see in the following sermon (part 6 from “A Plain Account Of Christian Perfection”); but he had not yet experienced the full impact of the Holy Spirit upon his life. That experience did not occur until Wednesday, 24 May 1738. What Wesley appears to have been doing up to that time in his life is described in the words from Peter Bohler to him: “Preach faith till you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” (Green, V. H. H., John Wesley, Lanham MD, University Press of America, 1987, 56-59)
On January 1, 1733, I preached before the university, in Saint Mary’s Church, on “the circumcision of the heart,” an account of which I gave in these words: “It is that habitual disposition of soul which in the sacred writings is termed holiness, and which directly implies the being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit'; and, by consequence, the being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; the being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.’ ” (Works, vol. i, p. 148, Am. ed.)
In the same sermon I observed, ” ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10), and end of the commandment (1 Timothy 1:5).’ It is not only ‘the first and great’ command, but all the commandments in one. ‘Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise (Philippians 4:8),’ they are all comprised in this one word ‘love.’ In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: the royal law of heaven and earth is this: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end (Mark 12:30-31). One thing, shall ye desire for its own sake – the fruition of Him who is all in all. One happiness shall ye propose to your souls, even a union with Him that made them, the having ‘fellowship with the Father and the Son,’ the being ‘joined to the Lord in one spirit.’ One design ye are to pursue to the end of time – the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things, so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the Creator, but in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought, and word, and action be subordinate to this. Whatever ye desire or fear, whatever ye seek or shun, whatever ye think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, of your being.” (Ibid., pp. 150, 151.)
I concluded in these words: “Here is the sum of the perfect law, the circumcision of the heart. Let the spirit return to God that gave it, with the whole train of its affections. Other sacrifices from us He would not, but the living sacrifice of the heart hath He chosen. Let it be continually offered up to God through Christ, in flames of holy love. And let no creature be suffered to share with Him; for He is a jealous God. His throne will He not divide with another; He will reign without a rival. Be no design, no desire admitted there, but what has Him for its ultimate object. This is the way wherein those children of God once walked who, being dead, still speak to us. ‘Desire not to live but to praise His name; let all your thoughts, words, and works tend to His glory.’ ‘Let your soul be filled with so entire a love to Him, that you may love nothing but for His sake.
‘Have a pure intention of heart, a steadfast regard to His glory in all your actions.’ ‘For then, and not till then, is that mind in us, which was also in Christ Jesus, when in every motion of our heart, in every word of our tongue, in every work of our hands, we pursue nothing but in relation to Him; and in subordination to His pleasure'; when we, too, neither think, nor speak, nor act, to fulfill ‘our own will, but the will of Him that sent us'; when, ‘whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we do it all to the glory of God.’ ” (Ibid., p. 153.)
If John Wesley could so fully understand these spiritual concepts, without being born-again, then there isn’t one person upon this earth who has an excuse for not doing likewise. This seems to be confirmed by the following statement by Wesley, which was obviously inserted following his re-birth in the Holy Spirit.
It may be observed, this sermon was composed the first of all my writings which have been published. This was the view of religion I then had, which even then I scrupled not to term “perfection”. This is the view I have of it now, without any material addition or diminution. And what is there here which any man of understanding, who believes the Bible, can object to? What can he deny, without flatly contradicting the Scripture? What retrench, without taking from the Word of God?
Wesley discusses the difference between worshiping a creation (a natural creature or man-made idols of money, position, food, possessions, etc.), as many people do today (Romans 1:25), or of letting the contemplation of God’s creation lead to finding our one and only God (Romans 1:20), in all His perfection. For example, let’s consider a common wild flower, such as the day-lily (photo-left) with all its intricate detail. It did not come into existence by accident. It possesses the signs of an intelligent design. It is a perfect flower possessing all that God created in it. Only we humans can corrupt it into something other than perfection, as, unfortunately, we have done with our own humanity.
We, as the human race, in our present day and age, need to come to the realization that every crime, that every act of war or terrorism, and that every act of revenge is done without love and, therefore, is counter to the will and perfection of God. Likewise, we need to realize that every piece of animal flesh, body part or by-product that we eat or wear is not a product of love, but of pain and suffering, and yes, from the devil. These acts are not just, neither are they pure, nor do they have any virtue. They are all counter to Christian perfection.
We need to constantly remind ourselves that although we are in this corrupt world, with all its pain and suffering, we, who are on the journey to Christian perfection, do not have to contribute to the corruption. We are to seek the heavenly will of our Father and help restore His will upon this earth, as the Lord taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)