Sermon 17: Circumcision of the Heart

Pressing on in our look at Wesley’s sermons is sermon XVII. I occasionally note page numbers in parentheses, these refer to the printed volume of Wesley’s sermon that I own.

An interesting note to this sermon is that it was preached in 1733, about five years before the 1738 “Aldersgate experience” that is often called Wesley’s conversion.

Since Wesley himself endorsed these sets of sermons, it seems he found this one still worthwhile (among others from this earlier period). It also, in my perspective, really reflects a fair amount of what Wesley knew in his head, but was still sorting out in his life.

That’s one reason why I like writing and preaching, it puts into words that which I often need to be reminded about in my own life. This season of life, for instance, I’m often pulled back to those conversations in How Long?, pushed to reflect on the Exodus experience and with this I find I’m not always the hero of my own wilderness struggles. Wesley ends this sermon with a passage that has been a constant encouragement throughout this long journey, Philippians 3:10-14.

For the moment, let’s get back to Wesley’s sermon, which based on Romans 2:29.

I think verses need whole passages, so as a class we read through Romans 2:17-29.

Here are my notes I prepared prior to the discussion:
How do we know we are right with God? What are the signs and the cues? What are ways other people would mark us as being right with God? What are expressions of Christian “circumcision”? What is “a Christian” (following v28)

Read paragraph 1.

What is circumcision of the heart?

Part I
“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 imbued with those virtues which were also in Christ Jesus; the being so ‘renewed in the spirit of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.”

Circumcision of the heart implies humility, faith, hope, and charity:

HUMILITY: “a right judgment of ourselves, cleanses our minds from those high conceits of our own perfections, from that undue opinion of our own abilities and attainments, which are the genuine fruit of a corrupted nature.” (p 203)

What is humility for us, in our context? What would circumcision in humility look like?
“This is that lowliness of mind, which they have learned of Christ, who follow his example and tread in his steps.”

FAITH (204) “such a faith as this cannot fail to show evidently the power of Him that inspires it, by delivering his children from the yoke of sin, and ‘purging their consciences from dead works;’ by strengthening them so, that they are no longer constrained to obey sin in the desires thereof; but instead of ‘yielding their members unto it, as instruments of unrighteousness,” they now ‘yield themselves entirely ‘unto God, as those that are alive from the dead.”

Sin is often suggesting the more vulgar sins. What about sins of identity? Of establishing ourselves? Faith of Abraham in sacrificing Isaac, faith to let go. How can we express real faith?

This is how far we got this past Sunday, we might try to press on with this sermon this upcoming Sunday (I’m not leading the discussion, however, so it is up to the leader). My notes do continue:

HOPE (205)
Real faith means real hope, not existential hope, hope in some vague reality and truth after death. Hope in the choices and experiences of our present life. “by this anchor a Christian is kept steady in the midst of the waves of this troublesome world, and preserved from striking upon either of those fatal rocks—presumption or despair.”

Faith may mean trusting in God in passive circumstances (trials tribulations), in which we are called to endure that which is outside of our circumstances to change, or wait for God’s work to bring renewal. Trust that God will work.

Hope, trusting in God through active circumstances (risk, discipline, training—hard tasks that only gain meaning if one has hope they will produce victory). Trust that our efforts are in the power of the Spirit leading towards transformation of ourselves and context.

What is hope to us? What are our challenges to hope? Enduring hardship, discipline. How can we express hope?

LOVE: ‘love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment’. Love God.

Love our neighbor also. What do these elements mean for us? “Nor yet does it forbid us (as some have strangely imagined) to take pleasure in anything but God.” The one perfect Good shall be your one ultimate end. One thing shall you desired for its own sake, the fruition of him that is all in all. One happiness shall you propose to your souls, even an 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 you 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.” (207)

Have no end, no ultimate end, but God. How does this affect how we love?
Marriage, family, friends. How are we to love?

Expectations, ego- or exo-centric, where is our tendency to sin in love? Do we give ourselves wholly to the other expecting another person to give us identity? O do we expect everything from another, orienting our identity through the abuse of love. In God, love becomes pure, pure motives, pure efforts, purified relationships.

II. There is no praise of God without humility, understanding who we are in light of who God is. Need for God, want for God “refusing to be led by senses, appetites, or passions, or the idols of the world.” Philippians 4:7-21

How are we being led away from humility in our own life? Really looking at our life?

What is the foundation of our faith? How do we assume what we know about God? What our are sources? Where are our reminders? Getting us back in tune?

What are the expressions of love given and received? How do we express this in light of God’s expression through the Spirit?

Orthodoxy, orthopathy, orthopraxy (faith, hope, and love)

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