Circumcision

Professor: Dr. R.J. Rushdoony
Subject: Systematic Theology
Lesson: Circumcision

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O Lord, our God, upon whose shoulders are the government of all things, who dost make all things, dost govern all things, and who shall bring all things to their destined end. We thank thee that thou art on the throne. Give us joy in thy government, confidence in thy victory, and make us, through Jesus Christ, ever faithful, filled with a holy boldness, that we may be more than conquerors through Jesus Christ, our Lord. In his name we pray. Amen.

Our text this morning is from Genesis 17:1-14. We have been studying the doctrine of the church, beginning at the beginning of scripture, and we come now to the subject of circumcision, very important in the doctrine of the church. “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

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If you are going to master Covenantal Theology, you need to know who Abraham is, and his relationship to God.

Not just the story — and how many casually, contemptuously ignorant Western Christians (read, “willful, lazy forever-losers”) even know the basic outline of Abraham’s story in Genesis? — but the meaning behind the story.

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All human covenants throughout history have been marked by some external sign, by some insignia worn by the members thereof to signify that they are set apart in a particular covenant. The covenant can even involve a difference in dress. For example, in Scotland, clansmen were covenanted one to another. As a result, they began to distinguish themselves in one way after another to make their covenant visible, and finally it developed even into their garb, so that each clan had its own tartan.

Now, circumcision is the sign of the covenant. It is external but not normally visible. It is a sign to God. Only the act of circumcision is public. Circumcision is common to various cultures in various parts of history, but with a dramatic difference. No where has any anthropologist been able to find any evidence of infant circumcision. The Bible stipulates that it is to be on the eighth day. In every other culture where circumcision appears, it is performed on adults. This is an important fact, because in all these cultures where circumcision appears as a covenantal sign for a tribe, or a race, or a people, it is a voluntary sign, but infant circumcision denies the voluntary nature of man’s salvation. It is God who establishes the covenant with man. It is God who chooses us. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, says the Lord.” A babe of eight days cannot make a choice. Thus, salvation and the covenant both are all of grace.

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This is an important fact, because in all these cultures where circumcision appears as a covenantal sign for a tribe, or a race, or a people, it is a voluntary sign, but infant circumcision denies the voluntary nature of man’s salvation. It is God who establishes the covenant with man. It is God who chooses us. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, says the Lord.”

Lots and lots of churches prefer to exalt the power of Man, rather than the power of God.

Such churches can be trusted to eventually fall with the deity, man, whose will they have chosen to exalt and make determinative in salvation (and in time, determinative in all things).

Unless they repent, as their hidden idolatry becomes more mature, more obvious, and more inescapable.

And when was the last time a church chose to repent of its corrupt and unbiblical doctrine? Laymen, yes; even pastors, upon occasion; but denominations?

God does not refresh old wineskins: He lets them burst, and leaves them – and their wine – to be trodden under the heels of men.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion. And the Lord and God we worship is above us, and directs us, and chooses us.

Christ is the King of King. Not us.
The Holy Spirit guides us. We don’t guide the Holy Spirit.
The Father’s command shapes our lives, determines our salvation, shapes the future.
Not our will.

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We are further told at the time of the making of this covenant, that Abraham’s name was given to him. Previously, it was Abram. Before that, when God called him, we do not know his name. The Bible does not tell us. I have pointed out on other occasions, that in the Bible, names normally were identifications. They described a man. So that a man’s name could change more than once during his lifetime. The parents might give him a name, but other people might give him another name by which he would be known if his character did not fit the parental name. Before God’s calling, what Abram’s name was, we do not know, but God called him and named him Abram, a strange name, because it means “A father of many,” and Abram was childless. It took a great deal of courage for Abram to bear that name. It took faith. After all, if he called himself Abram and introduced himself to people as he went into Palestine, people would say, “Oh Abram, father of many. How many children to you have?”

“Well, none yet.”

They surely must have smiled at that, and laughed behind his back, the fact that Abram could field a few hundred fighting men kept them from being too vocal about their amusement, and now, God says, “I am changing your name. You are going to be called Abraham, father of a great multitude.” So that Abraham was asked, when he was called, to walk by faith. Faith in God and faith in the promises of God, and now, that faith is stepped up. He is to be a father of a great multitude. He is given a prophetic name, a name that is going to describe his future, and the covenant is made inclusive of his seed.

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Believing Christians declare that Christ is King, today.

And the pagans ask, “Where is His country? Where is His army? Who obeys the law of this king? By what right does He rule? And what happens if we choose to ignore – or to follow – the law of this king?”

We had better have answers to these questions.

And it starts with our personal – and familial, and congregational – obedience to Christ the King.

If we don’t obey His laws – and can show the rewards of obedience – then why should any pagan bother to do so?

If we don’t fear God, and treat Him with respect, why should they?

If we don’t preach the gospel to the nations – and to individuals – and if we don’t preach with our lives as well as our mouths, then the pagans will certainly not repent.

They will die in their sins.

God’s people had better show that they did their level best, given their abilities and station in life, to expand the Kingdom of God and bring salvation of holiness, righteousness, and justice to the nations – and the individuals within.

Preaching is good.

Missionary work is good.

Healing, helping, and charitable ministries are good.

But personal, familial, and congregational obedience to God is mandatory.

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With Noah, when God established a covenant with him, the covenant sign was a different one. Now, with Abraham, it is circumcision. With Noah, it was the rainbow, because, as scripture tells us very plainly, the covenant with Noah was not with Noah personally. It was with the earth, with the whole of the globe, the animals, the human beings, and all, and God says in Genesis 9:11-13, “And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.”

In other words, the earth is to be spared total judgment until the end, until the Second Coming. So, the covenant sign with Noah is a reminder to the earth of God’s covenant. It is a sign, but the covenant with Abraham is limited to a people. It is a covenant of a different sort. It could very easily lead, as indeed it did, to a racial pride. We are Abraham’s seed, and so God gave to them a sign to indicate what the covenant was about. It was circumcision. This sign strikes at all confidence in generation. What it says is that it is not in generation, but in re-generation alone that there is any hope for man, and therefore, with circumcision, which was in a sense, a symbolic castration, man had to confess there was no hope in himself nor in his progeny, in his seed. The hope was only in God.

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In both cases, the covenant was founded by God alone, and is maintained by God alone.

The only shift is from Abraham’s genetic seed, to his spiritual seed: those who have faith in God, regardless of their blood relationship to Abraham.

And that is a good thing: only Christ is the begotten Son of God. The rest of His family is adopted.

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As a couple of generations or so ago, Gerhardis Vos commented, “Human nature is unclean and disqualified in its very source. Sin consequently is a matter of the race, and not of the individual only. Circumcision teaches that physical descent from Abraham is not sufficient to make true Israelites. The uncleanness and disqualification of nature must be taken away. Dogmatically speaking, therefore, circumcision stands for justification and regeneration, plus sanctification.” Vos stated it very, very aptly and ably. This is the meaning of circumcision. It is the sign of the covenant. It is a sign that we trust not in ourselves for salvation, but in God himself.

Now, baptism is the successor to circumcision as the sign of the covenant, and so baptism also signified not that we save ourselves, but that it is God who saves us. Abraham was named at his calling. He was renamed at the time of his circumcision, and there is no doubt that God explained to him what circumcision meant, even though we are not told here, because we find immediately throughout the rest of scripture that there is an understanding of the meaning of circumcision. Moses, for example, speaks of it repeatedly, making clear that it signified the salvation of God, and how it is not man who can save himself, but only the Lord. In a number of texts, for example, Leviticus 26:41, Deuteronomy 10:16, Deuteronomy 36. This meaning is set forth, as well as in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel, and certainly Paul makes extensive use of the meaning of circumcision.

It is interesting to note, by the way, that circumcision was practiced on the eighth day. In the early church until the time of Cyprian in the 4th century, baptism was on the eighth day, because they saw it as related integrally with circumcision, and it was only at the Counsel of Carthage in Cyprian’s day that churchmen struck down the eighth day provision, partly because of their hostility to the Jews.

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Circumcision is THE covenantal sign.

It was shifted from circumcision to baptism, to emphasize the shift of the basis of the covenant from blood-descent to spirit-descent.

It also has the salutary effect of fully including girls and women into the covenant, as daughters of God.

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At any rate, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration revives an ancient Israelite heresy which gives power to the rite, to the ceremony, rather than to the Lord. The covenant act does not save us. It indicates that we trust in God’s salvation. The presentation of the child for circumcision, and subsequently of baptism, is a confession of the priority of God in salvation, that salvation is by sovereign grace. It is entirely by God. To present a child is to affirm that God only can save a man. It is an affirmation of the sovereignty of God in election.

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There is no place for magical re-enactment rites in the Christian Faith.

There is a place for covenantal signs and seals.

For the same reason that a military man wears the uniform of his nation. And we know where our birth certificates are.

A wise man and wife protects their marriage certificate. A graduate his diploma. And a landowner protects his legal title to his land.

In the same way, the covenantal signs of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper work: the one to show that we die and are born with Christ

… or are left in the grave, if we leave Him),

the other that we find our food and drink, our life, in the Body of Christ

… or that we are torn apart and our blood splattered on the ground, just as rejected bread and wine are.

Every covenantal oath is a self-maledictory oath: I will keep the covenant, OR ELSE.

The “or else” part is real, by the way.

First Corinthians 11:27-32, ESV

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

The Christian Passover, the Lord’s Supper, is a feast.

But it is a feast for those who love and respect the Lord Jesus Christ.

Take it with joy, but also take it with reverence.

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Moreover, it is also a confession, that what we are, all that we have, tithing and our children, belong to the Lord. Hanna expressed this faith clearly in taking the child Samuel to the sanctuary and saying, “For this lad I prayed, and the Lord has granted me what I prayed him for. I have therefore handed him (Samuel) back to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is returned to the Lord.” Now, this is what circumcision is about. It is what infant baptism is about. It is also a promise to rear our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is a declaration that God’s gracious covenant with us is binding upon us and upon all our household, including our children. We bind ourselves in this covenant act, and our infants to obedience to God’s law word.

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When we send our children to the government schools, we tithe them to Moloch. To Satan.

This must stop.

We must rear our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord… something that the Secularist (and Muslim!) governments detest.

They can go to the Hell – and the Lake of Fire – they have chosen.

We must obey Christ, and enter the blessed Kingdom of Heaven.

While spending this life expanding the Kingdom of God in time and on earth.

We must inherit the future.

God’s enemies get to lose.

God’s friends get to win.

Just as it should be.

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Then, furthermore, circumcision, we as well as baptism in the early church, was and should always be a family act. The family is a covenant institution. It is the basic covenant institution, and God’s calling was to Abraham, not to an institution. The church was established out of a family, to become the family of God and the basic unit in the church must always be the family. It is significant that some churches which still have an old fashioned character do number their membership, not in terms of individuals, but in terms of families. This is in line with the ancient practice of Israel and the Christian church. Today, we have made baptism a church rite and some groups forbid it outside of the church, and this is a sad fact. It is not surprising, as a result, that the Christian training of the child has been left to the church, when it should be primarily the responsibility of the family, so that we have seen a transgression here on the primacy of the family in this act. No less than the Old, the New Testament stresses the covenantal teaching duty of all parents.

One of the sad facts of the last century, or more, almost two centuries, is that the evolutionary doctrine first formulated by Hegel in philosophy, and then by Darwin in biology, has crept into our thinking even where we do not believe in it. As a result, the family is so commonly seen as though it were something primitive on the stage of history, a lower level, and we have advanced above the family and we have now the state and other institutions. This kind of thinking is altogether wrong. The family is still God’s basic institution.

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Remember all those Catholic church schools that dominate Ireland?

The same Ireland that voted – not by judicial diktat, but by a public vote – to bring in abortion and sodomite marriages?

Consider that a warning, in trusting your children to pastors and priests.

Or experts and certified professionals, as the solid majority of America’s semi-literate, culturally, mathematically, and scientifically ignorant children have been handed to.

“But it’s FREE babysitting! FREE, I tell you!”
“Who cares if the kids fry in hell later? I get more free time Right Now: and THAT’S what matters!”

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Now, to sum up some of the implications of what circumcision tells us, one of the things that we need to stress is that because circumcision was a covenant act and because the covenant act was initiated by God, who came to Abraham and said, “I make a covenant with thee. I called you. I now establish, in greater fullness, my covenant with thee,” the initiative was entirely of God.

As a result, this plainly speaks of the doctrine of sovereign grace. It is God that saves us, not we ourselves. It indicates moreover that, for any relationship to God, there must be a covenant, and it is given by God. The church is a covenant institution. It is, as people in the Old Testament and the early church saw, a necessary institution. Today, people see the state as a necessary institution, but the church? Well, you can take it or leave it, so that we no longer see the church as a necessary institution. Now, one of the tragedies of the history of the church is that seeing the church as a necessary institution, people were led step by step to see it as a coercive institution. You had to belong to the church. Now, there’s a difference between the church being a necessary institution because God so declares it, and being a coercive institution. Medicine may be good for me, but I may not choose to take it. If I refuse, I pay the consequence if that medicine is necessary for my health. The church is a necessary institution, but not a coercive one. When it became a coercive institution, you had what you had in the Medieval church. You had to be a member of the church. You had the same thing in many of the Reformation churched. In England, for example, if you were an Englishman, you were automatically a citizen or a subject of the king of England, and you were a member of the Church of England whether you liked it or not. That was a coercive, not a necessary relationship.

Very, very rightly, a movement began in rebellion against this, spearheaded especially in this country by Isaac Backus, one of the great figures in American history and too little appreciated, the real father of the Baptist churches, although very few Baptists know about his now. Isaac Backus was a very great man, and he attacked this whole concept of a coercive church, as hostile to the very idea of the faith, and his influence has prevailed with every church in the United States, even though Isaac Backus has been largely forgotten, although in a very real sense, he is one of the founding fathers of this country, very, very important in the 1760’s and 1770’s.

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The church is an institution to the extent that marriage, or the State is.

It was not created by God to be a bureaucracy, or some pyramid-power scheme.

It is the assembly, the congregation of all the adopted sons of God, and their families.

In form, is to be very close to a family that shares a meal together.

As compared to the State: an institution grounded on Divine law and righteous force (at best!) where you obey or are punished by your superior.

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However, a mistake that people have made now has been to swing from the doctrine of a coercive church to a voluntary church, which means you can take it or leave it, that man’s free will is going to determine whether there is a church or not, and man, by his act, chooses Christ when Christ says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”

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You don’t choose your brothers and your sisters: God does that.

You don’t choose your father or your mother: God does that.

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”

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Circumcision is a witness against this, a witness to sovereign grace. It is interesting that we have no history of Abraham before his calling. We are not told anything about Abraham except where God found him and called him, so we know nothing about Abraham before that day. Our standing, like Abraham, is in terms of God’s calling, God’s choosing, God’s love, God’s grace to us, and circumcision witnesses to this fact. It does not mean that we do nothing. We do. When our salvation is of God, it is his sovereign grace that does it. We respond to it. We rejoice in it. We believe in him and we obey him, but while conversion can involve man’s responsive act, the work of a pastor or an evangelist, regeneration is entirely the work of God. Circumcision is a witness to this fact.

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God chooses us. We rejoice.

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[Audience] You mentioned that the baptism {?} circumcision was really family-oriented. How does that take effect practically speaking? Who should baptism be performed by and so on?

[Rushdoony] Yes, a very good question. Today, baptism is normally performed by a pastor, which is well and good, because it puts it in terms of the covenant family, the church, which we have to see first and foremost as a family, not as an institution, you see. Our view had become institutionalized, so that we see the church in terms of officers, and we have people, for example, who will say, “If there are no elders and deacons, an organized body, there is no church,” and our Lord says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” and where Christ is, there is the church, his body. Now, we have to see the church primarily as a family rather than an institution. It is also an institution, but it is first a family. Hence, in the scriptures, the need of caring one for another is specified. We are told that anyone who does not care for his own, does not provide for them, and so on, has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel. So says Paul.

So, a family supports itself and takes care of its needy members, its sick members. The church must do so, and the early church did, and they were less equipped to do it than the church is today. So, in one way or another, the church was to be a family. Now, we need to restore the family emphasis to the church as a body, and then work to strengthen the family within the church, the blood family. This means that (we’ll come to this very shortly) every man must see himself and be trained to see himself as an elder, with a governmental function, the key governmental function in God’s plan, so that when he presents his child for baptism, he does not say, “Okay, my child is baptized. Now let the Sunday School take care of his Christian upbringing.” That’s a denial of the baptismal vows. The family must see itself as the primary teaching institution. So, it is the parents who take the vows. Therefore, it’s the parents’ responsibility, and we need to stress that aspect of it.

Now, what I have said today has been said also from the Baptist perspective very powerfully by David Kingdon. David Kingdon, in his book, I believe, Children of Abraham is the title, has also dealt with the issue of baptism in terms of the covenant, and it is the best study of the subject in our time. Now, there are points where I disagree with Kingdon, but it is a classic work.

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“The family must see itself as the primary teaching institution. So, it is the parents who take the vows. Therefore, it’s the parents’ responsibility, and we need to stress that aspect of it.”

When Christians believe this and live by it, then we win.

And not a micro-second before.

God demands that we protect and raise up the smallest and the weakest, in His Law-Word and His commandments… as opposed to the will of self-serving and power-hungry, explicitly God-hating oppressors.

Let’s get to obeying God, rather than powerful men.

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[Audience] On another subject if I may, you’ve spoken of the government based on tears, or triangle of sevens. Seven people {?} a leader, and so on, on up. That sounds like a republic to me, but yet, looking back at the Jewish history as we have it in the book, they had kings, and typical of dictatorships, I think is at about 135 kings, something like that, and I think that only three or four of them were good kings. The rest of them hurt, of course, their own people.

[Rushdoony] Yes. The biblical pattern of government is by tens, and elders over tens, fifties, hundreds, and so on. Now, this pattern was too seldom observed by Israel and subsequently Judah. When they decided to go into a monarchy, God said to Samuel, who was very upset by it and saw it as a rejection of his leadership, “Samuel, they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me that I should not rule over them.” The monarchy was a disaster for both Israel and Judah. However, the rule by elders persisted, except on the top level, so that the eldership took care of local rule, predominantly, all through the period of the kings, and was responsible for what stability there was in Israel and in Judah, most of the time. So, we see the monarchy coming in at the top, but the older and more, we would say, republican type of government persisting on the local and tribal level.

[Audience] I have in mind seven, and you say ten. I wonder where that came from.

[Rushdoony] Well, there was a counsel of seventy at the top, later known as the Sanhedrin, but it was in terms of one head over ten families, then another over fifty, hundred, thousand, and so on up until you had seventy at the top. That pattern persisted into Christian Europe for some centuries, and originally, as I have pointed out, the College of Cardinals was made up of seventy elders, laymen, but that lost its power centuries ago, although the cardinals were still laymen up until the last couple of centuries. Cardinal Rishlu{?}, for example, was not a priest, as I recall it. Is that right, Douglas? Yes. And that was true of Mazaran{?}, was it not? Yes.

[Audience] Never really under {?} control.

[Rushdoony] They were civilians controlling vast segments of the country and of the church.

—<Quote ends>—

We must govern and discipline ourselves, according to the commandments God has inscribed on our hearts.

Rather than cry out for some Mighty Sinner-Man to save us.

You know, the way Marxists, and Secularists, and Racists, and Left-wing Humanists, and Right-wing Humanists, and Muslims, and Progressives, and Fascists, and all the other enemies of Christ desire us to.

Let’s dump the road to oppression and poverty and curses and death.

Let’s follow the road that Christ laid down.

And let’s forget the self-serving guilds – religious, academic, scientific, political, whatever – while we’re at it.

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