"AND JOSHUA MADE HIM SHARP KNIVES AND CIRCUMCISED THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL. AND THE LORD SAID UNTO JOSHUA, THIS DAY HAVE I ROLLED AWAY THE REPROACH OF EGYPT FROM OFF YOU."--(Josh. v. 3,9).
The first experience in the Land of Blessing was to be one of pain. As the people had needed a special preparation for passing over Jordan, so did the larger portion of them need a further preparation for the Conquest. Upon the other side the command of God had been, "Set yourselves apart." The time had come to carry out their consecration. The covenant of circumcision was to be renewed. Through all the bondage of Egypt it appears to have been observed, and nothing marks more clearly the demoralization of the wilderness, than its utter neglect. "Now all the people that came out were circumcised; but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way, as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised."
The command seems very stern--"The Lord said unto Joshua, make thee sharp knives and circumcise again the children of Israel; "yet it marks the goodness rather than the severity of God. He was thus renewing for them a Covenant of Blessing.
The first consequence of this covenant had been the change of Abram's name to Abraham, as now to be the father of many nations. Ninety years old and nine when he was circumcised, he must suffer in his flesh, before the promised seed was given. God, who had called him out of his own country, that He might bless him, and make him a blessing,  who had appeared again as his shield and exceeding great reward, and counted his faith for righteousness,  now in this third call, summoned him to walk before Him, and to be perfect.  He had led him up step by step to this absolute devotion to Himself, and so finally gave to him this significant token of the covenant, which He made with him and his posterity. The penalty of disobedience or of neglect was this--"That soul shall be cut off from his people: he hath broken my covenant."
It is often questioned how far these types could be comprehended by the people who observed them. But in regard to this one, it appears certain that its moral import was seen. We find all along the record of its outward observance, a contemporary spiritual use of the term. Even in the wilderness Moses called upon the people to "circumcise their hearts and be no more stiff-necked;" and even there was the promise given," The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." 
And seeking for its significance to us, we find in perfect accord with the appeals of the Old Testament, the teaching of the New, that circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter. We are shown that its present correlatives are, "the keeping of the commandments of God," "faith working by love," and "a new creature." We are told that "We then are the circumcision who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh; "and that in our "circumcision made without hands," that which we have put off is "the body of the sins of the flesh."  As clearly as God commanded the shadow of things to come, when He made this special covenant with Abraham, so clearly did the Lord Jesus reenact its substance, when He turned and said unto His disciples, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world, shall keep it unto life eternal."  The lesson of circumcision then, while including much beside, is fun damentally this--the putting away of selfism, so effecting a radical change of life, by substituting for the love of self in all its intricate ramifications, the singleness of love to God. The process changes the very polarity of our nature. In the world at large, "all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." But the heart which the Lord has circumcised to love Him, "seeketh not its own."
It is somewhat startling at first, to find such a scene of suffering over Jordan, since it would seem to belong rather to the preparation. But the order in which it stands is certainly in accord with the developments of Christian life. In the Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul writes, "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God; mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth." The first working of the power of Christ's resurrection is in the fellowship of His sufferings--His love of necessity constraining us to die unto sin and self, and live unto Him. Only as we take our share in His life and in His love, can this be possible; for there can be no such thing in Christian experience as the mere negative abstinence from evil. Only a living and loving soul that has taken firm hold of the promises of God, can cleanse itself "from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit." No one would ever dream of attempting to remove the darkness from a room, without letting in the light. And as the entering of the light removes the darkness, so must the Spirit come to banish self.
Let no one be dismayed in the first joy of this resurrection life, at finding that a painful process awaits him, and that all is not even yet left behind. But neither let him think that there can be any further progress, until his consecration has become a solemn covenant, sealed by sacrifice. He must neither despair at the discovery of self, nor fail to let it be crucified.
Again, let none think that we are able to do this for ourselves. Jesus, our Joshua, is the only one who can cause His love so to constrain the soul, as to remove all "superfluity of naughtiness." And the sharp knife which He will use is His own Word, which is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
It is of the utmost importance for us to understand that whatever of self still exists in us, it can by no possibility be hidden from God. It is naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. As clearly as Jesus read the hearts of those around Him when on earth, thus answering their thoughts rather than their words, so clearly does He comprehend every undercurrent, and subtle depth in our being now. We may be self-deceived, but we can never deceive the Lord.
And very rarely are they deceived who walk in His light. When to that native intuition which often reaches far below the surface, there is added any power of discerning spirits, the true standing of those with whom they mingle is almost sure to be known --whether self be living or slain. How foolish, therefore, not to say how sinful, to evade that knowledge of ourselves which others have.
Christians are usually ready to make any amount of general confession of sin; they recognize and la ment the taint that is found everywhere in humanity. They can judge their own sin in the abstract; but nof always--not often--are they ready to humble themselves, and receive the message, "Thou art the man." The Physician rarely finds his patient offended by a simple statement of his disease, but how few who, in the sickness of their souls, seek for spiritual counsel, are willing to be told the truth. Thoroughly aware of some difficulty, they think themselves ready for any sacrifice--for the removal of any hindrance. And it is no difficult task for one accustomed to deal with souls, to detect, that special form of self which is their snare. But if it be simply and honestly stated, offence is taken; it is denied or evaded; while the soul, to shelter its wounded pride, affects discouragement at such misunderstanding, and so, by its own wilfulness, sinks into a worse condition than before.
What wonder if even true and faithful friends, foreseeing this, hesitate to perform an office which will not be accepted. It is a fearful thing when self has grown so strong, that in its pride it ceases to welcome the truth. What if God also should be unwilling to force it upon those who so little desire it! What if His only way to bring us to the knowledge of all that is in our heart, should be to leave us, that the sin which lies hidden in the depth of the heart, might work itself out in some bitter humiliation!
It is perfectly certain that while self thus remains alive, there are many of the very richest blessings, which God can not possibly impart, save at the risk of most imminent peril to the receiver. They would be perverted at once, to minister to the life of self. This is the most common cause of those delays, which so many experience in receiving that which they have asked--Self is not slain. Some instances of this kind may be very perplexing, since such secret selfism may coexist with much zeal and outward fidelity, and many striking traits of Christian character. Especially may it coexist with the stronger elements. The strong man is lifted up because of his strength; and his heart must needs be changed to that of a little child, before he can grow again in knowledge and in grace. Whoever stands self-sufficient, even in God-given wisdom and strength, has lost the power of receiving more. He has to learn that men never grow--that only the child grows. When he is ready, even as a little babe, to desire the sincere milk of the word, then will God restore this privilege of growth.
On the other hand, there are instances of those who pass into the inner courts, to behold the nearer glory of God, with an ease that is equally perplexing to the superficial eye. Their lives are not at the time purer, and in almost every respect they may exhibit less of strength, than those whom they outstrip. But they have one all-important prerequisite, simplicity of heart. "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" said Jesus; and "the Jew inwardly," whose "circumcision is that of the heart," is thus ever recognized by the Lord, and receives praise of Him.
The least portion of that guile which is even more deceived than deceiving, is an evil root in the soil, which proves the most difficult of all things to eradicate. It can live upon so little. It can die apparently so often, and yet revive. But until self is really removed, and we come down below all pretence and conceit to solid ground--to a basis of entire truthfulness toward God--how impossible to be solidly built up. As well might one venture a tower above a quicksand!
Never has a truth of God been so travestied as this of denying self, in that which passes usually under the name of self-denial--the giving up of the most that we may keep the dearest; the denial of somewhat to ourselves instead of the denial of the whole self to God. We may let a thousand things go out of our life and die, but our life has not died. The world may have been crucified unto us, but not we unto the. world. We may possibly have parted with our right hand, or our right eye, but still, "skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life"--a fact well known to Satan who said it. "Living in anything unto ourselves, even in the best things, is the essential of self. When self is dead, its own heart ceases to beat; and every pulse of the new life, united unto Christ, keeps time with the throbbing of His own heart. The new heart which He has given, finds again the life which was lost for His sake, risen and glorified. It truly lives when it lives unto God.
What shall be said of this great need of Christians, and of the thousands in whom self is still alive? How shall, indeed, any intimation of their need be given them? How rend the veil of good works, and gifts, and graces, which drape and beautify this secret shrine of self? But for so much that is excellent, one might come sooner to the knowledge of the evil. In the lives of not a few, there are two currents; and we need thoroughly to understand that the under-current is the dangerous one. The eye that judges by the surface is not deceived--that current is real and regular; but as you enter the waters, you are swept along, helpless, by the fitful force below. In all partially subdued natures, there will be found more or less of the contrary of their chief characteristics. Are they humble in converse and manner?--A secret pride or vanity finds a rich feeding-place beneath that humility, and some sudden outburst of jealousy or envy will betray it. Are they energetic, and full of stir and activity?--Somewhere an unwelcome duty will be turned into a couch of luxurious ease. Is the whole bearing that of perfect candor and frankness? --The occasion will come when insincerity will cloak itself with these, and pass unchallenged in its disguise. Is the life rich in its nobility and its generous deeds? --Below this good graft will spring up offshoots of timidity and petty meanness, to surprise some one long wonted to the sweeter fruits, with the crabbed taste of these. Every close observer of unbalanced Christian character, is prepared to find the faults in this marked contrast to the virtues, so that whatever may be the general grain of the growth, a sudden knot breaks through at the sharpest possible angle. It has been often noticed that the points on which many break down, are their strong points. Even in what seems the most assured to us, we have thus to "have the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead."
Such are some of the subtleties of self, which only the most piercing Eye can fully see, and only the Hand, that is infinitely tender, as well as true, remove.
But there are other more prominent and shameful forms of self, which prevail throughout the Churches. Among these, we may number that worldliness which is everywhere rampant; the sensuality, or more refined sensuousness, which are asking, "What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?"--ambition and covetousness, which have never yet been exorcised, and which find their way into highest and holiest places; that conformity to custom, which is accepted as such a matter of course, that little room is left for asking, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"--but their name is legion! Sad as is the statement, such is beyond all question the prevalent state of Christians.--Uncircumcised in heart--the self-denial which we witness, being too often either special and spasmodic on the one hand, or on the other, so ascetic as only to minister to spiritual pride.
Such is the reproach of Egypt which God sum mons us to roll away--the merited reproach that the old and evil nature is still visible, and that Christians are, after all, very much like others. Even amongst themselves, how utterly incomplete is the confidence which they can place in one another. Notwithstanding all that is lovely and of good report, how constant is the reproach.
In one of the Messianic psalms, we find a cry that only falls short, in its sorrow, of the "lama sabacthani" of the Cross, "Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people; wherewith Thine enemies have reproached, O Lord, wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of Thine anointed."  Alas! that it should be His own anointed--that such should be the stains upon hearts and lives sprinkled by the blood of Christ, and consecrated by the holy oil of the Spirit. God chose His people to be to Him for a name and an honor, and behold the reproach; He called them to be holy, and behold the corruption.
Of old the nationality of Israel was to be kept perfectly distinct. Yet it was not to be a nationality solely of birthright and of blood, for the circumcised stranger was to be as one born in the land. So, then, the physiognomy did not furnish the proof. The real token by which they were known as the people of God, was not that which is most obvious, but that which is most hidden. And yet this secret separation to God, compelled in various ways a separation from others, that would always mark them openly. The line was drawn with unmistakable clearness.
And though it be also with us "in the hidden man of the heart" that God puts His seal--still if it be there, by many another sign the world will know it, and we shall be separate from the world. When God calls upon us to circumcise our hearts, it practically involves this also--"Come out from among them and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing."
The Jew has always been known as such at once. But can we as easily discern the Christian? Here and there, "the ointment of the right hand bewrayeth itself." But how many who have professed to follow Christ, make themselves almost indistinguishable from a world that rejects Him? No attempt at a merely external separation avails. Such was not that of Christ. He even shocked the social standard of those who were for making a fair show in the flesh; and they said of Him--"This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them." But all the more for this was He "holy, harmless, undefiled--separate from sinners."
When the Israelites hastened to pass over Jordan, their first thoughts as they looked on to Jericho, must have been of immediate battle, and of drawing the sword upon their enemies. Instead of this, God gave them days of delay, and drew the sharp knife upon them. Gilgal was their first encampment in Canaan, and there, where they had set up their monument to the mercies of God, and then presented their bodies as living sacrifices, was their standard to re main. Gilgal appears to have continued to be their base throughout the long war that followed. There must have been a moral power in every return to that spot, where they had first rolled together the memorial-stones--and then let God roll away their own reproach. He was their God, for He had done wondrous things for them; and they were His people, for they had given themselves to Him. From Gilgal they could go forth again and again to conquer and possess the land.
Have we our Gilgal?--Why, then, is it that so much of our service and warfare is uncrowned with success and victory? Alas! the house in which self has any dominion is a house divided against itself, and can not stand. And the Church so constituted, is a host with variance and rebellion in its midst-- weak at the best, and often in the very thick of the battle betrayed unto its enemies. If the Church of Christ would follow her Lord, as He goes forth "conquering and to conquer," let her be truly consecrated and circumcised. If the Christian in the daily conflicts of life, would first learn to "die daily," there would never an enemy stand before him. But let him cease to wonder that he does not come off victorious, if he is saving his life from such a death.
And yet it must needs be always a severe experience for those who have been living at ease, and as they have tried to think in all good conscience; very hard for those who have been held in high honor by their fellow-men; and sharpest of all to those who have become half-spoiled by facile flattery, or their own fatal self-fondling;--upon whose ears little but praise has ever fallen. The sharp knife of God as it touches these, will seem terrible in its truthfulness. They will almost demand that God should accept the award that has so satisfied themselves; and so struggling against His purpose, they prolong their sufferings. Would that they only knew how tender and how true is the Hand that wounds them! Then they would neither fear nor flinch!
For when we turn from the negative character of this symbol to the more positive form of the spiritual truth, we find that this sharp knife is, after all, only the pruning of the Husbandman, that the old decaying shoot may give place to a new one full of vigor and fruitfulness. It means not a maimed existence, but life more abundantly. It means not poverty, but wealth. It means not anger, but intensest love. It means that the one deadly element eliminated, God can then, without any reserve, flood us with every good thing. Self is often the only evil in many a pursuit and plan. That self once surrendered, they may be restored to us in all their richness to use and to enjoy for the glory of God, and to our own honor --an honor that cometh from Him. And yet even here must a signal of danger be held up. While he that loseth his life shall find it, it is not when we lose it that we may find it, but when we lose it for His sake.
It is our own Gospel, then, that we read in those ancient words, "The Lord thy God will bring thee into the land....and the Lord thy God will circumrise thine heart....to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." 
Life is another thing when once a great love has entered it. Who has not known how Love turned pain to pleasure, and made sacrifices sweet? Love never talks of crosses and of losses.--It calls its losses gains, and its crosses crowns. "For my sake," makes even death a delight. When we so love the Lord with all the heart, then to follow Him fully is our own choice. There comes an end to all mere theoretical consecration, in which we recognize solemnly the claims of God, and pass on our own way. There comes an end, also, to all testing of ourselves by suppositions of future claims. But another work begins--the constant cultivation of the conscience to see those claims. It is a little thing for Love to respond to an uttered wish.--It studies and anticipates the pleasure of the Beloved. The loving heart escapes a thousand difficulties which others meet, and a truly devoted life is not often puzzled by details of duty. Such perplexities are often the simple result of a discordant will, seeking at once to please itself, and avoid displeasing God. The soul that so loves, walks in holy law, but moves in perfect freedom When the Lord has enlarged the heart, then it "runs" in the way of His commandments.
"Love hath taught me to obey
All His precepts, and to say,
Not to-morrow, but to-day!
"What He wills, I say I must;
What I must, I say I will;
He commanding, it is just.
What He would, I should fulfil:
Whilst He biddeth, I believe;
What He calls for, He will give:
To obey Him is to live.
"His commandments grievous are not,
Longer than men think them so;
Though He send me forth, I care not,
Whilst He gives me strength to go,
When or whither, all is one.
On His business, not my own,
I shall never go alone.
"If I be complete in Him,
And in Him all fulness dwelleth,
I am sure aloft to swim,
Whilst that Ocean overswelleth;
Having Him that's all in all,
I am confident I shall
Nothing want for which I call."
1. Gen. xii. 1-3.
2. Gen. xv. 1-5.
3. Gen. xvii. 1-13.
4. Deut. xxx. 6.
5. See 1 Cor. vii. 19; Gal. v. 6 and vi. 15; Phil. iii. 3, and Col ii. 21.
6. Matt. xvi. 24, and John xii. 25.
7. Ps. lxxxix. 50, 51.
8. Deut. xxx. 5, 6.