Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The believer today is a circumcised individual with a circumcision made without hands. “For we are the circumcision which worship God in spirit, and rejoice in Jesus Christ, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). The Old Testament rite of circumcision, the cutting of the foreskin of the male child, was a token of the covenant (Gen. 17:11). The outward sign, administered to the eight-day-old man-child born in the house or bought with money of the stranger, portrayed in a striking way the truth that the covenant friends of God were separated from sin and dedicated to the Lord. Circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10:16) speaks of regeneration; cutting away the sins of the flesh is a reference to sanctification.
The beauty of this token of the covenant was threefold: 1) Since the corruption of sin manifests itself with peculiar energy in sexual life (Gen. 3:7), circumcision was the symbol of the purification of all life; 2) Circumcision involved the sexual member by which the covenant seed would be brought forth, so that childbearing was sanctified; and 3) It was performed upon males of the eighth day, revealing powerfully that God’s covenant is with believers and their children. God is pleased to save His church, not in a hit-and-miss fashion, but in the orderly way of continued generations. And when God saves someone not from believing parents, He makes of that one the initial stock of new, believing generations (Rahab, Ruth, Lydia, the Philippian jailer).
When it comes to the question of righteousness, circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth (Gal. 6:15), a question disputed on the mission fields (Acts 15) and in the congregations at Corinth and in Galatia. No more than we are made righteous by the sacrament of baptism were the Old Testament saints saved by circumcision. In Romans 4:11 Paul stresses that circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith, which Abraham had “yet being uncircumcised.” Here the Reformed churches find their definition of sacraments: signs and seals of the righteousness of faith. Sacraments give to us visible symbols and guarantees that God counts faith in Jesus Christ for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). How foolish for the Galatians and others to cleave to an antiquated, outward sign rather than to the object of the sign, the death and resurrection of Christ. If a man insist on circumcision or any Old Testament prescription, he is debtor to keep the whole law, and Christ profits him nothing (Gal. 5:2-3).
That the use of Old Testament ceremonies is abolished amongst Christians, with the truth and substance of them remaining with us in Jesus Christ (Art. 25 of the Belgic Confession), is eminently true of circumcision. Just as Jeremiah cried to the Old Testament church, “Circumcise yourselves unto Jehovah, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jer. 4:4), so does God say to us today, “ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11).
The bloody, Old Testament token of the covenant, performed upon little babies, is replaced with the unbloody, New Testament sacrament of baptism. Because baptism is also a sign of the covenant, because God never revoked the command to circumcise infants, and because God still saves in the same way as under the old covenant, i.e., generationally, infants of believers are to be baptized today. Paul makes clear in Colossians 2:11, 12 that spiritual circumcision (putting off, or cutting off, the body of the sins of the flesh) and spiritual baptism (the washing away of sin by the blood and Spirit of Christ) are really identical. Of New Testament believers it is said that they have been circumcised without hands, and are buried with Christ in baptism. There is one God who saves one church; there is one covenant with believers and their children; there is one sign and seal, differing only in outward form.