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The same Subject continued.
Phil. ii. 12, 13. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.
IT has been attempted to shew in the preceding discourse, though in an imperfect, defective manner and degree, what the Christian has to oppose, suppress, mortify, and overcome, in working out his own salvation. This may be called the negative part of his work, consisting in renouncing and departing from evil; and is all comprehended in the apostolic injunction: “That ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts:” [Eph. iv. 22.]
Secondly. We come now to consider the positive part of that work in doing which Christians work out their own salvation, which is summarily expressed in the following words: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
This implies much, and consists in a constant, careful endeavour to conform to and obey the divine commands in heart and life, to live soberly, righteously and godly in all things to the end of life. This may be divided 163 into two branches, viz. the duties of which God is the more direct object, and those which more immediately respect man.
To God they owe their whole selves, and all they can do. They must love him with all their heart, soul, strength and mind. This implies a variety of strong, constant exercises of heart towards him, as he is revealed in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; especially as he has appeared God manifest in the flesh, in the character of the Son of God, and Saviour of the world, exhibited in his words, and works of obedience and suffering, his death, resurrection from the dead, ascension to heaven, and reigning gloriously there; and in his revealed future designs and works.
They must believe in God and in Jesus Christ, that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them who diligently seek him. They must attend to, believe and realize his being and whole character as he is revealed in the Bible, with all the important and leading truths which are contained in it, setting God always before their eyes, and trusting in Christ for pardon and complete redemption, which implies all they want or can desire, diligently seeking the divine favour through him, or for his sake. Thus they must live a life of faith on the Son of God, desiring to be found in him, not having their own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; heartily desiring and seeking his Spirit to dwell in them, and form their hearts to every Christian exercise and duty, and doing all in the name of Christ, in the exercise of a cordial love of his whole character, and pleasing approbation of the way of salvation of sinners which is revealed in the gospel.
They must be heartily devoted to the glory of God, to his honour, interest and kingdom, as the supreme object of their desire and affection. This is necessarily implied in supreme love to him, in which they give themselves wholly away to him in the exercise of the most friendly, benevolent love, rejoicing in his being, felicity 164and glory. This is in a true and in the highest sense disinterested affection, and necessarily excludes all selfishness, so far as it takes place, as it cannot proceed from self-love as the ground of it, but is directly contrary to it, as it gives up all selfish affection and interest, for an infinitely greater, more worthy and important interest and object; making the being of God, his interest and honour, their supreme interest, the object of their highest regard, and ultimate end, to which all other beings and interests are wholly subordinated, as not worthy any regard, but to be rejected when they come in competition with the honour and interest of this infinitely great, worthy, and glorious Being. By this disposition and exercise of heart alone do they comply with the apostolic command, “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. And that they who live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again.” And thus they enter upon and live a life of true and real self denial.
The more Christians are swallowed up in views of the glory of God, and their hearts desire and rejoice in the unchangeable and eternal glory and felicity of the Infinite Being, as the object of their whole pursuit, interest and happiness, which does not consist in the least degree in selfish affection; the more is their own salvation promoted, and the greater is their enjoyment, and the nearer do they get to heaven. The person who, under the influence of self love, or selfishness, seeks his own personal interest, honour and felicity supremely (and this is the unchangeable nature of every degree of self love) exerts the whole strength of his soul in direct opposition to the Christian affection now described; and as he regards himself supremely, he subordinates the being, felicity and glory of God, that he may answer his own selfish ends thereby, and cares nothing for the former, aside from his own supposed personal interest, or any farther than the latter may be promoted thereby. Such an affection is the strongest contradiction to all truth, and does love and make a lie in the highest and 165most emphatical sense. If the smallest pebble, or one grain of sand, should be selected and preferred to the whole material world, comprehending this earth, the sun, moon, and all the stars, and no regard be paid to the existence, order and beauty of the whole, any further than they relate to that single grain, and contribute to support and favour that infinitely small portion of the material world; this would not be more unreasonable and contrary to the truth, yea, it would be infinitely less so, than for one individual person to pay a supreme regard to himself, and subordinate the Infinite Being to his own private, personal interest and happiness, who is so great, worthy and glorious, that there is infinitely less proportion between such individual and him than there is between the least grain of sand and the whole material creation.
There are too many professing Christians who embrace and pursue a scheme of practical religion which is as unreasonable, contrary to truth, and absurd, as this appears to be. They say that it is impossible for men to love God, so long as they consider him to be displeased with them, and think he does not love them; that he must first manifest to them that he is their friend, and loves them, and they must believe it before they can love him; that in this way they were brought to love God, and to be reconciled to his character and law, and to all the truths and duties of Christianity; they were brought first to see and believe that God loved them, and on this foundation only they first began to love him, and continue to be friendly to him. Thus they declare that all their regard and love to God is nothing but self love, for they love him only because he is a friend to them, and will answer their own selfish ends, and promote their own personal, selfish interest, and subordinate their Maker, and all his interest, to their own beloved selves. Their religion is all built on an impossible supposition, viz. that they had evidence that God loved them, before they had any love to him, and while they were his enemies: which is directly contrary to scripture and reason. But 166if this were not contrary to scripture, and a mere delusion, their love to God is as far from true friendship to him as darkness is from light; for it is nothing but self love at second hand, and is an affection which our Saviour condemns, as that which the most wicked man and greatest enemy of God may have. He says, “If ye love them who love you,” (i.e. merely because they love you,) “what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?”
The words of the apostle John are appealed to as a support of this scheme of religion: “We love him because he first loved us.” But these words are entirely misunderstood by them, and perverted to a most injurious and fatal purpose. The apostle does not say, “We love God because we first believed he loved us;” in which sense they take the words, in order to answer their purpose. The natural and plain meaning of the words, and which is pointed out by the context, is this: “God loved us first, and gave his Son to die for us; and he has given us a heart to love him, by which we have been born of God: this is the cause of our loving God: for if he had not thus first loved us, while we were enemies, and caused us to be born again by his Spirit, we should not have loved him: for he who is not born of God will not exercise any true love to him, though he should love them, and tell them he did so, by a particular revelation. Therefore they who love God only upon this selfish ground, and build all their religion upon it, however zealous they may be, and however much they may do, are not working out their own salvation, but the contrary, and never will obtain it.”
The importance of this point, and the delusion with which so many are deceived, it is to be feared to their own ruin, is thought to be a sufficient reason for this seeming digression.
This supreme love to God, and dedication to him, living not unto themselves, but to and for him, implies a hearty, sensible acknowledgment of him in all their ways, and in all events which take place; seeing his 167 hand in them all, and heartily submitting to him, and acquiescing in his governing providence, and rejoicing that the Lord reigns without control, ordering every thing, and every circumstance, from the greatest to the least, in the exercise of infinite power, wisdom, rectitude and goodness.
This pious disposition, and these exercises of heart towards God, are to be expressed and acted out in all proper ways and conduct. This requires much care, labour, and self denial, and a strong resolution, and much fortitude of mind. The Christian must confess Christ before men, must speak for him and in his cause, whenever there is a proper opportunity, and must publicly profess his belief in him and cordial subjection to him in obedience to all his commands, and attendance upon all his institutions. He must pay a strict and conscientious regard to the sabbath, carefully avoiding all those things which tend to interrupt his attendance on the religious duties of that day, devoting the whole time as much as may be to the exercises of religion, constantly attending on public worship, with seriousness and devotion. He must attend much to the Bible, daily reading and meditating upon it, that he may grow in his acquaintance with it, and be entertained and directed by it, “as a lamp to his feet, and a light to his path.” Thus “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”
He will attend devoutly on the Lord’s supper whenever he has opportunity, and be careful not to neglect the important preparatory duties of self examination, prayer, &c. He is a friend to family religion; and, if the head of a family, will practise daily devotion in it, in attending to the word of God and prayer, taking particular care that the whole family attend in a serious and orderly manner, and that they are all instructed in things of religion, and under good regulation and government. And he will be careful that no worldly business or concern interrupt the religious duties of the family. He must also practise, and constantly maintain secret prayer. 168A Christian cannot maintain his spiritual life, activity and comfort in the omission of closet duties, and cannot work out his own salvation without constantly entering into his closet, agreeable to the direction of Christ, and being much in devotion there. The prayerless person is not in the way to heaven. Prayer comprehends not only petition for what persons want, for themselves and others, but adoration, praise and thanksgiving for divine beneficence to themselves and to others, together with humble confession of sin, unworthiness and ill-desert. The Christian will find abundant matter for prayer and devotion, or intercourse with God, every day and hour, and must in some good measure, at least, act up to the apostolic direction, “praying always, with all prayer, and supplication in the Spirit; in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make known his requests unto God,” to whom he may have access at all times through the great Mediator, with humble boldness and freedom.
And as the Christian has made a public profession of religion, and joined a particular Christian church, he is under covenant engagements to watch over his brethren and sisters, and assist in the exercise of discipline, agreeable to the directions of Christ; which requires great attention, care and resolution, in order to be acquainted with the truth of facts, and judge and act, so far as he is called to it, agreeable to the truth and the dictates of Christian love, and so as shall be most for the honour of Christ, and the good of every individual of the church. This is included in the exercise of piety towards God, as well as his duty to his fellow Christians. And his love to God will induce him to speak and act, in all companies and on all occasions, for the honour of God, and so as to recommend Christianity to all, being constantly concerned that his conversation should be as becometh the gospel of Christ.
Another branch of practice by which Christians work out their own salvation consists in those duties which more immediately respect their fellow men. These are 169all implied in loving their neighbour as themselves, or doing to others as they would that others should do unto them, and in expressing this love in all proper ways in words and conduct.
They are careful and exact to do justice to all with whom they have any connection, and are conscientiously concerned and engaged not to injure any person either in their thoughts, words or actions, in any of his interests, of worldly property or character, of body or soul; constantly watching against and opposing the many temptations and opportunities to do wrong to any of those with whom they have any concern, in the least instance or degree; taking diligent heed not to practise according to the many false maxims and examples of mankind, but making the holy scripture their constant rule in all their thoughts, words and dealings with others.
And they are not only concerned and careful to do justice to all, but they love mercy, and wish and endeavour to do all the good they can unto all men, embracing all opportunities to promote their best interest, both temporal and eternal, whether they be friends or enemies. They must exercise a benevolent love to their worst enemies, whatever injuries they may have received from them; they must wish them well, do good to them, and pray for them in particular, while they are praying for all men. And if at any time they are convinced that they have injured any of their fellow men, they must not rest till they have made all the reparation or restitution which is in their power, whatever mortification, cost, and pains this may require.
They must be careful to speak and conduct towards all with becoming decency and respect, whether superiors, inferiors or equals; and to set good examples before all, of humility, temperance, sobriety, meekness and kindness; being ready to every good work, practising patience, forgiveness and long-suffering, endeavouring to live in peace with all men, as far as shall be in their power. And to this end they must be careful to 170practise all those relative duties towards those who are in the nearest connection with them, whether husband, wife, parents, children, brethren, sisters, domestics, and particular relatives or friends. And they have particular and important duties to do towards their brethren and sisters of the church, of the household of faith, some of which have been mentioned under the preceding head. They must live in the exercise and expression of benevolence and kindness to them, being ready and careful to minister to the relief and comfort of their bodies, by giving them food and raiment, and affording them any help of which any of them shall stand in need, and by exercising and manifesting a particular concern and friendship for them, and complacency in them, in the exercise and practice of that brotherly love which is peculiar to Christians.
They must be diligent and faithful in their particular calling and business, striving to improve their time and talents to good purpose, so as to have a supply for their own bodily wants, and of theirs who depend in any measure on them; and so as to be able to give relief to all who stand in need; and so as to redeem time for religious exercises, and the improvement of their minds in all useful knowledge, which in their circumstances they shall have opportunity to acquire, diligently improving all their time in something really useful to themselves or to others, or to both.
Thirdly. Christians in working out their own salvation must persevere in this work, which has been imperfectly described, to the end of life.
Christ said to the Jews who professed to believe on him, “If ye continue in my words, then are ye my disciples indeed,” [John viii. 31:] which words imply that none are the true disciples of Christ but those who persevere in obedience to him to the end of life. They only who overcome, are faithful unto death, and endure to the end, shall be saved: [Math. x. 22; Rev. ii. 7, 10.) “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him,” and he draws back unto perdition: [Heb. x. 33, 39.]171
Fourthly. The Christian, in working out his own salvation, must increase and make progress in his labour and work, and daily do more and more. He must make advances in knowledge and skill in his business, and increase in zeal, engagedness and activity.
When a Christian enters on his work, he may be compared to a youth who begins to work at some trade. By working he continually increases in skill and ability to work: he daily makes advances in his work, and does more and more in a day, till he is perfect in his trade and business. So the Christian who is working out his own salvation not only continues and perseveres in his work, but his work increases on his hands, and he gains in skill and strength, in his engagedness and activity, and does and abounds more and more. Increase in grace and holiness is as necessary in order to obtain salvation, as perseverance. It is essential to the nature of true grace to grow and increase in the exercise of it; so that it is as certain that he who does not make any advances in a holy life, and increase in his work, and abound more and more, is not in the way to heaven, and has no true grace, as it is of him who falls away, and wholly ceases to work. “The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more to the perfect day.” There is no way to heaven but this.
The apostle Paul tells the church at Philippi, to whom he gave the direction in the text, that in working out his own salvation he was striving to press forward, and go on in his Christian course till he should arrive to perfection, not resting in any past or present attainments: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The apostles insist much on this, as the character and duty of Christians, that they increase and abound more and more in each Christian 172grace and in every good work. This will appear by the following quotations: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” To abound in the work of the Lord is to increase in working, and to do more and more. In this sense the word abound is frequently used, which will appear from the passages which will now be quoted: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment: [Phil. i. 9.] And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men. Furthermore, then, we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and please God, so ye would abound more and more. Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye [increase more and more: [1 Thess. iii. 12; iv. 1, 9, 10.] That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God: [Col. i. 10.] For if these things, (i.e. the Christian graces which he had just mentioned,) be in you and abound, they shall make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Beloved, beware lest ye, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness: but grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ:” [2 Pet. i. 8, 10, 11; iii. 17, 18.) In these words, abounding in every Christian grace, and growing in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ, is represented the only sure way to escape falling into destruction, and to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The same truth was inculcated by Christ: “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” 173According to this there are but two sorts of visible Christians, viz. they who are not real Christians, and consequently bear no fruit; and they who are true Christians, and are fruitful, being constantly purged so as to increase in their fruit, and bear more fruit the longer they live. And that this must be so is plain and certain, because for a man to work out his own salvation is to do that by which he is ripening, preparing and becoming more meet for the kingdom of heaven; which he cannot do but by growing in grace, and becoming more and more holy, and going on toward perfection in holiness: and this is the same with abounding more and more in every good work.
This is the work and life of a Christian, a description of which has been now attempted in order to show what is intended by his working out his own salvation. This attempt, though imperfect and defective, will serve to discover what this work is, according to the holy scriptures, in the most essential part of it, and that it is indeed a very great work, infinitely the greatest, most difficult and important, that any man ever engaged in and performed.
Some, it may be, will be ready to say, as the disciples of Christ said to their Lord, on a certain occasion, “Who then can be saved!” If this be the work of a Christian, and the only way to work out our own salvation; if men must thus deny all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and must live thus soberly, righteously and godly in the world; if they must be so strict, careful, watchful, painful and laborious in this work; if they have to oppose and conquer such numerous, crafty and powerful enemies, and must deny themselves, and take up their cross daily; if they can have no respite, can never be released from this work, by night or by day, but must persevere in it to the end of life; and not only so, but their work increases on their hands every day, so that the longer they work, the more is required, and the more they do, the more they have to do; if this be the case with man, if this be the only way to 174heaven, who will ever get there! If there be any in the way to salvation, surely they are very few; the most are like to miss of it forever. And who can have courage to engage in such a work as this! and how is this consistent with the words of Christ: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls: for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light?”
A full answer to this is found in the reply of Christ to the question which his disciples put to him: “Who then can be saved?” “This is indeed impossible with men, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” Though man, in his fallen, depraved state, be altogether unequal to this work, and will never, of himself, do any thing to any purpose; yet, by the help of God, by his grace and assistance, he may do all this, and work out his own salvation; and he will find it to be not only possible, and that, by Christ strengthening him, he can do all these things, and more; but the most agreeable and pleasant work in which man can be employed. This is held forth in the text, which is to be farther explained, and will be more particularly considered in the sequel.
But before we pass to this, several observations will be made with regard to working out our own salvation, as it has been described, which may prevent any misunderstanding, and throw further light on the subject.
I. By Christians working out their own salvation is not meant that by this they so recommend themselves to God, that out of regard to the worth and merit of their good works they obtain an interest in the divine promises, and a title to salvation. The declarations of scripture are directly contrary to such a supposition. “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works: for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy 175 Ghost.” Men are brought into a state of salvation, and an interest in the promises of the covenant of grace, and have a title to eternal life, by the first act which unites them to him, that is, by the first exercise of faith on him. They do not earn or merit salvation by their works, nor do they aim at or attempt this, or have the least desire of it. They are so far from this, that their first holy exercise implies a sense of their unworthiness and ill desert; and they come to Christ for salvation as a free gift to the infinitely unworthy and ill deserving, trusting in his merit and righteousness to recommend them to all that favour and salvation which they desire and seek after. And all this is expressed or implied in all they do in working out their own salvation. They are so far from offering any thing of their own as the price of their salvation, that all their working and exertions are implied in coming to Christ and trusting in him for complete redemption as a free, undeserved gift, to be obtained through him, without money or price. And all they do in working out their own salvation consists essentially in this, in coming to Christ for all, and receiving all from him, even strength, righteousness and salvation, in a sense of their total unworthiness of the least good, and desert of infinite evil.
It is of importance that this point should be viewed in this scriptural light, and kept in mind, to prevent those dangerous mistakes into which many have fallen.
Moreover, real Christians not only have an interest in salvation by promise, when they begin to work it out; but if it were not so, all they do in working out their salvation is so far from meriting or deserving salvation, or any favour, that they continually deserve to be excluded from it forever and to perish; and by all they do they do not become less ill deserving than they were before they began to work, but more so. All they do is so defiled with sin, is so deficient, and comes so far short of what is their duty, that for this they deserve to be given up to evil, and perish, and must perish after all, were it not for the merits of Christ; in whom 186they are accepted in all their holy exercises and works, and their sins are pardoned, and through his righteousness they receive the reward of eternal life. This every Christian feels constantly, and acknowledges to be true with regard to himself, while he is with the greatest care and diligence working out his own salvation.
II. Christians do not work out their own salvation in their own strength, but by the special and constant assistance and powerful influences of the Spirit of God, by which they are made strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Christians are in themselves altogether unequal to this work; being nothing but weakness and insufficiency: it is infinitely too great and arduous for them: they depend entirely and constantly on the grace and assistance of God, in order to do any thing effectually towards it. This is abundantly declared in the scripture. Christ tells his disciples, “Without me ye can do nothing.” And he said to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul therefore dared to say, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me. For when I am weak, then am I strong. By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace, which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” According to our text, it is God who worketh in them both to will and to do this great work which is before them. Without his energy, and constant effectual operation on their hearts, they would not take one step in this work, or put forth any act of will towards it. But this will be more particularly considered in further attending to this subject.
III. This work is as necessary to be done in order to salvation as it would be if men obtained a title to salvation by thus working, and merited it by their good works. Though men are not saved by or for their holiness, yet holiness is as necessary to salvation, as if they were; for deliverance from sin, and turning from it, 177and the exercise of holiness, is essential to salvation, as the latter can have no existence without the former. It is as necessary that men should be holy in order to salvation, as it would be were they to obtain a title to it and merit it by their holiness and good works; for it still remains true, that without holiness no man shall see the Lord, or enjoy salvation. But to be holy and exercise holiness, is to work out salvation, in the sense of the text, and as it has been now described.
The moral inability of man to exercise holiness, and go on to perfection in holiness of himself, does not make it in any degree less necessary that he should be holy in order to be happy; and therefore not the less necessary that in order to be holy men should be active and work; for that men should live a holy life, or be holy, without working, or the exercise of holiness, is a contradiction.
IV. Though men are morally unable to work out their own salvation of themselves, but depend on God for assistance and grace, by which he worketh in them both to will and to do it; yet it is not only as necessary they should do these works, but they e as much their own works and actions, as if they did them of themselves, without any assistance and powerful, effectual influence from God. God’s assisting men to do these works, does not make them the less man’s own exercises and works, than if they did them without any assistance. Every act of any person’s will or choice, and all the designed attendants and consequences of such a volition, are his own exercises and actions, and it is impossible it should be otherwise, whatever influences he is the subject of in order to his thus willing and acting. Whatever a man wills, and does in the execution of his will, are his own exercises of will, and his own actions, and cannot be otherwise; and to assert the contrary is always an untruth and a palpable contradiction.
It would be needless to make this observation, were it not that some have been so thoughtless and absurd, however learned and judicious in other matters, as to 178say, that if God worketh in men to will and to do, so that their choice and doing is the effect of what God does work in them, then it is God who wills and does, and not man; and if there be any virtue or goodness in what is done, it is the virtue and goodness of God, and not man’s. But this is manifestly most absurd, and contrary to the reason and common sense of mankind; for they feel and know that every thing which men will and do is their own choice and deed, and not of any other; and that, whatever induced them thus to will and do; and that it is as much their own act and deed, as if they had done it without any such influence. And if what they do be right and virtuous, it is as much their own virtue and goodness, as it could be if they had done it without any influence or assistance from others.
Upon the whole, to conclude this head, it appears that Christians have a great work to do, which is absolutely necessary in order to be saved, in which they must be active, must will and do it. And this is to perfect holiness in the fear of God, and work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. And this is the work spoken of in the text; a description of which has been attempted in the preceding discourse: which may God bless to the benefit of all who shall give to it a proper attention. Amen.
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