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Phil. ii. 12, 13. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.
III. THIS subject is to be improved in a use of Examination.
This is the most important and useful part of the subject to which we have attended. The text, as it has been considered and opened, and vindicated from objections, points out the only way to heaven, and exhibits the true character of every real Christian; and teaches with what views, exercises and efforts he must work out his own salvation. But all this will be in vain to us, if we do not apply it to ourselves, and in this light examine and try ourselves, whether we be real Christians, according to this description of a Christian, and walking in the narrow way to heaven.
They who are sincerely desirous to know their own state and character, and to determine from the best evidence whether they be real Christians or not, may be assisted in this most important inquiry, by attending to the following particulars.
1. Have you ever been convinced, and have you a clear, constant and growing conviction, of your utter 231insufficiency to will and do any good tiling, unless God work in you to will and to do; by reason of the natural depravity of your hearts, by which you were, in a moral sense, dead in trespasses and sins? that if you should be left to yourselves, to follow your own will and choice, without the powerful, regenerating influences of the Spirit of God, you should certainly run on to destruction; and are therefore wholly dependent on God for every right motion of will, and all that which is right and good in you; even on his sovereign, undeserved grace? The Christian has a clear and powerful conviction of this in his own mind continually, and daily acknowledges it to God, and increases in a sense of the depravity of his own heart, and his constant dependence on God for divine influences to work in him every right motion of heart; and a view and sense of this truth attends all his exercises and conduct. And while he feels his constant dependence on God to will and do any thing that is right, he acquiesces in it, and humbly trusts in God, and cries to him for his assistance and grace.
Herein lies the foundation of the first and great difference between a true Christian and those who are not so. The latter are strangers to this conviction and feeling, and, whatever their speculations may be, it they do or attempt any thing in religion, they do it in their own strength, and feel as if they had some sufficiency of their own to do good, and were not wholly dependent on God for every right motion of heart, or exercise of will.
2. Do you feel a constant and cordial conviction that you are wholly blameable for the want of a disposition to will and do that which is necessary for your salvation, and for all opposition of will to this, that your insufficiency to work out your own salvation, and dependence on God to work in you to will and to do it, is no excuse for your not doing it; but that your want of a will to do it, and all opposite inclination, is altogether your own. fault. Are you willing to be looked upon in this light, 232and disposed to confess this as your sin, and humble yourself in the sight of God for every thing in your heart and life which is not conformable to the holy law of God? It cannot be reasonably supposed that a true Christian, who has been convinced of his own sinfulness by an acquaintance with the law, and is a hearty friend to it, as perfectly right and good; who is a friend to Christ, who has obeyed this law, and died on the cross to magnify it and make it honourable, and to save his people from their sins -, that such an one should not condemn himself for every thing in his heart and life which in the least deviates from this law, and is not a perfect conformity to it: for not to do this is inconsistent with his character as a Christian.
3. When you are most attentive to, and feelingly sensible of, your own weakness and insufficiency, and of your dependence on God in the sense above described, is this lb far from discouraging you, and disposing you to sit still and do nothing, that then you have the most ardent desires, and the greatest courage, zeal and engagedness to prosecute and go through the work of a Christian, and work out your own salvation? This, which has been the matter of discouragement, uneasiness and objection to multitudes, has a directly contrary influence with the Christian, and opens the only way in which he can have hope, and by it he is animated with zeal and courage to run the Christian race; and what others cannot feel to be consistent, or be pleased with, is to him plain and easy, and most satisfactory and pleasing, as most suited to glorify God, and promote the humility, holiness and happiness of man. In this view, and in this way only, the gospel is to the Christian the wisdom of God and the power of God. Agreeable to this St. Paul says, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” “I can do all things through Christ who. strengtheneth me.” That is. When I have the greatest sense of my own weakness, and insufficiency to the work before me, I feel the greatest strength and courage by trusting in the grace and power of Christ; I am then 233strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, and can with courage undertake and go through the most difficult and arduous work.
4. Are you influenced to will and do, and quickened and excited to religious exercises, in such a way and manner as naturally leads you to be sensible that these things take place by the grace and assistance of God, so that you are disposed to ascribe all to him, and not to yourselves? Do your own feelings and experience witness to your own mind that “It is not of him who willeth, nor of him who runneth, but of God, who sheweth mercy?” It is doubtless God’s way so to work in Christians by his Spirit as to lead them to be sensible that all originates from him, and to acknowledge him lo be the worker of all good in them. And they can from their own experience adopt the words of Paul, and say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
5. Are you indeed doing the work of a Christian, working out your own salvation, in any measure in the manner which has been described? Do you make religion, and the service of Jesus Christ and his interest, your great and really your only business? And do you make any progress, and abound more and more?
The real Christian is painfully sensible that he fails and comes unspeakably short in every thing, which he knows is to be attributed to his own depravity and the sin which dwelleth in him, so that when he would do good, evil (sin) is present with him, and the good which he would he does not. And this sinful defect, and the evil which attends him in all he does, is a grievous burden, and matter of constant humiliation before God. And the more the Christian does, and the more zeal and engagedness he has in religion, the more sensible he is of his sinful defects; therefore this increasing sensibility is no evidence that he is not working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, but on the contrary is a sign that he is a real Christian, and is willing and working. They who do the least, or rather nothing at all, in this work of a Christian, are 234 commonly most insensible of their defects, and are disposed to think they are doing much, and have few or no painful defects to lament.
But though every Christian comes so lamentably short of what he ought, and heartily desires and wishes to do, which is matter of constant shame and humiliation; yet he is really working out his own salvation, in the manner which has been described in the preceding discourses, and is making this work his only business. And he must be supposed to gain skill and strength to prosecute this work, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the longer he is in the Christian school, and is going in the way to heaven. He therefore who is not in some good measure diligent in this business, and fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, is not stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, has no reason to think he has ever entered upon this work, or knows what it is to live the life of a Christian.
6. Do you live a life of prayer? The Christian, who is working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, feeling his own insufficiency, and constant dependence on God to work in him to will and to do, and having a lively sensibility of his dangerous situation, surrounded with numerous subtil, potent enemies, who are seeking his ruin, and beset with various and strong temptations to turn aside, and offend God; and that he shall inevitably fall into destruction, unless God prevent it by his constant influences and sovereign grace; is constantly looking to God for safety and help, and expressing his only hope and trust in him, praying with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, watching thereunto with all perseverance. He will earnestly cry to him for his direction and assistance, in every exigence and at all times, and call upon the name of the Lord as long as he lives.
A child on the side of a tremendous precipice, depending on his father to guide him in every step, and hold him up by his hand, by which alone his fall and 235being dashed to pieces can be prevented, would keep his eye constantly on his father, and cry to him to help him from falling, and conduct him safe through all the dangers with which he feels himself surrounded. Or should a child be in the midst of a wilderness with his father, filled with fierce beasts of prey, ready to devour him, while he is without any strength to defend himself, and knows not one step of the way to a place of safety, and feels that if he should be a minute without the help and guidance of his father, he should run directly into the mouth of some savage beast, or turn aside from the only way to escape death, he would constantly cry to his father for help and protection, who alone could save him. And if his father should be out of his fight but a few minutes, what a cry would he raise after him! and never cease till he got hold of his father’s hand.
And shall not the Christian, who feels himself in circumstances of which those of the child now described are but a very faint representation, being infinitely more important and affecting, cry night and day unto his God and only Saviour, for help, succour and deliverance! Surely he will constantly with cheerfulness obey his invitation and command, as not only his duty but his greatest privilege, while he hears him saying, “Look unto me, my spouse, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me: Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: Pray always, and faint not: Pray without ceasing,” &c. And the more he loves God, and the stronger is his faith and trust in him, and his confidence in the certain and punctual fulfilment of all his promises, the more hearty, earnest and fervent his prayers will be; for in this way. he will express a sense of his dependence on God, and his love to him, and faith and trust in his promises.
The nominal Christian, who has no proper sense of his dependence on God, as it has been explained, but 236feels himself in a, great measure sufficient to the work of a Christian, and has no real love to God, or trust in his promises, and dependence upon him, to work all his works in him, both to will and to do. can live without much prayer from day to day; or, if he pray, it will be but a formal, cold business, in which there is no engagedness or heart. But this is not the character of a true Christian, who is working out his own salvation. with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who worketh in him both to will and to do. He casteth all his care upon God, and in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, makes known his requests unto God. Believing that they have a Great High Priest, who is in heaven, Jesus the Son of God; they come boldly, with the utmost freedom of access and of speech, unto the throne of grace, that they may obtain mercy, and find help in time of need.
7. Have you, after you have done all, no reliance on what you do, to recommend you to God as less deserving of his displeasure, or more worthy of pardon of your sins, and of salvation; feeling that if God should be strict to mark your iniquity against you, you cannot answer or stand before him, and must justly perish forever? Under this view and conviction do you constantly fly to Christ, and trust in his atonement, which he has made by his blood, and in his righteousness, for pardon and acceptance with God; feeling yourselves to be infinitely guilty and ill-deserving; that were it not for Christ and his worthiness, and your union to him and interest in his righteousness, you must sink into hell; and that nothing in you, or that you have done or can do, can be acceptable to God, unless you are accepted in the infinitely beloved and worthy Saviour? and in this way, and under this sensible conviction, whatsoever you do, do you do all in the name of Christ, asking all you petition for in his name, and hoping for acceptance and mercy for his sake alone? It has been shewn that this is essential to the character of those who walk humbly with God, and work out 237their own salvation with fear and trembling. He who attempts to work out his own salvation in any other way, is really working out his own destruction.
8. On the whole, let all professing Christians seriously and with great care examine themselves, and inquire? whether they be really walking in the narrow way to heaven, described in the text; whether they have skill to discern and distinguish it from all others which have been devised by men, or that can be imagined; whether they know there are the strongest motives and greatest encouragements to work out their own salvation, while they are certain that they are wholly dependent on God for this, and shall do nothing unless he work in them to will and to do; and that by all they do they do not deserve the least favour, but remain as ill-deserving as ever; and find themselves as zealous and as much engaged to do. while they know they can do nothing of themselves, as if they were self-sufficient, and independent on God to work in them to will and do, and could merit their own salvation by what they do; whether their depravity of heart, and indisposition to do any good thing unless God work in them to will and do, be matter of shame and self-condemnation to them, having no excuse to offer for it, but take the whole blame to themselves, being disposed to justify God, should he leave them to perish in their sin, and always ready with pleasure to give him all the glory of their salvation, if he of his sovereign grace shall begin and carry on this work to perfection; whether they are willing to be in his hand, to dispose of them as he in his infinite wisdom and goodness shall see best, and rejoice that all men and all things shall be governed and disposed of so as to answer the wisest and best ends, thus always rejoicing in the Lord, that he reigns without any possible controul forever.
He who understands our text, and sees the truths expressed and implied in it to be perfectly confident and harmonious, and heartily acquiesces in them, and in the view of these truths, and on this plan, is constantly working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, is 238doubtless taught of God, and made wise unto salvation, which he will finally obtain, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But he who sits still or loiters with respect to this great work, from whatever motive, or is labouring to go to heaven in his own strength, independent of God, so as to be at heart opposed to his salvation being determined by God, and on this ground is in his heart an enemy to the doctrines of the decrees of God, of election, and the certain perseverance of all true Christians; is in darkness until now, and knows not the only way of salvation. The scripture warrants us in this conclusion, however uncharitable and censorious many may think it to be. We appeal to the Bible, and to the day of judgment.
IV. This subject will be improved by urging the exhortation in the text. Let all who hope to be saved, make it their only business to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. There is no other way to heaven but this; and this is a work of life, which cannot be finished till death takes us out of the world. This is the sight of faith, by perseverance in which the Christian will lay hold of eternal life.
The lead deviation from this narrow way, or neglect or loitering in this work, is unreasonable, and an abuse of the gospel, and tends to evil. In order to go in this way, the flesh with the affections and lusts must be crucified; selfishness and pride, with all the evil propensity which springs from them, must be watched against and crossed; for all these will lead the Christian aside from the right way, so far as they are regarded and gratified. A strong disposition to self-dependence, and dependence on some creature, in opposition to constant dependence on God alone, is implied in these lusts. And so much of this is in the Christian, that he is constantly exposed to fall by it, and often does so, in a degree. When the Christian is in a pious frame, and his religious affections are strong and vigorous, he is exposed to trust in his present disposition and feelings 239for what he hopes to will and to do in future; and when he trusts in this as a stock and sufficiency of his own for some future work, he always finds himself disappointed, and fails of willing and doing as he expected, because, in proportion to his thus trusting to himself, his heart departed from the Lord, and in a degree forgot that he depended every moment on God, to work in him to will and to do. Would the Christian work out his own salvation, he must watch and pray against self-dependence, in this way, or in any other. If he trusts in any degree to ministers, books, the Bible, or any means, or special religious advantages, that these will help him in any measure, independent of the divine, immediate operation, working in him every right motion of heart, he gets so far out of the way, and cannot come right till he repent of his folly. Peter trusted to his own present feelings, and was self-confident, when he said to Christ, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended: Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee: I will lay down my life for thy sake:” [Matth. xxvi. 33, 35. John xiii. 37.] Trusting to himself, he fell from his own stedfastness, and could not be recovered without deep and bitter repentance. Let all be hence warned not to be high-minded, but fear; and let him who thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. When the Christian is weak, fears and trembles in a sense of his own insufficiency, and feels his dependence on God constantly to work in him to will and do, then is he strong to run the race which is set before him, and work out his own salvation.
To what has been said, the following particulars may be added as motives to engage in and pursue this work.
I. Consider how great this work is. There is none equal to it, or to be compared with it. It is to overcome self, sin and Satan, even all the powers of darkness; principalities and powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places. Nothing short 240of Omnipotence can strengthen you to perform it, even the mighty power of God, which he wrought in Christ when he railed him from the dead, and set him at his own right-hand, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion. At the same time that the consideration of the greatness of this work leads to fear and tremble, to feel our own insufficiency, and to trust in God alone for a will and strength to do it, it serves as a mighty motive to desire to engage in it and go through, by the power and grace of Christ. The motive is great and strong in proportion to the magnitude of the work before us.
2. Consider the consequence of neglecting this work, or performing it. The consequence of the former is, to perish forever; for none can be saved but those who in this way overcome. The consequence of the latter is, to sit down with Christ on his throne, and reign with him forever.
3. Consider the abundant encouragement, and innumerable great and precious promises, which Christians have to strengthen and animate them in this work, and to trust in Christ to carry them through. They who trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved; they shall renew their strength; shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and. they shall walk and not faint.
4. Consider the pleasure and happiness there is in working out your own salvation with fear and trembling. It is not a slavish, servile work. There is pleasure in this fear and trembling, which is nothing more than true humility and trust in God. No man knows what true happiness is, who is not cordially engaged in this work. And he who is thus working out his own salvation has true pleasure and happiness in his work. He has joy and peace in believing, and is going on to complete, everlasting rest and joy in the kingdom of Christ.
This subject will be concluded with an address to sinners who neglect the great salvation.241
The words of the text are not directly and immediately addressed to you; yet they contain matter of instruction, conviction, admonition and exhortation to you; to which it is of the greatest importance that you should attend.
You are here taught your sinful, depraved, undone state; that you are so under the dominion of evil propensities, that you will not be persuaded and disposed to exercise one right volition or thought, unless God work it in you by his good Spirit; to do which he is under no obligation, and you are constantly provoking him not to do it, but to give you up to eternal destruction. Here you have set before you your guilt, misery and danger in a most clear and affecting light. At the same time you are taught that your neglect of salvation, and all that moral depravity, in the exercise of which you are sinning against Christ, and running into ruin, is your own inexcusable, aggravated wickedness, of which you are continually guilty, and is enough to sink you down to the deepest hell; and will certainly do it, unless God shall exercise sovereign mercy to you, and you repent and turn, and are willing to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
And as your opposition of heart to this, and even the neglect of this salvation, is altogether your own fault, for which you have no excuse, consisting in your own inclination and choice, heaven and all the blessings of it are opened and freely offered to your acceptance, and you are invited, exhorted and commanded to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, having a promise that in this way you shall certainly be saved.
All this is set before you and urged upon you in the discourses on this subject which you have heard. Your attention to these truths is therefore demanded by all the authority of heaven. And you are required heartily to receive and comply with them, and thus to lay hold on eternal life, which is now set before you and offered to you as really as to any one else. Therefore if you perish, it will be by your own inexcusable and 242greatly aggravated fault. These truths are infinitely important and interesting to you; for you will be forever happy or miserable, accordingly as you cordially embrace or reject them.
Say not, “I am not elected, and therefore cannot be saved, let me do what I will, as the decrees of God are against me.” This is horrid presumption, for you to meddle with and pretend to determine that which is secret, and aft upon it. Besides, it is revealed and certain that if you perish you will perish as really and as much by your own inexcusable fault, as if there were no decree of God concerning you. This plea and excuse will appear to be vain and unreasonable, when the truth comes to light; and that it proceeded from a heart full of enmity against God; and being silenced it will serve to aggravate the destruction of those who make it. Oh! of what infinite importance then is it to you, that you should wholly lay it aside before it is too late!
Do not entertain the thought that you cannot embrace the gospel and work out your own salvation, and imagine that this is a good excuse for your not doing it. For this is taking upon you the character of the slothful servant, who thought to excuse himself for neglecting the right improvement of the talent .which was committed to him, by saying, “Lord, I knew thee, that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed.” If there ever was or can be a person of the character which Jesus here describes, thou art the man, and your excuse will be turned against you, and you will meet with the doom pronounced on such a servant; “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It is true that you are under an inability to do any thing by which you shall be saved, which has been explained as consisting in the sinful inclinations of your own heart; and you depend entirely on God for a new heart, and he will give such an heart, or not, according 243to his good pleasure; and will determine whether you shall be saved or not. But it has been fully shewn that this kind of inability is so far from being an excuse for not doing, that it is the very thing wherein the sinner’s criminality and blame consist; and to make this an excuse for not doing implies a great degree of stupidity and perverseness, and is replying against God, in the same manner that the slothful servant is represented to do.
Do not give yourselves up to sloth and indifference in religion, and indulge your evil inclinations, in neglect of all concern about the salvation of your soul, because you think this is already determined by God, and you cannot alter the case, therefore you will not trouble yourself about it. This is the certain way to determine that you never shall be saved, and are going in the way to destruction; for this is the certain way to perish forever, if you persist in it, as none can go to heaven in this careless way.
Besides, such a conclusion and practice is most unreasonable, and mud proceed from amazing blindness and stupidity. It is a disposition of mind which is condemned as an evidence of the greatest stupidity and sottishness by all who exercise any reason and common sense, in temporal concerns. If a man be accused of a capital crime, and is to be tried in a day or two, when it will be determined whether he shall be put to death or not, and such a man should appear to be perfectly unconcerned about himself and the issue of the case with respect to him, who could be found to justify him in this? Would not all join to condemn him as an unreasonable stupid man? Or should a person be condemned to death, for some crime, and the day of his execution be fixed; could he be perfectly unconcerned and easy about his case and fate even till the moment of execution came? If this were possible, and such an instance should be known, all would cry out on him, as sunk below the reason, sensibility and feelings of a man, being as thoughtless and stupid as a beast. How 244 much more unreasonable, insensible and stupid must he be, who is upon the verge of eternity, and it must soon be determined whether he shall be unspeakably happy, or beyond all conception miserable forever, and yet has no concern about the matter, but is trifling away his time in carelessness about his eternal interest, and vain amusements! This is an instance of stupidity, sottishness, phrenzy or madness, which cannot be described!
Do not therefore give way to such unreasonableness, stupidity and infatuation, as to spend your time and strength in care and exertions about temporal things, while you neglect the utmost, constant attention to, and highest concern about, those infinitely important and weighty matters, which hang upon every moment of your lives.
Do not entertain so good an opinion of yourselves as to think you are willing to be Christians, and that the reason why you are not, is not the want of a willingness to embrace the gospel, and because you will not come to Christ for salvation; but from some other cause, for which you are not blameable.
Many who are under some concern about the salvation of their souls, fall into this delusion, and think they are willing to come to Christ and be Christians if Christ were willing to receive them. Such are ignorant of their own hearts, and have no true idea of that which is implied in being a Christian; and really charge Jesus Christ and the gospel with falsehood; for in that he declares that whosoever will may come and be saved. In this way they overlook the true reason why they are not Christians, and shut their eyes to their own true character, guilt and odiousness. It is of the greatest importance that this delusion should be removed.
Do not attempt to evade all conviction of the truth, and concern about your salvation, by flattering yourselves that you are in no present danger of destruction, and you shall have time enough hereafter to obtain salvation, though you neglect it now. Remember that you have no security from falling into hell one moment; 245and the voice of God and of reason to you is, “Make haste! Escape for thy life, lest thou be destroyed!”
And do not indulge a thought of your own sufficiency and moral strength to work out your own salvation, unless God work in you to will and do. Many are so ignorant of themselves, and of the work of a Christian, as to imagine they are sufficient to begin and go through the work, without feeling their dependence on God. And they think they are truly religious, and working out their own salvation, while they are only gratifying their own selfishness and pride, and are in the sight of God abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
There are others who are so confident of their own independent sufficiency to help and save themselves, when they shall set about it in earnest, that by this confidence in themselves they are led to indulge in neglect of religion, and carnal security, for the present; and by this delusion many are fastened down in sloth and neglect of their souls till it is eternally too late. Could they be persuaded to try their supposed strength in earnest, there would be hope that they would be convinced of their delusion; as many have been in this way thoroughly convinced and humbled. But so long as they cannot be awakened and roused to try their boasted strength, they are like to remain in the fatal delusion.
It is of infinite importance to you that you do not, on the one hand, presume upon our own strength and sufficiency to work out your own salvation, and, trusting in yourselves that you are righteous, depend upon obtaining salvation by your own righteousness, or, on this presumption of your own sufficiency, live in ease and security, at present, in the indulgence of your own corrupt inclinations, depending on yourselves for strength and help when it shall be necessary for you to be religious to escape destruction; or that you do not, on the other hand, live in ease and the neglect of salvation, from the consideration of your depravity and inability to save yourselves, and your dependence on God for 246this, imagining that this takes away all obligation and encouragement to embrace the gospel and work out your own salvation. Both of these delusions equally lead to destruction.
May you realize the infinitely evil and dangerous state in which you are, and be excited to fly from the wrath to come, by laying hold of the hope set before you, knowing that salvation is freely offered to you, and heaven stands open for you, and you are invited to run for this prize, having at the same time the offer and promise of the Holy Spirit, and of all the assistance you want, if you will so far trust in God as to ask him for all this. O sinners, why will ye die!
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