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ON WORKING OUT OUR OWN SALVATION.
PHILIPPIANS II. 12, 13.
“ Work out your own Salvation with Fear and Trembling;
for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good Pleasure."
1. SOME great Truths, as the Being and Attributes of God, and the difference between moral Good and Evil, were known, in some measure, to the Heathen world; the traces of them are to be found in all nations : so that, in some sense, it may be said to every child of man, “ He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; even to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” With this truth he has, in some measure, “enlightened every one that cometh into the world.” And hereby they that “have not the law,” that have no written law, "are a law unto themselves.” They shew “the work of the law,” the substance of it, though not the letter, “ written in their hearts,” by the same hand which wrote the commandments on the tables of stone: “ their conscience also bearing them witness,” whether they act suitably thereto or not.
2. But there are two grand heads of doctrine, which contain many truths of the most important nature, of which the most enlightened Heathens in the ancient world were totally ignorant; as are also the most intelligent Heathens,
that are now on the face of the earth : I mean those which relate to the eternal Son of God; and the Spirit of God; to the Son, giving himself to be “a propitiation for the sins of the world;" and to the Spirit of God, renewing men in that image of God wherein they were created. For after all the pains which ingenious and learned men have taken, that great man, Chevalier Ramsay, in particular, to find some resemblance of these truths, in the immense rubbish of Heathen Authors, the resemblance is so exceedingly faint, as not to be discerned but by a very lively imagination. Beside that, even this resemblance, faint as it is, is only to be found in the discourses of a very few, and those were the most improved and deeply thinking men, in their several generations : while the innumerable multitudes that surrounded them, were little better for the knowledge of the Philosophers; but remained as totally ignorant even of these capital truths, as were the beasts that perish.
3. Certain it is that these truths were never known to the vulgar, the bulk of mankind, to the generality of men in any nation, till they were brought to light by the Gospel. Notwithstanding a spark of knowledge glimmering here and there, the whole earth was covered with darkness, til! the Sun of Righteousness arose and scattered the shades of night. Since this Day-Spring from on high has appeared, a great light hath shined unto those, who, till then, sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. And thousands of them, in every age, have known, that God so loved the world, as to give his only Son, to the end that whosoever believeth on him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." And being entrusted with the Oracles of God, they have known that “God hath also given us his Holy Spirit,' who “ worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
4. How remarkable are those words of the Apostle, which precede these? “ Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus : who, being in the form of God," the incommunicable nature of God from eternity, “counted
it no act of robbery,” (that is the precise meaning of the word,) no invasion of any other's prerogative; but his own unquestionable right, “ to be equal with God.” The word implies both the fulness and the supreme height of the Godhead. To which are opposed the two words, he emptied, and he humbled himself. He “emptied himself" of that divine fulness, veiled his fulness from the eyes of men and angels, “ taking,” and by that very act emptying himself, “the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of man,' a real man, like other men. “ And being found in fashion as a man,” without any peculiar beauty or excellency, "he humbled himself” to a still greater degree, “becoming obedient” to God, though equal with him, “even unto death, yea, the death of the cross,” the greatest instance both of humiliation and obedience.
Having proposed the example of Christ, the Apostle exhorts them to secure the salvation which Christ had purchased for them; “Wherefore, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling : for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” In these comprehensive words we may observe,
I. That grand Truth, which ought never to be out of our remembrance, “ It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure.'
II. The Improvement we ought to make of it, “ Work out our own Salvation with fear and trembling."
III. The Connexion between them: “ It is God that worketh in you: therefore, work out your own Salvation.”
I. 1. First, we are to observe that great and important truth which ought never to be out of our remembrance, "It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The meaning of these words may be made more plain, by a small transposition of them. “ It is God that of his good pleasure worketh in you both to will and to do.” This position of the words, connecting the phrase of his good pleasure with the word worketh, removes all imagination of merit from man, and gives God the whole
glory of his work. Otherwise we might have had some room for boasting, as if it were our own desert, some goodness in us, or some good thing done by us, which first moved God to work. But this expression cuts off all such vain conceits, and clearly shews, his motive to work lay wholly in himself : in his own mere grace, in his unmerited mercy.'
2. It is by this alone he is impelled to work in man both to will and to do. The expression is capable of two interpretations; both of which are unquestionably true. First, To will, may include the whole of inward ; to do, the whole of outward religion. And if it be thus understood, it implies, That it is God that worketh both inward and outward holiness. Secondly, To will, may imply every good desire; to do, whatever results therefrom. And then the sentence means, God breathes into us every good desire, and brings every good desire to good effect.
3. The original words το θελειν and το ενεργειν, seem to favour the latter construction: To Jemel, which we render to will, plainly including every good desire, whether relating to our tempers, words, or actions; to inward or outward holiness.
which we render to do, manifestly implies all that power from on high, all that energy which works in us every right disposition, and then furnishes us for every good word and work.
4. Nothing can so directly tend to hide pride from man, as a deep, lasting conviction of this. For if we are thoroughly sensible, that we have nothing which we have not received, how can we glory as if we had not received it. If we know and feel, that the very first motion of good is from above, as well as the power which conducts it to the end: if it is God that not only infuses every good desire, but that accompanies and follows it, else it vanishes away; ; then it evidently follows, that “he who glorieth must glory in the Lord.”
II. 1. Proceed we now to the second point. If God worketh in you, then work out your own salvation. The
original word, Work out, implies the doing a thing thoroughly. Your own—for you yourselves must do this, or it will be left undone for ever. Your own salvation :-Salvation begins with what is usually termed, (and very properly,) Preventing Grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight, transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life, some degree of salvation, the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God. Salvation is carried on by Convincing Grace, usually in Scripture termed Repentance, which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther. deliverance from the heart of stone. Afterwards we experience the proper. Christian Salvation, whereby through grace, we are saved by faith, consisting of those two grand branches, Justification and Sanctification. By Justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, and restored to the favour of God: by Sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God. All experience, as well as Scripture, shew this salvation to be both instantaneous and gradual. It begins the moment we are justified, in the holy, humble, gentle, patient love of God and man. It gradually increases from that moment, as “ a grain of mustard-seed, which, at first, is the least of all seeds, but” afterwards “ puts forth large branches,” and becomes a great tree; till, in another instant, the heart is cleansed from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man. But even that love increases more and more, till we “grow up in all things into him that is our head,” till we “ attain the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
2. But how are we to work out this salvation? The Apostle answers, With fear, and trembling. There is another passage of St. Paul wherein the same expression occurs, which may give light to this. “ Servants, obey your masters according to the flesh,” according to the present state of things, although sensible that in a little time, the