« Prev Sermon XII. Good working in Men to will and to do. Next »


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.

III. THE next thing proposed is, to consider and show what is the meaning of God’s working in Christians both to will and to do of his good pleasure. This may be done by attending to the following particulars.

1. Working in men to will and to do, must intend more than affording them external means and advantages, and urging them by external motives to will and to do; for this cannot with any propriety be called working in them, when all that is supposed to be done is done out of them and externally. Some have supposed this to be all the meaning of these words; not 194because it is the natural meaning of them, for it is a forced meaning; but because they think man needs no more to be done for him in order to his working out his own salvation, and that any thing more, and an immediate operation on the will, is inconsistent with his liberty, and his actions being his own, or really virtuous. But the absurdity of all this has been often fully shewn, and will appear before this subject is finished. It is sufficient to observe here, that to say that an operation on the human heart which effectually influences men to will and to do, that is, to act voluntarily, and consequently freely, is inconsistent with their acting voluntarily, and willing and doing any thing in the exercise of all the liberty which can in nature exist or be conceived of, is inconsistent with human liberty, is as flat and palpable a contradiction as can be made. If to work in men so as effectually to prevent their willing and doing in any particular instance, be inconsistent with their having or exercising any freedom in that instance; then working in them so as effectually to make them will and do in that instance, or any other, is to promote their liberty, and cause them to act freely. And to say that what men do voluntarily is not in all cases their own act and deed, is to say that men are not capable of doing any thing which is their own act; for they can do nothing but what they do voluntarily, and the stronger and the more forcibly the motives are impressed on their minds to induce them to will and act, the more freely they act, and the more sensibly are their choice and actions their own, and the more virtuous they are, if agreeable to the truth.

2. This does not mean any divine operation on man, which respects his willing and doing, of which willing and doing is not the certain consequence, and which therefore is consistent with his not willing and doing. For any divine operation in man, of which his willing and doing is not the effect, is not working in him to will and to do; because, notwithstanding such operation, he is left short of willing and doing. To work in 195men to will and to do, is to do that which is effectual to produce the will and the deed, so that there is a certain connection between the former and the latter. And this is the import of the original word here translated worketh. It signifies, to operate with energy, and effectually to accomplish the end, and produce the willing and doing.

That working in men to will which leaves them short of willing, is the same with working in them to will, if they will, which is talking most absurdly. Men are always able to will, if they will, and need no special assistance or influence on them to will what they will, or if they will, which is the same. If men are willing, or do will, they have no need of any operation or assistance to make them willing; for this they have already by the supposition; for they at all times can will, if they will. There can therefore be no such operation; and any supposed assistance or working in them which leaves them not actually willing or doing is not working in them to will and to do.

3. God worketh in Christians to will and to do, by giving them the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which they would neither will nor do those things by which they work out their own salvation, and which are effectual to cause them to will and do them; there being a certain and infallible connection of one with the other.

Men are naturally, while wholly destitute of such influences, not only entirely destitute of all inclination to every thing that is truly virtuous and holy, but their hearts or wills are obstinately set in them to do evil, and they run swiftly on with all their hearts towards destruction; and they go on in this course until God changes their hearts, by taking away the heart of stone, the obstinate, rebellious heart, and giving them a new heart, a humble, obedient heart, and thus makes them willing to obey him in the day of his power, or by his omnipotent energy on their hearts. And when he has begun this great and good work in any whom he pleases, 196he carries it on until the day of Christ, and takes care constantly to grant them that assistance and those influences by which he thoroughly and effectually worketh in them both to will and to do all those things whereby they work out their own salvation, and are prepared to dwell with Jesus Christ in his kingdom forever. They receive the spirit of Christ when they first become Christians, to be in and dwell with them forever, by whom they are led, and who is the author of every holy exercise of heart which they have, and of all the good works they do, by which they go on in the way to heaven, and until they are made perfectly holy. They being interested in the promises of the covenant of grace, their salvation is made sure, and God is engaged by promise never to leave them or forsake them, but to lead them safely on to glory, and that he will keep them by his mighty power, through their faith, by which they shall work out their own salvation.

That God thus works in all true Christians to will and to do all they will and do in working out their own salvation, and that they are thus wholly dependent on him for every right motion and choice of heart, and for every good thing they do, is not only plainly asserted in the words of the text, which cannot be understood in any other sense than that which has been given of them, without straining and forcing them to speak an unnatural sense, but is abundantly confirmed by innumerable other passages of scripture, which speak the same language and assert the same thing; too many to be rehearsed here, and of which the careful, intelligent reader of the Bible cannot be ignorant. And this is expressly or implicitly acknowledged by all Christians in their prayers, however some professing Christians may in their speculations, and even in the feelings and tenor of the exercises of their hearts, contradict it.

4.There appears to be some intended difference between willing and doing, when it is said, God worketh in Christians both to will and to do. Strictly speaking, men are active in nothing but in the exercise of their 197 will, or in willing, and therefore do nothing else: yet the effects and consequences of the exertions of their willing, which by divine constitution are connected with their acts of will, and their voluntary exertions, they are said to do or to be done by them, and are considered as in some sense distinct from their volitions; so that, when their will is carried into full execution, they may be said to do what they willed, and so both to will and to do. And when any thing is willed, determined or chosen, which will cannot be immediately put into execution, but the act or event willed is future, and at a distance, when such a choice is executed and effected, the person thus willing has both willed and done the action or event. Thus, when a man wills and determines to attend public worship devoutly the next sabbath, or to visit one of his neighbours and to give him some salutary advice and exhortation, or to give something to the poor, he wills those things; but they are not yet done, till by a course of acts of will they actually take place and are effected; and then he hath both willed and done them. These observations may serve to shew the propriety of the distinction in the words before us between willing and doing, and what the distinction imports. The Apostle makes this same distinction more than once. He says, “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not.” [Rom. vii. 18.] He found a strong desire and inclination to do many good things, and was hearty in willing them: but when he came to put what he willed into actual execution, he failed of coming up fully to what he willed, and felt the necessity that God should work in him both to will and to do; and that when he faithfully executed his own will it was owing to the effectual grace of God, working in him not only to will, but to do it. He, writing to the Corinthians respecting a collection for the poor, says to them, “Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also:” [2 Cor. viii. 11.]


5. The words which are added, “Of his good pleasure,” remain yet to be explained. The meaning appears to be, that God worketh in men to will and to do as it pleases him, in the exercise of his sovereign goodness, who hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. In the beginning of this work, he chooses whom he will to be the subjects of it, not being under obligation to any; who are all wholly gone out of the way, their hearts being set against God, and every thing which has the nature of holiness. God waits not to have them turn and will that which is right, for this they would never do, if left to themselves, whatever means are used, and motives set before them, to persuade them to it. He first begins, and gives them a new heart, and creates them in Christ Jesus unto good works, and works in them to will and to do. Thus, not by works of righteousness which they had done (for they were dead in trespasses and sins, altogether rebellious) but according to his mercy, he saved them, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; and being thus made willing by the powerful operation of God on their hearts, according to his sovereign good pleasure; and having begun the good work, and they being brought into that covenant, according to which he has in his sovereign grace promised to carry it on till it is completed; be worketh in them to will and to do, so as to insure and perfect their salvation, in that manner and degree which is according to his sovereign good pleasure.

The next thing proposed is,

IV. To consider the force of the argument by which the foregoing exhortation is urged, or the reason given why Christians should work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, introduced and denoted by the particle For. “For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.”

In order to set this in the true and best light, what has been before observed must be kept in view, viz. that the design and force of the exhortation is not merely 199or chiefly to work out their own salvation, but to do this in a particular way and manner, with fear and trembling. They began to work out their own salvation when the Apostle was with them, and had made great progress in this work, after he had left them; and he now enjoins upon them to go on in this great work, with fear and trembling, with self-diffidence, in a sense of their own insufficiency, and their constant absolute dependence on God; with humility and poverty of spirit, and all those feelings and exercises which are implied in this.

And he urges this upon them with this good and forcible reason, “For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” You have no sufficiency of your own to do or will any thing right, but are always and entirely dependent on God, who is the author of every choice and exertion by which you are enabled to proceed in the Christian life, who is above all controul, and acts as an absolute sovereign in this matter. And without him you can do nothing.

The sense of this passage of scripture, as it has been now explained, may be expressed in the following words.

“My beloved fellow Christians, as you gave up yourselves to Jesus Christ, to obey and serve him, when I was present with you, and have since, in my absence, continued and made great advances in your obedience, I earnestly exhort you to go on in your Christian course with that holy fear and trembling which implies a sense of the difficulty, greatness and importance of the work which is before you, keeping in view the eternal happiness and glory which the gospel sets before you, and the infinite evil that awaits all who come short, together with a constant conviction of your utter moral weakness and insufficiency for this work, and your entire and constant dependence on God for his powerful assistance in every step you take; so that if he should leave you to yourselves, you would certainly come short and 200perish. Be on your constant guard against the least confidence and trust in yourselves; be not high minded, because you have been thus distinguished, and have continued in your obedience, making advances in the Christian life; but fear: be humble, and, in a constant sense of your own utter insufficiency, to do the least thing towards your salvation of yourselves, put your whole trust in God at all times for his constant influence and help, by which alone you will be able to work out your own salvation.

“This caution and exhortation to go on in your Christian course with this fear and trembling is proper and important, as it is natural to man to be high minded, and to trust in himself; and even Christians, through their remaining depravity, are in danger of a criminal degree of this, in a measure, forgetting their own weakness and insufficiency and dependence on God, by which they greatly injure themselves; and because thus to fear and tremble is essential to the life of a Christian, and cannot be exercised in too high a degree: for the more a Christian has of this, the more beautiful and perfect is his character, and he will work out his own salvation with greater safety, strength and activity. And there is the highest reason and the strongest motive for Christians to work out their own salvation with this fear and trembling, to which I am exhorting, because they are in fact thus entirely and always dependent on God for every right motion of their heart, and all they do in this work, as all they will and do is the effect of a divine operation effectually working in them both to will and do, and that of his sovereign good pleasure, and entirely independent of them.”

The Apostle exhorts them to maintain a humbling sense of their depravity, moral weakness, and utter insufficiency to the work in which they were engaged, and had made considerable progress, and their entire dependence on God for every right exercise of heart; to remember and realize that all they had attained to in the Christian life was to be ascribed to God working 201in them to will and to do it; and that they were still thus dependent on him for every right choice and action; so that if God should cease to work in them both to will and to do, they would immediately fall away and perish.

The Apostle was sensible of the disposition in man to overlook his dependence on God every moment for every right motion of his will; and to trust in himself, relying on his own strength and sufficiency: and he knew how fatal this disposition was to the souls of men, if it were not counteracted and mortified; and that Christians had need to be reminded of this. He therefore warns the Christians at Philippi to avoid this fatal rock; and at the same time marks out the only true and safe way to heaven. And happy would it have been for many professing Christians since, if they had attended to, understood and conformed to this apostolic direction; who, contrary to this, have thought themselves something when they were nothing, and have attempted to work out their own salvation in their own strength, relying on their own sufficiency to will and to do; and consequently never have willed and done any thing right, and really holy, but have perished in the foolish, presumptuous attempt.

Having attempted to explain these words under the four preceding heads, as was proposed, we come now,

Fifthly. To improve the subject to practical purposes.

I. From the explanation which has been given of this important passage of scripture, if it be in any measure just and night, we learn that many have overlooked the true sense of these words, have put a wrong meaning upon them, and perverted them to very bad purposes.

They are such who assert man’s sufficiency to work out his own salvation of himself, without any distinguishing, efficacious influences of the Spirit of God, effectually working in him both to will and to do all that is necessary for his salvation; and deny that man is absolutely and wholly dependent on God in working 202out his own salvation: but hold that he who does this distinguishes himself independent of God’s assistance, of which he has no more than they have who do not work out their own salvation. They who espouse and contend for this sentiment, are wont to appeal to the first words of the passage before us, “Work out your own salvation;” and think this sufficiently supports their cause, and asserts that men are, of themselves, to work out their own salvation, independent of any internal divine influence on their hearts effectually to will and to do. At the same time they wholly overlook the following words; or, if they are urged against them, they put an unnatural and forced meaning upon them, which has been shewn cannot be the meaning, in the foregoing explanation.

Thus this text is wholly perverted to support and establish a doctrine which has a most pernicious and destructive tendency, is contrary to the whole tenor of scripture, and directly contrary to this very text, taken together, and rightly understood; which, it is thought, clearly appears from the foregoing explanation. This is a most dangerous and destructive perversion of scripture; for every one who believes in his heart he is so sufficient to work out his own salvation, and to distinguish himself from those who neglect to do this, without any distinguishing influences of the Spirit of God, working in him both to will and to do, and thinks he is thus by his own self-sufficiency actually working out his own salvation, is deceiving himself, and trusting in man, and making flesh his arm; he is therefore accursed, and will sink into destruction. How lamentable that such doctrine should be advocated by any, yea, by so many! How unhappy that such multitudes should, through the moral blindness, selfishness and pride of their hearts, be led astray by these false teachers! Surely the blind are leading the blind, and they both will fall into the ditch of endless destruction!

There have been those who have understood these words as a direction to unrenewed sinners to begin and 203work out their own salvation, enforced with a strong encouragement, if not a promise, that if they thus set out in earnest, and do what is called their part, God will give them all needed assistance to go on so as to obtain salvation, or do his part. This they understand by his working in them both to will and to do. Thus, according to them, God waits to have them set out and begin to will and to do; and then he sets in to assist them to go on. It is sufficient to shew every considerate person, surely, that to put such a meaning on these words is wholly to pervert them, only to mention it. The words are spoken to Christians, in whom God had already begun a good work, by working in them to will and to do, and who had made great progress in the Christian life. And what he teaches them is their own insufficiency to will and to do, and that they did not begin in this work till God first wrought in them both to will and to do; nor go one step without his efficacious agency on their hearts; and therefore they ought to maintain a humbling sense of this on their minds, and put their whole trust in God, who only can work in them to will and to do that by which they must work out their own salvation. To apply these words to sinners, to encourage them to a proud conceit of their own moral strength and sufficiency, and to trust in themselves to work out their own salvation, is as direct and gross a perversion of them as can well be imagined.

There are others, who, though they have rightly considered the exhortation in the text to be addressed to Christians, yet have mistaken the proper meaning and force of the exhortation, of fear and trembling, and of the reason given by which the exhortation is urged; and therefore have overlooked the true sense of the text, and really perverted it. Without attending to the true, or any precise and determinate meaning of fear and trembling, they consider the exhortation to Christians to work out their own salvation, as directing them to do what they call their part, which they are to perform, without taking any notice of the manner in 204which they are exhorted to do it; and consequently represent God’s working in them to will and to do, rather as the consequence of their working, in which he will assist them in their endeavors to work out their own salvation: so that the meaning of these words, according to them, is this: Work out your own salvation, do your part, for then and on this condition God will do his part, and work in you both to will and to do.

He who has attended to and understood the explanation of these words which has been attempted in the preceding discourses, and approves of it, must be sensible that the above representation of the meaning of the text wholly overlooks the true design and force of it, and is a total perversion of it, and may justly be said to “darken counsel by words without knowledge.”

On the whole, it appears that they who attend only to the first part of the passage which has been explained, as exhorting men to work out their own salvation, without bringing into view the following words, not attending to the words fear and trembling, as expressing the manner in which this work is to be done, or giving a wrong sense to them, have not given the true import and force of the exhortation, and have not improved it to promote the purpose designed by it; and many have in this way perverted it to establish delusion and falsehood. And, that they also who have attended to the last words, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do,” without attending to their connection with the foregoing exhortation, and the true meaning of fear and trembling, and the force of the reason and argument from thence, expressed in the particle For, have, at best, not given the true and important meaning of the whole passage; and have overlooked the design and force of it, and the most interesting and practical truths contained in it; if they have not improved it to promote error and delusion.

In short, this text cannot be understood, unless it be considered in the connection of each part of it, and in the true meaning of every expression and word contained 205in it. But when this is done with proper care and judgment, it will be found to be clear, easy, consistent, and harmonious, and to exhibit true religion, both in theory and practice, and the real character of a Christian, as distinguished from all counterfeits.

In this view, the preceding particular explanation has been attempted, and is to be yet further improved.

II. From this passage of scripture, as it has been explained, several doctrines are expressed or implied, and the objections which have been made to them appear to be wholly without foundation, and very unreasonable. Some of these will be particularly mentioned and considered.

1. As God is here said to produce every good volition and exercise in the Christian by which he works out his own salvation, it has been objected, that according to this the work is all done by God, and not by the Christian, which renders the text, taken together, wholly inconsistent and absurd; as if it were said, “Work out your own salvation; but at the same time remember that you can do nothing, and really have nothing to do; for it is God who must do all, by producing the will and the deed!”

The mere mentioning of this objection is sufficient to expose the unreasonableness and absurdity of it. If God works in them to will and to do, then they both will and do; and this is as much their own will and deed, as much their own exertion and work, as it could be were there no previous exertion of God, as necessary in order to their thus willing and doing. Christians do nothing in working out their own salvation till they begin to will and act; and when they do this, it is as much their own act and deed, as in the nature of things any thing that is willed and done can be, whatever God may do in working in them thus to will and to do. The latter is the work of God, and not theirs, the former is as much their own exertion and work, as if God did nothing in them, and is entirely distinct from what God does. Their own exertions, their willing 206and doing, in working out their own salvation, are as necessary as if they were independent of God, and he did not work in them to will and to do: and therefore this is no reason why they should not will and work, but sit still and do nothing; but is a good reason why they should work, and do what they do with fear and trembling, not trusting in themselves, but in God alone, to enable them to go through and perfect this work.

2. This doctrine of absolute dependence on God for every volition and exertion in working out our own salvation, which is implied and asserted in the explanation which has been given of this text, has been represented and objected to as a very discouraging doctrine, tending to lead persons to sit still, and not attempt to do any thing towards their salvation.

It is granted that the view of the text which has been given does tend to discourage persons from attempting to work out their own salvation in their own strength and sufficiency, independent of God, and his effectual operation on their hearts to will and to do; and will effectually do it, where it has its proper influence on the hearts of men. But this affords no real ground of objection to the doctrine, but is rather in favour of it. It is necessary that men should be discouraged from working out their salvation in this way, and relinquish it, in order to their being saved; and the sooner and more thoroughly they are discouraged, the better. Such discouragement is indeed given in the text, and in a vast number of other passages in the Bible, being rightly understood; for men are every where in scripture represented as wholly dependent on God for the effectual influences of the Holy Spirit in order to do that which is necessary to be done by them for their salvation.

But to him who feels his own moral depravity and utter insufficiency to will and do any thing by which he may be saved, without the powerful operations of God to work in him to will to do it, this doctrine will 207open the only ground of hope and encouragement to do or attempt to do any thing. If a child or any person were called to do some great thing, to which he knew he was wholly unequal, being utterly insufficient to such a work of himself, he would not have any courage to attempt it, until he knew that one stood by him who was able and promised to give him all necessary assistance, if he would rely wholly on him for it; but this would give him sufficient encouragement to engage in the work with hope of success; and would be the only ground of encouragement and hope.

Jesus Christ said to his disciples, “Without me ye can do nothing.” Surely he did not say this to discourage them and lead them to sit still and do nothing; but to encourage them to trust in him, and to engage in the work assigned to them with alacrity, courage, and hope. The apostle Paul knew that he was what he was by the grace of God, working mightily and effectually in him both to will and to do; that he had no sufficiency of himself for any good thing, but that all his sufficiency was of God; that without the powerful assistance of Christ he could do nothing. Did this discourage him, from attempting to do any thing? No; directly the contrary: from this he took his sole encouragement, and was animated to pursue his work with activity and diligence, and laboured more than all the other apostles, knowing that, through Christ who strengthened him, he could do all things.

Thus it appears not only that the objection under consideration is altogether without any ground or reason, but that it is made against a passage of scripture which, according to the explanation which has been given, affords the only ground of hope to sinners, and gives sufficient and the only encouragement to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; and which does contain a complete answer to the objection, and that it is as direct, great and mischievous a perversion and abuse of the text, as can be imagined. Let it therefore be rejected by all with abhorrence, and silenced forever.


3. The objection which has been made, that this doctrine of man’s dependence on the powerful operation of God for every virtuous and holy act of will, so that it is really produced by him, and could not exist did not God work in him both to will and to do, is inconsistent with human liberty, and makes man a mere machine, who is acted upon in all he wills and does, is really answered and refuted in the words themselves, as they have been explained.

Human liberty consists in willing and doing, or in acting voluntarily. To act freely, and to act voluntarily, are synonimous terms, meaning the same thing; and it is impossible to exercise or conceive of any other real liberty than this. All the liberty of any moral agent consists in acting voluntarily. There is no other liberty in nature possible. Therefore, liberty does not consist in any thing which takes place before the actual exertion of willing; man does not, he cannot, exercise freedom antecedent to his acting voluntarily, or when he ceases to will and to do. Therefore, when God worketh in men to will and do what otherwise they would not will and do, their liberty is so far from being obstructed by this, that it is promoted, and the consequence is, their actually willing and doing, and, consequently exercising all the liberty of which any creature is or can be made capable. How groundless and unreasonable then is this objection! It amounts to this, that man cannot be free in that which is the only exercise of liberty, because he never would have acted thus freely in that instance, did not God by working in him, induce him to exercise all the freedom of which he is capable in actually willing and doing.

It is evident that many puzzle and bewilder themselves about human liberty, and think many facts and doctrines contained in the Bible to be inconsistent with liberty; or at least confess themselves unable to conceive how they can be consistent with it, because they have never attended so much to the nature of human liberty as to be able to determine precisely in what it does consist, and 209 imagine it consists in something of which they have no clear and consistent idea, and which is really impossible, and never did or can exist. If they would carefully consult their own feelings to find what that is which they feel and exercise when they consider themselves perfectly free in what they do, they would find that when they acted voluntarily or of choice, and did as they pleased, they acted freely, and possessed all the freedom they could desire, or have any consistent conception of; therefore, that though God work in them to will and to do, or whatever were the previous cause of their willing and acting as they did, yet they were perfectly free in their choice and conduct; and that it was as much their own will and choice, as it could be on any supposition whatever, and they themselves wholly accountable for what they will and do.

This passage therefore is so far from being inconsistent with human liberty, that it supposes and asserts that persons have and exercise all the liberty in the practice of morality and religion of which man is capable, and carries in the face of it a complete confutation of the objection under consideration. And let no one imagine he has not all the freedom that is desirable, or that, in the nature of things, can be possessed and exercised, while he feels and knows that he acts voluntarily, or does as he pleases. And if he does both will and do that which is really working out his own salvation, let him ascribe it wholly to the sovereign mercy of God, who worketh in him thus to will and do of his good pleasure.

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