WORKING OUT OUR SALVATION
By D. M. PANTON
One mighty text is a shining example
of the double-edged Sword of the Spirit.
For inspiration is a single blade which can cut in completely opposite
directions; and so two schools of thought shelter under this texts balanced clauses:
two schools of thought that are sharply opposed; and each seems to imagine that
the clause on which it fastens has annihilated the clause which it
opposes. But this is not so. The two clauses are twain pillars on the
threshold of the
But first we need to define carefully what Scripture means by salvation. Salvation is a term which, as used in the New Testament, is immensely more comprehensive than our common use of it, and it covers mans total redemption. Salvation, as Calvin says, is taken to mean the entire course of our calling, and includes all things by which God accomplishes our perfection. Scripture says, ye are saved (Eph. 2: 8); we are [being] saved (Rom. 8: 24); and we shall be saved (Rom. 5: 9) in a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1: 5). For it is obvious that Gods complete work covers (1) a past pardon and re-creation; (2) a present deliverance from the dominion of sin; and (3) a future redemption of body and environment: or, as we may summarize them justification, sanctification, and resurrection.
Now it is obvious, by the terms he
uses, that Paul assumes the first, or fundamental, salvation as already
past. For he addresses his words to all the saints in Christ Jesus (Phil. 1: 1), who have been made saints by being
saved; and it is to them that he says work out
carry through, completely finish your own
salvation the salvation which you already possess, and which you must
work out for yourselves; for it is God who worketh IN YOU! - as
souls indwelt of the Holy Ghost. God
works from without the unbeliever, never from within: therefore Paul, speaking
to the whole
So now, with a cleared platform, we confront JACHIN.
Work out - as though the solitary worker was yourself your own salvation - the present and the future deliverance which turn upon your own action with fear - towards God and trembling - towards yourself. The words speak of holy anxiety, overmastering conscientiousness, all-absorbing sense of responsibility (J. Hutchison, D.D.). That is, mere passivity is never a doctrine of God. Even our original salvation, a work absolutely finished before we touch it, has to be actively - sometimes urgently or even passionately - seized; I never knew a lazy man saved in my life, says Mr. Moody; and it ushers us at once into an activity that is to cease only with death. The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and MEN OF VIOLENCE take it by force (Matt. 11: 12). So Paul, once again embodying all Christian experience in himself, says:- All run, but one receiveth the prize: even SO RUN, that ye may attain. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly: I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be disapproved (1 Cor. 9: 24). All the self-effort, all the self-mastery are locked up in one breast - my own, born of a great fear; for the runner who has lost the tremor has probably lost the race. And yet the current laid along the trembling wire is God.
For now we confront BOAZ; and the revelation is overwhelming. For it is God which worketh in you; energizes, works mightily, works effectually; and He works inside your personality. The Greek, by dropping the article and putting the word God first, casts the whole emphasis on the Godhead: it is DEITY which worketh in you: over against the sore difficulties which rightly make us tremble our discouragements, our depressions, our slothfulness, our falls, our despair - Paul draws the veil from the far more gigantic power latent within. The engine that throbs within, like the huge electric drill used to break up concrete blocks as it is God quivers with the enormousness of its own power, the intelligent force within us that unshackles our will, so that we may will good, and energizes our hand, so that we may do good, is God. This revelation, which we take as a commonplace of our theology, is simply overwhelming in its immensity; for it means that, within the limits of our personality and destiny, nothing is impossible to us that is possible to God.
Once more, and finally, Paul sinks still deeper in this fathomless revelation. It is God which worketh in us both to will and to do - both the resolution and the performance: to will, the whole realm of the soul; to do, the whole realm of the life of His good pleasure - the good pleasure that is pure goodness. This meets the profundities of our psychological need. A patient in a hospital ward is ordered to do a thing, and the thing is not done: the nurse says He wont; the patient says, I cant: the doctor comes in and says something quite different from either He cannot will. God not only empowers the act, but inspires the resolution behind the act. All resolve to do good is from God, and all ability to do good is from God: therefore both the vision of the ideal, and the ability to achieve it, are actually in us, in the person of God resident in the soul. God is where thought starts, and where the will resolves, and where love is born, and where Christ is formed in the fountains of life. An epitaph on a Christian workers grave runs thus:- She hath done what she couldnt.
So then in this double-barrelled truth we get an extraordinary example of the balance of opposed truths making Truth, and a revelation, in itself, of incalculable power. For the very text which isolates the all-absorbing energy of God as our sole dynamic is also the text, in which salvation is made contingent on our own effort; and conversely, the text of all texts which most categorically asserts that we must work out our own salvation is the text which also reveals that our hidden and only dynamo is God. Our effort without God is an electric wire empty of the electric fluid: God working without us is a powerhouse with a disconnected wire.*
[*The Church in general seems to hold neither truth absorbingly, but half-believes, half-doubts, both: that is, we must work out our salvation but nothing of the first importance is lost if we do not; and God is the great In-worker, but choked channels are of no great consequence.]
Paul finally unveils the golden possible goal of this conjoint working of God and the soul. Do all things - live all your life without murmurings - constant complaint, constant criticism, constant dissatisfaction and disputings : disputing with oneself, that is, intellectual indecisions, indecisive convictions, puzzling doubts; that ye may become* blameless and harmless, children of God WITHOUT BLEMISH. Children of God you already are; but become such children of God as have nothing with which fault can be found (H. A. W. Meyer). You can work out your salvation, says the Apostle, for it is God that worketh in you; for He is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of His glory WITHOUT BLEMISH in exceeding joy (Jude 24).
[* Lange:‑ marks the end, the way, which is a becoming, a process of development.]