Your Own Salvation

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).

We were sitting in a room where played a little baby boy; he had just begun to walk and talk, and was putting his new found powers to the test. As he tremblingly ran from one chair to another, we heard him say to himself, "Mind the fender, C — — ." A careful mother had warned him of the danger that lurked just there, and he was now repeating her warning to himself and so working out his own salvation in respect to it.

God has warned us, in His Word, as to where the dangers lie, and as we keep His Word in mind, and are obedient to it, we, too, work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. "Concerning the works of men, by the word of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer" (Ps. 17:4).

But not only are we preserved from falling into the devil's snares by the wholesome fear of them, but also by the attraction of something greater and better than the temptation presents. In ancient Greek mythology we read of the Sirens, beautiful in voice, but malignant in soul. They lived by the sea, and sang their sweetest songs as the ships sailed by in order to lure the mariners to destruction on their treacherous shore. When the Argonauts set sail for Pontus in search of the Golden Fleece, they knew that they must pass this point of danger, and that they might not be turned from their purpose by the seductive songs of the Sirens, they induced Orpheus, the greatest poet and singer of those times, to accompany them.

Every day of that voyage he poured forth his most enchanting strains in the ears of those sailors, so that when they came to the point of danger the Sirens sang in vain; the Argonauts passed them with contempt for the inferior music had no charm for them because of the sweeter strains that filled their ears.

It is thus that God works in His grace. Christ is presented to us in all that wonderful charm that has won our hearts, and with the eye and heart filled with His surpassing beauty, our souls are proof against the false glamour which only attracts to destroy. The same holy Word of God, which warns us of danger around, also unveils for us the excellencies of Christ. Consider them as they are presented to us in this second chapter of Philippians. As we consider it we are compelled to sing —

"Brightness of the eternal glory
  Shall Thy praise unuttered be
Who would hush the heavenly story
  Of the Lamb who came to die.

"Came from Godhead's fullest glory
  Down to Calvary's depth of woe;
Now on high we bow before Thee,
  Streams of praises ceaseless flow!"

The world has nothing to show us or tell us like that wonderful story, and we do not wonder that Paul, who knew the Lord so well, wrote "what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."

Now this passage is often supposed to be an exhortation to work for salvation, but those who so use it do not know the grace of God, nor the supreme excellence of the work of Christ. It is "By grace are ye saved … not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Thus says the Scripture, and it cannot be broken, nor contradict itself. The words were written to those who were already saved, who had within them the new life, nature and power — by the exercise of which they were to be preserved in the path of God's pleasure in obedience to His will. And who can obey the Word of God but those who are His children by grace? Is it not written, "they that in the flesh cannot please God"?

When in the Transvaal we went down into one of the gold mines there, and saw the quartz being worked out from the bowels of the earth; then presently we saw the bars of yellow metal all ready for shipment for the English mint. The gold was there in the mine first of all, but it had to be worked out to be of use in the world and of profit to the owners. So it is with us who believe — there must be exercise, and diligence, and work, so that that which God has placed within us may be worked out for His praise and glory and the blessing of men. But only a gold mine can produce gold, you would work in vain for it in any other mine. And so only the truly saved person can work out salvation.

But there is still a point of greatest importance in this passage, which must not be overlooked; "It is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." We have no power in ourselves naturally, and many Christians are greatly disappointed because this is overlooked. It is God who works in us both the will and the energy. As some mighty electric dynamo supplies the factory with the force needful for the production of that for which it was erected, so God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, works in us His will and way, so that we may follow the Lord wholly, and give pleasure to Him who has bought us at so great a cost. Our place is to obey Him, to yield ourselves to Him alone, having no confidence in the flesh; then shall we be sons of God, blameless and harmless, and only by our obedience to Him can we prove ourselves to be such. And such are sorely needed, for the world is crooked and perverse; darkness and death hold men in their terrible thrall and they need light that can only come from God, and the Word of life.

Good it would be for us if we could see things as Paul saw them when he wrote these words. He saw a stream of death and darkness carrying men further and further from God into a lost eternity, and he also saw the sons of God, rescued from that dread river, delivered from it and standing clear of it casting their light across its dark waters and stretching out to the poor victims in it the Word of life, their only hope. Ah, we need to work out our own salvation, not only that we may be witnesses for God, but witnesses to men, giving them no cause to blame us, but every reason to bless us.