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ZEALOUS OF GOOD WORKS.
sence, work out your own salvation with fear and treme bling : for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure : q. d. Dearly beloved, I exhort you to labour to be like your Lord and Master ; let the same mind be in
that was in him; behave with meekness and humility toward all men, and let it be seen that you delight in copying the most perfect example. And as Jesus became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross ; know ye, that the great design of this stupendous act of his was, that he might redeem you from all iniquity, and purify you to bimself, a peculiar people,
Be ye therefore, like him, obedient until death; stedfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. In farther speaking to the words, I propose,
I. To shew to whom they were addressed.
III. Consider the necessity of the believer's continuing in his obedience.
I. It is expedient, in the first place, to know to whom these words were spoken ; this should be a first inquiry in all our investigations of divine truth, in order to find out the sense of the sacred writers. The want of a due attention to this maxim, has led many to mistake their meaning : from hence it is that many scripture exhortations are misapplied, and the text among others, which is manifestly spoken to believers; this will appear from the following things :
1. The direction of the epistle, (chap. i. 1.) To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. The direction of a letter gives one man a right to open it rather than
another, and without any regard to its contents, determines whose it is. So in this case. St. Paul carried on a very extensive literary correspond. ence. If any thing in providence prevented his paying a personal visit to the places where he had been successful in preaching the gospel, he generally took care to write to them. This circumstance more immediately gave rise to his several epistles, which are so many religious letters, writ, ten to the churches or to particular persons, on matters of importance. Each letter is directed with the greatest care, the epistle to the Hebrews excepted, which is generally supposed to have been written by this apostle. Now it is from the direction that we judge for whom the contents are designed ; accordingly, we are led to conclude that this epistle to the Philippians was intended by the inspired author for believers, because he directs it to all the saints in Christ Jesus.
2. In confirmation of the above remark, it is necessary to examine the contents of this letter, from the beginning to the text. I might with propriety transcribe the whole preceding part of it, but shall only select a few passages, because they are sufficient for the purpose. Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus. Christ. (chap. i. 6.) Here he expresses his confidence that the good work which had been begun in them would be finished by the same divine agent. To whom could such a passage be addressed, but to professed believers ? He also speaks of their furtherance and joy of faith. (ver. 25.) Sure we are, that such as have no faith can neither expect its furtherance nor experience its joy. He does
not hesitate to tell them, that to them it was given to believe in Christ. (ver. 29.) All which exactly agree with the direction of the epistle. To which I will only add the text; Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in ту
absence. Observe that the apostle styles the persons to whom he writes beloved, an expression only used by him when addressing believers ; accordingly, after the conversion of Onesimus, he wrote a letter to his master Philemon, in which he exhorts him to receive him, not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother BELOVED. He also comiends their course of obedience, both while present with them and in his absence from them; by which it became manifest that the gospel had not come to them in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. I proceed,
II. To inquire into the meaning of the apostle in this exhortation, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
1. I apprehend the apostle cannot mean, that salvation from the guilt and fatal effects of sin was to be wrought out by human endeavours, or that the salvation of a sinner from the wrath to come depends on any thing that he can do. Consider the being that is offended, the law that is violated, the guilt that is contracted, the circumstances of the offender, and the whole tenor of the gospel,
The being whom we have offended is the infinite Jehovah, a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he. To him all our sins are naked, which the eternal holiness of his nature obliges him to view with abhorrence; while his justice, another essential attribute, calls for condign pun.
ishment; and which could never have been im. peached, if he had damned the world of men, as he has the world of apostate angels; because men have violated a law which is infinitely just and reasonable, the requirements and threatenings of which are perfectly equitable. As a murderer is justly condemned to suffer death, so every transgressor of the divine law becomes as justly liable to be punished with everlasting destruction.
Reflect on the nature of his crime, or the guilt that he hath contracted. We judge, in common, of the nature of an offence, by the dignity of him against whom it is committed. Should we admit this rule here, it will follow, that sin has in it in. finite guilt, because committed against an infinite God. Infinite it must be also, seeing an infinite punishment is assigned to the impenitent and unbelieving. As the punishment is, which a most righteous being has determined to inflict, such must be the crime ; otherwise the penalty exceeds the offence, which would be an act of injustice: this no man dare to insinuate of the Judge of all the earth, who ever has done, and ever will do right. That the punishment to be inflicted on sinners will be infinite, is manifest through the whole scriptures. It is said, the worm dieth not, (Mark ix. 44.) the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever, (Rev. xiv. 11.) the wicked shall go into EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT, (Matt. xxv. 46.) In the same verse St. Matthew declares, that the righteous shall go away into life eternal. It is readily granted, that life eternal in this place intends end. less felicity, or is to be taken in a strict and proper sense. Why everlasting punishment, which is an antithesis to it, should not be taken in a like
sense, that is, to import an unlimited duration, no probable reason can be assigned. We find the evangelist makes use of the same word (aura) in the original, to express both the duration of the punishment of the wicked and the happiness of the righteous ; thereby informing us, that the eternity of the one is commensurate with the eter. nity of the other; meaning that it is without end. Seeing, therefore, that a most just God would never inflict a penalty that exceeds the nature of the crime, and has in this case declared that the finally impenitent and unbelieving shall be pun. ished with an infinite punishment, it follows that the guilt of sin is infinite.
Consider the requirement of the law, even perfect obedience. Nothing less will be accepted as a condition of the divine favour, if we are to enter into life upon this principle.
Bear in mind the circumstances of the sinner : he is in a state of moral impotence; destitute of all moral rectitude ; yea, dead in sin.
Thus you find, that an infinite God is offend. ed by the violation of a law, holy, just and good ; that the sinner has thereby contracted infinite guilt, and is reduced to a state of absolute poverty
and wretchedness ; while the law curses every one that continueth not in all the things that are written in the book of it, to do them. What can this poor creature do, in order to work out a salvation from such guilt as this? Can he make atonement for one of the offences that he hath committed? or satisfy divine justice for the violation of the law? Wherewith can the sinner, in such deplorable circumstances, expiate infinite guilt ? Men and angels are unequal to the task;