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SERMON X X V.
MAN’S ACTIVITY AND DEPENDENCE ILLUSTRATED
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which work
eth in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. - Phil. ii. 12, 13.
Though a perfect harmony runs through all the doctrines of the gospel, yet to discover and point out this harmony, is in many cases a very arduous task to perform. It is extremely difficult to reconcile many truths with each other, which separately and independently considered, are plain and obvious to every person. To escape this difficulty, the preachers of the gospel too often treat some of the most important articles of Christianity in a manner totally disjointed and unconnected. When they consider the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, they slide over the duty of universal obedience to the divine commands. When they treat of the renovation of the heart, they decline inculcating the obligation of sinners to repent and believe the gospel. And when they handle the subject of divine agency upon the hearts of believers, they avoid urging the practice of those virtues and graces which flow from the sanctifying influences of the divine Spirit. But the inspired apostles adopt a different mode of instruction. They represent the doctrines of the gospel in their proper and intimate connection, in order to place them in the most clear and advantageous light. This appears in the words I have read. “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."
Here the apostle lays before us at one view, both human activity and human dependence, and represents them as per
fectly harmonious and consistent. For he considers believers, to whom he is speaking, as being able to act in the most free and voluntary manner, while they are acted upon by the immediate power and energy of the divine Being. It is evident, therefore, that he intended to assert this general truth:
That saints both act and are acted upon by a divine operation, in all their holy and virtuous exercises.
It is the design of the ensuing discourse to make it appear that this sentiment is plainly contained in the word of God; and then to inquire, why it is supposed to be inconsistent and absurd.
The point proposed might be argued from the mere light of nature. It is the dictate of right reason, that no created being is capable of acting independently. Universal and absolute dependence goes into the very idea of a creature; because independence is an attribute of the divine nature which even omnipotence cannot communicate. And since saints are creatures, and creatures too of an inferior order, they can never act otherwise than under the powerful and unremitting energy of the Supreme Being. But not to insist on this argument, I proceed to adduce evidence from scripture, that saints both act and are acted upon by a divine operation, in all their holy and virtuous exercises. Paul tells
us, 66 We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” Solomon uses a similar mode of expression. tions of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” The Church_expresses the same sentiment in her petition to Christ. “ Draw me, we will run after thee." This idea is contained in that divine promise made to Christ : “ Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” David says, " I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” And agreeably to this he prays, “ Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” The apostle, impressed with a sense of his absolute dependence, says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth
, me.” And in another place, he says, “ In God we live, and move, and have our being.”
If we now take a particular view of the several graces and virtues in the exercise of which saints work out their own salvation, we shall find that they always act under the powerful influence of the divine Spirit.
To begin with their first holy exercises, the scripture represents them as acting, and being acted upon, in their regeneration or conversion. This great change is mentioned under a
* The preparavariety of figures and modes of expression. It is called the circumcision of the heart, and as such ascribed both to God and the creature. On the creature's part, it is commanded as a duty. “ Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.” But as the act of God, it is promised as a blessing. “ The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." The making of a new heart is both enjoined as a duty, and promised as a favor. The injunction is, “ Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit.” But the promise is, “ Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean." “ A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes." The spiritual resurrection is represented as the work of God and the duty of the sinner. The apostle considers it as the work of God, when he tells believers, “ You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." But God commands the sinner to arise from the spiritual death. “ Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." The new creation is represented as the work of man as well as the work of God. In one place, the apostle speaking in the name of christians, says, а
« We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” But in another place, he enjoins this new creation as a duty. “ That ye put off concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” The turning from sin unto God is sometimes represented as arising from a divine operation, and sometimes as owing to human exertion. As a divine operation, David prays for it repeatedly in the eightieth Psalm.
66 Turn us' again, O God, and cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.” “ Turn us again, o God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved." Ephraim prays in the same language for himself. “ Turn thou me, and I shall be turned.” And the prophet Jeremiah prays,
6 Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned.” But God expressly requires sinners to return unto him, of their own accord. By Isaiah he says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the anrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for
he will abundantly pardon.” And by Ezekiel he urges the same duty upon sinners. “ Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel ? "
Love, the first and noblest of all the christian graces, is required as a duty, and yet placed among the gifts of the Spirit. David calls upon good men to love God. “O love the Lord,
. all ye his saints." And he resolves to exercise the same affection. “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.” But the apostle tells us that love is of God, and is the production of his Spirit. * Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us." Repentance, another holy exercise, is represented as the gift of God and the act of of the penitent. Timothy is directed in meekness to instruct those that oppose theinselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance, to the acknowledging of the truth. Yet the apostle tells us, “ God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." Christ declares, " He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Notwithstanding this we are told, “ Him hath God exalted to give repentance and forgiveness of sins." Though faith in Christ be required, yet it is represented as the effect of a divine operation. When the Jews demanded of Christ, “ What shall we do that we may work the work of God ? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” But the apostle tells believers, “ By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God;" and sug. gests the same idea, by reminding them that they were risen with Christ, through the faith of the operation of God. Coming to Christ, which is indeed the same as believing in him, is represented as the exercise of the sinner, while under the influence of a divine operation. “No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him.” Thus saints are represented as actually loving, repenting, believing and coming to Christ, under the agency of the divine Spirit.
And we must farther observe, that they are represented as exercising not only these, but all other graces and virtues, in the same manner. It is said, “ The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meek
Nevertheless, we find these fruits of the Spirit required as christian duties. “Giving all diligence," says the apostle Peter, “ add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity.” And the apostle Paul gives a similar exhortation to christians. " Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever
things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” In a word, good men are represented as turning from sin unto God; as making themselves a new heart; as raising themselves from spiritual death ; as exercising love, repentance, faith, submission, and every other christian grace; as persevering in holiness,
, enduring unto the end, and being faithful unto death ; and yet they are represented as doing all those things by virtue of a divine influence upon their minds. God is represented as beginning the good work in them; as carrying it on until the day of Jesus Christ; and as keeping them by his mighty power through faith unto salvation. All this is fully comprised in the text. “ 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.”
Finally, the doctrine under consideration is confirmed by all the commands in the Bible, and by the prayers of all good men. Every command which God has given to men, plainly supposes, that they are moral agents, who are capable of acting freely in the view of motives; because a command could have no more influence, or lay no more obligation upon men, than upon stocks or stones, were men incapable of seeing the nature, and of acting under the power, of motives. As all the commands in the Bible, therefore, require men to put forth some motion, some exercise, some exertion, either of body or of mind, or of both; so they necessarily suppose that men are, in the strictest sense of the word, moral agents, and capable of yielding active, voluntary, rational obedience to the will of God. But yet the prayers of all good men equally suppose that they must be acted upon by a divine operation, in all their virtuous exercises and actions. For when they pray for themselves, that God would give them joy, peace, love, faith, submission, or strengthen and increase these and all other christian graces ; their prayers presuppose the necessity of a divine operation upon their hearts, in all their gracious exercises and exertions. And when they pray for the world in general, that God would suppress vice and irreligion every where, convince and convert sinners, comfort and edify saints, and spread the Redeemer's kingdom through the earth ; their prayers are founded in the belief that God must work in men both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Such clear and abundant evidence the Bible gives us that saints both act, and are acted upon, by a divine operation, in all their holy and virtuous exercises.
But still we find many who consider this scriptural doctrine as a gross absurdity, or at least, as the Gordian knot in die