Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence…
Much more in my absence prove to yourselves, prove to all who care to look at you, that you do not depend on me, that you do not hang upon man or angel; but that you hang on God, who brought the Gospel to you, although He brought it on my lips. It was He who brought it, and He has not gone; He worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. "Oh, ye Philippians," he says, "you are at no loss, you are at no disadvantage; true I am not with you, though I fain would be; but God is with you, and He is now working in you." I sometimes think that this verse receives its fullest emphasis by taking it from Paul's mouth and putting it into Christ's. We hear it as coming not from Paul the servant, but from Christ the great Master within the veil as He looks down on us. Oh, how it fits us! We are so apt to say — if He were here, then how our sanctification and our Christian work would get on. If He were here with us! And Christ says to us, to us His Philippians here in London, speaking down from the eternal glory, "Wherefore, My beloved, as ye have always obeyed not as in My presence only, but now much more in My absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for I am working in you both to will and to do of My good pleasure." Christians, we are walking not by sight, but by a spiritual vision of Him who has gone before us, and is drawing us surely and certainly into His own presence. "Not as in My presence only, but now much more in My absence, let there be intensity, let there be individualism; let every man feel that this is his own affair; and while you receive all ministries and all gifts of that kind helpfully and thankfully, rise superior to them all; reach out and forth to Me Myself, your Saviour, your Sanctifier, your All in all." "Your own salvation;" what does that mean? That is a rare word in the Bible; the Bible is not fond of calling anything our own. I must realize that I have in my heart the salvation I am to work out. Let me enhance this thought in your mind, the thought that salvation is made over to us as our own, in a Book which from beginning to end strips us of all real ownership. "This is mine," says a man here, or a man not here, "this is my pile, I scraped it together; I rose early, I sat up late," and as he says it he jerks his money bags or turns over his bank book to the balance. And as we have seen in Glasgow some years ago, in the case of the City of Glasgow Bank, the bank breaks and he is a beggar — he is a beggar! This that he was calling his, even while he clutched it, it left him; for riches take unto themselves wings, and prove to us that that possessive word was foolish; it is disproved by bitter fact. If your wealth was really yours, why did you let it go? "My property," says a man. "See that? See that fine row of buildings? that is mine. These title deeds mine, securely mine," and the next morning he is poking among the black ashes with his stick; his property has gone up in a chariot of fire, and come down in a shower of soot! Oh, how sarcastically the chapter of accidents disputes with us this expression: "My own." How did that happen, if it was really yours? "My child," says a mother, "my own, my firstborn, the latest thing in babies, did you ever see his like? My own," and she draws him to her bosom. I can imagine some mother saying, "Now, preacher, you can surely allow the expression here — My own baby;" No, I dare not; I must be true to God's Word, and true to the facts of life. There is a Power that dares to come in between the babe and the bosom; and that is close work, is it not? "Your own salvation." That thing, if I may so say, for which you had neither right nor claim nor title, handed over to you, and as it is handed over, this word along with it — "Now that is yours." "The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord;" "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life;" "He that believeth hath" — open your arms, man! — "everlasting life." Now, thou black, grim, doubting devil that dost forever whisper thy words in my ear, I will fight thee here. "My own salvation" — mine because it is a gift. Salvation is ours because it is a gift, and from One who will never with. draw it. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." Now let us get on to the command, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." That is what I wanted to get at. You have to be active. God's sovereignty and power evoke human responsibility and activity. You have it, therefore work it out. To use a common illustration: there is a load of bricks here, a load of timber and some slates. That is not a house. No; but there is the making of one, and you can make the house out of it. Now the Lord lays all down at our door; He puts it into our hearts; He comes with the plan and the specification and the material, and says, "Now work them out." The Greek has at its root the idea of energy. Oh! what a pulsing word — energize your own salvation. Now there are just a number of people needing the word "energize." The doctrines are lying on your souls like great unwrought lumps of dough that you have not worked out — I speak to housewives — and no man can feed on dough; it will kill him! Many of you are dyspeptics, feeding on Gospel doctrine that you have not kneaded and fired — and I don't know what — but you understand what I mean! "Work out your own salvation." Get up now, put your feet below you, fling off your coat, turn up your sleeves, and go at this business like the work of a lifetime, and never stop it, this work of saving yourself, if I may be as contradictory as the Bible is. When the Lord comes to me in all the light of His saving grace, He shows me what to do. He brings all with Him that is needed; but I am not to be lazy; I am not to lie back and do nothing. Now you know what to do. You have a bad temper — work out your salvation. You are getting to be a fair pest in the house because of this temper. You are not to go and cuddle up this temper and say, "I am a child of God, though I have a little infirmity." Be saved from your infirmity, oh sweet child of God! Another says, "I do believe that I am saved, but I am inconsistent." Well, save yourself from this inconsistency — work out your own salvation. What would you think of the man who went about with his hands in his pockets whistling and joking, because he had a load of bricks and stones and timber lying all around there; and wanting shelter on a wintry day, he creeps under the bricks and says, "This is my house: here will I dwell." Are not some of us doing so? Why, if you could see your spiritual house as the Lord sees it, you would get in an awful fright. Oh man, work out your own salvation! Now, blessed be God, His great gift will work out. There is a grand "furthiness" — if you don't know that word, so much the worse for you — in the grace which comes from Jesus Christ, which will expand and extend and yield as long as you make demands upon it. There are many gifts we get that have none of this furthiness in them. You have them in your house. The first day that gift came to you — some ornament, it is on the mantelpiece — when it came first it told on you, it told of your friend's kindness, and for a little time there was much in it. But as time went on it did not expand, its gold became dim, and there came some day, some dull, dark day, that you were doleful and needed help, and you stood and looked at that gift, and it utterly failed to do you good. It came to an end. The next question is, How? Here is the modus operandi — "With fear and trembling." "With fear and trembling" — what does it mean? I does not mean that we are to go through life with our knees forever smiting each other because "in such an hour as we think not" we will drop into the pit again. Many take that meaning out of it, and that paralyzes work. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." The cup of salvation is so full, it is so brimming, it is so sweet, that it would be "too sweet to be wholesome;" it would go to the head "and make us reel and stagger, and become unwatchful and hilarious, and defeat its own purpose. But, wherever Christ gives the cup of salvation, He puts in an infusion of these tonic bitters, "fear and trembling," so that Grace may not cloy and clog. These are the bitter herbs with which we eat our Passover. The more freely you take of Christ, the more careful you become in life and conduct. It is like the ballast to the ship. You have seen those yachts of ours, designed by Watson and built by Fyfe — things of beauty, and almost instinct with life. There it is; the sea is sparkling in the sun; there is a splendid, crisp breeze blowing. Watch that squall of wind as it strikes the yacht with its great mass and breadth of canvas that would do for the mainsail of a man-of-war. See what happens! You would expect the very breadth of the sheet is going to spoil all. That squall will strike the sail and the vessel will careen and go the bottom. Not at all: that squall strikes her, and most gracefully she yields to it and heels over on to her very beam end; but look at the cut-water. See how she is tearing through! For deep down there is the keel, and a great weight upon it; in these modern days tons of lead are run along the keel; or, as in America, there is a great centre board sent away down into the water, which gives tremendous leverage; and no matter how the yacht heels over, it holds her steady and prevents disaster. So with religion: spread your sails to the gales of Gospel grace; take Christ in all the fulness of the Father's gift as He is, and the Gospel doctrines will not sink you; you will not grow giddy and light headed, but this fear and trembling will give you rest, weight, grip, ballast, solidity, and you will urge your course forward across these seas of time and sin with splendid speed. It. is just like what you have when a man has been saved who was drowning, and all his kicking and struggling were only hastening it. And when this kicking and struggling were over, some one has reached from above and drawn him out, and there he stands on the solid land, saved. Ah! but it was a narrow shave. Rejoicing, but it is not a hilarious rejoicing, is it? He is not cracking his thumbs and jigging, but he is rejoicing "with trembling." He is altogether saved, and he was so nearly altogether lost. "With fear and trembling." Take another illustration. An eminent French surgeon used to say to his students when they were engaged in difficult and delicate operations, in which coolness and firmness were needed, "Gentlemen, don't be in a hurry, for there's no time to lose." Time to make that incision once and well in the vital place, not time to dash at it with over confidence. Before you have recovered yourself a precious life will have been spilled. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" — no swagger, no bounce, no bravado, no cocksureness, yet every confidence that He who hath begun this good work will carry it on to the perfect day. All confidence in Thee, my God, and none in myself; that is the way in which I do the best work towards God, or my brother man. Only one life, no second chance for evermore; and into this one life, into this one day, we are to crowd, to pack the utmost of holy living in every direction that we possibly can, "with fear and trembling." "For it is God that worketh in you;" but I just wish to recite it before I let you go. You work out, as one has said; for God works in. There is the mainspring, there is the unfailing Source, of all the believer's energy for sanctification, and for personal effort in the Church of Christ to promote His cause. It is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Then let me say at once, we can be holy, we shall be holy, for it is God who worketh in us. Poor drunkard, thou canst give up drink; lustful man, thou canst be clean; for it is God, it is God that worketh in you. Do not be a football of the world, of the flesh, and the devil, for it is God that worketh in you. "Ah! it is true, it is all true; but what can I do?" Now we come back to the Power: "It is God;" and what can He not do if you will only let Him? God is the Source. See how He puts it. It is God that. worketh in you. How? Listen: "both to will and to do." The first thing is to get the will right, and then the deed, don't you see, will follow. Is it not your complaint and mine, that the will is wrong, the will is twisted, the will has been led captive, by the devil? Well, there is an engine — that splendid creation of the engineering faculty of the nineteenth century! But did you ever see an engine which was allowed to drive itself? There is a splendid horse, but did you ever see a blood horse that was allowed to drive itself? Your engine needs a driver, and your horse needs a rider; and your converted man has a God in him, managing him in every direction. There is the engineer; he steps on the foot plate: with one hand he holds the reversing rod, that sends the engine backwards or forwards; with the other hand, he holds the throttle valve, the opening of which lets the steam into the cylinders. So with God: He holds the will and the doing. Thou art managed, splendidly managed. God will drive thee. God will see to thy supplies, and wilt keep up the Divine pressure. Thou shalt be filled unto all the fulness of God.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.