Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence…
I. THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE INFLUENCE IN THE APPLICATION OF REDEMPTION. The exercise of this influence is —
1. Sovereign and free. God's self-existence and independence render it impossible that He should be subject to foreign control, or to any considerations but those that are suggested by His own mind. But His proceedings are not arbitrary or capricious. His reasons are always the wisest, best, and most benevolent.
2. Secret, imperceptible, and only to be discovered by its effect. With what rapidity does He wheel the earth round its axis, and carry it in its annual revolution; and these movements could never have been discovered but by careful observation. When at the approach of spring the fields are arrayed in their beautiful vesture, you cannot see God raising the sap through root and fibre, along stem and branch, and unfolding each bud and blossom. So in salvation. No shout of angelic hosts announces that God has commenced operations; and though we know there is joy in their presence, we can only see the ground of their joy in individual repentance. While the world is stunning us with its noise, and the Christian labourer may be complaining, "Who hath believed our report?" God may be quietly inspiring multitudes to ask, "What must I do?" etc.
3. Mighty. God's system of operations is no languid series of efforts. The same expression is used with reference to the Divine power which raised Christ from the dead, and which binds all things in the universe to work according to the purpose of His own will. This same power is exerted in our recovery.
(1) The obstacles to be surmounted demonstrate this: the mountain of pride and self-righteousness to be laid low; the prejudices to be swept away; the enmity and resistance to be overcome.
(2) So do the changes to be effected; the careless are to be made careful; slaves of sin are to be transformed into children of God. Who, then, can hesitate to apply for this succour, and who can despond who has it?
4. In conformity with the principles of our nature. God always adapts His procedure to the nature of the objects on which He works. You may produce considerable alteration by culture, soil, and climate, but you can never change the distinctive properties of one animal or plant for those of another. So in salvation our faculties remain as they were; but we have new aims, inclinations, purposes, and pursuits.
(1) God does not alter our absolute dependence upon Him as the creatures of His hand. He may increase our obligations; but from the first step in the narrow way to the last it is, "Not I, but the grace of God."(2) God does not interfere with the freedom He has bestowed, and the consequent responsibility under which we are placed. We find that men exercise great influence over our minds not only by mighty considerations and powerful arguments, but by enlisting our sympathies, and enkindling within us their own ardour. Our minds thereby are strengthened, mot enfeebled by the impulse thus given to us. And so God operates with like results.
(3) God does not supersede the use of the powers and faculties He has conferred. He does not take our places or work in our stead. There is no promise that He will pray, repent, etc., for us. He worketh in us, affords His gracious protection and omnipotent aid, not to lull our powers into lethargy, but to stir them up to persevering efforts.
5. The tendency and aim of the Divine influence.
(1) To will refers to those determinations to which the mind cordially comes after a full consideration of its state in the sight of God and of the overtures of mercy made to it. It is implied that these are full and unwavering; for to will is more than to wish. Many good wishes never proceed further; the will contradicts them all.
(2) To do which enables us to reduce determinations to practice. They may be strong and firm, and yet delayed and laid aside and forgotten. It is not enough to be convinced of sin; we must make application for pardon, and trust in Christ's merits. We must not satisfy our minds that Christ's precepts are good; we must run in the path of His commandments.
II. THE DUTY IMPOSED BY THIS DOCTRINE. "Work out your," etc. We have here a summons.
1. To begin in the work. Men say, "Why trouble ourselves; until God stretch forth His hand and break the chain of our sins, it would be useless for us to make the attempt." This is to pervert the grace of God to our sure destruction, and to turn into an argument for indolent indifference the most powerful incentive to exertion. The Bible brings Christ's message to men. It beseeches universal acceptance. With the external message the dispensations of providence have concurred to warn off the folly and peril of delay, and to urge instant acceptance.
2. To carry on the work. It is not enough to begin the course; we must persevere. And there is much to be worked out: love of sin, evil habits have to be extirpated, the love of God to be intensified, closer conformity to our great Pattern to be attained. The consideration that God worketh in you leaves you without excuse for negligence and without ground for despondency.
3. The work is to be carried out with fear and trembling; with the reverence and godly fear which love inspires — "With that man will I dwell who is of a humble and contrite spirit," etc.
(R. Redpath, M. A.)
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.