Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence…
I. THAT GREAT AND IMPORTANT TRUTH WHICH OUGHT NEVER TO BE OUT OF OUR REMEMBRANCE. "It is God that worketh in us," etc., i.e., "It is of His good pleasure," etc. This removes all imagination of merit from man, and gives God the whole glory of His work. The expression means either —
1. "To will," including the whole of inward; "to do," the whole of outward religion.
2. "To will," implying every good desire; "to do," whatever results therefrom, i.e., God worketh all inward and outward holiness, or God breathes every good desire and brings it to good effect. The original seems to favour the latter; but either is destructive of pride.
II. IF GOD WORKETH IN YOU THEN WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION. "Work out" implies the doing of a thing thoroughly; "your own," you must do it or it will be left undone forever.
1. Salvation(1) begins with preventing grace, including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning His will.
(2) Is carried on by convincing grace or repentance, which brings a larger amount of self-knowledge, etc.
(3) Afterwards we experience the proper Christian salvation, whereby through grace we are saved by faith, consisting of two branches. (a) Justification, by which we are saved from the guilt of sin and restored to God's favour, which is instantaneous.
(5) Sanctification, by which we are saved from the power and root of sin and restored to the Divine image, and which begins the moment we are justified, and gradually in creases till the heart is cleansed from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man.
2. How are we to work out this salvation? This is explained by that other passage in which Paul exhorts servants to obey their masters according to the flesh, "with fear and trembling," a proverbial expression! which cannot be under stood literally. For what master could bear, much less require, his servant to stand quaking before him? And the words following utterly exclude this meaning (Ephesians 6:5, etc.). They imply —
(1) That everything be done with the utmost earnestness of spirit, and with all care and diligence, perhaps in reference to the former word "fear."(2) With the utmost speed, punctuality, exactness, referring to "trembling." Transfer this to the working out of our salvation. With the same temper and manner that Christians serve their earthly masters, so let Christians serve their heavenly master.
3. What are the steps in this working?
(1) Cease to do evil — fly from all sin, abstain from every appearance of evil.
(2) Learn to do well — use family and private prayer, search the Scriptures, do good unto all men; and herein "be ye steadfast, unmoveable," etc., and so go on to perfection.
III. WHAT CONNECTION IS THERE BETWEEN THE FORMER AND LATTER PART OF THIS SENTENCE? Is there not a fiat opposition? If God worketh in us, is not our working impracticable and unnecessary? No.
1. God worketh in you, there fore you can work: otherwise it would be impossible. We know that the word is absolutely true, "Without Me ye can do nothing;" but it is equally true that "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me."
2. God worketh in you, therefore you must work. You must be workers together in Him, or He will cease working. "Unto him that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not" — that doth not improve the grace already given — "shall be taken away what he assuredly hath." He will not save us unless we "save ourselves from this untoward generation," unless we labour to "make our calling and election sure."
(J. Wesley, 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.