HAIL & FIRE - a resource for Reformed and Gospel Theology in the works, exhortations, prayers, and apologetics of those who have maintained the Gospel and expounded upon the Scripture as the Eternal Word of God and the sole authority in Christian doctrine.
HAIL & FIRE - a resource for Reformed and Gospel Theology in the works, exhortations, prayers, and apologetics of those who have maintained the Gospel and expounded upon the Scripture as the Eternal Word of God and the sole authority in Christian doctrine.

NOTE: Hail & Fire does not necessarily agree with all the views expressed by the author of this work. "Test all things: hold fast that which is good." 1 Thes 5:21.

READ ONLINE: Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches in the Time of Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory - Hail and Fire


QUOTE: "How necessary it is, that the Word of God, which is the only food of the soul, and that most excellent light that we must walk by, in this our most dangerous pilgrimage, should at all convenient times be preached unto the people"

1562 Preface

Click to Read Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue by William Tyndale - Hail and Fire Book Library

READ ONLINE: The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship by Isaac Watts (hymns and christians songs)

"The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship"

by Isaac Watts

"Who shall inhabit in thy hill, O God of holiness? Whom will the Lord admit to dwell, So near his throne of grace? The man that walks in pious ways, And works with righteous hands; That trusts his Maker's promises, And follows his commands." Psalm 15 (Puritan Hymn)

Click to Read Richard Baxter On Lamentations of the Lost - Hail and Fire Exhortations

Hail & Fire Book Queue - see what works are currently underway to be added to the H&F Online Library - click here

Hail & Fire's Book Queue is a running list of the Christian, Puritan, Reformed and Protestant exhortational works, Catholic and Protestant polemical and apologetical works, bibles, histories, and martyrologies, which are currently being digitized for the Hail & Fire Library. These books will be added to Hail & Fire's free online library and/or as paperback reprints as they become available.

View the Book Queue.

Click to Read Joseph Alleine's An Alarm to the Unconverted Sinners prefixed by an epistle Richard Baxter - Hail and Fire Book Library

ONLINE LIBRARY: Sermons on the Card and Other Discourses by Hugh Latimer, martyr 1555

Click to Read About the life of William Tyndale - Hail and Fire Book Library
"One circumstance appears plain from the Registers of their persecutors, and is well worthy of being noted: that these martyrs do not appear to have held a variety of doctrines and opinions, as the Roman Catholics contend is always the consequence of leaving that communion; their doctrines were uniform; and scarcely one that is not now held by every true Protestant."





"What does the Lord require of you? Is it to make your own peace? He would as soon require you to make a new heaven and a new earth. Is it to keep your own soul? No more than he requires you to keep the sun in its course. His own arm has wrought salvation, and he will secure it. He requires none of your help here; nay, he disdains the thought: you might as well offer to help him to govern the world. But this he requires of you, 'to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God;' and the methods of his grace will enable you to do so."


Click to Read History of England from the fall of Wosley to the death of Elizabeth by James Anthony Froude - Hail and Fire Book Library

Illustration of the Burning of English Bible Translations in 15th century England. READ LOLLARD WRITINGS online


"When they burned the New Testament they pretended a zeal very fervent to maintain only God’s honor, which they said with protestation, was obscured by translation in English, causing much error. But the truth plainly to be said, this was the cause why they were afraid, least laymen should know their iniquity."

A Lollard (1450ad)

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A Proper Dialogue between a Gentleman and Husbandman each complaining to other their miserable calamite, through the ambition of the clergy.

A 15th century Apology written by an English Lollard.


Illustration of the Burning of English Bible Translations in 15th century England. READ LOLLARD WRITINGS online

Click to Read Doctrine on the Scripture by St. John Chrysostom - Hail and Fire

St. John Chrysostom: ON SCRIPTURE

"But some one will say, 'it is to the priests that these charges are given' ... But that the apostle gives the same charge to the laity, hear what he says in another epistle to other than the priesthood: 'Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.'"


READ William Tynale on the Authority of Scripture.


"God careth for his elect; and therefore hath provided them of scripture, to try all things, and to defend them from all false prophets."


READ William Tynale on the Authority of Scripture.


"For we love not God first, to compel him to love again; but he loved us first, and gave his Son for us, that we might see love and love again, saith St John in his first epistle"


Read Martin Luther's Hymn, Lord God Thy Praise We Sing

READ ONLINE: The Marriage Ring: or How to Make a Happy Home, by John Angell James (Christian Marriage Sermon)

READ ONLINE: (1842 Sermon/Book on Christian Marriage)

"The Marriage Ring:
  or READ ONLINE: The Marriage Ring: or How to Make a Happy Home, by John Angell James (Christian Marriage Book) How to Make a Happy Home"

John Angell James

"Intended as a manual for those just entering the marriage state."


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On Godly Marriage:

"The secret of happiness lies folded up in the leaves of the Bible, and is carried in the bosom of Religion. Let the two parties in wedded life be believers in Christ Jesus, and partake themselves of the peace that passeth understanding ... united by love, and sanctified by grace."

READ ONLINE: The Marriage Ring: or How to Make a Happy Home, by John Angell James (Christian Marriage Book)

"To pretend to preach the truth without offending carnal men, is to pretend to be able to do what Jesus Christ could not do."

Thomas Wilson

HOME > Library > Books > Work out your Salvation with Fear & Trembling" (Sermon) by Thomas Sherlock (1755)


"Work out your Salvation with Fear and Trembling"

by Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of London

1755 Edition from
"Several Discources Preached at Temple Church"

Updated with Preface:

Preface by Hail & Fire

While the cause for which the bishop addresses this text and this subject, and the intent and end of his sermon, even all things in it by which he determines to convict the sinner and arouse the true professor of Christ, are worthy and gracious words, yet he does himself succumb to one very unbiblical sentiment, namely, that Christians may lose their salvation, and that, by some act or will of their own. We admit utterly that the Christian church may in general, congregations as a whole and denominations and creeds alike, so embrace worldliness and false doctrine, by pride and hypocrisy, fall altogether from Christ and the grace of the Gospel. Christ warned of this in the letters to the churches in Revelations 2 and 3. This the Gospel speaks of often and describes and warns against; and this is not limited to the church as a whole - it begins in the individual members: in those who stray from the truth of the Gospel, those who wrest and twist the scripture, and those who "are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever" (2 Pet 2:17). They may profess Christ and stand daily among the brethren who profess Christ, but these do not "lose" salvation or grace that they had - for, it is impossible that they had it: "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath," Matt 13:12. Again, we know this from the book of 1 John where is described the nature of those who "have" without having, that is, without lively faith so that they are able to be lead astray and they are able to fall from grace: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." 1 Joh 2:19.

We see that some had truth and when they yet espoused error, for they 'heard' without 'hearing,' as the Galatians who came to profess that their works were the cause of their salvation, they are rebuked: "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith," Gal 5:4-5. Works are not the cause by which God promised to bestow grace upon us - there is no such promise in the scripture; but works - either good or bad - are the evidences of the faith that any man professes, even as the fruit is the evidence of the tree; neither does the fruit come before the tree to bear it up and support it, but the tree bears the fruit and shows the nature of tree that it is. Abraham was not obedient to God so that God rewarded him or was bound to reward his work with grace - for that is not the promise; Abraham obeyed God and did the work of obedience because he believed God and was already an heir of salvation by faith. Faith that is alive cannot but grow and gain more and add to itself and take care and indeed, in season it will bear fruit and show itself alive by works - by the fruit of the lips, by the sacrifice of the self, and by the addition to itself of all those things that were to be added to it - in virtue, in knowledge, in patience. Thus, we are exhorted to give diligence to "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 love," 2 Pet 1:5-7.

We know from the parable of the sower and the seed, which Jesus tells, for he shows not that those who had grace could wither but those who had it not could and would, for without the Spirit the message cannot save. We know then that many who receive the message and hear the words and even profess it in the beginning, are soon withered and choked with cares and with offences. And why? For the very lack of ability to be rooted, to grow up, to receive more, to be established - without which, it is impossible to bear fruit. And so are those who were yet children of the world though they call themselves after Christ: "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Rom 8:8-9.

There are many, we know, upon whom the Words of God fall like rain and the power of God and the works of the Spirit are manifested - so also Judas partook - and that, continually, and yet who bear continually weeds and thorns though the power and the message of the Gospel comes near and even touches them. But of none of these do we say, that they "had" or possessed salvation or were indeed the children of God, for the witness of God is otherwise: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," Joh 1:12-13. And of these, even as many as are "born" of the will of God, and God knows who are his ("the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity," 2 Tim 2:19), none are lost, according to the saying of Christ and according to the power of God: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand," Joh 10:27-29.

It is the work itself that the bishop shows is so necessary to salvation that without it a man may fall from grace and lose his salvation, which is but the evidence of salvation, so that without it, a man never had salvation. Thus, for this cause and for no other - lest we deceive ourselves and lest false teachers offer grace without holiness and some are deceived thereby, the exhortation is continually set before us in the Gospel, and should daily be our care, that is, to make our salvation sure. The work, which is the design of God ("For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" Eph 2:10), is the fruit itself of the seed which falls upon the good ground, which is the proof of the good ground and the result of the seed falling upon it. We cannot say with the bishop that salvation is or may be lost, for the good ground alone can and does both receive the seed and bear fruit in season; neither can we admit the saying which allows a fall from grace as a fall from real and true grace possessed and from the indwelling of the Spirit and the second birth, rather than from the mere hearing of and the influence of the Gospel, for "every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them," Mat 7:17-20.

Because of the nature of the calling of Christ and because of that to which we are called and whereby we are saved, "For we walk by faith, not by sight," 2 Cor 5:7, and we hope for that which we see not, "for we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it," Rom 8:24-25, - because of this, which is the wisdom and the design of God, we are called continually to prove our own selves, assure our own selves, look for the work of grace in the effects of it, that is, in the fruits of it in our own selves - in holiness, in truth, in the law which must be written on our hearts, in the mind of Christ, in discipleship, in love, in virtue, and to rest assured in the work of godliness in our own hearts, without which, though we do great outward works, yet we have no reason and are given no reason at all to hope. For this reason he says: "if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world, " 1 Cor 11:31-32.

The Apostle is consistent and the Gospel is consistent which affirms consistently that the lack of the work, that is, of the fruits and deeds, the evidences of grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, in any man, is, of itself, indication of the nature of the man, so that we know not that faith is alive but that it is dead when it is without those evidences and works; but the works are not of us, but of God in righteousness and in godly living, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Phi 2:13. So then, he in whom the Word of God is implanted, who is saved indeed by "the washing of water by the Word," will, for he is good ground, both begin and grow up in faith, will both will and do, adding to faith those fruits of the Spirit, the indication of his interior grace; and we rest assured in him who called us his children, that we who began in Christ shall end in Christ, for Christ is the author and the finisher of our salvation.

Hear the exhortation but allow, where the dross of human opinion and understanding would attempt to ease the offense of the Gospel, the dross to be skimmed off and we, holding that which is true, bringing our thoughts into conformity with the Gospel, take the exhortation without the human part, that we may have it as a gleening, "Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ," Phi 1:6.

"Work out your Salvation with Fear and Trembling"

by Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of London

P H I L I P P I A N S 2:12-13.

"Work out your own Salvation with Fear and Trembling. For it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good Pleasure."

"'For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.' An argument which may at first sight seem rather to lead to confidence and assurance, than to fear and trembling. For if God be for us, who can be against us? Or what is there to fear, or to tremble at, when we are thus supported and maintained in our spiritual warfare?"
THERE have not, perhaps been any more unhappy disputes in the Christian Church, than those relating to the natural powers of man to work out his own salvation, and those relating to the nature and measure of the grace and assistance promised in the Gospel of Christ. On one side, it is insisted, that virtue and vice owe their being to the freedom and choice of the agent, and lose their name when, they are the effect of force and constraint; and, consequently, that to suppose men to be made righteous by any influence from any other being than themselves, is contrary to reason. And hence it is that some of the advocates for mere human reason, as sufficient to all the purposes of salvation, despise the promises made in the Gospel, of grace and spiritual assistance; and others of them so explain them, as to leave them no meaning at all. On the other side, some zealous asserters of the doctrine of grace, in order to magnify this free gift of God, allow nothing to reason or the natural powers, of men; but think it the highest presumption and the greatest affront offered to the grace of God, to suppose that men can do anything for themselves. It is, in their own way of expression, to make the power of God attendant on the weakness of man, and to make the grace of God the servant and handmaid of human reason. And thus it is agreed on both sides, by those who carry their respective opinions to the greatest length, that either the power of man to work righteousness must exclude the grace of God, or the grace of God must exclude all the effects and endeavors of human reason.

But as inconsistent as they may these things to be, St. Paul, who was better instructed in the principles of the Gospel of Christ than the ancient or the modern teachers of these doctrines can pretend to be, has thought fit to join them together, and has called upon all Christians “to work out their own Salvation,” for this very reason, because God "works in them both to will and to do.” If St. Paul be in the right, God's working with us by his grace is so far from being a reason against working for ourselves, that it is the greatest inducement to it, and lays us under the highest obligation to “give all diligence to make our calling and election sure.”

Let us then consider St. Paul's doctrine, and see what are the natural consequences for a Christian to draw from it.

The words of the text evidently consist of two parts, an exhortation, and an argument by which that exhortation is enforced. The exhortation you have in these words, “Work out your own Salvation with fear and trembling.” The argument to enforce it follows in the next words, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” An argument which may at first sight seem rather to lead to confidence and assurance, than to fear and trembling. For if God be for us, who can be against us? Or what is there to fear, or to tremble at, when we are thus supported and maintained in our spiritual warfare? And the argument is indeed applicable both ways, with respect to different kinds of fear. The disciples of the Gospel have many enemies to encounter with, many temptations to struggle with; they are exposed sometimes to death, often to afflictions and perfections, and almost always to the hatred and contempt of the world. Now with respect to these adversaries, the argument in the text may furnish us with great confidence and assurance, and we may with the Apostle say, “Who shall harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?” For, notwithstanding all the trials you are exposed to, “God is able, to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” But as there is a fear which respects our enemies, and is a fear of being conquered and brought into subjection by them; so likewise is there a fear which respects our friends, and is a fear of losing their favor and assistance; and the more a man is dependent upon his friends, the greater is, and ought to be, his fear of losing their protection: and this fear naturally inspires us with diligence and care to observe and fulfill the commands of our great patrons, to study their humor and inclination, and to conform ourselves to them. And of this fear the Apostle speaks in the text, “Work out your Salvation with fear and trembling.” For it is a work that you are by no means sufficient for of yourselves; and therefore have a care how you forfeit the favor of him upon whom you entirely depend: “Of yourselves ye can do nothing, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do.” That St. Paul intends this sort and kind of fear, may be seen by his own way of reasoning. In the beginning of this chapter, he presses humility upon the Philippians, he warns them against strife and vainglory, and, after arguments, drawn from the example of Christ and the great reward he obtained, to recommend humility to them, as if humility and fear, in the present case, were the same thing, he thus concludes, “Wherefore, my beloved, work out your Salvation with fear and trembling.” If we believe that God works in us both to will and to do, it will make us humble, because we can do nothing without him; for in such a case what have we to be proud of? Weakness and a state of dependence are inconsistent with confidence and presumption: it will make us likewise fear and tremble, fear to displease, and tremble to disobey him from whom cometh our Salvation.

That this fear is the fear of offending God, and losing his favor, is further evident from the next verse, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” Now what fear is it that makes men obey cheerfully without repining, without seeking for excuses to free themselves? Not the fear of punishment; for who grumble more than slaves? Who repine more at their service, or more readily seek and invent pretences to decline the orders of their master? But, where the fear that possesses the heart is the fear of disobliging a kind friend, or a beloved master, or a patron upon whom we depend, there fear gives wings to obedience, and makes a man all ear and no tongue, ready to receive but not dispute the command. The following verse supplies us with the like argument: The Words are these, “That ye may be blameless, and harmless”, or, as the margin reads it, “sincere, the sons of God, without rebuke.” Now then, the fear the Apostle speaks of is the fear of a son, the fear of offending the Father he loves; it is a: fear which makes obedience blameless, and sincere, and without rebuke; which no fear can do, but a fear of offending him we love, and him we depend on. Other fears may make the hands or the feet obedient; but this fear alone reaches the heart, and renders obedience perfect and sincere.

The Christian law indeed, like all other wise laws, is fortified with rewards and punishments; and these rewards and punishments God has proposed to us as motives of obedience, of that obedience which he has promised to accept and reward; and therefore there is no doubt but that those who obey upon these motives, shall for their obedience be rewarded.

But this fear cannot here be meant: for, first, it will not agree with the Apostle's argument for fearing: For surely it is no reason to fear punishment, that God works in us to will and to do; we should have much more reason to fear it if he did not: and this help and assistance of God is our greater comfort and consolation against such fears. Secondly, “to work out his salvation with fear and trembling,” is the duty of every good Christian. Now to fear punishment is a proper restraint upon the evil wills and affections of men, but it is no good man's duty; and yet, to such the Apostle speaks, as we may see in the verse of the text, “Ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence;” and by the character he gives them in the seventh verse of the first chapter, “Both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.” Now to these good Christians he says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling:” this he enjoins them as a thing, not only highly becoming their condition, but as necessary to it. But the fear of punishment can never be necessary to any good man's condition, nor can it ever be made matter of precept or command. For the law is not made to instill the fear of punishment into men’s hearts; nor is it the design of the lawgiver to spread fear and terror into the minds of his people: penalties are added to enforce obedience, and therefore concern not those who are ready and willing to obey. It may be matter of wise admonition to Christians to set before them the danger of disobedience, and to exhort them, with our blessed Lord, to “fear not those who can only kill the body, but after that can do nothing; but to fear him who has power both over body and soul, and can throw them both into hell fire:” but when do you ever find it enjoined, as matter of duty, to be afraid of hell? Is it any part of the good subject's obedience to live in perpetual apprehension of racks and gibbets, because racks and gibbets are provided for murderers and robbers? “Wilt, thou then not be afraid of the power?” says our Apostle, “do that which is good.” So that, to fear the power belongs not to him who does good. God has commanded all men to live righteously, and threatened severe punishment to those who live otherwise; but he has nowhere commanded all men to live in fear of punishment: but the exhortation in the text belongs to all men, it belongs to the most perfect Christians; and therefore the fear in the text is not the fear of punishment, which can neither be matter of command or exhortation, to those who do not lack it, that is, to all good Christians, who from the heart obey the truth. And this may serve to distinguish the fear and trembling mentioned in the text, from the fear which belongs to criminals and slaves; which fear, the Apostle tells us, “perfect love casteth out.”

But since there is a fear and trembling necessary to the working out of our salvation, and which must and ought to rule the affections of the best of men, let us consider more distinctly the nature of this fear. Now the reason why we ought to fear is because God “worketh in us, both to will and to do:” let us examine then how far this argument goes, and that will show us the nature of that fear which is the consequence of it. To will and to do good, are the terms and conditions of our salvation; and therefore, from whence we have the power to will and to do, from thence we have the means of salvation. Now salvation comprehends in it all the good we are capable of enjoying, without which our life is death, and our hope, misery: so that, if we depend upon God to work in us both to will and to do, we depend upon him for all that is, or can be, valuable to man. And further, “God worketh in us, of his own good pleasure:” we have no right or claim to his assistance; freely he gave, and freely he may take away, whenever he pleases. Now consider yourself in this state of dependence, and see what it is you have to fear. All your danger is in losing the favor of God; and therefore, for that too must be all your fear. Now this fear has more of care and solicitude in it, than of terror or amazement: for it is one thing to be afraid of a man, lest he should hurt you, and another thing to be afraid of losing his favor: the first fear is terror, the last is carefulness. So that that the text is parallel to that passage in St. Peter, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” St. Peter, you see, speaks directly of the call and election of Christians; but so far was he from thinking this call and this election to be absolute, that he advises those who have the call and election, to give all diligence to make them sure; plainly teaching us that though God has called and elected us in Christ, yet it depends on our own care to make them effectual to salvation. It is one certain way to forfeit the gifts of God not to make use of them, for why should he bestow his gifts in vain? And therefore it is a great argument for diligence and application that we depend not upon our own strength, but the assistance and power of God. As for things which are entirely in our own power, it may possibly be more for our convenience, and as well for our business, to do them tomorrow as today: but no man will run this hazard when the thing is in his power today, but may be out of his power tomorrow. And this is an argument for immediate care and industry: God works in us when he thinks fit; and therefore he thinks fit you must work too; for his grace will not wait upon your humor, and be ready at your beck: and should you neglect the present opportunity, it may be your last; since you have no security but from his good-will and pleasure; and to play with his offers, and neglect his call, is not the way to obtain them. There is no constant care without constant fear. A man will not be careful to perform what he is not afraid to lose; and therefore, in this case, that which is an argument for care, is an argument for fear likewise.

But, farther, this fear arises from a sense of our own insufficiency, and our dependence upon God: but our insufficiency is no reason why we should be afraid of God. Because I cannot help myself, it is no argument that I must be afraid of him that can: and since God does help our weakness, it is great reason we should love and adore him, but not that we should dread and fear him. So that the fear that arises from hence, is not in the least degree inconsistent with the perfect love of God. For the same reason, that we ought to fear mightily we ought to love entirely, because “God worketh in us both to will and to do, of his good pleasure." That it is of his good pleasure that he assists us, is a great evidence of his love to us, and a great argument for our love to him. Since then the cause of this fear is in ourselves, for it arises from our own weakness and inability; we ourselves, properly speaking, are the only objects of this fear. We cannot be afraid of God, because he loves us and helps us; but we may well be afraid of ourselves, lest, being weak and foolish, as we are, we should not use, as we ought to use, the manifold gifts and graces of God. Now then we are come to that which is indeed the good Christian's fear, his constant fear; and that is, the fear of himself: “Let him that standeth,” says the Apostle, “take heed lest be fall”. There is no man so perfect, but that he ought to carry this fear about him; and where his fear points, there must his care and diligence be applied, that is, to himself still: he must watch his passions and affections, lest any of them break out into open enmity against God: his rebel heart must be guarded, lest it quench the holy flame which God has kindled in it, lest it do despite to the Spirit of God, which comes to dwell and inhabit in it. And this is a just and an holy fear, a fear which is not injurious to the love of God towards us; which carries in it no secret mistrust of his kindness or affection, nor is any blemish to our faith or hope in him: nay, it is a security to them all; it preserves the love of God towards us, as it keeps us from those offences which would alienate his love from us; it preserves our faith and hope, by preserving us from those sins which would destroy them, which would render our condition hopeless, and our faith vain. So likewise are the care and diligence, which proceed from this fear, free from any imputations of arrogance or presumption. We set not up for ourselves, as if, our own arm could save us; but for this very reason we are careful and diligent, because of ourselves we can do nothing: and therefore are we zealous and careful to make use of those powers which God bestows on us. We are always working, but not our own works; but we strive to “abound in the work of the Lord,” as St. Paul expresses it: we hope to be rewarded for our labor, and yet not for our own, but as the same Apostle assures us, “we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.” If we hope, we hope in the Lord; if we fear, we fear ourselves. “Perfect love,” says St. John,” casteth out fear, that is, the fear of him whom we love.” Nor is this fear thus to be cast out the fear of God, for he is on our side; but a man's worst enemies are they of his own household; and therefore we justly fear our own hearts and affections, and over them is all our care, “that we may keep ourselves unspotted from the world.”

From this account of the nature of holy fear, it will be easy to explain what it is to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” God has given us many laws and commands, in obedience to which consists our salvation. He has promised us such degrees of assistance as shall enable us to perform the conditions required of us. To do the will of God, to walk in his laws, is to “work out our salvation.” This to do, under the assistance which God has given us, depends upon ourselves: we can miscarry in no point, but in this which is left to ourselves. Here then all our diligence and care is necessary. We are prone to evil and mischief, and it requires our constant application to secure ourselves from falling under the dominion of lust and wickedness; and therefore we must walk circumspectly, watching and observing ourselves; we must be jealous over our own hearts, for out of them “are the Springs of Life,” as the wise man tells us. This makes the Christian state to be a spiritual warfare; a state of continual care and watchfulness, of fear and suspicion: so that it is no less than constant employment for a man, to walk uprightly with his God. This constant care can come from nothing, but a persuasion that it is necessary in our condition; and he that is well convinced of his own weakness will be perpetually afraid of miscarrying; which fear will keep his diligence awake: so that “to work out our salvation with fear find trembling,” is, with the utmost care and diligence to set ourselves to perform the will and commands of God, to be diligent “to make our calling and election sure.”

There is, in the language made use of to explain that doctrine of grace, something liable to be abused by ignorant or crafty men, we say, that of ourselves we can do nothing; whence they conclude, that we have nothing to do. We say, that it is the grace of God which enables us to do everything; from whence they conclude, that everything must be left to the grace of God, and that we need only work ourselves into a strong persuasion that God is at work for us, and we may sit still ourselves. And this persuasion, which is generally mere enthusiasm, they dignify with the name of Christian faith.

But let us try this language in a common case, and see whether it be so hard to be understood. Suppose a man wanted to move a weight, that required double his strength to move it; would it not be a very proper expression to say, of himself he could do nothing? Or would it follow, that, if he was offered help, he should sit still, and not put his own strength to the work? If a friend came to his assistance, would it not be properly said that his friend enabled him to do what he did? But would it follow that his friend did all and he nothing? I mention this, only to guard men against being misled by mere sounds; and shall proceed now to consider some consequences of the doctrine and exhortation of the Apostle mentioned in the text.

And, first, it is evident, that the Christian state is not a state of security for security is inconsistent with any kind of fear and trembling, and is indeed a condition that does not call even for care or diligence. In a state of security, a man cannot even fear for himself; for, to be sure of salvation, he must be sure of everything that is necessary to it: and therefore he must either be sure that he is to have no part himself in working out his salvation; or, if he is to have any, he must be sure and certain that he shall perform it: either of which excludes all manner of fear and trembling. Much less can he, who is secure of being saved, fear being punished: so that there is no kind of fear left for him; and the Apostle's exhortation will have no meaning in it to such a man. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” With fear of what? Since nothing is left to be afraid of. And yet, to be sure of our salvation has been made by some a necessary sign of regeneration and adoption: and hence has proceeded the doctrine; that grace once received can never be lost: and, if so, those who have received grace can have no reason to fear and tremble. And yet it cannot be denied that the Philippians, to whom the Apostle writes; had received grace: since: from his own testimony we learn, that “they bad obeyed always; that in his bonds, and in the doctrine and confirmation of the Gospel, they had been partakers of his grace.” Grace, then, they had received; what then had they to fear? If grace once received cannot be lost, that us, if grace gives security of salvation. To make then the Apostle consistent with himself, we must affirm, that it is his doctrine that grace may be lost; and that even those, who have made great progress in Gospel obedience, are not secure of their State; but must labor on and work on with fear and trembling, lest they come short of the promises that they have received. And from hence we may comfort and support good Christians, under the many fears and misgivings of mind that attend them in their spiritual warfare. That you fear is no argument of mistrusting God: we have reason to fear for ourselves; will this fear be taken from us, lift we are removed out of this world. Were there any reason to think that security as to our future condition was among gifts of God's Spirit to the true children of Christ, then indeed our fears would be matter of disturbance to us; but, since the best must fear and tremble, why should we disquiet ourselves because we fear for ourselves? Since not only our present condition required it, but it is even part of our security to fear, and to labor with care and diligence, which is the blessed fruit of holy fear. To fear that God will not perform his promises to us, is wicked fear: but to fear that we may fall short of those promises, is a reasonable fear, our present weakness considered; and it is a spur to virtue. And those who would desire this thorn in the flesh to be removed, may be answered, in the Lord’s name, as he answered St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” You are weak, but the Lord is strong, and his strength perfected in weakness: so that if your fear be active and busy, and sets you to work for the thing you are afraid to lose, there is no doubt but that through Christ you shall be enabled to do all things.

Secondly, from hence we may learn what to think of the works of Christians. It is, you see, the Apostle's command, “Work out your salvation.” Now then, works are necessary to salvation; and it matters little in what degree they are necessary, or how they are to be named: if they are, necessary, you must do them; and that is enough to secure the practice of virtue and holiness in the world. And for this reason God works in us, that we may not only will, but do; that is, bring our good inclinations to perfection: For why does God work in us to will and to do, if willing and doing are not necessary to our redemption? And perhaps the good works of Christians may not deserve all the hard words that have so liberally been bestowed on them, if we consider that they are not the works of men, but of God; “for he worketh in us to will and to do:” and therefore, our good works are the fruits of his Spirit; and are holy because they proceed from an holy root, the power of God dwelling in us.

Lastly, hence likewise, we may observe in what manner God works with the faithful: St. Paul makes it an argument for fear and diligence. From whence it is evident, that God does not so work in us, as to exclude our own care and industry; that is, he does not work irresistibly: for, supposing God to work irresistibly, the wit of man cannot make an argument out of it for private care and diligence. If God does everything in us whether we will or no, what is left for us to do? Or what have we to fear and tremble for, when God alone has undertaken the whole care and business of our redemption? The work of the Spirit upon the hearts of the faithful is to actuate and inspire them: but to perform what is good is the business of him who is actuated and inspired. Now it must be allowed, that it is one thing to give a man power to act, another to force him to act. A man's will is not influenced by his own power. He that has ten times the power to do a thing that I have is nevertheless as free to let it alone as I am. And though the grace of God gives us great power and ability to work out our salvation, yet the power to will and to work is no constraint either to will or to work. And in this sense, the grace of God is a great argument for diligence and care: for, if he furnishes us with power, it behooves us to see that we make a right use of it.

In a word then, you have the assistance of God to enable you to work; which is a great reason to love and trust him, since he takes this care of you. Your danger now is only from yourself; it is in your own power, but in no other creature's under heaven, to defeat your hopes. You only can rob yourself of the assistance of God by doing despite to his Holy Spirit, by not obeying when it is in your power so obey. Be careful therefore, my brethren, be watchful over yourselves; and, whilst you have opportunity, “work out your own salvation.”

Read other sermons by Samuel Clarke, Daniel Brevint, John Farquhar, John Flavel, and more.

"And beside this, giving all diligence, 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. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Pet 1:5-11 KJV
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