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.
These words are represented as militating against God’s decree of reprobation, man’s passiveness, and the unfrustrableness of grace in conversion, and the final perseverance of the saints.
1. It is asserted, that "to say God seriously invites, exhorts, and requires all men to work out their salvation, and yet, by his decree of reprobation, hath rendered the event, to most of them, impossible, is to make the gospel of Christ a mockery." Bat it should be observed, that this exhortation is not given to all men, and particularly not to reprobates, but to men already believing and converted, as is elsewhere owned, even to all the saints in Christ Jesus, which were at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons, in whom a good work of grace was begun; to whom it was given both to believe on Christ, and suffer for his sake; who were beloved by the apostle, had always obeyed the Lord, and in whose hearts he was then working both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Now to exhort these, and such as are in the like state and condition, to work out their salvation, who have a principle of spiritual life in them, and have measures of grace and strength given them, answerable to what they are exhorted to, is not to make the gospel of Christ a mockery, since these can never be thought to be reprobates; nor does this contradict the decree of the reprobation of others, which springs from the sovereign and righteous will of God, and which is not, but sin, the cause of man’s damnation.
2. It is asked, "If some physical and irresistible operation were required on God’s part, which makes it necessary for us to will and to do, why are we then commanded to work out our own salvation? for can we act where we are purely passive?" To which I reply, that these words are spoken to men already converted, in whom the work of regeneration was wrought, in which work they were purely passive; though now, having a principle of spiritual life, and under the influences of the grace of God, were capable of being active in working out their own salvation, which is something distinct from conversion and regeneration, and is to be understood, not in such a sense, as though men could procure and obtain spiritual and eternal salvation by their own performances, which is contrary to the Scriptures, which ascribe salvation in whole, and in part, to the free grace of God; contrary to the glory of the divine perfections of wisdom, grace, and righteousness, and inconsistent with the weakness and impotence of believers themselves; besides, the best works of men are imperfect, and, were they perfect, could not be meritorious, since the requisites of merit are wanting in them. Add to this, that salvation is obtained alone by Christ, and is already finished, and not to be wrought out now, either by Christ or believers; and, were it procured by the works of men, the death of Christ would be in vain; boasting in the creature would not be excluded, and men’s obligations to God and Christ would be greatly weakened; and, since this sense of the words is attended with such insuperable difficulties, it can never be the true meaning of them. Let it be observed, that the words may be rendered, work about your salvation, that is, employ yourselves in things which, though not essential to, yet do accompany salvation, and are to be performed by all those who expect it, though not do be expected for the performance of them; such as hearing of the word, submission to gospel ordinances, a discharge of every branch of spiritual and evangelical obedience, for which-the apostle commends them in the beginning of this verse, since they had always obeyed, not only in his presence, but much more in his absence, he exhorts them to go on in a course of cheerful obedience to the close of their days, when they should receive the end of their faith, that which they were aiming at, and looking for, even the salvation of their souls. The Syriac version, if not a strict translation, yet gives the just sense of the words, by rendering them ˆwkyyjd anhlwp wjwlp do the work or business of your lives, that is, your generation work, what God has cut out and appointed for you in this life; do all that with fear and trembling, with all humility, not trusting to your own strength, but depending on the grace of God, who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
3. This exhortation to work out salvation with fear and trembling, being directed to such who were, at present, in a state of favor with God, and in whom God had begun the good work, with others, directed to churches and persons, to fear, lest they should fall away, and finally miscarry, such as Proverbs 23:17, and 28:14, Romans 11:20, Hebrews 4:1, and 12:28, 1 Peter 1:17; are improved into an argument against any absolute decree or promise of God, in favor of the saints’ final perseverance: for it, is said, "What ground of fear can there be, where God hath absolutely decreed to confer this salvation, and stands obliged by promise to afford those means, which will infallibly produce it?" To which I answer:
1. The exhortation to the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, is not to be understood of a slavish fear of hell and damnation, or lest they should fall away and finally miscarry; since this would have been a distrust of the power and faithfulness of God, and so criminal in them. Nor is it reasonable to suppose that the apostle would exhort to such a fear when he himself was confident of this very thing, that he which had begun a good work in them would perform it until the day, of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). Besides, the exhortation would be very oddly formed, if this were the sense of it, work out your salvation with fear of damnation, but as the phrase with fear and trembling always designs, wherever used, so here, modesty and humility, and stands opposed to pride and vain confidence; as in Romans 11:20, Be not high-minded, but fear, which sense perfectly agrees with the apostle’s general design in this chapter, which is to engage the saints to a modest and humble deportment in the whole of their conversation with each other, and in every branch of duty; and which he enforces by the example of Christ, in his incarnation, humiliation, and death; and in imitation of him, urges to a constant and cheerful obedience, with all humility of soul, without dependence on it, or vain-glory in it; but ascribing it wholly to the grace of God, who works in us both to will add to do of his good pleasure.
2. Several of the passages referred to, such as Proverbs 23:17, and Proverbs 28:14, Hebrews 12:28, 1 Peter 1:17, are to be understood not of a fear of apostasy, but of a filial, spiritual and evangelical fear of God; which is a grace of the Spirit of God, a branch of the new covenant, and of considerable moment to secure the saints from a total and final departure from God; I will put my fear into their hearts, says God, that they shall not depart from me (Jer. 32:40).
3. The apostle, in Hebrews 4:1, speaks indeed of a cautionary fear of falling; but yet in that does not exhort the believing Hebrews to fear lest any of them should fall short of entering into rest, as Dr. Whitby cites the words, but lest any of them should seem to come short of it. Now, between coming short and seeming to come short is a great difference; and though there was no danger of their coming short of heaven, yet, inasmuch as through the disagreeableness of conversation, they might seem to others to come short; therefore, for the glory, of God, the honor of the gospel, the credit of religion, and the good of others, it became them to be cautious, wary, and jealous of themselves, and watchful over their conversations, that they gave no occasion to any one to entertain such an opinion of them. Hence it appears that all the reasoning against the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance to the end, founded on these scriptural exhortations, to fear, are vain and impertinent.
 Whitby, p. 76; ed. 2. 75.
 Ibid. p. 295; ed. 2. 288.
 Ibid. p. 294; ed. 2. 287.
 Nos vertimus, operamini circa salutem vestram, kata<>an uJmw~n ujrga>zesqe; imo quamvis sine kata< , dixisset simpliciter, th
an uJmw~n ejrga>zesqe, sensus non esset, salutern, vestram, efficite, sed idem quam jam nune dedimus, sicut 1 Corinthians 9:13; Revelation 18:17, and John. 6:27. Ita et hic ejrga>zesqe aut katerga>zesqe th an , non est salutem efficere, sed circa eam operari at laborare, ea tractare, quae ad salutem facient. De Dieu, in loc.
 Whitby, p. 424-426, 480; ed. 2. 413-415, 459.