Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for
it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good

Nothing could be more fundamental to Paul's
conception of salvation than his teaching as to its
relation to "works." He is persistently insistent
that this relation is that of cause rather than of
effect. The "not out of works, but unto good
works," of Ephesians 2:9, 10, sounds the key-
note of his whole teaching. In "good works,"
therefore, according to Paul "salvation" finds its
realization: the very essence of salvation is holi-
ness of life, " sanctification of the spirit." And
equally in "salvation" "good works" find their
only root: and it is only on the ground of the
saving work of God that men may be hopefully
exhorted to good works. As it is pregnantly
stated in the passage from Ephesians we have al-
ready adverted to, God has prepared beforehand
good works, to our walk in which we are intro-
duced by a creative act on His part, in Christ
Jesus (Eph. 2:10). Accordingly Paul's epistles
(as is the whole New Testament), are full of par-
ticular instances of appeals to conduct based on
the inception and working in us of the saving ac-



tivity of God (e.g., 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:13-
15; Rom. 6:2; 2 Cor. 5:14; Col. 1:10; Phil. 1:21;
2:12, 13; 2 Tim. 2:19). Possibly in the words of
our text we meet with the most precise expression
of this appeal. Here the saint is exhorted to
"work out his own salvation" just because "it is
God who is the worker in him of both the willing
and the doing, in pursuance of His good pleasure."
If there is an antinomy involved in this colloca-
tion of duty and motive, it is in this passage cer-
tainly brought to its sharpest point. There are
also many minor matters of interest in the lan-
guage of the passage, which attract us to its study.
Let us try to see briefly just what the Apostle
says in it.

It will be useful to bear in mind from the be-
ginning that the exhortation is addressed not to
sinners but to saints: it is to "the saints in Christ
Jesus" (1:1), that Paul is speaking. That is to
say, this exhortation has reference not to entrance
into Christian life but to the prosecution to its
appropriate goal of a Christian life already entered
into. This is already advertised to us by the
very verb used. Paul does not say simply "work
your salvation," but "work out your salvation" —
employing a compound verb which throws its
emphasis on the end, "bring your salvation to its
completion." It is also involved in the contextual
connection. This exhortation closes a paragraph
which had begun (1:27) with the appeal, "Only


let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of
Christ"; and it closes it with a reversion to the
same dominant thought. These Philippian read-
ers already stood with the Apostle in the fellow-
ship of the gospel : his earnest desire for them was
a complete realization in life of all that the gospel
meant. They had entered upon the race; let
them run it through to the goal. They had in
principle received salvation in believing; let them
work this salvation now completely out in life.
At the opening of the letter Paul had expressed
his confidence that, as God had begun a good work
in them. He would perfect it until the day of Jesus
Christ (1:6). He now exhorts them to strive to
attam the same high end. "Work out your own
salvation," i.e., work it completely out, advance
it to its accomplishment, bring it to its capstone
and crown it with its pinnacles.

Had it not been brought into doubt by some
students of the passage, it would seem a work of
supererogation to pause to assure ourselves that
what Paul has in mind in his exhortation to "work
out salvation" is primarily the attainment of
ethical perfection. The eschatological reference
of "salvation" must not, of course, be obscured.
But neither must it be obscured that the pathway
that leads to the eschatological goal of salvation
is that walk in good works unto which Christians
have been created in Christ Jesus, that "fruitage
of righteousness" which is through Jesus Christ


unto the glory and praise of God, with which the
Apostle longs to see the Philippians filled "against
the day of Christ" (1:10, 11). When he exhorts
his readers at the close of this paragraph "to
work out their own salvation," he obviously has
the same thing in mind which he had at its be-
ginning, when he exhorted them to "let their
manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ";
and the same thing which he explains in the course
of it to include steadfastness in testimony to the
gospel, love to the brethren, humility of mind and
the like Christian virtues. In the acquisition and
cultivation of such graces they would be "working
out their salvation," realizing in life in its ever-
growing completeness what is involved in "sal-
vation" as its essential contents.

The form and language in which the exhortation
is cast are naturally coloured by the situation in
which the writer found himself at the moment
and the condition in which he conceived his
readers to stand. For the Apostle was no ab-
stract essayist, but wrote out of a burning heart,
as a practical man to practical men, eager to meet
the actually existent state of affairs. He had
himself been interrupted in the midst of his work
and cast into prison: he was labouring under deep
anxiety lest his violent removal from the care
of the infant churches should unfavorably affect
their Christian development. He had, there-
fore, already described at considerable length how


his imprisonment had not elsewhere injured the
progress of the gospel (1:12 sq.), and had sought
to separate the Philippians from dependence on
his initiative (1:27). He very naturally reverts
to the same consideration now and makes his
absence from his hearers only a reason for re-
doubled exertions on their part, even hinting, per-
haps, that they should know that, after all, each
man must busy himself with "his own salvation,"
and the help he can obtain from others must be in-
significant. This surely is, in part at least, the
account to give of the emphatic pronoun — "work
out your own salvation" — immediately connected
as it is with the reference to the effect which his
presence or absence should have on their activity :
"not as if (you did so), only because I was pres-
ent, but now much rather because I am absent,
work out your own salvation." It is as much as
to say, that the things that have happened to me
fall out in your case, too, rather for the furtherance
of the gospel : for if you have ever in any measure
depended on me, my very removal should stir
you up to increased effort — for after all it is your
own salvation not my joy that is primarily at
stake for you. It is possible meanwhile that this
emphasis on "your own" may be, in part, due
also to a reference back to the work of Christ so
touchingly portrayed in the immediately preced-
ing context : if Christ was willing to do and suffer
all this for the salvation of others, should not you


be willing to do and suffer in imitation of Him, for
your own salvation? But in any case the main
account of the emphasis thrown on the words
would seem to be found in the reference to his
readers' possible over-dependence on Paul's in-

One of the chief dangers in which the Apostle
had found the Philippians to stand arose from a
tendency among them to pride and high-minded-
ness, or, rather, perhaps, we should say, to party
spirit, and to selfishness (2:1-4). It was, there-
fore, that he was led to devote the early part of
this chapter to urging them to beware of faction
and vainglory and to cultivate lowliness of mind:
and it was on this account that he adduces for
their imitation Christ's great example of self-
humiliation for the good of others (2:5 sq.). Of
course allusion to their most prominent ethical
danger could not be absent from this closing ex-
hortation, in which he sums up his desire for their
ethical perfection. It is natural, therefore, that
the Apostle, after his gracious conciliatory habit,
should pause at the outset to recognize the gen-
eral submissiveness of disposition which his readers
had hitherto shown, in accordance with the ex-
ample of Christ: for the back reference of the
words, "even as ye have always submitted," to
the "becoming submissive even unto death" of
verse 8 is unmistakable. And it is due, doubt-
less, to the same clause that he throws so strong


an emphasis, in the very exhortation itself, on the
spirit in which they were to "work out their own
salvation," namely, "with fear and trembling,"
that is to say, with due recognition of their hum-
ble estate in the sight of that God whose servants
they were, and whose salvation they were now
exhorted to use all diligence in realizing.

We must pause a moment on these words,
"with fear and trembling." For the immense
emphasis that is thrown upon them constitutes
them, as has been convincingly pointed out by E.
Schaeder, the hinge of the passage. The effect of
this emphasis is that Paul does not here exhort his
readers so much to "work out their salvation" as
to work it out specifically "with fear and trem-
bling." What he says in effect is, "Let it be with
fear and trembling that you work out your own
salvation." The whole force of the exhortation,
in fact, accumulates on these words, "with fear
and trembling." It is to the preservation of this
state of mind in the working out of their salva-
tion that the Apostle is really urging his readers.
Now it is undeniable that there seems something
strange in this. Why should the Apostle lay
such stress on "fear and trembling" as the char-
acterizing spirit of the Christian effort.^ Is
Christianity, after all, even more than Judaism,
which Hegel (though mistakenly) called the re-
ligion of fear j)ar excellence, just the religion of
slavish terror — every step in the cultivation of


which is to be driven on by "fear and trembling"?
What becomes then of that fundamental tone
which resounds through every sentence and word
and syllable of this very Epistle to the Philip -
pians — that of "rejoice in the Lord" (3:1)? What
harmony can exist between the two exhortations:
"Let it be specifically with fear and trembling
that ye work out your own salvation," and "Re-
joice in the Lord always; again I will say. Re-
joice" (4:4)? What union can there be between
such carking anxiety and abounding joy, as twin
states of heart characterizing the entire Christian
walk? It is certainly puzzling to find the Apostle
throwing the stress of his exhortation on these
words; and it deserves our most careful scrutiny.
This puzzle is only increased when we observe,
as we must observe at once on reading the ex-
hortation itself — that is, the twelfth verse — in its
context, that Paul's purpose is obviously to en-
courage not to frighten his readers, to enhearten
not to dishearten them in their Christian walk.
WTien we consider the inducements which he
brings to bear on them to give force to his exhor-
tation, we cannot believe that its nerve is fear
lest they should after all not attain the end,
but rather assurance that the end shall be cer-
tainly gained. For Paul places this exhortation
between the two most powerful encouragements
that could possibly be brought to bear upon a
Christian's conduct — the example of Christ and


the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. ''So then, my
beloved," he says, in introducing the exhortation.
And this "so then" looks back upon and takes
hold upon that marvellous exposition of the self-
abnegation of Christ and His consequent great
reward, which the Apostle had given in verses
5-11. "So then" — seeing then that you have
this great example so plainly and so powerfully
set before you, in imitation of it and inspired by
its great lesson — do you "work out your own sal-
vation." This exhortation is, to be sure, broad-
ened beyond the specific application of the pre-
mise; the particular exemplary act adduced from
Christ's great transaction is His self-abnegation,
"accounting others better than Himself"; and
the exhortation to the Philippians to "work out
their own salvation" includes more than a rec-
ommendation of self-abnegation. The logical
nexus, of course, lies in the fact that the special
fault of the Philippians, fresh in the Apostle's
mmd as requiring eradication, as they advanced
toward Christian perfection, was precisely that
high-mindedness which was slow to look on the
things of others as well as on their own things; and
the special virtues they needed to cultivate in
completing their salvation were just those vir-
tues of self-abnegation to which the example of
Christ would inspire them. Hence the fitness of
this example to their case. But there seems no
fitness in it to ground a specific appeal to "fear


and trembling" as the proper state of mind in
which they should prosecute their working out of
their own salvation. Awe, reverence, humility,
yes: these would be suitable frames of feeling
for him who would work under the inspiration of
such an example. But fear and trembling, — anx-
ious dread lest failure after all should be the
end of endeavour, — how could the example of
Christ's great act of humiliation, issuing in so
tremendous a reward, fitly call out such a state
of mind?

The case is similar with the support which the
Apostle brings to his exhortation from the other
side. "Let it be with fear and trembling," says
the Apostle, "that you work out your own salva-
tion, for^^ — and this "for" looks forward to and
takes hold upon the sharpest possible assurance of
divine aid. "For He that worketh in you both
the willing and the doing, in pursuance of His
good pleasure, is none other than God." Surely
this tremendous assertion of the implication of
God Himself in the work he is exhorting his readers
to prosecute, affords no reason why they should
carry on that work in the grip of a dreadful fear
lest they should after all fail. We must not neg-
lect the emphasis that falls on the word "God"
here — second only to that which falls on the words
"with fear and trembling," so that in effect these
two ideas are brought into sharp collocation, and
each enhances the stress thrown on the other.


Nor should we neglect to notice, what has been
well brought out by Kiihl, that Paul is adducing
here a general proposition — one in one form or
another familiar to all readers of his epistles — the
great truth central to his whole system of doc-
trine, that "it is God who in all matters of salva-
tion, is the energizer in men of both the willing
and the doing, in pursuance of His good pleasure."
It is the same great fact that the Apostle planted
at the root of the confidence of his Ephesian read-
ers (1:11), when he traced all the blessings that
had been brought them to the purpose "of Him
who worketh all things after the counsel of His
own will." It is the same great fact that rings
out in the triumphant cry of Romans 8:31 — "If
God be for us, who can be against us." Surely,
when he placed the Almighty Arms beneath them,
the Apostle cannot have intended to instil into
his readers a more poignant sense of the uncer-
tainty of the issue of their labours, and to justify
to them a demand that it shall be especially "in
fear and trembling" — in doubt and terror as to
the result — that they must prosecute their great
task of "working out their own salvation." The
great fact that he adduces is awe-inspiring enough.
How solemnizing the assurance that God works
in us all our good impulses! How fitted to teach
us humility and beget in us a godly fear as we
walk the pathway provided for us ! But how little
fitted to lead us to despair of the result, to live


in dreadful uncertainty as to the outcome! "K
God is for us, who is against us ! "

The context, then, certainly lends no support
to the emphatic words "with fear and trembling,"
if they be taken as an exhortation to an attitude
of doubt and hesitation — to the presentation of a
fear of failure as an incitement to diligence in
labour. On the contrary, the context demands
an encouraging, not a warning, note for the ex-
hortation. This raises the suspicion that we may
have mistaken the sense of Paul in the use of the
phrase "with fear and trembling." And a closer
scrutiny confirms this suspicion. The colloca-
tion of the two words "fear" and "trembling," it
seems, had become something of a set formula
with the Apostle, possibly grounded in the usage
of the two together in such passages of the Sep-
tuagint as Genesis 9 :2, Is. 19 :16; and this formula
seems no longer to have had the value to him of
the two words in combination, but rather to have
come to express little more than the proper rev-
erence due to a superior. For example, in Ephe-
sians 6:5, when the Apostle exhorts servants to
be obedient to their masters "with fear and
trembling," he can scarcely intend to recommend
to servants a spirit of craven fear before their
master's face. Did he not rather wish to com-
mend to them an appropriate recognition of the
distance between master and slave, and the re-
spectful reverence befitting the relation in which


they stood? So in 2 Cor. 7:15, when we are told
that the Corinthians received Titus "with fear
and trembHng," we are surely not to understand
that they received him with a vivid dread lest
they should fall short of winning his favour, but
rather simply that they received him with the
respect and obedience due to his official position
as one set over them in the Lord. Similarly, in
1 Cor. 2:3, the Apostle surely means only to say
that he acted in his work at Corinth with due
respect to his commission and subjection to the
Spirit who accompanied his preaching with His

In a word, it is clear enough that in the phrase
"with fear and trembling," we have to do with a
set formula, which, in the Apostle's mind and
lips, finds its reference to the attitude of depend-
ence, reverence and obedience befitting an in-
ferior, and is, therefore, especially related to the
ideas of submissiveness and subjection. It owes
its place in our present passage obviously to its
correlation with the immediately precedent phrase,
"As ye have always obeyed" (verse 12), which
itself goes back to the obedience of Christ's great
example (verse 8). If Chrysostom, therefore, is
formally wrong in, without more ado, para-
phrasing it by "with humility of spirit," he is not
so far astray as might at first sight be thought in
the substance of the matter. What the Apostle
would seem to say, in effect is just this: "As ye


have always hitherto been submissive, so let it
be with the same submissiveness of spirit that ye
bring your salvation to its completion, seeing
that, as you know, the energizer who works in
you both the willing and the doing is God, in pur-
suance of His good pleasure." It is to reverence,
obedience, humility in their Christian walk in
the consciousness of the same power of God oper-
ating in them, to which he exhorts his readers;
not to terror and dread lest after all their labour
they might yet prove to be castaways. It is not
the difficulty of the task that he is emphasizing;
but the solemnity of it.

It is under the encouragement of these two great
facts, then, that Paul here stirs up his Philippian
readers to the sacred work of advancing in the
Christian walk steadily to the great end — the ex-
ample of Christ and the interior working of God
in their hearts. We have ventured to speak of
the latter as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not mentioned by name. But
it is obviously His indwelling work that is ad-
verted to; and accordingly the seventh chapter of
Romans, with its sequel in the eighth chapter,
really provides an extended commentary on this
passage. The process which is there displayed
to us, as the new power not ourselves making for
righteousness is implanted in the heart, and from
that vantage ground wages its victorious war
against the sin still entrenched in the members.


is here compressed for us into one sharp, crisp
word of declaration. The Christian works out
his own salvation under the energizing of God, to
whose energizing is due every impulse to good that
rises in him, every determination to good which
he frames, every execution of a good purpose
which he carries into effect. And in view of the
great fact that this power within him making for
righteousness is none other than God Himself,
surely the only proper attitude for the Christian
in working out His salvation is one of "fear and
trembling," — of awe and reverence in the presence
of the Holy One, of submission and obedience to
His leading, of dependence and trust on His
guidance. This, in effect, seems to be the Apos-
tle's meaning. It is, in a word, an uncovering of the
sources of sanctification, and a reference of it as to
its origin in every step to God's gracious activities.

We may then perhaps attempt a paraphrase of
the passage. "So, then, my beloved, in view of
Christ's great example of self-abnegation — even
as ye have always obeyed, so now, not as if it were
only because I was present, but much more just
because I am absent, let it be in a spirit of rever-
ent submissiveness that you carry your salvation
to its completion. For remember that He that
effects in you not only the willing but also the
doing, is none other than God Himself. And He
does it in pursuance of His good pleasure." Or
more at large : " Under the inspiration of this great


example that Christ Jesus has set us, an example
of humble submission even down to death, and
of His consequent reward, I may repeat and
strengthen my exhortation to you. I gladly allow
that you have never been failing in submissiveness
of spirit. When I was present with you I saw it
and rejoiced in it. I trust it was not due to my
presence only that you were able to exhibit so
Christlike a disposition. After all, it is not my
pleasure but your own salvation that should pri-
marily engage your thoughts. And if my presence
were, indeed, useful to you, how much more effort
should you make, now that I can no longer be
with you and you are thrown on your own re-
sources. Nay, let me not so speak. You are not
in any case thrown on your own resources. Let it
be with godly awe in your hearts and reverent
fear of mind that you engage in this solemn work.
For it is, you remember, none other than God
Himself who prompts you to the effort, — whose it
is to effect within you both the wish and the per-
formance : and this He does in the prosecution of
His blessed purpose of good towards you. It is
in His hands that you are in this work: it is thus a
holy work — in the prosecution of which you may,
therefore, well put off the sandals from your feet.
In devout submissiveness, then, carry it on, with
all diligence, and depend on no creature's impulse or
help : it is God who in it works in and through you
and so fulfils His gracious will with respect to you."


Phil. 3:9: — "And be found in Him, not having a righteousness
of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is
through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."

"When we attempt to gain an apprehension of
Paul's doctrine of salvation on the ground of an
alien righteousness," remarks Professor George
B. Stevens, "we must bear in mind that Paul was
waging an intense polemic — the great conflict of
his life." The remark is true enough in itself, but
will scarcely warrant Professor Stevens' inference
from it, namely, that we must be careful therefore
not to take Paul's statements in this matter au
pied de la lettre; that we must expect (and will
find) ascertain exaggeration in his language at this
polemic point, a certain one-sidedness in his as-
sertions; and be, therefore, prepared to tone down
the extremity of his statements to more reason-
able proportions. From this warning of Pro-
fessor Stevens' we may, perhaps, learn this much,
however: that Paul's statements at this point are
radical and leave little room for that nice balancing
so dear to the hearts of so-called "moderate"

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Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 18 of 27)