I. He exhorts them to diligence and seriousness in the Christian course: Work out your own salvation. It is the salvation of our souls (1 Pet. 1:9), and our eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9), and contains deliverance from all the evils sin had brought upon us and exposed us to, and the possession of all good and whatsoever is necessary to our complete and final happiness. Observe, It concerns us above all things to secure the welfare of our souls: whatever becomes of other things, let us take care of our best interests. It is our own salvation, the salvation of our own souls. It is not for us to judge other people; we have enough to do to look to ourselves; and, though we must promote the common salvation (Jude 1:3) as much as we can, yet we must upon no account neglect our own. We are required to work out our salvation, katergazesthe. The word signifies working thoroughly at a thing, and taking true pains. Observe, We must be diligent in the use of all the means which conduce to our salvation. We must not only work at our salvation, by doing something now and then about it; but we must work out our salvation, by doing all that is to be done, and persevering therein to the end. Salvation is the great thing we should mind, and set our hearts upon; and we cannot attain salvation without the utmost care and diligence. He adds, With fear and trembling, that is, with great care and circumspection: “Trembling for fear lest you miscarry and come short. Be careful to do every thing in religion in the best manner, and fear lest under all your advantages you should so much as seem to come short,” Heb. 4:1. Fear is a great guard and preservative from evil.
II. He urges this from the consideration of their readiness always to obey the gospel: “As you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, Phil. 2:12. You have been always willing to comply with every discovery of the will of God; and that in my absence as well as presence. You make it to appear that regard to Christ, and care of your souls, sway more with you than any mode of showing respect whatsoever.” They were not merely awed by the apostle’s presence, but did it even much more in his absence. “And because it is God who worketh in you, do you work out your salvation. Work, for he worketh.” It should encourage us to do our utmost, because our labour shall not be in vain. God is ready to concur with his grace, and assist our faithful endeavours. Observe, Though we must use our utmost endeavours in working out our salvation, yet still we must go forth, and go on, in a dependence upon the grace of God. His grace works in us in a way suitable to our natures, and in concurrence with our endeavours; and the operations of God’s grace in us are so far from excusing, that they are intended to quicken and engage our endeavours. “And work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for he worketh in you.” All our working depends upon his working in us. “Do not trifle with God by neglects and delays, lest you provoke him to withdraw his help, and all your endeavours prove in vain. Work with fear, for he works of his good pleasure.”—To will and to do: he gives the whole ability. It is the grace of God which inclines the will to that which is good: and then enables us to perform it, and to act according to our principles. Thou hast wrought all our works in us, Isa. 26:12. Of his good pleasure. As there is no strength in us, so there is no merit in us. As we cannot act without God’s grace, so we cannot claim it, nor pretend to deserve it. God’s good will to us is the cause of his good work in us; and he is under no engagements to his creatures, but those of his gracious promise.