Has the Believer to Work Out His Salvation From Beneath the Wrath of God? A Letter

Philippians 2:12  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Deep conviction of sin, and an earnest desire to flee from the wrath to come, is, undoubtedly, a sure sign of the work of the Spirit of God. May it be, if it has not been, the condition of every reader of this paper! " For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." (Rom. 1:1818For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; (Romans 1:18).)
But in the teaching you refer to there is not the thought of what God is to us, or what Christ has done for us, but the principle of good works for salvation, or deliverance from the wrath to come. The atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His resurrection, for our justification, as God's means of our deliverance from the wrath to come, is omitted. This seems almost incredible in these days, when the gospel of the grace of God is preached so fully. One would expect that those who believe this would oppose the gospel wherever fully preached. A system of salvation, deliverance from the wrath of God, by good works, must be opposed to the salvation accomplished by the finished work of Christ. The one is light, the other is darkness. We feel assured many are far beyond these principles. If you saw a house on fire, and several persons in it, asleep, it would be most proper to wake them, and also to place the fire escape to the window. But would you deliver them by the fire escape, or tell them to form a society to work out their own deliverance? Would you tell them to remain in one of the lower rooms, showing their desire to flee from the fire?
Or, if you saw fifty sailors on a wreck, just about to break up on the rocks; and if you had a life-boat ready to take off every man; would you keep that life-boat out of sight, and shout to the poor helpless men, and tell them to remain on the wreck, showing their earnest desire to escape? If they all perished, would you be blameless?
Or, if you heard the thud of an explosion in a pit, containing three hundred men and boys, and you knew that to remain in that pit was certain death; and as there was yet time during which many might be saved, would you hinder the volunteers going down that shaft in the cage to the rescue? Would you say, No, let them remain there, teaching each other how to escape the deadly firedamp? I ask, my dear friend, would you send them a book of instructions, and keep back the cage? No, you would descend with the cage. You would certainly seek to arouse them to their danger, and would you not place them in the cage?
But you point out to us a small part of one text of scripture, on which this doctrine is supposed to rest, for salvation by works: " Work out your own salvation." (Phil. 2:1212Wherefore, 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. (Philippians 2:12).) Bead the whole epistle. Were these persons under wrath, or delivered from it? Were they on the wreck, or in the lifeboat?—in the pit, or in the cage?—in the house on fire, or in the fire escape?
Now, if you will read the very first verse in this epistle, you will see it was sent " to all the saints in Christ Jesus." They were not, therefore, under wrath, neither had they to form a society "to flee from the wrath to come, which they saw continually hanging over their heads." There is no wrath, no condemnation, to them who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:11There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1).) Moreover, the apostle says, " Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:66Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Philippians 1:6).) Thus they were not still under wrath, or in the dark pit of death, and told to work their way out; or in the wreck, and told to work out their deliverance. They were in the cage—nay, drawn out of the pit of darkness and death. They were in the lifeboat; that is, in Christ; and therefore, to say they were still under wrath, would be to say Christ was still under wrath. Do you not shudder at such a thought?
If, then, they were in Christ, they were where He is, in the unclouded presence of God His Father, and their Father. Then they could not be told to work out their salvation in the sense this teaching gives—that is, seeking to flee from the wrath to come. A man cannot be seeking to flee from the fire in a pit, if he is safely placed in the chair sent down to bring him out. His deliverance depends on another power, not on his own good efforts. If the engine breaks down, he is lost.
Nov/ read the context: " 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: for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure." They are then told what they are to do; but is there a thought of working for the salvation of their souls; or to escape the wrath of God, or even to be born again? No; it is, "that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke." Thus have all the sons of God to work out their salvation, blameless, harmless, without rebuke.
Only mark well, this is not that they may be the sons of God, but because they are the sons of God; not that they may get saved from wrath, but because they are in Christ, saved from wrath and all condemnation. Thus the working out of our salvation here means the manifestation of the true christian character by those who have salvation—who are in Christ, who are the sons of God, "without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine [or, shine ye] as lights in the world.' Surely you will see that we must be saved first, and have the Holy Ghost dwelling in us, before we can shine as lights in the world. What light have we, except as the Holy Spirit dwells in us?
We can scarcely tell you how very serious we feel the foundation-error of this teaching to be. Has not Jesus been lifted up on the cross, " that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." And did not God so love the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life? (John 3:14-1614And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:14‑16).) Did not our precious Jesus give " himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father "? (Gal. 1:44Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: (Galatians 1:4).) The gospel, or principle, of this teaching is quite another thing: it is, how we may deliver ourselves, or work out our salvation, in the sense of deliverance from the wrath to come. And thus the grace of Christ, in atoning for our sins, is almost ignored. If salvation by our own works is not the doctrine of scripture, and if the eternal salvation of all believers by the accomplished work of Christ is; then, the sooner this erroneous teaching is given up, the better.
Those who compose the church of God—yes, it is the undoubted privilege of all believers to—give thanks to the Father; and they can say of Jesus, the Son of His love, " In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." " For by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." When God had redeemed Israel, and brought them into the land of Canaan, they did not need to form societies, and make rules, by observing which they might seek to escape the bondage of Egypt. If you have redemption through the blood of Jesus, you do not need to form a society to groan or pray for it. The standing of believers is the exact opposite of those who have the wrath to come hanging over their heads. The gospel of the free, unmerited grace of God has come to them in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. They are " turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come." (See 1 Thess. 1) Thus the one tells you to serve God, so as to flee from the wrath to come; the others serve Him, and wait for Jesus, who has delivered them from the wrath to come.
Awakened sinners truly desire to flee from the wrath to come, to be saved from their sins, But the church of God is described in the written word as " Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son." (Col. 1:12, 1312Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: (Colossians 1:12‑13).) The holy scriptures thus speak of Christians: " Ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." (Col. 2:1010And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: (Colossians 2:10).) Unbelief would keep us in the pit; the believer is out of it. The cage, or chair, had to be sent down to the very bottom, but when once placed in that chair, you are as safe as it is. We speak, dear friend as to the salvation of your soul: practical salvation from the evil of this world, is, as we have seen, another matter. And so, as to the redemption of the poor body, for in that we still groan. (Rom. 8:2323And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:23).) But as to the salvation from wrath, we are just where Christ is.
Did He not once take our place on the cross, beneath the wrath due to our sins? Delivered for our iniquities, did He not meet all the claims of God in righteousness? Oh, what infinite grace—undeserved, free, wondrous favor to us, poor hell-deserving sinners! He was forsaken of God. Oh, that bitter cry! And He must thus suffer. Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Did He not say, "It is finished"? Did He not bow His head in death for you, even you, fellow-believer? Yes, He died for our sins, according to the scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:33For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; (1 Corinthians 15:3).) Do not ignore His dying love, and seek to work out your own deliverance from wrath. As the Substitute, He bore the full wrath due to us. Precious Savior! He thus went to the bottom of the pit. "If one died for all, then all were dead." Oh, what it cost Him to go down as our Substitute beneath the wrath of God against sin; How terrible is sin!
Here comes in that all-important question—Is Jesus, our Substitute, still dead? Is He still under wrath? Then we cannot be saved, for if He, our Substitute, is, we must be as He is. " If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins." (1 Cor. 15:1717And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17).) Yes, if Christ be not risen, we are still under wrath, for He would still be under the condemnation, for us, of death. If He, our Substitute, is under wrath, we must be. It is also true, if we, as believers in Him, are still under wrath and condemnation, then He must be. Thus, whatever lowers the believer's standing lowers His. If this were so, well, then, we might vainly try to deliver ourselves from the wrath to come.
But God has raised Him, our Substitute, from the dead. God has taken Him out of death, and that for our justification; for the very purpose, in view of, being able in righteousness to justify us; believing Him, to account us righteous. Thus faith and hope are not only in what Christ has done for us, in meeting the claims of divine righteousness by His death, but in God. Just as the cage is taken out of the pit of death, so God has taken, raised, Christ out of death, and all believers in Him. And where has God taken Christ, our Representative? He is seated at His own right hand, in the radiance of His glory; and the place that God has given to our Head and Representative—once our Substitute, bearing the wrath due to us—into that same place and standing has God raised us in Him. Is that risen Christ groaning beneath the coming wrath in the highest glory? Then how can we do so? " As he is, so are we in this world." (1 John 4:1717Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:17).)
Why should we doubt the word of God? Oh, the riches of His boundless grace! Did the Father leave the penitent prodigal in a state never getting beyond the wrath to come? There was no wrath to him. The Shepherd had died for the sheep, the Spirit of God had sought and found him. And he was not placed beneath the fear of the wrath to come, but brought into the full joy of the Father's heart and house. No wrath remains for us, all was borne by Jesus. May we rest in the righteousness and infinite love of God. We say righteousness, for God is righteous in thus completely justifying us through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
May all who are the children of God be delivered from this sad human bondage and unbelief. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, C. S.