The Commencement and Progress
of Religion in the Soul
William Nicholson, 1862
"Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!" Philippians 1:6
"The Gospel is the power of God to salvation." It changes the state of the sinner — giving him the pardon, the liberty, and the joys of the Gospel.
It changes the disposition also — substituting in his soul, the fruits of the Spirit for the lusts of the flesh.
This was especially the case with the Church at Philippi. A good work had been begun in their souls, which they exemplified in their conduct. To the Apostle Paul they were remarkably affectionate. They sustained him while first preaching the Gospel at Macedonia, when no other church contributed to the same benevolent object. The same noble course they adopted twice, while he was laboring in Thessalonica, ch. 4:15, 16; again while at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 11:9; when a prisoner at Rome, they sent Epaphroditus with a present, lest he should suffer want in his bonds.
Paul sent this Epistle back by him. It is remarkable that this is the only Epistle in which no censure is either expressed or implied against any of the members.
I. The Work of Grace in the Soul:"That he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!"
The verse may be read a good work among you, referring to the planting of the Church among them. He who has planted Christianity in the world will preserve it as long as the world stands. Christ will maintain the Church until the mystery of God shall be finished, and the mystical body completed. He has built that Church upon a rock, and the gates of Hell shall never prevail over it.
But the language may be more properly applied to individuals who have Christ formed in the heart, the hope of glory.
1. Grace in the heart, is called "work." This word has a great fullness of meaning. It implies operation, and labor, and in a spiritual sense, great difficulty.
Redemption is called God's work, John 9:4. Faith is called the work of God, John 6:29; faith is called a work which is to be carried on with power, 2 Thessalonians 1:11. Salvation is to be worked out, Philippians 2:12, with fear and trembling. All Christian duties are comprehended in this description, "The work of the Lord," 1 Corinthians 15:58.
This work of salvation refers to the following:
(1.) To the work of conviction. Like those on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:37; or like the Jailor, Acts 16:30. The gospel truth . . .
arrests the attention,
rouses the conscience,
convinces the judgment, and
deeply pierces the soul with conviction of guilt and ruin!
(2.) The work of enlightenment. By this, conviction is matured. Light comes from the Word and from the Spirit — and irradiates the dark chambers of the soul. By this spiritual enlightenment . . .
the nature and evil of sin are understood;
the guilt and curse of sin are felt; and
the sinner is overwhelmed with a view of his total helplessness.
He is also enlightened respecting the ability, fitness, willingness, and freeness of salvation — in the sufferings, death, resurrection, and advocacy of Jesus Christ.
(3.) The work of gracious justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Pardon of sin — adoption — all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, etc.
(4.) The work of regeneration. A new creation — a new heart. All the powers of the soul refined and sublimated by the power of the Spirit . . .
the heart is now soft,
the conscience is now pliant,
the affections are now spiritual,
the world and its pleasures, sin and its inventions, are now hated!
"But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life!" Romans 6:22
(5.) The work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope, 1 Thessalonians 1:3. As long as the Christian lives, he lives by faith, Galatians 2:20. The love of Christ constrains him to every good work. Hope anticipates the heavenly inheritance. The whole divine operation beautifully stated in Romans 5:1-5.
2. It is an INTERNAL work. "begun a good work in you." It has to do with the soul. It is more than having . . .
a religious creed,
a system of religious notions,
mere profession of gospel doctrines,
attention to ceremonial observances.
Luke 17:21; Matthew 5:20; Romans 2:28, 29.
3. It is a GOOD work. "begun a good work." The world and Satan represent religion as a bad thing, as tending to make men melancholy, etc. But what says . . .
the holy God,
and the Bible,
and true Christians,
in a dying hour?
Well may true religion in the soul be called a good work — for it makes good the heart, the mind, the speech, the life, etc. It is the living source and vital principle from which all good works proceed and flow. The grace of God in the heart . . .
is the root of all true holiness in the life,
makes us like God,
fits us for the enjoyment of God,
yields us rich consolation in adversity, afflictions, and death,
sends forth a revenue of good to a dark world,
is the pledge of good things to come,
leads to the possession of heavenly and eternal good!
4. It is a DIVINE work. "He who has begun." It is of God's beginning. We could not begin it ourselves, for we are by nature "dead in trespasses and sins!" What can dead men do towards raising themselves to life? It is God who quickens those who are dead in sin, slaves of the devil, and by nature children of wrath! Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13. Is this good work begun in you?
Remember, salvation is all of grace! "So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow!" 1 Corinthians 3:7. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast!" Ephesians 2:8-9
II. The Certainty of its Consummation:"Being confident," etc. Observe:
1. The work of grace is but begun and carried on in this life — it is not finished here — it is not perfect here. As long as we are in this imperfect state, there is still something more to be done. We shall always find cause to go forward, to grow, to increase, to abound more and more. Hence religion is progressive in its nature . . .
like sunlight increasing until noon,
like the erection of a building,
like the growth of a child.
2. God will perform this work, or carry it on until the day of Jesus Christ. If he did not undertake the carrying on, and finishing if — it would lie forever unfinished. He who began it — must perform and finish it.
It is carrying on the work in a soul which . . .
was fallen and dead in sin,
is surrounded by potent enemies and dangers,
is helpless to do any spiritual good,
is liable to despond and to be overwhelmed with despair.
And what is the END of this great work? It is infinite glory. Therefore, to carry on an infinite work, requires God's infinite power and love.
It is certain that he will do this. "Being confident." It is evident from the following considerations that he will finish and crown the work of his own hands; "as for God, his work is perfect."
(1.) From its actual commencement. "He has begun a good work."
Does he plant — and then destroy?
Does he build — and then pull down?
Does he give life — and then cause death?
"All whom My Father gives to, Me will come to Me; and the one who comes to Me, I will most certainly not cast out!" John 6:37
(2.) His own gracious purpose. "Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am!" John 17:24. Ephesians 1:4, 5.
Hence his gracious design. "The Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father!" Galatians 1:3-4. Hence the prayers of Christ that his people might be kept from the evil of the world, and preserved to life everlasting. John 17.
(3.) His infinite love to them. "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for her." "I lay down my life for my sheep." Will he not therefore carry it on?
(4.) His promises, of care, support, guidance, until death.
(5.) His faithfulness. "Faithful is he who has promised — and he will bring it to pass."
(6.) He has carried the work on in millions of souls. From Adam until now. In the patriarchal, prophetic, apostolic age, and since — he has performed this work. Look up to Heaven, and see! "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands!" Revelation 7:9.
Lastly. The work of religion in the heart will never be perfect until the day of Jesus Christ — the day of his appearance, when he shall come to judge the world, and finish the great work of salvation. Then "He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him!" Hebrews 9:28. That is, to consummate the salvation of all his people.
1. Is the good work begun in you?
2. Confide in Divine operations for the successful outcome of that good work in your heart.
3. Frequently think of that glorious consummation, when you shall be without sin, eternally in the presence of God!