(Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation, Hans Memling about 1485)
Have you been saved? The question has never offended me as I think we all feel the need to greater or lesser degrees for salvation. And it is a question that has always been at the heart of religious controversy...What is salvation? Where does it come from? Who has it? etc...In his sermon, "Working Out Our Own Salvation," Cyrus Bartol takes aim at salvation from a fairly common Boston Unitarian perspective. It comes from his book Discourses of the Christian Life and Spirit (1850.)
"God is the author of salvation, and Christ is the way of salvation; but salvation never can be ours unless we work it out. It is not a thing to be seized in some happy moment...but a work...
"There is a higher working than in outward observance, or even visible conduct. It is a working which includes and enlivens both,-unites both with the heart's faith; making religion neither mere formality, nor mere morality, nor mere spirituality; but binding spirit, morals, and forms in one living whole...But men have preferred any other method of salvation to this divinely commanded one.
"I believe the Spirit of God is as impartial as the breezes of the skies. It is no respecter of persons. There is no favoritism in the court of Heaven...As the sun and rain visit all nature, but it is only where the hand of cultivation has been that the precious grain is reaped, and yet all the labor in the world could no reap a kernel without the sun and rain; so the divine Spirit folds all minds, but the growth is poor without inward industry, though all human struggles could bring forth not one germ of virtue without that Spirit.
"For it is not to be doubted, that all men have moral ideas ever in the ascendant of their actual lives...'Thou art capable of something purer, nobler, infinitely better, than thou has become.' And what are these but the Spirit that must not be quenched,-the Divinity that should not be resisted?
"Is there any exhortation, then, so important as that in the text, 'Work out your own salvation'? Fix these flitting meteors of the mind, as guiding stars, in your soul's firmament. The question of every man's actual salvation lies just here, in his slighting or living up to these higher suggestions...We are made, not holy, but to become holy.
"Here, I suppose, lies the truth in the dispute about native depravity,-not that the All-holy has given us a constitution that is depraved, but one by which we are tempted to depravity; for thus only could our spiritual power be brought forth, and our highest glory consummated."
I invite you, then, as to your highest good and joy, to this inward work of the soul."