I'm in the last four volumes of J. N. Darby's Collected Writings. The end is close enough to see, so I've been really motivated to keep up the pace of my reading. But there's a danger to simply dashing through a book to finish it: go to fast and you might as well not read it.
All moralizing aside, Volume 31 has really been getting my attention. Don't get me wrong: at this point it's mainly repetition. There's bound to be, in that many volumes: most of what I'm reading now he said at some point in the previous 30 books. Still...
One really striking paper is "On Sealing with the Holy Ghost". This one gets a lot of press as a result of Darby's falling out with F. W. Grant on the subject, but there's a lot of meat in it that's easy to overlook.
I'm not sure whether I agree with Darby or Grant on the subject of sealing. Darby's writing is pretty convincing, but I'm not completely comfortable with his assertion that the man delivered at the end of Romans 7 can't fall back into it. But that's not really what I want to talk about right now.
To me the far more interesting and important thing discussed in this paper is Darby's assertion of complete redemption:
Bad teaching, which puts being born again (a vital and necessary truth, and examining whether we be in the faith, a very natural thing then, but a mere and entire misinterpretation of Scripture), instead of an accomplished and known redemption by the work of Christ, having led many true hearts away from plain Scripture truth, I add here what Scripture plainly states. If a soul can in truth before God say, Abba, Father, that soul is sealed. If a person really knows that he is in Christ, and Christ in him, he is sealed. If the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the man is sealed. (Rom. 8; Gal. 4; Rom. 13; John 14; Rom. 10.) Other proofs may be given of if, for the whole life of a man is, save particular failures, the evidence of the Spirit of God dwelling in him; but I take the simplest and most immediate evidence in a man's soul purposely and such as are in terms stated in Scripture. Now what hinders the simple acceptance of this truth is, that the full doctrine of redemption is not believed. Forgiveness is looked at as forgiveness of so much past sins,* of sins up to our conversion, what was really Jewish forgiveness, which is contrasted in Scripture with Christian; Heb. 9, 10. What Scripture calls eternal redemption is not believed in. As to Christians in general, what it is to have no more conscience of sins, they cannot tell you, or even of the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputes no sin. No, all their past sins were forgiven when they believed, but sins since? well, they must be sprinkled again, or the present priesthood of Christ on high applies to it, neither of which is in Scripture.
Ask them what it means, when it says that by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified; they cannot tell you: each sin, after its commission, has to find its forgiveness as and when it may; and people are taught that it is a very dangerous doctrine to think otherwise. Now there is an interruption of communion; there is a gracious washing of the feet with water; but when I have believed in Christ's work there is no more imputation of sin, I am perfected as to conscience. We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. He who bore our sins, and put them away long ago, is there. We must not confound the work of the Spirit, which makes me own my faults, and the work of Christ, finished and effectual once and for ever. He bore my sins when I had not committed one of them, and if forgiveness, in the sense of non-imputation, has to be gained now, it would be impossible; for Christ would have to suffer for them as the apostle says, "For then he must often have suffered from the foundation of the world." Hence he who has not the sense of redemption in his soul by faith, and he who really has, are by current teaching put on the same footing, though one has the Spirit of adoption, and the other has not — one looks for mercy, not yet obtained by faith, and the other, with God, cries Abba, Father; but both are taught to suppose sin imputable alike, and to search if they are children, and the delivered man is thrown back by false teaching under law in Romans 7. If you can really cry, Abba, Father, you are surely sealed; but then no sin can be imputed to you, or Christ is dead in vain. Judaism was, as to that, better than this half Christianity. There, if a man sinned, was a sacrifice, and his sin was forgiven. Here, once, perhaps, pardoned for what was gone before, he has nothing but uncertainty for all that follows. But Christ has obtained eternal redemption, and blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no sin. And the work being complete, and he who is sanctified perfected for ever, the worshipper once purged has no more conscience of sins, and Christ is sitting down on the Father's throne because all is finished. Of this the Holy Ghost is the witness; being born of God is not.Darby's prose is tortuous and tangled; it requires some parsing.
First, "an accomplished and known redemption by the work of Christ... what Scripture plainly states". The most important point here is that redemption isn't known by subjective self-examination; it's known from Scripture. This is a very important point, and is one of the most significant points of Darby's teaching. Scripture teaches both objective and subjective truth. Justification is objective truth: it's God's declaration that a man is righteous. New birth is subjective truth: it is God's work in a man. Justification--- objective truth--- is known objectively. One doesn't look inside to find objective truth, one looks to facts. God acquits the one who believes: this is objective. It's entirely outside me. New birth is subjective---it's God's work in me. That is known subjectively, and is proven by my life. It's impossible to see evidence in me that I am justified, because justification implies nothing at all about me: it is entirely outside me. Darby is here insisting that I have peace with God not because I am born again, but because I am justified (cf. Romans 5:1). There is no proof in my life, the proof is in Scripture.
We are redeemed by Christ, and forgiven of sins. There is no way to see that, and really no way to experience it. It is something we accept by faith: God has promised forgiveness to all who believe. If you believe, it's yours (Acts 13:39; Romans 4:5). It's foolish to examine one's self to see whether one is redeemed: there is, by definition, nothing you'd expect to see in one who's redeemed.
Then, "the full doctrine of redemption is not believed... [w]hat Scripture calls eternal redemption is not believed in." This is where we get to the real crux of the matter. "Full redemption" means there's nothing that I can do to change my standing before God. Christ's work for me means all my sins--- even sins I've not yet committed--- have been forgiven. I've not committed them yet, but they're already forgiven. Regardless of what I do, I can't change my acceptance with God.
It's obvious that sins I haven't yet committed have already been dealt with; because when Christ died for my sins, I hadn't committed any of them. If it's truly by Christ's sacrifice that I've been forgiven, then that must apply equally to sins I've not yet committed.
Darby continues, "Ask them what it means, when it says that by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified; they cannot tell you: each sin, after its commission, has to find its forgiveness as and when it may; and people are taught that it is a very dangerous doctrine to think otherwise." Scripture clearly teaches there is only one sacrifice for sins, and it cannot be repeated. This, Darby points out, is precisely what Scripture asserts is different between Judaism and Christianity. Under the Law, sacrifices were repeated; but Christ has died once, He cannot die again, and there is never another sacrifice for sins. This is the whole point of Hebrews 10:1–14. It is not merely that Christ need not sacrifice again for sins, but that He cannot. If the sacrifice He has already made is not enough, then you are certain of an eternity in Hell, with no recourse. There is absolutely nothing you can do; Christ cannot die for you again, you are lost without any hope at all.
There is a subtle subtext here. What Scripture insists on is, the perfection of Christ's sacrifice. But there are those who deny this plain truth out of fear. That is, they're afraid of what someone might do who really believed all his sins (even those not yet committed) are forgiven, and so they're not willing to believe what Scripture teaches. This is not merely theoretical, I have personally met people who believed that. In fact, one missionary told me they didn't like to teach eternal security on the mission field, because it might lead to licentiousness. What this really means is, this person was more willing to deny the completeness and perfection of Christ's work than to see a Christian fall into sin. It's not a matter of laziness or danger or license: denying that Christ's one sacrifice has covered all our sins (past, present, and future) is denying Christ. There is no other way to interpret Hebrews. God's Son has died for me, God says this one offering perfects the sanctified forever; to deny this isn't humility, it's blasphemy.
Let me diverge a moment here and point out that most people don't realize they're actually denying Christ. It's very difficult to accept that Christ's one offering is once for all, has covered all my sins, and there's nothing I can do to change that. It's not that they set out to deny Christ, it's that they can't bring themselves to believe what Scripture teaches. But the fact is, we need to let God be true and every man a liar. The Gospel is unbelievable: it has to be. The problem of sin is too big a problem to be solved by something believable. A gospel less than once-for-all isn't big enough for real sinners. Real sinners need a real gospel: something that requires nothing at all from them, something that rests entirely outside themselves. The Gospel of Scripture is exactly that. The "gospel" you hear preached rarely is.
Then, "We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. He who bore our sins, and put them away long ago, is there." Christ bore my sins in His own body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). He took them all away, there is nothing left on me. My sins were entirely put on Him. Where is He? He's in Heaven. If one of my sins were left, if a single sin I've committed hasn't yet been dealt with, then Christ has taken it into Heaven. His presence in Heaven is proof my sins are gone. Now, I know there is more to the sacrifice of Christ than bearing my sins: there is propitiation and sanctification, etc. But the plain statement of Scripture is that He took my sins on the Cross. They're not mine any more: He took them. So if He's back in Heaven, sitting at God's right hand, then my sins must be gone. And they must be gone forever, because He's not going to be kicked out of Heaven. This is what Hebrews is actually all about: this is what Colossians 2 insists on.
Next, "We must not confound the work of the Spirit, which makes me own my faults, and the work of Christ, finished and effectual once and for ever." This is a repetition of the first point. The work of Christ for me has brought me peace with God. The work of the Spirit in me brings me into maturity and practical holiness. The Spirit works in me to make me like Christ. It's not that the Spirit's work in me isn't important: it's that God accepts me because of Christ's work for me. The relationship is established solely by what Christ has done on my behalf: the Holy Spirit's work in me doesn't enter into it.
I once read a quote by JND I've never actually found in any of his books: "It is Christ's work for me, not His work in me that brings me peace."
Then Darby makes a striking point: "Judaism was, as to that, better than this half Christianity. There, if a man sinned, was a sacrifice, and his sin was forgiven. Here, once, perhaps, pardoned for what was gone before, he has nothing but uncertainty for all that follows. But Christ has obtained eternal redemption, and blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no sin." The "christianity" that's taught in so many places is actually inferior to Judaism. At least under the Law there is another sacrifice coming if the old one wasn't enough. But under Christianity, there can never be another. If that wasn't good enough, you're going to burn in Hell.
And I might point out, this is the problem with all Arminianism. If you really can be saved and then lost, then you can never actually be saved. A "gospel" good enough to save you until you sin again is only a "gospel" good enough to taunt you. If that's the "gospel", then not one of us is saved, and we're all going to burn.
But the point is, Christ has obtained eternal redemption. Contingent redemption isn't eternal. If God were to impute sin to me, that would be exactly the same as His rejecting Christ's sacrifice. And that would mean not merely that I would burn in Hell, but you would too. There's only one sacrifice for sins: if God rejects it, then we all are destined for Hell. Think about that: if God were to impute a single sin to a single believer, then He would reject the same sacrifice that makes everyone else perfect. If God rejects me, He rejects Paul too. There is only one sacrifice for sins, it can only be offered one time, and it's been accepted absolutely, with no recourse. God has accepted Christ's sacrifice for our sins.
Finally, "the worshipper once purged has no more conscience of sins, and Christ is sitting down on the Father's throne because all is finished." If I have been purged by this one sacrifice, I can never again be conscious of sins. It's not that I don't sin, nor is it that the Holy Spirit doesn't deal with me when I sin. It's that those sins cannot ever appear before God as mine. God cannot impute those sins to me, because He's already imputed them to Christ. And Christ has already suffered for them, taking them away forever.
Is there such a thing as confession? Absolutely! But confession doesn't absolve me from sins: God has already done that. Confession is how God deals with me subjectively, bringing me closer to Himself. But I don't confess my sins to escape them: it is by one offering that Christ has perfected me. There is nothing else to add to that: not even confession.
And this brings us really to the main point. It's hard--- really, really hard--- for a true believer to believe this when he's sinned. Our conscience is burdened, our mind is troubled, we're upset with ourselves, we fear what we've done, we're ashamed. And so we look for something to soothe the conscience: some penance or confession that will bring us peace. The problem is, there's nothing in Heaven or on earth or under the earth that can do that, because the only remedy for sins that exists (or ever will exist) is that Christ has already suffered for it. And God has already accepted Christ's offering. There cannot ever be anything else if that's not enough.
So how to deal with this problem? The solution is simple: first, we have been once purged, that cannot be repeated. But we do need to trust God. God hasn't lied to us, we need to accept the forgiveness we already have. Second, it's the worshipper who's been purged. When we feel the weight of sin, we find (although it's hard to believe) that it's in God's presence we have no more conscience of it. We don't claim forgiveness out of arrogance, but because we can see what God has given us in Christ. Third, we see that Christ is seated at God's right hand. This is what perfects us:
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18, KJV)Wanna feel forgiven? Look at Christ on God's right hand.