A friend asked me what I found helpful in terms of "practical ministry". I was desperately trying to remember the title of a paper by JND I'd read fairly recently, but I just couldn't remember it. So when I got home, I found the paper. It's in Collected Writings, Volume 29, and it's called "Forgiveness and Liberty". It's on the STEM Publishing site.
I must say, this paper might be the most complete and "perfect" presentation of Darby's understanding of sanctification that I've read. But in the end, it's Darby. So I thought I'd spend some time tonight to highlight some of the really great bits. It might be helpful to some.
I would, for a few moments, draw the attention of brethren in Christ to a point, as to which I think there has been a good deal of misapprehension in practice, and which, while the joy of known forgiveness seemed to make all plain for a time, has left souls subsequently in distress and difficulty, even when not doubting of their acceptance, though it has sometimes come to that. Forgiveness is not deliverance, and they have been a good deal confounded.This is the opening of the paper, and it lays out a very real problem for many, many people. There is a difference between forgiveness and deliverance. God looks on me and refuses to see my sins: He has forgiven my sins. My sins cannot ever appear in God's sight, they are gone forever. But as blessed as this is, it's not enough.
"Not enough?" How is that not enough? Quite simply, a man or woman with the Holy Spirit in residence isn't going to be satisfied with a freedom from sin's guilt: we want freedom from sin's power. This is not now forgiveness, but deliverance. A sinner might be content simply to be forgiven, but a child of God will be discontent with anything less than deliverance from sin's power, as well as forgiveness for sin's guilt.
So it is quite normal for a believer to go gradually from overflowing joy at the assurance of forgiveness to deep depression over sin's presence and power.
It is a very common experience, when a person has found peace through the blood of Christ, that the pardoned and justified soul, filled with joy and gladness to find its sins gone, the conscience purged, the sense of divine goodness filling it, thinks that it has done with sin because it is at the time full of joy, and the Lord's goodness and favour; but this is not deliverance.
Deliverance has a double character; perfect freedom with God in love in my place before Him; and freedom from the power of sin in myself. We are in Christ for the former; Christ is in us for the latter.This is really the question of Romans 5–7. Romans 5 starts with the remarkable statement that "we have peace with God" (Romans 5:1). But having peace with God isn't the end of the story, or Romans would end there. After guilt is dealt with, Romans turns to the question of indwelling sin: not what we have done, but what we are. So Romans 6 declares that we are free from sin (Romans 6:7), because we have died with Christ. And so sin is not our master: we've died and have thus been freed from that master. But Romans 7 takes it even further, even a man who has died to sin lives in a body where sin lives. And so we find there is "sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:17). We can't get rid of it, and no amount of forgiveness can help us with it. The believer soon finds that however grateful he is that all his sins are forgiven him, he dreads the certainty that he'll sin again. How do we deal with that? Do we just give up? Do we learn to live with it? This is why we need deliverance.
Forgiveness of sins was found in Christ. There's nowhere else to look for a solution to sins' guilt. Deliverance, too, is found in Christ. There's nothing God has for us that's not in and through Christ.
I do not now say simply, He bore my sins, and cleared me for ever from them, but, I am in Christ before God, accepted in the Beloved, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. I am not in the condition of a child of Adam, responsible before God, and thinking of my condition in His sight in connection with my conscious state; I have died to that as wholly and hopelessly evil, and know by the Holy Ghost that I am in a new standing altogether, in Christ, accepted in the Beloved. I am not in the flesh but in the Spirit. Christ has died to sin, and I have died in Him, and He is my life; I am alive to God in this new life in Christ before Him, and reckon myself so by the Holy Ghost.I think it's safe to say there are many Christians who understand the truth of Christ's dying for us, but who haven't learned that we have died with Him. Forgiveness for sins is based entirely in the death of Christ for me. But the Christian life isn't the life of a forgiven sinner, it's the life of a crucified man. It's the life that flows from my history ending in Christ on the cross. I died with Him there.
If I understand that my life has ended at the Cross, then I shall live in a very different way. See, it's not just that what I have done is forgiven, it's now that God has done away with the "I" that did those terrible things. I haven't just got a clean slate, I've got a whole new life to live with it.
Thus for faith I am delivered from sin in the flesh, as having died in Christ, in that Christ has, who is my life. It is not resurrection with Him — that carries us further — but death in Him on the cross as to the old man and state, and He now at the right hand of God, my life. Such is the doctrine and effect. Christ, who died, my life, and I in Him, in the power of the Holy Ghost, and through that dead to sin altogether, He having thus died, and the sin in my flesh condemned there, but for faith I died to it, for I died in Him.It is very difficult for us to accept what God declares to be true: not only that I have done wrong, but that I am wrong. It's not just that I have sinned, but that I am a sinner. And I didn't become a sinner by sinning, I sinned because I was a sinner. This is the plain teaching of Romans 5:19–21. But God hasn't been content to deal with the symptoms (my sins), He's also dealt with the root problem: the sinner. How do you deal with a sinner? There's only one way: the sinner has to be put to death. And so the Biblical solution to the problem of what I am is that I have died in Christ.
So what do I do now? Do I cease to exist? No, because it's not simply that I have died, it's the I have died in Christ. Christ is my life: and now that I've died, He lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Now I have a life that's entirely beyond sin, death, and the grave. It's a life of God's resurrected Man, the life of the Son of God. And it's not mine to earn or develop or achieve. It's mine by grace, it's mine because it was given to me freely.
But there's a catch, isn't there? It's one thing to understand what I've been given, but it's another actually to experience it.
The delivering work was done on the cross, so that our state, by faith in Christ, is dead to sin, and morally, as to the life this side the cross, in which He, sinless, had to be made it, wholly closed, and alive now wholly beyond it all, with nothing but God to live to; and this, not by our efforts, but by faith through grace; yet, as conviction of guilt goes before known forgiveness, so the experimental knowledge of self before deliverance. No effort clears the guilt; no effort effects the deliverance; but there is the knowledge of self, and that we cannot get free by improvement or victory, as there is the knowledge of the guilt which is pardoned; only here it is self-knowledge and present experience.Here's the catch: we can't achieve deliverance, it's not ours to earn. But we learn our need of it through our efforts. How? Because the harder we try to be good, the more certain we become that we're not. It's not an issue of doubting our forgiveness, it's not a matter of questioning our acceptance before God. It's learning that no matter how hard we try, we can't live the Christian life. It's not that we don't want to. It's not that we don't have new life in Christ. It's that God's way is for us to find what we need in His Son, and our efforts at self-improvement all prove vain precisely so we can give up on self and rest in Him.
Here is something very, very important for us to learn: whenever we compare ourselves with what we ought to be, we find we're not. This is the essence of Law.
Of this the law is ever the instrument; if we have learnt forgiveness already, the form is modified, takes the shape of hoping we have not deceived ourselves, and the like; but it is always a comparison of our state, and what God requires, and that is law; very useful for the discovery of our state, but bondage. I repeat, as it is important, wherever we reason from our state to what God's acceptance of us may be, that is, in principle, law just as the prodigal son between his conversion and meeting his father. It calls itself holiness, will insist that without holiness no man shall see the Lord, which is necessarily and eternally true, but mixes it with God's acceptance of us, connecting this and our state, so that it is really righteousness, not holiness, that the mind is occupied with: for in holiness we hate evil because it is unholy, not because we are out of divine favour by it; but, whatever shape it takes, it is always really law, a question of evil that makes us unacceptable to God.
What is legalism? It is confusing holiness with righteousness. It's confusing our standing with our state.
Our righteousness is in Christ. God only ever deals with me on the basis of what Christ is, of what He has done, and of what He is doing. There is nothing for me but Christ. God's not interested in what I can and cannot do, but in what Christ has done. But because I am born of God, because I have the Holy Spirit, I can't help but notice that I don't measure up. And as soon as I try to fix myself, I have moved outside of that Christ has done for me. There's a tremendous danger in doing this: it's facing off with sin in the flesh, which God never intended me to do.
So what's the solution? The solution is when we give up trying to improve ourselves.
Here I learn that in me (it is not what I have done) dwells no good thing; the flesh is simply and always bad. Secondly; it is not myself, being born of God, for I hate it, it is not therefore I. This is often a great relief, though it be not deliverance; but thirdly, though it be not I, it is too strong for me: I am captive to it. All my efforts only prove this to me. As effort and conflict, I give it up as hopeless, and look for another to come in and deliver me. I have learned that I have no strength (not that I am guilty), and that is what I had to learn, the lesson God was teaching me; and when brought there I find it is all done.The solution is that I cannot be better. I can't improve myself, I can only look for Christ to deliver me. I don't need self-improvement, I need a Deliverer.
It's so hard for us to accept what God calmly tells us in His word: we are to walk as we received. We received Christ by grace through faith, we did nothing to earn His favour, we accepted based on faith in what God says. In the same way, we cannot improve ourselves, we cannot make our walk what it ought to be, we must simply accept what God has said.
"As therefore ye have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and assured in the faith, even as ye have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6–7)