Thursday, May 28, 2009

Play it again, John (Pt. 5)

So our Greatest Hits of J. N. Darby count-down looks like this:
#10 "The Melchisedec Priesthood of Christ" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 2)
#9 "The Sabbath: or, Is the law dead, or am I" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 10)
#8 "God's Grace and Man's Need" (available from STEM Publishing)
#7 "Two Warnings and an Example" (available from STEM Publishing)
#6 "Wilderness Grace" (available from STEM Publishing)
#5 "First Resurrection; or, Resurrection of the Just" (Available from STEM Publishing)
#4 "Progress of Evil on the Earth" (Available from STEM Publishing)

I warned you at the outset this can't be a hard and fast ranking. Which ones I consider "top ten" varies from day to day, and the ranking in the top ten change at least daily. No sooner will I post this to my blog, than I'll think of several I should have posted. It might be interesting to see if anyone else has any to add: put them in the comments.

We have three more slots to fill, so here are two more favourite papers by JND:

#3 "Cleansing by Water: and what it is to walk in the light" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol 23; Available from STEM Publishing)

I wish I had ranked this article as #9 or 10, as it's well worth reading, but I think it would have been better to have ranked it a little lower. Still, what's done is done.

This is a response to a tract, as so many of Darby's papers are, and it can be hard to get into the flow of the article for several paragraphs. But I am continually astonished (and, frankly, shamed) by this statement:
The ground they go upon is the common ground of unbelief in the offering of Christ — the doctrine of continually cleansing and recleansing in Christ's blood. This is wholly unscriptural, and subversive of true Christian standing according to the word — that the worshippers once purged should have no more conscience of sins. Nothing can be clearer or more positive than the teaching of Hebrews 9 and 10 on this subject, where it is elaborately argued, in contrast with the repetition of Jewish sacrifices, and as giving us boldness to enter into the holiest. (p. 281)

Notice how JND classifies the whole idea of recleansing as "unbelief in the offering of Christ." And I have to say, after weighing the question, I am convinced he is correct. The whole idea of going to Christ to be cleansed by blood again is fundamentally a denial of what Scripture teaches: that He has purged our sins.

Now, I want to be the first to point out that I hardly live out the truths in this paper, and I frankly don't think it's entirely correct. But I think it is brilliant nevertheless, and is one of JND's best articles. I have personally read and re-read it many times.

Here's some classic JND regarding 1 John 1:
And note here, what is spoken of is "walking in the light as God is in the light." It is not according to the light, but in it. There is no darkness at all in God. This is the revelation afforded, the message heard... The question is not raised if we walk according to it or not. We are in the full revelation of God without a veil, or in darkness, having no knowledge of God. It is not the question how far we live up to it. But the Christian is really walking there. (pp. 284--285)

This is really the heart of Darby's ministry: the practical effect of positional truth on the day-to-day life of Christians who are having to walk it out down here until the Lord Jesus comes to get us. "Brethren" used to have a real message that was desparately needed by poor downtrodden souls; but now we largely seem content with our "church order" checklists. But I digress.

I personally think Darby's writings on progressive sanctification are among his best. Another of note is "Cleansing and Deliverance" (also available from STEM Publishing ). Really, you should check these out.

#2 Propitiation and Substitution (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol 29; Available from STEM Publishing)

One of my favourite articles by JND is this very short gem. One thing I like about it so much is that it's a great illustration of Darby's thinking: he takes a step back from the point in question and asks "What does the Scripture actually say?" I have found when I do that, the immediate question generally falls apart, and a larger answer emerges.

The specific question of this article is that of atonement. Is it limited to the elect? or is it unlimited?
My intercourse with saints, and especially with those who preach, has led me to discover that a good deal of obscurity in their manner of putting the gospel (and I may add a good deal of Arminian and Calvinistic controversy) arises from not distinguishing propitiation and substitution. I am not anxious about the words, but about the practical distinction, which is very simple, and, I think, of moment. I say the words, because in propitiation, in a certain sense, Christ stood in our stead. Still there is a very real difference in Scripture.

The article examines the question in terms of Leviticus 16, where there are two goats: one is subsititutionary, the other is propitiary. The conclusion is that both the Calvinist and Arminian views are incomplete: both see only part of the truth, and people draw false conclusions from not realizing they only see half the question:
The Arminians take up Christ's dying for all, and generally they connect the bearing of sins with it; and all is confusion as to the efficacy and effectualness of Christ's bearing our sins, for they deny any special work for His people. They say, If God loved all, He cannot love some particularly; and an uncertain salvation is the result, and man often exalted. Thus the scapegoat is practically set aside. (p. 287)

The Calvinist holds Christ's bearing the sins of His people, so that they are effectually saved; but he sees nothing else. He will say, If Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it, there can be no real love for anything else. Thus he denies Christ's dying for all, and the distinctive character of propitiation, and the blood on the mercy-seat. He sees nothing but substitution. (p. 288)

I found this article extremely helpful in seeing this question in a much broader perspective.