Sunday, March 28, 2010

Give me that old-time religion

Be my imitators, even as *I* also am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the word of God; and considering the issue of their conversation, imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)

Beloved, using all diligence to write to you of our common salvation, I have been obliged to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

I've been thinking a lot about Paul's faith for the last 8 months or so. We are told to imitate him, as he imitated Christ. I suppose there is an implicit caveat there: we need to imitate him as he imitated Christ. I can think of at least two places in Acts where Paul was admittedly wrong (there are doubtless others), that's not what he is telling us to imitate. And indeed, Hebrews tells us to follow the faith (not the follies, the faith) of those who spoke to us the word of God. So I suppose this is a wider question than just Paul; but we have the most detailed record of Paul, so we'll stick with that for now.

In view of my ranting about "the whole counsel of God" earlier, perhaps Acts 20 is a good place to start. Paul told the overseers in Ephesus, "I have not shrunk from announcing to you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). He spent three years in Ephesus, and he spent them well. He didn't stick to some favourite doctrines or camp out in a favourite passage of Scripture, he announced to them "all the counsel of God."

On the one hand, he was strongly individualistic. He told the Galatians, "do I now seek to satisfy men or God? or do I seek to please men? If I were yet pleasing men, I were not Christ’s bondman." (Gal. 1:10). And he told the Romans, "Who art *thou* that judgest the servant of another? to his own master he stands or falls. And he shall be made to stand; for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). But on the other hand, he was deeply and strongly committed to the collective testimony of the assembly: "none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself" (Romans 14:7). He told the Thessalonians, "you are our glory and joy". He apparently wasn't content with a faith that was just his: there needed to be an expression of it in others too. Not merely as fellow-individuals, but as the Body of Christ. There was the individual, there was also the personal.

This is one of those "whole counsel of God" things. Getting the collective right doesn't meant the individual doesn't matter. Being correct about the individual doesn't give us a pass on the collective.

He taught the Christians about prophecy, soteriology, the corporate testimony and individual walk. He knew the Law and wasn't afraid to use it. But he was centered: " [b]ut far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). His faith was centered in a Person, "[f]or I did not judge it well to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and *him* crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Paul gave the clearest exposition of the gospel of the grace of God we have (Romans 1--5). He declared "him who justifies the ungodly" (Romans 4:5) and welcomed Jews and Gentiles alike to come for the completely free justification in Christ, "since indeed it is one God who shall justify the circumcision on the principle of faith, and uncircumcision by faith" (Romans 3:30). He told us, "in [Christ] every one that believes is justified" (Acts 13:39). But he taught there's a cost too, "all indeed who desire to live piously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). And he was careful to point out that justification isn't the end of the story:

1 *I*, the prisoner in the Lord, exhort you therefore to walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye have been called,
2* with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love;
3* using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1--3)

So I've asked myself over and over again... do I imitate Paul as he imitated Christ? do I have the faith once delivered to the saints?

Of course there are all sorts of people who are quick to "help" lay out just what that is. I mean, they've got some formula for just what constitutes the faith once delivered. I think most of those fall away if we really examine them.

I wrote a couple years ago:

the hardest part of obeying the Scripture is to trust that it's sufficient. It's one thing to acknowledge it's inerrant or authoritative; it's quite another to acknowledge its sufficiency. I think it strange how frequently we trust in creeds, dogmas, catechisms, theologies, doctrines, and commentaries when we have the Bible. I admit it's not the easiest book to understand, and it can take some time to compare Scripture with Scripture to figure out how a passage applies, or what it means. But really, if God has spoken, it's worth the time and effort to listen.

I've been trying for the last three or four years to judge all things by Scripture. I'm the first to admit I'm doing a horrible job of walking it out. It doesn't take long talking to me to see a whole lot of faults. And it might surprise people who actually know me to realize they probably don't see me at my worst. And the flesh in us is such that even the effort to judge all things by the Word of God is an occasion for arrogance.

But I can't see that there is another option. If God hasn't spoken, nothing matters. If He has, nothing else matters. I think this is really the bottom line. It's possible to wrest the Scriptures to our own destruction, but it requires effort: "wrest" is an active verb. On the other hand, the Scripture is able to make us wise to salvation.

"[A]ll who are in Asia, of whom is Phygellus and Hermogenes, have turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15). I'm no Paul, but it looks like the path is a lonely one. I'm reminded of the Lord Jesus' words: "Woe, when all men speak well of you, for after this manner did their fathers to the false prophets" (Luke 6:26).

And that brings me to the question I have asked time and again for the last year. If I really held the faith once delivered to the saints, would I be welcome in any church? If I were to walk like the Apostles walked (and that's a big "if"), would any church want me there Sunday morning?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blood on the lintel

Following on my previous posts about some things I've noticed in the Law, I thought I'd briefly mention Exodus 21. You know Exodus 21, it's the part about the servant who chooses to remain with his master when he could have gone free:

2* If thou buy a Hebrew bondman, six years shall he serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
3* If he came in alone, he shall go out alone: if he had a wife, then his wife shall go out with him.
4* If his master have given him a wife, and she have borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone.
5 But if the bondman shall say distinctly, I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go free;
6* then his master shall bring him before the judges, and shall bring him to the door, or to the door-post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall be his bondman for ever.
(Exodus 21:2--6)

I want to be very careful here, because it doesn't do to be flippant in holy things. And especially touching the Son of God, it is very, very easy to fall into blasphemy. But it seems there is an illustration of the Lord Jesus in these verses.

False religions tell us how men can become gods. Indeed that was the promise of the serpent to our father and mother in the Garden. But in God's wisdom, One who is God has become Man. The Eternal Son has humbled Himself to become a man. The Man.

The amazing thing is not only that He became a Man (astonishing as that is), but that this is apparently a permanent thing. After He has gone back to Heaven, we read, "For God is one, and the mediator of God and men one, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, the testimony to be rendered in its own times;" (1 Timothy 2:5--6). In fact, I suspect (although I don't know for sure) that "the Man" is a title of Christ, particularly in the Psalms. But that's for another time...

The Hebrew servant in Exodus 21 seems to me to be a foreshadowing of the Christ "who, subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God; but emptied himself, taking a bondman’s form, taking his place in the likeness of men; and having been found in figure as a man, humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:6--8). And as amazing as that might be, He has refused to go free, but has declared His intention not to go free. In fact, He has promised to come and get us. He has no intention of leaving us behind: it is His explicit plan to come back for us. He has, in a very real way, put His ear to the doorpost and had it pierced by the awl.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Whole Counsel of God

I've been having an email discussion with some friends recently, in which I've been using the phrase "whole counsel of God". This isn't meant to be a public continuation of that discussion... it's just been on my mind a lot for the last several months. I've been mulling this over since Thanksgiving, and wanted to vent some on my blog. So if you've gotten email from me, ranting about the whole counsel of God... this isn't aimed at you.

Several years ago, I was hanging out with a close friend in Kentucky. We were chatting, and I mentioned some frustration with a Christian with whom I had been speaking via email. I was looking for the right word: it's not that that this person was wrong per se, but that she was focused on one particular topic to the point of tunnel vision.

"She's missing the whole counsel of God," my friend sagely offered.

And ever since that day, I've been trying to think in terms of the whole counsel of God.

It's not easy, because we all have passages we like better than others. Martin Luther is said to have decided James' epistle is not Scripture, because he thought it opposed Romans. Whether that's actually true, it reveals the trap into which we are all prone to fall: leaving off the whole counsel of God.

Yeah, there are some topics I like more than others. I really like to think about the Gospel, about God's reaching down to rescue poor sinners at a tremendous cost to Himself. And so I tend to bask in the Gospel, sometimes at the cost of the rest of Scripture. But I ought not to.

Embracing the whole counsel of God is closely linked to something else I'm prone to rant about: being subject to the Word of God.

Part of embracing the whole counsel of God is perhaps not so obvious: we need to be subject to the Word of God. I rant about this a lot, partly because it's close to my heart. I have been on a personal quest for about 4 years now to really and honestly depend on Scripture. I've tried to be careful to limit my vocabulary to Scripture. I've been conscious of the difference between what Scripture says and what I think it means. I've tried to, in Andrew's words, allow Scripture to master me, rather than trying to master it.

I think part of that is my own idealism. A lot of it is my admiration for people like Darby and Nee and Luther who were willing to chuck everything if they couldn't see it line up with Scripture. Some of it is just to see what happens and how much everything unravels if I do this.

Rich Mullins wrote a blurb about John 6, in which he said that the disciples didn't have 1900 years of theology to soften the blow of Christ telling them they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood. That really sunk in with me: the idea of theology softening the blow of what God has said. George Orwell once said the two purposes of language are to convey meaning and to obscure it; I've started to think we could similarly describe theology. The purpose of theology is to reveal God, or to hide from Him.

When the children of Israel got to Sinai in Exodus 19, God told them:

4* Ye have seen what I have done to the Egyptians, and how I have borne you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
5 And now, if ye will hearken to my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then shall ye be my own possession out of all the peoples--for all the earth is mine--
6* and ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak to the children of Israel.

God didn't tell the people to all come up the mountain, that's true. He singled out Moses. But He did say, "let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day Jehovah will come down before the eyes of all the people on mount Sinai" (v. 11).

But the people didn't think that was such a good idea. So in chapter 20, we read their response:

18* And all the people saw the thunderings, and the flames, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off,
19 and said to Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
20* And Moses said to the people, Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before you, that ye sin not.
21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near to the obscurity where God was.

In fact, this is the starting assumption of John's gospel, "He was in the world, and the world had its being through him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not;" (John 1:10--11). Man doesn't like to be in God's presence.

It seems to me theology serves a good many of us as a way to assuage our consciences without having to actually meet God. It stands as a buffer between ourselves and Holy Scripture so that we can "soften the blow" and assure one another "that's not really what it means".

And for the past several years I've been asking, "but what if that is what it means?"

But I suppose that's a topic for another day...

I find if I'm going to go to Scripture to hear God speak---rather than to find a proof-text for some position or to prop up my theology---He doesn't seem to say what I expect. I remember quite clearly when I first really sat down and read my Bible cover-to-cover (many years ago), I was surprised at how little the Bible lined up with what I thought it said. And conversely, how much it said about things I had never considered. Even now, having read the Bible through many times, I'm surprised as much by what it doesn't say as by what it does.

It seems to me that one of the most dangerous things we can do is to try to "balance" what we see in Scripture. I hear that a lot from people, "we need to be balanced". I think that's a very dangerous approach. It might be the worst possible approach to take. It's dangerous, partly because it's based on the assumption that tunnel vision is correct. It seems to me that "balance" is really all about setting Scripture in opposition to itself, narrowing what Scripture says, rather than allowing myself to be broadened in order to see the whole truth.

So we don't assume that if Romans is Scripture, then James can't be. We accept that both Romans and James are Scripture, and we hang on to see where our understanding is defective.

I'm not saying Scripture contradicts itself: I'm saying where there is an apparent contradiction, we need to try and hear what God says, rather than deciding which passage is correct. And frankly, this is where I've found it's very important to be very careful of the actual words of Scripture. I have found time and again, when I limit myself to the vocabulary Scripture uses, the vast majority of seeming contradictions just evapourate.

As an example, Scripture uses the term "son" and the term "child". I've heard many, many people confuse those terms. But they're simply not equivalent. We're sons by adoption, children by birth. There is a vast difference between these two ideas... and Scripture doesn't confuse them.

Another example is "justification" and "salvation". They're not equivalent terms, and confusing them leads to all sorts of strange ideas. Evangelicals talk about "I was saved in 1983" or something... but Scripture really doesn't speak like that. Scripture very carefully distinguishes between being justified and being saved. Consider Romans 5:9, "Much rather therefore, having been now justified in the power of his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath." Notice the tenses, we "have been justified", we "shall be saved". Romans doesn't even use the word "saved" until chapter 5, after the complete discussion of justification. Romans consistently uses the words "saved" and "salvation" to refer to a future thing. (Romans 8:24 too, there it is "saved in hope"; not as a present salvation, but as a looking forward to a future one). So when Romans declares we're justified by faith alone plus absolutely nothing else (Romans 4:5), it's not contradicting Peter's statement that we're saved by baptism. They are both true: the one passage is about justification, the other, salvation.

It's very, very dangerous to use terms interchangeably when Scripture does not.

And then, there is the issue of understanding context. Romans always uses "saved" in the future: Ephesians uses it in the past. So there is a different sense of usage of that word in Romans than in Ephesians.

And since we come to that, we might say too that a lot of Christians like to point out that the unregenerate are "dead in trespasses and sins". That's very true... in Ephesians and Colossians. But in Romans and Galatians, the unregenerate are very much alive in trespasses in sins. So Romans 6 tells us we have been crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised with Him. But in Ephesians, we're not crucified with Him, because we started out dead. A dead man doesn't need to be crucified.

So context matters.

But to get back on track... the whole counsel of God is something much bigger than I am generally wont to consider. The Scripture definitely condemns the unrighteous, but it offers them the Gospel too. The Scripture is very careful to point out the world is a wicked, wicked place... but it also assures us we're here by design.

God's ultimate purpose is not merely to save sinners, nor to bring them to perfection "in Christ". It's not to bring "social justice" (which is a silly expression to begin with) nor to make the world a better place. It's not merely that He wants people to know Him, although that might get a little closer to the truth. God's purpose, according to Ephesians 1, is "to head up all things in Christ". The Son of God is really the center of all God's thoughts, plans, and (yes, I will use the word) schemes.

God has purposed from before the beginning of the world to head up "all things" in Christ. And I think this is where I really need to go back to the whole counsel of God. I'm really uncomfortable calling myself dispensationalist, although that's more or less an accurate description. But I think "we dispensationalists" (if I may use the term) have been far too narrow in our focus. We are afraid of words like "kingdom" (Paul wasn't, Col. 1:13) because we want to be careful not to confuse Church and Israel. (The Church is part of the kingdom, like Israel, but that's another discussion.)

And on the other side, we have people who are unwilling to acknowledge Scripture's clear teaching that the believer is not under Law. That the idea of a "Moral Law" somehow distinct from the "Ceremonial Law" is really entirely contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. Where dispensationalists have been slow to acknowledge God's whole counsel that's not strictly "Church", others are reluctant to ignore the plain Scriptural teaching that the Law was given to a specific group for a specific purpose.

There's a ditch on both sides of the road.

Fundamentally, when we're afraid of embracing all of Scripture, we reveal that we're ultimately missing the point. The whole counsel of God isn't about us... it's about Christ. God's purpose in the Son is not something we can see when we look at just one facet of the truth: it is revealed in His whole counsel. And that, ultimately, is what we're responsible for.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Vine, the Wheat, and the Olive Tree

Several years ago I stumbled over these verses in Deuteronomy:
19* When thou reapest thy harvest in thy field, and forgettest a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not return to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow; that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in all the work of thy hands.
20 When thou shakest thine olive-tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterwards; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. (Deut. 24:19--21).

They struck me as significant then, because I recognized two of the crops that are named as New Testament symbols of Christ: He compared Himself to a grain of wheat that needs to fall into the ground and die (John 12:24) and as the Vine (John 15:1). I spent some time looking through my Bible, and sure enough, the olive tree has prophetic significance too:

16* Jehovah had called thy name, A green olive-tree, fair, of goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it, and its branches are broken.
17 For Jehovah of hosts, that planted thee, hath pronounced evil against thee, for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done for themselves, to provoke me to anger in burning incense unto Baal.
18* And Jehovah hath given me knowledge, and I know it; then thou shewedst me their doings.
19* And I was like a tame lamb that is led to the slaughter; and I knew not that they devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered. (Jer. 11:16--19)

There are some interesting parallels in Psalm 52 and Hosea 14 as well.

So I've mulled these verses over for the better part of the last dozen years. And there's no doubt I've not plumbed their depths... but there is something interesting right on the surface: The farmer under the Law was to harvest from his grain, his vine, and his olives only once. After he cut down and gathered his grain or gathered his grapes or shook (KJV translates it "beat") his olive tree, he was to leave the rest "for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow."

This goes back to what I said last time: the Law supposes an offering is more than enough. That's not because an ox's or a lamb's or a goat's blood is enough to wash away sins (Heb. 10:4)... it's because the Law was looking forward to the Christ, who was an over-abundant offering to God.

In the same way, the Law only considers a plant to give more than enough. When the owner of the field or the vineyard or the olive tree went to harvest, there would be enough to leave some for those in need.

And in this sense, the Law was looking forward to Christ as the True Vine (or the Green Olive Tree, or the Grain of Wheat) that was here for God's benefit. And God says, "After I have beaten my olive-tree, I will take what I need. But there will be enough left over for the strangers and the fatherless and the widows. I will let them have it."

All of the "every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ" in Ephesians 1 is really the result of the overflow of the Son offering Himself up to God.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I've been spending some time mulling over the Levitical offerings for the past several months. I'm repeatedly struck by the first seven or so chapters of Leviticus: the detail of the Law of the offerings is surprising. And while I generally avoid a lot of discussions of types and shadows in the Law, I think there are some lessons to be learned from the offerings.

I notice that in every offering, there is something left over for the priest. Well, all except one, maybe two. When I was growing up, I heard a lot about the Burnt Offering, which was wholly consumed on the altar. But I'm frankly unsure how to apply Lev. 7:8
And as to the priest that presenteth any man’s burnt-offering, the skin of the burnt-offering which he hath presented shall be the priest’s for himself.

Is "burnt offering" here limited in scope to the tresspass offering? I'm not sure. I tend to think it's the burnt-offerings in general, but I could well be wrong.

But in any case, there is one offering which unequivocally leaves nothing for either the priest or the offerer:
And every oblation of the priest shall be wholly burned; it shall not be eaten. (Lev. 6:23)

So when the priest brought an oblation (meal offering) for himself, it was to be wholly consumed, no one got any part of it but God.

But in every other offering, there was some left over. The priest got something from it. The priests ate the sin-offering and the trespass-offering (Lev. 7:6). The skin of both the sin-offering and the trespass-offering was given to the priest. The priest kept the majority of the meal offerings brought to him, unless a priest offered it for himself.

I think the great moral here is, the Law always considered the offerings as more than enough. There is always the idea that something is left over. And the everlasting statute given to Aaron and his sons is, that they are to eat what's left from the offerings (Num. 18:8--10).

We who are called to be priests (1 Peter 2:9) are called to eat from the "altar" where our sin-offering has died (Heb. 13:10). Christ Himself pointed to our eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:27--58). No, I don't think this is really talking about a sacramental observance of the Lord's Supper. But there is doubtless an aspect of feeding on Christ.

The sacrifice was not ours: we are merely profitting from what God has provided for Himself in the Son. But there is enough in the overflow of the altar to sustain us. It is this that feeds the "eternal life" we have "in the Son".

And I notice that when the offerings are burned on the altar, the ashes are shovelled out onto the ground on the east side of the altar:
And he shall remove its crop with its feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east, into the place of the ashes (Lev. 1:16)

And the priest shall put on his linen raiment, and his linen breeches shall he put on his flesh, and take up the ashes to which the fire hath consumed the burnt-offering on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar. (Lev. 6:10)

So the priest is to take the ashes from the altar and put them on the ground on the east side, then he takes them outside the camp.

Now, every good little Sunday School child knows that the tabernacle faced east, and that the brazen altar, where the offerings were burned was in the "court" of the tabernacle along with the laver: inside the gate but outside the Tent of Meeting. If the ashes were put on the east side of the altar, then they were between the altar and the gate, literally the first thing you'd see when you came in through the gate.

When I was growing up, we were taught that the tabernacle was built partly as a physical analogy of man's approach to God. So to approach God, you come in through the gate and there's the altar where animals were sacrificed. Then beyond that was the laver where the priest washed. After that was the tabernacle proper, the Tent of Meeting, where only priests could go. In there was the shewbread, the altar of incense, and the gold candlestick. But then there was the veil, and on the other side was the Holy of Holies, where even priests couldn't go. One priest, once a year, was allowed in there, where the ark of the covenant was, topped with the Mercy Seat.

And it's just to draw that analogy, as Hebrews 9 & 10 does very carefully and with great detail.

But as I read Leviticus, I'm struck that really, the altar is not the first thing we'd see; because between the altar and the gate is the place of ashes. Depending on when we went in, we might not see any actual ashes: the priests were to clean them up and take them outside the camp. But if you've ever cleaned up a pile of ashes you know they leave a fairly permanent mark on the ground.

Ashes are proof that the offering was made. More than that, they're proof that it was totally consumed, that there's nothing left to burn. If we are to see the tabernacle's design as an analogy as our approach to God, it starts with seeing the offering is completed. Before we even see the altar, we see proof the sacrifice is done.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I went through a lot of old posts and deleted a whole whack of them. They were of limited value, and seemed more or less irrelevant now.

At some point I had been working on something like a J. N. Darby Top Ten: a list of my ten favourite articles by J. N. Darby. I never wrote down #1. But I'd like to retry that concept in the form of a reading list.

JND was a strange and interesting character. He was doubtless brilliant, but it's not really a staggering intellect that you first notice when you pick up his books. (I suppose the first thing you notice is his tortuous English. The man wrote prose that makes you reel.) What I find overwhelming about Darby was his firm conviction that Scripture is sufficient for every question. You can tell it was the driving conviction of his life: every question is answered with Scripture... frequently with direct quotes that aren't cited. You get to know your Bible when you read Darby.

I've said before that Darby's brilliance lay in his refusal to develop formal theologies. He was willing to weigh in on any given question, but he appears to have refrained from trying to develop an over-arching theology to tie them together. This is really very stunning. I've more and more been endeavouring to follow in those footsteps: to answer every question from Scripture without allowing myself to use my own reason to fill in the "gaps". It's terribly difficult.

And at his heart, JND appears to have genuinely loved Christ. Not a shallow sort of sentimentality, but a driving, burning, passionate love. The sort of love you really ought to see in someone who devotes his life to the Book. I can't help but get the feeling when I read his articles, that he's trying to introduce me to someone he knew, not just someone from a book.

Reading Darby is humbling.

One note of caution and context: Darby was frequently writing on specific topics in reply to other papers. So many of his articles reference papers by others long forgotten. It can be a little disconcerting to read Darby because of this. Sometimes this actually gets in the way: one of my favourite articles by Darby is Superstition is not Faith; or, The True Character of Romanism. I think it might be his most important paper, but in it his attacks Roman Catholicism really narrow his message. It's not that he's incorrect, it's that his comments on Catholicism in this paper are true of so many Christians in other groups as well...

At any rate, several people have asked me what I recommend from JND's numerous articles and books. The short answer is, read Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 12. But that's not too helpful. So in case anyone else ever asks, here is a recommended reading list:

  1. God's Grace and Man's Need.

    This is probably the best place to start. If you want to read Darby, you need to start with his "evangelic" papers. This is one of the best from Evangelic 1 of Collected Writings of J. N. Darby.

    A lot of silly things have been said about J. N. D. But in the end, the thing he understood so clearly is God's grace. If you want to read some powerful musings on the God of Grace, you need to read this rather short article.

  2. The Prodigal with the Father.

    Another of Darby's "evangelic" papers. This one is well worth re-reading several times, not because it is a great opus on doctrine, but because it lays the foundation for almost everything the man taught and believed. A whole lot of questions are answered in this article. It's worth reading and re-reading several times.

  3. Scripture: the place it has in this day

    This paper had a profound effect on me. (One outcome was that I really cut back on reading Darby.) It's a passionate argument on the necessity for the believer to be in direct responsibility to God. It points out the evils of erecting theologies and doctrines between one's conscience and the Scriptures.

    This paper was a real milestone for me, and really helped push me down the path I've been trying to walk of thinking in Scripture, of testing everything in its light.

  4. Two Warnings and an Example.

    Although listed with his "evangelic" papers, this one is really much more. This is absolutely necessary if you want to get a hold of Darby's writings on Christian Living.

    This article studies the three principal characters in Gethsemane: Jesus Christ, Peter, and Judas Iscariot. JND draws a warning from the account each of the latter in contrast with the actions of the first.

  5. Law, from Collected Writings, Vol. 10.

    You haven't read Darby if you haven't read Vol. 10. The volume is almost entirely a collection of articles discussing the relationship of the Law of Moses to the Christian. It is well reasoned, we researched, and well presented.

    Darby's answer is, Christians are not to keep the Law, not even the Ten Commandments. Does that entice you? Do you want to read it now?

  6. Propitiation and Substitution.

    JND weighs in on the question of Limited Atonement. I'm still surprised every time I read this.

  7. Omniscience - God's Searchings

    You need to read this. That's all I'm going to say. Read it now. Click the link above and read it.

  8. Cleansing by Water: and what it is to walk in the light

    For my money, Darby's best work is his writing on the grace of God. Closely tied up with that are his writings on what we would call "Christian Living". He wrote reams of paper on the subject, and I think it's almost all excellent. One of my favourite papers on the subject is this one. I've read and re-read this paper many times. It's probably the paper with the most underlining and highlighting in all my books by JND.

    This paper is one of the places where Darby insists that "walking in the light" in 1 John 1 refers to where we walk, not how we walk
    God is light, and walking in the light is walking in the true knowledge of God; the new man is "renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." Light came into the world in Christ. He who follows Him has the light of life. 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.

  9. The Melchisedec Priesthood of Christ.
    Darby's writings really shine in their Christ-centeredness. This paper is considered "prophetic", but like all Darby's writings, it's not exactly on topic... at any rate, I've enjoyed this one many times. I highly recommend it.
    But we have a yet better portion, not blessings, great as they are, secured in His resurrection, but to be raised together with Him, and to sit with Him in heavenly places. "He hath blessed us in heavenly places"; and the very purpose of that epistle to the Ephesians is to shew that, made sons with Him, we are to be with Him in heavenly places, the body of Him, the Head to the Church over all things. We have not merely the fruits, but the working towards ourselves of that exceeding great power, which was wrought in Him, when "God raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." (See Eph. 1: 19; Eph. 2: 7.) But we look at this only in government now in connection with the throne of Melchisedec.

  10. "The Hopes of the Church of God"

    JND is primarily known for his eschatological views. That's actually unfortunate, as Chuck has pointed out, because his eschatology was just one small part of a greater whole. Be that as it may, he is generally thought of as a major influence on American evangelical eschatology in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    So we ought to include some eschatological papers...

    This is a series of 11 lectures delivered in Geneva in 1840. This was an important historical event, as it was where he first really clearly laid out his views on Ruin; in "Progress of Evil on the Earth", the fifth lecture. If you don't read any of the rest of these addresses, you need to read "Progress of Evil on the Earth".

    1. Introduction

    2. The Church and its Glory

    3. The Second Coming of Christ

    4. First Resurrection; or, Resurrection of the Just

    5. Progress of Evil on the Earth

    6. The Two Characters of Evil: Ecclesiastical Apostasy, and Civil Apostasy

    7. Judgment of the Nations, which become the inheritance of Christ and of the Church

    8. Israel's First Entry into the Land was the Result of Promise

    9. Israel's Failure and Dispersion; Promises of Restoration

    10. Same subject as the preceding and Manner of its Accomplishment

    11. Summing Up, and Conclusion

  11. Finally a little heavier reading: On Sealing with the Holy Ghost
    This was a fairly controversial paper in its day. I think it's worth reading. I've always been humbled by this one.

There are many, many papers by JND I could recommend. And sadly, I've gotten to the point in reading JND that I've been going back and re-reading some of my favourites, before I finished reading them all the first time.

Not all his papers are excellent: some aren't so good, some are of dubious profit. But I've utterly enjoyed reading Darby, and I have to admit it's had quite an effect on me.

So if you try reading some of these, let me know what you think.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Darby's Ages

A friend made some comments recently that spurred me to take down some of my books by J. N. Darby and restart my reading through Collected Writings. I was reading through Vol. 25 when I came across this remarkable paragraph (
We have seen the Lord shewing out His own rejection, in grace, followed by an entirely new order of things. The church, brought in subsequently, is not an age, properly so called, but a heavenly episode between the ages. There are three ages spoken of in Scripture: the age before the law; the age under the law; and the millennial age. Christ was "made under the law," and that age is not finished yet. The disciples said to Him, "What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the age?" That was the age when He was there, but when they rejected Him, the age was suspended. As He straitly charged Peter to tell no man He was the Christ, saying, "the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected," etc. Therefore He says to them, "Ye shall not see me, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." We, who form a part of the church of God, and not having anything to do with the earth, are in no sense an age, but are a heavenly people united to Christ above, during the suspension of this age, filling up the gap between the Lord's leaving the Jews, and His return to them again. So in Romans 11 we have the olive tree with some of the branches broken off, and others graffed in. This is the tree with its root in the earth, and consequently it could have nothing directly to do with the church in heaven. Some of the branches were broken off, and some left; but this could never be said of the church, the body united to its head, at the right hand of God. The church, of course, does fill up a certain place and time, but it is during the suspension of the age to which Christ came. Characteristically we belong to that which is above and beyond anything connected with this world. It is grace that has set us there, and that is not of earth but of heaven.

I thought it worthy of note because of some comments I had made a couple years ago about Darby's dispensationalism.

Darby claims, "there are three ages spoken of in Scripture: the age before the law; the age under the law; and the millennial age". And he goes further to note that, "the church, of course, does fill up a certain place and time, but it is during the suspension of the age to which Christ came."

Obviously this flatly contradicts more mainstream dispensationalist thinking. That's not to say that he's right and they're wrong... but there is an obvious and distinctive contrast.