Darby on the Absolute

Summary of an apologetic article by JND entitled ‘The Absolute’ JND Collected Writings Vol 32 (Miscellaneous 1) page 18.

J N Darby (1800-82)

Having spent most of last year on my book, I felt I ought to do a few more articles summarising JND’s works.  I looked to the Lord for direction and chanced upon the title, ‘The Absolute’.  Knowing that Darby was criticised for using that term, critics even accusing him of having to do with the occult, it was well to see the comment availed.  I will leave it to the reader to judge, but my conclusion is that Darby jealously protects what is of God personally from that which relates to man.

Absolute and Relative

Only God is absolute.  Therefore, man cannot have absolute knowledge about anything.  All human knowledge is relative.

The closest concept is the “I[i]“, which is outside of time and space, and therefore precludes any relation.  But even this is not absolute. 

The ‘I’ is not the same as ‘I am’ which is clearly a relative expression which we can understand.  Any human conception or idea cannot be infinite and must be relative.  When ‘I’ relates to time, infiniteness is not implied.  I can say ‘I am’ that relates to time – but the word ‘being’ relates to what is infinite and therefore can only belong to God[ii].

If God in infinity has a relationship with man in relativity it is because of His own will.  The human mind cannot know God, because relative cannot know absolute. But if imagination works, it corrupts the intuition mythologically.


Man’s Futile Rationalism

It is impossible to arrive at the knowledge of what is absolute through science.  Science is clearly incompetent as every discovery throws up further questions

The French philosopher and theologian  Scherer[iii] reduced man to the lowest estimate of the judgment of God and good.  He said, ‘Truth is no longer truth in itself’-  a ridiculous sentence.  At an absolute level beauty truth and righteousness cannot be made relative.  God is the Absolute.

With man these things are

relative and can only be so.  The philosopher attempts to define these things in human  terms.  One reasons from final causes, another from intuition as to what relates to God.  A third vacillates between the two.  The result is nothing. It is the ‘unknown God’  (Acts 17:23).  When Paul was in Athens he contended with a vast system of philosophy.  In wretched pantheism there is a germ of truth, for God is above all and through all.  I want the absolute but cannot have it, because I am in a relative condition; yet.  Anything further is self occupied with self.


[iv] In Darby’s time it was thought that the smallest possible particle was the atom. Since then we have found that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, and beyond that, quarks.

The Truth – Thr Absolute become Relative

The truth gives us a true object as from the beginning, though present fulness, to the end,  we have the assurance of knowing as we are known, knowledge being now in part (See 1 Cor 13:12).  In Christ we have the absolute become relative, giving us the absolute goodness in coming into relation, perfect love and perfect light, but we have it more fully.  We have the truth as to everything from the supreme God to sin, the world, the devil and death. That is what our hearts can delight in.  In Christ, we see absolute moral perfection of man, because He could give Himself.  Could God’s ways be more perfect or wise?

God has revealed Himself in Christ in grace to us, and we discover a supreme relationship and an absolute claim which frees us from all others and leads us to give up self in all things. How admirable and divine the whole scheme is!  Man out of self by the absolute-become-relative and perfection in the relative toward God and toward man, while the absolute is maintained to our souls in every sense by the sacrifice of Christ and man’s perfect abnegation of self in the same to glorify God.  The result is man dwelling in God (and God in him) and that in glory, enjoyed now.  he that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself

Human Philosophy

Philosophical wisdom objects to this display of God’s absolute character at Christ’s expense.  It does not understand it when the Lord says, ‘Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again’ (John 10:17).  It never gets out of self.

Metaphysical scepticism can only arrive at what is true within a limited sphere. The finite cannot know the infinite – because it is not the knowledge of God.[v] Truth beyond physical fact, must be a revelation from God[vi]

Darby’s next couple of paragraphs comprise intellectual logical arguments which are beyond my level of comprehension. I have therefore not attempted to summarise them[vii].

However, in this section Darby introduces human will as affecting our perception of the truth.


One intelligible conclusion

Simple Christianity totally rejects heathenism and philosophy as being evil.  However, some of the early so-called fathers, such as Clements and Origens, accepted human lusts and cravings as part of the truth. met them when not simply lusts. Christ alone is the truth; His word is, because He is as He said, ‘altogether that which I also say to you’ (John 8:25).

Modern Theological Thinking

Darby now refers to the German theologian and philosopher Schleiermacher (1768-1834) as if his teaching was well known – and from the note below[i] it probably was, and the source of the worst infidelity now is that he has taken the Holy Ghost’s work in us – very likely in himself – for intuition.  Doubtless, he was influenced by Kant and others.  Philosophers would deny revelation – not founded on logic and human reasoning.

True believers see things differently


[viii] Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (November 21, 1768 – February 12, 1834) was a German Reformed theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity. He also became influential in the evolution of higher criticism (looking at texts from a worldly historical setting), and his work forms part of the foundation of the modern field of hermeneutics (the interpretation of biblical texts). Because of his profound effect on subsequent Christian thought, he is often called the “Father of Modern Liberal Theology” and is considered an early leader in liberal Christianity.

Source Wikipedia

Reading the rest of the article one would question whether he had a true conversion,

[i] It is interesting that Darby uses the expression ‘I’.  I would have expected to have used the Greek Ego/ Εγώ, especially as the Greek is in English everyday parlance.

[ii] I do not fully understand this!

[iii] In Darby’s time it was thought that the smallest possible particle was the atom. Since then we have found that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, and beyond that, quarks.

[iv] Presumably Edmond Henri Adolphe Schérer (April 8, 1815 – March 16, 1889)  a French theologian, critic and politician.  He was a rationalist.

[v] Hence Pilate asked, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:38)

[vi] This is difficult to follow, and I am not too sure if I have got what JND said right.  The only way I can is to relate things to scripture – which of course must be true.   This paper is meeting the infidel, and drawing on scripture. However I am thinking of what Paul said the in scripture, ‘God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; (Gal 1:15-16), the truth being in Him.  And also ‘the truth is in Jesus’ (Eph 4:21).

[vii] If a reader could help it would be appreciated.

[viii] Presumably Edmond Henri Adolphe Schérer (April 8, 1815 – March 16, 1889)  a French theologian, critic and politician.  He was a rationalist.

Author: Sosthenes

Once the ruler of the synagogue at Corinth Then a co-writer of a letter by Paul - just a brother - no longer an official Now a blogger seeking to serve the Lord by posting some words that the Lord has given His Church.

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