Paper No 1. The Faith once delivered to the Saints – or –
In his paper, ‘The Faith once delivered to the Saints’, John Darby notes that whatever God sets up perfectly, main ruins. This applies equally to the Church publicly. But it remains the Church, and it is for us to be faithful to the Lord whilst accepting our part in its public failure. We are in the last days and the Lord’s coming is imminent, so we are exhorted to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude:3).
Despite the public situation, we need to have a conscience as to what is evil, and keep close to the Lord, We must heed the Holy Spirit, judging evil, and resting the word, not the teachings of men. We must be prepared to act alone or with just a few. Then we can then get a view of God’s work. So we should know what God’s mind is for us on our path, individually and collectively. And we can trust in God, not in our own reasoning – in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength:” (Isaiah 30:15)
- summaries by Sosthenes
That they all may be one; John 17:21
In this paper Darby’s objective was, with God’s blessing, to show Christians how the Church can be united according to the Word of God, and how it should operate consistently. It would therefore be strengthened in its hopes and show the world clearly the power of God’s grace, leading believers to rely more on the Holy Spirit and less on human plans and co-operative schemes.
Darby looks at the way in which the public Christian Church has degenerated with worldliness, human organisation, tolerance of evil and sectarian fragmentation, running counter to the Lord’s words That they all may be one.
Church unity cannot be achieved by human compromise and confederacy. It can only be in looking to the Lord Himself, giving Him His place, by the Holy Spirit, going forth to him without the camp and being not of the world.
Paper No 3. – Separation from Evil and Christian Unity- or – Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity
Darby observed that, despite the brokenness of the church publicly, right-minded Christians were craving for unity. However, for Christians to be united, their union must be centred on God who is righteous and holy.
But we are in a secular and religious world that is full of evil, and God cannot be united with evil. The Christian must separate from what is evil before unity can be considered. Christ – who died, rose again and ascended is to be the Centre, and the Lord’s Supper the symbol and expression of unity and fellowship. Let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach.
If the Church is to be maintained separate from evil, it is called upon to judge them that are within. Only thus can Christian unity be maintained in the power of the Holy Spirit and with an honest conscience.
Paper No 4. – God’s Love and Grace – Holiness, Unity and Christian Gathering – or Grace, the Power of Unity and of Gathering
After maintaining that separation from evil must be the principle of unity, Darby was at pains to show that it cannot be the power to gather Christians. Holiness may attract them together, but the power to gather is grace, working in love – love through faith. If Christians gather purely out of separation from evil, they become occupied with the evil, which is not of God.
We are to be separated from evil, but separated to God. And that is in love, so we abound in love towards one another, our fellowship being with the Father and the Son, grace alone having revealed God’s heart. Active love gathers us together.
Paper No 5. – Independent Churches, Independent Local Assemblies, Personal Judgment and Conscience – or – On Ecclesiastical Independency
Darby observed the tendency of Christians to confuse their private, independent judgment with their conscience. My individual judgment may be as a result of my own will, and I will act independently, whereas conscience relates to God’s rights, the Word and the Lord’s authority. If I am disobedient, I am acting independently, in self-will, and am despising God’s authority.
There is only one Church of God – the body of Christ. An action in one gathering is binding on all, even if I personally have reservations about it. Scripture does not support independent churches, whether in a place or universally. Although many Christians might prefer to belong to independent assemblies, these are unscriptural, the work of Satan and positively evil, flying in the face of known truth.
If there is blasphemy in a local assembly or association with it, then I have to act. That is not independence, but I am acting in the light of the whole: “Because we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:17 JND). We profess to be one body whenever we break bread; scripture knows nothing else.
Paper No 6. – The Church as the Body of Christ, the Church as the Habitation of God, and Local Churches – or – Churches and the Church
In this paper, JN Darby introduced the thought of the local assembly and its function.
Most people, Christians included, think of churches in terms of the Anglican Church, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church, the Roman Catholic Church etc., and the structures, church organisations and buildings associated with them. However, scripturally the Church is the Body of Christ, and churches the expression of that body in a place. Teachers, shepherds, evangelists and other gifts apply to the whole Church. Elders (or overseers) are local. The idea of a single person, appointed or voted into a professional position is totally of man’s order and sets aside the Spirit of God.
If we believe that the public church is ruined, and governed by man, not the Holy Spirit, then we should humbly cry to the Lord. He will meet us in our need.
Paper No 6. – The Evil of Clericalism – or – The Notion of a Clergyman, Dispensationally the sin against the Holy Ghost – One Man shouldn’t run a Church, Meeting or Assembly
When John Nelson Darby, a former clergyman himself, published ‘The Notion of a Clergyman, dispensationally the sin against the Holy Ghost.’ with its understandably provocative title, it was said that he was accusing every clergyman or appointed leader of committing the sin against the Holy Spirit. He was at pains to show that this was far from the truth.
Darby’s issue was that any human appointment, whether by delegation or election, substituted the direct sovereign action of the Holy Spirit, by that of man. This is the notion of a clergyman. The system is wrong. It substitutes man for God. True ministry is by the gift and the power of God’s Spirit, not by man’s appointment.
If the authority of the clergy is derived from man, it follows that anything that is of God, by the Holy Spirit must be condemned by the system and classed as evil. This, then, is the sin against the Holy Spirit in this dispensation.