A summary by Sosthenes of John Nelson Darby’s
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.
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God’s Holiness, Love and Grace
In God’s nature there is both holiness and love. As Christian saints we possess these because of the life that has been given to us. Holiness, is needed by all who approach God, but love, the spring of activity, provides the energy for us to do so. God is holy – God is not just loving, but love. Wherever love is found, it is of God, for God is love. This is the blessed active energy of His being. And God displays His love in the riches of His grace to sinners. It is to their eternal blessing as He will show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus (Eph 2:7)
God imputes no sin to the Church. Through grace and redemption this fact is always blessedly and eternally true.
We are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. (Eph 1:4). God is holy; God is love, and in His ways, blameless. We are sinners. but in His love God has put sinners in the place of holiness and blamelessness. He has shown us favour in the Beloved – In Christ the Son, the blessed one. We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (what we need) – so we can enter where we can be to the praise of the glory of His grace – and this according to the riches of his grace (Eph 1:6-7)
Our Heavenly Position
When Christ was here He was alone; grace was rejected here, but in His death redemption was accomplished and atonement made. Jesus has revealed God, even though His power is seen in creation, and we thus know Him to be love and light too. Blessed knowledge!
In the exercise of that love God gathers to Himself those who display that love in Christ. He is the great power and centre.
In bringing us into unity, God has the highest thoughts for us. In Eph 1:3, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. In John 20:17, Christ speaks of us as His brethren. Our wonderful part in sweet and blessed grace is up there in the best and highest sphere of blessing, where He dwells.
We therefore have an inheritance. The Holy Ghost is the earnest of the inheritance, (Eph 1:14) but not of God’s love. That is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us. (Rom 5:5).
“Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity.”
Darby’s earlier tract “Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity” bore on state of the Church of God in general, and not any member in particular. However, anybody denying the basic principles of that tract is not on Christian ground at all. Is not holiness the principle on which Christian fellowship is based? And the real message of that tract is simply that.
The Danger of becoming Occupied with Evil
Separation from evil, distinguishes the person who separates from the person who is separated from. The danger when we separate we get over-occupied with our position as separate – this tends to make our position important to us. Our treacherous human hearts being what they are, mix up our position with self. If separation from evil becomes the gathering power, then what is in my mind is my position, and I am over-occupied by its importance.
As a Christian separates from evil, it is the evil acting on the conscience of the new man, which drives him out. He knows it to be offensive to God but if he becomes occupied with the evil, he is in a dangerous situation. Naturally he is anxious about those he has left, to justify and demonstrate to them clearly the ground on which he left. Meanwhile those he has left tend to cover things up in order to explain their position. So our friend becomes occupied with proving the evil to others. This is slippery ground for the heart, to say nothing of danger to love. This is not holiness, nor separation from evil. It harasses the mind, and cannot feed the soul.
God separates us from evil, but He does not fill the mind if we continue to be occupied with it; because God is not in the evil. Where conflict with evil not maintained in spiritual power, communion is lost, and it becomes impossible to maintain unity.
Real Holiness is not merely Separation from Evil, but Separation to God from Evil
What is holiness? Holiness is separation to God. We are brought to God and to know Him. The prodigal came to himself and said “I will arise and go to my father.” God says “If thou wilt return, return unto me.” (Jer 4:1) A soul is never really restored until it returns to God. Even if the fruits of flesh have been confessed, forgiveness and restoration are from God in love.
God is above all. The new holy and divine nature, being exercised in life, revolts from evil when it has to face it. Natural conscience involves the rejection of evil. But real holiness is not merely the rejection and the separation from evil, but separation to God from evil. God is our object. Real holiness, then, is separation to God, as well as from evil; for only thus are we in the light, for God is light. (1 John 1:7)
So instead of the heart being occupied with the evil, which it abhors, it is filled with good. This does not weaken separation, but puts the evil quite out of mind and sight. Hence the heart is holy, calm, apart from, and abhorring evil. God is good, and we can be positively filled with God in Christ. As we become occupied with good, we become holy. Hence we can abhor evil, without occupying ourselves with it.
The soul goes from sin to love, and goes there because love was displayed in Him that was made sin for us. Love is the power that separates us from evil, and ends all connection with it; for if I die then to the nature I used to live to, I live hereafter in the blessed activity in love.
Through the Holy Spirit’s working, purifying our affections our souls are drawn to what is good. We recognise evil, not by a mere uneasy conscience, but by sanctification. This is all in the power of God’s grace.
Love precedes holiness
Love comes before holiness, wither mutual amongst the Christian saints , or individual in enjoying the revelation of God. “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints,” 1 Thess. 3:12, 13. Also “Ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. … God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” (1John 1:4-6). So separation from evil involves walking in the light, in God’s revealed character in Christ, in the truth as it is in Jesus in whom the life was the light of men (John 1:4). If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. But what makes the fellowship?
Christ therefore becomes the centre. Jesus had won John’s heart, and was the gathering power into fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. John knew that by the Holy Spirit. He knew that is what made the fellowship.
The true Character of Christian Fellowship – with Him, where He is, where Evil cannot come
As we have been restored to God together, we can gather to a common Christian fellowship. We are to have fellowship in something, that is, with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus says “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Now here was perfect love, entire separation from all sin and in condemnation of it. But He is risen and ascended, so It is a heavenly place that He takes, and our gathering through the cross is to Him there, in the good where evil cannot come. There is our communion – entering into the Father’s house in spirit. And this is the true character of the assembly, the church, for worship in its full sense. It remembers the cross, it worships, and all known in heaven before God.
Our fellowship or communion, is in that which is good – heavenly, no evil being there. Hence it is said: “If we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” (1 John 1:7) The only way in which we can walk out of darkness is by walking in the light, that is, with God: and God is love, and were He not, we could not walk there.
And this is true even if realised imperfectly.
Active Love Gathering Us
In love we are bought into fellowship, love acting to bring us together. In love we have our part. Love, while sanctifying and maintaining God’s holiness, makes us partakers of it, revealing God and gathering weary souls.
Love is active. Jesus has revealed God, and we know Him to be love and light; He has given us eternal life. The Lord said : “My Father worketh hitherto and I work ”. (John5:17) He gave himself . . . that he might gather into one the children of God, which were scattered abroad. (John 11:52)
It is evident to the Christian that love gathers to holiness, and on the principle of it. Grace alone fully reveals God; without grace that to which we are to be gathered cannot be seen. Grace reaches the heart.
Law and Grace
The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). The law told man what he ought to be. It did not tell him what he was, nor did it tell him what God was; that remained concealed. The truth is not what ought to be, but what is – the reality of all relationships as they are, and the revelation of Him who must be the centre of them. And that cannot be without grace, for man is a ruined sinner, and God is love.
Through grace, God Himself, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are revealed as They are, and also what man is in perfection, in relationship with God. We see the contrasts: obedience and disobedience, holiness and sin, God and man, heaven and earth. With the fullest revelation of Himself, we see His counsels with Christ as the centre. Hence grace is the acting power in and is alone capable of revealing truth; for Christ’s being here is grace; His working is effective grace.
Now grace is the gathering power, gathering into unity, for it must, being divine, gather to itself. Every renewed soul must know that all such are drawn together to Christ.
Grace reigns through righteousness. It does it by uniting souls in the power of the Holy Spirit to Jesus, the one who was here, was on the cross, but now as Christ in heaven, where our true place is by faith.
This is love, infinite, divine; and, through the Holy Ghost, we have fellowship with Him. We join in it. Now that, we perceive, is the gathering power for Christians who desire to be separate from evil.
J.N. Darby (1800-1882)
John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), an Anglo-Irish evangelist, was led to the fierce conclusion that all churches, as man-made institutions, were bound to fail. The believer’s true hope was the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. With others Darby gathered in a less formal way, free of clergy and human structure, founded on a desire to be separate from unholy organisations
Darby, after resigning his curacy in the Church of Ireland, became a tireless traveller, talented linguist and Bible translator. His influence is still felt in evangelical Christianity.
For more on this servant of the Lord please see JN Darby – Biographical Note
A summary by Sosthenes – September 2013