J N Darby – French Letter No. 143 – The Sheep and the Goats

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

Very dear brother

I am happy that the end of my labour on Matthew should be more pleasurable than the beginning, and I bless God for it. It will thus be evidently useful. I believe that, in the present state of the church, it is necessary to act according to the reasoning in Hebrews 5 and 6. However, it is a blessing that this is suited to the simple.

As to Matthew 25: 31-46, I do not understand how you apply this to the Jews, and that for the very simple reason that He speaks of Gentiles. Perhaps you will tell me that κα άφοριεί ατος άπ’ άλλήλων – kai aphoriei autous ap allelon, “And He will separate them[1] does not agree with πάντα τά έθνη – panta ta ethne “All the nations”; but I agree, as to the sense, there is nothing else with which it agrees. Look therefore at the passage: “But when the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit down upon his throne of glory, and all the nations shall be gathered before him; and he shall separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”. This is not here an allusion to a prophetic testimony, but to an act of the job of a shepherd. Earlier, he uses the expression: “he will set the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left”, but he abandons it at once in saying: “Then shall the King say to those on his right hand …”. The sheep are no longer named; He is speaking of people without using an image. Finally, I do not see here any other subject than the Gentiles (as the nations); they will be gathered and He will separate them; there is no other antecedent. You are right when you say that, according to my division, the “brethren” of verse 40 are not “the blessed of my Father” of v 34. I do not doubt that, if a sheep had done good to another sheep, this would have been recognised by Jesus, but in fact the sheep or those who are at his right are the righteous and the blessed of the Father. This is the division –



Sheep                       Goats

The “brethren” of whom He speaks do not find their place in this parable. The Lord leaves it to the spiritual intelligence of these servants to discern who they are. As to myself, I do not doubt that they are the Jews, messengers of the kingdom, according to the whole education of the Lord in these passages, but I am very willing to accept new light.

You would be wrong to insist on Ezekiel 34: 17, 22, because the Hebrew word translated ‘sheep’ indicates rather the race of goats than those of sheep (see for example Deut 14: 4). I do not understand either why you say that, in verses 4, 6 and 8 ‘the goats they have led astray’ are the bad shepherds. I also believe that you will find that in this passage, v 22, the rams and the goats are not put in contrast one with the other, but the weak animals in contrast with those they have defiled, called rams and goats. God will make the difference between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats (v 17).

The energy which goes forward to seek the truth is very precious. May it be tempered with the prudence which thinks of the result; this is a grace given to you. Charity thinks of souls and not only of ideas, although it remains true that God’s ideas are the only means of blessing for souls; but it must be “food in season[2]” …

As to the sympathy of Christ, it is a very important subject. It is evident to me that when Paul speaks of filling up what was lacking of the sufferings of Christ[3], he speaks of the sufferings which remain to be fulfilled, after those that Christ has accomplished on the earth. Paul is charged in turn with suffering. If he spoke of a Christ who still suffered, I do not see that he could say what was lacking of the sufferings of Christ” These words seem to me to be in contrast with what Christ has already suffered; Paul took his place to continue. Do not think that I thereby deny the sufferings of Christ as Head of the body, for I do believe it, and it is for me the sweetest possible thought. I believe only that it is important that the idea should be thought through to become a subject of edification and not of controversy. It is for me too precious and too near to the affections for this. There are subjects which have to be touched delicately. I do not therefore deny the sufferings of Christ in sympathy: I believe in them fully, only I doubt that one can apply Colossians 1: 24 to what Christ may suffer in heaven. (To sympathise is not, as you seem to believe, to suffer in the same way as you do. I could be called, as you say, to cut your arms; certainly, I would weep more than you, but my arms are not cut. I would sympathise, but I would not suffer in myself the thing done; I would suffer to see another suffer. I do not say at all that one would suffer less, but one suffers differently.)

As to your article, it has interested me much, and I believe that it could yield blessing for souls. The editing would need to be reviewed; there are passages which do not read well. I would like very much that it should be published, but it seems to me that you will do well to weigh and to develop the expression of your thoughts. It is a question for us of manoeuvring in the presence of the enemy and of not lending a flank to his attacks.

I repeat that I do not believe that this passage: “that which remains to be suffered of the afflictions of the Christ” can speak of a Christ suffering with Paul, although other passages prove (and I believe) his sufferings in sympathy with Him. I only express the principles here; for the details, I would have to re-read your article.

Your affectionate brother

[1] JND uses various Greek words in this letter (and the following letter) which are marked with spaces in the French version from which this translation is taken. Evidently, however, in some cases, the following words in inverted commas or the scriptural references supply the French translation of the Greek (translated here into English); in which case, the sense is complete, and the Greek word has been supplied accordingly from a Concordance. Otherwise, the space for the unknown Greek word is marked [….Ω….].

[2] Psalm 104: 27 or Matt 24: 45

[3] See Col 1: 24 – ‘ce qui manque aux souffrances de Christ’, ie ‘what was lacking of the sufferings of Christ’, is as translated by some, but not by JND (or Martin/Osterheld or KJV) in either French – ‘ce qui reste encore à souffrir des afflictions du Christ’ (‘that which still remains to suffer of the afflictions of the Christ’); or English (‘that which is behind of the tribulations of Christ’). But the French Roman Catholic version is exactly the wording of the former, whilst the NIV uses the same as the literal English translation of JND’s letter. Strong also uses ‘lacking’.

Letter originally written in French, translated by Sosthenes, 2013
Click here for original – If you have any comments on the translation, feel free to let me know.

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