‘After These Things’ Chapter 5.1 – The Power, Hopes, Calling, Present Position, and Occupation of the Church
A summary of a paper by J.N. Darby entitled: ‘The Church – What is it? Her Power, Hopes, Calling, Present Position, and Occupation’. It is published in Darby’s Collected Writings – Volume 12 (Evangelical 1) Page 372
We need to understand what the Church really is, and to distinguish between Church and the kingdom. The question, ‘What is the church?’ evokes numerous theories. Some say it is ‘visible,’ others ‘invisible’; some, that there will be a church by-and-by, but there is none now; that there is no church on earth (there may be churches), but only when all are assembled in heaven will there be a church. All these are erroneous
To understand the Church’s place, one must trace its place in the context of its whole history from its commencement at Pentecost, through the current day of grace, the Rapture, the tribulation, the Millennium to the Eternal Day. The church is Christ’s representative on earth – the epistle of Christ (See 2 Corinthians 3:3). As the tables of stone represented what God demanded from man, so should the Church be the revelation of what God is to man in grace and power.
We should also distinguish ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ and ‘the kingdom,’ from ‘the gospel’ (in its full scope) and ‘the church.’ Paul preached the kingdom of God – that is very different from Christ’s reign of power on the earth, when Christ will have His bride united to Him in glory. When Paul speaks of his ministry, he distinguishes between the ministry of the gospel of salvation and the ministry of the church.
Up to the time of Samuel, the point of association between the people and God was through the priesthood. But the priests were unfaithful, and then the Lord wrote ‘Ichabod’ (See 1 Samuel 4:21) upon what had been Israel’s glory. The ark was taken by the Philistines; the priests were slain and the link between God and the people was broken. God’s plan was that Israel should have a king. However, Israel set about it the wrong way: they got Saul who did not understand the signs. David understood them and was the type of Christ the King.
After King David is introduced, the priesthood ceases to be the habitual link between the people and God. God says, ‘I will raise me up a faithful priest . . . and he shall walk, before mine anointed for ever’ (1 Samuel 2:35). A royal person is the link between God and the people. When Solomon dedicated the temple (as a Melchisedek priest), the priests could not stand to minister; the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God, the king praised God and blessed the people.
Finally, the King was presented in humiliation in the Person of Christ. John the Baptist says, ‘Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. (Matthew 3:2 – the King coming in judgment). After John was rejected and cast into prison, Christ, the mightier One, takes up the same testimony: ‘From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17). Jesus went about Galilee, teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing the sick. The power of God was with Him, and it was seen. Then, the King having been rejected, the apostles went out preaching the kingdom. They also knew ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 13:11), and God was with them. At present it is more testimony than power, but there will be a special testimony to the coming of the kingdom before the close of this dispensation.
The kingdom is still to be set up in the Person of Jesus Christ. He must go to a far country to receive a kingdom and return (See Luke 19:11). This is the ‘world to come’ (Hebrews 2:5, etc.), and the power of Satan will be set aside. Heaven will be in the seat of the kingdom. We will reign with Him there, joint-heirs with Christ, siting on thrones.’
There is another aspect to Paul’s ministry. Man is at enmity with God, Jews and Gentiles alike being known only as children of wrath. Paul preached the gospel to every creature under heaven. He was not simply a minister of the gospel; he was a minister of the church to fulfil the word of God (See Colossians 1:25)
Paul deduced that there is a body of which Christ is the Head, associated and connected with Him in His headship over all things. ‘By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body,’ (1 Corinthians 12:13). God ‘gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’ (Ephesians 1:23). Ministries, gifts of healing, etc., as are the ‘joints and bands’ (Colossians 2:19) are not in heaven, but now on earth. The Head is at the right hand of God in heaven, united to the members, formed into a body down here on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls this ‘the Church (or Assembly – Darby).’
There is something in Matthew 16:18 that is often overlooked. The Lord says to Peter, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ He gives the keys to Peter – the keys of the kingdom, not of the church. The church is that body which the Holy Spirit forms into unity. The Lord Jesus Christ is its Head, He sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
In Scripture it is not the power of the church, but the power that works in us – the power of God working in the church. The Head supplies what is needed. ‘Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us’ (Ephesians 3:20). He nourishes His church according to its need. His powerful operations are however limited by the moral condition of the church. However, God is true and will not act in the power of grace contrary to the moral condition of the church or any individual. He may bear with its state in patience, but God will never sanction publicly what He disapproves of.
When we think of the saving of souls, it is rather the sovereign operation of the Spirit of God through the gospel. But the church is a vessel of power, and miracles testify to the power of Christ as the risen Son of man.
We must understand where we are, before we can get the blessing suited to our being part of the body of Christ. Christ never alters His mind. His grace remains the same, as does what He seeks from the church in responsibility, but the ways in which He acts vary. In the days of the apostles the church was adorned with all sorts of miracles: it is different now. Christ will never give up His thoughts about the church; but if we are only doing what we feel to be right, He will make sad work of what we have done. ‘He that gathereth not with me scattereth.’ (Matthew 12:30).
If Christ gathers, He scatters that which is not gathered in the power of unity with Himself – just like a pack of cards. This may surprise and humble us, but it does not discourage us since we look for God to act. The church’s power is in her weakness and her spirit constant, simple, unmingled dependence.
While Christ remains sitting at the right hand of God in the Father’s throne, the only thing He owns as the Church, is the body down here. When He leaves His Father’s throne to take the Church unto Himself, she will form a glorious body in heaven.
The hope of the Church is founded on her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. She is united to her Head there, seated in heaven in Him, waiting to be there actually. As the bride of Christ on earth, she is a pilgrim here and desires to have no more to do with the world than Christ has. She will see things set right in the kingdom, but this is not her hope: her hope is her marriage with the well-known heavenly Bridegroom. That is how Paul knew that the Church’s place was to be with Christ there. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Paul says, ‘Then shall we ever be with the Lord’, our bodies changed. What follows that? Nothing! A great many things may be happening now, but the Church’s hope is to be with Him and like Him, for she will see Him as He is.
We have a heavenly calling, but that does not in itself convey the thought of the church. We must not confuse what we are as members of the church with the Church itself. Many things are true of the members that do not apply to the church as a distinct body. As individuals, we are called, and look to be caught up into heaven; we have a heavenly portion as the brethren of Christ. We are builded together for the habitation of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22): that is the calling of the church down here. Called, we endeavour ‘to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body…’ (Ephesians 4:3-4):
As to our present position and occupation, one thing is very different from the early church. When the Spirit of God was working at the beginning of the gospel, the testimony had great power, producing a visible, identifiable gathering – a substantial result. There is nothing like this. The sheep have been scattered; there are all sorts of opinions. Even unity involves separation from evil, I must look to Christ as the Centre of truth. If my soul is not prepared to look to Him and gather with Him, I shall be cast into the uncertain condition of the differing opinions of every saint I meet. If Christ is our common object, there will be a coalescing power. I find the church of God in a unity which attaches itself to Christ alone, as the sole centre.
The Church ought to be in constant, incessant communion with her Head. If not, she cannot act for Him. She must get beyond the crowd of Satan’s power, to the Head, the only source of power. Then she can join in the cry ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Revelation 22:17). So should the Church have her own light, with what is outside shut out.
Darby concluded: ‘We should get near enough to Christ to enjoy Him, and to know Him truly, and to gather up all that is like Him. If not separated by affection from the world, we shall be separated by discipline in the world. He will vex our souls to get us separate, ‘Because thou servedst not Jehovah thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart . . . therefore thou shalt serve thine enemies which Jehovah thy God shall send against thee’ (Deuteronomy 28:47 – Darby).’
 God said ‘before mine anointed’, not ‘before me’.
 For ‘fulfil’ Darby uses the word ‘Complete’ which gives the thought that everything was out as far as the inspired speaking of the Holy Spirit is concerned. Strong says the word is πληρόω/pléroó/Strong-4137 – fill to individual capacity.
 Elsewhere Darby noted ‘When looking at the building of church, J N Darby noted, ‘There are no keys for the Church. One does not build with keys. The keys are for the kingdom’ Collected Writings Vol 14 (Ecclesiatical 3), p80.
 See Foreword as to the use of the capital and small ‘c’ for church.
From our book ‘After These Things – Summaries of John Nelson Darby’s Papers on Prophecy – and more…’ Compiled by Daniel Roberts. For more about this book click on the picture or CLICK HERE