A summary by Sosthenes of John Nelson Darby’s
“The Notion of a Clergyman, Dispensationally the sin against the Holy Ghost”
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.
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The Church as a Worldly Institution
The word ‘clergy’, or the clerical principle, has the characteristic mark of apostasy in it – that is the substitution of man’s privileged order on God’s Church. This has resulted in the Holy Spirit’s being despised in the Church. Instead of those who had the lot of being instructors or spiritual overseers, ministers have now made themselves lords over the people and even the very Church itself. So people speak of “going into the Church”.
Because this power is attached to the ministry, it has become the Church itself in the eyes of the world. The world can therefore save itself the trouble of being religious by throwing all on to the clergy, so that irreligious people can regard religion is the clergy’s business, not theirs. The substitution of the clergy for the Church is essentially apostasy.
It may be asked whether this is not really the sin against the Holy Spirit, merely resistance to Him. However anything that interferes with the Holy Spirit’s vicarship of Christ in the world is a direct sin against Him is pure, dreadful, and destructive evil. It is the very cause of destruction to the church. Alas, even if not knowingly or willingly, every clergyman is contributing to this.
The Exclusive Authority of the Clergy
The Holy Spirit gives the word by whoever and whenever He choses. But if clergymen have the exclusive privilege of preaching, teaching, and ministering communion, which is what they claim, then in their eyes anything else must be disorder and schism.
This accusation is therefore levelled directly against the sovereign operations of the Spirit of God. That is ascribing to the power of evil that which comes from the Holy Spirit. This is the sin (or blasphemy) against the Holy Spirit. – This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils…whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him (Matthew 12:24,32).
God’s truth is always profitable, and by it the testimony is maintained in the world. But the principles of the truth were established before their being subjugated by the papal power. Believers have now to rest on the Lord, or sink into the system. But dependence on the Lord is by the work of the Holy Spirit. That is not resting on the official church, so it is condemned by the clerical system. Hence, the very notion of a clergyman is effectively apostasy and rebellion against God.
Appointment of Clergymen and Bishops
Are all clergymen and bishops, occupying a humanly appointed office, converted themselves? Whilst many are truly godly, there are some who are even haters of God. If so why are they in that position in the church? It must be that there is honour attached to the position and that they are authorised to confer honour on others.
Most godly clergymen and bishops will admit that their appointment is not by God. Accordingly, in their position of being clergymen, they are forced either to resist God in the Holy Spirit or to resist the bishops and higher authorities from whom they derive their authority. Darby ventured to say that the most successful clergymen were the blindest, darkest and most ignorant in the external practice of religion.
And what about the bishops? Their appointment varies, but they may receive Letters Patent, in Britain by the Sovereign, with the support of the secular authorities. They, with their invested authority, are not appointed by God at all, but often by godless, worldly politicians. And if they are honest they will recognise it, even though the system must charge anybody who does not accept their authority with dissention and schism.
Resistance to the Gospel
When the gospel is preached, there is witness to the Redeemer’s love: people are bought into the communion of the Lord’s love, to bear witness to their sole dependence on His dying love. This witness is by ordinary lay persons. But their testimony is not accepted because they are not, nor have been brought together by – clergymen!
It will therefore be observed that where there is lay evangelical activity, which is blessed of God, opposition will come from the clergy. Some will even condemn it as evil. In Britain this will be from the vicars and bishops, in American from the presiding bishops and clergy, in Southern Europe, Latin America and Egypt from the Catholic and Coptic priests, in the Greek church from the papas – even if their numbers fall.
Darby cited a movement at that time in Ireland known as the Home Mission. Opposition from the Establishment was so strong that meetings were forcibly broken up, and those involved were excommunicated. This is despite the fact that thousands flocked to hear and enjoy the gospel. No doubt the clergy thought that it was their exclusive prerogative to preach, and therefore they should hinder any who were not ordained.
The situation is the same whether in Protestantism or Roman Catholicism. Indeed the status is the same; they are mutually respected, [witness the 21st century ordinariate]. If one is bound to acknowledge the one, he is bound to acknowledge the other in the same title and office. They are their own witnesses that there is no difference between them in title as clergymen. The only difference is that one authority is passed down from the Pope, the other from the Sovereign. In either religion, this is the notion that meets you, as the barrier to God’s truth and work.
The Clergy in the Dark Ages and Afterwards
As Christianity became the imperial religion, the church sunk into worldliness and embraced the world’s methods and standards. The world therefore became its head. The world cannot manage a spiritual office, but it can manage global, national, regional and local authorities. So it set up these authorities to minister, guide and manage the church.
For a long time, due to ignorance and superstition, ecclesiastical offices wielded more power than kings and the secular nobility. Later secular power reassumed supremacy, but the ecclesiastical structure remained the same. The world’s geographical secular powers used the church as an instrument to manage the mass of people. Those who desired to put themselves in Christ’s hand would be regarded as rebellious, because people were taught to rely on the Church rather than on Christ’s hand by the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile the official church’s – not the true Church of God’s – influence declined. The church, bound up with the world, has become merely a compound of secular influence and remaining superstition, where spiritual energies are cramped.
The Clergy in the Reformation
The reformation introduced a statement of individual faith, and broke off from the power of Rome and Popery. But it did not separate the Church from the world. Outward signs changed, but Christ and His Spirit did not rule. Darby said he believed that eventually the principle of the clergyman would result in the re-introduction of the power of Popery, since in all cases the religion is based on a doctrine of succession, not on the presence of the Holy Spirit. No Protestant minister, as a clergyman, can prove his title any more than the Pope can. It is not a question of what doctrine is held, though in a great number of instances the clergy do not preach the truth, and many would question whether some are even Christians.
The Influence of the Clergy
As a position, the rank of clergyman has an amazing pernicious influence on the minds of people. This has grown up though its association with the world, and a hindrance the operation of God’s Spirit. Indeed, it charges the operations of the Spirit of God with evil, as rebellion to its authority, because it does not act within its defined territorial limits, or conform to its secular and ceremonial arrangements. Nor too does the true Church recognize ecclesiastical hierarchy. Their godly and faithful brethren, acting under the Spirit of God are rejected, and branded divisive schismatics.
The Gifts to the Church
There are gifts: He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:5, 7, 11); so in 1 Corinthians 12, To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit But these are known only as gifts. The notion of a Clergyman substitutes something which cannot be said to be of God at all in the place of all these. And is not found in Scripture either.
Not being Lords over God’s Heritage
Peter spoke of those who were elders or instructors: Neither as being lords over God’s heritage (κλήρων, kleron), but being ensamples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:3). That is the real meaning of the word kleros or lot. The only use therefore of the word ‘clergy’ in Scripture is, as applied to the laity, contrasted with ministers, charging them to assume no lordship.
Speaking of “My flock”
How often have we heard that expression from the mouth of a minister or clergyman – “My flock,” as if it were a virtue to think of the congregation as such. To claim that is a shocking blasphemy, even if not done so knowingly or wilfully. Not even an apostle would have dared to claim the flock as his own. It was God’s flock which they might be given to oversee – Christ’s sheep – which they might be entrusted with a portion of, a lot (kleros), to feed and guide. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)
Vicars, pastors or ministers who talk about their sheep, or their flock, put themselves in the place of God or His Christ. They do so because they are clergy: they count it their title as clergy – they would effectively be as gods. What will they say before the Righteous Judge?
The Clerical System vs. Individual Clergymen
Nevertheless, Darby, having been a clergyman once himself, had high esteem for many individuals amongst the clergy, and he did not doubt that there were many others as worthy that he did not know. But it is not an individual question, but one affecting God’s glory and the whole order of the Church. For the official church publicly has departed from God, and has become what it is, both in name and title. It has become the concentration of that which, by its denial of the Holy Ghost and gratuitous blasphemy against Him, brings destruction on all to which it is attached.
Conclusion – The clergy identifies the Church with the world, not God with the Church
The clerical system identifies the church with the world, not God with the Church. Being of the world it is of Satan, and the world denies, rejects, and even blasphemes the Holy Ghost.
JND concludes: What is the remedy? It must be the recognition of God’s Spirit wherever He operates, personally bowing to His guidance and direction. The Christian will see as the hand of God, in the Comforter who has been sent to abide with us, and works in us by obedience. As a result we can possess its joy in boldness, against all that grieves Him. This we do against joining the world, which cannot own or receive Him, and which denies the truth, of which He is the witness.
May the Lord give us to discern things that are not of the Holy Spirit, and to separate the precious from the vile.
J.N. Darby (1800-1882) – Dublin 1828.
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