What is the Church, and in what sense is it now in ruin?

or, the Church cannot be Reconstructed

Based on a reading with J N Derby, London September 1847

Scriptures read: 1 Timothy 3:15, 16; 2 Timothy 2:19-22

J N Darby (1800-82)

Many dear brethren have understandably been troubled at the expression “the ruin of the church”. They jealously hold that the church cannot fail, and in one sense this is correct.  However, we must distinguish between God’s purposes and the present situation where a man is placed in responsibility. As regards the purpose of God the church cannot be ruined, a testimony for God on earth it is in ruin.

We may ask, ‘Is there a church now on earth or not?’

Well, we may say ‘Is there an army or not?’ Suppose an army is not destroyed but scattered to the four winds, there is still an army, but also there is not an army: it has lost its corporate character.

We might think that we cannot do anything about the ruin: we should just ignore it, satisfied that we are saved by grace.  We are content to live in the ruin.  That demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s promises.  I should feel it to be a very sad effect if the expression “ruin of the church” were to dishearten a soul about the operation of the Spirit in bringing blessing to the church.

God’s purpose is unfailing, so the Church cannot fail as it exists in God’s purpose.  It follows that there are the resources in God to meet the circumstances of every Christian.  Knowing this we can look beyond our failure and the simple application of faith to the working of God’s power and blessing to glorify Christ.  Having the Spirit of Christ I cannot rest in the thought that a Christian is secure in Christ, with a present relationship with Him: I must and endeavour to instruct and exhort him and lead him on.

Thankfully, the Lord is awakening in the souls of many saints everywhere the question – “What is the church of God, and what is its relationship with Christ?”  At the same time they are being awakened as to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Satan opposes this using past testimony to hinder the present.  We get tired; our minds get distracted but the Lord always has the upper hand.

There are many saints, sound in the faith, who are not prepared to accept what the church of God is as set forth in the word of God. If it is meant that all the saints ever saved will in the end be in company in glory, in redemption and life through Him, and they call that the Assembly of God, I have no objection. The second Adam will have all around Him in glory, as the first Adam had all around him in sin.  In our place we have both privileges and responsibilities.  The Church of the living God is brought into the testimony by the Spirit of God and has a special relationship to God.

The church of the living God is the body of saints formed on earth in unity with Christ in heaven as the Head, by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to form them into unity with Christ at the right hand of God.  Some say that this includes all saints since Adam. But the Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my church’ (Matt 16:18). If there is to be a testimony the church must be visible, so now it is formed of those who are alive at the present time.

We read in Ephesians that God has set Christ above all principality and power in the heavenly places, consequent on his death and humiliation. The church is in association with him in heaven.  Christ is the righteous One in glory. God has set up a people in union with Christ as their head by the power of the Holy Spirit, formed of Jew and Gentile.  We now have to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

When I look at the Church in glory, I look at it as a body securely and infallibly perfect in God.  When man fails, God brings in an alternative. Adam failed; God brought in Christ. Israel failed; God brought in the assembly.  The Jewish priesthood failed and we see the same thing in the public church. But God fulfils his thoughts in a kingly priesthood.  In the Church I see the bride of Christ engaging an affectionate relationship.

So what do we mean by the ruin of the church?  Who will shew me the manifestation of the unity of the body of Christ? I cannot find it; but I can find saints that will be saved, manifest tokens of His faithfulness, ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst’ (Matt 18:20) – what blessing!  Israel failed before and after the captivity. Nevertheless, His attitude towards His people never changed.  He said, ‘Fear ye not’ (Isa 44:8).

Now bringing it down to our day we find divisions and disagreements among Christians. Does this mean that Christ loves the church less, or is less powerful?  That sorrows us, but we are not to be discouraged.  A truly humble man is not discouraged because he knows his nothingness.

Some years after my conversion I looked around to find where the church was, but I could not find it. I could find plenty of saints better than myself, but not the church set up with power on the earth.  Then I say the church as thus set up is ruined: I could not find a better word for it. The church was founded on the earth in the spirit of the new covenant, and if it fails, there is no judgment as there was with Israel as a nation. No judgment has been executed on the Church of God: we must not confound ruin with cutting off.

Obedience is the only thing in which a Christian should be rigid, it would keep us from latitudinarianism; and there should be nearness to Christ which would keep us from sectarianism.  Sectarianism is getting an interest in a little circle round ourselves

At home and abroad I find this question, What is the church of God? One says, The church is visible. What is its testimony?  Is it to Christ its heavenly Head, separate from sinners?  Another says, It is invisible. It is only invisible because in sin. The false church is visible; the true one invisible.

When in the early 1800s, a few exercised Christians separated from mainline churches, they did not take any official standing.”   Blessing followed and numbers increased. Then trouble came in, and so that their little group became their circle, not the church of the living God. People say, we have been too narrow, we must mix up a little. I cannot be that. ‘If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor’ (Gal 2:18). I desire the Church’s entire separation to Christ to whom she belongs – espoused as a chaste virgin. My feet in the narrow way – my heart as large as Christ’s.

The Church of God is responsible in walk and affection towards God, the conscience acknowledging the ruin. ‘I remember thee, the love of thine espousals’ (Jer 2:2).  Note that this is not love for Israel but the love of the state of the people. We have one sole object before our souls, Christ’s coming. If I have the spirit of the bride I shall desire the Bridegroom.  ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Rev 22:17).

The question arises as to how much one should  labour and pray for the restoration of the public church.  Ministry is not reconstruction.  I should feel disappointment at the thought of reconstruction: if I have the Spirit of Christ I should be sensible of the loss of suitability in the bride to Him, and wish to become fitted for Him.  The bride is looking for the Bridegroom and will seek to be purified for Him through “the washing of water by the word” (Eph 5:26), as she ought to ne.  We are for Him alone.

Reconstruction is not the object of pursuit. E man might have a desire to be in God’s service.  Howeever, if he has not entirely God’s object, he will succeed, but it will be something else, like the real thing, but quite another thing. Paul had to admit that he did not succeed when he said, ‘All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s’ (Phil 2:21).  When a man has God’s object, and is thoroughly working for God, he must be a man of sorrows. Paul never got the faith of his fellow labourers nor the church up to his own.

Now I must guard against any thought that I undervalue order. Subjection to the Spirit of God is shown in subjection to what the Spirit of God gives.  I am not pursuing that as an object; I am looking for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Still, I do not doubt but that all my service to the saints down here will come in as ministry.

The Christians’ place is to submit themselves to authorities which exist

Charles Coates 1862 – 1945.

  It is important to observe that there are no instructions to believers as to how they should exercise authority in the world. The Christians’ place is to submit themselves to authorities which exist. They have nothing to do with establishing the authorities; they recognise them as set up by God. We are exhorted to subject ourselves to the authorities and to pray for them (1 Timothy 2), but we have no instructions to vote for them. To vote is to take the place of deciding what the powers shall be; it is really to join with others in ruling the world. But the Christian is here to confess that all the rights of rule pertain to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to wait in patience for Him to come and take up His rights. And in the meantime to be in subjection to the powers that exist in the ordering of God, and to honour them as God’s ministers.

(C A Coates)

Golden Nugget Number 373

Golden Nuggets are published by Saville Street Distribution, Venture, Princes Esplanade, Walton-on-the-Naze, CO14 8QD UK                                                                             

I am old and I hope living more with Christ and in the Father’s love

I get on feeling I am old, and as to my body, worn out, but through mercy my mind is as fresh as ever, judging I trust all evil in me, past and present, more earnestly than ever, but finding unutterable goodness and mercy even there, and I hope living more with Christ and more in the Father’s love.  But I find intercession weak in me, though I know I love His people.  For Himself, He stands alone, and grace above us all.  Still, I should like to be more like Him, more with Him.  Even my work absorbs me too much.  The steam, so to speak, in propelling the vessel along.  Still, He helps and sustains; and I find when…a moment is there—oh! How sweet it is—the steam is there and rises up in unbounded thankfulness to unbounded grace, by grace revealed, and goodness that never fails. 

J N Darby (1800-82)

(J N Darby, aged 70, Letters Vol. 2 p64)                                                                                                                            

Golden Nuggets are published by Saville Street Distribution, Venture, Princes Esplanade, Walton-on-the-Naze, CO14 8QD UK                                                                             

The Knowledge of God

Frederick Raven (1837-1903)

No man can teach you the knowledge of God.  God may use teachers—apostles or what not—to guard and guide you in a way; but you can be confident that as to the true knowledge of God no one can teach you short of God Himself, that is, the Spirit of God.  Hence, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has been pleased to take the place of the truth down here, not objectively like Christ, but subjectively, that the saints may have the gain of the revelation which God has given of Himself in the only-begotten Son.  Christ has communicated the Spirit to be living water in the believer—a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

(F E Raven,  NS vol. 15 p129

The Blessings of Covid



April 2021

Dear Brother/Sister

The Blessings of Covid

Jeremiah said, ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved’ (Jer 8:20).  I guess we are feeling a bit like that with Covid.  In the UK we are emerging cautiously and slowly from the second wave, vaccinations are going well (My wife and I, thank God have had our two jabs).  But Continental Europe is already in a third wave, and we are being told to expect the same before the end of the summer.  Continental trips visiting our fellow Christians and for many families too seem very uncertain this year as well as last.   We cannot have it all in our own way.  God said, ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isa 55:9). Or as the adage goes, ‘Man proposes; God disposes’.  Here are a few observations:

  • Zoom meetings – some have problems, but I have found them fantastic.  We find we are able to meet up with fellow believers all over the world supported by the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s presence.  It’s not the same as meeting in a hall but it’s different.  We cannot limit God. 
  • We have a quieter life with less rushing about.  Many are working from home. 
  • Not being physically with our brethren and our natural families makes the expectation of seeing them greater. Paul was happy writing letters but wanted to see the saints face to face.
  • There is time to get on with a project. In my case it has been my book ‘After These Things’ (see below).
  • Not the least there is more time for prayer.

The Gospel Spread Abroad

As we have seen already there is evidence that more persons have been listening to the gospel online and they ever did in halls.  Let us pray that this has led to much true repentance, joy and liberty of the knowledge of forgiveness. 

One encouraging line has been a testimony by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Up till recently, there has been little recognition of t0he Lord but in his speeches. But his Easter message was clear as to the work of Christ on the cross and the resurrection. Doubtless, his severe attack of covid caused him to take stock of things. It is also understood that one of the consultants attending to him it was a sincere believer it was able to talk about the Lord.

‘After These Things’

I am aware of sales of 52 paperback copies of ‘After These Things’ There must be at least as many electronic copies, but for some reason I have no record of sales in the ePub digital book format – though till recently there has been an error in the link.  Here are the correct links (About the bookPaperbackKindleePub (Apple Books).  It would be nice to know if you have purchased or downloaded a copy. But that is only for my own satisfaction. The more important thing is that the prospect of the coming of our Lord Jesus to rapture his saints should brighten in each one of our hearts. 

Your prayers please

At the end of last year, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer.  Mercifully it was at an early stage, despite being of an aggressive type. I have completed a series of BCG immunotherapy inductions, and have another cystoscopy scheduled for 28th April.  I trust that he will find a satisfactory outcome  and would value your prayers.

 Trusting you are being encouraged

 Daniel Roberts (a.k.a. Sosthenes) 

Darby on the Absolute

Summary of an apologetic article by JND entitled ‘The Absolute’ JND Collected Writings Vol 32 (Miscellaneous 1) page 18.

J N Darby (1800-82)

Having spent most of last year on my book, I felt I ought to do a few more articles summarising JND’s works.  I looked to the Lord for direction and chanced upon the title, ‘The Absolute’.  Knowing that Darby was criticised for using that term, critics even accusing him of having to do with the occult, it was well to see the comment availed.  I will leave it to the reader to judge, but my conclusion is that Darby jealously protects what is of God personally from that which relates to man.

Absolute and Relative

Only God is absolute.  Therefore, man cannot have absolute knowledge about anything.  All human knowledge is relative.

The closest concept is the “I[i]“, which is outside of time and space, and therefore precludes any relation.  But even this is not absolute. 

The ‘I’ is not the same as ‘I am’ which is clearly a relative expression which we can understand.  Any human conception or idea cannot be infinite and must be relative.  When ‘I’ relates to time, infiniteness is not implied.  I can say ‘I am’ that relates to time – but the word ‘being’ relates to what is infinite and therefore can only belong to God[ii].

If God in infinity has a relationship with man in relativity it is because of His own will.  The human mind cannot know God, because relative cannot know absolute. But if imagination works, it corrupts the intuition mythologically.


Man’s Futile Rationalism

It is impossible to arrive at the knowledge of what is absolute through science.  Science is clearly incompetent as every discovery throws up further questions

The French philosopher and theologian  Scherer[iii] reduced man to the lowest estimate of the judgment of God and good.  He said, ‘Truth is no longer truth in itself’-  a ridiculous sentence.  At an absolute level beauty truth and righteousness cannot be made relative.  God is the Absolute.

With man these things are

relative and can only be so.  The philosopher attempts to define these things in human  terms.  One reasons from final causes, another from intuition as to what relates to God.  A third vacillates between the two.  The result is nothing. It is the ‘unknown God’  (Acts 17:23).  When Paul was in Athens he contended with a vast system of philosophy.  In wretched pantheism there is a germ of truth, for God is above all and through all.  I want the absolute but cannot have it, because I am in a relative condition; yet.  Anything further is self occupied with self.


[iv] In Darby’s time it was thought that the smallest possible particle was the atom. Since then we have found that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, and beyond that, quarks.

The Truth – Thr Absolute become Relative

The truth gives us a true object as from the beginning, though present fulness, to the end,  we have the assurance of knowing as we are known, knowledge being now in part (See 1 Cor 13:12).  In Christ we have the absolute become relative, giving us the absolute goodness in coming into relation, perfect love and perfect light, but we have it more fully.  We have the truth as to everything from the supreme God to sin, the world, the devil and death. That is what our hearts can delight in.  In Christ, we see absolute moral perfection of man, because He could give Himself.  Could God’s ways be more perfect or wise?

God has revealed Himself in Christ in grace to us, and we discover a supreme relationship and an absolute claim which frees us from all others and leads us to give up self in all things. How admirable and divine the whole scheme is!  Man out of self by the absolute-become-relative and perfection in the relative toward God and toward man, while the absolute is maintained to our souls in every sense by the sacrifice of Christ and man’s perfect abnegation of self in the same to glorify God.  The result is man dwelling in God (and God in him) and that in glory, enjoyed now.  he that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself

Human Philosophy

Philosophical wisdom objects to this display of God’s absolute character at Christ’s expense.  It does not understand it when the Lord says, ‘Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again’ (John 10:17).  It never gets out of self.

Metaphysical scepticism can only arrive at what is true within a limited sphere. The finite cannot know the infinite – because it is not the knowledge of God.[v] Truth beyond physical fact, must be a revelation from God[vi]

Darby’s next couple of paragraphs comprise intellectual logical arguments which are beyond my level of comprehension. I have therefore not attempted to summarise them[vii].

However, in this section Darby introduces human will as affecting our perception of the truth.


One intelligible conclusion

Simple Christianity totally rejects heathenism and philosophy as being evil.  However, some of the early so-called fathers, such as Clements and Origens, accepted human lusts and cravings as part of the truth. met them when not simply lusts. Christ alone is the truth; His word is, because He is as He said, ‘altogether that which I also say to you’ (John 8:25).

Modern Theological Thinking

Darby now refers to the German theologian and philosopher Schleiermacher (1768-1834) as if his teaching was well known – and from the note below[i] it probably was, and the source of the worst infidelity now is that he has taken the Holy Ghost’s work in us – very likely in himself – for intuition.  Doubtless, he was influenced by Kant and others.  Philosophers would deny revelation – not founded on logic and human reasoning.

True believers see things differently


[viii] Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (November 21, 1768 – February 12, 1834) was a German Reformed theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity. He also became influential in the evolution of higher criticism (looking at texts from a worldly historical setting), and his work forms part of the foundation of the modern field of hermeneutics (the interpretation of biblical texts). Because of his profound effect on subsequent Christian thought, he is often called the “Father of Modern Liberal Theology” and is considered an early leader in liberal Christianity.

Source Wikipedia

Reading the rest of the article one would question whether he had a true conversion,

[i] It is interesting that Darby uses the expression ‘I’.  I would have expected to have used the Greek Ego/ Εγώ, especially as the Greek is in English everyday parlance.

[ii] I do not fully understand this!

[iii] In Darby’s time it was thought that the smallest possible particle was the atom. Since then we have found that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, and beyond that, quarks.

[iv] Presumably Edmond Henri Adolphe Schérer (April 8, 1815 – March 16, 1889)  a French theologian, critic and politician.  He was a rationalist.

[v] Hence Pilate asked, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:38)

[vi] This is difficult to follow, and I am not too sure if I have got what JND said right.  The only way I can is to relate things to scripture – which of course must be true.   This paper is meeting the infidel, and drawing on scripture. However I am thinking of what Paul said the in scripture, ‘God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; (Gal 1:15-16), the truth being in Him.  And also ‘the truth is in Jesus’ (Eph 4:21).

[vii] If a reader could help it would be appreciated.

[viii] Presumably Edmond Henri Adolphe Schérer (April 8, 1815 – March 16, 1889)  a French theologian, critic and politician.  He was a rationalist.

Robert Dunn – A Sense of Mercy

Nothing will put us right like a sense of mercy, it subdues us; it is the way the Lord approaches us at the very bottom; He gives us the start we were talking about. Owning mercy is the line upon which I am supported.  If you give me a man with a great sense of mercy, I will give you a man who will not give the people of God any trouble.  A soul with a deep sense of mercy delights to see anybody go to the top and will be willing to go to the wall himself.  As taking this up in its reality, I am able to move in amongst my brethren, having had my heart examined and every idol cleared out of my heart, one Person alone supreme there—the Lord of glory; He is enthroned there. 

Robert Dunn (d. 1922)

Now if the Lord of glory be enthroned there, I s§hall love my brethren all the better.  You can only call a thing that displaces Him an idol.  He is supreme in your heart. Even if you should be entrusted with much of this world’s goods, it is not any trouble to you if you have Christ enthroned; and what a delight just to get amongst your brethren who have obtained like mercy!

(Robert Dunn,  Auckland NZ, 1922)

Golden Nugget Number 368

Golden Nuggets are published by Saville Street Distribution, Venture, Princes Esplanade, Walton-on-the-Naze, CO14 8QD UK                                                                              

J B Stoney – We all, Looking on the Glory of the Lord

I consider that the most wonderful verse in Scripture.  “But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit.”  People ask for guidance for one thing or another.  I say, if they would spend ten minutes in the Lord’s presence beholding His glory, they would be so outside themselves that they would be transformed; they would get His mind.  Of course His mind would be according to the Scripture; but it is not by reading Scripture, but by being in His presence that you get it.

(J B Stoney, NS vol. 6 p373)

Golden Nugget Number 366

Golden Nuggets are published by Saville Street Distribution, Venture, Princes Esplanade, Walton-on-the-Naze, CO14 8QD UK                                                                              

James Butler Stoney (1814-1897)

Bible Studies

I am not a student of New Testament Greek. With difficulty I can read my Greek New Testament, very thankful for the interlinear English. But I am interested in the usage of certain words. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing in the original (though of course there are variances in that). Different translators may have erred on the side of good prose rather than accuracy. Darby differed – accurate but difficult phrases and archaic language.

Drawing on Darby’s writings and Strong’s concordance I am putting together some papers. The first on ‘to know’ looks at ginosko and Oida – γινώσκω and οἶδα. This has proved to be one of the most popular pages on this site.

List of papers:

F E Raven – The Holy Spirit’s Work

Frederick Raven (1837-1903)

Now this is what the Holy Spirit’s work here is, subduing all of man’s will and forming the saints according to the heavenly pattern. The pattern is Christ at the right hand of God. If you apprehend Him, you know what you are to be. The One who is my Representative is in the presence of God, and the Holy Spirit down here subjugates all that is contrary and forms me according to my Representative. This will all be brought to pass. It is the blessed end of God’s ways, and it will be brought out in display.  Even Israel in the future will say “the Lord our righteousness”, and they too must take their character from Christ in the law being written in the heart.

May God give us to understand better the pattern on which we are formed, having our food in the living bread which came down from heaven — all the blessed features which came out in Him reproduced in us down here.

(F E Raven NS vol. 13 p287)

Golden Nuggets are published by Saville Street Distribution, Venture, Princes Esplanade, Walton-on-the-Naze, CO14 8QD UK