J N Darby – French Letter No. 149 – God’s Testimony convinces the Soul of Sin


Plymouth – 17th June 1846

To Mr B R

I do not know how much you would have official news, since I am not written to in French on our side; but I am not the less aware of your goodness. Thank you very much. I am just as aware that I do not merit anything like this from my dear brethren but happily affection is not merited. It grows in the good ground of the grace of our God. I have taken up again my work on the translation[1]. But there is no lack of business which has accumulated during my illness; perhaps God has desired that this work should be interrupted.

And now, in reply to your question about evangelisation, I rejoice at the thought that you are occupied with souls; this always does us good ourselves. One would not know how to answer in a categorical way to such a demand, because I would act differently in different cases. In general, the gospel is set in its simplicity before the soul, without committing it to prayer, like our dear brother R desires it, because souls always put something between themselves and their salvation, and attach to this something of importance, as to all that they do. One would desire something in the soul before it is loved and washed; this is the case with most evangelical Christians, while it is necessary to present Christ as wisdom, justification and righteousness[2]. So that, generally speaking, I agree with R. But this is where another principle enters, not only in the case of an atheist, but rather with others. I present Christ to the soul; in consequence of which it is exercised by it, but not yet set free. Here therefore, I add something that you seem to me to leave out in what you say to me, whether on your part, or as being the views of R.

It is not only “believe and thou shalt be saved”, for God’s testimony convinces the soul of sin. This is a fact, and a fact which must be come to absolutely if the soul is truly penetrated by the gospel. It is not the presentation of faith as the means of salvation which does this, but the revelation of Christ to the conscience, of Christ who as light makes the soul aware of what is within. Faith in this sense produces the healthy, but sorrowful conviction, but not peace. Often, there is quite a long interval (I do not say there has to be; for this is not the case when the Spirit acts in power) between the conviction of sin and being set free. There is another effect of faith to present; not only the person of Jesus who has already produced the conviction of sin of which we speak, but the efficacy of His work. It is this which must always be put forward, but which still answers in this case to a need produced.   But here the effect of faith is presented to the soul, to know the propitiation and love which has been given to it. I do not urge the soul to pray for faith. But what does not seem to me to have its place in your thoughts, or in those that you give me of R, is the conviction of sin. To stop there with the teachers urging them to pray – that is bad. I agree here with dear brother R. But I seek this firm conviction in my discussions with a soul and, if it is not there, I try to produce it by the truth. It makes one cry: this soul prays (not: ‘must pray’). To this cry, the fullness of the gospel is the answer. The sins of which it weeps are not imputed to it because of the blood of Christ. What I seek with a heathen or a nominal Christian is the conviction of sin. I seek it in announcing pure free grace and the efficacy of God. Where this conviction is found, I present what grace has accomplished. It is very important to present all this as an accomplished thing on which one believes, without which it would be a question neither of prayer or anything else. But if I find some obstacle, something which hinders the soul making progress, whatever sincerity there may be (and this happens sometimes), things which the Spirit of God must drive from the heart before giving it peace – then I could urge it to pray. In the state of mixture and confusion where we are, this is what happens. Only care must be taken not to put prayers or whatever between the soul and Christ, for faith is only the view which one has of Him. ‘Faith’, in Scripture, often means the doctrine which faith embraces, or the system of faith, in contrast to law.

I therefore present Christ as He as an object of faith, and where the Holy Spirit acts in power, the knowledge of the Lord displaces and replaces every obstacle; the soul is set free.

Cases arise where I would urge one to pray, because of something which makes an obstacle. In general, one hardly needs to urge such a soul. As to election, it is not a matter of this in preaching the gospel. I preach Christ, God will act in His counsels of grace. I do not preach Christ dying for the elect, although among believers it may be important to develop the special links between His death and the elect. Without this, their thoughts about His work are vague, lacking stability and mixed with the work of the Holy Spirit in their souls. I announce Christ as propitiatory victim for sin, the glorious Son of the Father and One with Him, His sufferings and His glory, and this on account of sin. I show them perhaps the darkness of the soul, in showing them what He is, Him, [both] light and grace. And I announce to them that whoever believes is saved, pardoned, and enjoys eternal life.

I explain, as needed, efficacy for those who believe because, in nominally Christian countries, this is what is needed, and efficacy announced shows them that they do not believe it. To God’s children, election is useful to make them humble, for all is grace; to reassure them, for grace is efficacy and flows from a source that does not dry up, from a counsel which does not waver. Here the work and joys of the Holy Spirit can be preciously developed.

Here I am, dear brother, at the end of my letter for this occasion. The more there is simplicity, the more there will be blessing. It is Christ that must be preached, Christ the Saviour of souls, and of sinful souls in their needs and their sorrows, the fruit of God’s free love.

May God be blessed; I have good news in general of the work in Switzerland and France.

The difference of the preaching now is that the story is generally known; one has to announce the efficacy, and the glory, but at the beginning this story presented the glory of it to souls by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, it is necessary to attract attention. The effect of it will always be the same, where the Holy Spirit acts.

Farewell, beloved brother. May God direct you and strengthen you. Greet the elderly ones, T, G, and all our precious brethren. It is only by a letter from G that supposed I already knew that I have learned that our beloved Tapernoux has gone in peace. He is happy. I long ardently for the time; yes, ardently. However, one fulfils one’s day as a hireling. Assure his widow and his family of all my sympathy. Yes, he is happy! Oh! may that day come when we will all be reunited in the presence and glory of Jesus, without sin.

Yours affectionately

Plymouth – 29th June 1846


I am sending you a notebook. I fear it betrays a little haste, because in getting over illness, I have found a mass of letters and business awaiting me, and I have been a bit crushed with fatigue.



[1] the Lausanne version – see note in Letter No 147

[2] possibly referring to 1 Cor 1: 30

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.

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

Author: Sosthenes

Once the ruler of the synagogue at Corinth Then a co-writer of a letter by Paul - just a brother - no longer an official Now a blogger seeking to serve the Lord by posting some words that the Lord has given His Church.

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