Luke 15

Luke 15

 

eastmanprodigalIt is wonderful to see how God reveals Himself in certain passages of scripture.  Nobody could manifest God in thoughts, words and actions like the Lord Jesus Himself.  We see that in the parables.

The brightness of God’s glory is too much for man.  Consequently, He graciously hides His brightness in the Person of the Son of man.  Man rejected Christ, constantly finding fault and carping at things with which he could not agree. This however moved God to show that He really was God, clothing Himself in flesh in the person of Christ and showing His heart to man here.  Whilst here He used parables.

In many of them we have the Lord seeking persons in need.  We sometimes tell people to seek Christ.  Doing that is right in one sense, for it is quite true that ‘He that seeketh findeth’(Luke 11:10), but the Lord never said to people, ‘Come unto me’, until He had first come to them.

So in Luke 15 God tells all the truth. God will be God.  In this parable God welcomes the poor prodigal son, making God merry and glad.  God would have His own joy in spite of the men’s objections.  People object to God’s acting in love, prefering to look on God as a judge, believing in pride that their own righteousness will satisfy God.  But God operates in grace, making nothing of man’s righteousness: ‘There is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23).

 

The Woman caught in Adultery

People like to compare one person’s righteousness with another’s.  The scribes and Pharisees criticised the Lord for eating with publicans and sinners.  In this they slighted God’s righteousness and magnified their own.  In John 8 we find the woman caught in the act of adultery, being brought by the scribes and Pharisees.  By the law she would have been justly condemned to be stoned: she was undeniably guilty.  Their motive was that He might be obliged to deny either mercy or righteousness. They thought to place Him in an inextricable difficulty (we might say today, a catch-22 situation).  If He should let her off, He would break the law of Moses; but should He say, ‘let her be stoned,’ it would not have been grace.  How does the Lord act?  He says, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her’ (John 8:7).  Their consciences begin to work, they realised that they were all were sinners.  From the eldest to the youngest, all went out: only Jesus was sinless.  It was not time for Him to execute the law, for He had not come not to judge, so He concludes, ‘Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more’ (v. 11).  That was grace, and nothing but grace.

 

Luke 15

We have three parables in the chapter.  Each teaches us something of God’s love:­ ‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10).

  • The first parable is that of the shepherd who sought the sheep that was lost.
  • The second, that of the woman who sought the piece of money that was lost.
  • The third, the father’s reception of the son who was lost.

 

The Shepherd with 100 Sheep

The Lord Jesus justifies God in being good to sinners.  He appeals to man’s heart. ‘What man of you, having an hundred sheep?’ etc. (v. 4). The sheep is lost and the shepherd goes and finds it; he puts it on his shoulder and brings it home rejoicing.  That is like the Great Shepherd of the sheep who would say. “Have I not a right to seek lost sinners?  Is it not a right thing for God to mix with publicans and sinners?”  This may not suit a moralist, but it suits God.

 

The Woman and the Coin

In the second parable we have the woman’s painstaking, eagerness to find the lost coin.  The woman lights a candle, sweeps the house, not stopping till the piece was found.  And then we have the joy when her possession is recovered. ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost’ (v. 9). That is the way of the Lord in love.

The woman is typical of the Holy Spirit.  We see grace operating without anything moving in the heart of the sinner: we also see God’s own joy.  Man’s pharisaic objection to grace only served to emphasise the energy and activity of God’s love. The piece of money and the sheep could do nothing. The shepherd and the woman alike did all; it was their joy.  Worth nothing, in a certain sense, to God’s love the sinner is immensely valuable.

 

The Prodigal Son

The third parable shows the feelings of the wanderer and the way he was received back.  Both the father’s and the prodigal’s hearts are laid open.  What was important was not the prodigal’s estimate of the love of the father, but the real manifestation of the father’s heart.

Picture the situation:  a man is brought to the utmost degradation – voluntarily eating husks with the swine (and we must remember what swine are to the Jew).  Looking at the case in more detail, the rebellious younger son was far happier when leaving home than he was when returning – he was doing his own will. The young man was as great a sinner when walked out of his father’s house, as he was when feeding the swine in the far country.  He had chosen to act independently of God – that is sin.  He reaped the fruits of his actions, and in one sense, the very consequences of his sin were mercies, because they showed him what his sin was.  It is like us: whether we are living in vice or not, we have all turned our back on God.

When he first left the house, he showed where his alienated heart was.  He had turned his back on his father and his father’s house, and his face was towards the far country, typically the world.  He went there to do his own will.  Parents understand that. Our child sins against us and we feel it. But the child does not feel it the same way, if at all.  So when we sin against God we do not feel it. We are all like children: “we have turned every one to his own way’ (Isa 53:6)

Having reached the far country, the prodigal went on gaily in his own will for as long as he could, wasting his money in riotous living (See v. 13).  Any person from a Christian home, who lives beyond his means looks rich and happy for a time. But if he thinks he is happy, he is so only because he has gotten away from God. His will is unrestrained. But then, after all, he is in the devil’s country, and enslaved to him. Liberty of will is just slavery to the devil.

Hearts are not easy in the world; leave a man for a few hours to himself, and he will soon be in want (young people nowadays would say they were ‘bored’).  The prodigal had begun to be in want, but his will was not touched yet. There ‘And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks which the swine did eat: and no one gave unto him’ (v. 14-16).  There is no giving in the ‘far country’, not even of husks.

Satan sells, and dearly – our souls are the price. You must buy everything. The world’s principle is ‘nothing for nothing’; every gratification has its price.  If you sell yourself to the devil, you will get husks: he will never give you anything. If you want to find a giver, you must go to God.

The prodigal awoke and thought, ‘I perish with hunger’; and then he thought of his father’s house – the very place he had been so anxious to get away from at first.  ‘He said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.’ (v. 17-19).

He did not know how he would be received, yet he knew there was happiness and love in the father’s house, even extending to the bondmen and hired servants.  He also knew that there was plenty of food there, and where he was, he was perishing with hunger.  His abject need brought him to value the house.  He knew it was a good place, but did not yet know the extent of that goodness – God’s goodness.

He went back to the father’s house without a true knowledge of the heart of the father, who had seen him already while he was a long way off.  He had prepared his speech: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants’ (v. 18-19).  He measured the father’s love in by the sense of the evil he had done and he thought to get into the place of a servant. Many hearts are in this state, even dictating to the Father what sort of position that would be fit – this is legalism.  God can only receive us in grace.  Had the father received him at a lower level, he would have been miserable.  Having a son in the position of a servant would remind him of the sin that had been committed.  The father cannot have sons in his house as servants.  He rushed to meet him and did not even give him time to say, ‘Make me as one of thy hired servants’. He confessed his sin, ‘I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son’.  When his father is on his neck kissing him, even though all the rags of the far country were still on him, how could he ask to be a hired servant?

The father did not stop to ask him anything.  He knew his son had acted very wrongly, but it would have been no use to say, “You have disgraced me and dishonoured my name”. It was not a question of fitness or worthiness on the part of the son – love does not reason that way – the father was acting from himself and for himself.  He fell on his neck, because he loved to be there. It is God’s love, not the sinner’s worth, that accounts for the extravagant liberality of his reception.

The servants are called to introduce him into the house fittingly. ‘But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry’ (v. 22-24).  God shows His love towards us as wretched sinners, and then clothes us with Christ. He brings us into the house where the servants are, with nothing less than the full honour of sonship.  We read about the robe, the ring, the shoes, the fatted calf, and the feast of joy that welcomes the returning prodigal. The father’s mind was that a son of his was worth it all, and that it was worthy of him to give it.

Some might think it humility to desire the servant’s place in the house.  But that is only ignorance of the Father.  In read in Eph 2:7, ‘That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus’.  It would not have been worthy of the Father to leave us as servants.  We would have had a constant memorial of our sin, shame, dishonour and degradation, whereas, ‘The worshipper once purged has no more conscience of sins’ (Heb 10:2).  Our condition must be worthy of God for us to enjoy now.

This requires faith: faith judges as God judges.  We see sin in the light of God’s holiness.  But as our sins and iniquities are not remembered any more, we learn grace and what our Father’s heart really is.  Faith is the only thing that gives me certainty: reasoning does not. Reasoning may be all quite well for the things of this world; but if God speaks about anything, we believe it by faith.  Faith sets to its seal that God is true (See John 3:33).

If I do not believe what God assures me of, I wrong Him. It is a sin not to believe that I am a son – in God’s presence without a spot of sin – through the blood of the Lamb.  If it were only my own righteousness, it would be torn like rags, but it is the blood of the Lamb has cleansed every single sin.

The question is, ‘What is God’s estimate of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus?’  If my soul knows the value to God of the blood of the Lamb, I know the extent of His love.  It would be an evil thing to doubt that, just as it would have been for the prodigal to say, “I have the rags of the far country on” while his father was kissing him.  Like the prodigal, I must be silenced by such grace.

 

The Elder Brother

It might be said that divine grace sanctions sin.  That is the spirit of the elder brother.  Grace pleaded with him: ‘He was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him (v. 28).  We see the the father’s patient love towards this wretched man who refused to share in the joy. The servants were happy; they say, ‘Thy brother is come, and thy father has killed for him the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound’ (v. 27).

His heart turned sour to the love and grace that God showed to a fellow sinner. He would not go in. The father reasoned with him – ‘It was meet that we should make merry and be glad; for this [not my son, but] thy brother was dead and is alive again; and was lost and is found’ (v. 32) In vain, he could not enter into the joyful spirit that pereated the house, from the father down to the lowest maid. He remained outside, and had none of the happiness or joy.  Despite his outward faithfulness and obedience, he refused his father’s grace: this is man.

 

Conclusion

Let us each ask ourselves, ‘How can I know God’s heart?”  We do not get to know it by looking into our own heart. The God we have to do with is the God who has given His Son for sinners, and if we do not know this, we do not know Him at all. ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ (Rom 8:32).   Let us not say to God, “Make me as one of thy hired servants”. Let us not put our own value on God’s goodness.  Let us not turn back to legalism, and think that it is humility. The only real humility is to forget self in the presence of God.  It may be a humbling process; but it is not in thinking evil of self that we are truly humble, it is in forgetting ourselves completely in the manifestation of the love of God and our Father, who is love to us, and blesses us.

May we poor sinners, know through Jesus, God revealed in love!

Sosthenes

November 2015

Based on a paper by John Nelson Darby.  For original see  Parables of Luke 15 

Divine Guidance

I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye (Psalm 32:8)
The Lord sometimes guides, or rather controls, by providential circumstances, so that I do not go wrong, and I should be thankful that He does so. But I am like a horse or mule without understanding. If, like a stubborn mule, I am insubject to the Lord’s will, I must be controlled with bit and bridle. Providence does sometimes control, but it never guides persons; it guides things. Suppose that I am going to a place to preach, and my train is delayed and I miss a connection and hence fail to give my sermon. God has ordered things, but God has not guided me. It was my will to go, and I would have gone had the train not been delayed. This is not being guided by the ‘eye’, but controlled by the “bit” of God. Though providence overrules, it does not, properly speaking, guide.

Based on J. N. Darby‘s

I will guide thee with mine eye

eyeRead the following portions from the Psalms.

I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye (Psalm 32:8)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD (Psalm 119:1).
Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word (Psalm 119:67).
It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes
 (Psalm 119:71).
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments 
(Psalm 119:176).

We need to see how the Spirit of God deals with the insubject soul. Before David confessed he said, ‘When I kept silence my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long’, and ‘Thy hand was heavy upon me‘ (Psalm 32:3-4).    The Lord’s hand is heavy upon a man until he confesses his sin (all sin, not just a particular sin) before God: then there is forgiveness of the iniquity.  Until then there is no forgiveness – that is the government of God.  When he said ‘Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me‘ (Psalm 51:5), he recognised the root principle of sin.  When there is confession of that,  there is then positive restoration of soul.

Freed from the bondage of things that hinder intercourse with God, the soul learns to lean upon God, rather than those things which take the place of God.  It understands deliverance, and is confident in times of trouble.  In Psalm 32:9, we are told not to be like a horse or mule.  A mule is stubborn.  When our wills are at work, there is not free intercourse in our hearts and affections with God – consequently we are not being led simply by God.  When the heart is in a right state, the whole body is ‘full of light‘ (Luke 11:34), quickly perceiving the will of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  We are ‘of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD’ (Isa 11:3):,” without any object but the will and glory of God.  Just as the Lord delighted in His Father’s will (See Psalm 40:8), so we will be guided by the Father’s eye, and therefore full of joy.

Before I embark on anything, I should seek God’s mind, judging my hearts as to what may be hindering. If I have not done so, and later meet with difficulties, I will be uncertain as to whether it was God’s mind or not, and be discouraged.   But on the other hand, I have God’s mind and am in communion with Him, I shall be ‘more than a conqueror’ (Rom 8:37).  The power of faith removes mountains: as I am obedient, the Lord gives me to find out His way.

Many speak of providence as a guide. The Lord sometimes guides, or rather controls, by providential circumstances, so that I do not go wrong, and I should be thankful that He does so.  But I am like a horse or mule without understanding.  If, like a stubborn mule, I am insubject to the Lord’s will, I must be controlled with bit and bridle.  Providence does sometimes control, but it never guides persons; it guides things.  Suppose that I am going to a place to preach, and my train is delayed and I miss a connection and hence fail to give my sermon. God has ordered things, but God has not guided me.  It was my will to go, and I would have gone had the train not been delayed.  This is not being guided by the ‘eye’,  but controlled by the “bit” of God. Though providence overrules, it does not, properly speaking, guide.

There is guidance with knowledge, and guidance without knowledge. The former is our blessed privilege; but we may need the latter to humble us. In Christ everything was exactly according to God. In a certain sense He had no character. When I look at Him, what do I see?  Constant, never-failing, perfect obedience. There is great diversity of character amongst men – one tender and soft, another decisive and domineering.  You do not see that in Christ: there is no unevenness – every faculty in His humanity was obedient, and subject to the impulse of God’s divine will.

In Colossians 1:9-11, we find the individual to be ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding‘  The Holy Spirit guides us as to the divine will, and there is no need even to pray about it.  If I have spiritual understanding and have prayed a lot in general, I will have enjoyed such communion so as to know God’s will.  The way is full of stumbling blocks. As children of light we miss them.  If we walk in the night we have to look out for the stones and it is easy to stumble over them.  Jesus said, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.’  (John 11:8).

May our hearts be led to desire to know and to do God’s will. It will then be not so much a question of what that will is, but of knowing and doing God’s will. And then we shall have the certain and blessed knowledge of being guided by His ‘eye’.

Sosthenes

June 2015

For original see   I will guide thee with mine eye

The True Grace of God wherein we stand.

We have thought quite long enough about ourselves. Let us now think about Him who thought about us with thoughts of good, not evil, long before we even existed, and had any thoughts of own at all. May we see what God’s thoughts of grace about us are, and echo the words of faith in Romans 8:31, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ I am entitled to forget myself; I am entitled to forget my sins; I am NOT entitled to forget Jesus.
True humility does not so much consist in thinking badly of myself, as in not thinking of myself at all. I am too bad to be worth thinking about.

JohnNelsonDarbyBy Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. (1 Peter 5:12)

God is the ‘God of all Grace’ (1 Peter 5:10), but how hard it is for us to believe that the Lord is gracious. Our natural feelings may be expressed by the servants’ statement ‘I know that thou art an austere [or hard] man’ (Luke 19:21). We need to understand the Grace of God.

Some think that grace implies God’s passing over sin. That is completely wrong – God cannot tolerate sin. If I could, after sinning, patch up my ways and mend myself in order to stand before God, there would be no need of grace. The Lord is gracious because I am a sinner: my state is utterly ruined and hopeless, and nothing but free grace can meet my need.

The moment I understand that I am a sinful man or woman, and that the Lord knew the full extent and how hateful my sin was to Him, and that He came to me, I understand what grace is. Faith makes me see that God is greater than my sin, not that my sin is greater than God. The Lord, who laid down His life for me, is the same Lord I have to do with every day of my life. His dealings with me are on the principle of grace. How strengthening it is to know, at this very moment, that Jesus is feeling and exercising the same love towards me as He had when on the cross.

For instance, I have a bad temper that I cannot control. I bring it to Jesus as my Friend: virtue goes out of Him and meets my need. My own effort will never be sufficient. Real strength is in the sense of the Lord’s being gracious. The natural man in us will never believe that Christ is the only source of strength and blessing. If my soul is out of communion, I think, ‘I must correct the cause of this before I can come to Christ’. But He is gracious: the way is to return to Him at once, just as I am, and then humble myself before Him. Humbleness in His presence is the only real humbleness. If I own myself to be just what I am, I shall find that He shows me nothing but grace. True humility does not so much consist in thinking badly of myself, as in not thinking of myself at all. I am too bad to be worth thinking about.

Faith never thinks about what is in me myself: it looks to Jesus to give rest to my soul. Faith receives, loves and apprehends what God has revealed, and what God’s thoughts are about Jesus. As I am occupied with Him,I will be prevented from being taken up with the vanity and sin around. This will be my strength against the sin and corruption of my own heart too. As I am alone in communion with God, I am able to measure everything according to His grace. Nothing, not even the state of the Church, will shake me. I am entitled to forget myself; I am entitled to forget my sins; I am NOT entitled to forget Jesus.

The moment I get away from the presence of God, I rest on my own thoughts, which can never reach up to those of God about me. If I attempt to know God’s grace outside of His presence, I shall only turn grace into licentiousness.

What God is towards us is LOVE. Our joy and peace are not dependent on what we are to God, but on what He is to us: this is grace. All the sin and evil that is in us has been put away through Jesus. A single sin is more horrible to God than all the sins in the world are to us. Yet, despite what we are, God is pleased to be towards us in LOVE.

In Romans 7 we find a person, though quickened, whose reasoning centres in himself. It is all “I,” “I,” “I.”  He stops short of grace, the simple fact that GOD IS LOVE. I have got away from grace if I have the slightest doubt or hesitation about God’s love. I say, ‘I am unhappy because I am not like what I want to be’. Instead I should be thinking of what God is, rather than what I am. All this looking at myself is really pride, not admitting that I am good for nothing. Till I see this I will never look away from myself to God.

Faith looks towards God, who has revealed Himself in grace. Grace relates to what GOD is, not to what I am, except that the greatness of my sins magnifies grace of God. At the same time, grace brings my soul into communion with God, knowing God and loving Him. Knowledge of grace is the true source of sanctification.

We have thought quite long enough about ourselves. Let us now think about Him who thought about us with thoughts of good, not evil, long before we even existed, and had any thoughts of own at all. May we see what God’s thoughts of grace about us are, and echo the words of faith in Romans 8:31, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?

 

Adapted by Sosthenes from J N Darby’s tract of the same name. Similar to, perhaps extracted from, ‘Why do I groan?‘ Collected Writings volume 12 – Evangelical 1, page 186.

J N Darby – Sons – Father, Thy name our souls would bless

J N DarbyFATHER, Thy name our souls would bless

As children taught by grace,
Lift up our hearts in righteousness
And joy before Thy face.

Sweet is the confidence Thou giv’st,
Though high above our praise;
Our hearts resort to where Thou liv’st
In heaven’s unclouded rays.

There in the purpose of Thy love
Our place is now prepared,
As sons with Him who is above,
Who all our sorrows shared.

Eternal ages shall declare
The riches of Thy grace,
To those who with Thy Son shall share
A son’s eternal place.

Absent as yet, we rest in hope,
Treading the desert path,
Waiting for Him who takes us up
Beyond the power of death.

Unchanging glory fills the place
Where Jesus dwells on high;
But brighter joy our spirits trace
With Him, for ever nigh!

We joy in Thee; Thy holy love
Our endless portion is –
Like Thine own Son, with Him above,
In brightest heavenly bliss.

His Father Thou, and ours thro’ grace,
We taste the same delight –
Blest in the brightness of Thy face,
In heaven’s unclouded light.

Father! Thy love my portion is,
As son, like Christ, with Thee;
Oh, who can tell of love like this,
So sov’reign, full, and free!

O Holy Father, keep us here
In that blest name of Love,
Walking before Thee without fear,
Till all be joy above.

John Nelson Darby (1800-82)

Written 1879

  • Parts of the above are in Hymns for the  Little Flock 1962 and 1973 – Nos 25 and 26
  • Part of the above is in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs 1978 – No 25

C.M. (8.6.8.6)

J N Darby – Love Divine – Father, Thy sovereign Love has sought Captives to Sin, gone far from Thee

FATHER, Thy sovereign love has sought
Captives to sin, gone far from Thee

Hymn by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)

L.M. 

FATHER, Thy sovereign love has sought
Captives to sin, gone far from Thee;
The work that Thine own Son hath wrought
Has brought us back in peace and free.

And now, as sons before Thy face,
With joyful steps the path we tread,
Which leads us on to that blest place
Prepared for us by Christ, our Head.

Thou gav’st us, in eternal love,
To Him to bring us home to Thee,
Suited to Thine own thoughts above,
As sons, like Him, with Him to be

In Thine own house. There Love divine
Fills the bright courts with cloudless joy;
But ’tis the love that made us Thine
Fills all that house without alloy.

Oh, boundless grace! What fills with joy
Unmingled all that enter there,
God’s nature, Love without alloy,
Our hearts are given e’en now to share.

God’s righteousness with glory bright,
Which with its radiance fills that sphere –
E’en Christ, of God the power and light –
Our title is that light to share.

O Mind divine! so must it be,
That glory all belongs to God.
O Love divine! that did decree
We should be part, through Jesus’ blood.

Oh, keep us, Love divine, near Thee,
That we our nothingness may know;
And ever to Thy glory be –
Walking in faith while here below.

J N Darby 1880

Edited version in Little Flock Hymn Book  (1962, 1973) – No 87, 88

Edited version in Hymns for the Little Flock 1962 and 1973 Nos 87 and 88 and in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs 1978 – No 331

 

J N Darby – The Father’s Grace – Father, in Thine Eternal Power,

FATHER, in Thine eternal power,
Thy grace and majesty divine,
No soul, in this weak mortal hour,
Can grasp the glory that is Thine!

Hymn by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)

8.8.8.8.

FATHER, in Thine eternal power,
Thy grace and majesty divine,
No soul, in this weak mortal hour,
Can grasp the glory that is Thine!

E’en in its thoughts of sovereign grace
It leaves us all far, far behind;
The love that gives with Christ a place
Surpasses our poor feeble mind.

And yet that love is not unknown
To those who have the Saviour seen;
Nor strange to those He calls His own –
Pilgrims in scenes where He has been.

In Him Thy perfect love, revealed,
Has led our hearts that love to trace
Where nothing of that love’s concealed,
But meets us in our lowly place.

But grace, the source of all our hope,
From Thine eternal nature flows;
Could to our lost condition stoop,
And now through Christ no hindrance knows;

Has flowed in fullest streams below,
And opened to our hearts the place
Where, in its ripened fruits, we’ll know
The eternal blessings of that grace.

And here we walk, as sons through grace,
A Father’s love our present joy;
Sons, in the brightness of Thy face,
Find rest no sorrows can destroy.

Nor is the comfort of Thy love,
In which we “Abba, Father” cry,
The only blessing that we prove:
Because that love is ever nigh,

A holy Father’s constant care
Keeps watch, with an unwearying eye,
To see what fruits His children bear,
Fruits that may suit their calling high;

Takes ever knowledge of our state –
What dims communion with His love,
Might check our growth or separate
Our hearts from what’s revealed above.

Oh, wondrous Love, that ne’er forgets
The object of its tender care;
May chasten still, while sin besets,
To warn and guard them where they are;

But ne’er forgets, but feeds them still
With tokens of His tender love;
Will keep till, freed from every ill,
They find their rest with Him above.

Oh, wondrous, infinite, divine!
Keep near, my soul, to that blest place,
Where all those heavenly glories shine
Which suit the brightness of His face.

Oh, lowliness, how feebly known,
That meets the grace that gave the Son!
That waits, to serve Him as His own,
Till grace what grace began shall crown!

[1879]

Edited version in Little Flock Hymn Book  (1962, 1973) – No 120

How to Know the Father’s Will

Finally “the meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way” (Ps 25: 9).
I have given you all that comes to mind at this moment, and little satisfaction, I fear. But remember only that the wisdom of God conducts us in the way of God’s will. If our own will is in activity, God cannot be the servant of it; that is the first point to discover. It is the secret of the life of Christ. I know no other principle that God makes use of, however He may pardon and overrule all. You have asked me for direction: God leads the new man who has no other mind than Christ, and who mortifies the old man. He purifies us thus that we may bear fruit.

This was the subject of a letter, originally in French (JND French Letters No 436) and translated by myself.  The translation has been reviewed by another brother.  It is an alternative translation to that in JND’s Collected Writings.  How to Know the Will of the Father  vol  16 (Practical 1) p19
DJR Translation

436
Dear Brother

You could not suppose that a child who habitually neglected its father, and was always wholly indifferent to his mind and will, would not know what would please its parent when a difficult circumstance presented itself.   There are certain things which God intentionally leaves in generalities, in order that the state of a soul may be proved.  If, instead of the child, a wife was found there, there would probably be no hesitation in her mind; she would know immediately what would please her husband; even where he had expressed no positive will about the circumstance in question. Now you cannot escape this trial; God will not allow His children to escape it. “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be fun of light.” (Matt 6: 22).  This easy and comfortable means of knowing God’s will does not exist without reference to the state of our own soul.
There is something else.  Very often we are of too much importance in our own eyes and we imagine, however wrongly, that God has some will for us in the circumstances in which one is working.  In fact, God has nothing to tell us thereon, and all the agitation provoked in us by the thing which concerns us is only evil. The will of God is that we should know to take our place quietly, an insignificant place.  At other times, we seek to know God would have us to act in circumstances in which His only will is that we should not be found there at all, and the first thing to which our conscience would lead us, if it were really in activity, would be to make us leave them.  Our own will has set us there, and we would like nevertheless to lean on the hand of God and to be directed by Him in the path of our own will. Such is a very common case.

Be assured that, if we kept ourselves near enough to God, He would not leaveus in ignorance of His mind.  In a long and active life, God, in His love, may make us feel our dependence when we have a tendency to act according to our own will, and does not immediately reveal His own; but the principle remains, whatever it is: “if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light”.  Whence it is certain that, if the whole body is not full of light, the eye is not single.  You will say to me, That is poor consolation.  No, it is sweet and precious consolation for those whose desire is to have the eye single and to walk with God – not only to delivered objectively, so to speak, by the knowledge of His will, but to walk with Him. “If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him” (John 11: 9-10).  It is always the same principle. “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8: 12).  You will seek in vain to exempt yourself from this moral law of Christianity: the thing is impossible.  “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing by the knowledge of God” (Col 1: 9-10).  The connection between these things is of incalculable value for the soul.  We need to know the Lord to walk in a way worthy of Him; and we grow in the knowledge of God.  “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ” (Phil 1: 9-10).  Finally, “the spiritual discerns all things and he himself is discerned of no man” (1 Cor 2: 15).
It is then the will of God, and a will of grace, that men should be capable of discerning His will other than according to their own spiritual state, and, in general, when we think that we are carrying a judgment of the circumstances, it is God who is judging us, us and our state.  Our only business, I repeat, is to keep ourselves close to God.  It would not be the love of God to leave us to discover His will without that.  Such a thing might be convenient to a director of consciences; but the love of God cannot allow us to be spared the discovery and the chastisement of our own moral state.  Thus, if you seek how you may discover the will of God in the details, and apart from this state, you are seeking evil; and this is seen every day.  You will find a Christian in doubt and perplexity, where another, more spiritual, sees as clear as the day, surprised at what is making no difficulty, and understanding that it is quite simply the other’s state which hinders him from seeing it. “He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off” (2 Pet 1: 9).

As regards circumstances, I believe that a person may be guided by them; and Scripture has pronounced on that, whatever it may be called: to be “held in with bit and bridle”; “I will instruct thee, and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (Ps 32).  Such is the promise and privilege of faith which keeps near enough to God to know only His mind towards him; He being faithful to direct thus and promising to do so.  God exhorts us not to be as the horse and the mule which cannot receive intelligently from their master the communication of his mind and his desires; they need to be held in with bit and bridle, which is better than to stumble, to fall or to run counter to the one who leads; but this is after all a sad state.  That is therefore what it is to be guided by circumstances.  God is full of goodness in concerning himself thus with us but it is a sad on our part.
Here, however, we must distinguish between judging circumstances, and acting in the midst of them; he who is led by them always acts blind as to knowing the will of God.  There is absolutely nothing moral in that direction; it is an external force that exercises a control.  Now it is very possible that I may have no idea beforehand of what I shall do, and that: I do not know the circumstances in which I may be found, and cannot consequently make any resolution in advance; and yet,the instant they present themselves, I judge with the clearest divine judgment what is the path of God’s will, what is the mind and power of the Spirit in the midst of these circumstances, and this demands precisely the highest characterof spirituality; instead of being led by circumstances, on is led by God in them, being near enough to God to be able to judge what is suitable, as soon as it is presented.  ‘Impressions’ are not everything,  God can suggest them no doubt, and by His Spirit, He does suggest a thing to the mind; but when it is perceived, its moral character will be as clear as the sun at noon-day. In response to prayer, God can remove from our heart certain carnal influences, and so leave their power in the spirit to certain spiritual influences which give importance to a duty, which had been perhaps entirely obscured by preoccupation caused by some object of our desire.  This may be even be seen between two individuals: one may not have the spiritual discernment to discover what is right; but if another shews the good to him, he sees it clearly himself.  All are not highway engineers, but a waggoner knows well enough a good road when it is made. Thus the impressions which come from God do not always remain simple impressions, but they are usually clear at the same time as they are produced.  I do not doubt, however, that if we walk with Him, and if we listen to Him, God often produces this clarity in the soul.

If Satan, as you put it, raises obstacles, it only shows that they are only obstacles (allowed God) for a good reason, obstacles raised by the accumulation of evil in the circumstances which surround us by the power of evil over other people.

Your third question supposes a person acting in ignorance of God’s will, which should never be the case.  The only rule that can be given as to this is, never to act when we do not know this will.  If you act without knowing it, you will be at the mercy of circumstances.  God overrules all, for this is the case supposed by your question; But why act in such a way as would be if I were ignorant of the will of God?   He will stop me perhaps, because, if I do not walk sufficiently near to God in the sense of my nothingness, I will perhaps lack the faith to accomplish what we have faith enough to discern.

If we are doing our own will or are negligent in our walk, God in His grace may warn us by a hindrance if we pay attention to it, whilst “the simple pass on and are punished” Prov 22: 3).  God may permit, where there is much activity and labour, that Satan should raise up hindrances, in order that we may be kept in His dependence; but God never permits Satan to act otherwise than on the flesh.  He does evil, if we leave the door open between us and him, because we are away from God; but otherwise God uses it only as an instrument to test us to take us away or correct what would be a danger to us, or something that would tend to exalt us.  God allows Satan to cause suffering, and the flesh and the outward mind, in order that the inward man may be kept clean and safe.  If it is a question of anything else, we have only to take our “buts” and open the door to the enemy to trouble us by doubts and difficulties as if they were between God and us, because we no longer “see far”, for “he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not”.

Finally, the question is wholly moral. If any particular question is raised which at the first blush we cannot solve, we shall find very often that it would not have arisen, if our position were good, if spirituality had guarded and kept us instead of making us err.  In such a case, we have only one thing to do, which is to humble ourselves as to matter which it is about, then to examine whether Scripture does not present some principle suitable to direct us. Here evidently spirituality is everything.  Where it can be applied, the principle of looking at what Jesus would have done in such and such a case is excellent, but how often we are not in the circumstances in which He would be found.
It is often useful to ask ourselves whence comes such a desire with us, or the thought of doing this or that; I have found that this alone decides more than half of the difficulties in which men can be found.  The rest of those which remain are the result of haste, or of a former evil.  If the thought is of God and not from the flesh, then we have only to wait on God as to the manner and means by which we shall soon be directed.  There are cases we need direction without motives, as when we hesitate about whether to make one or another.  A life of more ardent charity, or a charity exercised in a more intelligent way, or set in activity in communion with God, will clear the motives of charity which were not but selfishness.  And if, you ask, charity or obedience are not in question?  Well!  Then it is for your first to give me a reason, a motive, for acting in whatever way it is.  If it is your own will that you are pressing, you cannot make the wisdom of God te servant of your will; this is another numerous class of difficulties that God will never solve.  In these cases, He will in grace teach us obedience, and will show us how much time we have lost in our own activity.

Finally “the meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way” (Ps 25: 9).

I have given you all that comes to mind at this moment, and little satisfaction, I fear.  But remember only that the wisdom of God conducts us in the way of God’s will.  If our own will is in activity, God cannot be the servant of it; that is the first point to discover.  It is the secret of the life of Christ.  I know no other principle that God makes use of, however He may pardon and overrule all.  You have asked me for direction: God leads the new man who has no other mind than Christ, and who mortifies the old man.  He purifies us thus that we may bear fruit.

J N Darby – The Father’s Love – Blest Father, infinite in grace,

BLEST FATHER, infinite in grace,
Source of eternal joy;
Thou lead’st our hearts to that blest place
Where rest’s without alloy.

Hymn by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) 


C.M.

BLEST FATHER, infinite in grace,
Source of eternal joy;
Thou lead’st our hearts to that blest place
Where rest’s without alloy.

There will Thy love find perfect rest,
Where all around is bliss;
Where, all in Thee supremely blest,
Thy praise their service is!

Eternal love their portion is,
Where love has found its rest;
And, filled with Thee, the constant mind
Eternally is blest.

There Christ, the centre of the throng,
Shall in His glory shine;
But not an eye those hosts among
But sees that glory Thine.

Thy counsels too in all Thine own,
Fulfilled by power divine,
Spread wide the glory of Thy throne,
Where all in glory shine.

Yet deeper, if a calmer, joy
The Father’s love shall raise,
And every heart find sweet employ
In His eternal praise!

Nor is its sweetness now unknown –
Well proved in what it’s done;
Our Father’s love with joy we own,
Revealed in Christ the Son!

 J N Darby 1879

In Hymns for the Little Flock 1962 and 1973 No 178 and in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs 1978 – No 406