Christ loves the Assembly

jb-stoneyDo you think that because things are in a disorganised state, that Christ has less love for the assembly than He once had? …. Her very feebleness draws forth fresh expressions of His love.

James Butler Stoney (1814-1897)

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 

Worshipping God

 

JohnNelsonDarbyMany Christians have only a vague notion as to worship. They may have turned from clerical formalism with its superstitious rituals, but they do not have a true understanding of what worship is. What, then, is it?

Worship is the honour and adoration rendered to God, by reason of what He is in Himself, and what He is for those who render it. Worship proceeds in heaven, and we have the privilege of entering into it here collectively. In doing so we have joy and blessing, our hearts feeling and responding to God’s love. We love Him in return.

Of course an isolated individual can worship, but not in its fullest sense. He or she can bless God for His goodness. But it needs more than one person for true worship.

 

What is, and what is not Worship

  • A testimony respecting God and His grace is not worship.
  • Preaching the gospel to the unconverted is not worship.
  • A sermon is not worship.
  • Prayers addressed to God as to our need are not worship.
  • Referring to God’s glory, but not addressing Him is not worship.

The gospel might produce worship for it is God’s testimony to man. No Christian worship could exist without it, for the gospel makes known the God who is to be adored. The Holy Spirit leads the soul into the state in which it is able to render true homage to Go in spirit and in truth.  It is sweet to rehearse, one to the other, the excellences of Him whom we love with God Himself in our thoughts.

But in worship Christians delight to address themselves to Him.

  • They to speak to and converse with Him, adoring Him personally.
  • They speak to God of His attributes and acts.
  • They open their hearts to Him, to tell Him that they love Him.
  • They delight in their relationship and communion with Him.
  • They testify to His greatness and goodness.

In worship communion is between ourselves and God, and God is more precious to us than even our brethren. Our affections have a higher tone and communion is more complete.

As to Israel

The children of Israel worshipped God, but they could not draw near to Him. God had redeemed them out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and had borne them as upon eagles’ wings, and had brought them even to Himself (See Ex. 19:4). God had promised that they should worship Him upon Mount Sinai, but it was amid thunders, fire, and the voice of a trumpet. Even Moses trembled.

Under the law God placed man in a position where he could bring forth fruit to His glory. He showed what man ought to be and blessed him if he was faithful and judged him if he was not. Under such circumstances God could not fully reveal His holiness and love. Either have had to tolerate iniquity, or banish those who sinned absolutely and eternally from His presence. So, under the law, God concealed Himself.

The people did not even enter into His house. The high priest alone went in once every year in order to carry in the blood of the ram and the bullock — the propitiatory victims — and to make reconciliation for the people with a God who could not endure iniquity. The people sought His protection, and worshipped Him for the benefits He conferred. This was a foreshadowing of Christian worship, but the principles of its exercise were totally different.

 

Christian Worship

It has all changed now. God has not changed, the revelation which He makes of Himself has. Although there is a light to which we cannot approach, He has revealed Himself in Christ.

Christianity is based upon an altogether new relationship between God and man. It was in God’s counsels before the world’s foundation, but it waited for the height of man’s enmity against God: Christ appeared, and man crucified Him!

Now if there is to be a relationship, all must be grace. If God’s goodness and grace is rejected there can only be judgment. This dark background throws into relief the perfection and brilliancy of grace.

Thank God, we are now occupied with grace. There is no longer any question of guilt between the worshipper and God. Christ has abolished it by His sacrifice. The work of Christ has provided the meeting-place between God and the sinner: love has free course, and we can enjoy all God’s blessings. We are reconciled to God and have been brought to enjoy a new relationship.

We have a striking expression of the consequence of the death of Christ in the rending of the veil of the temple. The holy of holies was hidden behind the veil, so no one could draw near to God. Who would dare to present himself before God if all guilt had not been removed? But the veil has been rent from the top to the bottom: now we can enter the most holy place freely. The stroke which rent the veil, smote the Son of God, when He took our sin upon Himself. He has cleansed our consciences by His perfect and eternal work. Hence we are able to enter the holiest joyfully and without spot.

The relationship of God to the Church is presented to us strikingly in the title ‘God of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ When God is called the God of any one, it indicates that a tie of intimacy. Christ is viewed as a man, the head of a new family, who has ascended to His God and our God. We see this truth in Ephesians chapters 1 and 2 Those who were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2:1) are to know ‘what is the hope of the calling of God, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints’ (Ch. 1:18). We learn the true power and extent of that glory:the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places (v. 19-20). All that is His is ours – we have a place then in the presence of God! Even the glory that God has given Jesus, He has given to us, in order that the world may know that we are loved as He is. (See John 17:22-23).

 

The Holy Spirit

Another truth connected with the work of Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shows, reveals, and communicates divine things to us. We are ‘strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, in order that, being rooted and grounded in love, Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, and that we may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God’ (Eph. 3:16-19). ‘That which eye hath not seen, which ear hath not heard, which came not into the heart of man — the things which God has prepared for him whom He loves — God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:9-10).

  • The Holy Spirit is “the unction” by which “know all things” (See 1 John 2:20).
  • He is the seal which God has put upon us unto the day of redemption
  • He gives us the full assurance of the efficacy of the work of Christ.
  • He imparts to us the knowledge that as cleansed by the blood of the Saviour, we are without spot in the God ‘s sight.
  • He reveals to us the glory of Christ as presented in the scriptures.
  • By the Holy Spirit, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.
  • He is the originator in us of all the thoughts and affections which respond to this love.
  • He gives us the consciousness of our union with Christ on high

But He is more than all this. “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor 6:17). This is not merely an imagination; it is a fact. The same Spirit abides in us, and we are united to Christ as members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. ‘By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit is not only the power of this union, but He gives us the consciousness of it. Christ is the Head of the body, so each Christian is a member of it, united by the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (See 1 Cor. 6:19), and believers as together as a whole, they form God’s temple and dwelling place (See 1 Cor. 3:16).

 

The Father

We must know the character of the Father in order to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24). God is a spirit: but it is as the Father” that He seeks worshippers.

  • To worship ‘in spirit’ is to worship according to the true nature of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
  • To worship God ‘in truth’ is to worship Him according to the revelation which He has given of Himself.

This is in contrast to religious forms and ceremonies.

The Samaritans did not worship God in spirit or in truth. The Jews worshipped God in truth, according to their imperfect revelation but not in spirit. They did not know the gentle and loving name of ‘Father’. By contrast, we are in a position of freedom before a majestic God as the children of His love and sons by adoption. The Spirit, who is the spirit of adoption cries ‘Abba, Father.

The Christian, however simple, who understands the grace of God and has received the spirit of adoption, is entitled to enjoy all these privileges. Like a child, he or she does not reason things out, but knows, loves and enjoys its father’s love without describing it. This relationship is in Christ, and with Christ, He being ‘the first-born among many brethren’ (Rom 8:29). And we, who were formerly strangers, know that He is the only-begotten Son, the firstborn, the Eternal Son* of the Father, revealing His love to as He Himself knows it. [*]The feeblest Christian is therefore perfectly competent to worship.

  • We worship the God of glory, in whose presence we have confidence, not terror.
  • We worship the God of love and kindness, whose will it is that we should be perfectly happy in Him.
  • We worship our Father who blesses us with all spiritual blessing.
  • We worship our Father who knows all our present needs.
  • We worship Him for that which He is in Himself.
  • We adore God for that which He is to us, the children of His house for eternity.

But the effect of the presence of this ‘one Spirit’ goes much further. Not only does He give us the consciousness of being in Christ, He also gives us the consciousness of being ‘baptised into one body, (1 Cor. 12:13) – the body of Christ, and as such, ‘members one of another’ (See Eph 5:25). In the Church, which God has newly-created in Christ (the one new man), the redeemed worship in ‘the unity of the Spirit’. The Head has ascended up on high, in order that the members of the body may worship freely and joyfully before God, by the unction which is from Him.

 

Some practical Effects

God cannot admit sin into His presence, so only those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and who have received the Spirit, can draw near to God to worship Him. An unconverted man cannot please or worship God. He may pray for something and his prayer might be answered, God having tender compassion for him, as a poor sinner. However he does not yet know God, has not the Spirit, and is not washed in the blood of Christ. Therefore it is utterly impossible for him to worship God. If he thinks he can draw near to God, he is ignorant of what he is in himself, and of what the God is whom he thinks to serve. He does not have the Spirit, and is not of the body.

To enter into the sanctuary, we must be sanctified. Before entering, we might measure the value of the work of Christ by reference to our load of sin. But now, brought into communion with God, we taste the sweetness of His love, and value the work of Christ by the grace and love of God. Our consciences are set at liberty, free to draw near to God, by virtue of the efficacy of the work of Christ. We may be timid in drawing near, and need encouragement. But if we do not have a real knowledge of the efficacy of the work of Christ, we will be ill at ease in approaching God, because he will still have a guilty conscience.

Even if there are just two or three present, we can worship in common, because we are united in one body by the same Spirit. Each can say, ‘We’ in sincerity, when addressing God.

The two great elements of Christian worship are the presence of the Holy Spirit and the remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ. The Holy Spirit, who acts in the body, is the source and energy, of genuine worship. This is clearly established by 1 Corinthians 14: the assembly being formed as the body of Christ. The Spirit acts through spiritual men to express the love of the assembly. This is the way in which worship is rendered to God.

Our joy in the presence of God, worshipping Him in love is our eternal goal. Gifts will cease in heaven, and nobody will be ignorant or lazy. Worship will never cease.

 

The Value of the Cross

Instead of seeing the work of Christ as saved sinners, we contemplate its value according to God’s estimate – the greatness of Christ’s love for us. The death of Christ is of such value in God’s sight, as to constitute, so to speak, a new claim on the affections of His Father.  His confidence in God, devotedness, patience, love, obedience, submission and sacrifice united in the cross. It was for us He suffered all. Satan was overcome; death destroyed, the veil removed from before the presence of God, making us heirs who enjoy the love of God. This must lead us to worship. At the cross God was glorified, otherwise His glory could not have been fully displayed.

But we are not dazzled by the glory of the cross. Christ hung upon the cross for us. It is the expression of love stronger than death for us. He loved us to the end. In doing so, He undertook to render us happy in the presence of the Father. ‘I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’ (John 14:3).   He said, ‘With desire, I have desired to eat this passover with you, before I suffer; for I will eat no more thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 22:15-16). As the passover was Israel’s memorial of the deliverance out of Egypt, so the supper is the memorial, not only of our deliverance, but of His love.

If Jesus attaches value to our remembrance to Him and produces deep affection in us, we can understand how the Lord’s supper is the centre of our worship. In the supper, united in one body, we show forth the Jesus’ death ‘until he come’ (1 Cor 11:26).   We recall the act in which the Saviour has testified His love in the most powerful way. Other activities – hymns and thanksgivings are grouped around it. The worshipper is thereby reminded of that which is the most precious of all things in the sight of God — the death of His beloved Son. We enter with spiritual affection into the perfection His work. ‘He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him’ (John 6:56).

The peace-offering and the passover present the most vivid images of the true character of the Lord’s supper. The peace-offering was a feast following a sacrifice, the partakers being God, the priest who officiated, the priests, the worshipper, and those who were with him.   In the passover, Israel fed on the sacrifice, the blood of which was their safeguard against judgment. This expresses the full satisfaction of God in the sweet odour of the work of Christ. Thus God Himself has His part in the joy, so has Christ: His joy is in our joy.

 

The Spirit’s Service

The Holy Spirit is the source and power of all true Christian worship. The unity of the body formed by Him, and in which He acts, necessarily holds a prominent place in the worship. The interceding presence of the Holy Spirit produces the consciousness of this unity. ‘We, [being] many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf’ (1 Cor 10:17 Darby). Jesus Himself is present in the midst, according to His promise. If the bread broken represents the broken body of Christ, the unity of the bread represents the unity of His spiritual body, embracing all the saints in love. We are united to them, wherever they may be, in the unity of the body of Christ. We have all the privileges which attach to it by reason of the love of Him who ‘nourishes and cherishes it’. Consequently, we have a sense of what we owe to God. We have received grace; now we desire to glorifying Him, expressing this in worship.

In the early days they broke bread in private houses, maybe daily. In Acts 20 it would appear that they broke bread on the first day of the week. It is clear from 1 Cor 10 that the supper was to be something special. They had been abusing it, and their lives reflected that. What sort of life should we be careful to lead in order to render suitable praise to God.

As there are two great subjects about which Christian worship is occupied, namely the love of God our Father, and the love of the Lord Jesus, seen in His work, and as Head of His body the Church. Those who give voice to worship will concentrate on different aspects. At times the Lord Jesus will be especially before the mind; at other times thoughts of the Father will be more present. The Holy Spirit alone can guide us in this; but the truthfulness and spirituality of worship will depend upon the state of those who compose the assembly. If the majority in the company are untaught and ‘babes in Christ’ then this will be reflected in what is said. Those with more experience depend on the Comforter — the Spirit of truth — for true united service to God, bringing in nourishment promoting spiritual growth. Nothing, however, is more simple or evident than the truth that the worship which is rendered should be the worship of all.

 

Hindrances

If there is evil in the company, or even in an individual, it will be felt in the service of worship. If a hypocrite is present, he will be a hindrance in the worship; but the unity will not be destroyed. If most have cultivated a delicacy of spiritual feeling, they will feel that the Holy Spirit has been grieved. If there is true spirituality and the Holy Spirit fills the assembly with His presence, evil of every kind is quickly discovered. God is a jealous God, and He is faithful. Fleshly pride loves to make much of a gift, claiming lordship over God’s heritage and arranging things humanly – this gets in the way of the free flow of worship. Likewise do narrow sectarian views.  Achan was discovered at the commencement of the history of Israel ; a single lie in Ananias came in in the beginning of the Church’s history – and what has happened since! May God make us humble, watchful, and true to Him with a sense of the efficacy of the work of Christ, in order, despite the failure, to render spiritual worship. Even with two or three gathered together in the name of Jesus, He is there as the joy and strength. The name of Jesus unites us.

There is another hindrance to worship. In Philippians 3:3 it says, ‘We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’ This is about the religion of the flesh, which is altogether as evil as its lusts, religiousness being one of them. Religion of the flesh does not tend to the glory of Jesus. It is occupied in good works, ethical conduct, outward piety and humility, talking of the love of God, but more of our love for God. In circumscision the flesh is cut off. We can judge these things if Christ is our all.  As in Deut 26, the worshipper professed aloud that it was God that had accomplished everything for him.

Another thing which marks carnal religion is that, it does not ‘seek those things which are above’ (Col 3:1). The soul that has truly learnt that he was dead in sins, and that the Saviour has come down and been made sin for him and has died and been raised up for him, knows in God’s sight just one sole thing – that God has placed His delight in Jesus.

We should not mingle carnal religion with that of the Spirit. The effort of the adversary, at the commencement of the Church, was, not to substitute the law and circumcision in the flesh, in place of Christ, but to add to it. Paul saw clearly, by the Spirit, that if this were admitted, everything would have been lost. Instead of being in Christ and happy in God’s presence by virtue of a completed work, man tries to find a way of making himself acceptable to God. May God grant us to have no confidence in the flesh, but to rejoice in Christ Jesus (See Phil 3:3).

 

Conclusion

Let us revert to the subject of collective worship. What a sweet and precious privilege it is to anticipate that which will be our eternal employ in heaven! There our worship will be perfect. There, all the Church, in its completeness, will be assembled to render worship in the midst of the general assembly on high. There, without distraction and without fear, worship will be the Church’s eternal joy in the perfect favour of God. What a privilege, even here below, to close the door for a moment upon all the distractions of this world, and by the Spirit to satisfy the desires of the heart in rendering to God the thanksgiving which He is worthy to receive, and which in His grace, He has breathed into our souls!

 

[*] There are those who might object to this expression. But I have no difficulty. He is Son; He is eternal. As Man he is that now. Scripture does not go into the relationship prior to the incarnation. See Heb 1:5, Acts 13:33 and Psalm 2:7.

Sosthenes

November 2015

For original see  On Worship

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.

We need more Devoted Christians

Our conclusion, then, is simple undivided devotedness to Christ. Christ is to be the only object, as we do those things that faithfulness and nonconformity to the world entail. We have a bright, heavenly hope connected with Christ crucified, and Christ in glory. He is coming and will receive us to Himself and make us like Him. Hence we should be as those who wait for their Lord.

lay-preachingChristian devotedness is something different from human kindness and philanthropy, born out of a sense of obligation. It is motivated by love for our self-sacrificing Redeemer and a desire to be pleasurable to Him.

A simplified précis of John Nelson Darby’s paper ‘Christian Devotedness’ by Sosthenes

To be truly in the testimony of God, Christians must be devoted. Devotion must be founded on the truth and sound doctrine and exercised in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians need to be clear as to redemption, and have the peace that a Christian has through divine righteousness. He must know the living power of the heavenly Comforter, and be sure of the blessed hope of the glorified Christ’s coming again. Held in the power of the Holy Ghost he is should be separate from the world.

Christianity has had a great influence in the world. Humanitarian activities such as caring for the sick and poor, have become recognised duties of society, even where infidelity prevails. But there are higher motives than these – true devotedness.

 

Christ’s Devotion to His Father

Normally, Christians should abide in the calling wherein they are called. (1 Cor 7:20). Christ is to be our life and the object or motive of our lives. There are two aspects to that life. One is devotedness; the other is submission to the will of God. We see this in Christ. His communion with His Father was perfect, as was His desire to glorify Him. His walk was that of undivided obedience to His Father’s will.

Christ loved His Father and was obedient to Him gave form and character to His love to us. As He becomes our immediate object, we become followers and imitators of God. We walk in love as Christ loved us. “Be ye imitators of God as dear children, and walk in love even as Christ hath loved us and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” (Eph 5:2). Love descending from God, and working in man, rises up towards God as its object – it can be nothing lower. “Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16).

 

Devotion – out of Love, not Merit or Reward

Devotedness is devotedness to Christ. The spring and source of true devotedness is divine love filling and operating in our hearts. We learn divine love in redemption. This sets us in divine righteousness before God. God’s perfect love towards us has given us eternal life in Christ when we were dead in sins, and forgiveness and divine righteousness when we were guilty. Now we enjoy divine love, to enjoy God by His Spirit dwelling in us: even at the judgment seat, Christ, the judge, will be our Saviour. So are we to be in this world.

Of course there were those things Christ did, which we can. He stood alone in self-sacrificial love. But we are able to display Self-sacrificial love too, as having His life, Himself, in us.

Any question of merit or self-righteousness is shut out, and our self-seeking labour is set aside. “Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:21). The thought of reward or merit, destroys the whole truth of devotedness, because love is no longer the motive. It is self, like James and John, looking for a good place in the kingdom. There is reward in Scripture, but it is used to encourage us in the difficulties and dangers which higher and truer motives bring us into. Christ Himself, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 2:2).

Christ’s motive was love. Moses’ motive was caring for his brethren. Such reward is as great mercy: every man receives his reward according to his own labour.

The first effect of devotedness is to adore God, delighting in Jesus, consciously united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Divine love flows, as it did in Christ, into and through our hearts – we become animated through our enjoyment of it. The love of God is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord; not the less God, but God in Christ.

A creature must have an object, and for us that object must be God, – God revealed in Christ as the Father; for in that way God possesses our souls. Christ becomes our first and governing object, then our fellow Christians and then our fellow men. Hence, all true devotedness is the action of divine love in the redeemed, through the Holy Spirit.

So we have a new life which enjoys His love, delighting in Him, and displaying love towards others. Its genuineness is tested, because Christ has to have the first place. Paul says, “Not as we hoped,” (it was more than he hoped), speaking of active love; “but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). It is more than a new nature. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and God’s love is shed abroad in the heart.

 

False Devotion

We may have a prejudicial zeal, compassing sea and land, but that is the work of Satan. If so, we act out of a sense of natural benevolence or obligation, and get irritated if our work is not accepted. This is not love. The activity of love does not destroy the sense of obligation saints have a sense of obligation too, but of a different character. Because of grace, they are motivated freely by love. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:17). it has the divine character – love. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of adoption, and he fixes our hearts on God’s love.

Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20) This is a divine life, a life of faith, a life living wholly by an object, Christ – the Son of God loving and giving Himself. Here we get the practical character and motive of Christian devotedness – living to Christ. Because of that, “We are not our own, but bought with a price,” and have to “glorify God in our bodies” (1 Cor 6:20). The perfection of the offering and the absoluteness and perfectness with which it was offered, has power over our souls. All the incense of the meat-offering was burnt on the altar.

 

The Hindrance of the Flesh

So we are to yield ourselves to the love of the blessed Son of God. The flesh may seek to hinder us, for its objects are not those of the new man and the Holy Spirit. We love the brethren and all the saints, bearing and forbearing, for Christ does, seeing the saints grow up to Him who is the Head in all things, and walk worthily of the Lord. Like Paul, we seek to see the church presented as a chaste virgin unto Christ. We continue love, though the more abundantly we loves, the less we are loved. And we are ready to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

Self likes to be served; love delights to serve. A man of pleasure flings away money; so does an ambitious man. They judge the value of things by pleasure and power. The covetous man judges everything by its potential to enrich. The Christian judges of everything by Christ. If anything gets in the way of His glory he casts it away. He does not regard it as a sacrifice, but a hindrance – to him it is dross. Christ gave Himself: now we have the privilege of forgetting self and living to Christ. On earth Christ girded Himself and served His own. Now we have the privilege of serving Him. Living to God inwardly is the only possible means of living to Him outwardly.

All outward activity, not governed by devotedness to Christ, is fleshly and even a danger to the soul. It tends to make us do without Christ and brings in self. I dread great activity without great communion.

Devotedness is a humble, holy thing, doing our Master’s will – it is the true part for every Christian. We want wisdom – God gives it liberally; Christ is our true wisdom. We want power – we learn it in dependence through Him who strengthens us. Devotedness is dependent, it leans on divine strength in Christ for He can do all things, and all that He does is good. So we have the Lord’s help despite the trials and difficulties – we are “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom 8:37). Nothing separates us from that love.

There is something else that we have to look at. Dedicated service in love is a joy and blessing. But we are in a world where such service will be opposed and rejected, and our flesh has a tendency to self-preservation. Peter presented this thought to the Lord, and He said “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt 16:23). In point of fact, the flesh is a continual hindrance: it instinctively shrinks from devotedness to Christ, because it means giving up self, bringing reproach, neglect, and opposition on us. We have to take up our cross to follow Christ. If not, we shall at best be “John Marks” in the work. And we will be those who say, “suffer me first“. There should be no self-seeking, no self-sparing, and no self-indulgence! If we are to live to Christ, we must hold ourselves dead, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is our life.

 

Our own Hearts

Now we come to the management of our own hearts. “Always bearing about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus” is the great difficulty and tests our state of soul. But we have power in our sense of grace. Christ died and gave Himself for us, so by grace we hold ourselves as dead to all but Him. That would be comparatively easy, were self and Satan’s power not opposing us. But to have Christ’s dying always above self, necessitates Christ, by God’s Spirit, dominating all our affections. This is the only way of devotedness in God’s sight. All else belongs to the first Adam and to the scene he moves, and perishes with our last breath. It is only the life which we live by Christ which remains.

As devoted, we have to please Christ in everything. Worldly dress and manners, indeed worldliness in every guise, disappear. These things are not be agreeable to Him whom the world rejected, because He testified to it that its works were evil. The place of the Christian is to be the epistle of Christ. The world’s motives, thoughts, relationships do not enter into his heart.

There is another point which we may do well to notice. This makes plain the difference between devotedness and natural kindness. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Our profession of Christ is to be so distinct that people will know to Whom our good works should be attributed, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.

 

Conclusion

Our conclusion, then, is simple undivided devotedness to Christ. Christ is to be the only object, as we do those things that faithfulness and nonconformity to the world entail. We have a bright, heavenly hope connected with Christ crucified, and Christ in glory. He is coming and will receive us to Himself and make us like Him. Hence we should be as those who wait for their Lord.

More devoted Christians are needed, – devoted in all their ways, in heart and soul, to Him who loved them and gave Himself for them.

Sosthenes – April 2015

Darby on Romans 5:1-11 – The Result and Effect of Grace in our present Standing under that Grace

Baptism with the Holy Spirit was one of the two great acts ascribed to the Lord in John 1. It is consequent on the value and efficacy of His blood, that the sins of those who believe are put away. In the Old Testament, the leper was washed with water, sprinkled with blood, then anointed with oil. We are washed with the word, sprinkled with Christ’s blood, then anointed with the Holy Spirit. That is not being ‘born again’: new birth applies to the Holy Spirit’s work in unbelievers: it is after we believe that we are sealed.

Rome

 

We are brought to the separation of our hearts from the world, and a clearer consciousness of what God is as we pass through the world. We hope, and we are weaned from the world which tends to shut Christ glorified out of sight. Our hope is clearer. Though we may have tribulations, we have both the key and the power to bear them.   In grace, as God does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous, He watches over us in blessing, making everything work together for our good. The love of God [what He is in His nature] is shed abroad in our hearts. (v.5)   It is God’s love, known by the Holy Spirit’s presence, bringing in what God is in His nature to our hearts.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit was one of the two great acts ascribed to the Lord in John 1. It is consequent on the value and efficacy of His blood, that the sins of those who believe are put away. In the Old Testament, the leper was washed with water, sprinkled with blood, then anointed with oil. We are washed with the word, sprinkled with Christ’s blood, then anointed with the Holy Spirit. That is not being ‘born again’: new birth applies to the Holy Spirit’s work in unbelievers: it is after we believe that we are sealed.

This has practical importance. We are accepted, forgiven and sealed. God’s perfect love to us when we were sinners, is not a matter of experience. Being accepted, we are sealed. Experience has its place, and some Christians would even oblige souls to have the experience of Romans 7, in order for the salvation of Romans 5 to be true.

While we enjoy God’s sovereign, causeless love by the indwelling Holy Spirit, the knowledge and proof of that love is in a work outside and independent of us. ‘For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly’ and, God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:6,8) – such was our state.

The Holy Spirit reveals the truth; he does not reason it. be. Man is always reasoning naturally, with a vague thought of mercy. Even when repentant he carries on reasoning till he has really met God, and known His grace. (The prodigal talked of being made a hired servant before he met his father.) The Holy Spirit makes us see clearly that we are lost, but then we reason about God, and what He has done for us. Whilst this is going on, we are still in a legal state. When we reason naturally there is either carelessness and self-delusion, or a mixture of law and grace. With the Holy Spirit, there is no mixture: just clear condemnation on the ground of responsibility, or salvation and blessing on the ground of grace.

Hence we have hope. ‘And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us’ (v.5). Then we reason from the starting point of divine grace –

  • We glory in God Himself
  • We are reconciled
  • We rejoice in salvation and in the God who has made Himself known through it
  • We learn to joy in God.

This closes the first part of the epistle. Justified, having glory in hope, and joy in Him whom we have known through this great salvation.

A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s  Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans

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

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

Little Flock Hymnbook 1962/1973 No 178

The Love of God 1 John 4:9 
by J. N. Darby

God presents what He is to men, so we know that He is holy, righteous and love. He is love, and love draws me. Love is the divine nature.

I need to be separate from evil: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14). It is not said, ‘He is holiness’. Indeed I as a sinner would be repelled by mere holiness. He is holy. He is just, and He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. (Hab 1:13) He may be the God of judgment, but He blesses His own so that they might be eternally happy in holiness, for He is holy love.

A summary by Sosthenes

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

God presents what He is to men, so we know that He is holy, righteous and love.  He is love, and love draws me.  Love is the divine nature.

I need to be separate from evil:  “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14).  It is not said, ‘He is holiness’.  Indeed I as a sinner would be repelled by mere holiness.  He is holy. He is just, and He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity(Hab 1:13)  He may be the God of judgment, but He blesses His own so that they might be eternally happy in holiness, for He is holy love.

Whatever our state may be, God is perfect in His love, and He would make us learn, enjoy and walk in it now, not when we get to heaven.

Our selfish, unbelieving nature hinders us down here, but this only serves to magnify God’s grace and love.  In spite of all, He brings us to the knowledge of perfect love because “Perfect love casteth out fear, for fear hath torment” (v.18).   If, when thinking of God, we fear, we have torment.  That is the conscience.   Man may seek to bury his conscience, but only succeeds in hardening it.

If we seek peace in ordinances, it is not love but fear. The effect of true ministry is to put the soul in direct contact with God.  False ministry brings in something between the soul and God.

The soul must have the blessed consciousness of perfect peace with God.  God brings you into the joy of His perfect love in His presence; “Who shall separate us? … More than conquerors.” (Rom. 8:35)

The family character of the children of God is light and love.  It is God’s nature, and seen in both in Christ and in all God’s children.  I must have the new nature to know this; but how do I get it?  Where is it found?  In Jesus Christ Himself, image of the invisible God. (Col 1:15).   In Christ I find a perfect manifestation of His love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us(v10).

There is no mention of anything required of us, but the simple fact of what we were “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Eph. 2:1)

Though He is a God of judgment, He brought out the means of our approach: through Christ’s sacrifice.  Abel’s faith testified how man was to approach to God, so from Abel downwards God showed mercy.

Man as man refuses to come to God “none righteous.”  (Rom. 3:10) When Christ comes, it is another thing altogether.  God now approaches man in grace; not man approaching God.  He visited men in their sins, “that they might live through him.” (v.9)  All around was darkness, degradation, and idolatry. God took them out of that condition that they might live through Christ. “God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”  (1 John 5:10). Thus we are brought into His presence.

We live through His only-begotten Son. He is bringing us into His presence, before the One in whom all His delight was from eternity.  It is the eternal enjoyment of it to know eternal life in the Son; but down here we often question it, because we do not see this love in us. He is “a propitiation for our sins.(1 John 2:2)

God has loved me not only when I wanted it, but because His knew what I wanted.  He has not mistaken my case; Christ on the cross made the propitiation for my sins.  So I can say, “Herein is love.” (v.10)  I have found God, and my soul rests there. The cloud has been taken away for ever. If you say, ‘I have committed such and such a sin’; I answer, ‘It is for the sins you had or still have that Christ died; for He died for your sins.’

He cannot bear sin, and therefore He must put the sinner in his sins away, because He cannot bear the sins.  I learn to judge sin according to God, because I am brought into the light.  I find many sins in myself. He is the propitiation for my sins. I believe this, and then I enter into communion with Him. Why do I find fear and torment when I find sin in myself?   Can I not trust that love?  Have I not believed the love God has towards me?

God does not expect fruit from man, but His grace produces fruit.  We should feel sin, and know it has been blotted out.  We are told that  “The glory thou hast given me I have given them, that the world may know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:24)  “There is no fear in love.” (v.18).   It is a matter of communion and we live through Him. “… Perfect love casteth out fear.”

I am not honouring God, if I do not trust the work of Christ in love on the cross.  I come to Him just as I am, and then I know God.  He enables me to trust in blood of Jesus Christ His Son – the perfectness of His work in putting away sin.

 

Simplified Darby – God’s Love and Grace – Holiness, Unity and Christian Gathering

After maintaining that separation from evil must be the principle of unity, Darby was at pains to show that it cannot be the power to gather Christians. Holiness may attract them together, but the power to gather is grace, working in love – love through faith. If Christians gather purely out of separation from evil, they become occupied with the evil, which is not of God.

We are to be separated from evil, but separated to God. And that is in love, so we abound in love towards one another, our fellowship being with the Father and the Son, grace alone having revealed God’s heart. Active love gathers us together.

A summary by Sosthenes of John Nelson Darby’s

Grace, the Power of Unity and of Gathering

J N Darby

 

After maintaining that separation from evil must be the principle of unity, Darby was at pains to show that it cannot be the power to gather Christians.  Holiness may attract them together, but the power to gather is grace, working in love – love through faith.  If Christians gather purely out of separation from evil, they become occupied with the evil, which is not of God.

We are to be separated from evil, but separated to God.  And that is in love, so we abound in love towards one another, our fellowship being with the Father and the Son, grace alone having revealed God’s heart.  Active love gathers us together.

To view the complete paper – Grace, the Power of Unity and of Gathering 

To download book (JND Collected Writings – Vol 1 Ecclesiastical 1 – p366) containing this article click here

God’s Holiness, Love and Grace

In God’s nature there is both holiness and love. As Christian saints we possess these because of the life that has been given to us.  Holiness, is needed by all who approach God, but love, the spring of activity, provides the energy for us to do so.  God is holy – God is not just loving, but love.  Wherever love is found, it is of God, for God is love.  This is the blessed active energy of His being.  And God displays His love in the riches of His grace to sinners.  It is to their eternal blessing as He will show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus (Eph 2:7)

God imputes no sin to the Church. Through grace and redemption this fact is always blessedly and eternally true.

We are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. (Eph 1:4).  God is holy; God is love, and in His ways, blameless.  We are sinners. but in His love God has put sinners in the place of holiness and blamelessness.  He has shown us favour in the Beloved – In Christ the Son, the blessed one.  We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (what we need) – so we can enter where we can be to the praise of the glory of His grace – and this according to the riches of his grace (Eph 1:6-7)

Our Heavenly Position

When Christ was here He was alone; grace was rejected here, but in His death redemption was accomplished and atonement made.  Jesus has revealed God, even though His power is seen in creation, and we thus know Him to be love and light too. Blessed knowledge!

In the exercise of that love God gathers to Himself those who display that love in Christ. He is the great power and centre.

In bringing us into unity, God has the highest thoughts for us.  In Eph 1:3the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.  In John 20:17, Christ speaks of us as His brethren.  Our wonderful part in sweet and blessed grace is up there in the best and highest sphere of blessing, where He dwells.

We therefore have an inheritance.  The Holy Ghost is the earnest of the inheritance, (Eph 1:14) but not of God’s love. That is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us.  (Rom 5:5).

“Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity.”

Darby’s earlier tract “Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity” bore on state of the Church of God in general, and not any member in particular.  However, anybody denying the basic principles of that tract is not on Christian ground at all.  Is not holiness the principle on which Christian fellowship is based?  And the real message of that tract is simply that.

The Danger of becoming Occupied with Evil

Separation from evil, distinguishes the person who separates from the person who is separated from.  The danger when we separate we get over-occupied with our position as separate – this tends to make our position important to us.  Our treacherous human hearts being what they are, mix up our position with self.  If separation from evil becomes the gathering power, then what is in my mind is my position, and I am over-occupied by its importance.

As a Christian separates from evil, it is the evil acting on the conscience of the new man, which drives him out. He knows it to be offensive to God but if he becomes occupied with the evil, he is in a dangerous situation.  Naturally he is anxious about those he has left, to justify and demonstrate to them clearly the ground on which he left.  Meanwhile those he has left tend to cover things up in order to explain their position.  So our friend becomes occupied with proving the evil to others. This is slippery ground for the heart, to say nothing of danger to love.  This is not holiness, nor separation from evil. It harasses the mind, and cannot feed the soul.

God separates us from evil, but He does not fill the mind if we continue to be occupied with it; because God is not in the evil.  Where conflict with evil not maintained in spiritual power, communion is lost, and it becomes impossible to maintain unity.

Real Holiness is not merely Separation from Evil, but Separation to God from Evil

What is holiness?  Holiness is separation to God.  We are brought to God and to know Him.  The prodigal came to himself and said “I will arise and go to my father.” God says “If thou wilt return, return unto me.” (Jer 4:1) A soul is never really restored until it returns to God.  Even if the fruits of flesh have been confessed, forgiveness and restoration are from God in love.

God is above all. The new holy and divine nature, being exercised in life, revolts from evil when it has to face it.  Natural conscience involves the rejection of evil.  But real holiness is not merely the rejection and the separation from evil, but separation to God from evil.  God is our object.  Real holiness, then, is separation to God, as well as from evil; for only thus are we in the light, for God is light. (1 John 1:7)

So instead of the heart being occupied with the evil, which it abhors, it is filled with good.  This does not weaken separation, but puts the evil quite out of mind and sight. Hence the heart is holy, calm, apart from, and abhorring evil.  God is good, and we can be positively filled with God in Christ.  As we become occupied with good, we become  holy.  Hence we can abhor evil, without occupying ourselves with it.

The soul goes from sin to love, and goes there because love was displayed in Him that was made sin for us.  Love is the power that separates us from evil, and ends all connection with it; for  if I die then to the nature I used to live to, I live hereafter in the blessed activity in love.

Through the Holy Spirit’s working, purifying our affections our souls are  drawn to what is good.   We recognise evil, not by a mere uneasy conscience, but by sanctification.  This is all in the power of God’s grace.

Love precedes holiness

Love comes before holiness, wither mutual amongst the Christian saints , or individual in enjoying the revelation of God.  “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints,” 1 Thess. 3:1213. Also  “Ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. … God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” (1John 1:4-6).  So separation from evil involves walking in the light, in God’s revealed character in Christ, in the truth as it is in Jesus in whom the life was the light of men (John 1:4).  If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.  But what makes the fellowship?

Christ therefore becomes the centre.  Jesus had won John’s heart, and was the gathering power into fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  John knew that by the Holy Spirit. He knew that is what made the fellowship.

The true Character of Christian Fellowship – with Him, where He is, where Evil cannot come

As we have been restored to God together, we can gather to a common Christian fellowship.  We are to have fellowship in something, that is, with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus says “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me”  (John 12:32).  Now here was perfect love, entire separation from all sin and in condemnation of it.  But He is risen and ascended, so It is a heavenly place that He takes, and our gathering through the cross is to Him there, in the good where evil cannot come.  There is our communion – entering into the Father’s house in spirit.  And this is the true character of the assembly, the church, for worship in its full sense.  It remembers the cross, it worships, and all known in heaven before God.

Our fellowship or communion, is in that which is good –  heavenly, no evil being there.  Hence it is said: “If we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.”  (1 John 1:7) The only way in which we can walk out of darkness is by walking in the light, that is, with God: and God is love, and were He not, we could not walk there.

And this is true even if realised imperfectly.

Active Love Gathering Us

In love we are bought into fellowship, love acting to bring us together.  In love we have our part.  Love, while sanctifying and maintaining God’s holiness, makes us partakers of it, revealing God and gathering weary souls.

Love is active.  Jesus has revealed God, and we know Him to be love and light; He has given us eternal life.  The Lord said  : “My Father worketh hitherto and I work ”. (John5:17He gave himself . . . that he might gather into one the children of God, which were scattered abroad. (John 11:52)

It is evident to the Christian that love gathers to holiness, and on the principle of it.  Grace alone fully reveals God; without grace that to which we are to be gathered cannot be seen.  Grace reaches the heart.

Law and Grace

The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). The law told man what he ought to be. It did not tell him what he was, nor did it tell him what God was; that remained concealed.   The truth is not what ought to be, but what is – the reality of all relationships as they are, and the revelation of Him who must be the centre of them.  And that cannot be without grace, for man is a ruined sinner, and God is love.

Through grace, God Himself, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are revealed as They are, and also what man is in perfection, in relationship with God.  We see the contrasts: obedience and disobedience, holiness and sin, God and man, heaven and earth.  With the fullest revelation of Himself, we see His counsels with Christ as the centre. Hence grace is the acting power in and is alone capable of revealing truth; for Christ’s being here is grace; His working is effective grace.

Now grace is the gathering power, gathering into unity, for it must, being divine, gather to itself.  Every renewed soul must know that all such are drawn together to Christ.

Grace reigns through righteousness.  It does it by uniting souls in the power of the Holy Spirit to Jesus, the one who was here, was on the cross, but now as Christ in heaven, where our true place is by faith.

This is love, infinite, divine; and, through the Holy Ghost, we have fellowship with Him.  We join in it.  Now that, we perceive, is the gathering power for Christians who desire to be separate from evil.

J.N. Darby (1800-1882)

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