What did John Nelson Darby and the Brethren hold?

Darby and the brethren held to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith:

There is one God, eternally blessed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit,.
The Lord Jesus was and is human and divine. He was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of God.
The Holy Spirit, having descended on the day of Pentecost, dwells in believers who are waiting for the promised return of the Lord Jesus.
The Father in His love has sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption and grace towards men. Jesus, the Son, finished the work on earth which the Father gave Him to do. He made propitiation for our sins, and ascended into heaven. Now He is the great High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
As to the brethren, nobody would be received into fellowship who denied any of these fundamental truths, and any who undermined them would be excommunicated. They are essential to living faith and salvation, and to the life which all Christians live as born of God.

 

lefrancaisA summary by Sosthenes of a letter entitled ‘ A letter to the Editor of Le Français’ – published in J N D’s letters Volume 2 page 431.

In 1878 the editor of ‘Le Français’, a catholic newspaper wrote to J N Darby asking him about what he and the brethren held.  Although he did not like writing articles for newspapers, believing that they were not compatible with the Christian’s heavenly calling, Darby said, ‘I have given him in all simplicity what he asked for. He avowed himself a Catholic and devoted to Catholicism. His letter was simple and honest: I replied to him as Christian.’

 

A summary of his reply:

Darby and the brethren held to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith:

  1. There is one God, eternally blessed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit,.
  2. The Lord Jesus was and is human and divine. He was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of God.
  3. The Holy Spirit, having descended on the day of Pentecost, dwells in believers who are waiting for the promised return of the Lord Jesus.
  4. The Father in His love has sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption and grace towards men. Jesus, the Son, finished the work on earth which the Father gave Him to do.  He made propitiation for our sins, and ascended into heaven.  Now He is the great High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

As to the brethren, nobody would be received into fellowship who denied any of these fundamental truths, and any who undermined them would be excommunicated.  They are essential to living faith and salvation, and to the life which all Christians live as born of God.

 

Darby’s early Christian Days

After John Darby was converted he spent six or seven years under the rod of the law, feeling that although Christ was his Saviour he did not possess Him, or that he was fully saved by Him.  He fasted, prayed and gave alms, but did not have peace.  He felt that if the Son of God had Himself forgiven him, he owed Him his body, soul and means.

At length God gave him to understand that he was in Christ, united to Him by the Holy Spirit.  Though he had always accepted that the word of God was the absolute authority as to faith and practice, God had now implanted in his heart the conviction of it.  Scriptures which bore on that were:

  • At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you’ (John 14:20)
  • He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit’ (1 Cor 6:17)
  • Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost who is in you’ (1 Cor 6:19)
  • There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1)
  • I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’ (John 14:3)
  • Having believed, ye have been sealed for the day of redemption’ (Eph 1:13)
  • For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13)
  • Even when we were dead in sins, [he] hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)’ ( 2:5)
  • Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory’ (Phil 3:20-21)

From the above scriptures he deduced that the Holy Spirit has given us as believers the full assurance of salvation.  We have been set apart from this world, sealed to do God’s will here.  We are citizens of another world, awaiting the return of our Lord and Saviour.

 

The body of Christ is composed of those who are united by the Holy Spirit to the Head – Christ in heaven.  We are seated in the heavenly places in Christ, and are already there in spirit, just waiting to be actually place us up there, our bodies changed.

 

The Public Church

This brings us to the thought of the church and of its unity.

Let us look around we see how far we as Christians have got from what God had set up on the earth.  Where is the church?   Darby said that he gave up Anglicanism as not being it. In his early days he had been attracted to Rome.  But then he realised that the idea of a sacrificing priesthood down here was inconsistent with Heb 10:14-18  ‘For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. . . . Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin’.  As a result of the work of Christ, we have direct access to God in all confidence. ‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.’ (Heb. 10:19).  Rome pretended to be the whole, but that excluded half or more of Christendom.  Protestant sects were divided amongst themselves – unity was not possible.  In fact, most of those who call themselves Christians are of the world, just as much as a pagan might be.

 

The Fall of the early Church

 

The church was formed on the earth at the descent of the Holy Spirit.  It ought always to have been clearly identifiable, as something distinct, separate from the world.  Alas this has not been the case.  The Lord foresaw this: ‘The wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep’ (John 10:12) but, thank God the same faithful Shepherd also said,  ‘No one shall catch them out of my hand’ (v.28).

The apostle Paul, bidding farewell to the faithful of Asia, said, ‘I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock, and of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.’ (Acts 20:29-30).  Moreover, Jude noted that deceitful men had crept in among the Christians, ‘Certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men’ (Jude v.4).  This would lead to apostasy, those inside the public confession entirely abandoning the Christian faith. ‘There are there many antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last time. hey went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us’ (1 John 2:18-19).

 

What the Faithful should understand

Paul tells us, ‘Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work (2 Tim 2:19-21).

The public church is a great house with vessels of all kinds: a call comes to the faithful man to purify himself from the vessels to dishonour.  In the next chapter he speaks of perilous times.  Men will be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud etc., but also ‘Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’ (2 Tim 3:5).  They were evidently in the professing church, not pagans as in Romans 1.  And it goes on, ‘All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse’ (2 Tim. 3:12, 13); but true believers have assurance through the scriptures, given by inspiration of God, making them wise to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

At the beginning, ‘the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’ (Acts 2:47)  Soon false brethren crept in, tares were sown, the house was filled with unholy vessels, from which the faithful were to purge themselves, persons with a form of godliness without power, from which the faithful were to turn away.

Evil in the church continued.  ‘The mystery of iniquity doth already work’ (2 Thess 2:7). The wicked would be destroyed by the brightness of His coming.  Elsewhere the Lord speaks of the good grain and the tares growing together until the harvest (See Matt 13:24-30).  We must distinguish between the work of Christ, and what is done by men – heresies and schisms.

However, the gates of hell are not to prevail against that which Christ has built. The enemy will never destroy what Christ has built (the church of God).  That is the house made of living stones, and the holy temple in the Lord (See 1 Peter 2:5 and Eph 2:21.  Alongside all that, the Word declares that where two or three are gathered to the name of Jesus, He would be in their midst. (See Matt 18:20).

 

The early Brethren

This is what Darby recognised.  Initially only four met together, not in a spirit of pride or presumption, but deeply grieved at seeing the state of that which surrounded them, and praying earnestly about it. Darby said they were not thinking of forming a new sect.  Indeed, they did not believe that the thing would have gone any further. They were just satisfying the need of their souls according to the word of God and found the promised presence of the Lord.

Independently following the same road, the work extended in a way they did not expect – in the British Isles, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and on through the rest of Europe, the British Colonies, the United States, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.  As the gospel was preached, the Spirit of God acted, and produced soul yearnings that the established religious systems could not meet.

Those brethren rested on the authority of the word of God.  They saw our Saviour:

  • first as accomplishing redemption on the cross,
  • then as seated at the Father’s right hand, the Holy Ghost being down here,
  • and finally, as coming back to take His own to be with Himself.

These Christians had the full assurance of their salvation  They had faith in the efficacy of Christ’s redemption, and being sealed with the Holy Spirit, they were waiting for the Son of God to come from heaven without knowing when it would happen.  Bought with a great price, they felt bound to regard themselves as no longer belonging to themselves, but to please the Lord Jesus in everything, and to live only for Him.

 

The Brethren’s Walk

Whilst Darby had to admit that not all the brethren walked at the full height of the heavenly calling, they acknowledged the obligation to do so.  Brethren walked in a morally right way, excluding any who held heresy or engaged in immorality.  They abstained from the pleasures and amusements of the world.   Evening parties would be occasions of encouraging one another and discussing the word.  Brethren did not vote or get involved in politics.  They submitted to the established authorities, whatever they may be, so long as they were not called upon to act contrary to the will of Christ.  They took the Lord’s supper every Sunday, and those who had gift, taught from the scriptures and preached the gospel of salvation to sinners.  Everyone felt bound to seek the salvation or good of his or her neighbour, as they were able. Feeling that Christendom was corrupt, they were not of the church-world.

Asked as to how many such believers followed this course, Darby had no idea.  Brethren did not number themselves, wishing to remain in the littleness which becomes Christians. In any case, they reckoned as a brother or sister in Christ every person who had the Spirit of Christ.

 

Conclusion

What is the advantage of this course?  We acknowledge Christ as the Son of God and  know that we have been saved by Him.  In obeying Him, in spite of our weakness, faults and failures, we have as an indescribable source of joy.  Looking ahead, we have an earnest or advance of eternal happiness, with no failures, where our Lord will be fully glorified in all believers.

Sosthenes

November 2016

 

J N Darby – French Letter No. 160 – Consideration of the Church in Hebrews 3

JohnNelsonDarbyPau – 5th April 1857

To Mr B R

Beloved Brother,

Your letter of 8th March has reached me at last. On the subject of Hebrews 3: 1, I understand you perfectly, at least I think I do. There is some truth in what you say[1], but I doubt whether you have taken into consideration all the points of view which the word furnishes to us on this subject.

Firstly, it seems to me that there are some expressions even in the chapter itself which show that the apostle was thinking of persons who, at least as far as their profession went, had accepted Jesus as Lord, acknowledging Him as Messiah and putting their trust in Him. I say this because the apostle speaks of the beginning of their faith, and of what they were to hold firm to the end; also of the fact that we are His house, if at least we hold fast the beginning of our faith and the boast of hope firm to the end[2].

When he makes the comparison with Israel, it is with Israel redeemed, who had entered into the wilderness. See also: chapter 6: 9-10; 4: 14; 6: 18; 10: 22 and the verses following, then verse 34; 13: 8-9, and many other passages, which imply that the position of those whom he was addressing was that of Christians.

Now here, as it seems to me, are the important points of the epistle, which are peculiar to it, and must be taken into account. Christ died for the nation, to sanctify the people by His own blood. Thus all those who recognised Jesus as Messiah were supposed to be sanctified, and supposed at the same time to form part of the people still. On the other hand, being written shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and the cessation of all relationship between God and the people, the epistle invites the Jews to go forth outside the camp (not forth from the world, but forth from the camp of Israel), and to acknowledge the Christ as rejected by Israel and ascended into heaven, outside of the people. But the fact that he thus invites them to go forth outside the camp, is a proof, is it not, that he is concerned with the remnant, as distinct from the mass, although this remnant had up till then been in relationship with the unbelieving mass and forming part of it?

It seems to me that the epistle to the Hebrews is fundamentally a development of the heavenly character of Christianity (not of the church, which properly speaking we find only in chapter 12), intended, on one hand, to prevent the believing Jews from slipping back again into the old order, and, on the other hand, to prepare the way for this exhortation, so terrible for a Jew, and only found right at the end: that is, to leave the Jewish system and camp. This exhortation is founded on the fact that Christ (according to the type of the perfect sacrifice for sin) had suffered outside the camp as far as the world is concerned, and that His blood had been carried into the sanctuary; that it was necessary to be in heaven, as regards His true position before God, and outside the earthly system down here.

But the fact that the church does not come into the reckoning, except where the whole scene of millennial glory is presented, gives rise to another peculiarity of this epistle: namely, that in the hopes it presents to us and in the prospect of rest and glory which it opens up to us, even while using expressions applicable to heavenly blessedness, it does not go beyond what can be applied to earthly rest. It leaves room for this application of its expressions: ”There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God”. Where?[3] This partly comes back to your way of viewing it. But then suppose in time to come an Israelite should use this epistle in view of that rest of the people of God – an Israelite still attached to his nation after the rapture of the church – he will have to understand that it was only a remnant; that there had been a heavenly hope in which he had no part; that in order to enjoy it definitively, they had had to go outside the camp of Israel, which he himself had not done. That is to say, he will have to be aware that although God has reserved a rest on earth for the remnant of His people (and thus for His people, Romans 9: 7, 27; 11: 26), there had been another rest into which those who had gone outside the camp had entered, which he himself had not done. Now even though it allows a glimpse of an earthly rest for the people, the objective of the epistle is to lay it on the believing Jews, as partakers of the heavenly calling, not to attach themselves to this earthly rest, but to look higher, that is, look to Jesus who has entered in as Forerunner within the veil. The remnant was still in relation with the people, it formed part of them – always a dangerous position, and more than dangerous at the moment when the epistle was written. It acknowledges the fact of what belongs to the people, but it is addressed to the believing part of it, so that this part should no longer form part of the people but should cling to what is its own – the hope that enters within the veil where Jesus has gone in. The sitting of Jesus at the right hand of God was the condemnation of the Jews (compare Acts 7, where He has not yet sat down), and the right to enter the heavenly sanctuary was assured to the sinner as his present and eternal portion.

It is nonetheless true that this position of Jesus is the foundation of all hope for the Jew in the last day, and the apostle leaves this hope subsisting. But it is the hope of the remnant, and he invites this remnant – [which was] at that time in the bosom of the nation – to come out from the midst of it, in virtue of its heavenly calling founded on the fact that Jesus is sitting within, in heaven.

The reasonings on the sacrifices confirm these views, it seems to me. Christ died for the nation, and thus each one of those who acknowledged Him was deemed to have part in Christian privileges without leaving the nation. But in this epistle, though taking this ground, the apostle, it seems to me, addresses those who had acknowledged Him, to invite them to separate themselves from the nation; showing that, whether as regards the sacrifices or as regards the priesthood, another system superior to the old was destined to replace it. I do not say that the replacement of the system is the setting aside of the nation, for Christ died for that nation; but that in fact (the great subject being the replacement of the system) the principle of the new system was a Christ crowned with glory and honour in heaven, and that only those who had attached themselves to Him by faith are found included in the category to which the apostle is speaking. Compare particularly chapter 6 already quoted. This requires patient attention to the contents of the epistle, not in order to profit by the rich resources that it includes, but to do justice to the work for the nation [of Israel], at the same time distinguishing it from the relation formed by faith with Him who, having accomplished this work, had ascended again into heaven. In a word, we must distinguish between what was valid for that nation and the relationship formed by faith. The work and the position are valid for the remnant in the last days, in order that it should enjoy earthly blessings; but the apostle is addressing those who were partakers of the gifts by faith. I do not know if I am making myself understood. I have written this letter in several instalments.

Except for a part of the Revelation, left incomplete last year, our translation[4] will be finished tomorrow, by God’s help, but we shall re-read it.

[1] According to a footnote in the original, Mr B R had stated that Heb 3: 1, and indeed all the epistle, was not addressed only to those of the Hebrews who had faith in Christ, but to the whole body of the people that was then in Judæa.

[2] Heb 3: 14 and 3: 6

[3] ie ‘The question is, Where [will this rest be found]?’

[4] the German translation of the New Testament

 

Note:  This letter was originally published in ‘Baskets of Fragments’