A Letter Regarding Priesthood - by JN Darby
LETTERS FROM J. N. DARBY Nimes, 26th January 1851.
I thank you dear brother, for the news of------------- that you give me, and I bless God with all my heart that it is good news. In general, thank God, it is a time when God is acting and bringing precious souls to the knowledge of Jesus. The work is not great in appearance, but souls are coming from all sides.
The following is what I believe to be the practical truth as regards priesthood. We must remember that it is exercised in grace for us, not on our request, but before this. It is "if anyone sin, we have an advocate", not 'if anyone repents and goes to Him'. When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, it was not the disciples who had asked for it. This being understood, it seems to me that what priesthood is exercised in regard of is as follows.
You will notice that in this passage (1 John 2:1-2) it says "Jesus Christ the righteous", and it is a question of walking in the light, as God is in the light (see 1 John 1:7). Now the righteousness of God, which is ours in Christ, has placed us before God without a veil, in the light, and it is a question of walking in that while on earth, though we are weak and tempted, and too often stumble. It is not a question of arriving at it by priesthood: we are in it, by righteousness, in Christ; it is a question of maintaining communion with God in this light, walking on earth in such a way as to glorify Him, as we know Him there, and thus being light. We were darkness, we are light in the Lord. Christ also, as being in the presence of God for us, bears our names on His heart [see Exodus 28:15-21: Editor], in such a way that we are the object of God's affections according to His answer to the heart of Him who presents us. Then He bears our judgement according to God's light and perfections, in such a way that the question of righteousness comes in only in our favour, according to the acceptance of Christ; and the question of love comes in so that we should be the objects of the Father's affection for Jesus, and of Jesus' rights over the Father's heart. The activity of His intercession is exercised to cause us to obtain what is necessary, in order to maintain us in relation with the full affection and holiness of the Father and God, according to the position in which Christ our Head is found. This is accomplished in that we get all the light and the strength that we need. He began by obtaining the Holy Spirit for us, in order that we should know the position that we are placed in by Him, and that we should be morally capable of enjoying it.
Now if we fail, these relationships, without being changed in any way, are nevertheless disturbed in their exercise, disturbed precisely because they do exist. The Holy Spirit, who is the light and power of them, is grieved; but the grace of God in Christ towards us, and our righteousness before God the Father, are not altered. Can the Father allow sin and bless us as if nothing had happened? No, the thing is impossible, it would not be blessing. Nevertheless nothing is imputed to us. The priesthood of Christ is the means by which all our failures and our weaknesses become the occasion of the operation of the grace that purifies us and establishes us. Outward failures become the means of a deeper knowledge of self, a much more complete divesting of self, and the means of experiencing the grace that is in Christ. Our weaknesses teach us that the power of Christ rests upon us, that His grace is sufficient for us — this grace which teaches us to have done with ourselves in order to live only by Christ. Thus we acquire more calmness, more holiness, more humility — in a word, more knowledge of God, and of Him who is from the beginning: an and it is a question of walking in the light, as God is in the light (see 1 John 1:7).
Now if we fail, these relationships, without being changed in any way, are nevertheless disturbed in their exercise, disturbed precisely because they do exist. The Holy Spirit, who is the light and power of them, is grieved; but the grace of God in Christ towards us, and our righteousness before God the Father, are not altered. Can the Father allow sin and bless us as if nothing had happened? No, the thing is impossible, it would not be blessing. Nevertheless nothing is imputed to us. The priesthood of Christ is the means by which all our failures and our weaknesses become the occasion of the operation of the grace that purifies us and establishes us. Outward failures become the means of a deeper knowledge of self, a much more complete divesting of self, and the means of experiencing the grace that is in Christ. Our weaknesses teach us that the power of Christ rests upon us, that His grace is sufficient for us — this grace which teaches us to have done with ourselves in order to live only by Christ. Thus we acquire more calmness, more holiness, more humility — in a word, more knowledge of God, and of Him who is from the beginning: an an immense blessing, which replaces our miserable self by the Lord Himself. We draw near to the throne of grace, having priesthood there already. Priesthood functions without our asking for it, as I have already remarked. I can only point out here the great principle according to which this priesthood functions. If any detail is still lacking to you, dear brother, you could let me know.
As for the question whether Christians can be cut off from this earth, there is no doubt that they can be; 1 Corinthians 11 says so, as does the case of Ananias and Sapphira, and 1 John 5:16. We must not confuse the government of God with salvation. God knows everything in advance, and does everything for His glory. But He governs in such a way as to manifest His character. That the results of Christ's work are for eternity I do not doubt, though we are not capable of judging every individual case. On the other hand, a man who has been much blessed in his course in general may succumb and yield to Satan on some point that makes God's intervention in government necessary. But eternity will manifest the sovereign grace of the salvation which puts us all in the glory of Christ, and, at the same time, the fruits of the labours of which we have been made capable by the Spirit, and concerning which as regards recompense His government is exercised. This is grace upon grace, and everything is arranged beforehand by God for His glory, in the manifestation of Himself, for the eternal blessing and instruction of His creatures. 'To sit on my right and on my left is not mine to give but to those for whom it is prepared of my Father". Chastening is exercised on earth. It may go as far as cutting off, always "that we may not be condemned with the world", but the sin that goes as far as that takes us outside the domain of the church's charity in intercession. Peter, for example (Acts 5:1 and following), is indignant, and does not intercede. It is very important for the glory of God, and for the good of the church, and for our holiness, that the two principles of the church's privileges and our responsibility should be maintained to the full. Now responsibility is always in proportion to our privileges. More is expected, the Lord says, from him to whom much has been given. Privileges give the measure of our responsibility and the courage needed to face it, because privileges, being a favour, become motive and strength (see Philippians 3). We must distinguish salvation — redemption accomplished absolutely to place us for ever, without sin, in the presence of a God of love, a Father — from the glory which is at the end of the race in proportion to the work of the Spirit. One would not be in the race if one were not saved. Israel fights in Canaan because they are there, and their redemption from Egypt is an accomplished fact. The cases of Achan and Gibeon clearly show responsibility. The things that happen before the capture of Jericho, and that event itself, show that the omnipotence of God is there for him who knows how to use it, whatever the exercises may be through which we have to pass. Only direction from God and spirituality enable us to know when responsibility must be insisted on, and when grace must be announced. Only it must be remembered (I do not speak of the law) that all responsibility depends on the existence of a relationship. A son is responsible to behave like a son because he is one, a Christian to behave like a Christian because he is one: that is to say, he is saved, a child of God, a co-heir of Christ, having eternal life, loved as Jesus is loved. That is what gives form to our responsibility.
As for the sin-offerings, you will find something on them in the "Etudes sur la Parole de Dieu"3. Christ eats the sacrifice in taking upon His heart everything which in our acts could prevent us from being blessed, but He does so as a holy service, carried out in the most holy place, for the joy of His love. We do it when we are enabled to realize the value of Christ's sacrifice in favour of a Christian who has sinned, thus having the assurance of God's favour towards him — a precious thought in regard of a member of Christ and the full restoration which is the consequence of it. But we must have faith, we must be in communion with the Lord's love, to do this in truth. It is the function of a priest; it was carried out in the most holy place; see Numbers 18, which can only be a figure.
I believe it is possible that a Christian may commit suicide, but that supposes that Satan has gained an ascendancy over his mind which will take on the character of madness or melancholy. Consequently there can be nothing more painful and more humbling. It shuts everyone's mouth. Alas, dear brother, this is what happened recently to a young man, who had glorified God in his conduct but who, already before this, had been troubled by a deep depression. For myself, I feel that such an event is one of the most solemn that can happen.
I close, dear brother, for time is pressing. I am somewhat overburdened with occupation, although in reality that cannot be said. Much rather, I am weak to carry out all that the goodness of God puts in my way.