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A Voice from the past: “Unselfishness” By J.N. Darby

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

“One thing impressed my mind most peculiarly when the Lord was first opening my eyes – I never found Christ doing a single thing for Himself. Here is an immense principle. There was not one act in all Christ’s life done to serve or please Himself. An unbroken stream of blessed, perfect, unfailing love flowed from Him, no matter what the contradiction of sinners – one amazing and unwavering testimony of love, and sympathy, and help; but it was ever others, and not Himself, that were comforted, and nothing could weary it, nothing turn it aside. Now the world’s whole principle is self, doing well for itself. (Psalm 49:18.) Men know that it is upon the energy of selfishness they have to depend. Every one that knows anything of the world knows this. Without it the world could not go on. What is the world’s honour? Self. What its wealth? Self. What is advancement in the world? Self. They are but so many forms of the same thing; the principle that animates the individual man in each is the spirit of self-seeking. The business of the world is the seeking of self, and the pleasures of the world are selfish pleasures. They are troublesome pleasures too; for we cannot escape from a world where God has said, ‘In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread till thou return to the ground,’ etc. Toil for self is irksome; but suppose a man finds out at length that the busy seeking of self is trouble and weariness, and having procured the means of living without it, gives it up, what then? He just adopts another form of the same spirit of self and turns to selfish ease.

I am not now speaking of vice and gross sin (of course every one will allow that to be opposite to the spirit of Christ), but of the whole course of the world. Take the world’s decent, moral man, and is he an ‘epistle of Christ’! Is there in him a single motive like Christ’s? He may do the same things; he may be a carpenter as Christ was said to be (Mark 6:3); but he has not one thought in common with Christ.

As to the outside, the world goes on with its religion and its philanthropy. It does good, builds its hospitals, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and the like; but its inward springs of action are not Christ’s. Every motive that governed Christ all the way along is not that which governs men; and the motives which keep the world agoing are not those which were found in Christ at all.

The infidel owns Christs moral beauty, and selfishness can take pleasure in unselfishness; but the Christian is to put on Christ. He went about doing good all the day long; there was not a moment but He was ready as the servant in grace of the need of others. And do not let us suppose that this cost Him nothing. He had not where to lay His head; He hungered and was wearied; and when He sat down, where was it? Under the scorching sun at the well’s mouth, whilst His disciples went into the city to buy bread. And what then? He was as ready for the poor, vile sinner who came to Him as if He had not hungered, neither was faint and weary. He was never at ease. He was in all the trials and troubles that man is in as the consequences of sin, and see how He walked! He made bread for others; but He would not touch a stone to turn it into bread for Himself. As to the moral motives of the soul, the man of the world has no one principle in common with Christ. If then the worldling is to read in the Christian the character of Christ, it is evident the world cannot read it in him; he is not a Christian; he is not in the road to heaven at all, and every step he takes only conducts him farther and farther from the object in view. When a man is in a wrong road, the farther he goes in it the more he is astray.” John Nelson Darby, “Unselfishness,” in The Christian Friend, Vol. 16 (1889), 51; electronic ed. accessed on 1/10/16 here.

Another gem from the past: “The True Grace of God Wherein We Stand” by J.N.D.

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: The True Grace of God wherein we stand

1 Peter 5: 12.

God is made known to us as the “God of all Grace,” and the position in which we are set is that of “tasting that He is gracious.” How hard it is for us to believe this, that the Lord is gracious. The natural feeling of our hearts is, “I know that thou art an austere man”; there is the want in all of us naturally of the understanding of the Grace of God.

There is sometimes the thought that grace implies God’s passing over sin, but no, grace supposes sin to be so horribly bad a thing that God cannot tolerate it: were it in the power of man, after being unrighteous and evil, to patch up his ways, and mend himself so as to stand before God, there would be no need of grace. The very fact of the Lord’s being gracious shows sin to be so evil a thing that, man being a sinner, his state is utterly ruined and hopeless, and nothing but free grace will do for him – can meet his need.

We must learn what God is to us, not by our own thoughts, but by what He has revealed Himself to be, and that is, “The God of all Grace.” The moment I understand that I am a sinful man, and yet that it was because the Lord knew the full extent of my sin, and what its hatefulness was, that He came to me, I understand what grace is. Faith makes me see that God is greater than my sin, and not that my sin is greater than God. . . . The Lord that I have known as laying down His life for me, is the same Lord I have to do with every day of my life, and all His dealings with me are on the same principles of grace. The great secret of growth is, the looking up to the Lord as gracious. How precious, how strengthening it is to know that Jesus is at this moment feeling and exercising the same love towards me as when He died on the cross for me.

This is a truth that should be used by us in the most common everyday circumstances of life. Suppose, for instance, I find an evil temper in myself, which I feel it difficult to overcome; let me bring it to Jesus as my Friend, virtue goes out of Him for my need. Faith should be ever thus in exercise against temptations, and not simply my own effort; my own effort against it will never be sufficient. The source of real strength is in the sense of the Lord’s being gracious. The natural man in us always disbelieves Christ as the only source of strength and of every blessing. Suppose my soul is out of communion, the natural heart says, “I must correct the cause of this before I can come to Christ,” but He is gracious; and knowing this, the way is to return to Him at once, just as we are, and then humble ourselves deeply before Him. It is only in Him and from Him that we shall find that which will restore our souls. Humbleness in His presence is the only real humbleness. If we own ourselves in His presence to be just what we are, we shall find that He will show us nothing but grace. . . .

It is Jesus who gives abiding rest to our souls, and not what our thoughts about ourselves may be. Faith never thinks about that which is in ourselves as its ground of rest; it receives, loves and apprehends what God has revealed, and what are God’s thoughts about Jesus, in whom is His rest. As knowing Jesus to be precious to our souls, our eyes and our hearts being occupied with Him, they will be effectually prevented from being taken up with the vanity and sin around; and this too will be our strength against the sin and corruption of our own hearts. Whatever I see in myself that is not in Him is sin, but then it is not thinking of my own sins, and my own vileness, and being occupied with them, that will humble me, but thinking of the Lord Jesus, dwelling upon the excellency in Him. It is well to be done with ourselves, and to be taken up with Jesus. We are entitled to forget ourselves, we are entitled to forget our sins, we are entitled to forget all but Jesus.

There is nothing so hard for our hearts as to abide in the sense of grace, to continue practically conscious that we are not under law but under grace; it is by grace that the heart is “established,” but then there is nothing more difficult for us really to comprehend than the fulness of grace, that “Grace of God wherein we stand,” and to walk in the power and consciousness of it. . . . It is only in the presence of God that we can know it, and there it is our privilege to be. The moment we get away from the presence of God, there will always be certain workings of our own thoughts within us, and our own thoughts can never reach up to the thoughts of God about us, to the “Grace of God.”

Anything that I had the smallest possible right to expect could not be pure, free grace – could not be the “Grace of God.” . . It is alone when in communion with Him that we are able to measure everything according to His grace. . . . It is impossible, when we are abiding in the sense of God’s presence, for anything, be what it may – even the state of the Church – to shake us, for we count on God, and then all things become a sphere and scene for the operation of His grace.

The having very simple thoughts of grace is the true source of our strength as Christians; and the abiding in the sense of grace, in the presence of God, is the secret of all holiness, peace, and quietness of spirit.

The “Grace of God” is so unlimited, so full, so perfect, that if we get for a moment out of the presence of God, we cannot have the true consciousness of it, we have no strength to apprehend it; and if we attempt to know it out of His presence, we shall only turn it to licentiousness. If we look at the simple fact of what grace is, it has no limits, no bounds. Be we what we may (and we cannot be worse than we are), in spite of all that, what God is towards us is LOVE. Neither our joy nor our peace is dependent on what we are to God, but on what He is to us, and this is grace.

Grace supposes all the sin and evil that is in us, and is the blessed revelation that, through Jesus, all this sin and evil has been put away. A single sin is more horrible to God than a thousand sins – nay, than all the sins in the world are to us; and yet, with the fullest consciousness of what we are, all that God is pleased to be towards us is LOVE.

In Rom. 7 the state described is that of a person quickened, but whose whole set of reasonings centre in himself . . . he stops short of grace, of the simple fact that, whatever be his state, let him be as bad as he may, GOD IS LOVE, and only love towards him. Instead of looking at God, it is all “I,” “I,” “I.” Faith looks at God, as He has revealed Himself in Grace. . . . Let me ask you, “Am I – or is my state the object of faith?” No. faith never makes what is in my heart its object, but God’s revelation of Himself in grace.

Grace has reference to what GOD is, and not to what we are, except indeed that the very greatness of our sins does but magnify the extent of the “Grace of God.” At the same time, we must remember that the object and necessary effect of grace is to bring our souls into communion with God – to sanctify us, by bringing the soul to know God, and to love Him; therefore the knowledge of grace is the true source of sanctification.

The triumph of grace is seen in this, that when man’s enmity had cast out Jesus from the earth, God’s love had brought in salvation by that very act – came in to atone for the sin of those who had rejected Him. In the view of the fullest development of man’s sin, faith sees the fullest development of God’s grace. . . . I have got away from grace if I have the slightest doubt or hesitation about God’s love. I shall then be saying, “I am unhappy because I am not what I should like to be”: that is not the question. The real question is, whether God is what we should like Him to be, whether Jesus is all we could wish. If the consciousness of what we are – of what we find in ourselves, has any other effect than, while it humbles us, to increase our adoration of what God is, we are off the ground of pure grace. . . . Is there distress and distrust in your minds? See if it be not because you are still saying “I,” “I,” and losing sight of God’s grace.

It is better to be thinking of what God is than of what we are. This looking at ourselves, at the bottom is really pride, a want of the thorough consciousness that we are good for nothing. Till we see this we never look quite away from self to God. . . . In looking to Christ, it is our privilege to forget ourselves. True humility does not so much consist in thinking badly of ourselves, as in not thinking of ourselves at all. I am too bad to be worth thinking about. What

I want is, to forget myself and to look to God, who is indeed worth all my thoughts. Is there need of being humbled about ourselves? We may be quite sure that will do it.

Beloved, if we can say as in Rom. 7, “In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing,” we have thought quite long enough about ourselves; let us then think about Him who thought about us with thoughts of good and not of evil, long before we had thought of ourselves at all. Let us see what His thoughts of grace about us are, and take up the words of faith, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

J.N. Darby, “The True Grace of God wherein we stand,” Similar to, perhaps extracted from, ‘Why do I groan?’ C.W. 12 Evangelical vol. 1, page 186, electronic ed.: http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/darby/New8_95/38True_Grace.html Accessed on 2/5/11.

Guest Post: A Gem from the past

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Since I’m on the road, & unable to post a new article, I present this excellent meditation on John 8:1-11 by the 19th century Bible teacher, John Nelson Darby. JND is notoriously difficult to read, but this piece is remarkably lucid. This version comes from biblecentre.org . Enjoy!

“A Just God & A Saviour”

John 8:1-11

There is in all persons a certain knowledge of good and evil; such and such things they say are good, and such and such things are evil. But perhaps no two persons fix exactly the same standard either of good or evil. What people do is to fix such a standard of good as they can come up to themselves, and such a standard of evil as shall just exclude themselves, and include others.

For instance, the drunkard thinks there is no great harm in drinking, but would consider it a great sin to steal. The covetous man, who is every day perhaps practising some cheating or deception “in the way of trade,” satisfies himself by thinking “it is necessary and customary to do so in business, and at all events I do not get drunk or curse and swear as others do.” The profligate person prides himself upon being generous and kind-hearted to others, or, as he says, “he does nobody any harm but himself” The upright moral man, and the domestic amiable man, satisfies himself with doing what he calls his duty, and looks round and pities the open sinners that he sees; but he never considers how many an evil thought, how many a sinful desire, he may have cherished, unknown to others, in his bosom: and that God judges the heart, though man looks only at the outward conduct.

Thus each congratulates himself upon his not having done some evil, and compares himself with some one else who has committed the sin, which he thinks he has managed to avoid. Now all this proves that men do not judge themselves by one regular fixed standard of right and wrong, but just take that which suits themselves and condemns others. But there is a standard, with which all will be compared, and according to which all will be judged, – a standard of righteousness, all who fall short of which will be eternally condemned; and that is no less than the righteousness of God. When a person begins to find that it is not by comparing himself with others that he is to judge, but by comparing himself with God, when his conscience begins to be awakened to think of sin as before God, then indeed he finds himself guilty and ruined; he will not then attempt to justify himself by trying to find out some one that is worse than himself, but he will be anxious to know whether it is possible that God, before whom he knows himself condemned, can pardon or forgive him.

Now the scribes and Pharisees, mentioned in this eighth chapter of John, were very moral and religious people, and were greatly shocked when they found this wretched woman taken in such open sin, and very indignant against her. Justice and the law of Moses, thought they, demand that she should be made an example of – it is not fit that such a sinner should live. It comforts and quiets the depraved heart of man, if he can only find a person worse than himself: he thinks the greater sin of another excuses himself; and whilst accusing and vehemently blaming another, he forgets his own evil. He thus rejoices in iniquity.

But this is not all; for not only do men thus glory and exult in the fall and ruin of another, but they cannot bear to see, or think of, God exhibiting grace. Grace – which means the full and free forgiveness of every sin, of every evil, without God demanding or expecting, any thing from the one so forgiven – is a principle so opposed to all man’s thoughts and ways, so far above man, that he dislikes it; his own heart often secretly calls it injustice. He does not himself deal in this way, and does not like to think of God doing so. It is very humbling to be obliged to own that we are dependent upon grace entirely for salvation; and that nothing we have done, and nothing we can in future do, has made us, or will make us, fit subjects even for grace; but that our misery and sin and ruin are the only claim we have upon grace. The scribes and Pharisees could not understand this; and not liking to own that they were themselves sinners, they wished to perplex Jesus; and if He acquitted the woman, then say He was unjust; or if He condemned her, then say He was not merciful. “Such should be stoned,” say they; “but what sayest thou?”

True the sentence was just, the proof of the woman’s guilt was undoubted, and the law was clear; but who was to execute the law? Man may easily condemn, but who has a right to execute? “He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone at her.” Who could say “Without sin?” and if not one of them could say, “I am without sin;” there was not one of them but was under the same sentence as the woman – that is, death, for “the wages of sin is death.” Here, then, was a strange situation, – the accused and her accusers alike involved in the same ruin-criminals all. Not now “such should be stoned,” but all should be stoned. From the eldest to the last, all convicted sinners.

And have you thought of that? that you and all the world are guilty before God? It is not what your amount of sin, as respects others, is; but can you say you are “without sin” before God? If not, death, then, is your sentence. “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” And in this sad condition what have you done? Perhaps the same as the scribes and Pharisees did, when they were convicted by their own conscience – left the presence of the only One who can pronounce the forgiveness. Adam in the garden had done the same before; he went and hid himself from God when he knew himself guilty; he turned away from his only friend just when he most needed His help. And so it is still. Man is afraid of the only One who is ready to pardon.

You may be able to persuade yourself that you are not so bad; you may find others manifestly worse; but are you a sinner at all? What is God’s thought concerning you? Does not even your own conscience say, “I am not quite without sin.” Well, then, death is the sentence. God cannot lie, it is His sentence. And if we only heard that God was just, there could be no hope. But He is “a just God and a Saviour.” He has condemned, and He has also the power to execute; the only question that remains is, can He pardon?

“And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” She was standing before One who could say, “Without sin,” and who therefore could cast the stone. She was alone with One whom she owned as Lord; and what would be His sentence? The law had already condemned her; would He execute it? What a moment of intense anxiety must it have been for her! How all surrounding objects must have been as nothing in her fright! She was alone with One who had the power of life and death. Everything rested on His word. What would He say? Man had not dared to cast the stone; now what would God do? “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”

Such is still the gracious message to the ruined sinner, pronounced by the very Judge Himself. But it is only to the ruined sinner, standing consciously convicted before the Judge, that it is spoken. The righteous Pharisees heard it not. They were indeed convicted; but they liked not to confess their sin, and they sought to get rid of their convictions, to bury them in some good works of their own; and they would not put themselves in the same condemnation with the wretched woman, who got this blessed word of peace. And so it is still. If you desire to have God’s full and free pardon, it must be your place to stand first as the guilty sinner. To be alone with Jesus, consciously self-condemned. To have no one else to trust to, no one else to compare yourself with. Not to make resolutions of amendment, not to try to get better first, before you come to Him; but to be brought to Him by your very sins, to stand in the very place of condemnation, and before the very Person who has the power to condemn. To make your very guilt the reason of being alone with Him.

And the Lord gave her no conditional pardon. He did not say, “Neither will I condemn you, if you will not sin any more.” No, He gives her full and complete forgiveness first, and that He knew would enable her to avoid the sin in future. If you desire to have power over your sins, you must first know them all pardoned by God through Christ But if you try to master your evil before you know the forgiveness of God, you will obtain neither the one nor the other. Through faith in Jesus you must be justified freely from all things, before you will ever be better as before God.

Now, some who really believe on Jesus do not clearly see this, and they are seeking to have peace by holiness of life, or the fruits of the Spirit, instead of first acknowledging themselves as ruined sinners fully and freely pardoned, and then letting their life and conduct be guided by the knowledge of that pardon, and the love to God which the knowledge of His mercy must necessarily create. Begin with, “Neither do I condemn thee.” Let your peace come from faith in the blood of His cross, by which He has made peace. God’s knowledge and estimate of your sin is much deeper than your own, but He has provided the blood of His Son. He says that blood cleanses from all sin. The more I see and know my own sin, the more I shall value that precious blood by which it is put away; and the more anxious shall I be not to grieve the heart of Him who, in His own love, has provided such a wonderful sacrifice on account of my sins. Hence, the deeper I know my own guilt, the more secure will be my peace; for the greater will be my value for the blood, through which peace has been made.

May you know the peace and joy of having all your sins forgiven through faith in the blood of Jesus, and the consequent victory over the power of those very sins by which you have been led captive.

J N Darby