J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 2.)
My dear brother,
Exaggerations are always dangerous, and, where imagination is at work, deceive to people's cost; but the subject is a serious one. "Dead to nature" is not a scriptural expression, so we must see what people mean and what Scripture says. But deadness to the world and all the flesh is after, is what is wanting among Christians.
As regards natural relationships, they are very carefully maintained in Scripture. The matter stands thus: God established certain relationships - "from the beginning it was not so" (divorce) - " God made them male and female"; sin has come in and spoiled all. A new power has come in, which, while fully recognizing them as of God, and using them as images of the highest spiritual relationships with Christ and the Father, has nothing to do with them - is above and out of them. In general those who say much about them and being dead to nature, do so because they are not. Paul lives alone and says as a rule, "Let every one of you have his own wife." The speaking against it is of Satan.
The Lord had considered the lilies and how God had clothed them; seeking these things as an object is another matter. Adam was to dress and keep the garden when he had no sin, but we need to have our affections on things above by a new power, and need a single eye to it to keep us out of the power of what is corrupted. "All things are lawful to me but I will not be brought under the power of any." They even who had wives must "be as though they had none," for the time is a constrained one.
Nature is of God, but its corruption is not, and it is corrupted, under the bondage of corruption and that is the difficulty. But "dead to nature" is legality; to seek it as it is, is not of the Spirit, though He has given us all things richly to enjoy. My body is of the old creation - my life, as born of God, of the new, and we are left for spiritual exercises in this very way. Nor is the matter therefore so simply spoken of as some would, humanly. It is meant to be a holy exercise, and those who do not spare the body may be satisfying the flesh.
The Apostle speaks for spiritual power and for order, "Every man has his own gift"; but it is a gift. He wills that men marry as a rule, but tells them that the married man cares for the things of the world, that they will have trouble in the flesh, but he spares them.
260 We have died with Christ, our life is hid with Him in God - He is our life. We have been crucified with Christ, yet live, yet not we, but Christ lives in us, and this life lives by the faith of the Son of God. But you will find that when applied it is always in view of certain objects which turn the heart from Christ - "All that is in the world, the lusts of the flesh," etc., are not of the Father. We are dead to sin, to the rudiments of the world. You will further find that these are distinguished, and that the highest Christian state does not contemplate this at all.
In Romans the Christian is looked at as a man alive in this world as we are, but justified, and Christ our life. Here we get "dead to sin," Christ having died to it, and our "old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should no more serve sin, for He that is dead is justified from sin" (not sins), you cannot accuse a man of sin in the flesh if he is dead. In Colossians it goes further. "Ye have died" and here they are risen also, and so are looked at as risen men on the earth; they are dead to the rudiments of the world, are not alive in the world, subject to ordinances. So we are "dead to the law by the body of Christ," in Romans; it is also said, "if Christ be in you the body is dead because of sin." But "dead to nature" is, in all that we are said to be dead to, quite unknown to Scripture in word or thought. It falsifies the idea of the bearing of death there.
But none of these is the highest measure taken in Scripture. These think of sin, though of death to it, but never of our living in it. Colossians goes a step further, and on to ground which is fully developed in Ephesians; here man's highest condition in this respect is spoken of, he has not died to anything - he is viewed as dead in trespasses and sins, and then as a new creation, a creation after God. It is just mentioned, Colossians 2:13. This is fully developed in Ephesians 2, and here note Christ is not viewed as life-giving, but as raised when a dead man, He having descended in grace to where we were, and in an effectual work for us, so that we rise with Him and into the same place. This is referred in 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, and in the remarkable summary in John 5:24. All this stands on a different ground from being quickened and having died - we have changed our place and position, are created anew; but if dying to be brought in and dwelt on, people are really in general under law and do not count themselves dead, and if they talk of dying to nature, which Scripture does not, they will soon find to their cost that nature is not dead.
261 I should earnestly press being dead, crucified with Christ; Christ and nothing else our life - not of the world as Christ is not of the world - that the Spirit of God be the source of all our thoughts and desires to live Christ. Death to sin we have, to the world, our old man crucified with Christ, and, if Christ be in us the body dead because of sin. So all that is in the world, the lusts, and pride is not of the Father. But neglecting of the body may be "being vainly puffed up in a fleshly mind," and "dead to nature" does not enter into the sphere of scriptural thought. Who is dead to it, and what is he dead to? Is the new man dead? The question would be: Is nature dead? And that they will soon find it is not. They should not eat nor drink. Now they should not do this save to the glory of God, and, with prayer and thanksgiving, have no motive but Christ in anything, the body of sin being destroyed.
What is specially wanted now is individual devotedness. I dread anything that would weaken that, but "dead to nature" in word or thought Scripture does not know, and in the highest character of Christ, dead to anything does not come in at all, but a new nature in relationship with the Father and with Christ, and in Him sitting in heavenly places. If I talk much of being dead to nature, I am occupied with it. I write briefly and in a hurry, but you will find I believe the principles of Scripture here.
Yours affectionately in the Lord,
August 16th, 1878. J.N.D.