Letter to a Christian Friend, in reply to a Presbyterian Minister, on the subject of the Law, the Sabbath, Ministry, and the Sacraments.

J. N. Darby.

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It may be well, by way of preface, and for the information of those into whose hands the following letter and reply may come, to state the circumstances under which they were written. A Presbyterian minister having been applied to for the loan of his chapel, for the purpose of preaching the gospel, thought it his duty not only to refuse but also to write the accompanying letter, in which, as the reader will perceive, he touches upon four very important points - points which claim the unprejudiced investigation of every lover of truth.

The importance of the subjects thus brought forward, and not a desire for controversy, has induced the person to whom the letter was addressed to send forth to the Church both it and the reply, which latter has been written by one who is incessantly engaged in the work of the ministry.

It is earnestly hoped that the Christian reader will so far apprehend his elevation above all the mists of rancorous theological discussion, as to be enabled, with a cool and dispassionate judgment, to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." Truth, and not the miserable interests of a party, should ever be the object of the judicious and reflecting Christian, whose privilege it is to be completely free from men, and the system of men, and to stand forth only as the advocate of truth in all the largeness and liberty of that word. It is, however, impossible that we can arrive at truth when we are seeking for something short of it; for of truth, as well as of wisdom, it may be said, "Those that seek me early shall find me."

Should the following pages fall into the hands of one whose heart and conscience have not yet found rest in Jesus and His atoning blood, we would earnestly and affectionately point his eye, not to the subject of these pages, but to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world," and we would exhort him to flee, by that unerring path, from the unmitigated and terrible "wrath to come."



I consulted my brethren on the propriety of granting your request; they were strongly and unanimously opposed. I may say I cordially agreed with them.

The church is not ours, but the Lord's, and we would be glad to give it to any who were doing His work; but we believe you, and those of your mind, are endeavouring (not knowingly) to overturn divine institutions; we, therefore, cannot say God speed. The sabbath is a divine institution - a relic of paradise - a type of heaven - a day that God commands us to keep holy - no business, pleasure, or recreation - a day that God's people have delighted in. Prophets and apostles have but one voice with regard to it "I love the Lord's day" a day that God has preserved as a standing miracle for religion, and honoured it above all days - Pentecost, John in the isle of Patmos, etc. We believe that no sin does God oftener visit with His manifest displeasure so much as the violation of the sabbath. Therefore, with those who would take away this day, or bring it down to a level with other days, we can hold no fellowship - we must look upon them as enemies of God and of righteousness.

Again, as to the law, we hold it to be the will of God that it cannot change, nor can our obligation to keep it ever cease. There is infinitely greater obligation upon us to obey the law than was upon Adam; and while the unregenerate hate the law, we believe God's people love it. "Oh! how I love thy law." The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good: we can give no sympathy to those who magnify one attribute of God, at the expense of another. We love the justice and righteousness, as well as the mercy, of God; and we believe that His law will be the rule of life in heaven as well as earth.

Again, as to the ministry, we hold it a divine appointment for the edifying of the body of Christ; and, therefore, any who intrude themselves into this office, or undertake the duties without being called to it, and set apart, as was Aaron, and in gospel times as Timothy (1 Tim. 4:4), and, therefore, also enter by another way, and take the office, and perform the duties - the same is a thief and a robber. Your views also of the sacraments are, as we conceive, entirely erroneous - taking away from them a great part of their meaning, and degrading them to a mere rite of commemoration; while we hold that in these ordinances the soul makes covenant with God.

351 You may think my conduct strang - refusing now what I once made offer of. At that time I thought your views were not so erroneous, and that you might be brought to see the truth. I am now forced to abandon you, believing you to be an enemy of Christ (not by design, but by not knowing the truth). Praying that God may lead you to receive and acknowledge the truth,

I remain, in affection, yours,

    * * * * *



I have read Mr. A.'s letter. I like the plain decision of it, and I admit the importance of the questions involved in the points he speaks of; and though I should not speak as harshly of him, as he does of you, I do not dissemble to myself that the nature of Christianity is involved in it. I take it for granted that Mr. A. is a real servant of Christ, not knowing him, and that he rests the hope of his soul on the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, God and man, and other fundamental truths common to all who are really Christians. I add that, because I say the points involve the nature of Christianity, I do not mean those great points without the faith of which a man could not be a Christian, but the ground he stands on as a Christian, in virtue of the truth of them. Did I not suppose Mr. A. to be built on the great foundation of everlasting truth, I could not reason on the points he proposes. Still I do admit that the nature of Christianity practically is involved in the questions more or less. As to having their place to preach in, this would not be a reason to me for replying, for I would not have it if offered, were I in your neighbourhood; and it almost tends to turn me aside from replying to you or Mr. A.'s letter, its being connected with a question of preaching in his chapel. I do not believe that they are enemies of Christ, as Mr. A. calls you; but I do believe that he who wrote you this note is, or they are, ignorant of the real nature of Christianity, and of the truth on the points in question, as taught in the New Testament; and that the difference affects man's state, the nature of the gospel, the effect of Christ's death and resurrection, not as to fundamental orthodoxy, but as to its application to man.

352 I am sure Mr. A. is quite unaware of it, but his view upsets man's total ruin, and the ground of a sinner's standing. Nor do I think he knows "what he says or whereof he affirms," while "desiring to be a teacher of the law." For it is most certain that man under law, converted or unconverted, regenerate or not, is lost, unless Christ be a mere maker-up of deficiency - a doctrine, I am persuaded, Mr. A. would repudiate.

For the law must press a man for what he is himself, if he be under it. "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse" - not as many as have violated, but as many as are on that principle. (I am sure in Mr. A. it is merely ignorance.) They that be of faith are blessed - this is not blessing in keeping the law, and curse in violating it. Were it so, all would be infallibly under the curse, for man is a sinner; the regenerate man, the flesh being in him, fails; if he is under the law, he is under the curse. No doubt, the law is abstractedly good; but man is a sinner in nature before he gets it, and is necessarily and wholly lost under it.

In vain he says he is regenerate; the law knows no such distinction; it asks, Are you such as I require? No, I am not, says the regenerate man (who indeed alone truly says so). Then, says the law, I curse you. But you say, I am not under you for justification, but as a rule. But, I curse you, says the law, because you have not kept the rule; and it will not and cannot do anything else. It is in vain to say we do not put man under it for justification. It puts him under itself for condemnation, if he has anything to say to it.

I quite admit that the law is the rule (not of life, indeed, so as to obtain it, but) of existence and joy in heaven; and that it would be on earth (taken in its highest character in the commandments the Lord extracts from the Old Testament, as that on which law and prophets hang), if man were not a sinner; but then his redemption would not be necessary. But he is a sinner; and hence, under law, he is under curse. It cannot be a rule of life to a sinner, because it is a rule of death; not because it is not holy, just, and good, but because it is, and man is a sinner. Viewed in his new nature, I do not doubt man fulfils the law as a new creature; for love is the fulfilling of the law; but this does not put him under it. The reasoning of the apostle is that you need not put him under it; for he alone who was not under it in spirit kept it; that, as an administered code, it was the strength of sin - entered when man was already a sinner, that the offence might abound; that sin, taking occasion by it, wrought all manner of concupiscence, and rendered sin excessively sinful; in fine, that we could not have two husbands at a time, nor seek blessing on two principles; that we are not under law, but under grace; and if led by the Spirit, we are not under law, Christ having delivered us from it, being dead to the law by the body of Christ.

353 In a word, the scripture testifies, that put a man under the law, and he is (sinner or saint) a cursed, dead, condemned creature; that it is a ministration of death, and a ministration of condemnation. Mr. A. has not kept it; if he is under it, he is lost; it knows no mercy, and God's holiness can allow no mitigation of its terms. I cannot have the two husbands: dead to the one, we are married to another - even to Christ risen. In His death, which infinitely magnified it, as in life He honoured it, I am dead to it - risen, He is not under it, though as a new life He fulfils its principles in me, by having taken me from under it by redemption. He who says, I am under law, in principle denies the redemption of Christ. Fulfilling it, without being under it, yea, by not being under it. Scripture speaks of the Christian being under it never. In a word, the Christian, viewed as a new creature, accomplishes the law, for he loves and does no ill to his neighbour; but he is not placed under it (for if he were, he would be condemned by it); he sees that Christ alive on earth was, and in death bore its curse, and in the power of redemption delivered us from it; while He communicates a nature to us as risen, which delights in it and does it, but does not put the believer under it.

As regards the sabbath, Mr. A. is on the same ground. He says it is a relic of paradise. This equally denies (unintentionally I fully believe) both judgment and redemption. There is no relic of paradise and no rest in creation as it is. The seventh day was the rest of God in creation. And subsequently, when Israel was put under the law, to live by it and be blest in creation (though faith had then better things in view), it was given as a sign of the covenant with them. But we believe and have learned that creation is ruined, and judgment and redemption have excluded us from and taken us victoriously out of it into a new creation. Hence Christ passed the sabbath in the grave - it was buried, and our hopes of blessing here with Him in His grave. He claimed Lordship over it in title of His person. Sin had spoiled creation: we are a new creation; the old is judged; and Christ is risen into and to be the Head of a new one, in a new condition of man. Into this in spirit we are brought, as hereafter in our true rest in glory. Hence the resurrection of Christ is the day which marks out this to us, not the close of creation-labour, as the seventh was, but the beginning of resurrection and new creation-blessing. The seventh day was the sabbath, as God's rest after the creation. This is not our rest. He has said "arise and depart: it is polluted." The first day distinctively, and not the seventh, is the day marked out to us. The labour to prove it a seventh, or as some have done, the seventh, is unintelligent labour to destroy the distinctive Christian position which has its birthplace of blessings in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, on the first (not on the seventh) day of the week. The seventh was rest according to the law, and looked to man to work aright; but find it he could not. Redemption has brought him into it; but that is in the power of resurrection, the beginning of a new creation. Hence, I believe, the answer of the Lord when challenged with breaking the sabbath, "My Father worketh hitherto and I work." We cannot rest either in sin or in misery. The first day of the week He entered into the fruits of His work. The sabbath then was the rest of creation, and the sign of the covenant with Israel. Our testimony is, that both have wholly failed, and there is no rest in them; and the grave of Christ has closed that whole scene and condition of existence, and begun a new one in which we have a part.

354 But the first day of the week is marked out to the Christian, not indeed as law, but as blessing. Christ rose, Christ met His disciples on it, and again the same week following. On the first day of the week the disciples met to break bread: on the first day they were to lay by their profits for the poor saints; and in the Revelation it is definitely called the Lord's day. As such I own it; but I do not, with Presbyterian traditions, abandon the foundations of my hope, in seeking rest in the creation in which Christ has been rejected, nor in the covenant of the law of which He bore the curse. The Lord's day is the first day, not the seventh, and rests on redemption basis, which declares entire failure of the other rest.

355 The views expressed in Mr. A.'s note are on these points ignorance of the very ground on which Christianity rests. I may add, that I doubt not in accomplishment the seventh day and the first prefigure the earthly and the heavenly rest respectively in the millennial period.

Finally, as regards ministry, fewer words will suffice. I believe ministry to be an institution of God, and distinctively so, grace looking for spiritual testimony, whether evangelical to the world, or in edification to the church; as a people in covenant under the law, and unable directly to approach God needed a priesthood - two points which Mr. A. confounds, as he did the two systems on the other two heads. But it is the ministry and manifestation of the Spirit; but if he holds that it depends upon man's appointment and man's call, he upsets the whole testimony of the New Testament, the point of which is, that a man traffics with his talents given, because he trusts his Master. But if Mr. A. makes the Presbyterian system the call of God, he will find only sectarian support. If he admits other calls too, then neither is scriptural; and the only point insisted on is, that man should meddle in it; and in reality it becomes geography, and, for the most part, academical provision for unconverted men taking care of unconverted flocks. If he calls this the scriptural call of God, it is bold dealing with holy things. If he insists on 1 Timothy 4:14, to what pastoral care was Timothy ordained? If any thing, he was a diocesan bishop. But he was not this, but as the spiritual right hand of the apostle, as Titus was in Crete. I admit the call of God - the necessity of the call of God - to the various services of the ministry, whatever it may be. That man should sanction it, or make academies or geography out of it, or pastors over a mass of unconverted people in a geographical district, or unconverted pastors over Christ's sheep, no one will be able to shew me from scripture; and to scripture I must be excused for adhering.

The Presbyterian ecclesiastical system is not attempted to be justified from scripture in their public authorized documents. The attempt would be absurd. Every one the least conversant with scripture must know that the ministry of the word was exercised by every class of persons, without any warrant but the call of God and the love of Christ constraining them; and that apostles had not a thought of calling it in question, nor dreamed of ecclesiastical sanction being requisite for its exercise - and this at all times from the commencement of Christian ministry to the end. John does not say, as to evil teachers, Let them shew their ordination, nor Paul as to those who preached of contention, nor call in question those who waxed bold through his bonds, nor those who were scattered abroad after Stephen's persecution, with whom the hand of the Lord was. Within the church it is notorious, that, as every one received the gift, he was to minister it as a good steward. One had a psalm, another an interpretation, another a doctrine; and the only check was, Let all be done decently and in order - all to edification, the manifestation of the Spirit being given for profit; and hence more than two or three were not to speak at a meeting. In these things the discipline of the church of God would come in according to scripture, as is evident in case of teaching error. The clerical system is the denial of God's title in the ministry. In the reformed church abroad this is now generally admitted by those sound in the faith, and even strongly written against by well-known evangelical ministers of the Establishment.

356 The point of the sacraments, so called, only remains. Mr. A.'s statements are on the same wretched legal ground - man makes a covenant with God in them. I reply, If he does, he is lost, for he will certainly fail, and there can be no consequence of failure (for it is sin) but condemnation; for man's entering into a covenant is not grace - the grace of God. I account baptism and the Lord's supper to be precious institutions of the Lord Jesus: one as admitting publicly in the church on the principle of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; the other, spiritual fellowship of His death in the unity of the body, as sitting by grace in heavenly places.

But talking of making a covenant with God is merely total ignorance of the whole place we are in. I was not aware these poor brethren were so very far removed in their minds from the true Christian place in which the grace, the blessed grace, of God has set us. Does Mr. A. really think he has to begin now and make a covenant with God? What does he think of redemption? or where does he find a word in scripture of a covenant in connection with the supper of the Lord? But in his letter the whole christian position is lost; and we are put simply where a Jew under the law was - and worse, because he was placed there that we might learn that we could not possibly stand there.

Affectionately yours, dear brother, J.N.D.