Comments On "The Old Man," "The New Man," "I."
by J.N. Darby
I entirely acquiesce in the general purpose of H. C. G. B.
The I of individuality needs no proof; it is in the consciousness of everybody. I cannot use the word without declaring it. So that I have not accepted the famous dictum of Des Cartes: "I think, therefore I am." The moment I say "I," all is said and proved, and better known than if attempted to be proved. The thought of excusing oneself because it is the old man who acts, is utterly false and evil. I am responsible, and ought through the power of Christ who has set me free, to have kept the old man, or the flesh, if we are so to speak, down. Not merely reckoning it dead, but bearing about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body.
But it seems to me, this paper is defective in not adequately recognizing the existence of flesh—of what lusts against the Spirit.
I do not think there is any difficulty in scriptural statements, where difficulties have not been made by those who wished to obscure the truth. When Ι say, "Not I, but Christ liveth in me," the soul taught of God, knows that the I, which does not live—is not owned—is the old Adam Ι. And when it says; "Not I, but, sin that dwelleth in me," it gets the comfort of knowing, though not yet delivered, that the new life is a distinct thing, and that I can judge the working of sin in me as a distinct thing. To the heart that walks experimentally, and is taught of God, all this is light, not obscurity. It is only so when false teachers seek to puzzle the soul.
"As in Adam he has died" is an unhappy phrase, though I understand it, because, in Scripture, it is used in the exactly opposite sense, and all have died in Adam. By man came death, but that was by, not to sin, which is what the writer means here.
Next, I do attribute all evil found within, to the old man. Negatives are always dangerous things. "As though" qualifies it, I admit, but very inadequately, because the evil is in and from the old man, or at least the flesh. The object of the sentence is right, but the form regrettable.
So again: "Strictly speaking, the old man has no present existence."—Now what is the meaning of this? Has the flesh no present existence? and am I not to distinguish it? I admit my responsibility fully to keep the flesh down, and I am to blame if I do not. But, though the old man may be used to signify my Adam existence without Christ, yet it is so used here as that the distinct existence of what lusts against the Spirit is ignored.
We are told: "If he find sin there, he must not plead for it, in excuse that it is his old man. (So far very well, only I should have out "for it," and say "in excuse"—meaning plead for himself in excuse, not for it.) But must honestly confess that it is himself." I admit his fault, his responsibility fully. Through the Spirit, he should have mortified the deeds of the body, and been full of Christ in the new man. But to say that is himself, with the rejection of its being the old man, destroys, it seems to me, the force of the apostle's words: "Not I, but sin that dwelleth in me."
I admit the personal I. I admit the responsibility, and no excuse because the sin is there, but there is an ignoring the flesh, the two things contrary the one to the other, because Scripture teaches, which it does, that the old man is put off. We are told, the old man is of the past. In one passage, the fact is admitted, that the flesh lusts against the Spirit, but then how is what people really and experimentally mean by the old man, a part which has no present existence?
If the paper adequately recognized the fact that the flesh is a present thing, I should not object at all to saying that the old man is a past thing. But this is not the case. I have put it off and put on the new. I am not in the flesh. And this is important, very important, to make clear. But the old man being habitually used for the flesh, even if incorrectly, and this being said to have no present existence, while the flesh is practically ignored. I fear that defectiveness as to this latter point may mislead, as well as the error the paper justly combats. J. N. D.
I am thankful to have been allowed to see these comments on the paper, "the old man, &c." As the best test of the value of a paper is the impression it makes on the mind of a reader. I willingly accept the criticism of one so well competent to judge, that it "is defective in not adequately recognizing the existence of the flesh—of what lusts against the spirit." I am not sure however, if the whole tenor of the paper be taken into account that it can be said, that in it, "the flesh is practically ignored."
In writing with one thought and expression of Scripture before the mind, it is probable that another has not been brought into sufficient prominence. But the paper deals with the term "old man," and not with the term "flesh," and though closely connected, I do not think they are in all cases, convertible terms. The object was to combat the misuse of the term "old man." It did not profess to deal with the right doctrine as to the flesh, though I see now it might probably have been more directly alluded to. In the case of the believer, the existence of the latter is as clearly taught in Scripture, as the non-existence of the former, so far as terms go; and although I may know what a Christian means who loses his temper, and says it is the "old man," yet the expression is wrong. If he said it was "flesh," he would be more correct.
However, I accept the criticism, and am thankful if, through it, the existence of the flesh, as that also which is to be disallowed and judged, be brought more prominently before the minds of any. No one knows it experimentally better than myself.
There are one or two points in the paper, on which these comments touch, in which there is slight misunderstanding of the meaning of the writer through his faulty expression; but these may be left, trusting to the Lord's goodness that no soul will be much the worse for its perusal. It was written at the repeated request of a most simple-hearted and suffering saint, and was, perhaps, rather prematurely printed. H. C. G. B.
"Food for the Flock" v2 1875.