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John Nelson Darby

John Nelson Darby was born in Westminster, London to an Anglo-Irish landowning family and christened at St Margaret's on 3 March 1801. His middle name was given in recognition of his godfather and family friend, Lord Nelson.

Darby was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Dublin where he graduated Classical Gold Medalist in 1819. Darby embraced Christianity during his studies, although there is no evidence that he formally studied theology. He joined an inn of court, but felt that being a lawyer was inconsistent with his religious belief. He therefore chose ordination as an Anglican clergyman in Ireland, "lest he should sell his talents to defeat justice." In 1825, Darby was ordained deacon of the established Church of Ireland and the following year as priest.

Darby became a curate and distinguished himself for his successful ministry among the Roman Catholic peasants of his parish in Calary, near Enniskerry, County Wicklow; he later claimed to have won hundreds of converts to the Church of Ireland. However, the conversions ended when William Magee, the Archbishop of Dublin, ruled that converts were obliged to swear allegiance to George IV as rightful king of Ireland. A copy of the charge can be obtained from one of two nationally significant Brethren Archives: either the Christian Brethren Archive, JRULM, Manchester University or the private archive of Edwin Cross, Fountain House, London.

Darby resigned his curacy in protest. Soon after, in October of 1827, he fell from a horse and was seriously injured. He later stated that it was during this time that he recognized that the "kingdom" described in the Book of Isaiah and elsewhere in the Old Testament was entirely different from the Christian church. It seems clear that his ideas were developed in reaction to his disillusionment with the Church of Ireland.

Over the next five years, he developed the principles of his mature theology—most notably his conviction that the very notion of a clergyman was the sin against the Holy Spirit, because it limited the recognition that the Holy Spirit could speak through any member of the Church. During this time he joined an interdenominational meeting of believers (including A. N. Groves, Edward Cronin, J. G. Bellett and Francis Hutchinson) who met to "break bread" together in Dublin as a symbol of their unity in Christ. By 1832, this group had grown and began to identify themselves as a distinct Christian assembly. As they traveled and began new assemblies in Ireland and England, they formed the movement now known as the Plymouth Brethren.

Darby did not formally declare his separation from the Church of Ireland until 1832, at the Powerscourt Conference, an annual meeting of Bible students organized by his friend, the wealthy widow Lady Powerscourt (Theodosia Wingfield Powerscourt). That conference was also where he first described his discovery of the "secret rapture." For about 40 years William Kelly (1821-1906) was his chief interpreter and continued to be a staunch supporter until his own death.

Darby traveled widely in Europe and Britain in the 1830s and 1840s, and established many Brethren assemblies. In 1848, he became involved in a complex dispute over the proper method for maintaining shared standards of discipline in different assembles that resulted in a split between "Open" Brethren and "Exclusive" Brethren. After that time, he was recognized as the dominant figure among the Exclusives. He made at least 5 missionary journeys to North America between 1862 and 1877. He worked mostly in New England, Ontario, and the Great Lakes Region, but took one extended journey from Toronto to Sydney by way of San Francisco, Hawaii, and New Zealand. A Geographical Index of his letters (available from Chapter Two, London) is currently available and lists where he traveled. He used his classical skills to translate the Bible from the original texts. In English he wrote a Synopsis of the Bible and many other scholarly religious articles. He wrote hymns and poems, the most famous being, "Man of Sorrows"[1]. He was also a Bible Commentator.


The Dispensational Origins of Modern Premillennialism

By Jack Van Deventer

Also see the second article below.


John Neslon Darby

The twentieth century has seen a dramatic paradigm shift in prophetic perspectives, first away from and now back toward its historic roots. This shift away from historic Christianity stemmed from a novel approach to Bible interpretation called Dispensationalism which was developed in the 1830s and popularized with the 1909 publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. Dispensationalism, with its unique brand of premillennialism, has been thoroughly pervasive, being prominent in many churches, in bookstores, and among radio Bible teachers.

The distinguishing features of Dispensationalism are a rigidly applied literalism in the interpretation of Scripture, a compartmentalization of Scripture into "dispensations," and a dichotomy between Israel and the Church. Dispensationalists believe "this present world system . . . is now controlled by Satan" (not by God) and will end in failure and apostasy.

Dispensational Premillennialist claim that their unique doctrines have been held since the early church, but these claims have been soundly refuted. Far from being the historic position of the church, premillennialism was described in 1813 by David Bogue as an oddity of Church history. Postmillennialism was the dominant eschatology from the Reformation until at least 1859.

The doctrine of a secret rapture was first conceived by John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren in 1827. Darby, known as the father of dispensationalism, invented the doctrine claiming there were not one, but two "second comings." This teaching was immediately challenged as unbiblical by other members of the Brethren. Samuel P. Tregelles, a noted biblical scholar, rejected Darby's new interpretation as the "height of speculative nonsense." So tenuous was Darby's rapture theory that he had lingering doubts about it as late as 1843, and possibly 1845. Another member of the Plymouth Brethren, B.W. Newton, disputed Darby's new doctrine claiming such a conclusion was only possible if one declared certain passages to be "renounced as not properly ours."

Sandeen writes, "this is precisely what Darby was prepared to do. Too traditional to admit that biblical authors might have contradicted each other, and too rationalist to admit that the prophetic maze defied penetration, Darby attempted a resolution of his exegetical dilemma by distinguishing between Scripture intended for the Church and Scripture intended for Israel. . . . Darby's difficulty was solved by assuming that the Gospels were addressed partly to Jews and partly to Christians."

Thus, the doctrine of the separation of Israel and the Church, the foundation of dispensationalism, was born out of Darby's attempt to justify his newly fabricated rapture theory with the Bible. Dispensationalists believed justification for carving up the Scriptures came from 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) "rightly dividing the word of truth." Subsequent dispensationalists divided the Scriptures in terms of categories of people: Jew, Gentile, and Christian. Chafer taught that the only Scriptures addressed specifically to Christians were the gospel of John, Acts, and the Epistles! Pettengill taught that the Great Commission was for the Jews only.

Scofield taught that the Lord's prayer was a Jewish prayer and ought not be recited by Christians. Along with much of the New Testament, the Old Testament was described as "not for today." Ryrie dismissed the validity of the Old Testament commands to non-Jews because "the law was never given to Gentiles and is expressly done away for the Christian." Christians were even mocked as legalists for believing in the Ten Commandments! As other critics have observed, this segmentation of the Bible makes dispensationalism a Christianized version of cultural relativism.

Snowden and others traced the rise of modern premillennialism to a variety of religious splinter groups: the Plymouth Brethren (developed dispensationalism), the Millerites (became the Adventists), Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Pentecostals. Dispensational premillennialism was marketed the same way as the cultic groups.

First, historic Christianity was discredited by the claim that all the prominent commentaries, all the church fathers, and even the Reformers were deluded by "man-made doctrines." Second, new revelation was claimed. Darby claimed to have received "new truth" or at other times "rediscovered truth" that had been lost since the apostles. Third, enthusiasm was whipped up on the pretense that Christ's coming was imminent. Frequent false predictions did not seem to deter this enthusiasm.

Snowden cited increasing prophetic fervor in the early 1900's rising from (1) a "fresh interest and zeal" in interpreting the "signs of the times," (2) the Great War (WWI) which started a wave of prophetic speculation, and (3) "the fall of Jerusalem out of Mohammedan into Christian hands [which] has whipped the millennarian imagination up to its highest pitch of foresight and prognostication." This background explains the widespread popularity of the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909, which had a dramatic influence in spreading dispensationalism. Many well-known scholars warned that the teachings of dispensationalism were "unscriptural" (Spurgeon), "heterodox" (Dabney), "bizarre doctrine" and "grievous error" (Warfield), but the warnings went largely unheeded.

Today, dispensationalism is in a theological turmoil, having declined sharply since the 1970's because of mounting criticism. Grenz notes, "Dispensationalism today is in a state of fluidity. No longer are the rigid distinctives of the past held to with unswerving certainty. Many progressive dispensationalists are no longer certain as to exactly what are the defining tenets of the system that commands their allegiance." [Permission Graciously Given by The Foundation for Biblical Studies]


What is listed below was sent to me by another writer. In all fairness I present it as is with no comment.


Dear Friend:
     I view the enclosed Darby item as one of my most important articles ever. I'm in my 70th year and have been ill, so I can't promise many more such features. If you are as supportive of historical honesty as I am, please air it. Rapturously in Him, Dave
                                              THE   UNORIGINAL   JOHN   DARBY
                                                            by Dave MacPherson
     Go ahead. I dare you. Type in the name "John Darby" on Yahoo and other internet "search engines."
     You will find that many still assume that this 19th century leader of the evangelical, Britain-based Plymouth Brethren was the most important figure in the development of "premillennial dispensationalism" - or, if you like choices, "dispensational premillennialism." (Those fond of brevity can call it "d-ism.")
     Just for the fun of it, let's list the chief features of d-ism (after listing what supposedly led to those features) and see if Darby was the first person to teach them:
     (1) The "Heavenly" Church. 
     This was the theme of Darby's first paper (1827). PRE-DARBY DATA: Manuel Lacunza (1812) and Edward Irving (1825-1827 sermons and other writings) had the same theme.
     (2) The "Unity" of the Church.
     This was the theme of Darby's second paper (1828). PRE-DARBY DATA: Lacunza (1812) and Irving (1825-27 sermons, etc.) had the same theme.
     (3) The Church/Israel "Distinction."
     In his 1965 d-ism book, Darby defender Charles Ryrie viewed this distinction as the most important basis for d-ism, adding in his 1981 rapture book that it led Darby to his church/Israel "dichotomy," that is, a pretrib rapture separating the two groups during a future tribulation.
     As support for this distinction, d-ists see several supposedly original thoughts in Darby's 1829 paper:
     Darby spoke of "the Jewish and Gentile dispensations." PRE-DARBY DATA: Irving (1825 etc.) referred to "the dispensations both Jewish and Gentile."
     Darby said "the hope of the church is His coming." PRE-DARBY DATA: Irving (1825 etc.) stated that "the coming of the Lord" is the church's "hope and desire."
     Darby wrote "looking daily for the Lord's coming." PRE-DARBY DATA: Irving (1826 - Lacunza preface) wrote "look daily for the coming of the Lord."
     Darby said "the church...was a suffering church" before "the church became triumphant." PRE-DARBY DATA: Irving (1825 etc.) referred to "the suffering church" before it became "the triumphant church."
     Darby mentioned "the restoration of the Jews to their own land." PRE-DARBY DATA: Irving (1825 etc.) mentioned the "restoration" of "the Jews...to their own land."
     (4) The Gentile "Parenthesis."
     In an 1830 article Darby talked about "the Jewish church or nation (exclusive of the Gentile parenthesis...)." PRE-DARBY DATA: In an 1811 book (which was reprinted in England in 1818, had several editions, and was widely read), American pastor William Davis referred to "the Jewish nation, exclusively of the Gentiles."    
     (5) The Pretribulation "Rapture."
     Like many d-ists today, Darby saw Rev. 3's "Philadelphia" raptured and "Laodicea" left behind. In an 1833 letter he wrote that this view "commends itself morally to one's mind." PRE-DARBY DATA: As early as Sep., 1830 Irving's journal stated that the "Philadelphia" church (that is, church members then living) would be raptured BEFORE "the great tribulation" while "Laodicea" would be left behind. (Three months later, while still defending the posttrib view in a published article, Darby said he expected to be raptured eventually at Christ's "judging of the nations" - which Scofield puts in a posttrib setting!)
     Anyone can go through Darby's writings in the early 1830's and observe that he had NO clear pretrib teaching or any church/Israel distinction (or anything else) that could have led to pretrib doctrine:
     In 1832 he couldn't have been pretrib because he was still rejecting the idea of a "future" Antichrist and continuing to emphasize "the present antichristian principles"!
     In his 1834 works we find him waiting for the "second coming" (and not a prior rapture) and waiting (with "the Jews"!) for the day when Christ "will not tarry" (Heb. 10:37) - what Scofield terms the "second advent"!
     As late as 1837, while being anything but "dichotomous," he saw the church "going in with Him to the marriage, to wit, with Jerusalem and the Jews"!
     In 1839 he finally had some clear pretrib teaching. His rapture, however, was based on the symbol of the catching up of Rev. 12's "man child," and his tribulation was then only 3.5 years long - a "chart" he embraced for several more decades!
     PRE-DARBY DATA: But Irving had taught the same thing as early as the June, 1831 issue of his journal when he stated that Rev. 12:5's "child" portrays a rapture before "the travailing woman is cast out into the wilderness" for 3.5 years!
     My book The Rapture Plot (available at armageddonbooks.com) shows, with exacting documentation, that Darby wasn't first on ANY aspect of d-ism - the ones already discussed as well as the ruin of the church, the dispensations, literal interpretation, a primarily "Jewish" tribulation, etc.
     Although I view Darby as a brother in Christ, I'm forced to conclude that his great weakness was his clever plagiarism of others!
     If you are disturbed by the false claims for Darby that have long been repeated (and plagiarized) in d-ist writings, I invite you to send a copy of "The Unoriginal John Darby" to those writers.
     It'll be your way of testing their fairness and honesty!

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