Early Days of Brethren.
by J.G. Bellett
From a hitherto unpublished letter of J. G. Bellett to the late James Kennan.
IN 1827, the late Archbishop of Dublin, in a charge delivered to the clergy of his diocese, recommended that a petition should go up to the legislature, seeking for increased protection for them in the discharge of their ministerial duties. John Darby was then a curate in Co. Wicklow and this charge greatly moved him. He could not understand a principle that assumed that ministers of Christ, doing their business as witnesses against the world for a rejected Christ, should, on meeting the resistance of the enemy, turn round and seek security from the world. He printed his objections in a pretty large pamphlet and sent copies of it to all the clergy of the diocese. All this had a very decided influence on his mind, for he was at one time a very exact Churchman. However, he continued in his mountain curacy, at times as a clergyman visiting distant parts of the country, either to preach sermons or to speak at some meeting of the religious societies.
In the beginning of 1828, I had occasion to go to London, and there, in private and in public, heard those who were warm and alive on prophetic truth, having had their minds freshly illuminated by it. Full of this subject as I then was, I found J. D[arby] quite prepared for it also, and his mind and soul travelled rapidly in the direction thus given to it. I continued in Dublin and he was more generally in Co. Wicklow, but he had introduced me to dear F[rancis] Hutchinson. He and I had much in common, dissatisfied as I was. We went occasionally to dissenting chapels, but we had not much sympathy with the tone prevalent. The sermons we heard had generally less of the simplicity of Christ in them than what might be had in the pulpits of the Established Church.
Mr. [A. N.] Groves, who was a dentist of distinguished practice in Devonshire, some short time before this had offered himself to the Church Missionary Society, and in order to fit himself for its service, had entered our college. In a way perfectly independent of all that had been passing in the minds of others, he was taught to see that college education for the work of the ministry was not the thing, and he not only abandoned his connexion with the college, but viewed, as he had never before done, the whole matter of the Established Church and the claims of dissenting bodies.
At the close of 1828, he preached in Poolbeg Street at the request of dear Dr. Egan, then in connexion with the little company found there. Walking one day with me he said, "This, I doubt not, is the mind of the Lord concerning us: we should come together in all simplicity as disciples, not waiting on any minister, but trusting that the Lord would edify us together by ministering as He pleased and saw good from the midst of ourselves."
Edward Cronin had been by profession an Independent, and a member of Cork Street, but his mind at the same time was under a like influence. In a private room, he had the Lord's Supper with three others, while I was still going to Sandford Chapel and J. Darby was in Co. Wicklow as a clergyman.
In November, 1829, F. Hutchinson was quite prepared for communion in the name of the Lord with all who loved Him in sincerity, and proposed to have a room in his house in Fitzwilliam Square for that purpose. He did so, designing, however, so to have it that if any were disposed to attend the services in the parish churches and dissenting chapels, they might not be hindered. He also prescribed a certain line of things, as the services of prayer, singing, and teaching that should be found amongst us each day. E. Cronin was prepared for this fully. I joined, but not at all with the same liberty and decision of mind. Several others were also ready. J[ohn] Parnell (now Lord Congleton) was occasionally in Dublin and frequently among us. He became very familiar with E. Cronin, and in May, 1830, purposing to let the Lord's Table become more of a witness, he took a large room in Aungier Street. There the meeting was transferred. The publicity was too much for me, so I did not join them for one or two Sundays, but J. Parnell, W[illiam] Stokes, E. Cronin, and a few sisters were there at once, and shortly several were added.
In the summer of 1830, the mission party to Bagdad was formed. Mr. Groves had been there for some months previously, and E. Cronin, his two sisters, J. Parnell, and others were desirous of joining him. They left us in September, sailing for France and purposing to reach Bagdad across the desert from Syria. J. Hamilton was also of the party. They sailed, and we continued in our room at Aungier Street. It was poor materials we had, and had one or two solemn and awful cases of backsliding. There was but little spiritual energy, but we held together in the Lord's mercy and care, advancing in the knowledge of His mind. The settled order of worship, which we had in Fitzwilliam Square, gave place gradually. Teaching and exhorting were first made common duties and services, while prayer was restricted to two or three who were regarded as elders. But gradually, all this yielded. In a little time, no appointed or recognized eldership was understood to be in the midst of us, and all service was of a free character, the presence of God through the Spirit being more simply believed and used. In 1834, many others were added.
About the same time, Lady Powerscourt began some prophetic meetings. Her mind had also taken the same direction as that which was among us all. Some of us were invited by her, and some also from England, and these occasions greatly helped us. It was then that I first knew G[eorge] Wigram, Percy Hall, and others. The meetings were truly precious to the soul, and night after night, did I return to my room at Powerscourt House in the deep sense of how little I was in Christ in the presence of so much grace and devotedness as I had seen around me.
We at Aungier Street occasionally heard from the party that went to Bagdad, and were visited by brethren from Cork, Limerick, and other places. I might mention J. Mahon as another instance of the independent work of the Spirit of God. Even before we had any table in F. Hutchinson's house, there had been one in his in Ennis. This was altogether independent of any doings among us, and so was it in England. Having occasion to visit Somerset in 1831 or 1832, and being at Sir E[dward] Denny's, I was asked by him to give him an idea of the principles of brethren. The daughter of a clergyman was present as I stated our thoughts. She said they had been hers for the past twelve months and that she had no idea that anyone else held them. So also, being at ---- shortly afterwards, a dear brother in the Lord told me that his wife and mother-in-law were meeting in the simplicity of brethren's ways some time before he heard of such people. A. N. Groves also told us of a very important movement in the south of India, which indicated a mind in harmony with that which had been leading us in England and Ireland. Such circumstances assure us that the Lord's hand was independently at work, designing to revive a testimony in the midst of His saints.
The English brethren year after year visited Ireland, not only Dublin but the country places. J. Harris, once a clergyman near Plymouth, was one of the number. G. Wigram continued for a long time in Cork. J. Darby was occasionally with us in Dublin, but more generally in Plymouth or Cork, and the gatherings multiplying so in England, a very great number became known by the name of the Plymouth Brethren, and in Ireland, were called Darbyites.
"The Harvester" April 1942