Brethren Archive

John Nelson Darby

Born: 18th November 1800
Died: 29th April 1882
Appears in Darbys of Markly and Leap

A signed picture of J.N.D. I picked up
Picture of JND at the National Portrait Gallery

Intro, Biographical Information, Notes etc:

Chief Men Among the Brethren Biography

JOHN NELSON DARBY, the Tertullian of these last days, was the youngest son of John Darby of Leap Castle, King's County. The year of his birth, at Westminster, was 1800; that also of E. B. Pusey, who was to champion Anglo-Catholicism; and the career of each ended in the same year. The name "Nelson" was derived from the connection between his uncle, Henry Darby, commander of the "Bellerophon" in the battle of the Nile, and the famous admiral, Lord Nelson. He was educated at Westminster School, then at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated in 1819 as Classical Medallist. He was called to the Irish Chancery Bar, but soon afterwards, in 1825, took Deacon's orders from Archbishop Magee, by whom he was priested the next year. He was appointed to the Wicklow parish of Calary, residing in a peasant's  cottage on the bog.

The Viscountess Powerscourt, from attending Drummond's Albury Conferences on Prophecy, started like meetings at her mansion near Bray, through which Darby met A. N. Groves and J. V. Parnell (Lord Congleton), introduced by his friend J. G. Bellett, who was in touch also with Edward Cronin and others like-minded in Dublin. All of these vindicated the functions of the Holy Spirit and the Christian hope, generally neglected. Darby, constrained by the Scriptural view of the Church as independent of the State, relinquished his parochial position in 1827, and in the next year completed his separation from the Establishment by "breaking bread" in Dublin with the above-named associates.

He had also become acquainted in Ireland with Francis William, brother of John Henry (Cardinal) Newman. Theyounger of these, who was a Fellow of Baliol College, had so distinguished himself in the Oxford schools that, when presented in 1826 for the B.A. degree, the whole congregation rose in his honour. He became tutor to the family of Mr. (Chief Justice) Pennefather, Darby's brother-in-law. Thrilled by the personality of J.N.D., Newman persuaded "the Irish clergyman" to visit Oxford in 1830, and then introduced to him a former pupil, Benjamin Wills Newton, another First Classman, who was a Fellow of Exeter; G. V. Wigram of Queen's, Lancelot Brenton of Oriel; and W. E. Gladstone (afterwards British Premier) of Christchurch, also met Darby, but succumbed to the influence of the elder Newman, who just then was select preacher before the University.

Benjamin Wills Newton, who was a native of Plymouth brought about a visit by Darby to that town, strongly evangelical through the ministry of Dr. Hawker, and influenced by the "separation" principles of John Walker, another Irish ex-clergyman. By the year 1832 a "gathering" of believers "to the name of Jesus, " the first of its order in England, was definitely formed there. James L. Harris, resigning his local incumbency of Plymstock, united with the brethren, and started their first organ, The Christian Witness, to which J.N.D. contributed. S. P. Tregelles, the textual critic, who was Newton's brother-in-law, was "received" in 1836; after R. Chapman, at Barnstaple, and H. Craik with G. Miiller, at Bristol, had taken a like position. Great simplicity and devotedness marked the company in those golden days.

In the year 1837 Darby carried the "testimony" to the continent, beginning with Methodists in Switzerland, so that by 1840 several French-speaking congregations had been formed, when his lectures on the hopes of the Church of God were delivered at Geneva. It was from his Etudes sur la Parole that the "Synopsis of the Books of the Bible" was produced.

Revisiting Plymouth in 1845, he found considerable departure from the teaching maintained elsewhere on ministry, justification, the secret rapture, etc. J.N.D. withdrew from the meeting as dominated by Newton, and an independent company was started.

After developing the work in France, from 1853 Darby laboured amongst Baptists in Germany; and assemblies of believers arose at Dusseldorf, Elberfeld, etc., for whose use he produced the "Elberfeld Bible." Amongst others, Fraulein von Bunsen, amanuensis of her father the Chevalier, united with the Darbisten, so-called. During meetings of the Evangelical Alliance at Berlin, J.N.D. met Dr. Tholuck (cf. "Autobiography of G. Muller"), to whom he explained his views on gifts. The Halle theologian agreed that such was the primitive system, but queried if it could still be realised. Darby's very pertinent reply was, "Have you ever tried?" He provided his French-speaking associates with the "Pau Bible," and rendered like service to brethren in Great Britain. His English version of the New Testament, which Drs. Field and Weymouth have independently turned to account, was before the revisers in the seventies, and a complete edition of his English Bible appeared in 1890.

From 1859, besides the fields of labour already mentioned, J.N.D. ministered in Canada, the States, the West Indies, and New Zealand; also in Holland and Italy.

For fifty years he was strenuously engaged in original exposition of Scripture. The "Synopsis, " recommended by Bishop Ellicott to the Gloucester theological students, acquired amongst J.N.D.'s adherents authority like that commanded by Wesley's "Notes" amongst Methodists. Professor Stokes has described it as "the standard of appeal. Every departure from that model is bitterly resented" ("Expositor's Bible, " Acts 1, page 382). But nobody has protested against such use of his writings more than Darby himself, for whom truth was "a growing tree "(C.W., XXIII, page 191). J . N . D . ' s ordinary style is repugnant, and in his correspondence reference is made to this as having exercised him. By contrast, his living ministry was matchless and his "spiritual songs" are powerfully beautiful. Weakness in detail was another of his limitations. Never theless, in his own generation he singularly served the counsel of God. His criticism of that which he deemed error is usually trenchant and luminous.

The governing idea is the ruin of the Church, or apostasy of the dispensation (C.W., I, p. 192), which was his "burden" ("Correspondence," I, p. 52); but he could echo words of Calvin (commentary on Psa. 102, verse 14): "The sadder the desolation into which the Church has been brought, the less ought our affection to be alienated from her. " Loof's criticism of Darby's conception of the apostolic Church as "an organised visible society" (C.W., XX, 450, cf. "Correspondence," II, 245, 278), that "Church" with him meant "that which the Protestant faith has always made of it" fails, because J.N.D. did not accept Augustine's distinction. He found "the essential principle of unity" ("Correspondence," I, 114) in the operations of the Holy Spirit. The Bishop of Birmingham considers him wholly wrong here; but then Dr. Gore's view of the relation of the Church to the Bible is very different from that of J.N.D. No one, indeed, rightly instructed, pretends that the position—one of weakness, as J.N.D. always said—is a logical one; none, for that matter, is to be found, pace Bishop Gore, outside Rome, as to which Darby held that the "historical" Church is a caricature of that exhibited in the New Testament. A controversy (1866) over his papers on the sufferings of Christ arose only from the objectors' failure to seize his real position.

In 1881 the theory of fellowship and discipline which he had accredited was used against him by his ablest supporter; the issue, as Darby described it, was one between "the Spirit" and "intelligence," he himself correcting his logic by his experience. The disintegration continued after his decease until, in 1908, the leading London section associated with his name, in their treatment of another provincial trouble, acted upon an interpretation of "divine principles" scarcely distinguishable from that of Kelly. Substitute Plymouth for London, and you have the metropolitan discipline of Newton! It were idle to inquire with which "remnant" of several lies "survival of the fittest. " Many souls have been exercised with regard to healthier relations between brethren divided during the past sixty years. New problems have arisen, not to be solved by reference to the past. Collective reunion is discountenanced as likely to accentuate the disease; whilst individual surrender of that believed to be human is fraught with blessing to those concerned. Grace may be counted upon for any endeavour to strengthen in a Scriptural way the things that remain.

J. N. D. wrote many hymns, including "Hark! ten thousand voices crying," "O Lord, Thy love's unbounded," "Rest of the saints above, " "Rise, my soul, thy God directs thee," "This world is a wilderness wide," and others which are sung world-wide. A volume of the poems has been issued. Of the first little band in Dublin, already Groves, Bellett, and Cronin had passed away—Lord Congleton shortly to do so—when the turn came of J.N.D., on the 29th April, 1882.

In his closing days at Bournemouth he recorded that he knew of nothing to recall; that Christ had been his object. Although a born leader, he was nobly simple in habit and manner, equally transparent and trustful. He had nothing petty about him. As occasion arose he would throw off religious conventionality. His ministry was ever in close touch with his pastoral visitation, in which he engaged every afternoon. Even if weakness lurked in it, his strength of judgment came of the predominance that the moral aspect of any matter had for him. He lived in the Bible, and recommended "thinking in Scripture. " May that similarly ever remain our sole spiritual food, mainstay, and weapon.


Kenneth Gilvear said ...
A truly good insight to the Godly man Mr Derby was. Excellent articles.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017 : 15:07
Greg said ...
Added original version of "A Narrative of the Facts connected with ... Ebrington Street".
Tuesday, Nov 14, 2017 : 08:21
Tom said ...
Thanks a lot Greg.
Wednesday, Nov 15, 2017 : 22:24
Greg said ...
Just added Truth for the Last Days No.3.

This appears to be the original source for six items included in the BTP edition of Miscellaneous Writings vol.4. It has the notable addition of including the dates and places of the various readings and addresses.

I have updated the file "Original Sources" to reflect this.

I've also added a document with a collation of JND's notes on Philippians prepared for personal use during a study of Philippians. It includes material additional to his currently published works - including some rough computerised translations of unpublished French documents. If anyone has the linguistic skills to improve on these translations, please make contact with me through Tom.
Saturday, Dec 23, 2017 : 06:55
Jonathan said ...
My attention was directed to this claim today:

"John Nelson Darby... helped direct tens of thousands of Francs to the Franco-Prussian war effort in 1871."

This statement was made in evidence to the Public Administration Committee (a UK House of Commons committee) in 2012 by a member of the self-styled 'Plymouth Brethren Christian Church' during a grilling on their charitable status.

Can anyone shed any light on what this might relate to?

(The link to the quote can be found here:
Tuesday, May 1, 2018 : 22:31
Timothy Stunt said ...

According to the report, Bruce Hazell actually said that 'John Nelson Darby... would have helped direct tens of thousands of Francs to the Franco-Prussian war effort in 1871.'  This makes the statement even more problematic (not to say tendentious) as there is no conditional 'if' clause preceding the 'would'.  Of course the speaker may have been thinking of relief work among those suffering from the Franco-Prussian war, but if that was the case it's a pity he didn't say that and chose to use the phrase war effort.       Timothy 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 : 23:39
Tom said ...
The only thing I can thing which is of relevance, is the (I believe quite well known) comment JND made about CJ Davis (who died offering relief work during the war), while others were criticising CJD for merely doing humanitarian work without, as they saw it, any gospel relevance, JND defended him. I can try to find the exact quote if of interest.
Wednesday, May 2, 2018 : 00:08
Jonathan said ...
Yes it would be of interest, thanks Tom
Wednesday, May 2, 2018 : 00:51
Tom said ...

The quote I had in mind was in Neatby;

The multitude of petty and carping divines who opened their mouths wide for his words were a cause of no small irritation to Darby. He once overheard a com- pany of them discussing the recent death of Dr. Davis —a young coloured man, known as "the good black doctor," who after qualifying in London as a surgeon lost his life from small-pox while attending on the wounded in the Franco-Prussian war. The work for which he laid down his life was deemed a sadly worldly piece of philanthropy by the zealots of Darbyism, and the group was actually discussing whether it were not by a judgment mingled with mercy that the young surgeon had been called hence. Darby broke in on the debate with an impatient, " Well, well, God has accepted his service and taken him home". There are some people so small that all the heroism in the world exists in vain for them. Darby was not of their number ; and whatever narrow principles of seclusion from the common interests of mankind he may have taught, he was at least incapable of pronouncing so petty an elegy over the valiant dead.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018 : 02:50
Jonathan said ...
Thanks Tom. Taking the story at face value, I fear that CJD's critics may have had nothing contrary to say had he simply opened up a nice medical practice and made a decent income!
Wednesday, May 9, 2018 : 20:32
Martin Arhelger said ...

A brother hinted me at  - an early text by J. N. Darby (not Christopher Lovett Darby, as stated there). The author is "oudeis" (Greek for "nobody"). It is in Collected Writings, vol. 3 at the beginning.


Thursday, Mar 19, 2020 : 04:53
Arthur said ...
The link for the Annotated Greek New Testament (images of JND's personal Greek NT, scanned in at Trinity College) is no longer working.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021 : 20:46
Steve Noble said ...
J N Darby is reported to have said that we do not address the Holy Spirit because He is in us. Anybody able to help me with a reference?
Tuesday, Sep 5, 2023 : 19:29
Nick Fleet said ...

Letters of JND (vol 2, p.85, Stow Hill edition)

Collected Writings (vol 25, p.427, Morrish edition)

see also Collected Writings (vol 33, pp.248 and 272, Stow Hill edition)

Tuesday, Sep 5, 2023 : 21:21
Steve Noble said ...
Many thanks,
Thursday, Sep 7, 2023 : 02:51
Bonar said ...
Steve, Nick has drawn your attention to Collected Writings, Vol. XXXIII. In it J.N.D. not only forestalls the erroneous teaching of addressing the Spirit, but he also writes many times of “the Eternal Son” and “the Son of God become Man”. In the Morrish edition, page 493, J.N.D. combines the two, “How blessed is the thought, that the Eternal Son of God, become Man, has taken up this new position of which we have spoken . . .”

Here are other examples: pages 213, 289, 425, 430, 434, 437, 438, 444, 452.

(In the Morrish Edition, Nick’s first reference is on page 102 of Letters Vol. II: “It is not any question of Person or dignity . . .”)
Thursday, Sep 7, 2023 : 15:00
Steve Noble said ...
Many thanks. I am updating my book on the doctrine of addressing the Holy Spirit in prayer and song in the light of Scripture and all these references are very useful.
Thursday, Sep 7, 2023 : 23:12
Samko said ...
Is this beer-like beverage linked to JND ?
Tuesday, Feb 13, 2024 : 08:54
Rodger said ...

This fellow seems to think so:

I've never heard this "fig juice" anecdote. Can anyone verify?

Tuesday, Feb 13, 2024 : 11:32
CD said ...
Are there any good resources on how the Brethren's eschatological perspectives effected their theology and practice?
Wednesday, Apr 17, 2024 : 22:27
Syd said ...
This sounds like the title for a dissertation! - no unkindness intended. Would it be before the Powerscourt prophetic conferences? How broad is theology? Did an understanding of the dispensations, for example, inform ecclesiastical principles or practices, or did the consideration of the nature and unity of the Church (title of J.N. Darby’s piece in 1828) show how future things would be ordered in relation to Christ, Head over all things to the Church?

For example: In the piece mentioned above, Darby writes on the practice of the Lord’s supper—“Accordingly, the outward symbol and instrument of unity is the partaking of the Lord's supper—for we being many are one ‘bread, one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread.’ And what does Paul declare to be the true intent and testimony of that rite? That whensoever ‘ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.’ Here then are found the character and life of the church, that into which it is called, that in which the truth of its existence subsists, and in which alone is true unity. It is showing forth the Lord's death, by the efficiency of which they were gathered, and which is the fruitful seed of the Lord's own glory; which is indeed the gathering of His body, ‘the fulness of him that filleth all in all’; and shewing it forth in the assurance of His coming, ‘when he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe.’ Accordingly the essence and substance of unity, which will appear in glory at His coming, is conformity to His death, by which that glory was all wrought. And it will be found in result, that conformity to His death will be our frame for glory with Him at His appearing.”

Speaking linearly, finding a link as requested is perhaps too simplistic. However, other better informed brethren may be able to help.
Thursday, Apr 18, 2024 : 02:49
C Gribben said ...
I hope Tom doesn't mind me using the comment to let readers know that my book on "JN Darby and the roots of dispensationalism" will be published in the UK tomorrow, 19 June 2024:

Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024 : 21:03

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