J N Darby wrote a short paper ‘Progress of Democratic Power, and its Effects on the Moral State of England*’ sometime after the Reform Act of 1832. It is interesting to look back and to see how perceptive that servant of God was maybe 170 years ago. Some things have certainly come true. Other things he did not directly foresee.
The Reform Act served to create the democratic structure that we enjoy in Britain now, with the primacy of the House of Commons (in theory anyway), and the weakening of the House of Lords. It moved voting power from the landed gentry to the cities, evening the voting power. Universal suffrage and other reforms followed naturally. Then the two main parties were the Conservatives (or Tories, largely ruled by the upper class and the Church of England) and the Liberals (or Whigs, largely urban, non-conformist and middle class).
Here is a short summary of the points he made.
- A Christian ought not to meddle in politics.
- No political party can be trusted.
- Politicians have no idea of principles, but only of existing influences to which they must be subject.
- To conform to the politics of the time, the Church (of England) would descend into ritualism on Popish lines, and semi-infidelity.
- With universal suffrage the ‘poor’ would cease to be that, and be the masters.
- The aristocracy, no longer governing, would lapse into luxurious living and pleasure.
- Religious dissenters would have little effect.
- Man’s efforts and success would be vaunted. God would be left out.
- Violence would not be used to bring these things about.
- Power would move to central government.
- An unpaid magistracy would have considerable influence.
Let us look at these individually.
A Christian ought not to meddle in politics.
This was true in JND’s time; it is true now. I must confess to an undue amount of interest in politics and if I were not a lover of the Lord, I would probably have become involved in politics. We must, of course, be politically aware in order to pray righty for those in authority. It is clear that Darby was.
As we have been taught our citizenship is not here. We belong to another kingdom and we are waiting for the rightful King to take up His universal rights here.
No political party can be trusted.
Few would dispute this. Indeed we can see how the main political parties have changed their ground over the past few years to appeal to marginal voters in the electorate. Modern parties with their professional politicians and advisors, all look at the polls and focus groups.
Politicians have no idea of principles, but only of existing influences to which they must be subject.
This seems an extreme statement. But the main bent of politicians is to be elected, or re-elected at the next general election. The result is a focus on short-term issues and what would appeal to those minority sections of the community whose vote would swing on the basis of their vote. Politicians have been found to be untrustworthy, witness the expenses scandal.
To conform to the politics of the time the Church (of England) would descend into ritualism on Popish lines, and semi-infidelity.
This would appear to be prophetic. Synods debate issues, seeking to adapt the church to modern ways of thinking. This includes women priests and bishops, attitudes to homosexuality including the practice of it in the clergy. Scripture is seldom referred to, and no account is taken of God’s rights.
As to ritualism, there are those who are ‘evangelical’ but most would regard themselves as ‘traditionalists’. Moves to reconcile the Church of England to Rome are well known, as is the ecumenical movement.
With universal suffrage the ‘poor’ would cease to be that, and be the masters.
This is an interesting thought. Having been brought up in a one-man-one-vote democracy, it is difficult to think of this. But the effect of it can be appreciated by some of us who are a getting on in years. We can look back to the 1960’s and 70’s when the trade unions were holding Britain to ransom. Both main political parties yielded to their demands.
We can be thankful for the welfare state in providing for the basic needs of all, paid for by taxation. However even this has led to less dependence on God, and a lack of charity on those with means.
The aristocracy, no longer governing, would lapse into luxurious living and pleasure.
Maybe it is not just the aristocracy. We now have this ‘celebrity culture’. These as well as the high profile aristocrats have become icons leading to the popularity of magazines such as ‘Hello!’ They are pictured in parties, yachts etc. People like it this way. Darby noted this trend even in the 19th century.
Religious dissenters would have little effect.
This seems true. Evangelical Christians are regarded as marginal. Some showing their faith are taken to court. Little attention is paid by the unsympathetic media who love to mock Christianity and Christians.
Man’s efforts and success would be vaunted. God would be left out.
Technological advances, for which we are thankful, have served to make people more and more independent of God. Men (and of course women) regard themselves as master of their own destiny. They see the results of some of their action in climate change, but think that they can do what they can themselves to avert catastrophes. The earth is the Lord’s and He will not allow things to become intolerable – that is until the judgments in Revelation.
Violence would not be used to bring these things about.
When we look at the earlier part of the 20th century with two world wars things are relatively safe now. Indeed, there are claims that man has improved himself and such lawlessness is a thing of the past. Getting people’s hearts and minds is achieved by peaceful means. This is over against Islamic terrorism.
Power would move to central government.
This has been true. Local authorities are very weak, and much has been taken out of their control. Health and education are largely national matters. Currently there is alarm over the amount of control there is from the European Union.
An unpaid magistracy would have considerable influence.
Whilst only the lowest level of the judiciary is unpaid, i.e magistrates, the move to see the magistrates and judges playing to the secular agenda is alarming. Human rights, inclusivism and non-discrimination have been used to outlaw even criticism of evil practices. Without money the motivation is power.
What did JND miss?
Islam – he did not predict the effect of large scale immigration especially from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Middle East. There are only three passing references to Islam in the Collected Writings.
Promotion of Homosexuality – I suppose the subject was not even talked about – as it was not when I was a boy. But its promotion, along with the acceptance of sexual promiscuity and adultery, are just witnesses to the decline of moral standards, even beyond that which Darby had imagined.
Nationalism – There is no reference to independence movements such as Ireland (in the early 20th century) and Scottish (currently). However I am sure Darby would have recognised this, especially with his Anglo-Irish background.
What is the Antidote?
Darby wrote ‘The Christian may walk in peace through it all, waiting for God’s Son from heaven, and keeping the word of His patience; yea, he may have a specially blessed place of testimony in the midst of it all, but a lowly one, content to be nothing in a world which has rejected Christ and is ripening for His judgment. Our part is to keep His word and not deny His name.’
* J N Darby Collected Writings Volume 32 (Miscellaneous 1) – page 333.