Have the Brethren got Something Special?

This is based on part of a letter written by JN Darby from America to a Mr J Leslie. The original is in his Collected Writings Volume 31 (Doctrinal 9) entitled Correspondence on recent matters. It is also in JND’s letters Vol. 51 page 339.

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby


Darby thought that Brethren were entering into a new phase of their existence, which increased their responsibility, bringing greater dangers to them. It arose from the general feeling that Brethren have something that other Christians have not got.

What they have is often refuted, hated and opposed. It may be also often be a matter of curiosity, or there may be genuine inquiry. May there be more!  But this feeling is real. Worldly people feel it, and would use it to show the inconsistency of the public profession, citing Scripture inaccurately. Other Christians, still clinging to the professing church with partial apprehension of the truth and holding much error, boast that they can have what the Brethren have, without leaving the systems they are in.

The Brethren probably do have something special. But what is important is, not ‘the Brethren,’ but the truth they have. Darby says that God, though full of gracious patience, could set the Brethren aside – if they are not faithful – and spread His truth by others. Their place is to remain in obscurity and devotedness, not to think of ‘Brethren’ (it is always wrong to think of ourselves), but of souls, in Christ’s name and love, and of His glory and truth. Their place is not to press Brethrenism, but to deal with each soul according to its need for Christ’s sake.

But if, through grace, they possess more of the truth, they have greater responsibility. Therefore, if they are not more devoted, they would be a stumbling-block to others. Unworldliness, nonconformity to the world, self-denial, and love to others, is called for: The end of what is enjoined is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and unfeigned faith. (1 Tim 1:5). Let brethren walk in love, in the truth, humble, lowly, unworldly, holding all for Christ. May they be as little as when they began, and be content about it. Then God will bless them. If not, their candlestick may go – and, oh, after such grace, what sorrow and confusion of face that would be!

Let there be no mixing with the church-world. May the brethren show grace toward it, as beacon-lights, taking the precious from the vile. Then they will be as God’s mouth. May they be a testimony against it, with that earnest gospel of God’s free love to souls that Christ has for His own. May they do the work of evangelists, humble, lowly, devoted, and simple in ministry, devoted in heart and separated to Christ.

Brethren should rejoice in evangelical activity outside of themselves: it is one of the signs of the time. God is sovereign, and can work in love where and how He pleases, and they should rejoice in it.   But in general there is no separation from evil in many places. Indeed there is so much indifference to the truth, especially in America. They even exchange pulpits with infidels.   For a year or two, at the beginning, Darby and others would preached wherever they were invited. Though the trumpet was giving an uncertain sound, the gospel was fully preached and some were brought out. Now the testimony has to be clearer, but still the fullest preaching of the gospel and of the assurance of salvation must continue.

We should not be on the attack, but to be superior, in grace, for the truth. Peter never attacked the chief priests, but went on his own way. The high ground of the truth and a full gospel preached in grace should distinguish us.   The testimony against evil should be in our own walk and ways. Patience, truth, holiness, and love in the truth and for the truth’s sake, characterise Christ’s revelation of Himself. He influences us in the last days.

God has no need of us, but He does have need of a people who walk in the truth in love and holiness. In the Old Testament it says, ‘I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of Jehovah’ (Zeph 3:12).  The same spirit is in Jude, who speaks of the mixture which would bring on judgment: ‘But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.’ (v. 20-21) We may, and must, rejoice in the gospel. That only makes the testimony of Brethren outside the camp more necessary than ever – but the testimony must be real. May we be waiting and watching for Jesus, because we do so love Him!

      Original letter written by John Nelson Darby, New York, April 8th, 1875.

      Edited for easier reading by Sosthenes, September 2014.


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