The Bethesda Circular – JN Darby


J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

This is the abridged text of a letter , written by J N Darby in regard to the ‘Open Division’ of 1848.  It refers to the action of several prominent brothers including George Müller and Henry Craik, who met at the Bethesda Chapel in Bristol.  It specifically referred to their action in receiving some from the meeting in Plymouth where B W Newton taught heretical doctrine as to the person of Christ, and from which Darby and others had to withdraw.

Beloved brethren,

I feel bound to present to you the case of Bethesda. It involves to my mind the whole question of association with brethren, and for this very simple reason, that if there is incapacity to keep out that which has been recognized as the work and power of Satan, and to guard the beloved sheep of Christ against it — if brethren are incapable of this service to Christ, then they ought not to be in any way owned as a body to whom such service is confided: their gatherings would be really a trap laid to ensnare the sheep. But I will not suppose this, my heart would not; nor will I suppose that the influence or reputation of individuals will induce them to do in one case what they would not do in another. I press therefore the position of Bethesda on brethren. It is at this moment acting in the fullest and most decided way as the supporter of Mr. Newton, and the evil associated with him, and in the way in which the enemy of souls most desires it should be done. The object of Mr. Newton and his friends is not now openly to propagate his doctrine in the offensive form in which it has roused the resistance of every godly conscience that cared for the glory and person of the blessed Lord, but to palliate and extenuate the evil of the doctrine, and get a footing as Christians for those who hold it, so as to be able to spread it and put sincere souls off their guard. In this way precisely Bethesda is helping them in the most effectual way they can: I shall now state how. They have received the members of Ebrington Street with a positive refusal to investigate the Plymouth errors. And at this moment the most active agents of Mr. Newton are assiduously occupied amongst the members of Bethesda, in denying that Mr. Newton holds errors, and explaining and palliating his doctrines, and removing any apprehension of them from the minds of saints, and successfully occupied in it.…

I do not charge Mr. Müller with himself holding Mr. Newton’s errors. He declared that he had said there were very bad errors, and that he did not know to what they would lead. Upon what grounds persons holding them are admitted and the errors refused to be investigated, if such be his judgment, I must leave every one to determine for themselves. I only ask, Is it faithfulness to Christ’s sheep? … Members of Ebrington Street,[Newton’s meeting in Plymouth], active and unceasing agents of Mr. Newton, holding and justifying his views, are received at Bethesda; and the system which so many of us have known as denying the glory of the Lord Jesus (and that, when fully stated, in the most offensive way) and corrupting the moral rectitude of every one that fell under its power — that this system, though not professed, is fully admitted and at work at Bethesda. This has taken place in spite of its driving out a considerable number of undeniably godly brethren, whose urgent remonstrance was slighted. …

I do not desire in the smallest degree to diminish the respect and value which any may feel personally for the brethren Craik and Müller, on the grounds of that in which they have honoured God by faith. Let this be maintained as I desire to maintain it, and have maintained in my intercourse with them; but I do call upon brethren by their faithfulness to Christ, and love to the souls of those dear to Him in faithfulness, to set a barrier against this evil. Woe be to them if they love the brethren Müller and Craik or their own ease more than the souls of saints dear to Christ! …

It has been formally and deliberately admitted at Bethesda under the plea of not investigating it (itself a principle which refuses to watch against roots of bitterness), and really palliated. And if this be admitted by receiving persons from Bethesda, those doing so are morally identified with the evil, for the body so acting is corporately responsible for the evil they admit. If brethren think they can admit those who subvert the person and glory of Christ, and principles which have led to so much untruth and dishonesty, it is well they should say so, that those who cannot may know what to do. [Darby’s emphasis]. I only lay the matter before the consciences of brethren, urging it upon them by their fidelity to Christ. And I am clear in my conscience towards them. For my own part I should neither go to Bethesda in its present state, nor while in that state go where persons from it were knowingly admitted. I do not wish to reason on it here, but lay it before brethren, and press it on their fidelity to Christ and their care of His beloved saints.

Ever yours in His grace, J.N.D.

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