J N Darby – French Letter No. 133 – Remain Faithful: avoid Bethesda

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

133

Edinburgh – 13th December 1865

To Mr B

Dear Brother

I have duly received your letter, but I waited to read your article before replying to you, and I was in the course of holding meetings morning and evening, and sometimes meeting brethren in the neighbourhood, sometimes in Ireland where there is a remarkable movement. Although over-loaded with work, I have read your article. I have only one remark to make: you give to the churches a formal importance greater than I would think. I do not accuse you of error, for you recognise the church, the body of Christ, but only of an impression that your writing has left on me. I do not recognise that there are members of a church, and I do not know that you say so; I only speak of an impression. But in the end, your expressions could perhaps say this to those who are used to this idea. Do not think, dear brother, that I say this to criticise your writing, for I have found it very good, and I remark to you the only thing that presents itself to my mind as possibly under question. This will, I hope, be a very useful summary for your compatriots. I thought I would write to you again after having re-read the majority of your writing, for I have a little more quietness here in Edinburgh, but here I received a little word from L F with the letter that you have sent him, and of which the contents are quite important. Union is always good in itself but faithfulness to Christ goes before union itself. I would enjoin you to enquire exactly about the subject of the meeting of which you speak, before you compromise in this respect. It is not a matter – God keep us from it – of making difficulties, but it is necessary for us to know if the holiness of the Lord’s table is really kept. I can rejoice in a work when, in summary, souls are delivered, even when I could not walk there myself.

As to Bethesda, before I mixed with them, I would have to be quite clear about the fact that they had been freely delivered. I would never have thought of bringing in these questions in Italy, but they are already there. This is what has hindered me from coming there or getting involved with it. It would have been cruel to occupy these brethren, newly out of Popery, with these difficulties. It would have been impossible to walk with the Newtonians, for those who were active in Italy were even nearer than Bethesda. I have therefore put the thing, with many prayers, with God, and I am waiting on Him, for the work really interests me. Dear brother, Bethesda with the fruits of the spirit which reigns there, manifest themselves more every day. I speak of the worldliness and the destruction of all true integrity, of all conscience with those who dabble in these things. One finds this in Switzerland, in France, in Germany – everywhere – where it could not be said that there was a party spirit. Most probably are ignorant of all this, so that they are, as a result, not personally defiled, but once the two brothers of whom you speak and who know these things have taken their side, they are necessarily plagued. It is important therefore that these two should be quite decided: do not hurry. What is necessary is that the Lord’s table should be safeguarded from this known corruption, and that discipline should be sufficient. For me, I should bear many weaknesses and infirmities in the state in which they are found, as long as the basis is good. I understand, it goes without saying, that the principle of gathering should be the unity of the body of Christ, otherwise you deny the substance even of your writing. You must understand, dear brother, that if, after you have become mixed up in it, others should be obliged to leave the assembly, you would be under the weight of an accusation of division. I doubt for my part whether, if the truth, as you hold it, gets in there, all support it; you have to weigh all this and not precipitate yourself, while welcoming from the heart these dear brethren, and in enlightening them according to your power. Be brotherly with all, unless they personally support the evil; then the faithfulness and even brotherly love that you are obliged to show, while you cannot walk with evil. Do not abandon faithfulness to Christ and to the truth to avoid smallness, and patience; our normal state is to have only a little power and not to deny His Name and His word. The Lord, after three and half years of work, had gathered only one hundred and twenty (Acts 1: 15), and the servant is not above his Master.

A meeting in Geneva is spoken of, although it has been postponed. I am sure that it would be very happy to see them there. If they renounce the wages that produce infinite evil[1], they must confide in God and not in their brethren. However, I fully recognise the need of brethren to come in aid of those who devote themselves to the Lord. The walk is a walk of faith, because the riches of the established system fail when one is free of their ties, and their fortune does not influence as before the walk of the church. But it is precisely what is necessary that the Spirit of God should take again His place and His rights in it. May God do this, and give enough faith to these brethren and to all those who are at the work, so that the Holy Spirit may act freely.

God is good always to act in spite of infirmities, failures and sins which are found among His own. Be cordial, therefore, dear brother; do nothing precipitately; look to what may be completely purified from the defilement of Bethesda, and that in principle, even though it may be in weakness, the holiness of the Lord’s table may be safeguarded. I do not desire anything else than what you state as truth in your writing; hold firm to it with a heart as large as possible.

I would be very happy to have your news and that of your activity. There are indeed important details, but it is impossible to enter on these now.

Greet indeed Mrs B and the brethren who are with you, although I do not know them.

Many souls have broken recently with the system of Bethesda, and also some workmen in Ireland who did not know until now what it was. I believe that God acts in this way; if I may say so, they will all be needed to keep pure the meetings which are formed today in quite a large number in Ireland. Brethren go on well, their number increased very much. We have lost for down here our dear brother Trotter; another very well known evangelist can no longer work; but God has raised up several new [ones] – and the meetings multiply greatly.

Peace be with you, and may our God, always faithful and full of grace, direct you and sustain you. Never be discouraged; be careful about nothing …let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, … shall guard your hearts[2]. Remember that Christ is always faithful and will never fail His own. Greet these two evangelist brothers affectionately; I desire ardently that, whatever it be, God will bless their work.

Yours affectionately in Christ

______________

Letter originally written in French, translated by Sosthenes, 2013

Click here for original – If you have any comments on the translation, feel free to let me know.

[1] the original letter uses Italian here: ‘allo stipendio che produce infinite mal

[2] Phil 4: 6-7

J N Darby – Lettre No. 102

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

New-York, 1867

A M. P.

Bien-aimé frère,

…Quant à la Suisse, je parlais de besoins généraux. Il n’y a que trois frères entièrement à l’œuvre, qui font tout ce qu’ils peuvent, en outre divers frères, chacun dans sa localité. Autrement, cela ne va pas mal. Le long de la Broye il y avait eu des dissentiments ; de tout temps on y était maladif ; mais ce qui était fidèle est devenu plus solide qu’auparavant. Il n’en est pas moins vrai qu’on a grandement besoin d’ouvriers. Je n’ai pas vu la brochure de M. G. ; il l’a envoyée à Londres et m’en a averti, mais ce genre de littérature ne me suit pas ici.

Quant à Béthesda, l’affaire est très simple. Quant M. Newton a enseigné ses blasphèmes, et qu’on lui a bâti une chapelle, Béthesda a reçu les personnes qui en faisaient partie, même les personnes qui retenaient ses doctrines, puis a usé de toute sorte de procédés frauduleux pour cacher le fait, mais a préféré voir sortir de son sein une quarantaine de frères fidèles, plutôt que de ne pas recevoir ces personnes : c’était un parti pris.

Mais le principe va plus loin et l’on en voit les effets partout. En Amérique, il s’agit de l’immortalité de l’âme ; les neutres, comme on les appelle en Angleterre, qui viennent ici, se joignent sans difficulté aux réunions qui nient l’immortalités de l’âme, et au fond par conséquent la valeur de l’expiation. Ils disent : “ce sont des chrétiens” ; et cela leur suffit. Une personne payée par Béthesda, dans le Canada, défendait ouvertement les doctrines de M. Newton, et quelques-uns ici les propagent. Ils ne sont pas de Béthesda, mais marchent dans ses voies et l’approuvent. La question est celle-ci : Est-ce que la vérité est nécessaire aussi bien que la grâce ? L’un d’entre eux, homme actif de ce côté de l’Atlantique, et qui est venu du milieu des neutres de l’Angleterre, m’a dit : Qu’est-ce que la vérité ? Il n’y a pas de vérité certaine qu’on puisse exiger des autres. Il était en pleine communion avec ceux qui niaient l’immortalité de l’âme et qui propageaient cette doctrine, tout en disant qu’il ne partageait pas leurs vues ; – puis il est allé se présenter à Toronto, aux frères, comme un de mes amis, car ce système est partout la ruine de l’intégrité et de la doctrine. Je crois que M. R. a traduit la brochure de M. T. « Béthesda en 1857». Pour ma part, je n’ai jamais rien publié là-dessus. Mais Béthesda est rentré dans le cercle de la mondanité chrétienne.

J’ai été dans l’Ouest, où il y a en quelques endroits du bien ; des portes se sont ouvertes parmi ceux qui parlent le français. L’œuvre fait quelques progrès et les frères commencent à se connaître les uns les autres ; mais c’est une goutte d’eau dans un lac. Cependant le témoignage est là et se propage.

Ici, à New-York, tout est enseveli dans le commerce ; les chrétiens sont tout à fait mondains, à quelques exceptions près, et ces derniers gémissent. – On approuve ouvertement les bals, les théâtres, et les membres des églises y vont habituellement ; c’est une débandade morale dont on ne se fait pas une idée. Il faut être d’une église, c’est honnête, et il ne s’agit pas plus de conversion que de quoi que ce soit. Nous avons à présent une petite réunion, composée de gens fidèles, quoique faibles ; peut-être 25 en tout, mais c’est une ressource pour ceux qui viennent, et un petit témoignage pour ceux qui cherchent, – faible et de peu de valeur, mais où l’on marche en dehors du monde. A Boston, il existe aussi ; la réunion est moins nombreuse, mais plus américaine, et si je ne me trompe, les portes un peu plus ouvertes ; du moins y a-t-il plus de relations avec les gens de l’endroit. J’en forme aussi à New-York, mais je n’y suis qu’en passage.

Au Canada, en deux ou trois endroits, il y a quelque mouvement de l’Esprit de Dieu, entre autres, parmi les Peaux-Rouges ; ils sont plus de 20 à rompre le pain. Sauf cela, on est stationnaire : mais les frères en général marchent bien. Là aussi on manque d’ouvriers. C’est le dévouement qui fait partout défaut. Pour ma part, je suis convaincu qu’il y a bien des dons cachés, qui s’exerceraient s’il y avait plus de foi. Enfin, c’est à Jésus qu’il faut regarder. Ici-bas, tout passe et tout change, nous le savons ; mais nous avons besoin de regarder à lui pour que le cœur soit affermi dans la marche : “Ce qui je vis maintenant dans la chair, je le vis dans la foi au Fils de Dieu, qui m’a aimé et s’est donné lui-même pour moi.” Avec cela, tout est simple, et bientôt le moment viendra où la vie de la foi en Jésus, la vie de Christ en nous, sera tout ce que nous reconnaîtrons avoir été réel. Tout le reste n’aura été que « se promener en ce qui n’a que l’apparence ». Il est toujours plus clair que le Seigneur est notre tout, et bientôt, Dieu soit béni, Il sera définitivement notre tout. En attendant, c’est la foi, la foi seule qui fait marcher. Il nous encourage quelquefois ; il exerce notre patience à d’autres moments. Pour la foi, tout est clair ; puis la recherche de soi-même disparaît. Au reste, il nous nourrit et nous chérit comme un homme sa propre chair. Tenons-nous près de lui. Toutes les grandes vérités qu’il nous a enseignées me deviennent toujours plus précieuses, et sa Parole est d’un prix infini pour moi, la seule chose vraie et divine dans un monde de mensonge, si ce n’est encore la vie de Christ dans les siens, mais souvent, hélas ! bien mélangée !

Je ne pense pas rester longtemps ici. En y demeurant, j’aurais des portes ouvertes, il s’en ouvre de nouvelles, mais Dieu m’appelle ailleurs.

Paix vous soit, et communion, beaucoup de communion, avec le Seigneur.

Votre bien affectionné frère.

P.S. – J’ai de très bonnes nouvelles des frères d’Angleterre.

J N Darby – French Letter No. 102 – What Influences there are in America

As to Bethesda, the matter is very simple. As Mr Newton had taught his blasphemies and had a chapel built, Bethesda received people who made a party of it, even people who held his doctrines, then had used all sort of fraudulent procedures to hide the fact, but preferred to see about forty faithful brethren leave their company, rather than not receive these people: it was a definite party.

To Mr P

Beloved Brother,

… As to Switzerland, I spoke of general needs. There are only three brothers in the work full-time, who do what they can, and various other brothers, each in his locality. Otherwise, it does not go badly. Along la Broye[1] there had been disagreements; at all times it was unhealthy there; but what was faithful became more solid than before. It is not less true there that they greatly need workers. I did not see the booklet of Mr G; he sent it to London and informed me of it, but this type of literature does not follow me here.

As to Bethesda, the matter is very simple. As Mr Newton had taught his blasphemies and had a chapel built, Bethesda received people who made a party of it, even people who held his doctrines, then had used all sort of fraudulent procedures to hide the fact, but preferred to see about forty faithful brethren leave their company, rather than not receive these people: it was a definite party.

But the principle went much further and one sees its effects everywhere. In America, it is a matter of the immortality of the soul. The neutrals, as one calls them in England, who come here, join themselves without difficulty to the meetings which deny the immortality of the soul, and basically as a consequence the value of the atonement. They say: ‘they are Christians’, and that suffices them. A person paid by Bethesda in Canada openly defended the doctrines of Mr Newton, and some here propagate them. They are not of Bethesda, but walk in their ways and approve of them. The question is this: Is the truth necessary as well as grace? One among them, a man active on this side of the Atlantic, and who is come from the neutrals in England, has said to me: What is the truth? There is no certain truth that one can require of others. He was in full communion with those who deny the immortality of the soul and who propagated this doctrine, while saying that he did not have part in their views – now he is gone to present himself to the brethren in Toronto as one of my friends, for this system is altogether the ruin of integrity and doctrine. I believe that Mr R has translated the pamphlet of Mr T, Bethesda in 1857[2]. For my part, I have never published anything on it. But Bethesda has gone back into the circle of worldly Christendom.

I have been in the West, where there are several good places; the doors are opened among those who speak French. The work makes some progress and the brethren begin to know one another; but it is a drop of water in a lake. However, the testimony is there and propagates itself.

Here in New York, all is bound up in commerce; Christians are all become worldly, some exceptions apart, and these complain. They openly approve of balls, theatres, and the members of churches go there habitually. It is a moral stampede of which one can have no idea. You have to be a member of a church, that is respectable, and it is no longer a matter of conversion whichever one it is. We have a small meeting at present, composed of faithful people, although feeble, perhaps twenty-five in all, but it is a resource for those who come, and a testimony for those who seek – weak and of little account, but where one walks apart from the world. In Boston, a meeting also exists; less numerous, but more American, and if I do not make a mistake, the doors a little more open; at least there are more relations with people of the place. I also develop this in New York, but I am only in transit there.

In Canada, in two or three places, there is some movement of the Spirit of God, among others, among the Red Indians; there are more than twenty breaking bread. Apart from this, things are stationary, but the brethren in general go on well. There also labourers are lacking. It is devotion which makes the lack everywhere. For my part, I am convinced that there are indeed hidden gifts, which would be exercised if there were more faith. In the end, it is to Jesus that one must look. Down here, all passes and changes, we know it; but we need to look to Him so that the heart should be confirmed in its walk. “In that I now live in flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me”[3]. With this, everything is simple, and soon the moment will come when the life of faith in Jesus, the life of Christ in us, will be all that we will remember to have been real. All the rest will have been only ‘walking by what concerns appearance[4]’. It is ever clearer that the Lord is our all, and soon, thank God, He will be definitely our all. In the meantime it is faith; only faith that works. He sometimes encourages us; He exercises our patience at other times. For faith, all is clear; then looking for self disappears. Besides, He feeds us and cherishes as a man his own flesh. Let us keep near to Him. All the great truths which He has taught us become ever more precious to me, and His Word has an infinite prize to me, the only true and divine thing in a world of lies, if it is not yet the life of Christ in His own, but often – alas! – mixed indeed!

I am not thinking of staying here longer. In remaining here, I would have opened doors, they open anew, but God calls me elsewhere.

Peace be to you, and communion – much communion – with the Lord

Your very affectionate brother

PS        I have very good news of the brethren in England.

[1] One of the seven districts of the Canton of Fribourg.

[2] W Trotter: ‘Bethesda in September 1857; or, An Answer to the Question, Why do you still stand apart from Bethesda?’ – York – 17th September 1857

 

[3] Gal 2: 20

[4] 2 Cor 10: 7

Have the Brethren got Something Special?

Darby said ‘I do believe the Brethren 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.’

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.

The Bethesda Circular – JN Darby

This is the 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.

 

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.

Click here for the full text.