What did John Nelson Darby and the Brethren hold?

Darby and the brethren held to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith:

There is one God, eternally blessed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit,.
The Lord Jesus was and is human and divine. He was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of God.
The Holy Spirit, having descended on the day of Pentecost, dwells in believers who are waiting for the promised return of the Lord Jesus.
The Father in His love has sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption and grace towards men. Jesus, the Son, finished the work on earth which the Father gave Him to do. He made propitiation for our sins, and ascended into heaven. Now He is the great High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
As to the brethren, nobody would be received into fellowship who denied any of these fundamental truths, and any who undermined them would be excommunicated. They are essential to living faith and salvation, and to the life which all Christians live as born of God.

 

lefrancaisA summary by Sosthenes of a letter entitled ‘ A letter to the Editor of Le Français’ – published in J N D’s letters Volume 2 page 431.

In 1878 the editor of ‘Le Français’, a catholic newspaper wrote to J N Darby asking him about what he and the brethren held.  Although he did not like writing articles for newspapers, believing that they were not compatible with the Christian’s heavenly calling, Darby said, ‘I have given him in all simplicity what he asked for. He avowed himself a Catholic and devoted to Catholicism. His letter was simple and honest: I replied to him as Christian.’

 

A summary of his reply:

Darby and the brethren held to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith:

  1. There is one God, eternally blessed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit,.
  2. The Lord Jesus was and is human and divine. He was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of God.
  3. The Holy Spirit, having descended on the day of Pentecost, dwells in believers who are waiting for the promised return of the Lord Jesus.
  4. The Father in His love has sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption and grace towards men. Jesus, the Son, finished the work on earth which the Father gave Him to do.  He made propitiation for our sins, and ascended into heaven.  Now He is the great High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

As to the brethren, nobody would be received into fellowship who denied any of these fundamental truths, and any who undermined them would be excommunicated.  They are essential to living faith and salvation, and to the life which all Christians live as born of God.

 

Darby’s early Christian Days

After John Darby was converted he spent six or seven years under the rod of the law, feeling that although Christ was his Saviour he did not possess Him, or that he was fully saved by Him.  He fasted, prayed and gave alms, but did not have peace.  He felt that if the Son of God had Himself forgiven him, he owed Him his body, soul and means.

At length God gave him to understand that he was in Christ, united to Him by the Holy Spirit.  Though he had always accepted that the word of God was the absolute authority as to faith and practice, God had now implanted in his heart the conviction of it.  Scriptures which bore on that were:

  • At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you’ (John 14:20)
  • He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit’ (1 Cor 6:17)
  • Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost who is in you’ (1 Cor 6:19)
  • There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1)
  • I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’ (John 14:3)
  • Having believed, ye have been sealed for the day of redemption’ (Eph 1:13)
  • For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13)
  • Even when we were dead in sins, [he] hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)’ ( 2:5)
  • Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory’ (Phil 3:20-21)

From the above scriptures he deduced that the Holy Spirit has given us as believers the full assurance of salvation.  We have been set apart from this world, sealed to do God’s will here.  We are citizens of another world, awaiting the return of our Lord and Saviour.

 

The body of Christ is composed of those who are united by the Holy Spirit to the Head – Christ in heaven.  We are seated in the heavenly places in Christ, and are already there in spirit, just waiting to be actually place us up there, our bodies changed.

 

The Public Church

This brings us to the thought of the church and of its unity.

Let us look around we see how far we as Christians have got from what God had set up on the earth.  Where is the church?   Darby said that he gave up Anglicanism as not being it. In his early days he had been attracted to Rome.  But then he realised that the idea of a sacrificing priesthood down here was inconsistent with Heb 10:14-18  ‘For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. . . . Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin’.  As a result of the work of Christ, we have direct access to God in all confidence. ‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.’ (Heb. 10:19).  Rome pretended to be the whole, but that excluded half or more of Christendom.  Protestant sects were divided amongst themselves – unity was not possible.  In fact, most of those who call themselves Christians are of the world, just as much as a pagan might be.

 

The Fall of the early Church

 

The church was formed on the earth at the descent of the Holy Spirit.  It ought always to have been clearly identifiable, as something distinct, separate from the world.  Alas this has not been the case.  The Lord foresaw this: ‘The wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep’ (John 10:12) but, thank God the same faithful Shepherd also said,  ‘No one shall catch them out of my hand’ (v.28).

The apostle Paul, bidding farewell to the faithful of Asia, said, ‘I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock, and of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.’ (Acts 20:29-30).  Moreover, Jude noted that deceitful men had crept in among the Christians, ‘Certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men’ (Jude v.4).  This would lead to apostasy, those inside the public confession entirely abandoning the Christian faith. ‘There are there many antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last time. hey went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us’ (1 John 2:18-19).

 

What the Faithful should understand

Paul tells us, ‘Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work (2 Tim 2:19-21).

The public church is a great house with vessels of all kinds: a call comes to the faithful man to purify himself from the vessels to dishonour.  In the next chapter he speaks of perilous times.  Men will be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud etc., but also ‘Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’ (2 Tim 3:5).  They were evidently in the professing church, not pagans as in Romans 1.  And it goes on, ‘All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse’ (2 Tim. 3:12, 13); but true believers have assurance through the scriptures, given by inspiration of God, making them wise to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

At the beginning, ‘the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’ (Acts 2:47)  Soon false brethren crept in, tares were sown, the house was filled with unholy vessels, from which the faithful were to purge themselves, persons with a form of godliness without power, from which the faithful were to turn away.

Evil in the church continued.  ‘The mystery of iniquity doth already work’ (2 Thess 2:7). The wicked would be destroyed by the brightness of His coming.  Elsewhere the Lord speaks of the good grain and the tares growing together until the harvest (See Matt 13:24-30).  We must distinguish between the work of Christ, and what is done by men – heresies and schisms.

However, the gates of hell are not to prevail against that which Christ has built. The enemy will never destroy what Christ has built (the church of God).  That is the house made of living stones, and the holy temple in the Lord (See 1 Peter 2:5 and Eph 2:21.  Alongside all that, the Word declares that where two or three are gathered to the name of Jesus, He would be in their midst. (See Matt 18:20).

 

The early Brethren

This is what Darby recognised.  Initially only four met together, not in a spirit of pride or presumption, but deeply grieved at seeing the state of that which surrounded them, and praying earnestly about it. Darby said they were not thinking of forming a new sect.  Indeed, they did not believe that the thing would have gone any further. They were just satisfying the need of their souls according to the word of God and found the promised presence of the Lord.

Independently following the same road, the work extended in a way they did not expect – in the British Isles, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and on through the rest of Europe, the British Colonies, the United States, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.  As the gospel was preached, the Spirit of God acted, and produced soul yearnings that the established religious systems could not meet.

Those brethren rested on the authority of the word of God.  They saw our Saviour:

  • first as accomplishing redemption on the cross,
  • then as seated at the Father’s right hand, the Holy Ghost being down here,
  • and finally, as coming back to take His own to be with Himself.

These Christians had the full assurance of their salvation  They had faith in the efficacy of Christ’s redemption, and being sealed with the Holy Spirit, they were waiting for the Son of God to come from heaven without knowing when it would happen.  Bought with a great price, they felt bound to regard themselves as no longer belonging to themselves, but to please the Lord Jesus in everything, and to live only for Him.

 

The Brethren’s Walk

Whilst Darby had to admit that not all the brethren walked at the full height of the heavenly calling, they acknowledged the obligation to do so.  Brethren walked in a morally right way, excluding any who held heresy or engaged in immorality.  They abstained from the pleasures and amusements of the world.   Evening parties would be occasions of encouraging one another and discussing the word.  Brethren did not vote or get involved in politics.  They submitted to the established authorities, whatever they may be, so long as they were not called upon to act contrary to the will of Christ.  They took the Lord’s supper every Sunday, and those who had gift, taught from the scriptures and preached the gospel of salvation to sinners.  Everyone felt bound to seek the salvation or good of his or her neighbour, as they were able. Feeling that Christendom was corrupt, they were not of the church-world.

Asked as to how many such believers followed this course, Darby had no idea.  Brethren did not number themselves, wishing to remain in the littleness which becomes Christians. In any case, they reckoned as a brother or sister in Christ every person who had the Spirit of Christ.

 

Conclusion

What is the advantage of this course?  We acknowledge Christ as the Son of God and  know that we have been saved by Him.  In obeying Him, in spite of our weakness, faults and failures, we have as an indescribable source of joy.  Looking ahead, we have an earnest or advance of eternal happiness, with no failures, where our Lord will be fully glorified in all believers.

Sosthenes

November 2016

 

Adoss Newsletter – No 12 – September 2014

 

Zech 4:10
By Σωσθένης Ὁἀδελφὸς – Sosthenes the Brother

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord

Will He find Faith on the Earth?

I am writing this on our way back from a few days vacation in the Baltic States of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. They were interesting places, having come a long way since they escaped from Soviet domination around 1990. Estonia is the most prosperous, very much like its neighbour Finland; Roman Catholic Lithuania is the nicest; Latvia has further to go to catch up with Western Europe. But what is sad is that I could not establish a spiritual link with anybody – taxi drivers, waitresses or even a family connection – I saw no peaceful faces. Yes, a lot of big churches, but where is there the knowledge of true salvation? In Lithuania we saw the Hill of Crosses – 400,000 of them in 2006. It was weird. Lithuania is RC but in 1840’s Russians tried to force them to go Orthodox . So this started as a protest movement . Now doubtless, it is a money earner for the church!

There must be many there who truly knew The Lord, but we didn’t meet any despite praying for it. May God work mightily in these three little countries.

Before then, however, we spent a happy long weekend with our dear Christian friends in Gothenburg, Sweden. On the Saturday we were on one of the islands, and on the boat we saw a group of young people from the self-styled Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. Getting off the boat I waved towards them, and one young lady waved back cheerily. Later we were having a snack outside at a café, when the same young person came by ostensibly to buy some mineral water. As she came out our friend greeted her, and she chatted happily for several minutes. She was an English girl, married to a brother from Sweden. Our friend knew the family well, and they lived close by. He spoke of the Lord’s coming and our being together, to which she responded well. As she was going our friend said to her ‘May The Lord richly bless you’. Her reply: ‘May He bless you too’. That encounter was a highlight of our holiday.

God has His reserves everywhere. Just because we have had to judge a system as evil, that does not mean that it is void of true believers who have peace with God, especially those who never went through the turmoil of the 1960’s.

 

Scotland

There were many prayers about the Scottish referendum, so I am sure God’s hand was over the result. Personally I was a bit ‘pro-yes’, so I have to be humble! Scotland has had a major part in the testimony of our Lord. Men like John Knox, groups like the Covenanters come to mind. It has also been a land where party and personal feeling run deep: Rangers vs. Celtic, Campbells vs. McDonalds, Wee Frees vs. Wee-wee Frees etc. Sadly these divisions have affected God’s people. They will be together in glory.

 

Are ‘Brethren’ Special?

I came across an interesting piece from a letter written by JN Darby in 1875 (click here for my lightly edited version).  By then he had become rather disillusioned with sectarian brethrenism, but still felt there was something special amongst so-called Plymouth Brethren. But what was special was what the brethren possessed from the Lord, not the brethren themselves. God could take what they had from them and give it to others.

It is blessed to gather with a few simple Christians, assembling themselves to the Lord’s name, outside the camp (He rejected here), having no name or organisation. Brethren with a small ‘B’.  May that always be the case.  It is indeed a day of small things

 

Bible Outline

I have nearly finished lightly editing JND’s Outline of the Books of the Bible, providing a concise overview of each book, briefer than the ‘Synopsis’.   My plan is to put it into an e-book.  For the original outline click here.

 

It will all be right in the end

A worldly expression, ‘Karma’ they say.  But what does the Christian say?

‘I have strength for all things in him that gives me power!’ (Phil 4:13)  All things?  If the Bible says all things, then it means all things.   I doesn’t say I can DO all things.  Indeed, I feel very weak even for the simplest thing.  But with Jesus all things are possible.  Have I faith?

 

Your exercises

Forgive me, that’s a ‘brethren’ expression.  What are your concerns about the group of Christians you gather with?  We can share one another’s burdens. There may be something that you are linked with, that I would feel is not according to scripture – ordained ministry in any form, for example.  There may be things that you would point out in my conduct that does not befit a Christian.  That is how we help one another.

The Lord is coming soon.  May He be with you

God’s blessings, your brother,

Sosthenes Hoadelphos

 

 

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.

JN Darby and the so-called Plymouth Brethren

I am often asked about John Nelson Darby and his relationship with the so-called Plymouth Brethren or Exclusive Brethren. This is a subject I can speak of only with sadness, humility and ‘eating the sin-offering’

Darby was totally opposed to sectarianism, so anything that smacked of a humanly organised church was anathema to him. He did not ‘found’ the Plymouth Brethren as such.

Why John Nelson Darby would have left the Exclusive Brethren Sect

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I am often asked about John Nelson Darby and his relationship with the so-called Plymouth or Exclusive Brethren.  This is a subject I can speak of only with sadness, humility and ‘eating the sin-offering’

Darby was totally opposed to sectarianism, so anything that smacked of a humanly organised church was anathema to him. He did not ‘found’ the Plymouth Brethren as such.

In the 1800’s a lot left the establishment and other sects and the those Christians came together in simplicity.  The term ‘brethren’ – small-B  – was used among them, and at that time Darby who was the most prominent, was in Plymouth –  hence the name.  In the course of time the Plymouth Brethren developed and what did that become?   Another sect!  I have read letters (in French) of JND in his latter days and he talked about leaving the brethren.

Taylor Hales Exclusive Brethren – the Plymouth Brethren Church

If you have read anything about the brethren you will now see a microcosm of Christendom.  At one extreme there are the Taylor-Hales Exclusive Brethren, who frankly have every feature of a sect – some say even a cult, though I would not go that far, since fundamentally they believe the simple gospel.  They have a public profile in which they now call themselves the ‘Plymouth Brethren Christian Church’ (PBCC) with hierarchical leadership, strict rules, central organization, their own schools and businesses.  They practice an extreme level of separation, for example, forbidding normal relationships between split families. Sadly money and alcohol feature widely, and they have made headlines for the wrong reasons.   This trend developed during the 1960’s when I was a boy, and I can be thankful to God to have been delivered from it in a crisis in 1970.  My wife was too.  This sect is relatively strong in UK, Australia (where it is headquartered), New Zealand, and parts of USA/Canada and West Indies. What makes me sad is to think of the number of sincere lovers of the Lord caught up there, some of whom I knew in my earlier life.  I am sure John Darby would have been heart-broken – but with his knowledge of man after the flesh, not surprised – to see what that sect has come to.  I am absolutely certain that Darby would have had nothing to do with the Plymouth Brethren Church.

Open Brethren and Others

At the other end are the Open Brethren, which in many ways are similar to the Baptists but without pastors.  Meetings are independent of one another, some stricter than others; some have embraced the charismatic movement.  They are heavily involved in missionary work.

Then sadly there are a few dozen little groups in between!  Some groups Kelly-Lowe-Glanton/Continental and Tunbridge Wells groups are quite strong in America, and the former in Continental Europe. It has been due to man’s failure that there are so many –  “I don’t agree with you so I’ll leave – and I’ll take some with my views” and division spreads with a lot of personal feeling.  That is not of God.  Oh that there could be healing!  But if we tried humanly to put groups together that would not be of God either.

Where I Stand

I can be thankful therefore, that in the goodness of God, I can enjoy happy normal Christian fellowship a few of the Lord’s people, many of which have come from other brethren groups, scattered through several countries with:  no headquarters (other than heaven), no leader (but Jesus), no written statement of beliefs (other than the Bible), and no name – (Can’t use Plymouth Brethren any longer, thank God).  I can say, that there is a general desire to be faithful to the Lord working things out simply.  Of course Satan is ever active to get us on the old human paths of human effort, legality or looseness, but the power of the Holy Spirit is felt, restraining what is wrong, and causing saints to enjoy a living ministry and amazing experience in the Service of God.

There is more about the Brethren on Wikipedia –with many inaccuracies.  Also on the site My Brethren , even if I do not concur with the editorship in everything!