Darby, John Nelson

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Chief organizer of the plymouth brethren; b. London, Nov. 18, 1800; d. Bourne mouth, April 29, 1882. A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin (1819), he was admitted to the Irish bar (1822), and ordained as a priest in the Church of england (c. 1826). He served briefly as a curate but left this body because of his objections to denominational differences, creeds, and a regular ministry. In Dublin he joined with a group of Christians (1828) to study the Bible and to meet for prayer and a weekly communion service. Another such brotherhood met at Plymouth and from that city the movement took the name Plymouth Brethren. In 1838 Darby left for Switzerland and France to spread his ideas; he did not return to England until 1845. His return split the Plymouth Brethren in England into two factions and began the fragmentation that has since characterized this movement. The first two groups were the Darbyites or Exclusive Brethren, and the Bethesda or Open Brethren. Darby served the movement as evangelist, editor, and writer until his death. He visited Germany, the U.S., Canada, Italy, New Zealand, and the West Indies on preaching missions. For many years he edited the Christian Witness, the main organ of the Brethren. The Plymouth Brethren disagreed among themselves on various positions but they did agree that all Christians have the right to preach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments. They constantly urged a return to New Testament practices and rejected denominationalism, creeds, a paid ministry, and church titles.

In addition to his role in the organization of the Plymouth Brethren, Darby was the first to systematize and promote dispensational theology. Among the features of dispensationalism that he popularized were the division of history into several time frames or dispensations, the separation of God's plan for his people into two different programs, one for Israel and one the Church, and the anticipation of a secret rapture or a snatching away of all true Christians from the earth prior to the great tribulation and second coming of Christ. As a result of Darby's travels to North America from 1862 to 1877, dispensationalism became a mainstay of the teaching of many evangelical and fundamentalist pastors.

Bibliography: j. n. darby, Collected Writings, ed. w. kelly, 34 v. (London 18671900), plus Index (1902). g. c. boase, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 18851900; repr. with corrections, 21 v., 190809, 192122, 1938; suppl. 1901) 5:493494. w. g. turner, John Nelson Darby (London 1926). l. v. crutchfield, The Doctrine of Ages and Dispensations (Ph.D. diss. Drew University, 1985).

[w. j. whalen/

w. t. stancil]