- Darby, John Nelson
- (1800-1882)founder of the Plymouth BrethrenDarby was born in London, England, on November 18, 1800. in 1815, his family moved to their ancestral home in Ireland. Darby studied law at Trinity College in Dublin and was admitted to the bar in 1822, but he soon renounced his legal career in favor of a spiritual vocation and was admitted to deacon's orders in the Church of Ireland (Anglican). He was assigned curate at Calary, County Wicklow. However, he began to examine the biblical church and contrast it to the established church in which he served.in 1827, he withdrew from the Church of ireland, and joined with a small religious group in Dublin that shared a common rejection of denom-inationalism, formal church membership, and nonscriptural church names. They would meet on the Sabbath (Sunday) to show their unity by breaking bread together. A similar group emerged at Plymouth, England, which gave the movement its common name.For the next 15 years, Darby wrote voluminously to promote the Brethren cause and traveled extensively in England and in France and Switzerland, where strong Brethren movements emerged. Shortly after his return to England in the mid 1840s, a controversy broke out at Plymouth that would split the movement into the Exclusive Brethren (supported by Darby), who would receive into communion only full members of a separated assembly, and the open (now called Christian Brethren), who would break bread with all they perceived to be a true Christians. Darby and the Exclusive Brethren received no one who was not a member of a fully separated assembly.In the years after the controversy, Darby continued his travels. In the last decades of his life, he made three trips to Germany, six to Canada and the United States, and various tours to Italy,New Zealand, and the West Indies.Darby originated the system of biblical theology called dispensationalism. It approaches the Bible as the story of God's interaction with humanity, over a series of historical periods. In each era or dispensation, God reveals himself ever more clearly and alters his expectation of how humans should respond. The process culminates in the incarnation of Jesus and the present age of grace. This system, which has continued to evolve since Darby's death, spread among Evangelical Protestants during the last decades of the 19th century. It was accepted by many Fundamentalists in the 1920s and continues to influence the current Evangelical movement. The Brethren, now in more than 100 countries, have also helped spread dispensationalism.Darby died on April 29, 1882, at Bournemouth. Over the next decades, the Exclusive Brethren would be shaken by a series of controversies and splits, but Darby's approach to theology and the Bible, as explicated in the notes to the popular Scofield Reference Bible, have spread among Baptists and Presbyterians and helped shape conservative Protestantism through the 20th century.See also premillennialism.Further reading:■ F Roy Coad, A History of the Brethren Movement Its Origins Its Worldwide Development and Its Significance for the Present Day (Sydney: Paternoster Press, 1968)■ John Nelson Darby, Collected Writings, 34 vols. (Oak Park, Ill.: Bible Truth, 1971); .Letters of J. N. Darby, 3 vols. (Sunbury, Pa.: Believers Bookshelf, 1971)■ W. G. Turner, John Nelson Darby (London: C. A. Hammond, 1944)■ Max S. Werenchuk, John Nelson Darby: A Biography (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1992).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.