Yesterday’s Giants – part 3

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)

J. N. Darby is not as well known today, as he should be. He was a movement leader, a missionary, a scholar, Bible translator, apologist, and, unofficially, “the father of Dispensationalism.” The respected preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once publicly referred to him as “the great Darby.” He was born in London on the cusp of the 19th Century, a time of spiritual decline in England after the revivals of the previous half- century. Educated at the private Westminster School and then Trinity College, Dublin, where he was the recipient of the gold medal in classics, he spent the next few years practicing law. Around 1824 he abandoned that career and went into the Church of England, spending two years doing pioneer work in southern Ireland.

Increasingly, Darby began to find himself disagreeing with the Anglican Church and became convinced that Christianity had bedecked itself with unbiblical customs. Together with other likeminded individuals he started “breaking bread” and Bible study, first in Dublin, and then in Plymouth in southwest England. From these “assemblies” came a movement known as the Plymouth Brethren. With a simplified view of the Church and emphasis upon the imminent appearing of Christ for the saints at the pretribulational rapture the movement spread rapidly, owing in no small way to the missionary endeavors of Darby, especially in Switzerland, France and Germany. Darby was no “sheep-stealer,” but was very effective as an evangelist and discipler. He also made successful trips to New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
As “the father of Dispensationalism,” as he is sometimes called, he gave definite form to the teaching (which predated him) that God had dealt differently with man in biblical history (e.g. giving the Law to Israel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Church – Jn. 1:14), teachings which relied upon a plain sense, literal (though not literalistic) interpretation of Bible prophecy. Perhaps his best known work is his five volume Synopsis of the Books of the Bible though his collected works total thirty-four volumes. He also produced accurate translations of the Bible in English, French, and German.


  1. As much as I dislike Dispensationalism I do admire John Darby’s stance against liberalism. He lived a holy life and we should remember this.

  2. I don’t know why you “dislike” Dispensationalism. I am not a Covenant theologian but I don’t dislike it. However, your comment is well taken and appreciated.

    God bless you and yours.


  3. I’m still avidly following the blog. Thanks for your efforts, Paul.

    On Darby, I’m currently reading Dr Paul Wilkinson’s “For Zion’s Sake: Christian Zionism and the Role of John Nelson Darby.” I highly recommend it.

    God bless.

  4. I would be interested in reading more about Darby’s debate with Moody…at one time I had a few quotes from it but I’ve lost them.


  5. Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll look it up. Darby was an interesting chap. Jim, I don’t know much about the Darby/Moody thing either. Did it have to do I wonder with Moody’s Arminianism, or maybe his reluctance to state his eschatology clearly? Moody was often not very discerning in his associations either…

    Just thinking aloud!

  6. As you probably know Darby was somewhat of an Amyraldian, he defended Calvinism against Moody’s Arminianism. At one point Darby said something like, “I came to debate not teach men to think.”


  7. From History of the Plymouth Brethren.

    “Although Moody became dispensational in the 1870s he did not agree with unconditional election as supported by Darby. Darby came to Chicago to debate Dwight on that topic (1872?) and after the opening line by Darby from Romans 9: ‘it is not man who runs or wills but God who has mercy…’

    Moody came back with John 3:16: ‘that whosoever believes on Him…’ At that point Darby closed his bible and walked off the stage.”

  8. In the book I mentioned above, Dr Wilkinson mentions the Moody/Darby incident but doesn’t go into specifics:

    “Although the two men disputed on one occasion over the question of free will, prompting Darby to walk out on the meeting, ‘Moody never denied’ the influence of the Brethren…”

    He appears to draw that particular information from John Pollock’s “Moody without Sankey”.

    This book was a product of Wilkinson’s Phd research for his thesis. While his treatment of Darby corrects many polemical allegations and disinformation, Wilkinson doesn’t “gloss” over the problems in Darby’s life (Newton etc). My own assessment (and that of Wilkinson) is that Darby has drawn unfair attention by certain individuals, primarily due to his Zionism and rapture position.

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