Wednesday, 12 March 2014

"We have not overcome evil, because we have not overcome it with good." J N Darby

Rather an interesting little piece!

J. N. Darby.

Bible Treasury Vol. 15, page 380.

The whip and the scourge may be righteous; but there is no winning the heart of man with these. Nor is it righteousness which reigns among the saints of God, but grace through righteousness unto eternal life. Alas! how many sins that might have been washed away (John 13) have been retained! How many brethren alienated for all time, who might have been won back to God and to us, because we have hammered at the conscience merely, with the heart ungained - with the heart, I may say, almost unsought! We have not overcome evil, because we have not overcome it with good. We have taken readily the judge's chair and have got back judgment; but the Master's lowly work we have little done.

But how little yet do we understand that mere righteous dealing - absolutely righteous, as it may be - will not work the restoration of souls; that judgment, however temperate and true, will not touch and soften and subdue hearts to receive instruction, which, by the very facts of the case, are shown not to be in their true place before God. Man is not all conscience; and conscience reached, with the heart away, will do what it did with the first sinner among men - drive him out among the trees of the garden to escape the unwelcome voice. J. N. D.


  1. That was a late piece by JND. It was not published until 1884-85, after his death. We don’t know exactly when he wrote it, but it is the sad sort of thing he wrote towards the end of his life when he realised that the Brethren movement, or at least his branch of it, had gone terribly wrong. Some of his life-long associates had been treated very badly by the Brethren, and he himself had twice considered leaving the sect and was only persuaded to stay by his staunch friend, J. B. Stoney.

    The piece is a confession of failure and a reflection on the reason for that failure, namely that the Brethren had been too judgmental and not sufficiently loving.

  2. For all his unflinching separatist ecclesiology and his sometimes bitter attacks on his educated peers, J N Darby knew what it was like to be rejected - when he was only five or six years old his mother left the marital home. The documentary evidence we have of his father portrays a hard-hearted and rather distant businessman and landlord, and we know that John Junior carried with him all his life a small portrait of his missing mother who died when JND was in his forties.

    As Ian has said, at the end of his life J N Darby was very upset about the excommunication of Edward Cronin and William Kelly, and this piece seems to reflect on everything that had gone wrong in the Exclusive Brethren where he was the most revered leader.

    He was right to point out that when Brethren fail to take account of how other people feel in their hearts they aren't doing "the Master's lowly work". That is the work of love - love God, love your neighbour as yourself and even love your enemy.

    The Charity Commission requires the Brethren to deal with all other people openly, honestly, fairly and not maliciously nor vindictively, and if they begin to do that they will be on their way to treating people positively and lovingly, as J N Darby wished they would at the end of his long life.

  3. The behavioural characteristics observed by JN Darby are prophetic considering the history of Exclusive Brethrenism since then. As the years went by, judging all others, casting aspersions on all others, denigrating all others “not with us”, became the norm, those seeking other Christian Churches, or those who disagreed with unbiblical teaching, were indeed “alienated for all time” due to the behaviour of the Brethren.

    I’m sure he’d be horrified and recoil in disgust & sorrow at the history of Exclusive Brethrenism since his death. I’m thinking of - JT Senior & Watchman Nee, JT Junior and 1959 -1970, the Symington reign, the current mess under BDH, the deceit seen during the Charity matter since 2012, the wreckage of divided families, those Christians treated as iniquitous just because they left to go to another Church and those so sickened by EB behaviour that they turned away from Christianity !

    JN Darby’s vast writings reveal some interesting thoughts, principles and doctrines, which Exclusive Brethrenism abandoned long ago, such as –

    “If they (‘Brethren') become (sectarian) in their position before God, they would be utterly useless, and I am persuaded, immediately broken to pieces. You are nothing, nobody, but Christians, and the moment you cease to be an available mount for communion for any consistent Christian, you will go to pieces or help the evil." Letters of J.N.D., Vol. I, page 21.

    “Receiving all members of Christ's body is not a sect clearly, and that is the principle on which I unite." Letters of J.N.D., Vol. II, page 250.

    “If an assembly refused a person known to be a Christian and blameless, because he was not of the assembly, I should not go. I own no membership but of Christ. An assembly composed as such of its members is at once a sect. But the person who brings another is responsible to the assembly." Letters of J.N.D., Vol. III, page 182.

    “I could not recognise an assembly that does not receive all the children of God because I know that Christ receives them." Letters of J.N.D., Vol. I, page 42.

    “I may not enforce constant attendance with us only, because he may come with the desire to show unity of spirit, and yet think that his ways are more orderly conscientiously. If his heart be pure (2 Tim. 2) I have no reason to exclude him." Letters of J.N.D., Vol. II, page 129.

    “The question is, as to reception of saints to partake of the table of the Lord with us whether any can be admitted who are not formally and regularly amongst us . . . . Suppose a person known to be godly and sound in faith, who has not left some ecclesiastical system—nay, thinks Scripture favours an ordained ministry, but is glad when the occasion occurs . . . . is he to be excluded because he is of some system as to which his conscience is not enlightened—nay, which he may think more right ? He is a godly member of the body, known as such. Is he to be shut out? If so, the degree of light is title to communion, and the unity of the body is denied by the assembly which refused him. The principle of meeting as members of Christ walking in godliness is given up, agreement with us is made the rule, and the assembly becomes a sect, with its members like any other. They meet on their principles, Baptist or other—you on yours, and if they do not belong to you formally as such, you do not let them in. The principle of brethren's meetings is gone and another sect is made, say with more light, and that is all. It may give more trouble, require more care to treat every case on its merits, on the principle of the unity of all Christ's members, than say: ‘you do not belong to us, you cannot come.' But the whole principle of meeting is gone. The path is not of God." Letters of J.N.D., Vol. II, page II.

    The only embarrassed response current Exclusive Brethren give to these JND comments is that they are somehow taken out of context !

  4. There is a shattering contrast between the radically non-sectarian ideals with which the Brethren movement was founded and the extreme, virulent sectarianism of the Taylor/Symington/Hales faction.

    Perhaps I should explain what I mean by extreme sectarianism. It has three hallmarks.

    1. Pretentious claims to be the Church, the saints, the Assembly, the Bride of Christ, the only right position, walking in separation from evil, the place of salvation, specially privileged, walking in the light of the assembly, the Christian Testimony, the Recovery, a clean place for the Lord, holy, in the light. This is compounded by pretentious claims that their ministry is uniquely authoritative, almost on a par with Holy Scripture, and ominous warnings that if you leave the Exclusive Brethren you will no longer be a Christian, and your eternal salvation is very much in question.

    2. Denunciation of the rest of the human race as worldlies, worldlings, the World (to be hated), under the lordship of Satan, unclean, in ecclesiastical wickedness, unholy, Christendom.

    3. Erection of social barriers to keep the clean and unclean separate. In other words, the well documented and well proven policy of separation from all non-Exclusives, a policy that is often called by a name that is insulting to non-Exclusives: they call it separation from evil.

    1. Ian says “There is a shattering contrast between the radically non-sectarian ideals with which the Brethren movement was founded and the extreme, virulent sectarianism of the Taylor/Symington/Hales faction”

      What Ian says in that short sentence and his 3 point explanation below it, give the reason why the name change in August 2012 to “Plymouth Brethren Christian Church” is so deceitful and misleading !

      Of course it was designed to be so !. It was designed to cause confusion amongst the general public, the Christian public, the churches, UK Parliamentarians and others in authority, with the specific purpose of blurring the lines of “shattering contrast” Ian speaks of.

    2. Perhaps it was the article of Darby "The Notion of a Clergyman .... etc which was one root of extreme exclusivity. I understand the article was written when he was a young man, having recently left the "Establishment" in his new found zeal. The article was not published at that time, but kept for a number of years (20 or more??) before being issued.

      It sounded extremely critical of the Establishment, and I think he later deeply regretted its publication. He acknowledged a deep love and respect for many godly Churchmen, and often as a young man preached in their local churches.

      Sadly the EB at the time picked up on this publication and it became one of the bases for their criticism of clerical Christianity. To the EB, Darby could do no wrong, and this was accepted at face value.

      Yet the early Brethren were happy to meet and discuss matters with many clerical men - e.g. the Powerscourt Conferences.

      So much damage can be done by something so small. And once comments have been distributed in writing as was the fashion then, great difficulty in retracting something later regretted.

      I may not have all the facts correct, but this is how I understand it. I am quite open to correction.

    3. That is interesting, Phil. Where did you learn that Darby later regretted writing “The notion of a Clergyman . . .”?

    4. Ian I must admit to not having firm information on Darby's regret, hence my wording "I think". Perhaps it was a collection of thoughts from his original delay in publication, together with the excellent comments of Joan, Brother Rev and yourself earlier. Having recently disposed of most of my EB (Stow Hill/Morrish) writings I have very little documentation. It may have come from one of his biographers at some time. I do not possess the Darby Disk with search facility.

      However Darby's article did cause the EB from that time to take a jaundiced view of those Christians in the clerical system - though he admitted his writing was not against individual godly teachers. See stempublishing.com/authors/darby/ECCLESIA/01003E.html.

      How much the EB have lost in losing the excellent teaching of W.Kelly; H. Ironside; C.H. Mackintosh; and more recently Sidlow Baxter; Warren Wiersbe; John Stott; William MacDonald, et al.

      I am sure others with access to more information could confirm. I am always open to correction and appreciate your insightful comments on these blogs.

    5. Phil T wrote, “How much the EB have lost in losing the excellent teaching of W.Kelly; H. Ironside; C.H. Mackintosh; and more recently Sidlow Baxter; Warren Wiersbe; John Stott; William MacDonald, et al.”

      That is very true. You could add the names of the highly accomplished and universally recognised Bible scholars such as Samuel Tregelles and Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton. When I think of the many learned men and skilled teachers who were among the earliest Brethren, I can’t think of a single one who remained among the Exclusives. They all decided it had gone wrong, and left. JND nearly did so too. Something similar happened around 1960 and 1970. The most able Bible teachers and best informed Brethren were among the first to leave.

      I think John Hales recognised this. He said, “The best informed people are out of fellowship. The best read, the best informed people are out of fellowship.” See JSH New Series Vol. 29 page 203.

  5. I would suggest everyone in any doubt to read, understand and accept JND's booklet -
    The Notions of A Clergyman - Dispensationally The Sin Against The Holy Ghost.
    JND had no regrets neither expressed or recorded and wrote with absolute conviction, but he felt reluctant to have it published at that time mainly because to (and I quote) "avoid shocking the feelings of many godly persons"
    They were not ready for the truth, but we now have it.

    Leonardo J Octavianus


    1. Why should I read or accept the words of a man addressing a cultural issue of centuries ago? Rather, why do the EB have priests when the Bible declares a Priesthood of all believers. Don't the EB follow the Bible anymore?

    2. Leonardo J Octavianus

      Since you recommend that readers should read, understand and accept JND’s Notion of a Clergyman leaflet, that would indicate you yourself have read, understood and accepted JND’s Notion of a Clergyman, otherwise, you cant recommend others read, understand and accept it, if you haven’t done so yourself !

      So, on that basis, please can you give us an overview and summary of JND’s leaflet, what it means and why and what and who it applies to today ?

    3. The essence of JND’s tract on the Notion of a Clergyman can be summed up in just a couple of quotations from it.

      “The statement which I make is this, that I believe the notion of a Clergyman to be the sin against the Holy Ghost in this dispensation.
      . . .
      But I go a great deal farther, and I affirm, though that were sin enough, that the notion of a Clergyman puts the dispensation specifically in the position of the sin against the Holy Ghost, and that every Clergyman is contributing to this.” [the last clause was printed in italics.]

      It was a habit of JND that when his argument was weak he compensated for this by using extreme language. Those who thought differently from him would be accused of “heinous contempt of Christ” or “doing Satan’s work” or “rebellion against God” or “the worst evil of diabolical corruption” or “having cast off the lordship of Christ” and so on. Accusing all clergymen of contributing to the sin against the Holy Ghost was possibly the most extreme example, because this form of words is associated in people's minds with the unforgivable sin.