John Nelson Darby Births Brethrenism

John Nelson Darby was born on November 18, 1800, at his Irish parent’s London home.

From fifteen to nineteen years of age he studied at Trinity College, Dublin, where he gained many honours including the gold medal in the classics. He studied law at Trinity and was admitted to the Irish Chancery Bar, but he left shortly to pursue spiritual matters. His conscience stopped him from practicing law, for fear that he would end up “selling his talents to defeat justice” (We wish this concern afflicted the entire legal profession).

In 1825, soon after conversion, and much to his father’s annoyance, young Darby applied for Deacon’s Orders in the Church of Ireland. He was a High Churchman, so devoted to church tradition that he even disowned the name Protestant. He “thought much of Rome, and its professed sanctity, and catholicity, and antiquity….I held apostolic succession fully, and the channels of grace to be there only.”

From this closed position, thinking of true church authority coming only by successive transfer from Christ’s apostles, Darby swung to building a movement which is counter to that stance, yet displays its own exclusivism, as seen in the Exclusive Brethren.

Beginnings of the swing were evident when he started meeting with the others for the Lord’s table beginning in the winter of 1827. He resigned his curacy in 1828, yet still kept one foot in the state church, while meeting informally with the brothers around the Lord’s table. Though Darby was still a Churchman, the Lord was gradually opening insights to him concerning the Church. In 1928 he wrote a document called “Considerations of the Nature and Unity of the Church of Christ” which the Brethren regard as their first published pamphlet.

A forceful personality, Darby was not shy to express his opinions. He wrote a treatise titled “The Archbishop of Dublin is a Sabellian!” – and Darby would have no fellowship with heretics. (A Sabellian believed that Father, Son and Spirit were but modes of God, not distinct personalities making up the one, triune God.)

As Darby met to break bread with a small fellowship of earnest believers in Dublin his teaching gift quickly became evident. He also met with a similar group in Plymouth, England, led by Benjamin Wills Newton, but by 1845 a split took place over some prophetic issues and how ‘closed’ the fellowship should be.

At the age of 30 his contemporary, Francis W Newman, tells of their first meeting: “His bodily presence was indeed ‘weak’. A fallen cheek, a bloodshot eye, crippled limbs resting on crutches, a seldom-shaved beard, a shabby suit of clothes, and a generally neglected person, drew at first pity, with wonder, to see such a figure…”

This unimposing figure, yet distinguished scholar, was to influence the evangelical world with his Christ-exalting ministry, his emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, and his dispensational prophetic teachings.

Thus we have the early days of the Christian Brethren Movement, and Darby was certainly their most gifted teacher in those early days.

“He was an itinerant man of few domestic pleasures, a man with magnetic electric personal qualities combined with a tyrant’s will to lead…” is Ernest Sandeen’s appraisal of him (The Roots of Fundamentalism, page 31).

His hymns are still sung in Brethren meetings, and his translation of the New Testament is still used by some of the old-timers in Brethren circles. One of his hymns is:
Jesus, we wait for Thee, With Thee to have our part,
What can full joy and blessing be But being where Thou art.

About 40 volumes also came from his able pen, his Synopsis of the Bible probably being his best-known work.

Darby’s dogged commitment is evident in such exchanges as one recounted by Francis Newman, who expressed that he wanted his children to be rich enough to get a good eduction. Darby replied: “If I had children, I would as soon see them break stones on the road, as do anything else, if only I could secure to them the Gospel and the grace of God.”

Neatby gives this grand summary of Darby’s life: “the maker of Brethrenism as a system, its guiding and energising spirit throughout, was John Nelson Darby. In the grandeur of his conceptions, in the irresistible vehemence of his will, in his consummate strategical instinct, in his genius for administration, and most of all in his immense personal ascendency, he stands unrivalled amongst the Brethren. His energy was stupendous. He was working for Brethrenism before he was thirty, and when he was eighty he was working as hard as ever; nor had he been known to relax his efforts—efforts put forth up to the full measure of his great strength, and often beyond it—during the whole of the intervening time.”

About the time of his death at the age of 82 there were some 1,500 assemblies across the world which esteemed him as their founder or guide.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Thomas Chatterton Hammond Keeps Sydney Anglicans Evangelical

Thomas Chatterton Hammond died on November 16, 1961.

This man who was later to shore up evangelicalism on the other side of the world, was born on 20 February 1877 at Cork, County Cork, Ireland, youngest son of a farmer. Following his education at Cork Model School Thomas became a railway clerk at the age of 13.

He was involved with the YMCA, a very evangelical movement in those days, and received Christ. He was then led into full-time street preaching and mission work. This “evangelist, apologist and theological educator” cut his evangelistic teeth as an open-air preacher on the streets of Cork. The “boy Hammond”, as he was called, soon aroused the ire of Roman Catholic passers-by.

This was followed by two years of training, two years of itinerant evangelism, and then, in 1900, he entered Trinity College, Dublin. He became a rector of the Church of Ireland in 1905.

On 23 January 1906 Hammond married Margaret McNay, whose family had been closer to him than his own. He was an effective pastor, but also engaged in broader issues. He became a prolific pamphleteer and he had few equals as a public speaker, with “pungent and well-ordered eloquence”. As clerical superintendent of the Irish Church Missions from 1919 he controlled a large staff engaged in educational, welfare and evangelistic work. He wrote Authority in the Church (1921), a study of Anglican episcopacy and in 1926 he toured Canada and Australia, defending the Book of Common Prayer from threatened revision.

He became involved in the work of Inter Varsity Fellowship and “from this connection came an invitation to write an introductory hand-book of doctrine. In Understanding be Men was the result, an outstanding best-seller.

He was nearly 60 years of age when appointed Principal of Moore College in Sydney, Australia. He found the college understaffed and under-resourced, so he threw himself into building it up. Through his position there he greatly bolstered the evangelical emphasis that the Sydney Anglican Diocese became famous for.

One of his disappointments was that his more populist book, “In Understanding Be Men” became a standard text and was popular with the laity, while his more mature works—Perfect Freedom (London, 1938), a study in Christian ethics, Reasoning Faith (London, 1943), on Christian apologetics, and The New Creation (London, 1953), on the theology of regeneration—did not command similar support.

His weekly “Principles of Protestantism” radio broadcast opposed the teachings of Roman Catholicism and impacted many. And “T.C.” Hammond was ever ready to debate his opponents, finding the colonial situation much tamer than the tough environment in which he had grown up.

“T.C”, as he was affectionately know, retired from Moore College at the age of 75, and at the age of 84 he heard the Saviour’s “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Henry Francis Lyte Abides with God

This is the day that … Henry Francis Lyte preached his last sermon. Three books give the date as the 4th, but the biography states it was the 5th. Certainly it was the first Sunday in September, in 1857.

Born in Scotland 64 years previously, 1 June, 1793, Lyte began life in an unhappy home. The father was a Captain in the Royal Marines, engaged in the Napoleonic Wars. While Henry was just a lad his father abandoned the marriage, leaving “a destitute wife.” Henry was at a boarding school. His mother and brother died soon after, leaving Henry an orphan at age 9. He deeply felt the loss of his mother who had taught him to pray and to love the Bible.

Under the care of the kindly Dr Robert Burrows, Lyte blossomed in a handsome man, six feet tall and excelling above his fellow students. He abandoned his plans medical studies and chose Divinity.

He became a Church of Ireland clergyman and during the early days of his first pastorate found himself trying to comfort a dying fellow minister.

“My blood almost curdled,” writes Lyte, “to hear the dying man declare and prove (from the Scriptures) that he and I had been utterly mistaken in the means we had adopted for ourselves and taught to others. The teachings of St Paul reveal the false basis of our means of salvation…” (H.F. Lyte, by H. Garland, page 23). Lyte continues: “The poor man died, I rejoice to say, under the belief that although he had deeply erred, there was One whose death and sufferings would atone for his sins and fit him to spend Eternity in the presence of God.”

All of which led to Lyte’s conversion also, and to an evangelical emphasis in his preaching. Then, as Lyte carried the load of two parishes his health failed and he was advised to seek warmer climate than England afforded.

Returning from France and Italy, where he convalesced over his lung trouble, he took a parish in Cornwall where he met Miss Anne Maxwell. They wed in Bath, 21 January, 1818. Theirs was a happy marriage and Anne’s economy as a home manager greatly assisted them.

Lyte was musical and composed many songs, including sea shanties for the sailors in his sea-side parish. He produced a metrical version of psalms and many hymns for church use including “Praise my soul the King of Heaven“, “God of Mercy God of Grace”, “Sweet is the solemn voice that calls The Christian to the House of Prayer”, “Pleasant are thy courts above” and many others.

He was hard working and diligent in his parish, literary and tutorial duties, which led to a further collapse of his health in his 40’s, necessitating trips to the Continent to recuperate. His faithful wife enabled them to save the money and also held the home front while he was away through the winters.

He pastored two churches following his marriage, the latter being for 23 years at Lower Brixham, Devon. It was here he preached his last sermon – and on the same evening handed his newly written hymn to his daughter.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide …”

It was prophetic, as well he probably knew, for “life’s little day” was soon to “pass away.”

A trip to the Continent for health reasons was too late. He died on his way to Nice on 20 November, 1847.

Among his dying words were these, “Oh, there is nothing terrible in death; Jesus Christ stepped down into the grave before me…”

His final hymn was first performed at his memorial service in England. “Abide With Me” became an enduring favourite and is recorded as King George V’s favourite hymn.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Thomas Kelly Irish Preacher and Hymnwriter

This is the day that … Thomas Kelly was born in Ireland, in 1769.

After graduating from Dublin University he set his mind to practise law. But an evangelical conversion took place, and from henceforth his steps were directed toward the Christian ministry.

Ordained by the Church of Ireland in 1792 his strong evangelical preaching soon aroused the opposition of the Archbishop. Pulpits of the churches were closed to Thomas Kelly. So he became a Dissenter – building places of worship and preaching in independent chapels – and seeing the Lord bless his ministry with many turning to Christ.

“He was an excellent Biblical scholar and a magnetic preacher”, writes John Telford (Methodist Hymn Book Illustrated, page 169).

His able pen composed 765 hymns, several of which “rank with the finest hymns in the English language” (Dictionary of Hymnology, by Julian). These include:
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now…

And –
We sing the praise of Him who died,
Of Him who died upon the cross…

Possibly his most well-known would be :
Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious,

See the Man of Sorrows now;
From the fight returned victorious,

Every knee to Him shall bow;
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crowns become the Victor’s brow.

At the age of 85 he suffered a stroke, which resulted in his death the following year (14 May, 1855). His last words were: “The Lord is my everything” (Who Wrote Our Hymns, page 106).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.