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.

George Blaurock Initiates Re-Baptism

This is the day that … George Blaurock was burned to death, in 1529.

Blaurock was born Jörg vom Hause Jakob, in 1492 in Bonaduz, a village in Grisons, Switzerland.

An ex-Roman Catholic priest, he had been converted to Protestantism when he was about 34 years of age.

That same year Conrad Grebel debated Ulrich Zwingli on the issue of infant baptism. Both were Protestant, but Grebel had become convinced that baptism was for believers only. Zwingli held to the belief that children of Christians were to be baptised as infants, on the same basis that the Old Testament required circumcision. Nothing was resolved by the debate.

Blaurock (so named because of a blue coat he wore on one occasion) went to Zurich to consult with Zwingli, but was disappointed in him. He then met with Grebel and Felix Manz and resonated with their commitment to Biblical truth.

Blaurock was already married at this time, so it appears that he had already abandoned the non-biblical practices of the Catholic church.

In a meeting in which the small group discoursed on their commitment to Biblical practice, rather than church tradition, they were deeply moved by this new conviction and Blaurock asked to be baptised as a believer, as the New Testament recorded. Once George was baptised the others asked him to baptize them.

Thus George Blaurock not only became an associate of Grebel but instigated the practice of re-baptism, becoming a vigorous preacher in the newly formed Anabaptist movement. At the time this rebaptism was performed by pouring, rather than total immersion.

There followed “tireless evangelism” around Switzerland, and clashes with the followers of Zwingli. Eventually Blaurock was arrested (on 8 October, 1525), escaped (on 21 March, 1526), re-arrested (in December, 1526) and sentenced to death (on 5 January, 1527). This sentence was, however, altered to a public flogging and exile from Zurich.

He maintained most of his ministry by dodging those who opposed him, preaching in a variety of places and using remote locations. His itinerant preaching ministry continued until he was arrested again in August, 1529. Death came at the age of 38.

A German historian identified Blaurock’s ideals as “freedom of religion, liberty of conscience, (and) the equality of all citizens before the law”. He also composed hymns which have endured in German worship to this day.

Georg Blaurock was one of the noblest martyrs of the Christian Church. For the brotherhood he helped to found he cheerfully sacrificed everything, honor and respect, freedom and comfort, property and goods, wife and child, body and life for the sake of his Lord and Saviour. Under the sign of adult baptism he gave the brotherhood its actual reason for existence in the world.

It was Blaurock’s falling away from the Catholic priesthood and from the Catholic Church, with his repudiation of the Mass, the confessional, and the adoration of Mary that marked him as a criminal worthy of death.

His biographer writes: “George Blaurock was a pioneer evangelist. His methods were sometimes crude and his remarks impolite. But he was sincere, untiring and courageous in spreading the gospel as he understood it. He was the apostle of the Anabaptists to the common people.”

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.