John Nelson Darby, (18 November 1800 - 29 April 1882) was an Anglo-Irish evangelist, and an influential figure among the original Plymouth Brethren. He is considered to be the father of modern Dispensationalism. He produced a translation of the Bible based on the Hebrew and Greek texts called The Holy Scriptures: A New Translation from the Original Languages by J. N. Darby.
John Nelson Darby was born in Westminster, London, and christened at St. Margaret's on 3 March 1801. He came from an Anglo-Irish landowning family seated at Leap Castle, King's County, Ireland. He was the nephew of Admiral Henry D'Esterre Darby and his middle name was given in recognition of his godfather and family friend, Lord Nelson.
Darby was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Dublin where he graduated Classical Gold Medallist in 1819. Darby embraced Christianity during his studies, although there is no evidence that he formally studied theology. He joined an inn of court, but felt that being a lawyer was inconsistent with his religious belief. He therefore chose ordination as an Anglican clergyman in Ireland, "lest he should sell his talents to defeat justice." In 1825, Darby was ordained deacon of the established Church of Ireland and the following year as priest.
Darby resigned his curacy in protest. Soon after, in October 1827, he fell from a horse and was seriously injured. He later stated that it was during this time that he recognized that the "kingdom" described in the Book of Isaiah and elsewhere in the Old Testament was entirely different from the Christian church.
Over the next five years, he developed the principles of his mature theology—most notably his conviction that the very notion of a clergyman was the sin against the Holy Spirit, because it limited the recognition that the Holy Spirit could speak through any member of the Church. During this time he joined an interdenominational meeting of believers (including Anthony Norris Groves, Edward Cronin, J. G. Bellett, and Francis Hutchinson) who met to "break bread" together in Dublin as a symbol of their unity in Christ. By 1832, this group had grown and began to identify themselves as a distinct Christian assembly. As they traveled and began new assemblies in Ireland and England, they formed the movement now known as the Plymouth Brethren.
John Nelson Darby did not formally declare his separation from the Church of Ireland until 1832, at the Powerscourt Conference, an annual meeting of Bible students organized by his friend, the wealthy widow Lady Powerscourt (Theodosia Wingfield Powerscourt). That conference was also where he first described his discovery of the "secret rapture." For about 40 years William Kelly (1821-1906) was his chief interpreter and continued to be a staunch supporter until his own death. Kelly in his work "John Nelson Darby as I knew him" stated that "a saint more true to Christ's name and word I never knew or heard of".
Darby defended certain Reformed doctrines when they came under attack from within the Church in which he once served. His biographer Goddard states, "Darby indicates his approval of the doctrine of the Anglican Church as expressed in Article XVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles" on the subject of election and predestination. Darby said,
"For my own part, I soberly think Article XVII to be as wise, perhaps I might say the wisest and best condensed human statement of the view it contains that I am acquainted with. I am fully content to take it in its literal and grammatical sense. I believe that predestination to life is the eternal purpose of God, by which, before the foundations of the world were laid, He firmly decreed, by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and destruction those whom He had chosen in Christ out of the human race, and to bring them, through Christ, as vessels made to honour, to eternal salvation."
Darby traveled widely in Europe and Britain in the 1830s and 1840s, and established many Brethren assemblies. He gave 11 significant lectures in Geneva in 1840 on the hope of the church (L’attente actuelle de l'église.) [see references] These established his reputation as a leading interpreter of biblical prophecy. The beliefs he disseminated then are still being propagated (in various forms) at such places as Dallas Theological Seminary and Bob Jones University and by authors and preachers such as Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. In 1848, Darby became involved in a complex dispute over the proper method for maintaining shared standards of discipline in different assembles that resulted in a split between Open Brethren and Exclusive Brethren. After that time, he was recognized as the dominant figure among the Exclusives, who also came to be known as "Darbyite" Brethren. He made at least 5 missionary journeys to North America between 1862 and 1877. He worked mostly in New England, Ontario, and the Great Lakes Region, but took one extended journey from Toronto to Sydney by way of San Francisco, Hawaii, and New Zealand. A Geographical Index of his letters (available from Chapter Two, London) is currently available and lists where he traveled. He used his classical skills to translate the Bible from the original texts. In English he wrote a Synopsis of the Bible and many other scholarly religious articles. He wrote hymns and poems, the most famous being, "Man of Sorrows. He was also a Bible Commentator. He declined however to contribute to the compilation of the Revised Version of the King James Bible.
He died 1882 in Sundridge House, Bournemouth and is buried in Bournemouth, Dorset, England with the following text engraved on his tombstone:
John Nelson Darby|
As Unknown and Well Known
Departed to be with Christ
April 29, 1882
2 Corinthians 5:21
Lord, Let Me Wait For Thee Alone;
Darby is noted in the theological world as the father of "dispensationalism," later made popular in the United States by Cyrus Scofield's Scofield Reference Bible. C H Mackintosh, 1820-1896, with his popular style spread Darby's teachings to humbler elements in society and may be regarded as the journalist of the Brethren Movement. CHM popularised Darby more than any other Brethren author. Darby is sometimes credited with originating, the "secret rapture" theory wherein Christ will suddenly remove His bride, the Church, from this world before the judgments of the tribulation. Dispensationalist beliefs about the fate of the Jews and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel put dispensationalists at the forefront of Christian Zionism, because "God is able to graft them in again," and they believe that in His grace he will do so according to their understanding of Old Testament prophecy. They believe that, while the ways of God may change, His purposes to bless Israel will never be forgotten, just as He has shown unmerited favour to the Church, He will do so to a remnant of Israel to fulfill all the promises made to the genetic seed of Abraham.
"Oh, the joy of having nothing and being nothing, seeing nothing but a Living Christ in glory, and being careful for nothing but His interests down here."
One of Darby's best-known hymns begins:
A poem found in Darby's bible after his death: