Skip to content

A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement #3


Chapter 3. Gathering Clouds.  TIMELINE: 1840s.

The chapter begins with yet another ‘disclaimer’ as Ironside warns that he is not impartial, and his views my cloud his account somewhat, even though he has attempted to moderate this impartiality.

Gathering Clouds

The Brethren experienced a great deal of rapid growth, and as the numbers of Brethren and their meetings grew, problems developed, as they always do in times of growth.  At Plymouth the acknowledged leader of the movement was BW Newtown, (Newton deserves a separate treatment, and I will deal with him on a more detailed level in a separate post) who met with a congregation of around 800 – 1200 people in the town.
Ironside is a little confused here.  On p22 he states that Darby ‘began a work in Plymouth’ at the request of Newton, On p31 he claims that the meeting at Plymouth was well under way when Darby first visited!  Take your pick!  I shall attempt to discover the truth from other more objective accounts.
Although Darby was at first welcomed at Plymouth,  Newton had attended a number of Darby’s prophetic conferences at Powerscourt, and were found himself significantly at odds with Darby on several issues.

On this point, with complete ‘impartiality,’ Ironside writes,
This was the man who was destined to be the means of rending the Brethren asunder, or at least he was the figure over whom the storm broke.  In the minds of many he is to this day the very incarnation of iniquitous teaching.”  p32.  No wonder, then, the ‘disclaimer’ at the start of the chapter!
In April 184 5 B W Newton issued a statement, illustrating his differences with Darby and the other Powerscourt Brethren…
  1. The 12 apostles represent believers in acknowledged acceptance before God.
  2. The four Gospels are Christian Scriptures.  (Darby relegated Matthew or sections of it for the Jews only)
  3. The early church were fully partakers of the heavenly calling, and not semi-Jewish or semi Christian.
  4. The epistles of Peter, Hebrews, are not of. Lower character than Ephesians or Colossians.
  5. The introduction of Jewish references or circumstances into a NT passage does not necessarily make the subject matter Jewish.
  6. Peter and the early church testified to the ascension and heavenly glory of Jesus, equal with Paul.
  7. There is no salvation and no life apart from union with the Son of God, and all who so rise in him are sons of God.
  8. The church is under covenant promise, as much as Israel shall be, and in no sense above dispensation.
  9. The resurrection of Christ in the resurrection IN Christ is never regarded in Scripture save as abolishing all personal distinctions such as that of Jew and Gentile among the partakers thereof.
  10. Heavenly as well as earthly blessings were included in the promises to Abraham, and that God never intended to accomplish one branch of these promises without also adding the other.
  11. The ‘household of faith’ is equivalent to ’the church.’
  12. The various expressions etc applied in Scripture to the church … do not imply that the church is correspondingly divided not distinct and separating compartments.
  13. Abraham and the OT Saints are equally included with the church in NT passages such as ’the dead in Christ shall rise first.’
(Ironside doesn’t bother with trivial matters like sources or references, or a bibliography so I need to check this elsewhere)
A second area of difficulty and divergence was in how the various assemblies should relate to each other.  In particular:
  1. Who should be received at the ‘breaking of bread?’  The very early meetings had no restrictions as to denominational affiliation.  The guiding principle was the the brethren totally eschewed denominationalism, and welcomed all true believers to the Lord’s Table, so long as they could give evidence of saving faith in Christ.  As the movement grew this became more restrictive, with a tendency to allow only those associated with the brethren to the attend the table.  Darby had written to Kelly in 1839, “…we receive all the Lord has received, all who have fled as poor sinners for refuge to the hope set before them, and rest not in themselves but in Christ as their hope.” p.35
  2. How could church discipline be maintained?  Should disciplines imposed in one assembly apply in other assemblies?  Darby taught what became known as ‘exclusivism.’  This was the belief that assemblies should act in unison in matters of discipline.  This alarmed some of the other Brethren, such as A N Groves, who saw in this a return to ‘denominationalism.’
Darby had been preaching on the Continent from 1835-45, particularly in Switzerland but back home at Plymouth, some of the Brethren were becoming restless with the growing divergence between their leading elder, Newton, and Darby and other Brethren.  A contact was made with Darby, and although Darby denied that he had been summoned to Plymouth, he made his way back to the assembly there, and began a series of meetings which many of the disaffected members of Newton’s flock attended.  Needless to say this caused great resentment among the Brethren who supported Newton.  Ironside, typically takes the side of Darby, writing that Darby’s account of the episode seems, ‘a very fair account.’    But more of this in Chapter 4, where Ironside goes over old ground again.
The chapter closes with a timely reminder that the real origin of discord among the Lord’s people is Satan.

From → The Brethren

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: