In 1882 J. N. Darby died “old and full of years.” His life began with the 19th century and he lived through more than four-fifths of it. He was the great outstanding figure of “Brethrenism,” though he never accepted the “Darbyism” of many who professed to follow him. Dr. James H. Brookes, in whose church Mr. Darby held two weeks’ meeting while in St. Louis in the 70’s, considered him one of the greatest Bible scholars of his generation. His published writings in English, including three volumes of letters, comprise 44 volumes. He wrote voluminously also in German and French and to a lesser extent in Italian. He translated the New Testament into Italian and the entire Bible into French, German and English, (except the later Old Testament Books, which not being completed in English at the time of his death were translated from his French and German Bibles by his helpers in the work). His style of writing is not easy to read, though he could, on occasions write the purest of English. In a letter to C. H. Mackintosh, commending his “Notes on the Pentateuch,” he said, “You write to be understood. I only think on paper.”
Mr. Darby was not, however, a good judge of human nature. He was easily imposed on by designing men and often used unconsciously to further schemes of which he did not at heart approve. “All my pets turn out badly,” he said on one occasion.
In his later years he was largely under the influence of J. Butler Stoney, a man of undoubted piety and ability but whose subjective teaching was considered by many as being anything but healthful spiritually. We have seen how he was persuaded to acquiesce in the Park Street decision that resulted in the Kelly Division. Many believed that had he withstood that piece of ecclesiastical folly the divisions that followed might never have occurred. In America F. W. Grant had become by 1880 the leading figure among the exclusive Brethren. His platform gifts were not of a high order but as a teacher he was unexcelled. Many consider him, to this day, the superior of Darby himself in accuracy and spiritual insight, but he always held himself as but a disciple greatly indebted to J. N. Darby. Up to the last, the two were fast friends, though for a number of years there had been slight doctrinal differences between them. But they were in no sense fundamental, although resulting in division after Darby passed away. They concerned the exact application of the 7th of Romans, the sealing of the Spirit, the impartation of life and other minor details. Undoubtedly on these subjects there was wide room for diverse views and there had been different schools of thought among the Brethren for years. But after J. N. Darby died there was an effort made by English leaders to force this particular teaching on all, which resulted in disaster.
Several years before the Montreal or Grant Division there was considerable friction in Canada over the question of “Sealing.” When is a believer sealed with the Spirit? Mr. Darby and his adherents answered, “When he believes the gospel.” Others said, “When he trusts in Christ.” To the ordinary mind there might not seem to be any difference between the two answers. But to the theologian (and all Brethren seemed suddenly to become theologians) the difference is immense!
Let me illustrate by an actual occurrence-the earliest of which I can get any record:
F. W. Grant was editing a periodical called “Helps by the Way,” about the year 1879 or 1880 and was living in Toronto. R. T. Grant, his brother, was there on a visit. On Lord’s day it was mentioned in the assembly that a young man, who had been converted on what proved afterwards to be his death-bed had expressed a desire to partake of the Lord’s Supper ere he passed away. This was made much of and it was decided that he must be examined as particularly as though he were to be actually received into the now rigid Toronto meeting, so far had these brethren drifted from their first principles.
Two brethren were deputized to call on him and report to the gathering. He was very weak but they catechized him most unmercifully. Finally he said wearily, “I can’t answer all your questions, but I know I am trusting Jesus, Is not that enough?” “Not at all,” one replied. His aged father (a Baptist) was sitting by the bedside and indignantly asked, “Pray what more is required?” “He must be sealed by the Spirit ere he can be permitted the communion, and he cannot be sealed till he sees the finished work of Christ,” they replied. And so he was refused the hallowed privilege of obedience to his Saviour’s request, “This do in remembrance of me.” For ere this wretched meddling could be rectified by wiser and more gracious Brethren, he was absent from the body and present with the Lord. R. T. Grant was at the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper when they gave their report. His soul was filled with holy indignation and he expressed his abhorrence of such supercilious conduct in stern language. Returning to his room, he wrote a paper for his brother’s magazine on “When is the Believer Sealed?” pointing out that nowhere is it said that sealing is dependent on a certain understanding of the gospel scheme but that the Spirit seals all who believe in Christ at once and until the day of redemption. This drew down upon him the ire of English Brethren who thought they saw in it a direct attack on J. N. Darby’s views. Lord Adelbert P. Cecil, a brilliant but eccentric young nobleman who had become an earnest and able evangelist (but who was in no true sense a teacher), wrote the editor, who on his part returned it saying that if purged from its abusive expressions he would publish it but not otherwise. Cecil rewrote it and it was published, and with it a note from F. W. Grant inviting comment and explaining that he was not himself clear on the subject. All this was related to me by R. T. Grant himself.
From Mr. Darby’s sickroom in England there came forth a pamphlet entitled “The Sealing of the Spirit” to which F. W. Grant gave much thought and attention, but the aged leader had died ere the editor of “Helps” could prepare his own statement. Never dreaming of its being construed as a personal attack on a dead man, F. W. Grant finally published his matured convictions. These being challenged by many he prepared a larger booklet, entitled, “Life in Christ and Sealing with the Spirit,” which became the immediate cause of division.
Let me digress long enough to say that even this difference did not alienate the two great teachers. In Feb. 1881 Mr. Darby wrote F. W. Grant the following which proves the contrary:
Thank you for your very kind letter. We both believe that the blessed Lord is at all times sufficient for His church, both in love and faithfulness and power. Nor does the state of the saints expose them by the departure of any one to what it was at the first. The church is not a concentrated whole as it was then. Still I believe my going would make a change; not that I have an idea that anything depends on me. God forbid it should. How could it? Depend on what?
A man can receive nothing except it be given him from above. But the last link with the first start of this truth would be gone. If it does come may it only link them more together. But I am much better. I was as low as I could well be, and the bad fall I had at Dundee shook me, I do not doubt, more than I thought. My heart and lungs were a feeble spring to my body, but this, like all the rest, is in the Lord’s hand. Last night I did not even sit up any part of the night. At first I had to sit up all night, though propped up and sleeping. I take a little food, too, at night. I had long felt my place was to be quiet here, so the Lord in His wisdom kept me here. Thank God my mind is as clear as ever and I enjoy the Word and the Lord’s goodness, I suppose more than ever. At first I could not long find to work. Now I do as much as usual, only I don’t hold meetings save one reading for laborers at the house. I went last Lord’s day morning. My lungs are the most sensibly weak. I have not been ill, but knocked up and overworked. There is a great desire for the Word, I may say, everywhere, and blessing, too, in the way of conversions in a good many places. The shake has done the Brethren a great deal of good, though we are far from what we ought to be, but there is more healthfulness of tone and regards towards God. A great effort in South London to make a party, but none active in it. I think that anybody who knows them respects them, and they labor on under God’s hand to bring about His judgment concerning themselves. And the rest go on quietly and leave it all to Him, and so I trust they will. I am sure He is faithful and true. What a comfort it is to think he watches over us and condescend to take notice of all our need and to order our ways.
I work morning and afternoon as far as I can, and in the evening let the strain go and indulge in the Word and feed on His own love. One of my present studies is Adonai. Please tell Robert (I sent a message) that I will write when I can, though I answer some daily, I have still an arrear of close on thirty letters, which are a pull on me. The Lord be with you and guide you in your work. Love to the brethren. Affect, yours in the Lord,
J. N. Darby
The original of this is in possession of the Grant family.
With F. W. Grant it was purely a question of truth. In his booklet he taught that divine and therefore eternal life was the possession of believers in all dispensations, “Life in the Son,” who was ever the fountain of life. But that in the present age of grace the knowledge of eternal life is given through the Word and that all who receive Christ possess it and are immediately sealed by the Spirit. The man in the 7th of Romans had both life and the Spirit but did not have experimental knowledge of either till he saw his place in Christ risen, as set forth in Romans 8.
All this was attacked by Cecil and others as heterodoxy of a virulent character. It was said that F. W. G. taught that Old Testament saints were in the Godhead a monstrous misconception. Many, however, who were favorably disposed toward Mr. Grant thought it would have been wiser if he had been less pronounced, and particularly advised him not to publish his pamphlet. He sent it in manuscript to a number of teaching brethren, asking for a candid consideration of his positions on the controverted points. Many agreed with him. Others were neutral. While as mentioned above the strict Darbyites (I do not mean to use the term offensively) thought it very dangerous propaganda and not only counselled him not to make it public but predicted division if he did. He replied, “If the truth will divide us, the sooner we are broken to pieces the better.” This was construed to mean that he was determined to head a schism.
But I think it best to let a brother tell the rest of the pitiful story, who passed through it himself. I quote from a statement by Wm. Banford of La Chute, Quebec:
I have been seeking to know, for my own satisfaction at least, when the first abberations as to eternal life began. It was admitted to us in England by a leading brother that J. N. D. held during part of his ministry, the same views in the main as F. W. G. on eternal life and sealing. As near as I can find the modification of these views came in at the end of the 60’s, and in connection with Rom. 7, Rom_8:1-9. This was the question of Deliverance, of course: but the new views gradually necessitated the bringing in also of a difference between the life received at new birth and eternal life received at some later time, the former characterizing the one in Rom. 7 - the latter that of one in the full Christian place as in Rom. 8. It has never been made clear by those who held these strange views, whether one must receive the Holy Spirit and eternal life to be delivered, or be delivered to receive either or both. F. W. G. took the whole question up in the full teaching of Scripture and put it before his Brethren. None among those who opposed him have ever attempted this. They have never put forth any consistent teaching of Scripture for the new views. There are only detached expressions on certain passages relating to eternal Life and sealing which run directly contrary to the teaching of many other portions, and there is no attempt to bring out a consistent line of truth or to explain the differences.
For us since Christianity was established our being born again is under the shelter of the blood of Christ, and being so is sealed by the Holy Spirit, as in the type the oil was put upon the blood. For us the types of the passover, Red Sea and Jordan coalesce. Under the shelter of the blood of the Lamb of God we are (not only safe but) saved from the judgment of God: - pilgrims in the wilderness, and in Christ in the heavenlies. This is our standing in Christ by sovereign grace. The knowledge and experience of all this glorious portion is all learned gradually from the Word of God, and we need to have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us to lead us into all this. But all is ours from the first moment of faith, and it is now fully admitted (which was denied 28 years ago) that faith cannot be separated from new birth-a born-again believer and a believer has eternal life and the Holy Spirit.
The effect of the new teaching, however, was to turn souls in upon themselves to learn whether they had received the Holy Spirit yet or no. J. N. D. referred frequently to these conditions as coming out everywhere in the 70’s, although he attributed them to an entirely wrong source. “No matter where we begin our readings,” he would say, “it is not long before we are in the seventh of Romans.” It also developed the thought of a class among believers (I don’t forget the new teaching that a merely born-again person cannot be called a believer, though this is being largely modified)-who had eternal life in contrast with another which had only new birth.
Along with this error as to “life” and “sealing” came in another and these two were very rife in the 70’s. I refer to the teaching as to the church which became so exaggerated that it largely threw into the shade the true ministry of Christ. The central error of this was (more or less modified by one or another) that it had such wonderful place, such wonderful authority and power-that whatsoever it bound or loosed on earth was bound and loosed in heaven whether right or wrong. Many were the discussions arising over these things among young and old during many years preceding the fatal days of ‘80 to ‘85. The moral sense revolted against the view, but it carried many of us along who wanted, doubtless, to be considered in the advanced class. I was myself quite along with these doctrinal and ecclesiastical views.
When Lord A. P. C. came to Canada from England several months before the culmination of his course, he visited many of the gatherings in the large centers of Canada and the eastern states and continuously carried on a deliberate campaign of attack on F. W. G. Thus far F. W. G. had only put out an edition of about 80 copies of his small tract, entitled, “Life and the Spirit.” He sent these to leading brothers in Britain and America, drawing attention briefly to errors coming in and developing among us. A. P. C.’s attack came on because of this. F. W. G. had not yet put out his large tract “Life in Christ and Sealing with the Spirit.” It is true (though I have not seen it used as a reason) that he had also earlier written openly against the “Unity of Church in a City” such as existed in London, because of its unscripturalness and the dangerous influence thus given, and sort of metropolitanism. This roused leaders over there into great bitterness against him. But the public attack began because of the small tract, which being for the leading brothers alone, showed how above-board this servant of God was. This is not the way of a heretic. If there were heresy (that is in the sense of division making) A. P. C.’s whole course during those many months indicate that he was a heretic. But we make no charge. He has to do with God about that. And no charge was made against him for this, though it might well have been. The whole line of attack came from him. He constantly quoted and read from letters from English Brethren, as being behind him. He also publicly threatened F. W. G. with penalties at a general meeting, if he put out his larger pamphlet which went more into details, and which was already prepared, entitled “Life in Christ and Sealing with the Spirit.” But why should not a servant of the Lord put forth the word which he firmly holds to as the truth? We are all too prone to keep back the truth lest others should be offended, but would he be a faithful servant of God who would do so? Who is it who says: “He that hath my Word let him speak my Word faithfully” (Jer_23:8); and again, “Let the prophets speak two or three and let the others judge” (1Co_14:29). Would he be fitted to be a servant of God in such a world as this who would quail before any threat of church penalties and withhold the truth given of God? It is said: “he might have waited till the storm had passed over!” Then he would have waited forever, I believe, for truth must always force its way here. Faith looks up to God its source, and not to man or even “the church.” Where would early Christianity have been if God’s servants had waited for the south wind to blow softly? Or the Reformation? Or any movement of the Spirit of God at any time in old days or new? The time to give out truth is when God gives it, . . . and when the time comes when “the church” says to God’s servant: “You shall not put out what you have under penalties” that order of things has about reached its limit in the holy government of God. J. N. D.’s voice comes in here as the voice of a man of God indeed; that was already well forgotten 28 years ago. “Do not mind the whole church (they are but chaff) when they interfere with our responsibility to the Lord. Exercise the gift in subjection to God’s Word, and those who will judge let them judge” (Coll. writings, Vol. 31, page 459). F. W. G. put out his pamphlet, the publishers assumed the responsibility of it in spite of threats from England, and how many since have thanked God for the edification they found in it!
In the meantime, for local reasons doubtless, Montreal was found by A. P. C. to be a congenial place to bring his work to a head, with the assistance of Mr. Mace who was having gospel meetings in Albert Hall, and Mr. Baynes, the aged gospeler beloved by the rank and file of the gathering. Both were popular on the gospel’s account. There he carried on his agitation until the news reached F. W. G. from different sources that there was grave danger of division. This brought him rightly to Montreal, for if division had taken place, those who blame him for going would probably have been the first to blame him for not going. All such questions must be left with God and His servant. He went avowedly to prevent any such thing as division, and pressed repeatedly that there was no reason for it in the differences between A. P. C. and himself, or other Brethren who were claimed to be behind A. P. C
A strong party was formed at Montreal and there was great secrecy. The paper of the 38 rejecting the ministry of F. W. G. was signed and read at a meeting called. Few of the signers knew anything about what they signed, and young persons and simple people signed this paper, calling upon the Lord’s people and His servants everywhere to reject his ministry, who scarce could have any spiritual exercises or knowledge of these things.
Brethren hoped the agitation would end with this, but not so. Emboldened by evident success, and a majority of the meeting assured, they pressed on and soon this party assumed to be the assembly. Under the new ecclesiastical practices this was easily accomplished. Protests of godly men were quietly ignored, letters from Brethren and assemblies elsewhere were not allowed to be read and it was announced that no outside interference would be allowed. Another meeting was called, the last of many, and in spite of a large number of protests, representing 40 persons, the action was taken, and F. W. G. was an excommunicated man.
The paper prepared beforehand was read by Mr. B. and several brothers protested moderately and sorrowfully, and it was evident there was no power to carry it through. It was read a second time, and again several brothers protested, many more than spoke in favor of it, and it was plain the conscience of the assembly was against it. It could not go through. How was it going to be done then? Mr. B. read his prepared paper a third time, and called on those in favor of it to stand up. Very few were present that night-the poor sheep were frightened and scattered, but it was declared carried, and Mr. Hart read Mat_18:18. They didn’t call for the “Nays.” That would be too low ground for the church to take! A brother asked if this action was final. Mr. B. replied that it was. A brother from Hamilton who dropped into the room that night not knowing what was on said: “I cannot accept this as an assembly judgment.” Mr. B. replied-”I cannot help that.”
Let it be remembered that this scene was the finale of an indescribable period of many months duration, that many of the protesting brothers were already “silenced” by authority of this party, that outside Brethren were publicly notified they would be allowed no voice, that it was promised publicly that other gatherings would be attended to when they were through with Montreal, that they refused to allow letters from other gatherings to be read, that all was being done deliberately and in fellowship with others elsewhere already worked up by A. P. C. and Mr. Mace, that A. P. C. claimed he represented English Brethren, that by his canvas he knew he could depend on many in the leading centers in the states, that Mr. Mace was already away working in Ottawa and Toronto, that the gathering for months knew only constant attack and denouncement of F. W. G. and all who did not fall in with A. P. C.; that it was intimated they were going to deal with others one by one or in lots in the meeting; and we can realize the hopelessness of continuing a protest which had already gone on so long. It was as useless as protesting to a hurricane. I was a silent witness at most of the meetings after F. W. G. came. He of course was away at Ottawa and elsewhere for some time before the last act.
This culmination of the whole movement, this final rejection of a servant of Christ along with the formal deliberate rejection of him as a minister of the Word of God, and so the truth for which he stood, the assumption of a party to be the Assembly, the assumption of Eldership, the violence, the attaching the Holy Name of the Lord to this solemn iniquity, give for all who want the will of God, the character now fastened upon this meeting. Up to this final act our protesting Brethren rightly bore all, including the act of the 38 rejecting and refusing the precious ministry of F. W. G. an act the consequences of which remain still most disastrously for all who endorse it. But now an overt act is committed putting away unrighteously in spite of all protests, and these Brethren who have gone on thus far can go on no longer. They must either endorse this action of a party assuming to be the assembly and join in this act, or separate from it to keep a good conscience and communion with God. They were hitherto willing-pleaded-for continuance with N. H. H., with F. W. G. but they would listen to nothing.
It is necessary to explain some things in this statement. Lord Cecil went to Plainfield, New Jersey, where F. W. Grant then lived (having moved from Toronto shortly before) and where there was a large assembly. He tried to prove that the “new teaching” was heretical and demanded that the booklet be withdrawn and not published. But others felt he had no right so to act and reproved him for his violent language and insisted that the book be published that all might consider the teaching. Cecil then went to Montreal where he forced a division. Henceforth, there were in America two kinds of exclusives: one known as the Natural History Hall party (from the name of the meeting-place in Montreal) affiliated with the Park Street party in England, and the other known as the Grant party. Approximately three-fourths of the exclusives in Canada and the states refused the Natural History Hall judgment and sided with Mr. Grant, not necessarily endorsing all he taught but as protesting against such high-handed methods as those employed by Cecil and his associates.
These insisted that the Lord’s authority was behind their action and it must be bowed to. If any refused to own the judgment as of God they were excommunicated.
Thus the game of “playing church” went ruthlessly on to the . scandal of the godly and the delight of the carnal.
In the course of years the Brethren of the so-called Grant party have attempted again and again to heal the breech, but thus far it seems hopeless, though many individuals and assemblies have thrown down the barriers erected in 1884.
Lord Cecil was drowned shortly after the division was consummated, in the Bay of Quinte, off Lake Ontario. He was an earnest man, of rare devotion, but not fitted by natural gifts nor by grace for the place he assumed. Upon getting news of his death F. W. Grant wired to R. T. G. (who was in California): “Dear Cecil is drowned and with him goes all hope of healing the division.”
Sixty years have gone by and it still exists. In the meantime the London party has broken into six or more fragments while the Grant party has been added to each time by distressed and exercised individuals and whole assemblies returning to it, or as some would say amalgamating with it.
F. W. Grant put forth much written ministry, notably “Facts and Theories as to the Future State” which Charles H. Spurgeon said gave “the last word on the right side of every question discussed”; the “Numerical Structure of Scripture” and the “Numerical Bible” an exceptionally helpful commentary taking cognizance of the spiritual meaning of Scripture numerals, which however, he did not live to complete. He was never strong physically and died a comparatively young man in 1901, at his home in Plainfield.
I called on the veteran “Open” brother, Donald Ross, in Chicago just after word came of F. W. G.’s demise. Mr. Ross was a patriarchal figure with long flowing beard. He sat in a big chair and when his son Chas. Ross mentioned that I was with the exclusives he asked sharply “which branch?” I replied, “With those who refused the judgment against F. W. G.” “Oh,” he said, “I’m glad of that.” Then after a moment or two of silence, he exclaimed, “Frederick Grant is in heaven!” “Yes,” I replied, “He is with the Lord.”
“Frederick Grant is in heaven!” he declared a second time with peculiar energy. Again I answered as before. Almost fiercely he exclaimed, “I tell you Frederick Grant’s in heaven! Aye-and they were glad to get him there! A little clique of them tried to cast him out of the church of God on earth. They let him die, so far as they were concerned, in the place of the drunkard or the blasphemer. But oh, what a welcome he received up there! And he’s with Cecil now and the two are reconciled. Soon I’ll be there too- and we’ll all have fellowship together at last.” Then musingly, he added, “Aye, aye, Frederick Grant was cast out himself, and yet he would not have had fellowship with me down here. But we’ll all be together up there!”
A few months passed by and Donald Ross had also joined “the choir invisible” whose one song shall ever be, “Unto him that loved us and hath made us kings and priests.”
What a pity persons destined to such glorious privileges misunderstand one another so sadly on earth!