The vexed question of what has since been called “the relation of assemblies to assemblies,” or “the inter-relation of assemblies,” was what eventually divided the Brethren into two great camps, afterwards denominated “open” and “exclusive.”
As early as 1838, Mr. G. V. Wigram, one of Mr. Darby’s most intimate associates, wrote:
“My Dear Friend and Brother: There is a matter exercising the minds of us at this present time in which you may be (and in some sense certainly are) concerned. The question I refer to is, ‘How are meetings for communion of saints in these parts to be regulated?’ Would it be for the glory of the Lord and the increase of testimony, to have one central meeting the common responsibility of all within reach, and as many meetings subordinate to it as grace might vouchsafe? Or to hold it to be better to allow the meetings to grow up as they may without connection and dependent upon the energy of individuals only? I think I have no judgment in the matter, save that (as those who have the fellowship of the divine mind) our service ought to be intelligent, and whatever is done to be done wittingly. As to feeling, I do indeed long to find myself more distinctly associated with those who as brethren will feel and bear their measure of responsibility, but this is all I can say; for truly, provided there be in London some place where the wanderer can find rest and communion, my desire is met; though the glory of the Lord will of course be still to be cared for.
“I am, dear brother, yours in Jesus, Oct. 6, 1838. G. V. W.”
It is very evident from the wording of this letter that up to the time it was written, there was no definite teaching among the Brethren as to the question afterwards forced upon them by unlooked-for events.
Another seven years passed with no concerted effort to arrive at the mind of the Lord in this matter. Had there been some far-sighted and influential men of God among them who would have taken the responsibility of calling a conference of accredited leaders to discuss the whole question in the light of the open Bible, division might possibly have been averted. I say might possibly, for I cannot but think the pride and self-will of many was what forced division at last and if this state had not first been judged, no amount of teaching as to “principles,” however Scriptural, would have preserved the unity.
In 1845 Mr. Darby went to Plymouth, where he found, as he had been warned he would find, an entirely new order of things prevailing. Mr. Newton, as we have seen, had given up his early views, both as to Christian fellowship and as to many details of prophecy. Probably in some points he never had been in full harmony with the rest of the teachers, and his system was in part rather a development than a declension. But at any rate the Plymouth meeting was now quite at variance with the assemblies generally. There was no longer room for open ministry as the Spirit might lead. Mr. Newton and his co-laborer, J. L. Harris, were the recognized elders. They ministered turn about each Lord’s day morning, their sermons largely consuming the time, and the breaking of bread occupying a secondary place. Certain persons were authorized or deputed by them to participate in minor things, even to the giving out of and the starting of hymns.
Mr. Darby found himself persona non grata with the leaders and their chief adherents as soon as he appeared.
Should he have simply gone away and left things to work out as the Lord might overrule, or was it best to remain and oppose the accepted pastors, whom he believed were misleading the rank and file? These questions are hard to answer. At any rate he remained and that for several months. During this time his presence encouraged a minority who were greatly distressed over existing conditions. He protested publicly and privately against what he considered to be the sectarianism and clericalism of the new order. He drew the attention of other leading men in various parts to the conditions existing there. Several conferences were held with responsible brethren, but Mr. Newton refused to be present at any such meetings and declared he would consider all such efforts to bring about an understanding as unwarranted interference. He offered to meet a few for an investigation provided he be permitted to appoint four of his friends and Mr. Darby four of his. This the latter refused, as he felt it was a matter for the whole assembly and not a personal quarrel between himself and Mr. Newton.
Finally, convinced that the Ebrington Street assembly no longer occupied the ground on which Brethren had been meeting, he withdrew from its fellowship, and with a few like-minded brethren secured another hall where a new gathering was started on the last Lord’s day of the year 1845.
Mr. William Trotter writing of this says:
At first Mr. Darby’s act was judged by brethren almost everywhere to be rash and premature. They had not been inside the scene, and so knew but little of the system that had been introduced. Several of those who went down to Plymouth to inquire, found things so much worse than they had any conception of, that they also separated from Mr. Newton and his party. One thing which seems to have weighed greatly with these brethren was the corruption of moral integrity, and the system of intrigue and deception which attended the evil. In April, 1846, a meeting of brethren from all parts was held in London for common humiliation and prayer, where the tokens of the Lord’s presence were graciously vouchsafed to us, and from that time the eyes of brethren seemed to open to the evil. Mr. Newton and his friends were invited to that meeting but refused to attend. They printed their reasons for refusing, which were widely circulated.
Mr. Darby’s Narrative of Facts’*(4) was printed soon after, and in the autumn of that year a series of meetings was held in Rawstorne Street, London, very important in their origin, character, and results. They originated in a visit of Mr. Newton’s to certain brethren in the neighborhood of Rawstorne Street and breaking bread there. He held some Scripture readings at the house of one of them, after which he stated that his errand to town partly was to meet any brethren who were wishful of information as to the charges brought against him in the Narrative of Facts. Most providentially Mr. Darby was at the time in London. He had come to town on his way to France, and had got his passports, changed his money and was ready to depart, when brethren waited on him to detain him till efforts were made to bring about an open investigation of the whole case, with accused and accuser face to face. The brethren to whom Mr. Newton had offered to give information proposed to him this open investigation. It was proposed to him again and again by others, but steadily and invariably refused. The brethren meeting at Rawstorne street then assembled, and after united prayer and consultation concluded that Mr. Newton could not be admitted to the Lord’s table there, so long as he refused to satisfy their consciences as to the grave charges alleged against him.
In connection with these events there were three documents issued by Mr. Newton and his party. One a paper by Mr. Newton himself in answer to the charges of untruthfulness. Another by his four co-rulers at Plymouth assigning reasons for his non-attendance at Rawstorne street to satisfy the consciences of saints meeting there. Also a remonstrance addressed by the Plymouth rulers to the brethren meeting at Rawstorne street on their exclusion of Mr. Newton from the Lord’s table. All these were examined at large in four tracts entitled Accounts of the proceedings at Rawstorne street in November and December, 1846. These four tracts are very important as showing the dishonesty connected with the system of which the three papers before named were a defense. The proceedings at Rawstorne street, and the publications growing out of them, cleared the souls of many; and in February, 1847, a meeting was held in the same place, attended by many brethren from the country, in which nearly all those who had been at all looked up to amongst brethren gave their solemn testimony as to the evil system which had grown up at Plymouth, and as to the need of absolute and entire separation from it. The testimonies of Messrs. M’Adam, Harris, Lean, Hall, Young, and others, were all most solemn and decisive. There was scarcely a brother, whose name was well known amongst brethren as laboring in the word and watching for souls, who did not at that time acquiesce in the sorrowful necessity for separation from this evil and demoralizing system.
The entire matter was looked at from a very different standpoint by many others. Mr. Henry Groves expresses their feelings as follows: In this melancholy year, that was to test professions of a heavenly calling made and sacred truths held (as it proved, too much in the head and too little in the heart by both teacher and scholar), Mr. Darby comes to Plymouth, and finds Mr. Newton’s influence paramount. What an opportunity for grace to shine in! for Christ to triumph in the saint over self! But, alas! self triumphed over Christ on both sides of the conflict, though in different ways; and the schismatic spirit of “I am of Newton,” and “I am of Darby,” came in and carried all before it, but those who had been really walking before God. These could but sigh and weep for the sin and wickedness carried on in the holy name of Jesus, and keep aloof from that which so dishonored the Lord. In Corinth, Paul would take no part in the unholy strife that was going on, amongst those who contended to belonging to Paul, to Peter, or to Apollos. He was content to remain the servant, and not to become the master; for he belonged to all, and sought to raise them out of their sectarianism, by telling them that Paul, and Cephas, and Apollos, were alike theirs- theirs to serve in the bonds of the gospel; and in the same spirit the eloquent teacher, Apollos, could not be persuaded by Paul to come among them, as if to keep himself out of sight, that the crucified Lord might eclipse himself as well as Paul.
The result of this acting in grace was, that in the Second Epistle we read nothing of the divisions that marked the First Epistle - grace and forbearance had triumphed over self and schism. The grace of the teachers in Corinth was, however, wanting in Plymouth; and regardless of the unity of the body that had been boasted in, and the command to keep the unity of the Spirit that had been taught, Mr. Darby meets what he considers the sectarianism of another by a sectarianism of his own which he consummates by making a division among the saints with whom he had been in fellowship from the commencement; and that, notwithstanding the remonstrance of most of the brethren who came from a distance to investigate the state of things in Ebrington street, where till now all had met in fellowship. Having affected the division, he spread a table elsewhere on the last Sunday of that sorrowful and eventful year, which was in future to be exclusively “the table of the Lord,” around which himself and his followers were to rally. From this meeting in December, 1845, we must date the rise of Darbyism, and its development into a distinct and self-excommunicated body, separated on grounds subversive of the great truth around which, as opposed to all sectarianism, “the Brethren” had sought to rally the saints of God; namely, that the blood of the Lamb was the basis of the union of the family of heaven: as Mr. Darby expressed it, “to receive all who are on the foundation.”
The grounds of this melancholy division were, as we gather from Mr. Darby’s Narrative, sectarianism, clericalism, and erroneous prophetic views. There was no charge of heresy; there was not one Scriptural ground on which the separation could be justified; but, as if there had been no injunction to mutual forbearance and long-suffering, and as if the blood of the Lamb no longer constituted the sure foundation of all true fellowship here, as it is of all the fellowship in the glory; we find Mr. Darby either excommunicating the saints with whom for so many years he had been in fellowship, or perhaps more correctly, excommunicated himself; in either case, rending the body of the Lord, and saying in fact, as one of old, who had no mother’s heart to yearn over the child, “Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.” Oh, for the bowels of Christ Jesus, the heart of the loving Master, that yearned in the apostle, that would have sacrificed self a thousand times on the altar of the Lord for His body’s sake! Where was the love that travailed in birth again till Christ was formed in the Galatian churches-the love that gave a mother’s solicitude for the people of God that could not cut them off, though in love to them it wished that the false teachers might be even cut off for their sakes? Oh, the awful sin of schism! but a brother’s sin is our own, ours to bear in priestly power before the altar. Let this be remembered, and a brother’s sin will cause grief and not bitterness; and the dishonor to God and the shame to ourselves we shall seek to bear in tears before our God, as did Daniel and Jeremiah. How clearly these actings prove that real love to the Lord, and value for the unity of His body, had declined; that leaders wanted to maintain their own opinions and keep their own followers; and that these followers had made their leaders and their opinions the real bond of their union, instead of Christ Himself, who binds all into the same bundle of eternal life with Himself, the Lord and Master of them all. Alas! how had the fine gold thus early become dim, and the silver turned to dross. “To us belong shame and confusion of face.”
A sober consideration of the whole matter after the lapse of nearly a century will probably make one feel that the truth is in neither extreme. Undoubtedly things were in a bad state at Plymouth. Many were sighing and longing for deliverance who did not know what to do nor where to turn.
Mr. Darby felt that Plymouth’s example might be copied in other places and self-willed men might thereby shipwreck the entire movement. That he had no thought of starting a new movement nor of setting up a counter-system, two somewhat obscurely-worded papers of his, written about this time, make clear. They are somewhat lengthy, but I think they are of value as showing the working of his mind. He evidently desired to do the will of God at whatever cost, but he was himself in great perplexity. Nevertheless, these papers prove, I think, conclusively that he had no conception of the importance and the far-reaching effect of the step he took in separating from the main meeting on the sole charges of clericalism, sectarianism and moral condition. In conversation sometime afterward Mr. Robert Chapman of Barnstaple said, “You should have waited before acting as you did.” Mr. Darby replied, “I waited six months and there was no repentance,” or words to that effect. Mr. Chapman replied that at Barnstaple they would have waited six years ere taking a step that would have so divided the brethren.
The impression left on my mind is that Mr. Darby was over-zealous for what he conceived to be the glory of God and was not actuated by pride and self-will. But God alone can judge of this. He was a comparatively young man still. For less than 20 years he had been one of the recognized leaders of the new movement and it seemed to him he was called upon to save the testimony from utter shipwreck. But let the reader judge of his spirit and his views at this time from a perusal of the papers that follow:
I believe that the churches have been merged in the mass of ecclesiastical popular hierarchism and lost; but I believe also that the visible church, as it is called, has been merged there too.
Still there is a difference, because churches were the administrative form, while the church, as a body on the earth, was the vital unity.
What I felt from the beginning, and began with, was this: the Holy Ghost remains, and, therefore, the essential principle of unity with His presence; for (the fact is all we are now concerned in) wherever “two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
When this is really sought, there will certainly be blessing by His presence; we have found it so, most sweetly and graciously, who have met separately.
When there is an attempt at displaying the position and the unity, there will always be a mess and a failure; God will not take such a place with us.
We must get into the place of His mind, to get His strength. That is now the failure of the church; but there He will be with us.
I have always said this. I know it has troubled some, even those I especially love; but I am sure it is the Lord’s mind. I have said: We are the witnesses of the weakness and low estate of the church.
We are not stronger nor better than others (Dissenters, etc.), but we only own our bad and low state, and therefore can find blessing. I do not limit what the blessed Spirit can do for us in this low estate, but I take the place where he can do it.
Hence, government of bodies, in an authorized way, I believe there is none; where this is assumed, there will be confusion. It was here (Plymouth); and it was constantly and openly said, that this was to be a model, so that all in distant places might refer to it. My thorough conviction is, that conscience was utterly gone, save in those who were utterly miserable.
I only, therefore, so far seek the original standing of the church as to believe, that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, Christ will be, and that the Spirit of God is necessarily the only source of power, and that which He does will be blessing through the lordship of Christ. These provide for all times. If more be attempted now, it will be only confusion.
The original condition is owned as a sinner, or as a mutilated man owns integrity and a whole body. But there a most important point comes in: -I cannot supply the lack by human arrangement or wisdom; I must be dependent.
I should disown whatever was not of the Spirit, and in this sense disown whatever was-not short of the original standing; for that, in the complete sense, I am-but what man has done to fill it up; because this does not own the coming short, nor the Spirit of God. I would always own what is of God’s Spirit in any. The rule seems to be here very simple.
I do not doubt that dispensed power is disorganized; but the Holy Ghost is always competent to act in the circumstances God’s people are in. The secret is, not to pretend to get beyond it. Life and divine power are always there; and I use the members I have, with full confession that I am in an imperfect state.
We must remember that the body must exist, though not in a united state; and so, even locally. I can then, therefore, own their gifts, and the like, and get my warrant in two or three united for the blessing promised to that.
Then, if gifts exist, they cannot be exercised but as members of the body, because they are such, not by outward union, but by the vital power of the Head through the Holy Ghost.
“Visible body,” I suspect, misleads us a little. Clearly the corporate operation is in the actual living body down here on earth, but there it is the members must act; so that I do not think it makes a difficulty.
I believe if we were to act on 1Co_12:14 farther than power exists to verify it, we should make a mess.
But then the existence of the body, whatever its scattered condition, necessarily continues; because it depends on the existence of the Head, and its union with it. In this the Holy Ghost is necessarily supreme.
The body exists in virtue of there being one Holy Ghost. “There is one body and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling”; indeed this is the very point which is denied here [i.e. Plymouth].
Then Christ necessarily nourishes and cherishes us as His own flesh, as members of His body; and this goes on “till we all come,” etc. (Eph. 4). Hence, I apprehend we cannot deny the body .and its unity (whatever its unfaithfulness and condition), and (so far as the Holy Ghost is owned) His operation in it, without denying the divine title of the Holy Ghost, and the care and headship of Christ over the church.
Here I get, not a question of the church’s conduct, but of Christ’s; and the truth of the Holy Ghost being on earth, and His title when there; and yet the owning of Christ’s lordship. And this is how far I own others.
If a minister has gifts in the Establishment, I own it as through the Spirit, Christ begetting the member of, or nourishing, His body. But I cannot go along with what it is mixed up with, because it is not of the body nor of the Spirit. I cannot touch the unclean; I am to separate the precious from vile.
But I cannot give up Eph. 4 while I own the faithfulness of Christ. Now if we meet (yea, and when we do meet), all I look for is that this principle should be owned, because it is owning the Holy Ghost Himself, and that to me is everything.
We meet and worship; and at this time, we who have separated meet in different rooms, that we may in the truest and simplest way, in our weakness, worship. Then whatever the Holy Ghost may give to any one, He is supreme, to feed us with-perhaps nothing in the way of speaking-and it must be in the unity of the body.
If you were here, you could be in the unity of the body as one of ourselves. This Satan cannot destroy, because it is connected with Christ’s title and power.
If men set up to imitate the administration of the body, it will be popery or dissent at once.
And this is what I see of the visibility of the body; it connects itself with this infinitely important principle, the presence and action of the Holy Ghost on earth.
It is not merely a saved thing in the counsels of God, but a living thing animated down here by its union with the Head, and the presence of the Holy Ghost in it. It is a real actual thing, the Holy Ghost acting down here. If two are faithful in this, they will be blessed in it.
If they said, “We are the body,” not owning all the members (in whatever condition), they would morally cease to be of it. I own them, but in nothing their condition. The principle is all-important.
Christ has attached, therefore, its practical operation to “two or three”; and owns them by His presence. He has provided for its maintenance. Thus in all states of ruin, it cannot cease till He ceases to be Head, and the Holy Spirit to be as die Guide and the Comforter sent down.
God sanctioned the setting up of Saul; He never did the departure from the Holy Ghost. The “two or three” take definitely the place of the temple, which was the locality of God’s presence, as a principle of union. That is what makes all the difference. Hence, in the division of Israel, the righteous sought the temple as a point of unity, and David is to us here Christ by the Holy Ghost.
On the other hand, church-government, save as the Spirit is always power, cannot be acted on.
I suspect many brethren have had expectations, which never led me out, and which perplexed their minds when they were not met in practice. I never felt my testimony, for example, to be the ability of the Holy Ghost to rule a visible body. This I do not doubt; but I doubt its proper application now as a matter of testimony. It does not become us.
My confidence is in the certainty of God’s blessing, and maintaining us, if we take the place we are really in. That place is one of the general ruin of the dispensation. Still, I believe God has provided for the maintenance of its general principle (save persecution), that is, the gathering of a remnant into the comfort of united love by the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, so that Christ could sing praises there.
All the rest is a ministry to form, sustain, etc. Amongst other things, government may have its place; but it is well to remember, that, in general, government regards evil, and therefore is outside the positive blessing, and has the lowest object in the church.
Moreover, though there be a gift of government, in general, government is of a different order from gift. Gift serves, ministers, hardly government. These may be united as in apostolic energy. Elders were rather the government, but they were not gifts.
It is especially the order of the governmental part which (I believe) has failed, and that we are to get on without, at least in a formal way. But I do not believe that God has therefore not provided for such a state of things.
I believe “brethren” a good deal got practically out of their place, and the consciousness of it, and found their weakness: and the Lord is now teaching them. For my part, when I found all in ruin around me, my comfort was, that where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, there He would be. It was not government or anything else I sought. Now I do believe that God is faithful, and able to maintain the blessing.
I believe the great buildings and great bodies have been a mistake: indeed I always did. Further, I believe now (although it were always true in practice), the needed dealing with evil must be by the conscience in grace. So St. Paul ever dealt, though he had the resource of a positive commission. And I believe that two or three together, or a larger number, with some having the gift of wisdom in grace, can, in finding the mind of the Lord, act in discipline; and this, with pastoral care, is the mainspring of holding the saints together, in Matt. 18. This agreeing together is referred to as the sign of the Spirit’s power.
I do not doubt that some may be capable of informing the conscience of others. But the conscience of the body is that which is ever to be acted upon and set right. This is the character of all healthful action of this kind, though there may be a resource in present apostolic power, which, where evil has entered, may be wanting; but it cannot annul “where two or three agree, it shall be done.”
So that I see not the smallest need of submission to popery; (i. e., carnal unity by authority in the flesh), nor of standing alone; because God has provided for a gathering of saints together, founded on grace, and held by the operation of the Spirit, which no doubt may fail for want of grace, but which, in every remaining gift, has its scope; in which Christ’s presence and the operation of the Spirit is manifested, but must be maintained, on the ground of the condition the church really is in, or it would issue in a sect arranged by man, with a few new ideas.
Where God is trusted in the place, and for the place, we are in, and we are content to find Him infallibly present with us, there I am sure He is sufficient and faithful to meet our wants.
If there be one needed wiser than any of the gathered ones in a place, they will humbly feel their need, and God will send some one as needed, if he sees it the fit means.
There is no remedy for want of grace but the sovereign goodness that leads to confession. If we set up our altar, it will serve for walls (Ezr_3:3). The visibility God will take care of, as He always did, the faith of the body will be spoken of, and the unity in love manifest the power of the Holy Ghost in the body.
I have no doubt of God’s raising up for need all that need requires in the place where He has set us in understanding. If we think to set up the church, again I would say, God forbid. I had rather be near the end, to live and to die for it in service, where it is as dear to God: that is my desire and life.
Effort was made during the next thirteen months to bring about a reconciliation, but all was in vain.
Then in February, 1847, something came to light that confirmed Mr. Darby in his judgment that he had been guided by the Lord and which led many perplexed ones to definitely side with him.
Mr. J. L. Harris had gone on with his colleague though in great distress of mind, until he became convinced that there was a positive Satanic effort in the Ebrington street meeting seeking to destroy the testimony of the Brethren. This change of attitude was brought about by his discovery that Mr. Newton was systematically propagating a line of teaching in regard to Christ that was subversive of evangelical truth.
In justice to Mr. Newton it should be pointed out that the teaching was not exactly new. In part, at least, it had been given out by Mr. Newton in an article printed in The Christian Witness, and edited by Mr. Harris himself several years before, and apparently had escaped censure. However, the full teaching was not set forth in this paper, nor did any suspect what it might lead up to. The doctrine in question had to do with the Lord’s relationship to God as a man and an Israelite here on earth. It was a system of teaching founded on certain expressions in the Psalms and Mr. Newton first fell into it in attempting to answer Edward Irving’s heresy as to “the sinful humanity of Christ.” The way his fully-developed views were brought to light can best be given by Mr. Harris himself, who first drew Mr. Darby’s attention to it. He says:
“I desire explicitly to state how the manuscript came under my notice. About three weeks since one of our sisters in Exeter very kindly lent the notes to my wife, as being Mr. Newton’s teaching, from which she had found much interest and profit. When my wife first told me what she had brought home, I did not pay much attention to it; but shortly after I felt it was not right in me to sanction in my house this system of private circulation, and I determined to return the manuscript unread. Accordingly I wrote a note to the sister who had lent the manuscript, thanking her for her kindness, and explaining my reason for returning it unread. It was late at night when I had finished writing, and I found in the meantime my wife had looked into the manuscript so as to get an outline of its contents, which she mentioned to me, especially the expression that “the cross was only the closing incident in the life of Christ.” She thought she did not understand the meaning of the author, and referred to me for explanation. I then looked into the manuscript myself, and on perusing it felt surprised and shocked at finding such unscriptural statements and doctrine, which appeared to me to touch the integrity of the doctrine of the cross . . .
In the law of the land there is such a thing as misprision of treason, involving heavy penalties when any one who has been acquainted with treasonable practices does not give information. In this case I believe the doctrines taught to undermine the glory of the cross of Christ, and to subvert souls; and it seems to me a duty to Christ and to His saints to make the doctrine openly known. The manuscript professes to be notes of a lecture-I suppose a public lecture. With these notes on Psalm 6 there was given, as accompanying it, notes on Isaiah 13, 14, if I recollect aright, with this notice, “This to go with Psalm 6,” or something to that effect; so that it appears from this title that these manuscripts are as regularly circulated among a select few, in various parts of England, as books in a reading society.
Mr. William Trotter gives quotations from this lecture on Psalm 6, as follows:
“For a person to be suffering here because he serves God, is one thing; but the relation of that person to God, and what he is immediately receiving from His hand while serving Him, is another; and it is this which the sixth Psalm, and many others, open to us. They describe the hand of God stretched out, as rebuking in anger, and chastening in hot displeasure; and remember, this is not the scene on the cross.” He says, on the same page, that this-the scene on the cross-”was only one incident in the life of Christ. . . It was only the closing incident of his long life of suffering and sorrow; so that to fix our eye simply on that would be to know little what the character of his real sufferings were.”
After saying, “I do not refer to what were called His vicarious sufferings, but to His partaking of the circumstances of the woe and sorrow of the human family; and not only of the human family generally, but of a particular part of it, of Israel,” he goes on to speak of the curse having fallen on them; and then adds, “So Jesus became part of an accursed people-a people who had earned God’s wrath by transgression after transgression.” Again: “So Jesus became obnoxious to the wrath of God the moment He came into the world.” Again: “Observe, this is chastening in displeasure; not that which comes now on the child of God, which is never in wrath, but this rebuking in wrath, to which He was amenable, because He was part of an accursed people; so the hand of God was continually stretched out against Him in various ways.” From this dreadful condition he represents our Lord as getting partially delivered at His baptism by John. I say partially; for elsewhere he distinctly affirms that He only emerged from it entirely by death: “His life, through all the thirty years, was made up, more or less, of experiences of this kind; so it must have been a great relief to Him to hear the voice of John the Baptist, saying, ‘Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Here was a door opened to Israel at once. They might come, and be forgiven; so He was glad to hear that word. He heard it with a wise and attentive ear, and came to be baptized, because He was one with Israel- was in their condition, one of wrath from God; consequently, when He was baptized, He took new ground; but Israel would not take it,” etc. Such were the doctrines promulgated by Mr. Newton.
No doubt much of this will be obscure to one who has never seriously considered the questions involved. But to an instructed Christian the teaching is most serious.
Mr. Darby at once exposed the error and even many of Mr. Newton’s strongest adherents were shocked and dismayed when they learned what he really held. Pressure was brought to bear upon him to reconsider and to retract and he agreed to do so in measure, issuing a paper dated “Plymouth, Nov. 26th, 1847,” and entitled “A Statement and Acknowledgment Respecting Certain Doctrinal Errors.” In this paper he withdrew certain of his teachings for reconsideration and confessed that he was wrong in attributing our Lord’s sufferings from God during His life on earth because of His connection with Adam as His federal head. The other parts of his teachings he wished to weigh further before expressing himself. He closed with the words:
I would not wish it to be supposed that what I have now said is intended to extenuate the error which I have confessed. I desire to acknowledge it fully, and to acknowledge it as sin; it is my desire thus to confess it before God and His church; and I desire that this may be considered as an expression of my deep and unfeigned grief and sorrow, especially by those who may have been grieved or injured by the false statement, or by any consequences thence resulting. I trust the Lord will not only pardon, but will graciously counteract any evil effects which may have arisen to any therefrom.
B. W. Newton.
Messrs. J. E. Batten and H. W. Soltau, leading Ebrington street teachers, publicly renounced the erroneous views and separated from the Newton meeting, and with them many others left and sought fellowship in the new gathering which Mr. Darby had started. Mr. Batten has given a full outline of the teaching he had imbibed. It shows how grievously Mr. Newton had been misled himself and was misleading others.
These are the points in question:
I. That the Lord Jesus at his birth, and because born of a woman, partook of certain consequences of the fall,-mortality being one,-and because of this association by nature, he became an heir of death-born under death as a penalty.
II. That the Lord Jesus at His birth stood in such relation to Adam as a federal head; that guilt was imputed to him; and that he was exposed to certain consequences of such imputation, as stated in Romans 5.
III. That the Lord Jesus was also born as a Jew under the broken law, and was regarded by God as standing in that relation to Him; and that God pressed upon His soul the terrors of Sinai, as due to one in that relation.
IV. That the Lord Jesus took the place of distance from God, which such a person so born and so related must take; and that He had to find His way back to God by some path in which God might at last own and meet Him.
V. That so fearful was the distance, and so real were these relations by birth, and so actual were their attendant penalties of death, wrath, and the curse, that until His deliverance God is said to have rebuked Him, to have chastened Him, and that in anger and hot displeasure.
VI. That because of these dealings from God, and Christ’s sufferings under them, the language of Lamentations 3, and Psalms 6, 38 and 88, etc., has been stated to be the utterance of the Lord Jesus while under this heavy pressure from God’s hand.
VII. That the Lord Jesus extricated Himself from these inflictions by keeping the law; and that at John’s baptism the consequent difference in Christ’s feelings and experience was so great, as to have been illustrated by a comparison of the difference between Mount Sinai and Mount Sion, or between law and grace.
VIII. That beside all these relations which Christ took by birth, and their attendant penalties and inflictions, and His sufferings under the heavy hand of God, it has been further stated that He had the experience of an unconverted, though elect Jew.
Later Mr. Newton reaffirmed some of these teachings while confessing that others were erroneous.
Brethren generally repudiated the whole system, and Mr. Newton and the Ebrington street meeting were looked upon as defiled and leprous. While all did not agree with Mr. Darby’s earlier attitude, very few dissented from his position at this time, and after a large meeting held in Bath, in May, 1848, it looked as though further division had been averted and harmony was once more to reign among the Brethren, with Mr. Newton and his followers outside.
(4)* This is published in the collected writings of J. N. Darby.