THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
by W. McDONALD.
THE arguments of this book are directed, mainly, against the doctrines inculcated by the so-called Plymouth-Brethren. We shall attempt little more, in this introduction which we are asked to write, than to answer the question, "Who are the Plymouth Brethren?"
They are a sect (if it be proper to call those a sect who repudiate all sects) popularly known as "Darbyites," "Brethren," "Plymouth Brethren," etc. They originated in England nearly sixty years ago, under the leadership of Mr. John Darby.
Mr. Darby was born in England, of wealthy parents. He was educated for the law, and commenced its practice. But his subsequent conversion changed his whole course of life. He was impressed that it was his duty to enter the ministry. His father, learning of his purpose, became violently opposed to it, and not being able to dissuade him from it, actually disinherited him. But a wealthy uncle adopted him, and at his decease left him an ample fortune.
Mr. Darby having finished his theological studies, was ordained, and admitted to the ministry of the Established Church. But he did not long continue in fellowship with that church. Not being able to understand the doctrine of apostolic succession, he rejected it, and withdrew from the Establishment and denounced it as an illegitimate church.
Having severed his connection with what he regarded an apostate church, he went in search of the true one, not doubting as yet but what such a church could be found. But Mr. Darby never found his ideal church.
Such as were of his way of thinking were urged to band themselves together and wait until Christ should make His personal advent, which they confidently anticipated would speedily occur. The first band of this faith was formed in Ireland. But it was in Plymouth, England, that the Brethren met with the greatest favor. Here their members soon numbered some fifteen hundred. So marked was their success in Plymouth, that they were called "Plymouth Brethren." It is proper to say, that they have never assumed this name, nor, in fact, any other, except "Brethren." Nor do we know that they seriously object to it.
Great success attended the labors of the "Brethren," and bands were formed in London, Exeter, and several other places. Many persons of wealth united with them, and contributed considerable sums of money to aid in spreading the new faith.
About this time they established their first periodical, entitled the Christian Witness, Mr. Darby being its chief contributor.
It was not long before their violent attacks on the church drew upon them the opposition of the English clergy. And so well directed and ably conducted was that opposition, that spread of the new faith was not only seriously checked, but their numbers were greatly reduced.
In 1838, or near that time, Mr. Darby left England for the Continent. He first visited Paris, where he remained for a time, without seeing much fruit of his labor. But in Switzerland, which he next visited, he found a more inviting field.
Some time before Mr. Darby's visit to Switzerland, the Wesleyan Methodists had commenced successful operations in Lausanne, and the number of the members of the State church had withdrawn and united with them, creating no little stir among the people.
Among the new proselytes to Methodism were some who still held to the doctrine of predestination, and rejected the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection. It was claimed that, under these circumstances, those who held the doctrine of predestination, and still adhered to the Methodists, had received but half the truth. These differences of religious opinion extended to the Methodists of Vevay, producing no little disturbance among the members there.
With the purpose of overthrowing the new faith, an influential member of the State Church at Lausanne, invited Mr. Darby to come there and fight the Methodists. He went, and by his preaching, and the publication of a book entitled, The Doctrine of the Wesleyans Regard ing Perfection, and their use of the Holy Scriptures, he succeeded in so far bewildering the uninstructed people, that the greater part of them abandoned their faith, and either returned to the State Church, or united with the dissenters.
Mr. Darby seemed to have still more in his plan. He delivered a series of lectures on the prophecies, entitled, Views Regarding the Actual Expectation of the Church, and the Prophecies which establish it. These lectures were largely attended, and produced a profound impression upon all classes. They were subsequently published in French, German, and English, and may be found in Mr. Darby's published works. In the estimation of the author, at least, they lifted the veil which had long covered the prophecies.
Mr. Darby's influence with the people is said have been so great that the regular ministry is almost entirely ignored, and he became the accepted prophet. In fact, his publications had the effect to turn the people, as a whole, from the ministry.
It was his custom to administer the sacrament every Sabbath indiscriminately to church men and dissenters, which practice earned for him the reputation of being a large-hearted Christian, anxious to make the church one.
When Mr. Derby had sufficiently drawn the people to himself, he was prepared, it would seem, to make known to them his plans more fully. These were, to draw out of the State Church its best members, and unite them with others, and so form a circle of perfectly free congregations, without any organization, and to make himself, it was claimed, the centre of the whole.
To accomplish this end, a series of "fly sheets," or tracts, were issued at Geneva and Lausanne, which clearly revealed Mr. Darby's plan. In one of these tracts, entitled, "Apostacy of the Economy," he laid the axe at the root of the tree, leaving the whole Christian Church, so far as he was able, a shapeless wreck. In an other tract, "On the Foundation of the Church," he attacked the Dissenters, denying the right to form a church. In still another, "Liberty to preach Jesus possessed of every Christian," he denied the existence of any priestly office in the church, except the universal priesthood of believers. The church having come to an end, the ordained ministry, or priesthood, went with it. No man, nor body of men. Mr. Darby claimed, had any right to such an office, and to assume any such right was proof of the corruption of the whole system. In another tract, entitled "The Promise of the Lord," based on Matt. xviii. 20, is given the shibboleth of the Darbyite gatherings. Finally, a tract entitled "Schism" was issued, in which all who hesitated to take part in these gatherings were denominated, "Schismatics."
It will be seen at a glance that the work of demolition progressed with great rapidity. The church is first demolished. Mr. Darby does not allow even a poor Dissenter to organize a new one, no matter how good it might be. Next, the ministry is swept away, and should any one set up a claim to such an office, he would give the clearest evidence of his corruption. In this way the world is left without a church and without a ministry; and the only substitute furnished is a few Darbyite gatherings, which are without form and without responsibility. From Switzerland they spread into France and gathered, after a time, several congregations in Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, and other places. A French periodical was established for the propagation of their principles, and a kind of seminary was started for training Missionaries.
That secessions should occur where no organizations exist, and where all organizations are utterly repudiated, seems strange. But it was not possible for persons, who could readily accept such radical views as Mr. Darby enunciated, to be long held by them. This is pre -eminently true of the Plymouth Brethren.
A division soon took place under the leadership of Mr. B. W. Newton. It originated in England, but extended to the Continent. Mr. Newton, it is claimed, held with Irving that Christ was not sinless. This notion was earnestly repelled by most of the Darbyites, and the obnoxious Newton was formally expelled by Mr. Darby. We will not stop to inquire how Mr. Darby could have consistently expelled a man from his society, when he ignored and utterly repudiated all organizations. The Newton heresy extended into Vevay, where considerable trouble followed. The "Brethren" there split into two factions; and this was soon followed by several other societies.
Another division took place in England, in which Mr. George Muller, of Bristol was the most prominent actor. Other divisions have taken place.
In America there are several schools of the Plymouth Brethren. Mr. Darby is utterly ignored by some of them. While the old man is still living they went so far as to represent him as a second "Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence" (3 John 9). They insinuated that Mr. Darby, the father of them all, had very far fallen from original Darbyism; at least, this would be naturally inferred from the manner which they treated him. We have in Boston, and other places, two classes, or schools, of the Plymouth Brethren.
The religious views of the Plymouth Brethren are fully set forth, by Dr. Steele, in the following pages. They are Antinomians of the straitest sect. Everything but pure Darbyism belongs to this world. There is nobody right but themselves. The church is fallen, and can not be reformed, and our only duty is to go out of her. Anything which looks like church prosperity is, with the Plymouth Brethren, a delusion. "The year-books of Christianity," says Mr. Darby, "are the year-books of hell."
One of their writers, speaking of the church, says: "It is a corrupt mysterious mixture, a spiritual malformation, the master-piece of Satan, the corrupter of the truth of God." "It is that thing which Satan has made of professing Christianity. It is worse, by far, than Judaism; worse by far than all the darkest forms of Paganism."
The New Birth, with a Plymouth Brother, is not a change of our old nature, but the formation of a new man who is distinguished in all things from the old--has his own customs, wishes, aims, feelings and necessities--and these are spiritual, heavenly and Divine. The old man, instead of being absolutely crucified and put to death, was only crucified in Christ eighteen hundred years ago, while, in fact, he actually lives and grows, often worse and worse, to the end of life. In response to a question we once put to Mr. Darby, he said, his nature or old man, had been growing worse and worse ever since he had believed in Christ. But he paid no attention to that, as he was saved in Christ and had nothing to do with the old man--the carnal mind. One of their number puts it thus: "The believer's state can never correspond with his standing." The seventh and eighth of Romans exist in the same heart, and at the same time.
Mr. Mcintosh, their most venerated authority, says: "Flesh is flesh, nor can it ever be made aught else but flesh. The Holy Ghost did not come down on the day of Pentecost to improve nature, or do away the fact of its incurable evil, but to baptize believers into one body, and connect them with their living head in Heaven."
Perfect holiness, with the Brethren, is one and the same with justification. It is, or was, a finished work of God. It is in no sense personal in ourselves, but in Christ, and accomplished when He died on the cross. It can never be diminished nor increased. No sin committed by a justified person can in the least affect his justification. The soul's standing must ever remain as pure as Christ Himself. He may get drunk like Noah, commit murder and adultery like David, curse like Peter, or lie like Ananias and Sapphira, and his standing is no more affected by it than was Stephen's when under a shower of stones, with his face shining like that of an angel.
One of their writers gives the following description of a good man:--
"The good man feels that when he is presenting to God his prayer and his praises and other holy things, that many vain and foolish thoughts often come unbidden, as the unclean fowls came down upon the sacrifice which Abraham had laid in order to be offered to God (Gen. xv. 11); and he feels that his sacrifice is sadly spoiled; and he asks, 'Can the pure God accept such impure sacrifices as I now bring and lay on His altar?' There is so much of self and sin in our holiest things that our very tears need washing, and our very repentance towards God needs to be repented of. In each of our hearts there is a fountain of black, filthy waters; and when we think we are about to present a gift pure and clean to God, the stream bursts forth, and the gifts we thought would be so clean and pure are besmeared with vile effusions of our own corrupt heart. And we often think that Satan empties much of the horrible filth of hell into our hearts, making each of them into a sewer for the foul waters of the abyss of despair to run through."
Can anything worse than this be said of the most wicked man living? Satan can do no worse than to empty the "horrible filth of hell into his heart," and make him a "sewer for the foul waters of the abyss of despair to run through.". This is the best thing the Gospel of the Plymouth Brethren can do for poor, fallen, human nature. And yet, strange to say, this same man, who is filled with the "horrible filth of hell," and is a "sewer for the foul waters of the abyss of despair to run through," is, at the same time, pure as Christ is pure. Here are his words :--"He who is our Great High Priest before God is pure without a stain. God sees Him as such, and He stands for us who are His people, and we are accepted in Him. His holiness is ours by imputation. Standing in Him we are in the sight of God, holy as Christ is holy, and pure as Christ is pure. God looks at our representative, and He sees us in Him. We are complete in Him who is our spotless and glorious Head."
Here is full-fledged Antinomianism.
The Plymouth Brethren profess to have no creed but the Bible. They condemn all who avow a creed, as putting human opinions in the place of the Word of God. And yet they seem to have a well-defined creed, and put it forth with great persistency.* * [To find out whether they were a sect, that is, a fragment cutting itself off from the general Church of Christ, the author of this volume once asked Mr. Darby whether he would be permitted to partake of the Lord's Supper with them, if he should present himself. Mr. Darby replied that he would be allowed to partake, provided he should correctly answer certain doctrinal questions. The other "Brethren" present strongly dissented from such liberty, and intimated close communion. Hence, while denouncing all schisms and sects, they are a sect of the straightest and most exclusive kind.]
They denounce all commentaries on the Scriptures as misleading; and yet Mr. Derby has written commentaries quite extensively on the Bible, to say nothing of Mr. Mclntosh, whom they regard as nearly, if not quite, inspired.
They do not labor for sinners, but for the members of the various churches, as if they were in more peril than the outside world. They may be seen around revival meetings with tracts in hand, containing antagonistic sentiments, to be placed in the hands of new converts, for the purpose of mystifying them, and drawing them away from Christ and salvation, and in this way make proselytes to their faith, not from the world, but from the churches.
We bid all a hearty God-speed who are working for the salvation of souls. And did we believe that souls are made better by accepting the dogmas of the Plymouth Brethren, we should most heartily say: "Go on, and the Lord bless you." But so far as we can see, their teachings are evil, and only evil. It makes chaos of order, and deceives souls by assuring them that they are in Christ, while they are full of corruption.
Dr. Steele has done a valuable service for all the churches; for Plymouthism successful, means the churches depleted. While they may hold some views in common with some of the evangelical churches, their main purpose is to undermine the churches, and foster a spirit that would lay waste every church in Christendom. We firmly believe that this book will greatly aid in arresting this growing tide of error.
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