John Nelson Darby was one of the most prominent among the founders of the Plymouth Brethren; born in London on Nov. 18, 1800; died in Bournemouth on Apr. 29, 1882.
He graduated Trinity College, Dublin, in 1819 and was called to the Irish bar about 1825; but soon gave up law practice, took orders, and served a curacy in Wicklow until, in 1827, doubts as to the Scriptural authority for church establishments led him to leave the institutional church altogether and meet with a company of like-minded persons in Dublin.
In 1830 he visited Paris, Cambridge, and Oxford, and then went to Plymouth, where an assembly of Brethren was shortly formed, and the town soon lent its name to the movement. James L. Harris, perpetual curate of Plymstock, resigned to unite with them and, in 1834, started the Christian Witness, their first periodical. Darby became an assiduous writer, and published his Parochial Arrangement Destructive of Order in the Church in the first volume of the Witness, and his Apostasy of the Successive Dispensations (afterward published in French as Apostasie de l'economie actuelle) in the same paper in 1836. Dissensions among the Brethren had already begun, and Darby was accused of departing from their original principles.
Between 1838 and 1840 Darby worked in Switzerland. In the autumn of 1839 an influential member of the congregation at Lausanne invited him there to oppose Methodism. In March, 1840, he came and obtained a hearing by discourses and a tract, De la doctrine des Wesleyens a l'egard de la perfection. His lectures on prophecy made a great impression, and he soon gathered young men round him at Lausanne, with whom he studied the Scriptures. The fruit of these conferences was his etudes sur la Parole, a work which appeared in English as Synopsis of the Books of the Bible (5 vols., London, 1857-67). Many congregations were formed in Cantons Vaud, Geneva, and Bern. Certain of his followers started a periodical, Le Temoignage des disciples de la Parole.
When, by Jesuit intrigues, a revolution broke out in Canton Vaud (Feb., 1845), the Brethren in some parts of Switzerland suffered persecution, and Darby's own life was in jeopardy. He returned to England the same year, but his heart seems ever to have turned toward Switzerland and France. From that time he took a more active lead among the English Brethren, with the result that they became split into two parties, the Darbyites, or exclusives, and the Bethesda, or open, Brethren. In 1853 he visited Elberfeld and again in 1854, when he translated the New Testament into German. He was also in Germany in 1869, when he took part in a translation of the Old Testament into German. He visited Canada and the United States in 1859, 1864-65, 1866-68, 1870, 1872-73, and 1874. About 1871 he went to Italy, and in 1875 to New Zealand. He visited also the West Indies. Between 1878 and 1880 he was much occupied with a translation of the Old Testament into French, in connection with which he sojourned long at Pau. He had already made a French translation of the New Testament in 1859.
Darby was a most voluminous writer on a wide range of subjects-doctrinal and controversial, devotional and practical, apologetic, metaphysical, on points of scholarship, etc. His Collected Writings have been published by W. Kelly in thirty-two volumes (London, 1867-83). They include Irrationalism of Infidelity (1853); Remarks on Puseyism (1854); The Sufferings of Christ (1858) and The Righteousness of God (1859), two works which produced much controversy; Analysis of Newman's Apologia (1866); Familiar Conversations on Romanism, written between 1870 and 1880; Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles, composed in Italian; Letters on the Revised New Testament (1881), in which he criticized the revisers principally in respect to the aorist tense, a subject he had previously discussed in the preface to an English translation of the New Testament (2d ed., 1872). He was a hymn-writer and edited the hymnal in general use among the Brethren. A volume of his Spiritual Songs was published in London in 1883, and three volumes of his letters in 1886-89.