Chapter Nine Increasing Dissension

The Reading Division

The late Rev. W. H. Griffith Thomas, who held tenaciously to much for which the Brethren stand, said on more than one occasion, “The Brethren are remarkable people for rightly dividing the Word of truth and wrongly dividing themselves.” It was in no spirit of unkindness that he made this remark but rather as lamenting what has ever caused pious souls among themselves deepest grief. Yet the remedy seems most elusive. Organization has not precluded division in the various Protestant denominations, nor for that matter in what proudly calls itself the Catholic church; even as lack of organization has not kept the assemblies of Brethren united in one fellowship. All Christians know that division cures nothing. It only puts off the evil day, leaving questions for a later generation to settle that have not been properly faced when they first demanded attention.

While the Grant division was being perpetrated in America another equally groundless, in the judgment of many, was forced through in Great Britain.

While Mr. Darby lived his strong influence and dominant personality held the conflicting elements within the London exclusive party in check. When he was called home it seemed as though dissension was to be unchecked both in Britain and abroad. Walter Scott, one of the most prolific writers among the Brethren, has written of him:

It has been the experience of most men brought into personal contact with Mr. Darby, that the influence exercised over them has been almost overwhelming. His marvelous power in grappling with principles and tracing their application to their legitimate results; his simple and unaffected piety, combined with the ripest scholarship and unequalled ability in expounding {p. 111}the Word of God, accompanied by a generous appreciation of the good and excellent outside the ecclesiastical sphere in which he moved, fitted him to become, as he undoubtedly was, a recognized leader in the church of God.

The same writer has given an account of the funeral of this man of God which I am sure will have a tender and pathetic interest to such of my readers as shall peruse the balance of this book, therefore, I give it in full.

The Funeral of John Nelson Darby
at the Cemetery in Bournemouth 2nd May, 1882

J. N. D. had been brought to Bournemouth some weeks before his death, to the house of Mr. Hammond, an ex-clergyman of the Church of England.

On the morning of the funeral there had been a prayer meeting at Sunbridge House (Mr. Hammond’s), at which a farewell letter of Mr. Darby’s to Brethren was read, and which was subsequently copied for private circulation.

The time fixed for the interment was 3:30 p.m., and within about five minutes of that time the hearse was at the cemetery gate.

There the coffin was placed on a bier, under which, at either end, a long pole was placed transversely, so that, while a brother held the handles of the bier at each end, other brethren took hold of the pole on either side; and as the distance from the gate to the grave was considerable, the bearers were changed several times, so as to give as many brethren as possible the privilege of carrying the body to the grave.

No regular procession was formed, but brethren—and there was a good sprinkling of sisters as well—followed the body en masse. The effect at this point was striking. Every voice was hushed; and nothing was heard but the tread of many feet, almost as regular as the measured tread at a military funeral.

Many friends had already congregated around the grave, whither the body was at once taken.

After about a minute’s silence, Mr. M’Adam gave out the Hymn 229 in The Little Flock Hymn Book, “O Happy Morn,” sung to Praise. Just as the last note of this hymn died away, a lark rose from the greensward close by, and poured forth its joyous notes. Perhaps many did not notice it—to the writer’s ear it was quite in harmony with the scene.{p. 112}

Mr. C. E. Stuart, of Reading, read from Matt. 27:57-60, and in a few words pointed out the contrast between the burial of the Master and the burial of the servant. To the few around the Master’s grave it seemed that all their hopes had been cut off. How different was it to us today in committing the servant’s body to the grave, through the death of the Master. We were not there to eulogize the servant, but we could speak of the Master.

Mr. Hammond prayed.

Dr. Wolston, of Edinburgh, then read from Gen. 48, part of verse 21:”Israel said unto Joseph, Behold I die but God shall be with you”; Phil 2:12, 13; and Rev. 1:17, 18, and said a few words suggested by the passages.

Mr. Blyth gave out the one-verse hymn, 286, “Soon thou wilt come again,” sung to Indian.

Mr. C Stanley read from John 14:1-3, and I Thess. 4:14-17, “The Father’s House and the Rapture of the Saints,” and in a few words referred to our departed brother as having been the means of reviving the truth as to the Lord’s coming.

“Lord Jesus Come,” Hymn 324, was then given out by Dr. Christopher Wolston, and sung to American.

The coffin was lowered into the grave by Brethren.

Mr. Roberts, of Worcester, prayed.

“Brightness of Eternal Glory” was then sung to Alma, followed by the Doxology, “Glory, Honor, Praise and Power,” which closed the meeting.

The coffin was of polished oak, with a brass plate on which was engraved: —

John Nelson Darby
Born 18th Nov., 1800
Died in the Lord
29th April, 1882

There was a very large number of friends present from all parts of the country — from eight to ten hundred.

The S. W. Railway ran a “special” to London in the evening to take back those who had come from the city.

There has been erected a large plain stone to mark the resting place of the richly-gifted servant of the Lord, on which is carved an inscription of 11 lines as follows: {p. 113}

John Nelson Darby
“As Unknown And Well Known”
Departed to be with Christ,
29th April, 1882
Aged 81
2 Cor. 5:21

Lord let me wait for Thee alone,
My life be only this,
To serve Thee here on earth unknown,
Then share Thy heavenly bliss.

J. N. D.

The Mr. C. E. Stuart mentioned above was one of J. N. D.’s old friends. A courteous and courtly gentleman, of independent fortune, a man of culture and refinement, a Christian of deep piety and transparent character, he had early identified himself with the movement and was an honored and beloved servant of Christ whose ministry, both oral and written was of an invaluable character.

At Reading, his home, he was held in most affectionate esteem by the large assembly in which he ministered to edification. But he had long foreseen certain tendencies against which he mildly protested, which brought him into conflict with the subjective school. At the time of the Kelly division he sided with London, feeling that “Abbott’s Hill had not a leg to stand on,” because of their refusal to receive the Guildford Hall Brethren as a body. This blinded him to the greater evil of condoning the ecclesiastical pretension of Park Street, from which he, as F. W. Grant, was to suffer so soon afterwards.

It is pathetic to have to record that in less than three years from the time he preached at Mr. Darby’s funeral, he was himself branded as an heretic and declared excommunicated by the London party.

There were two issues involved in the Reading trouble. One was a moral question involving a charge of untruthfulness which was sifted to the bottom and shown to be groundless, when investigated by the local assembly. The graver matter was one of doctrine and though his home assembly looked into this also and cleared him, their judgment was ruthlessly set aside by London and the stigma of heresy fixed upon Mr. Stuart and all who continued in fellowship with him.

The supposed heresy was contained in a booklet entitled “Christian {p. 114}Standing and Condition” which was construed as a direct challenge to views taught by J. B. Stoney and others in two periodicals denominated, “Food for the Flock,” and “A Voice to the Faithful.” In his treatise C. E. S. distinguished between “Standing” and “Condition” as follows:

Standing, he said, invariably has to do with the ability to stand before the throne of God. It is a forensic, or judicial term and “a Christian can have no higher standing than to be justified before the throne of God.” His condition or state is the new place God has given him in Christ. His old condition was “In Adam,” his new condition is “In Christ.” Practice flows from the apprehension of these truths. The doctrine is quite fully developed in his Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans.

J. B. Stoney declared this teaching was a complete giving up of Christianity and a reversal to Judaism. With him standing involved “the removal of the First Man from under the eye of God.” While condition was the Spirit’s work forming Christ within. It will be seen that both used the terms somewhat differently to most teachers among the Brethren before and since the trouble that developed.

Refusing the decisions of the Reading assembly, which according to their own teaching were “bound on earth and therefore bound in heaven,” London undertook to re-try the case. Once more the ecclesiastical machinery was set in motion and almost before the Reading Brethren realized the seriousness of the opposition, a meeting was called at Park Street and, though absent and therefore not permitted to speak for himself, C. E. Stuart was declared out of fellowship and the Reading assembly with him, unless they acquiesced in the London judgment, which was solemnly affirmed to be the voice of the Lord in the midst of his assemblies, and from which there could be no appeal.

So for the third time in five years division swept through the ranks of the exclusives, until some eighty assemblies in Great Britain and many in New Zealand, Australia, and other parts, were cut off as schismatic, and, for the time being Stoneyism had again triumphed. The ostracized meetings became known as the Reading or Stuart Brethren.

Those with Mr. Grant in America saw in the high-handed action against C. E. S. a repetition of the Montreal schism and hands {p. 115}were stretched out across the sea to their distressed Brethren and fellowship cemented between them. There was also a desire for intercommunion with the Kelly brethren but differences between W. K., and C. E. S. hindered this; though the American Brethren have always freely received from either of these two parties whenever they presented themselves. In fact they have always taken the ground that inasmuch as London and Montreal made the divisions, the doors of the so-called Grant meetings were open to any from the various exclusive parties whenever they desired communion with them. Later this was modified in regard to the Raven party where strange teaching was soon manifest.

F. W. Grant completely repudiated the principle of assembly judgments being binding on the consciences of the saints even though there was no proof of their Scripturalness. Had he seen this at the time of the Kelly division he would not have signed the Toronto letter.

The following extracts from one of his papers will serve to make his position clear when fully awake to the pretentiousness of the London party.

To all whose hearty endeavor is to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace:
— Beloved Brethren: —

That the hand of God is upon us is but too evident. Our shame is public. It requires no spirituality to see that exactly in that which we have professedly sought we have failed most signally. The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is just, most surely, what we have not kept. It is easy, of course, to reproach each other with this, and to protest that we of any one particular section are free from the responsibility of this. It is not possible to escape, after all, the reproach which God has permitted to be against us all,—the reproach, not of here and there some local divisions, but of division from end to end; and not where separation from manifest evil has been a divine necessity, but upon points of ecclesiastical discipline or of doctrine confessedly in no wise fundamental, — too minute, in fact, to be made a ground of division by the narrowest and most sectarian of sects around us! Yet we all disclaim as injurious the accusation of being sects. {p. 116}Some of us have separated from the doctrine that “in Christ” is state, not standing!

Some, from the doctrine that the Old-Testament saints had life in the Son!

Some, because they differed as to the judgment of an assembly with regard to fellowship with one of the divisions of a divided gathering!

And on account of such things, those who could receive Christians freely from the denominations around, refuse absolutely and decidedly, saints with whom in every other respect they are in the fullest accord, and whom they do not charge with anything else they would call ungodly!

And more, one of the greatest and most decisive arguments used and admitted to uphold these divisions is that we are to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace!”

Alas! who hath bewitched us, that such things should be possible at all,—that we should not be able to recognize the true character of an endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit by such means as cutting off all who differ from us, and building the wall of separation highest where the real differences is in fact the slightest?

I know, of course, the fact will be disputed. They are too condemnatory, seen simply in the light, for one to care thus to face them. Yet is it not better at once to face them, than to leave them to be met for the first time where we must each one of us give account of himself to God? . . . Are there no principles which have been accepted as truth, and which have worked disastrously? Is there not reason for testing afresh by the Word our ecclesiastical principles, as, for example, those of fellowship and discipline, in view of the course to which they have led? If “by their fruits ye shall know them” is a test recognized in Scripture, is not the fact of three divisions in five years enough to beget suspicion that all is not right here? especially when, as already said, we find the plea of unity urged constantly for division, and most efficacious (strangely enough) in producing this.

Many at the present time are involved in deeper trouble than would be found in answering the question, Which of these divisions has truth and righteousness upon its side? And it is little to be doubted that many are deprived of energy to act for God by the palsy of fear that some fundamental {p. 117}error must be somewhere in principles which they had believed divine. Can it be of God, they ask, that questions which can scarcely be made intelligible to many a simple soul must be forced upon all, under the severest ecclesiastical penalties, with the certainty, at any rate, of being broken up by them; and that those who, attracted by the plea that the church of God is one, seek for something in principle as broad and catholic as this implies, should be confronted with the Park-street judgment and much else, as problems needing to be solved before they can discern which of several conflicting yet kindred bodies can justify a claim to this?

Is there, then, left no plain path in which the feet even of the lame may not be turned out of the way—may even be healed? At one time, as we all know, we had something easily defined and easily maintainable by Scripture,—carrying true consciences, not perplexing them. Have we suffered this to be taken from us? Could we have lost it without being ourselves in some way guilty for the loss? Was it not while we slept we lost it? Assuredly, the way of the Lord is still and ever a way not needing great intellect or attainments for its discovery, but a way in which the wayfaring man, though a fool, should not err. Would it be like our God if it were otherwise?...

The method has been to appeal to the local assemblies around for a new decision, and thus to initiate a division which might extend far and wide. Thus, in fact, have we been again and again broken up. For one assembly has, in fact, no jurisdiction over another,—no title to be heard more than another. And the same is true of any number of such assemblies. It would be merely the principle of a majority upon a large scale,—a principle, we are all clear, is not sanctioned by the Word. By this counter-action, then, of local assemblies, we are committed at once to division.

Yet it is where the actual gathering to Christ’s name is there is He in the midst, and whatsoever they bind on earth is bound in heaven. This neither insures the infallibility of those so gathered, nor implies—as so many apparently now suppose— that to deny the righteousness of their action is to deny Christ to be in their midst. Where in Scripture is the warrant for such a thought? What they “bind on earth” is indeed “bound in heaven”; but can any “bind” unrighteousness in the Lord’s name? Surely not: such an act cannot be “bound” by anybody {p. 118}of men whatever. The character of the act is necessarily implied in the word used by the Lord . . .

But if the assembly fail, or appeal be made against its decision, to whom now is the appeal? and in what way should this be carried out? As to the first question, it is easily answered. For the reason already stated, to the local assembly it is not, but to that which the local assembly represents—the church at large. This is the only alternative, and it is as simple as instructive to consider that at this point the assembly as a whole takes the place of any local assembly when judging of any ordinary case. There is more difficulty, more gravity, no doubt, but the application of the very same principles in the one case as in the other. To see this, helps us also in whatever necessary differences result from the larger sphere . . .

As to fellowship in its open expression at the table of the Lord, it is with all Christians, truly such, with only this limitation in Scripture, that we put out from among ourselves a “wicked person” (I Cor. 5:13). . .

Three characters of wickedness the Word specifies: moral evil, the leaven of I Cor. 5; doctrinal evil, the leaven of Galatians and Matt. 16; and willful association with this, as in II John 10, 11. I do not need, for those to whom I am speaking, to insist more on these. But there is need to ask, Can we Scripturally refuse any of the Lord’s people except on one of these grounds? Perhaps most would agree we cannot, while many, however, would so indefinitely extend the idea of these as to narrow their fellowship practically much more than this.

These extracts are from “The Relation of Assemblies to Assemblies,” a perusal of which in its entirety will prove most illuminating to those who may be further interested, but for which there is not space in the present chapter. There can be no question but that the principles therein taught would if consistently carried out, soon put an end to division, but consistency is a rare plant and does not often come to full flower even in Christian assemblies.

C. E. Stuart, always an independent thinker, refusing to be subject to any defined creed, written or unwritten, put forth some views on propitiation as one element in Atonement shortly after the 1885 division, that caused quite a furore at the time. W. Kelly thought he detected positive heresy and attacked him strenuously, but as the atmosphere cleared it became evident there was nothing fundamental {p. 119}at stake. But for a time a five-sided debate went on in Brethren’s periodicals and from their lecture-platforms. The question at issue was the exact meaning of propitiation and the time when it was effected.

C. E. Stuart taught that Christ became High Priest to make propitiation (Heb. 2:17). He maintained that He was never Priest on earth (citing Heb. 8:4 as a proof-text) and that, therefore propitiation was but one element in atonement and must have been made by our Lord after death. He held that in the disembodied state He entered the heavenly sanctuary and there made propitiation by presenting His blood, upon and before the mercy seat.

This W. Kelly refused as a slight upon the work of the cross. He agreed with C. E. S. that Christ was not a Priest on earth, but held that He acted as Offerer on the cross when He offered up Himself and there made an available propitiation for all men, though He was only the Substitute for all who believe on His name. This distinction between propitiation and substitution was one on which J. N. Darby had dwelt in his writings at considerable length.

R. T. Grant felt W. Kelly was begging the question raised by C. E. S. as to propitiation being priestly work, and agreed with C. E. S. that Christ was not a Priest on earth, therefore, propitiation must have been made in heaven—but he held that in the disembodied state our Lord could not be considered as High Priest for it was necessary that His manhood be complete ere He could act as Priest and therefore propitiation could not have been made until as the resurrected man, at His ascension, He passed through the heavens in the power or value of His own blood.

E. C. Pressland, an English teacher of some ability who was in the Reading fellowship, sought to reconcile the divergent views by holding that, inasmuch as there are three heavens—atmospheric, starry and the divine abode—our Lord when lifted up on the cross was in the heavens and therefore could act as Priest and so make propitiation, which was all completed when he cried, “It is finished.”

It remained for F. W. Grant to offer the fifth suggestion, namely that Heb. 8:4 does not deny that Christ was a Priest while on earth but simply states that He was not of the Aaronic order. That as Priest He offered up Himself to make propitiation and, that the terms propitiation, expiation, and atonement are identical in meaning, as all are translations of the same Greek word, as used in the {p. 120}Septuagint and the New Testament. He held that propitiation is by substitution.

For several years the controversy went on and even after C. E. Stuart had been taken home there were not wanting some to charge him with vital error, while many who accepted his views felt as strongly in regard to W. K. and F. W. G., being convinced that they both rejected vital truth.

Still the examination of Scriptures was helpful and opened up new lines of truth to many, as is often the case. What is needed is brotherly confidence and the spirit of humility with readiness to learn one from another and an honest desire to know the truth for its own sake, for it is written, “We can do nothing against the truth but for the truth.” Scripture leaves room for large differences of opinion where fundamental truth is not called in question, and it is always wrong to endeavor “to make a man an offender for a word.”

As the years have passed the Reading meetings, so-called, have dwindled until at the present time there are very few left of any size in Great Britain, though they are somewhat stronger numerically in New Zealand.