John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)

 •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Gathered to the Lord’s Name
Hymns #12, 14, 25, 64, 76, 79, 139, 148, 178, 235, 270, 331, 323 (vs. 3 only), Appendix 2, 18, 23 (15 hymns).
Mr. Darby is well known for his extensive written ministry which has been the source of much edification and teaching to the Lord’s people. However, he is also the author of several hymns of high spiritual character so this rightfully gives him a place among the hymn writers.
He was born November 18, 1800 (the year in which William Cowper died), the youngest son of John Darby, of Markley, Sussex, and of Leap Castle, King’s County, Ireland. His mother was of the Vaughan family, well known in Wales. His father’s side descended from the Normans. In 1798 Lord Nelson won the Battle of the Nile and serving under him was Mr. Darby’s uncle, Sir Henry Darby, who commanded the ship-of-the-line Bellerophon. So it was Lord Nelson who sponsored John Nelson Darby in baptism and gave him his middle name. He was in a position and had the ability to have been great in this world. But Christ became all to him and in one of his hymns he puts it:
“‘Tis the treasure we’ve found in His love
That has made us now pilgrims below,
And ‘tis there, when we reach Him above,
As we’re known, all His fullness we’ll know.” (#139)
Like Cowper he early lost his mother to whom he refers tenderly in his writings. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1819, winning the classical Gold Medal. First entering the legal profession as desired by his father, being converted to God he left that vocation. He was saved by reading the Bible, as he says: —
“One qualification I may boast of—profound, unfeigned (I believe divinely given) faith in the Bible. I have, through grace, been by it converted, enlightened, quickened, saved. I have received the knowledge of God by it to adore His perfections-of Jesus, the Savior, joy, strength, comfort of my soul.... That work, which is ever God’s, was wrought in me through the means of the written Word. He who knows what the value of Jesus is will know what the Bible will be to such a one.”
(Collected Writings, Vol. 6, p. 3.)
He then took up “holy orders” in the Church of England and was made a deacon in 1825 by Archbishop Magee and was appointed to a large parish in Wicklow County, Ireland. Here diligently he applied his efforts to the good of the people while he himself walked with the Lord. A year later when he went up to the city to be made a priest by the Bishop he was exercised then as to the condition of the Church of England, the Establishment. But returning to his parish he did much helpful work among the Roman Catholics, many of whom he led to Christ as Savior. A notice from the Bishop that converts must take an oath of allegiance to the King, as head of the Anglican Church, stirred up his conscience to action. Asked later by a fellow—clergyman (James Kelly) why he had left the Church of England, he replied: —
“I find no such thing as a National Church in Scripture. Is the Church of England—was it ever—God’s assembly in England?... her constitution is worldly because she contemplates. . . the population, not the saints.... It was that I was looking for the body of Christ (which was not there, but perhaps in all the parish not one converted person): and collaterally, because I believed in a divinely appointed ministry. It was a system contrary to what I found in Scripture.”
He and others met at Lady Powerscourt’s Castle in Ireland where they at first took up prophecy. Church truth came out and God gave grace for some to act upon it. At Dublin several including Edward Cronin, J. Parnel (later Lord Congleton) and J. G. Bellett broke bread, and Mr. Darby, recognizing this as a work of the Lord, identified himself with them. The Lord gave him to bring out many truths for the help of those who were now gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, outside the religious camp of Christendom. Justification by faith was more clearly seen, what the church is as the body of Christ, the house (God’s dwelling place on earth), the rapture of the saints before the tribulation, Israel’s place and restoration after the church is taken out. He became the first real expositor of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and it is his written ministry that has helped others to develop in meditation much more that is precious to the saints of God. His labors carried him all over Europe, U.S.A., Canada, Hawaii, and the south sea islands of the Pacific. “In labors more abundant.” He has left a legacy of 34 volumes of ministry (Collected Writings, edited by Wm. Kelly), the Synopsis of the whole Bible, three volumes of letters (in which he stood firmly for the truth without the fear of man), all of which are yet treasured by those that love the truth.
In 1881 he revised the Little Flock Hymn Book and, as shown in the introduction, his concern was to have more hymns of definite praise to the Father. The hymns so added at that time were numbers 7, 25, 41, 50, 178 and 331, and Appendix 7 and 48. In fact it was at this time that the book was called “The Little Flock.”
He became ill, being afflicted with dropsy, in February, 1882, but continued as he says, “through mercy I work half the day.” On April 29, 1882, Doctor A. H. Burton, his attending physician, gave the news that brother J.N.D. had finished the wilderness journey: and we bring this to a close by quoting from his hymn (#76), and one of his last statements: —
“When to Canaan’s long-loved dwelling
Love divine thy foot shall bring,
There, with shouts of triumph swelling,
Zion’s songs in rest to sing—
There no stranger-God shall meet thee,
Stranger thou in courts above—
He Who to His rest shall greet thee
Greets thee with a well-known love.”
On April 11, 1882, he said: —
“Well, it will be strange to find myself in heaven: but it won’t be a strange Christ—One I have known these many years. How little I know Him. I am glad He knows me—I KNOW MY SHEEP.”