John Nelson Darby

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JOHN N. DARBY is more generally known by his prose writings than by his hymns, of which he did not write very many, but they are all of such superior quality that we have thought well to put him among those WHO WROTE OUR HYMNS.”
John Nelson Darby was the youngest son of John Darby, of Leap Castle, King's County, Ireland. He was born in 1800, the same year as Dr. Pusey, the well known champion of ritualism in the Anglican Church. Both he and Mr. Darby died the same year also, but how different their careers! Dr. Pusey leading back to ceremonies and superstitions very near to Romanism; while Mr. Darby became the honored instrument whom God used to bring back a multitude of His people to the truth and simplicity of apostolic days, and away therefore from traditions and expediencies with which man had overshadowed God's truth and order for His Church.
“Mr. Darby's middle name, Nelson," says a chronicler, "was derived from his uncle, Henry, the admiral who under Nelson commanded the Bellerophon in the Battle of the Nile.”
J. N. Darby graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, winning the medal for classics in 1819, and was admitted to the Irish Bar, for which his father had intended him. But God wrought in his soul with power, and he left the Bar, much to his father's displeasure, to give himself to the service of Christ.
In 1826 he was ordained as an Anglican clergyman, and appointed to the parish of Wicklow, Ireland, where he became distinguished for his self-denying and untiring devotion in pastoral work among the Irish poor, himself "dwelling in a peasant's cottage on the bog." A beautiful incident of his life at this time is related in his booklet, "The Kerry bob and the lost sheep," in which the Irish lad's own story of how he brought home one of his father's lost sheep was made to set forth the gospel of God, in a remarkably simple way, and to the salvation of the dying boy.
But God had a larger and more difficult work in view for His devoted servant. A fall of the horse on which he rode laid him up for over three months, in which time the following truths out of God's Word were revealed in power to his soul: (1) The perfect acceptance of the believer in Christ before God.
Not churches, but the one Church as the body and Bride of Christ.
The Holy Spirit now dwelling in the Church, and uniting it to Christ in glory.
The Lord Jesus' return to take His Bride to Himself in glory.
This marked a new epoch in the life of J. N. Darby, and it characterized all his ministry thenceforth. He became intimately acquainted with the well-known J. G. Bellett, Lord Congleton, Dr. Edward Cronin, and others, who already had begun to meet in the Lord's name alone, apart from all clerical ceremonies. With these Mr. Darby happily consorted, giving strength, unity, and spiritual instruction among the various meetings that were forming in different parts of Great Britain. The truth as to the Lord's coming for His Church was stirring many hearts at this time, and the study of prophecy was the subject in many small conferences, of which Lady Powerscourt's mansion became a sort of center.
What has been said as to another could preeminently be said of Mr. Darby: He looked as from heaven down upon earth rather than from earth up to heaven." It is reported that, in his constant ministry, while journeying with a companion they stepped aside from the road for a rest, and while his companion rested, Mr. Darby wrote the following:
"This world is a wilderness wide!
I have nothing to seek or to choose;
I've no thought in the waste to abide;
I have naught to regret, nor to lose.
The Lord is Himself gone before;
He has marked out the path that I tread;
It's as sure as the love I adore,
I have nothing to fear, nor to dread.
There is but that one in the waste,
Which His footsteps have marked as His own,
And I follow in diligent haste
To the seats where He's put on His crown.
For the path where our Savior is gone
Has led up to His Father and God,
To the place where He's now on the throne,
And His strength shall be mine on the road.
And with Him shall my rest be on high,
When in holiness bright I sit down,
In the joy of His love ever nigh,
In the peace that His presence shall crown.
Tis the treasure I've found in His love
That has made me a pilgrim below,
And 'tis there, when I reach Him above,
As I'm known, all His fullness I'll know.
And, Savior, 'tis Thee from on high
I await till the time Thou shalt come,
To take him Thou hast led by Thine eye
To Thyself in Thy heavenly home.
Till then 'tis the path Thou hast trod,
My delight and my comfort shall be;
I'm content with Thy staff and Thy rod,
Till with Thee all Thy glory I see.'
The strength of mind and great activity of Mr. Darby brought him in contact, and often in conflict, with leading persons in many places. In Oxford he made acquaintance with G. V. Wigram, who became an associate and strong supporter. The two Newmans were there, whom he opposed: Francis William, as a skeptic, and John Henry (afterward Cardinal Newman), who turned to Romanism. W. E. Gladstone (who later became Premier), was also met at Oxford, but was too much influenced by J. H. Newman to follow the teaching of Mr. Darby in full dependence upon Scripture for faith and practice.
In our brief space we cannot follow the great labors and devoted life of this eminent servant of Christ. Only very briefly can we mention that in Switzerland, France, and Germany many assemblies were formed and gathered to the Lord's name alone after the pattern of apostolic days as a result of several years' devoted labors, returning to England only at intervals. With the help of learned men in both countries, Mr. Darby translated the Bible from the originals (Hebrew and Greek) into French and German. His English Version, made later, is considered a most accurate and intelligent rendering of the originals. His "Synopsis of the Books of the Bible" (5 volumes) were first written in French, and afterward translated into German and English—they are precious unfoldings, in outlines only, of the ways of God and the principal subjects and object of each book. They have been recommended to Bible students by the noted Bishop Ellicott. No more useful five volumes on the Bible have been published in any language. His Collected Writings, edited by Mr. W. Kelly, form 34 large volumes.
From 1859 Mr. Darby labored in the United States and Canada at different times; and visited also the West Indies and New Zealand; Italy also, and Holland.
A little volume of his hymns and sacred poems has been published, the first piece of which gives an inkling of what lay at the root or was the source of that singularly devoted life. It begins thus:
“What powerful, mighty Voice, so near,
Calls me from earth apart—
Reaches with tones so still, so clear,
From th' unseen world my heart?

'Tis solemn: yet it draws with power
And sweetness yet unknown:
It speaks the language of an hour
When earth's forever gone.”
Of his hymns the following are among the best known:
“Sing without ceasing, sing!" (1856);
“Oh bright and blessed scenes" (1857);
“Rise, my soul, thy God directs thee" (1837);
“O Lord, Thy love's unbounded" (1845);
“And is it so, I shall be like Thy Son?" and, "We'll praise Thee, glorious Lord"— one of the loveliest hymns ever written. "And shall we see Thy face?" was composed in 1881, and the next year, April 29th, he was taken to see the Face of Him he had served so long and so faithfully.
The poem of 46 stanzas entitled "The Man of Sorrows" is a remarkable outpouring from a mind and heart that have drunk deeply in Christ's path of love and sorrow here upon earth. The history of its composition is given thus in the "Notes" that follow the compilation of Mr. Darby's "Spiritual Songs.
“'O ever homeless Stranger.'—This was written during a severe illness, in Canada, in which it was thought he was dying, and 'when medical aid had in vain been pressed upon him. He got up, although weak, wrote the Hymn, and was then obliged to go to bed again for the remainder of his illness." It was first printed in Words of Truth in 1867, under the title of "The Man of Sorrows.”
A writer, E. E. Whitfield, closes a brief biographical sketch of this distinguished servant of Christ with these words: "Although a born leader, he was nobly simple in habits and manner, and equally transparent and trustful. He had nothing petty about him. His ministry was ever in close touch with his pastoral visitations in which he engaged every afternoon. He lived in the Bible and recommended thinking in Scripture. May that similarly remain ever our spiritual food, ministry, and weapon." To this we add our earnest and unqualified Amen! But there yet remains for some qualified person to write an extended account of the life of this most remarkable man.
On! to the Spiritual Canaan—by J. N. Darby
"Rise, my soul, thy God directs thee,
Stranger hands no more impede;
Pass thou on, His hand protects thee,
Strength that has the captive freed.
Is the wilderness before thee,
Desert lands where drought abides?
Heavenly springs shall there restore thee,
Fresh from God's exhaustless tides.
Light divine surrounds thy going,
God Himself shall mark thy way;
Secret blessings, richly flowing,
Lead to everlasting day.
God, thine everlasting portion,
Feeds thee with the mighty's meat;
Price of Egypt's hard extortion,
Egypt's food no more to eat.
Art thou weaned from Egypt's pleasures?
God in secret thee shall keep,
There unfold His hidden treasures,
There His love's exhaustless deep.
In the desert God will teach thee
What the God that thou hast found—
Patient, gracious, pow'rful, holy,
All His grace shall there abound.
On to Canaan's rest still wending,
E'en thy wants and woes shall bring
Suited grace from high descending,
Thou shalt taste of mercy's spring.
Though thy way be long and dreary,
Eagle strength He'll still renew:
Garments fresh and foot unweary
Tell how God hath brought thee through.
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.