The Plymouth Brethren, called by others Darbyites or Exclusive Brethren, and by themselves "Brethren," are to be distinguished from Bible Christians and Disciples of Christ (qq.v.). They took their origin in Ireland about 1828 after a movement under the leadership of John Walker which was a revolt against ministerial ordination, and in England the origin is connected with the interest in prophecy stimulated by Edward Irving (q.v.). Conferences like those under the Irving movement were held from 1828 at Powerscourt Mansion, County Wicklow, Ireland, at which John Nelson Darby (q.v.) was a prominent figure. Prior to this, from 1826 private meetings had been held on Sundays under the leadership of Edward Cronin, who had been a Roman Catholic and later a Congregationalist, for "breaking bread," at which Anthony Norris Groves, John Vesey Parnell (second Lord Congleton), and John Gifford Bellett, a friend of Darby, were attendants.
In 1827 John Darby resigned his charge and in 1828 adopted the non-conformist attitude of the men named above, prompted by the Erastianism of a petition of Archbishop Magee to the House of Commons, and issued a paper on The Nature and Unity of the Church of Christ (in vol. i. of his Collected Writings, London, 1867). This served to swell the ranks of the Brethren, so that in 1830 a public "assembly" was started in Aungier Street, Dublin, which emphasized "the coming of the Lord as the present hope of the Church and the presence of the Holy Ghost as that which brought into unity" and "the heavenly character of the Church," and used as the golden text Matt. xviii. 20.
Through Francis William Newman (q.v.), Darby had become acquainted with Benjamin Wills Newton (a lay fellow of Exeter College) and George Vicesimus Wigram at Oxford. He also visited Plymouth (whence the name for the Brethren), where Robert Hawker had been active in Evangelical ministry, and held meetings there, the outcome of which was the first English gathering of the Brethren (1831). The basis of communion was the acceptance of "all that are on the foundation" and rejection of "all error by the Word of God and the help of his ever present Spirit," recognizing that "degeneracy claimed service, and not departure."
Before the appearance of Darby's Liberty of Preaching and Teaching (1834), the Brethren had taken their stand upon a free ministry, while other weighty papers by Darby and Newton appeared in the new magazine, The Christian Witness, edited by J. L. Harris. Recruits of note were Henry Craik and Georg (Friedrich) Muller (q.v.), coming from the Baptist denomination. The latter had been in the service of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, but became convinced that assemblies should consist only of the converted and joined the Brethren, beginning pastoral work at Bristol in 1832 on the lines of their policy, and developing the other activities for which he became famous. Other noted converts to the denomination were Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (q.v.) and Robert Chapman.
Darby continued his work in London, then went to the continent, where in French Switzerland he promoted the movement by personal and literary activities, opposing a regular ministry as ignoring the privilege of every believer to direct access to God. While there he became aware of a tendency toward isolation manifesting itself in Newton, shown in his revival of restricted ministry together with doctrinal divergencies, e.g., Newton's adherence to the Reformation teaching of justification, inclusion of the Old-Testament saints in the apocalyptic Church, and belief that the second advent would not precede the "great tribulation," to which the Church would be subject. Failing to secure satisfaction from Newton and his adherents, in 1845 Darby started a separate assembly.
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