What an imposing figure!
John Nelson Darby was instrumental in spreading Dispensational Premillennalism during the 19th century, his strict literalistic teaching was a reaction to liberalism in the Church. Based on the personal studies of John Nelson Darby the Plymouth Brethren Churches began to teach a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church, a sharp distinction that was not taught in all of Church history before Darby. The Dispensationalism of Darby and the Brethren came to North America during the Bible prophecy conferences of 1870’s and 80’s influencing Bible schools including Moody Bible Institute.
Cyrus Scofield was a Presbyterian minister who was introduced to Dispensationalism via the Bible conferences and the author of the notes in the famous Scofield Bible, he was also the teacher of Lewis Chafer the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary. For whatever reason the Presbyterians really took hold of this new teaching of Dispensationalism and began to promote the Pretribulational Rapture in earnest. Chafer’s Seminary started to turn out independent ministers trained in Dispensational hermeneutics, armed with the Scofield Bible, Dispensationalism became a theological force within the independent Churches. The Dispensationalism of Darby was modified by Scofield and then again by Chafer. Chafer’s Dispensationalism was modified by Charles Ryrie. Ryrie’s Dispensationalism was again modified a few more times and today Dispensationalism has separated into four major groups. The first is old school classical Dispensationalism, modified Dispensationalism, progressive Dispensationalism, and hyper Dispensationalism.
Why is the history of Dispensationalism important?
By knowing the history of the system we know the teaching of Darby was a new teaching introduced to the Church as a reaction to liberalism and then it couldn’t sustain itself in its original form. “The presupposition of the difference between law and grace, between Israel and the Church, between the different relations of God to men in the different dispensations, when carried to its logical conclusion, will inevitably result in a multiple form of salvation – that men are not saved the same way in all ages.” Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 34.
With such sharp distinctions between the Israel and the Church only confusion can result.
His writings can be found here.
You’ll notice from his works, if you read them, Darby believed in infant baptism and was a Calvinist. He debated D.L. Moody on the issue of Calvinism.