John Nelson Darby



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.

Interesting history.




  1. irishanglican · September 16, 2009

    I am no dispensationalist myself, but we must get over the idea that all dispensationalists teach salvation by different, or “two ways”. This is simply not true really!
    Fr. Robert (Anglican)
    PS I would close to the “historic” Pre-Mill position myself.

    • jm · September 16, 2009


      I’ll correct the comment by stating that many dispensationalist believe in two ways of salvation even if the system does not require that belief and at the very least they make statements that “inevitably result in a multiple form of salvation—that men are not saved the same way in all ages.” (Clarence Bass)

  2. irishanglican · September 16, 2009

    I am not American (Irish born, now in England). I remember reading some of Clarence Bass’s books. I can tell you that my greatgram was among the so-called “Kelly” Brethren. I am 59, 60 next month. So in Ireland I was around the ‘exclusive Brethren’ though raised R. Catholic. Gram later went to Surgeons Tabernacle when A. T. Pearson was pastor.
    Fr. R.

  3. Dave James · September 17, 2009

    I was saved 25 years ago and have studied dispensationalism intensely during that entire time. I have never once encountered a “two-ways-of-salvation theology” by any writer. This is a classic misunderstanding of dispensationalism – and it could be that some of the early dispensationalists made some statements that gave this impression. Neither am I saying that no dispensationalist has ever said this – and unfortunately two-covenant dispensationalists do promote what amounts to this. However, traditional conservative dispensationalists (and by far the majority, to my knowledge) would reject two ways of salvation in the strongest possible terms.

    I would appreciate someone providing any direct citations of any recognized dispensational theologian who teaches this. I read this charge all the time, but I have never seen anyone provide a quote. Most people are just going on hearsay, from what I can tell.

    Dave James
    The Alliance for Biblical Integrity.

    • jm · September 17, 2009

      “As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ… The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ…” Scofield Reference Bible on John 1:16

      I know Ryrie has wrote that Dispensational terms are misunderstood.

    • John T. "Jack" Jeffery · January 20, 2011

      Dave James: Just to preface my post by way of introduction, I consider myself a dispensationalist, and my education was in dispensational schools. I align myself with the progressive dispensationalists. To respond to your request/challenge above, I offer the following:

      “A distinction must be observed here between just men of the Old Testament and those justified according to the New Testament. According to the Old Testament men were just because they were true and faithful in keeping the Mosaic Law. Micah defines such a life after this manner:….(6:8). Men were therefore just because of their own works for God, whereas New Testament justification is God’s work for man in answer to faith (Rom. 5:1).”

      Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Systematic Theology” (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), Vol. VII, “Doctrinal Summarization”, pg. 219, s.v. “Justification”.

      I would never teach such a thing, and will not defend Chafer for doing so. His “Systematic Theology” has been the standard text in dispensational classrooms since it was first published, and yet many seem unaware of this fatal error in his “Doctrinal Summarization”. We do dispensationalism no favor by sweeping something like this under the theological carpet! Also, I think it is important to bear in mind that he did not publish this in a vacuum. Scofield’s notes contrasting Old Testament and New Testament righteousness are on a par with Chafer’s teaching:

      “The O.T. righteousness. Summary: In the O.T. “righteous” and “just” are English words used to translate the Hebrew words ‘yasher,’ “upright”; ‘tsadiq,’ “just”; ‘tsidkah,’ “righteous.” In all of these words but one idea inheres: the righteous, or just, man is so called, because he is ‘right with God;’ and he is right with God because he has walked “in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Lk. 1. 6; Rom. 10. 5; Phil. 3. 6). The O. T. righteous man was not sinless (Eccl. 7. 20), but one who, for his sins, resorted to the ordinances, and offered in faith the required sacrifice (e.g. Lev. 4. 27-35). Cf. “Righteousness (N.T.),” Rom. 10. 10, note, and Paul’s constrast, Phil. 3. 4-9.”

      “Scofield Reference Bible”, ed. C. I. Scofield (1917), s.v. “The O. T. righteousness”, note 2 (Luke 2:25), pg. 1073-1074.

      I think the most that can be said when all of their writings are considered is that they were inconsistent at best. However, this inconsistency was taught consistently enough so that the criticisms of dispensationalism on this matter cannot be dismissed as baseless. The critics’ insistent claim that this error is inherent to the system, or a byproduct necessarily produced by the hermeneutic is quite another matter!

      • Dave James · January 20, 2011


        As you can see, this post is fairly old – and I have since had some of these quotes pointed out by others. So, I stand corrected in the fact that this wasn’t to be found in writing by “mainline” dispensationalists. I should have qualified it, and I have elsewhere, that it is rare to find it in the last 50 years – at least in my reading. And it is true that I had not read it in the last 25 years – I was saved in 1984 and enrolled in Dallas Theo. Sem. in 1986. I never heard the two-way theology in the classroom, chapel, nor read it in any notes. So, don’t think I could be accused of sweeping it under the rug.

        Ignorant in this regard – perhaps – but that wouldn’t be new concerning a lot of things, no doubt. I was a staff member of a dispensational youth ministry for 22 years and a missionary with them for 16 years, founding and directing one of their Bible Institutes in Hungary.

        I recently did a lot of research and in-depth study for a course I recently taught called “Eschatological Options” – and didn’t encounter it in any of that research – and I had over 70 footnotes for the course.

        Interestingly, when I was at DTS, Chafer was not required reading in every theology class. And I don’t ever recall discussing either Darby or Scofield to any degree – which I admit, may seem strange.

        My sense is that dispensational theology has developed beyond this understanding of salvation history, which is a good thing.


  4. irishanglican · September 18, 2009

    Dave James,

    Not even E.W. Bullinger teaches this so-called two way salvific idea. He is often thought of as the hyper-dispensationalist. And though I am not a dispensationalist, and don’t follow fully Bullinger here, he is a least constant in his logic, etc. Bullinger is in fact a solid conservative biblical scholar and Greek Word studies person. I love both his works especially his Figures of Speech Used In The Bible, and his English and Greek NT Lexicon.
    He was also an Anglican.
    Fr. Robert (Anglican)

    • jm · September 18, 2009

      Yes, I own and read his commentary on Revelation, many notes in The Companion Bible, The Witness of the Stars, Great Cloud of Witnesses, Figures of Speech and How to Enjoy the Bible. I also own a bunch of works by William Kelly and JND not to mention CHM. I use “JM” out of respect for many of the early Brethren and Darby’s defense of Calvinism.

      I have it on good authority, from someone who has studied this subject for 25 years! (no less)…that, “it could be that some of the early dispensationalists made some statements that gave this impression. Neither am I saying that no dispensationalist has ever said this – and unfortunately two-covenant dispensationalists do promote what amounts to this.”


  5. Andrew Suttles · March 5, 2010

    Mr. James –

    Most popular Dispensationalists of the Scofield era openly taught a multitude of plans of salvation. Each dispensation is, in effect, a new Covenant of Works. Just a couple very popular contemporary Dispensational groups that believe in multiple plans of salvation are:

    I’m certain that others could easily be found if you wanted to find them. I know many that believe this way.

    • Dave James · March 5, 2010

      I don’t know that I would call either of these groups “very popular.” Just the design of their websites tends to indicate that they are not mainstream because of the design being so outdated.

      The Berean Bible Society is known to be ultradispensational – which would be outside the theology of traditional dispensationalism.

      I couldn’t find anything about two ways of salvation on the Grace Impact site – but perhaps they do teach this.

      However, I don’t think two ways is characteristic of very many, if any, contemporary traditional dispensationalists.

      If there are, they are not widely accepted – and a two-way view is not characteristic of any well-known dispensational college or seminary of which I’m aware.

  6. jm · March 5, 2010

    “However, I don’t think two ways is characteristic of very many, if any, contemporary traditional dispensationalists.”

    That would be one of the issues, what is “traditional dispensationalism?” It moves and changes with every generation so it is hard to have a good definition for it. Larkin, Scofield, Ryrie, MacArthur all have different ideas of dispensationalism.

  7. Andrew Suttles · March 5, 2010

    > I don’t know that I would call either of these groups “very popular.”

    I’m not sure how popular they are. I know folks in these groups, so they ‘seem’ popular to me.

    > The Berean Bible Society is known to be ultradispensational – which would be outside the theology of traditional dispensationalism.

    I’m not sure what traditional dispensationalism is, but I’m guessing it is probably Walvoord and Ryrie. These folks and DTS are currently not advocating the views once held by Chafer and Scofield, I agree.

    > However, I don’t think two ways is characteristic of very many, if any, contemporary traditional dispensationalists.

    I grew up with this classical dispensational viewpoint and I am close to many that are, so it seems popular (though not contemporary) to me. I agree that most of popular Evangelicalism holds to a softer less-consistent form of the system.

  8. Pingback: 2010 in review « Feileadh Mor
  9. abraham · November 9, 2013

    Galatians 3:16 is the Promise to Spiritual Israel – The Church & thus refutes the theory of Church Dispensing but is here to stay. – the New Covenant. Israel transgressed the old Covenant & hence will have to be regrafted into the new in which case there is neither Jew or Gentile without any separate Election All in the continuation without breaks. No business of Plans A B C D ETC, For the present hearsay of Dispensationlism inc. Pre-trib rapture only leads to the many Freemasonic alters within the Israeli supreme court.- The Lie of that golden calf to “The gods that brought thee out of Egypt” exposed by the Mighty hand of God, the strong Delusion ’cause they loved not the truth, so then may believe THE LIE.

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