The Character of a Servant of God

Any portraiture of Darby the man must be painted in sharp black and white tones, never in shades of gray. He was a man of incredible intensity. First and foremost, he was intensely committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was his only love and all-consuming passion. He cared for little that this world had to offer. Though meticulous in personal cleanliness, for example, Darby wore only simple clothing and those to the point of shabbiness. It is said that on one occasion while he slept, some kindly friends seized the opportunity to substitute new clothing for old. Upon waking, Darby donned the new apparel without remark or even apparent notice.

Darby was kind and humble in nature and his compassion and generosity towards the poor was without bounds. He observed that “Christ preferred the poor; ever since I have been converted so have I. Let those who like society better have it. If I ever get into it . . . I return sick at heart. I go to the poor; I find the same evil nature as in the rich, but I find this difference: the rich, and those who keep their comforts and their society, judge and measure how much of Christ they can take and keep without committing themselves; the poor, how much of Christ they can have to comfort them in their sorrows. That, unworthy as I am, is where I am at home and happy.” Darby in no way felt intellectually ill- equipped for cultivated society, it was just that given the choice, he rejected it all in preference for the cross.4

Kindly in disposition and humble in spirit though Darby was, his absolute devotion to the Word of God and demand for unflinching fidelity to its truth, as he understood it, made him ready prey for controversy. His limitless patience with the honest ignorance of the poor and unlearned was legendary. But so was his wrath against those among the well educated who played fast and loose with the truth of the gospel of Christ.

A full twenty-five years after one “heterodox teacher” had felt the brunt of Darby’s indignation, he was to write, “J.N.D. writes with a pen in one hand and a thunderbolt in the other.” But as Darby’s biographer, W. G. Turner points out, “it was only fundamental error which roused his deepest grief and indignation, his patience with honest blunderers being proverbial.”

If ever the epithet, “fighting Fundamentalist” applied to anyone, it applied to J. N. Darby. At the same time, it is true that Darby derived no pleasure from controversy and often expressed his love for the object of his more potent polemics. But in his view, faced with a choice between peace on the one hand and truth on the other, there could be no alternative but to defend the truth.

Wherever Darby went, whether peasant’s home or hallowed halls of Oxford, his nobleness of character, keenness of mind, dedication to Christ, and commanding presence made him the focus of attention. The great Bible teacher and preacher, G. Campbell Morgan recounts as one of the “cherished recollections” of his boyhood his encounter with Darby who had come to visit his father. “He vividly recalls the almost reverential awe that lay upon him in the presence of that truly great man, and how the awe gave place and the reverence remained, when the visitor spoke kindly to him about his studies.”


Article series: Biographies

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