The Early Life And Influence Of John Nelson Darby -- By: Bruce A. Baker

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 21:2 (Fall 2017)
Article: The Early Life And Influence Of John Nelson Darby
Author: Bruce A. Baker

The Early Life And Influence Of
John Nelson Darby

Bruce A. Baker

Abstract: Many dispensationalists are familiar with the work of J. N. Darby, particularly his influence on dispensationalism as a system. But considerably less are acquainted with the man himself. This is particularly unfortunate because, by all accounts, Darby was a great man. Even his detractors concede that his attitude toward the poor and his remarkable generosity mark him as a man of unusual character. This article traces the early life of Darby as well as influential persons and events upon his life and ministry. Specifically, this article examines the influence of Richard Graves (Dean of Trinity College) upon Darby’s spiritual life, his conversion and his “deliverance” years later, as well as his generosity and attitude toward the poor.


The youngest son of John Darby of Leap Castle, King’s County, Ireland, John Nelson Darby was born at his father’s house in London on November 18, 1800.2 Though his family had been associated with Ireland since before the Reformation, his early years were spent in London, attending Westminster School. These years were uneventful save for the untimely death of his mother, which made a lasting impression upon the boy.3 He matriculated at Trinity College,

Dublin, at age fifteen. At nineteen he graduated as a Classical Gold Medalist.4

Richard Graves

While at Trinity, Darby came under the influence of the godly dean of the school, Richard Graves, who had a keen interest in Jewish evangelism and the prophecies of the OT.5

Graves was “innovative and fervent-spirited” and was promoted to Regius Professor of Divinity in 1815 “to try to turn things around.”6

Prior to Graves’ arrival, the spiritual tenor of the college was at an all-time low. To combat this spiritual lethargy, Graves began instituting changes to the curricula including a mandatory one year of divinity before taking Holy Orders: “[I]t might be deduced that Darby, who was ordained a priest in 1826, had met the ‘year’s course of Divinity Lectures’ requirement.”7

Graves was evidently a dynamic preacher and loving professor, taking a genuine interest in both t...

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