John Nelson Darby invented dispensationalism in the 1800’s?

The common rebuttal of dispensationalism is that John Darby invented it a couple of centuries ago.  This counterargument rests on the assumptions that 1) no one or not many before him held to these beliefs and 2) everything novel in theology is likely wrong.  I’d be inclined to reject dispensationalism on this proposition except that the first assumption is wrong.

For instance, it’s undebated that nearly early all the Church Fathers anticipated some king of a millennial reign of Christ.  Since the Reformation, several dispensational types exist: Anglican John Bale (1495-1563); Anglican Joseph Mede (1586-1638); American Puritans Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather (1596-1728); Congregationalist Isaac Watts (1674-1748); Baptist John Gill (1679-1771); Congregationalist Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758); Baptist Morgan Edwards (1722-1792); and Reformed commentator Robert Haldane (1764-1842).  Of those, John Gill, a Calvinistic Baptist who pastored the same church as Spurgeon over a hundred years earlier, wrote on the rapture.  Morgan Edwards, a Welsh Baptist pastor who helped found what would become Brown University, taught a more fully-developed pretribulational rapture years before John Darby was born.

Of course, there are many more who were contemporaries of John Darby.  Others include Anglican John Charles Ryle (1816-1900); Baptist James Robinson Graves (1820-1893); Lutheran Joseph A Seiss (1823-1904); Presbyterian Elijah Richardson Craven (1824-1908); Lutheran George N. H. Peters (1825-1909); Presbyterian Nathaniel West (1826-1906); Presbyterian James Hall Brookes (1837-1897); Anglican E. W. Bullinger (1837-1913); Evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899); Presbyterian Samuel H. Kellogg (1839-1899); Brethren/Presbyterian Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918); Congregationalist Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921); Baptist Clarence Larkin (1850-1924); Episcopalian James Martin Gray (1851-1935); Jewish convert David Baron (1855-1926); Baptist William Bell Riley (1861-1947); Methodist Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945); Anglican William Henry Griffith Thomas (1861-1924); Baptist William T. Pettingill (1866-1950); Evangelical Henry Allen Ironside (1876-1951); Author/Speaker John Frederick Strombeck (1881-1959); Christian Reformed Church pastor Harry Bultema (1884-1952); Reformed pastor M. R. DeHaan (1891-1965); and Evengelical Rene Pache (1904-1979). 

"Though all the premillennial and dispensational teachers listed above did not hold to the same views on every detail, there are some very important points they held in common: they all endorsed a literal view of hermeneutics; they were Calvinistic in their convictions or inclinations; they believed in the distinct difference between Israel and the church; they held generally to the same position on the rapture ... they saw the kingdom as distinct from the church today; they looked for a regathering of Israel and a spiritual awakening of Jews to their Messiah; they looked for a literal return of Christ to reign for a thousand years" (Mal Couch, “Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Later History,” An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, 108-127).

So, Darby did not invent these ideas.  In fact, I hope you noticed the intra-denominational nature of these teachings.  It seems that many men of God have come to see these truths of Scripture, regardless of particular ecclesiastical traditions.

Still, it's also interesting to note that the early dispensationalists were reformed in their thinking, even Darby, the Calvinist Brethren missionary, author, and speaker.  It’s sad that dispensationalism has become the mark of Arminianism, because Calvinism is a far more consistent with the dispensational model.  We who hold to reformed ideas in regards to salvation believe God saves us unconditionally, doing so for the sake of His great Name and glory.  It’s not a leap, then, for the early dispensationalists to go from there to believing the same for the nation of Israel. 

This is how we see God dealing with them in the Old Testament, in spite of their sins, and it seems consistent with what Revelation reveals in the future.  In this way, we not only have a consistent hermeneutic (means of understanding Scripture) but also a consistent theology (what we know is true about God and creation from Scripture).

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