In 1879 a gathering at Ryde, Isle of Wight, failed to deal with depravity in the midst, and Darby's old Dublin associate Cronin, desiring to end the scandal, founded a new "assembly" in the place. Darby regarded this as a breach of unity, and called upon Cronin's home congregation at Kensington, London, to discipline the offender, and to "judge" his "indiscretion." Cronin was defended by use of Darby's avowal that the old assembly was "rotten" and that for thirty years he himself had avoided it. A crusade was nevertheless directed against Cronin by the leaders at Park Street, Islington, and additional matters connected with baptism entered into the controversy. Finally, although Darby had asked only for a stern rebuke, Cronin's stubbornness widened the breach and he was excommunicated.
About the same time there was disruption at Ramsgate, Kent, one of the rival parties at which supported Cronin while the other strongly condemned him, the assemblies at Blackheath, where Kelly resided, and at Islington also taking opposite sides. The result was a split in 1881 at Park Street like that which had occurred in the Bethesda affair. Each side charged the other with "independency," and Darby described the situation as a struggle between intelligence and the Spirit, by "intelligence" referring to Kelly's endeavor to give intellectual expression to the policy hitherto pursued and thereby to maintain the "unity of London." The man who had so long led meditated withdrawing altogether from the Brethren, feeling that the encroachments of the world had marred "the testimony"; but his faith reasserted itself. Darby's survival of this poignant situation can be counted only by months, as he died the next year. He was little disposed to learn from others, and claimed to have "the mind of the Spirit." He united Roman Catholic with Evangelical ideas, though his own apprehension of Scripture dominated his mind. He regarded himself as the beginning of the Plymouth Brethren, which was true at least so far as the English branch was concerned. Where he was iconoclastic, it was not, as he expressed it, "with an Edomitic attack but with Jeremianic sorrow."
The year 1885 was notable for concurrent divisions among Darby's last associates on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States Frederick William Grant, of Plainfield, N. J., alienated rivals in the Islington party by his candidly independent attitude toward some of their cherished doctrines. He was an ex-clergyman of Canadian origin, a man of much erudition, and highly esteemed in his section. He held that the saints of the old dispensation possessed eternal life, and agreed with the interpretation of Rom. vii. which holds that the apostle there describes the moral condition of believers even after receiving the seal of the Spirit. The English leaders detached their adherents from fellowship with him.
At Reading, England, Clarence Esme Stuart, an accomplished Biblical scholar who had sided with Darby in 1881, came into collision with James Butler Stoney, an unbalanced teacher who was no longer held by the restraint imposed by Darby's presence. Stuart's primal offense was that at Reading he had not adopted the hymn-book last revised by Darby; second, that he unduly distinguished between the standing and state (or condition) of believers, holding that the Pauline expression "in Christ" sets forth condition alone, and that in this are to be sought such distinctions as obtain fundamentally between believers of the different dispensations. With these doctrinal issues was combined a social breach between him and a local female ally of the Stoney school. Upon this last matter the Reading assembly refused to give judgment, though with some dissent against the order of procedure, supported by the Stoney faction dominant in London, which separated from Reading and carried many assemblies with them. Those in Great Britain who disowned the interference of the London adherents continued to recognize the Grant contingent in America. Stuart gave color to the new departure by shortly afterward emphasizing his view of atonement, according to which Christ, as high priest only after death, made propitiation by blood not on the cross but in heaven, in the interval between death and resurrection. This view was not unknown in theology (e.g., Professor George Smeaton), but was regarded by Stuart's critics as a
From 1881 to his death in 1906 Kelly continued to be revered as a sound teacher of the first order, possessed of great capacity as a leader and controversialist. He was unremitting in his ministry and in writing, defending the truth as he conceived it against all innovation, in particular against the higher criticism. With him passed away the last survivor of the golden age of the Brethren.
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