We are pleased to announce that a further selection of material from the Christian Brethren Archive has been digitised, and is available for access online. This material includes a collection of correspondence written or received by John Nelson Darby, and 2 notebooks from the Fry Collection, which include transcriptions of conversations and correspondence between Benjamin Wills Newton and F.W. Wyatt, and copies of notes for addresses given by Newton.

The Correspondence of John Nelson Darby

Letter from John Nelson Darby to Mr Keen of Folkstone, 1989. archive reference JND/5/113

Darby was one of the founder members of what later became known as the Plymouth Brethren. When the latter split in 1848, he went on to become the first leader of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’. He was a noted biblical scholar whose doctrinal system was adopted well beyond the confines of the Brethren.

The digitised series of Darby correspondence consists of 307 letters, and forms a series of the catalogued papers of John Nelson Darby, archive reference JND/5. The letters date from 1829-1882 and are predominantly correspondence received by Darby from figures of consequence within the Christian Brethren, including Edward Cronin, Benjamin Wills Newton and William Kelly, and with references to George Mueller and George V. Wigram. The letters include discussion of divisions, disputes and ex-communications, and references to numerous Brethren assemblies. There are requests for advice from Darby on personal, theological and eschatological questions, with reference to fellowship at assemblies, baptism and marriage, and also discussion of missionary work.

The letters can be viewed using this link.

The Notebooks of the Fry Collection

Benjamin Wills Newton also played a prominent role in the formation of the Plymouth Brethren. Initially intended to take holy orders, Newton underwent an evangelical conversion whilst at Oxford and, on his return to Plymouth, began to preach at independent Christian gatherings. He developed a close relationship with John Nelson Darby, and was appointed as an elder of the Providence Chapel.

Over time however, Newton’s views on Biblical prophecy diverged from those of Darby and his followers, and the dominance Newton had come to exert in the worship at Providence Chapel elicited disapproval. There were also accusations of heresy made in relation to some of Newton’s teachings, and the disagreements between Darby and Newton would lead to the division of the movement into what are known as the ‘Open’ and ‘Exclusive’ Brethren in 1848.

Newton left Plymouth and the Christian Brethren soon after this dispute, and later retired to Newport, on the Isle of Wright, where he continued to maintain and encourage a following of like-minded Christians. Amongst his congregation were Frederick William Wyatt, a watchmaker and Greek and Hebrew scholar, and Alfred Charles Fry, a printer, who would become Newton’s close associates, and make notes of his lectures and addresses. Wyatt transcribed conversations between himself and Newton into notebooks, and Fry was employed as Newton’s colporteur, delivering and distributing his works around the island by bicycle.

Fry Manuscript 1 archive reference CBA 7057

The notebooks which have been digitised from this collection, archive references 7057 and 7061, are dated 1883 and 1893-1896 respectively, and include transcriptions of conversations between Newton and Wyatt, copies of correspondence, and copies of notes of addresses given by Newton. Also included is a copy of a proposed lexicon begun by Newton.

The notebooks of the Fry Collection can be viewed using this link.