What investigation has there been at Plymouth?

J. N. Darby.

<20007E> 167

If there be one thing more painful than holding those you care for to be guilty of any evil, it is being called upon to do anything which proves them so. I have this consolation that in writing this I do not volunteer. It is well known that the congregation at Rawstorne Street, after many previous steps being taken, declined to receive Mr. Newton at the Lord's table until a satisfactory clearing up of certain charges: their act being grounded on his refusal to satisfy their consciences or to meet them for the purpose. Three brethren, not of Rawstorne Street, who met Mr. Newton on the subject (who did not ask him to meet the saints in Rawstorne Street, but who urged him as he had offered to satisfy brethren to do so in the presence of those concerned, such as myself and others, urging that he could not object to the tribunal as he had offered to satisfy brethren, and all they asked was his doing it in the presence of those concerned in the matters), received a like refusal of their proposals. Mr. Newton's friends have printed and circulated reasons for not meeting the saints in Rawstorne Street: reasons which apply in part to any investigation whatever, in part to the principle on which it should be carried on.

These "Reasons" then I proceed as briefly as possible to answer, feeling that it is due to the consciences of the saints. And I shall confine myself to reasons which apply to any investigation. I have written at large on them in general elsewhere.

The reasons amount to this. The matter has been investigated, and that doubly, and Mr. Newton received an acquittal, and that, besides personal testimonies, by the church of God. And this is the form of the latter. Four persons say they have inquired, and that their acquittal having been communicated to the saints is to be held to be final as the decision of the church of God in the matter. These four persons are Messrs. S., C-w, B., and D.

I shall consider the validity of this under three heads:

The persons who acquit;

The fact of investigation by them, and what they say they investigated;

And the manner of it, which will introduce collaterally the other alleged acquittal.

168 As to the persons who acquit. It is alleged they were the persons recognized as addicted to the ministry, practically therefore the known guides or elders of the congregation, above all question of partiality, party-spirit, or bias from circumstances, having no concern in it but truth, competent to settle the consciences of the congregation. This is clear. They say (p. 12), "This the church does, we believe, through those of its members capacitated by God for such service." This would evidently be called for, or it would be a revolting use of the name of the church of God and of the case of His people. Now the fact is, these four were the known partisans and instruments of Mr. Newton; they were and are, as every one knows at Plymouth, his instruments in carrying on his plans. I do not hesitate to say that, had Mr. D. professed to be at that time what he professes himself to have been owned to be, it would have only excited the indignation or utter discomfort of even Mr. Newton's own friends.* At that time they could hardly bear his speaking even. As to dear C-w, though I doubt not beloved by many and justly, the idea of his being a responsible guide, or being the person to settle the conscience of the body in a grave matter, is the very last thing that would have entered into anybody's head. Nobody really would have tolerated (unless as submitting to some power they could not resist) the thought of either being in such a place - not even Mr. Newton's friends. As to other spiritual persons, their judgment would have gone and did go very much farther indeed. But one thing is certain, they were Mr. Newton's known instruments.

{*I dare say it may be different now that the party is formed; I speak of what every one knew to be the case then.}

There was one who was universally looked up to as pastor, who visited and was trusted and beloved, Mr. H. How comes it his name does not appear? Is not this singular in so solemn and public an act as this investigation? There were others, as R.H., S-s, R-e, who used to take a part in what went on. How came Mr. Newton to select the four who were to act in this solemn investigation? Mr. N. did not perhaps recognize the others I have just named; but were those whom he thought proper to recognize* the proper persons for him to refer his own case to? Indeed Messrs. D. and C-w he did not venture to name on another occasion when he declared who had authority in the gathering; Mr. H. he then did. It may be said Mr. H. was not then ministering. But is not this a serious fact? Why not mention it? Why was he not? The real fact is that, three days before the charges were made, he had declined further ministry because the conduct of Mr. Newton and the chief of these four was so very bad. And Messrs. R-e and S-s had begged the saints to assemble to know what was to be done to hinder their losing Mr. H. (Mr. R.H. had previously left disgusted). At that very assembly the charges were made.

{*I beg attention to this, as the principle when Mr. N.'s views become fully known is exceedingly important as well as the propriety of it.}

169 And then about a fortnight after, Mr. Newton put, it is said, into the hands of these four as the persons regarded by all as the guides of the body, the investigation of his conduct. Further, these four themselves declare to the reader here, that they were implicated in the great bulk of the charges made: not indeed in these particular untruths which were alleged to be told to screen Mr. N. from the other charges, but in the bulk of those which they were about. Did this fit them for binding the church of God by their investigation? Further, the letter whose truth was in question was written at Mr. C-w's request by Mr. Newton, and published or circulated by Mr. C-w. Mr. D. declared that it was at his suggestion Mr. Newton made the additions which constituted the other charge. Further, in the letter of the five* in answer to the invitation to London they all declare that they in common were charged, and exculpate themselves together from these very charges, veracity and all, which in their "Reasons" they profess to have solemnly examined, as independent persons, Mr. Newton's guilt in, so as to bind the church of God by their decision.

{*That is, these four and Mr. Newton.}

Further, when Mr. Newton was examined by the brethren who came down they appeared regularly* with him. And this was at the very time they profess to have been making their independent inquiry. I am told he declared he would not appear without them. Are these the persons who are to make and conclude this solemn inquiry so as to bind the church of God?** At Plymouth they are and were the known and notorious partisans of Mr. Newton, though Mr. S. was shaken for a moment by what took place. I dare say Mr. Newton asked them to inquire into the matter. But what will others say to such an inquiry?

{*On one occasion, I am informed, Mr. D. was wanting.}

{**The following is Sir A.C.'s remark on this point in his published tract: "Who are the rulers in this case first to investigate and then to lay the evidence before the body? They are the principal persons charged with the things complained of," though it is not really evidence but their decision.}

170 But did they indeed inquire? It is the first time any one ever heard of such an inquiry by these elders - this only scriptural mode. What is the fact stated in the "Reasons"? "The first step towards such an inquiry was taken by Mr. Newton himself" (p. 3). And what was this? He nominated* four other persons to investigate the case. Is not this a singular step towards such an inquiry? They ascertain, they say, that two were not facts. Next, as to the other two charges, the only ones I admit to have made then, their assertion is that they were themselves "as thoroughly acquainted as our brother Darby himself could be with" them. And they felt they had nothing to lay before the saints: that is, they knew it of themselves and did nothing. They had been brought by Mr. Newton as his friends to the meeting which gave rise to one charge; and the other rested on a printed document which, it is true, any one can judge of, that can compare it with the MS.

{*They never were nominated though I supposed these four might be. Nor is it said in the letter to me to report to the church, as stated in the "Reasons," but merely report. This with Mr. N.'s views is a most material difference. It did not mean "to the church." I urged in my reply that it ought to come before it. The answer was, it was not "a question of conscience to be referred only to the church of God," but "a simple question of evidence to be best dealt with by a few competent persons."}

But is it not a strange inquiry to have thorough acquaintance oneself and report nothing? They never came to me. They never came to Mr. H. who had been to Mr. Newton about his untruth, and urged him to suppress the letter, nor to any one else concerned; and subsequently the two facts were admitted Every one can judge of their value; at least a man's opinion acquainted with the circumstances will prove his estimate of what is honest and honourable and very little else. They state indeed, that they had, in company with the ten saints who came from a distance, an opportunity of again and again sifting all that could be said on it. Does this look like persons who made an independent investigation? Now this is moreover wholly untrue: they made no such investigation in company They came with Mr. Newton when he was examined; but that is all the company they had unless with those of the ten who were Mr. N.'s avowed partisans. They never were near me with them nor Mr. H., nor I believe, any independent witness whatever. They were known to be charged as accessories.

171 Indeed had they come alone to me with the pretensions of the guides of the church, their pretensions would have very briefly settled the question. There was not an independent person in Plymouth to whom some of them would have ventured to have hinted such a thing. It is important to remember that the period during which they profess to have made the investigation was exactly that during which the ten brethren were occupied in it, to three of whom and one who I suppose does not profess to guide the church Mr. N. had entrusted the investigation. It is true I left the Lord to order all this matter, and kept quiet; but it is at least singular that I should have been at Plymouth and never heard of a solemn investigation into my charges, which investigation began by its being put by the accused into four other hands than these and ended, being founded on the internal conviction of the four inquirers, with the uselessness of making any report at all.

And now I beg attention to what professes to be the report which in consequence of agitation was thought proper to be issued at a later period as the result of the inquiry. No joint paper issued from the ten inquirers from a distance. This made people restless. They wondered, if Mr. Newton was so clear of the charges, they could not come to a simple conclusion that he was so. Several of the inquirers had left. Mr. S. was the one, as every one knows at Plymouth, whose family (and I gladly add person) was respected in the town, and who was esteemed by the saints. I believe he has fallen into a deplorable snare of Satan; I think I see how, though I could not expect him to receive any judgment from me now. But he was respected. I think his position was his misfortune: God, I trust, and am sure, will turn it to good sooner or later. He then was individually put forward. He signs a letter in his own name as having by himself come to the conclusion, and offers individually to give information to any; and the three others - one, as we have seen, the person who printed and circulated the accused letter, and the other suggested the questioned addition - back up his individual testimony by cheerfully giving their joint one. Is this the declaration of the result of a solemn joint inquiry as elders and guides of the congregation in their official capacity?

172 It is added to this that "meetings of the saints in communion were convened at which full information was given," and Mr. Newton was questioned. What is the fact as to this? There were tea meetings held by invitation every Monday for (I suppose) six weeks, to quiet the minds of those who were dissatisfied (some 150 had left and were meeting in peace, and every tea meeting brought some more out). At these meetings Sir A.C.'s statements, as well as mine, were declared to be false. The reader can easily suppose who were invited, and who were not questioned nor questioners.

This closes by the following, "Now we press very particularly on your regard the fact that this matter has been therefore investigated by the church here, and investigated on the same principles as all such cases are investigated among us, only in a much more searching, protracted, and formal manner." Perhaps there is more truth in this than in the rest; but it tells a strange tale, though I believe a true one, as to Ebrington Street discipline. But it is a notable example of a verdict debated by those capacitated of God for it, by which the church is to be bound without debate, and which is to be received as closing a case with which the church has dealt.

And now as to the things investigated, page 1 of "Reasons" begins with the main bulk of charges contained in a recent "Narrative of Facts." The investigating ministers were implicated in the main bulk of the charges brought by me; "the only exception* is in the case of the charges of personal untruthfulness. Of these specific charges our brother Newton is the only object. Now as to these it might be quite sufficient for us to refer you to his own paper, entitled 'A Defence,' etc., a copy of which accompanies this paper." You would suppose these last were the charges of the "Narrative." Not at all; they are a very small part of them indeed. The inquiry at Plymouth had attracted attention, and people naturally conclude that all this statement about investigation and acquittal treated of in the "Reasons" and Mr. Newton's "Defence," refer to the charges which have given occasion to these "Reasons," and that Mr. N. having been acquitted of them it is unjust to try him again on them. The reader will be surprised to hear that this is not at all the case.

{*This professedly refers to paragraph 1, which speaks of the "Narrative."}

173 The fact is this, I was called on to give my reasons to the saints why I seceded. In doing this I was obliged to state two particular things as to Mr. Newton, because they had made me cease ministering three months before I left; but I carefully avoided mentioning anything that did not lead to my leaving, and hence mentioned only two things as charges. This roused Mr. Newton, and these charges were inquired into. Lately finding the same course pursued elsewhere which produced such misery at Plymouth, and by the same means, I felt bound to give a narrative of what had passed at Plymouth, and in this six or seven failings of the same kind appear, that is, four or five more graver than the two I had already mentioned. This awakened the attention of many brethren, and, Mr. Newton going up to town and saying one object he had was to satisfy brethren's minds as to these charges, they met this proposal and urged him on the one hand to meet the saints at Rawstorne Street, while on the other, other brethren to whom the matter had been referred - recognized guides - urged that he should meet me and others concerned and have it all cleared up. He refused both, and printed and circulated these "Reasons" for refusing to meet the saints in Rawstorne Street, alleging as it is seen that he had been acquitted: and, to make this available, the "Defence" written in 1845 and read to the brethren then as an answer to the two charges made at that time (I leave out the first two which I disown as charges; I have entered into this elsewhere) is produced as if it were a reply to the charges of the "Narrative" written in 1846, about a year after the "Defence"; which last does not and could not allude to the great body of charges in the "Narrative."

And now mark the means. In the sentences in page 1 of the "Reasons" to which I have referred, paragraph I speaks of the charges contained in the "Narrative." Paragraph 3 excepts the other four from "the charges of personal untruthfulness." Of these specific charges, our brother Newton is the only object. Now as to these the four refer to the "Defence," and say they have been investigated. One would think "these" were the same as "specific charges"; and the specific charges are certainly those contained in the "Narrative": but no. They are far enough in paragraph 4 from paragraph 1 to have dropped the "Narrative," the mind of the reader is occupied (and will be in the tract) with the notorious inquiry at Plymouth, and he fixes on this, quite unconscious that the "these" in paragraph 4 treated of in the "Defence" refer only to a very small part of the "specific charges" in the "Narrative," of which Mr. N. is thus supposed to be acquitted. The charges of the "Narrative" which were the subject in 1846 are conveniently swamped in the "Defence" of 1845, which did not refer to much more than a quarter of these, and morally a still smaller proportion.

174 In page 2 they have got farther, and say now we understand your letter to refer only to these last-mentioned charges, that is, of 1845 (assumed to be in general those against Mr. N.'s veracity) and they say they have been already investigated (p.4) (having paraded them in a materially changed and in part falsified state too), though they begin in page I by professing to take up the charges contained in the "Narrative of Facts."

Now as to the manner of bringing out the acquittal, which leads me to the other alleged one. It is asserted that all the brethren who came acquitted Mr. Newton. The fact is this, after several had gone, Sir A.C. drew up a paper (signed subsequently by four others) going as far as ever they could in clearing Mr. Newton. This verdict was presented to Mr. N to see if he would be satisfied with it. This was a strange procedure if it was a direct definite result of a solemn investigation. Mr. Newton declared that he was ruined if it came out and that he would go to Canada. And the statement was withdrawn at his instance. I thought it far the best thing in appearance for him that had taken place, and I stated its existence in the "Narrative" to have my account above blame. Now this statement, rejected by Mr. N. as unfair and ruinous, is that which is said to be the acquittal by these inquirers! It is moreover a singular fact that the person who drew it up published immediately afterwards a tract declaring in italics, "That anything like an open investigation of the charges was positively refused." I perfectly understand this transaction from letters and statements to myself, but it would not become me to explain it here. There is no imputation on any one's uprightness.* God took care it should come to nothing. But a statement proposed to Mr. Newton, and rejected by him as ruining him and therefore withdrawn, can hardly be now alleged as a solemn acquittal by the ten brethren, five only having signed it, whatever it stated: the person who drew it up having declared subsequently that anything like an open investigation of the charges was positively refused. There I leave that matter. When Mr. Newton had got rid of this by threatening to go to Canada if it came out, then the statement of Mr. S. and the added note of the three was produced, saying that as the brethren had come to no result they had drawn a paper up, and were going to give it out, entirely clearing Mr. N.; and this withdrawn acquittal, and the clearing which supplanted it, is the complete acquittal of impartial brethren and the solemn judgment of the church of God concurring in declaring the charges unfounded!

{*I do not know after all as it merely clears up Sir A.C.'s act in presenting it to Mr. N. that I am wrong in saying that I have no doubt the original object was to get rid of the charges in order to inquire into the sectarianism. I do not speak of that of all that signed it.}

175 The fact is, that nothing more damaged the cause of Mr. N. at Plymouth, or so much, as this very paper, though it is possible some may have been influenced by Mr. S.'s name. And he well knows he got no honour by it. One of the signers of the previous supposed acquittal got his eyes opened by it too. People naturally said these known partisans of Mr. Newton would not have been obliged to clear him thus if other acquittal had not been wanting.

I here close my remarks. I have not touched on the "Defence"; I have read it, I had heard it read before. I have examined anew the two charges I made. I say it with sorrow - I have nothing to retract at all. I have entered at large into my reasons elsewhere and gone into many more facts in a larger statement connected with what passed in Rawstorne Street, and discussion of the church principle avowed in these reasons. I write these few pages for brethren more immediately concerned and unable from ignorance of the facts to estimate the force of the "Reasons."

I have only to add that there was no foundation whatever for the statement as to Hackney. One brother wrote a private note inquiring, supposing a gathering were to propose such a thing or if such another thing were done, would Mr. N. be induced to consent? The brethren at Hackney made no proposition or communication whatever, nor did any one in their name.

The last paragraph may naturally attract. I have only to say, before the rupture, confession and a day of fasting was urged and peremptorily refused. Plymouth should not be made a plague spot of, was the answer; and when ashamed to be refused longer, many can remember what was given out and what passed at it, the bold appeal to God to be strengthened to maintain their position. When Mr. C-n was here, he declared it was useless to attempt to get Mr. Newton to have any humiliation about Plymouth, and they must have it for the church in general.

176 Finally, I here avow that, if such things as I have gone through are to be tolerated in the church of God, brethren must seek others than me to be associated with them in their walk and labour. I say this as no unseemly threat but for the necessary unburdening of my conscience. I believe that GOD dwells in His church, and that it is an open and intolerable mockery of Him to speak of the solemn judgment of the church in such conduct as this; such a degradation and prostitution of the name of that which ought to carry the holiness and power of God with it as the vessel of the Spirit, is not to be borne with. These "Reasons" are to my mind a worse sin than the untruth they are meant to cover. I am a poor sinner, the chief of sinners; I have no hope for myself but grace. But I do not see that it is grace to abandon the church to evil such as I believe this to be. This is not the place to parade my feelings: God will judge in a day that is to come, who has had most of such as He approves of (though I am sure I am most poor in His sight). But I love the church of God better than I do any individual. I think I ought to do so.

Further, as to the four who sign this (whose paper, and not Mr. Newton's conduct, I examine here), I am sure some of them are mere misled instruments, though I cannot say blameless in it. I believe one alone to be the author of it, and (whatever grace may call for, and in it we are called to be perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect, and we have a double reason for this as ourselves sinners) he must expect I should act upon the ground of that which I believe.

I again press upon the reader that this is no volunteer of mine. The brethren in London felt unable, especially in the absence of Mr. Newton, to enter into the merits of the case. They declined to receive him till he cleared it up. The four chose to circulate and publish their reasons for his refusal to do so, and sent these by post to all the saints they could, and gave them away at the tract shop in London. They cannot complain of the publicity of the matter.

177 In result, the alleged acquittals are, first, a testimony of four persons who declare elsewhere they were jointly accused with the person acquitted: and secondly, a paper suppressed by Mr. Newton, because it ruined him.