See Plymouth Breth- REX.
Plymouth Brethren, a Christian denomination, called by themselves simply Brethren, and sometimes called also Darbyites after one of their leaders. They have no written creed or confession, and every one is allowed entire freedom of belief; yet they hold the total depravity of man, the necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the atonement by the sufferings and death of Christ. They believe that Christianity is in ruins, as appears in the sectarian divisions; and that believers should withdraw from the churches, and meet in separation from all ecclesiastical evil. They reject any special designation or ordination to the office of the ministry, regarding all. true Christians as priests, who, if they are found able to edify the brethren, are authorized to preach and administer the sacraments without any human call or ordination. As a body they practise adult baptism only; they do not make it a condition of membership, yet generally convince their members of the importance of being rebaptized. They partake of the Lord's supper every Sunday morning, and believers only are expected to meet then. In the afternoon or evening they preach to such as are not yet converted; but they consider pleading out of place in the assembly of believers.
They regard the work of pastors and evangelists as distinct, and allow the payment of the latter while itinerating, but consider the payment of pastors as unscriptural. The denomination originated almost simultaneously in Dublin, Plymouth, and Bristol. In 1829 a number of Christians in Dublin were accustomed to meet for religious improvement, and adopted the principle that they were free to celebrate the Lord's supper without the help of any ordained minister; but they did not separate themselves from the churches of which they were members. In 1831 a similar society was formed in Plymouth, which became a separate and complete ecclesiastical organization. In 1832 John W. Darby, a curate of the established church of England, left his ministry and joined the Dublin society, but subsequently became the leading member of the Plymouth society. Before the formation of the Plymouth brotherhood George Muller, the founder of the well known orphan house, had advocated similar ideas in Teignmouth, and in 1832 he organized the Bethesda society at Bristol. These different societies increased in numbers and influence, particularly that in Plymouth, which gained perhaps 1,500 believers. They soon became divided into three parties.
At the head of one of them was Darby; at the head of a second Newton, whose peculiar doctrines respecting the person of Christ were generally repudiated by the denomination as heretical, and afterward retracted by the author, who subsequently withdrew from the denomination. Among the other congregations which refused to be involved in the bitter personal controversies between Newton and Darby, the Bethesda congregation of Bristol was prominent. Notwithstanding their internal divisions, they made great progress in Great Britain, where in 1850 they had 132 places of worship. Societies varying from a small number to many hundreds were established in most of the cities and large towns of England, Scotland, and Ireland, also in remote country districts and villages. Darby was induced in 1838, by the opposition which he met in England, to remove to Switzerland. He gathered adherents in almost every town of the canton of Vaud, and in several towns of Geneva and Bern. A French periodical, Le Umoignage des disciples de la parole (afterward called Etudes scripturaires), was started for the propagation of their tenets, and a kind of seminary established for training missionaries.
They suffered some losses from the political revolution in the canton of Yaud in 1845, and later from the organization of a free reformed church. From Switzerland they spread into France, where they established congregations in Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, and other places. They were still more successful in Italy after 1848, where nearly all the numerous so-called free evangelical associations adopted their principles to a greater or less extent. A few scattered congregations were gathered in Germany, Cape Colony, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. They made their appearance also in the East Indies, where Bishop Wilson of Calcutta published a pastoral letter against them. In the United States, societies were formed in Philadelphia and other places. No accurate estimate of their numbers can be made, as they are without formal organization. - See Esteoule, Le Plymouthisme d'autrefois et le Darbyisme d'aujourd'hui (Paris, 1858); Mrs. H. Grattan Guinness, "Answer to the Question: Who are the Plymouth Brethren?" (Philadelphia, 1861); Edward Dennett, "The Plymouth Brethren: their Rise, Divisions, Practice, and Doctrines;" D. Macintosh, "The Special Teachings, Ecclesiastical and Doctrinal, of the Plymouth Brethren, compiled from their own "Writings, with Strictures".