J.N.Darby, E.B.Pusey and “The Unprofitable Servant”

J.N.Darby and E.B.Pusey

One of my passions is history, especially church history and doubly especially the movers and shakers who down the ages have impacted the church and the wider world, finding out what made them tick and how they made a difference.

There are many fascinating characters I would like to have checked out, but two characters I did research, and I produced a paper about them (available on my website), were J.N.Darby and E.B.Pusey, who both lived 1800 to 1882, whose impact on the church, then and now, has been monumental. Both started off Anglican. Darby left to join the Plymouth Brethren and Pusey was considered by many to be more Catholic than Anglican. In later life, they were ecclesiologically poles apart in terms of low and high church, and eschatologically concerning end time events such as the millennium. They were both flawed (both theologically and personally), enigmatic and even eccentric in their characters, and yet they had a lot in common, such as their personal piety; they were Bible scholars of the highest calibre and wrote prolifically (books still available); they served and were empathetic toward the poor (notwithstanding the fact they both came from privileged backgrounds) and they were staunch and effective defenders of the faith in an age when past certainties were increasingly coming under attack.

Since our book is about prophets, it should be noted that few historians would regard either of these two men as prophets, even though it can be argued they were acting prophetically with respect to what they saw happening around them, in a way that is not often seen in our present day. Darby helped to establish and lead the Plymouth Brethren movement, partly in response to what he saw as a church that was in ruins. Pusey helped to establish and lead the Tractarian (Oxford) movement, partly in response to the latitudinarian tendencies he saw in the Church of England. What is of special interest to this author is that both men saw themselves (with some justification) as unprofitable servants and both men would return to Jesus parable of “The Unprofitable Servant” in their preaching.

The Parable applied

It is worth re-acquainting ourselves with the Parable, which is about a servant (Greek: doulos – slave) who having worked hard for his master was not thanked but rather he was expected to do more, and even then, as unprofitable servants, expect no token of appreciation. Such is the example we should be following: 

But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” Luke 17:7-10

Much can be said about how we, who are God’s people, should view serving others as being something of high priority and, as we consider Prophets of the Bible, is something to keep in mind. We can do no better than follow the example of Jesus, who is the Servant King, just as Graham Kendrick’s song reminds us:

From heaven you came helpless babe

Entered our world, your glory veiled

Not to be served but to serve

And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King

He calls us now to follow Him

To bring our lives as a daily offering

Of worship to The Servant King

Jesus (the Servant King) is the one who came from the highest place (in the form of God) to the lowest place, in order to die on the cross because of our sin, and has once again been established in the highest place and will one day return to earth as judge and king. It is such a mindset that ought to determine our conduct:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:5-12.

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