William Kelly's Journal
The Pinnacle of Pre-Trib Pilfering!

By Dave MacPherson - Copyright January 2001

R. A. Huebner, a retired electrical engineer living in New Jersey who most likely would have enjoyed being one of John Darby's disciples 150 years ago, may not like what I am about to say. But I have to say it anyway: Without Huebner's help (which I am sure he never intended to give) my book The Rapture Plot my most comprehensive and documented book on the bizarre 19th century beginnings of the pretribulation rapture might never have been written!

Described in a 1974 issue of Moody Monthly magazine as a "militant" member of the (Darbyist) Plymouth Brethren, Huebner's obsession has been to credit Darby with the pretrib rapture view, credit that not even Darby claimed for himself! While Huebner's focus has been on Darby and the Brethren, my focus has been on Margaret MacDonald and the Irvingites.

During the 1970's and 1980's, Huebner and I would at times exchange photocopies of old rapture-related documents. But then something happened to end all this.

In late 1991 he issued his book entitled Precious Truths Revived and Defended Through J. N. Darby. A number of months later I noticed a listing in the "Irving and Irvingism" section of his bibliography which I believe I had viewed initially as being relatively unimportant. The listing said: "Kelly, W., 'The Catholic Apostolic Body,' The Bible Treasury, 17 & 18." [1]

Some time after this, I decided to try to get copies of this source to check it out; my 1995 Rapture Plot book tells what happened next:

"So I phoned Huebner, wondering if he had the Kelly material I needed. Even though he had everything, and even though he was then retired from his secular work and conceivably had more free time, he told me that he was too busy. Only after I obtained this material from other sources did I understand Huebner's first-time reluctance. Even though I'd revealed some cover-ups of the past, what I was seeing on the pages of The Bible Treasury, Kelly's journal, had to be the 'mother of all coverups!'

"Huebner could have known all along, from just the Irvingite sources that he included in his books, that Kelly was a masterful revisionist so clever that no one until now seems to have known about, and also had the courage to expose, this plot." [2]

The plot involved William Kelly, Brethren member and Darby disciple destined to become the editor of Darby's many writings. Kelly's revisionism included words subtly added, subtracted, and changed in old documents. This long covered-up dishonesty, engineered mostly during the latter half of the 1800's, resulted in Kelly being able to claim that the Irvingites never taught pretrib so that he could falsely and brazenly credit Darby with it!

Kelly's daring revisionism was his reaction to previous decades during which historians had been uniformly agreed that pretrib had sprung from only Irvingite circles.

What really rubbed Kelly the wrong way was the fact that even the leading Brethren scholar, S. P. Tregelles, had publicly credited the Irvingites, and not any fellow Brethren members including Darby, with the pretrib view!

Let's briefly look at some 19th century historians whose pro-Irvingite statements undoubtedly provoked Darby defender, William Kelly.

Pre-Plot Historians
In an 1855 article, Tregelles wrote that the hope of the Christian is the final "advent" and "not some secret advent, or secret rapture to the Lord, as Judaizers had supposed might be the case..." [3]

In 1861, Irvingite historian Robert Norton declared that Margaret had been the "first," as he put it, to teach the newly dreamed up pre-Antichrist (pre-trib) view. [4]

Nine years after his earlier article, Tregelles revealed in an 1864 book who the "Judaizers" had been. He wrote that "the theory of a secret coming" was "first brought forward" by means of "an 'utterance' in Mr. Irving's church" in London in "about the year 1832." [5] Tregelles apparently hadn't known that the same utterances, with the same sort of coming of Christ in mind, were merely reflecting what Margaret had anounced two years earlier in Scotland.

In 1871, well known commentator John Peter Lange, referred to "the Irvingite interpretation," "the peculiar Irvingite exegesis," "the Irvingite distinction," "the Irvingite doctrine of the translation," and "the Irvingite reference to the company of the chosen ones." [6]

The following year, Thomas Croskery of Londonderry, Ireland, said in an article: "...this idea of the Lord removing his church secretly...was never heard of till it was proclaimed in one of the delusive utterances of the Irvingites in 1832." [7] (He too had evidently been unaware of the 1830 origination in Scotland.)

In 1880, William Reid in a book on Brethrenism, wrote that "Edward Irving contributed to the notion of...the secret rapture of the saints." [8]

Many still seem to be ignorant of the fact that throughout most of the 1800's, not a single historian of note - including those among the Brethren - named Darby as the pre-trib originator, but instead credited either the Irvingites or Margaret!

William Kelly realized that if the pretrib rapture doctrine were ever to capture the world of evangelicalism, it had to be divorced somehow from the aberrational and even heretical Irvingites and become connected, in people's minds, with the Brethren who seemed to have much more orthodox theology and fewer questionable practices.

Kelly's Plan of Attack
Kelly's plan was a two-part attack. He had to (1)somehow destroy the reputation of the Irvingites as pretrib teachers preceding Darby so that he could eventually (2)elevate his mentor Darby as the person who deserved credit for pretrib. His plan called for the subtle revisionism of Irvingite documents as well as the increasingly noisy endorsement of Darby's writings.

Did Darby ever have knowledge of - and did he ever okay - Kelly's desire to revise Darby's own words?

In an 1865 letter undoubtedly written to Kelly, Darby said: "Dearest ______, _______ I had forgotten your enterprise, and am frightened when I see the extent of the publications. I should think some of the notes should require some revising, but I have no objection to them if they are useful being printed as Notes. Even the sermons contain things I should not accept; they were first published with a notice that I had not revised them. Some of the earlier publications would require a note or two, where clearer light was aquired, but had better not be altered." [9]

Right after the word "enterprise" in the first sentence was this simple footnote: "Collected Writings." (Kelly had been picked by Darby himself to edit all of Darby's collection of writings.)

Another 1865 letter by Darby stated: "Hymns are more important than we often suppose, because the affections get engaged religiously with what is incorrect; so that if you could, I would translate the ones we have; if not possible, I would correct the others, which at any rate would hinder a part of their associations of heart with false doctrine." [10]

Early Revisionism
The reference to hymns brings to mind what Tregelles wrote in 1864 in connection with a dishonest practice that some Brethren members had been engaged in for some time. Tregelles wrote: "After the opinion of a secret advent had been adopted, many expressions in the older writers were regarded as supporting it; in which, however, the word 'secret' does not mean unperceived or unknown, but simply secret in point of time... Sometimes from a hymn being altered, writers appear to set forth a secret rapture of which they had never heard, or against which they have protested." [11]

Readers of this present website may already be familiar with Grant Jeffrey's dishonest historical revisionism of the early church fathers, as reported expertly herein by Tim Warner.

Grant Jeffrey, Thomas Ice, and other pretrib revisionists are desperate these days to find something - anything - before 1830 which seems to have at least a tiny hint of pretrib. Is such dishonesty new? Hardly. As revealed by Tregelles, some of his fellow Brethren had the nerve to even change some words in older hymns to give the false impression that pretrib was taught long before it actually appeared!

Reid's 1880 book, previously cited, quoted Tregelles who disclosed also that some had been "altering" in the same sinister way the "words and doctrines" of even "the writings of the Reformers"! [12]

Kelly Twists Darby
Whenever someone is introduced to Darby's reprinted works, he or she soon notices the unscholarly way in which they're presented. Sometimes explanatory phrases, in brackets, appear within the text without notice as to who wrote or inserted them, and when. And it's often difficult to tell who wrote the footnotes, and when (Darby at the time? Darby later on? Kelly later on?). A footnote by Kelly at the start of Darby's December 1830 article (in which Darby still held to posttrib) stated that "it was not worth while either suppressing or changing" anything in the article! [13]

Concerning something Darby said in an 1839 work of his, Kelly remarked in a footnote: "I have left this statement as it is, though its full force may be questioned..." [14] (One wonders how much Kelly didn't leave alone!)

But the most insidious aspect of Kelly's handling of Darby material is the way he inserted "mature" footnotes in Darby's earliest works, that is, taking statements written by Darby many years later, when Darby was prophetically much more developed, and inserting them as "explanatory" footnotes in his earliest writings and giving the false impression that Darby had believed certain things years before he actually believed them!

I discovered that practically all of a "mature" footnote attached to a Darby work dated 1835 [15] had really been borrowed by Kelly from a much later undated work (written between 1849 and 1852) [16] when Darby was obviously much more mature, prophetically speaking!

It's worthy of special notice tha the earliest Irvingite writings never had to resort to the "maturation" tactics employed in some of Darby's earliest works!

On April 29, 1882 Darby went to his eternal reward. He had lived long enough to see Brethren as well as non-Brethren uniformly crediting the Irvingites (and Margaret) with pretrib. Darby's later reminiscences of his earliest "thoughts" had done nothing to wipe away the Irvingite record. And Kelly's misleading footnotes and other dishonesty had been just as ineffective. Kelly knew he would have to do something drastic to forever discredit those pesky Irvingites! (Keep in mind that plotter Kelly was quietly doing much of the above even before his big crusade to bash the Irvingites and boost Darby.)

Kelly Discredits Irvingites
In 1889, William Kelly set into motion the first part of his devious two-part plan. This had to do with a two-year-long series of articles (1889-1890) that Kelly wrote and published in his own British journal, The Bible Treasury. This series, appearing in monthly installments and entitled "The Catholic Apostolic Body, or Irvingites," briefly discussed some of Irvingite leaders and also analyzed in a supposedly impartial manner, the main beliefs of that British group.

My book The Rapture Plot thoroughly covers all of Kelly's installments in his lengthy series and demonstrates, with quotes, the many instances in which he twisted or covered up what the Irvingites had actually written in their works.

In regard to Kelly's unscholarly presentation, the same book of mine reveals: "Since Kelly had long wanted to credit Darby with pretrib, his main goal in this series was to use words in such a shrewd manner that his readers would never suspect that the Irvingites did, in fact, teach pretrib....it was nothing less than shocking to discover that he had 1345 copying errors when quoting others including many omitted, added, and changed words....One can easily conclude that he was nervously looking over his shoulder while purposely engineering his subtle revisionism - the reason why he managed to achieve the astounding average of 46 copying errors per page!" [17]

Instead of droning on with endless, technical quotes showing how Kelly deliberately perverted Irvingite documents, let me give just a couple of examples of Kelly's historical hanky-panky.

In his February 1889 installment, Kelly gave the false impression that the Irvingites in 1833 were posttrib when he gave this paraphrase of their outlook: "The man child was the testimony by preaching Christ's second coming...." [18] He skillfully avoided revealing that the Irvingites at that time didn't tie together that symbol with the second coming, but rather tied together their pretrib rapture with that Rev. 12 symbol - a symbol/interpretation that Darby himself didn't adopt (read "plagiarize") until six years later!

A year later in February of 1890 he again presented a less that faithful portrayal of Irvingite belief: "...the faithful to meet the coming Lord in the air, the faithless to sink into the corrupt or apostate evils that await His day." [19] If he had been forthright with the Irvingite position, he would have stated their belief in this way: "...the faithful to meet the coming Lord in the air, the faithless to pass through the great tribulation."

When we discover the extent to which Darby and Kelly covered up or twisted the earliest beliefs of Brethren as well as Irvingites, we shouldn't be shocked when a Darby/Kelly admirer like Huebner daringly and falsely states, as he did in his 1973 book: "The Irvingites (1828-1834) never held the pretribulation rapture or 'any-moment' views." [20] (Add a big exclamation point here.)

Summing Up
In the last chapter of The Rapture Plot there's a summary of the book's highlights. Using the unusual format of an imaginary phone call from Mr. Average Dispensationalist, I had him repeat to me, in conversational style, the chief points that my 300 pages of documentation bring out. Here's what was said, exactly the way it appears in print:

Dispensationalist: Dave, can you boil down, in your own words, the earliest pretrib development?

Me: I'll be glad to.

Dispensationalist: My teachers have long said that the most important underlying "truth" which led to pretrib was the church/Israel "dichotomy," which means "separation."

Me: That's right.

Dispensationalist: I've gone through Darby's works up to and through 1830 and he doesn't have any dichotomy between the church and the Jews. In 1827 he had his "heavenly" theme, echoing Irving in 1825 and Lacunza in 1812, but no "dichotomy." In 1828 he talked about "unity" the way Irving and Lacunza did, but again no dichotomy. In 1829 he expected only the Revelation 19 coming, following intermediate events, and saw no dichotomy during either the tribulation or a following millennium - all omitted by Huebner. Even if he'd had a millennial dichotomy, it wouldn't have been a support for pretrib. In December of 1830 he again expected only the Revelation 19 coming, which Huebner does admit. But Huebner again overlooks that this coming followed intermediate events and that Darby still didn't have a church/Israel dichotomy during the tribulation or anything else. It seems that Huebner, wishing to credit Darby, had read church/Israel dichotomy into church/Israel distinction - a distinction that the church had always seen prior to 1830.

Me: That's right.

Dispensationalist: And when I went through your chapter on Darby's reminiscences, I couldn't find him expressing a dichotomy even in his later, exaggerated memories. Memories 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 mention Isaiah 32. But my teachers, including Walvoord, say that Isaiah 32 isn't on "church" ground and that a pretrib rapture isn't found anywhere in the Old Testament. How can Isaiah 32 portray such a dichotomy if the "church" half of the dichotomy is missing? And Memories 2 and 7 say nothing about the Jews. Since his dichotomy was nonexistent through December 1830 - he saw both the church and Israel together on earth until the Revelation 19 coming - it appears that the only separation in Darby's early progress was the separation between Darby and the dichotomy!

Me: That's right.

Dispensationalist: Besides, the "truths" that reportedly evolved into pretrib were all held by Irving in 1825 in his preliminary discourse, or preface, to Lacunza and published in 1827. Only after Darby's "heavenly" (1827) and "unity" (1828) - which weren't original - do we see him in 1829 with some detailed development. Even if we give Irving's "truths" an 1827 date, 1827 is before 1829. And well-read Darby, fluent in several modern languages as well as ancient Biblical languages, knew about Irving's "truths." In his 1829 work, Darby expressed his familiarity with the ideas "throughout this preface" to Lacunza, quoted page 55 in it, summarized pages 55-65, and came close to Irving's "truths." For example, on page 53 Irving used "expectation" while holding to intermediate events and on page 67 he used the phrase "look daily for the coming" - even though Irving then expected only the Revelation 19 coming. Obviously Darby was influenced by Irving and by other earlier writers!

Me: That's right.

Dispensationalist: But not even the Irvingites derived pretrib from these "truths" which were theirs and not Darby's. Their first public pretrib teaching in September 1830 - while Darby still defended posttrib three months later - was based on "Philadelphia" raptured and "Laodicea" left on earth, and not the dichotomy or other "truths" that my teachers have credited Darby with. Only after pretrib was established did the Irvingites use dichotomy for further support. Their first public pretrib teaching was only a church/church dichotomy between "Philadelphia" and "Laodicea." Not until a year later did the Morning Watch see a tribulation primarily for "the Jews" and not "Laodicea" - a true church/Israel dichotomy explicitly separating church members and Jews and emphasizing the latter, even though God wasn't supposed to be dealing again with the Jews until the vicinity of the final second advent, which was then considered to be about 36 years in the future! The Irvingites sure seemed to be unnecessarily and arbitrarily anti-Jewish, right?

Me: That's right.

Dispensationalist: Even Darby's first "understanding" in 1830, based on his 1850 memory, and his first "hint" of pretrib in 1834, based on his words at the time, weren't based on the church/Israel dichotomy. They were drawn from what seemed to be an order of events in the Thessalonian letters - "church" ground. Whereas Isaiah 32 didn't have the first half of the dichotomy, the Thessalonian epistles didn't clearly have the second half. So the underlying "truths" weren't used by either the Irvingites or Darby to either initially understand or initially teach pretrib. And even Darby used the dichotomy only after pretrib's arrival - as additional support.

Me: That's right.

Dispensationalist: And it seems that Darby was behind others in everything. He was defending posttrib three months after the Irvingites were clearly pretrib. He was behind others on even the so-called underlying "truths." His 1830 statement about the "Gentile parenthesis" was almost a duplicate of what William Davis of South Carolina wrote in 1811. And Lacunza (1812) and The Morning Watch (1829) also used "parenthesis." When Darby finally had clear pretrib teaching in 1839, his basis was the Revelation 12 "man child" symbol with support soon coming from 1 Corinthians 12's mystical "body" - but Irving's pretrib basis in 1831 was the same symbol with the same support!

Me: That's right.

Dispensationalist: If Darby wasn't a year-day late and a British pound short, why have some individuals taken great pains to cover up pretrib in the Irvingites? Why did Kelly, with Darby's approval, fashion footnotes from Darby's much later writings and add them to Darby's early writings in order to "mature" him? And why, for the same purpose, did Kelly add bracketed insertions within Darby's text and even reveal in a footnote to Darby's 1830 work that he wasn't against "suppressing" and "changing" Darby's own words? Since Darby lived many more years after the revisionism of his own words had begun - revisionism less subtle than Darby had intended - why didn't Darby object? Did he think that no one would ever notice? And why has Kelly's massive and desperate revisionism between 1889 and 1903 been unobserved until now? If the most important thing is what the Bible teaches, Kelly should have stuck to Bible teaching and not engineered his clever distortions of the Irvingites and fellow Brethren member Tregelles. Maybe you should call this whole thing "Rapturegate" or refer to the Brethren "grinch" who stole the Irvingite "Christmas!"

Me: That's right.

Dispensationalist: Something else. My teachers admit that the most crucial underlying "truth" that supposedly led to pretrib was the church/Israel "dichotomy" which means "separation." And when will this separation take place? At the start of a future tribulation. By what means? The pretrib rapture. If the pretrib rapture itself is the separation between the church and the ones that my teachers call "Israel" - and it is - then the pretrib rapture itself is this "dichotomy!" It's like saying that "The pretrib rapture was the main truth that led to the pretrib rapture" or "The pretrib rapture sprang from itself!" I know I've taken too much of your time. But I'm grateful for all of the enlightenment you've just given me during this phone call. Many thanks. Good-bye.

Me: Good-bye.[21]

Finally, let me say that my uncovering (of long covered up pretrib history) entitled The Rapture Plot can be obtained via online bookstores or even faster by calling (800) 967-7345. For the record, neither I nor anyone in my family has ever received a penny of book royalties; and all royalties from my publishers have always gone to our nonprofit research group (P.O.S.T. Inc.) which has never paid a penny of salary to anyone.

1. R.A. Huebner, Precious Truths Revived and Defended Through J.N. Darby (Present Truth Publishers, 1991), p. 237.
2. Dave MacPherson, The Rapture Plot (Millennium III Publishers, 1995), pp. 155-56. Much of this article is based on this book.
3. S.P. Tregelles, "Premillennial Advent" (The Christian Annotator, June 16, 1855), p. 190.
4. Robert Norton, The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets; In the Catholic Apostolic Church (London: Bosworth & Harrison, 1861), p. 15.
5. S.P. Tregelles, The Hope of Christ's Second Coming (Ambassadors for Christ, n.d. [1864]), pp. 34-35.
6. John Peter Lange, Commentary (Chas. Scribner, 1871), "First Thessalonians," p. 79; "Second Thessalonians," pp. 130, 133, 139.
7. Thomas Croskery, "The Plymouth Brethren," Art. III (The Princeton Review, Jan., 1872), pp. 61-62.
8. William Reid, Plymouth Brethrenism Unveiled and Refuted (Edinburgh: Wm. Oliphant & Co., 1880), p. 10.
9. J.N. Darby, Letters, Vol. I (Bible Truth Publishers, reprint 1971), p. 397.
10. Ibid., p. 413.
11. S.P. Tregelles, The Hope of Christ's Second Coming, pp. 35-6.
12. William Reid, Plymouth Brethrenism Unveiled and Refuted, p. 23.
13. J.N. Darby, "On 'Days'" etc. (1830), Prophetic No. 1 (Bible Truth Publishers, reprint 1971), p. 32.
14. J.N. Darby, "Notes on the Revelation" (1839), Prop. No. 1, pp. 245-46.
15. J.N. Darby, "Scope of Prophecy" (1835), Prop. No. 1, p. 52.
16. J.N. Darby, "Questions of Interest as to Prophecy" (1849-1852), Prop. No. 2, p. 227.
17. Dave MacPherson, The Rapture Plot, p. 158.
18. William Kelly, The Bible Treasury, XVII (Feb., 1889), p. 223.
19. Ibid., XVIII (Feb., 1890), p. 27.
20. R.A. Huebner, The Truth of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Recovered (Present Truth Publishers, 1973), p. 74.
21. Dave MacPherson, The Rapture Plot, pp. 228-31.