A Letter Addressed To Certain Brethren And Sisters In Christ, By B. W. Newton.”
The more the question treated in the following tract is weighed, the more important it will be found; and the doctrine taught in Mr. Newton’s “Remarks” to be the destruction of the gospel of truth, and to subvert the foundations of Christianity. The denial that it is meant so to do is nothing to the purpose. Mr. Irving denied it just as stoutly; but a man’s teaching is to be judged by what he teaches, not by his own opinion about it. What Mr. Newton teaches subverts the truth as to Christ. If he says it does not, it only proves that he does not know the truth which it clearly does subvert. The largest expressions of piety and holiness prove nothing. They were found in Mr. Irving’s writings, and much most blessed and precious truth too: few writings could be named where there is so much. It is well known how widely Mr. Prince’s books were circulated, how highly they were appreciated, and how many were supposed to be converted by him. Now all acquainted with the circumstances know the horrible blasphemies in which it all has ended. And now persons who examine the books judge that they find all through them the germ of the present horrors.
Now, as to the doctrine of the writer of the “Remarks,” he states that Christ, associating Himself with man in the flesh at a distance from God, had to find His way to a point where God could meet Him, and which point was death under the wrath of God. Now if Christ was “obnoxious” to this wrath (“exposed” to it) from the place He was in, He could not bear it besides in a vicarious way for us. A man that has not himself incurred debts, but, being partner with one who has, is liable to them, cannot as surety in the way of kindness take them upon him. That is, vicarious suffering is set aside. If it be said that death under the wrath of God consequent on the distance man was at from God was wrath of chastisement, not vengeance, it is clear the whole truth of God as to man is set aside altogether. Was wrath of chastisement man’s place in his distance from God? Was not condemnation, utter condemnation, his place? And what was death under the wrath of God as needful because in man’s place? Is that only chastisement? But if Christ had this due to Him from His position, He could not also bear it for others.4
As to the nature of Christ’s sufferings, there is another passage I would refer to.
The apostle desires that he might know the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death. Now we have here the nature of the sufferings of Christ even to death, not in the sense of vicarious sufferings. The apostle clearly could not desire to be obnoxious and exposed to wrath because of the position he was in at a distance from God. But in the devotedness of service in which, in denial of all will of his own, he found himself as acting for God, and manifesting Him in life and in word in opposition to the whole wickedness of man and power and malice of Satan, and in the suffering of that devotedness in love to them that were God’s, he did desire to be made conformable to Christ by His grace. Now this came upon him from without, but it was weighed and realized in the Spirit of Christ beforehand within, so that all this suffering without was understood, and took its place in his mind from what was already spiritually there. Thus he was “pressed out of measure, above strength, so that he despaired even of life; but he had the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself but in God which raiseth the dead;” so, “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in his mortal body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be. manifested in our mortal body.” Here Christ’s sufferings were not vicarious,5 and such as we can seek fellowship with in the power of the Spirit of God according to our measure. That is not exposure to wrath from which a man by faith preserves himself. We get a clear view of what the sufferings of Christ are as in the world other than what was vicarious, and this even unto death itself.
As regards the statement from Mr. Bonar, it is obscure enough, as is also that on the application of the same type to the church, and in some respects certainly inaccurate. Such as it is, Mr. Newton’s tract is much borrowed from it, and it is sufficiently obscure to furnish a handle to his doctrine. What the nature of it was, Mr. B. does not explain. But he does subsequently guard his statements, so as to secure himself from meaning what Mr. N. means. He says, “Chastisement6 supposes sin; suffering does not, for Jesus suffered—nay, learned obedience by the things which he suffered.” But chastisement does. “Some have, indeed, applied the word chastisement to Jesus also, for He was made perfect through suffering, and in the sense of passing through discipline, that He might know by experience our condition here, and be seen as the doer of the Father’s will— the man that pleased not Himself, in this sense His sorrows might be called by that name; yet in no other.” Now it is altogether another, to say that He was obnoxious and exposed to wrath in His relation to God as associated with us in the position we were in. That He experienced our condition here, every true Christian believes. But this is what Mr. N. says it was not; and that we never are in the position He was in under Israel’s curse. Our discipline is in love; His under wrath and the curse.
The quotations from the “Words of Truth” are exactly the opposite of Mr. N.’s doctrine. Christ’s being obnoxious to wrath along with the people, and so being glad at John’s message, is precisely the opposite to His identifying Himself entirely with the condition of His people: His being baptized was taking their place. So in His really entering into the circumstances of man’s condition. Blessed be God, He did. But Mr. N. distinguishes this from what he means, namely, inflictions by reason of the relation of God to Him who did so enter! Mr. Bonar, speaking of his knowing by experience our condition here, says, “in no other;” though he does speak so obscurely that Mr. N. himself says he could not use his expressions without defining them his own way. So defined, I have discussed their value in this tract. That is what we have to do with here. As to Mr. Bonar, I avow I do not understand, and therefore I do not condemn, him; I much doubt whether he understands himself, or ever defined to his own mind the sentiment he is expressing, and expressing in a way which is certainly not scriptural in its form; but he has entirely guarded himself against Mr. Newton’s view. I may add, that other teachers of the school of the writer of the “Remarks,” in borrowing also the expressions and sentiments of Mr. Bonar, have applied it to Christ Himself in a way that Mr. Bonar declares to be impossible. I refer to the chapter on purifying. The way in which statements of truth are made to sanction the teaching of error is shewn in page 25:—“If He was made to realize the distance into which man had wandered out of the presence of God,” is sought to be sanctioned by “He must really enter into the circumstances of man’s condition, into the misery and desolation in which man is, as wandering, yea, as departed from God” —two things as different as can well be.
It is important that the saints should well notice that the writer of the “Remarks” is speaking of actual inflictions from God due to man’s sin but not vicarious; not of suffering, into the depths of which Christ surely entered. But these were “superadded inflictions from the hand of God.” He shared “the fearful inflictions of God’s broken law”—”inflictions in displeasure”— “inflictions because He was a man.” These are often confounded, as in the last case, with the outward condition of man, as labouring in the sweat of his brow. But this is not all. “They depended upon His (God’s) appointment.” If He came under the special inflictions that had come on His own peculiar nation, He saw Israel’s standing with all the terrors of that mountain arrayed against it. “God pressed these things on the apprehensions of his soul according to His own power and holiness.” He is “speaking of the exercises of his heart from God; … not the spontaneous actings of His soul, but of the manner in which He was directly exercised of God.” Thus, “in the Psalms … we find … not only the sufferings and reproach that pertained to Him as the appointed servant of God; but sufferings also which pertained to Him because He was a man, and because He was an Israelite;” and these, inflicted of God. He was “chastened by the hand of God,” but not vicariously. That it is not vicarious, he says, “is very evident.” Sufferings and direct infliction are often entirely confounded; but the reader must remember, while noticing the confusion, that that which the writer teaches is inflictions in wrath (as the curse of a broken law) directly from the hand of God—which are not vicarious but arising from His own relation to God—not by personal sin indeed, but by personal position.
How very remarkably is this contradicted by the word of God! This is the language of the godly remnant when they look on Him whom they pierced, as the truth of it is believed by the saint now. “Surely he hath borne our griefs [here He is associated with the people] and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him striken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” How very plain and how very sure is the word of God, God be praised for it!
The writer’s notion is the notion of Jewish unbelief. It did please Jehovah to bruise Him. There were sufferings by His appointment. He hath put Him to grief —”when thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin.” The whole chapter is an instructive commentary on, and reply to, the doctrine of the tract. He subverts the work of Christ.
I have yet another remark to make.
Mr. Newton has been sought to be justified by some of his friends, by citing a paper of his in the “Christian Witness.” From having been so much abroad, I do not know who are the authors of several papers; but I take for granted this is his as stated. I have in consequence looked into it. It is a paper written against Irvingism. I judge that the germ of his present doctrine is clearly to be found there, and escaped the eye or the judgment of the editor.
The germ of the doctrine is clearly found in volume ii. page 113. But I can quite understand its being overlooked,7 as it was a paper exposing a more evident and glaring heresy, and the subtlety of a new one was not expected to be found there; and it is stated in the form of insisting on Christ’s personal holiness, and expressed in a general way so as easily to escape observation and be construed in a good sense, as being in the form of urging Christ’s excellency against the horrible doctrine of Irvingism; and thus value for Christ carried the editor along with the statement, the evil being merely introduced in general terms by the by. Now that we have the heresy full blown, it is quite evident that the germ of it was there, and the writer unsound in the faith from the outset, though undetected. Often, indeed, strange and painful expressions were heard, but what is called charity told us not to make a man an offender for a word. They were rash.
And oft while Wisdom wakes, Suspicion sleeps
At Wisdom’s gate, and to Simplicity
Resigns her charge, while Goodness thinks no ill
Where no ill seems.
But the citation of this paper in the “Christian Witness” is the proof that it is no rash expression which ought to be forgotten, or which is distorted by want of charity. Those who cite it avow that it was taught as a principle when none suspected, and none opposed, nearly ten years ago. And so it was. No one can doubt it who reads the paper in question; and we can understand now the value of all the private teaching meetings at which other brethren who laboured in the word were not allowed to be present. It was at one of these, when, from peculiar circumstances visiting the house where it was held, I heard it taught that Christ had to be judged after His death like another man: a teaching which has been again recently propagated among the poor elsewhere. But no remarks questioning what was taught were allowed at these meetings; and hence other brethren of independent spiritual judgment were excluded.
But there is another very important point which results from this paper of the “Christian Witness,” and shews the subtle and guarded way in which heresy and the work of Satan grow up. The doctrines of Mr. Newton were then checked by the presence of men sound in the faith, and he was obliged, therefore, to ally his doctrine with that sound faith. And in saying this, I dare say that the heresy which he has now put forth had not ripened in his mind; for Satan is behind all this, and does not alarm those he deceives and uses. In doctrine as in practice a man might say “Am I a dog that I should do this?” Deceivers are deceived by one cleverer than they. They are but tools in the enemy’s hand.
Now, while the germ of the doctrine is very clearly in the paper in the “Christian Witness,” the possibility of such an error as Mr. N. now holds is denied, and the doctrine which he repudiates now is stated to guard what he had said, so that suspicion would be further lulled; just as he had sought in the second tract, since his views have been exposed, to lull suspicion by expatiating on the cross. But he does not here in the least return to the statements of the “Christian Witness,” but maintains the substance of his heresy in worse and stronger terms than before. Further, remark that, by quoting this paper, Mr. N.’s friends confirm and establish very distinctly and positively, that there is a special doctrine deliberately taught by Mr. N., and what that doctrine is, being already discoverable in his writings ten years ago.
I now quote from the “Christian Witness” to shew the way in which he then identified the sufferings in question with vicarious sufferings.
“All that the soul of a saint recognizes as true in the writings of Mr. Irving, respecting Christ being in ‘that condition of being and region of existence which is proper to a sinner,’ will be found to be altogether comprised in the fact of His being born under the curse of the exiled family vicariously incurred. But He rose out of this ‘region’ through the power of His own inherent holiness; and, therefore never would have come ‘into that experience into [read, of] God’s action which is proper for a sinner,’ unless He had chosen to abide it8 for the sake of others; and when He had chosen this, then it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, and to lay upon Him iniquity; a burden which He felt just as if it had been His own iniquity. Without having any sin, He was made to feel the consequences of sin, even so as to say, ‘Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head, therefore my heart faileth me.’ But this was not because ‘He was in our region of existence,’ but because He was pleased, whilst being there, to become the sin-bearer for others.”
Now this might well lead an unsuspecting mind to suppose that he was opposing the truth of Christ’s vicarious suffering to Mr. Irving’s heresy of sin in Christ’s nature. Now, however, Mr. Newton declares positively that this was not vicarious. Not that He never would have come into that experience into God’s action which is proper for a sinner, unless He had chosen to abide in it for the sake of others; and that when He had chosen this, it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, and to lay iniquity upon Him, applying the passages in the Psalms to this. It is not this that he teaches now; but that He did come, was exposed to it all, that is, to experience God’s action proper to a sinner without being one, not vicariously; and that He preserved Himself from it by faith, prayer, and obedience.
The doctrine of the vicariousness of these sufferings was taught in the “Christian Witness,” is denied in the recent tract. What he, still ten years ago, said never would have come, he now says He was exposed to.
The doctrine in the “Christian Witness” is absurd: born under a curse vicariously incurred is itself nonsense. Rising out of this region, that is, vicarious suffering, through the powers of His own inherent holiness, is far worse than nonsense, nonsense though it be; and then choosing to abide there for others, and then having iniquity laid upon Him. But the writer has relieved himself from the contradiction of His being born subject to the penalties of Adam’s guilt, as a member of the family and yet vicariously incurring them; not by holding fast the truth he had associated with this, but by denying it, and leaving the pure unmingled heresy of wrath on Christ, which was not vicarious. But nothing can make clearer what the heresy is than this reference to the “Christian Witness”—guarded there by truth so as to make nonsense—now taught in its naked evil. It may be seen by this how accurately I have stated it, in comparing it in a note with Irvingism, page 53. The doctrine of the “Christian Witness “ought to have been detected perhaps by a discerning eye. For it is this: that Christ was obnoxious to wrath, “penalties to which He had become subject on account of Adam’s guilt”—“born under the curse of the exiled family”—“God’s action proper to a sinner”—“but He rose out of this region through the power of His own inherent holiness;” “He might have entered into life by Himself alone;” “He was able to enter into life by keeping the commandments”—“able to fulfil the law, and so rise above the penalties to which He had become subject on account of Adam’s guilt.” This is, we know, death under guilt and wrath, though He rose out of it,9 the law being strong unto him— it was “unto him life”—as it is written, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily, righteousness should have been by the law.” But He “preferred to lay down His life that He might take it again”—“He had chosen to abide it [God’s action which is proper to a sinner] for the sake of others. When He had chosen this, then it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.” He was then there, rose out of it, but chose to abide it. Now this ought to have been seen; it was covered by the word vicariously. This last is now denied. But the doctrine that Christ was obnoxious to the wrath due to Adam’s guilt is most plain; the curse of the exiled family vicariously incurred is not earning His bread in the sweat of His brow, nor are sinless penalties vicariously incurred.
Further, the article distinguishes three particulars which mark our condition as sinners:—
“First, Original or vicarious guilt imputed (or reckoned) to us on account of the transgression of our first parent.
“Secondly, Original sin or indwelling corruption.
“Thirdly, Actual transgression.”
“The Lord Jesus was as free from indwelling sin as from actual transgression; yet, nevertheless, He was a member (so to speak) of the exiled family, and therefore was born subject to their penalties”—called lower down “the curse of the exiled family vicariously incurred.” Under this “He was born,” but He was able to rise above these penalties—He rose out of it. Now He was not, and did not, as regards labour and toil, and hunger and thirst, and weariness, which are called the sinless penalties. I repeat, the doctrine taught is perfectly clear. The recent tract only takes away the vicariousness.
I believe that what has been the instrument of ripening this terrible doctrine as to Christ, subversive as it is of the truth, is really the prophetic system of the writer. And in this way: he does not admit the existence of a Jewish remnant which has life, and which is consequently within the reach, and the immediate object, of the sympathies of Christ. Hence he is obliged to associate Christ in His condition with the sinful and rebellious nation, (and the consequence follows immediately,) instead of His being the gracious vessel of feeling, thought, and faith, for the believing remnant, in the position of which He did put Himself, and sympathy with which He perfectly has; though it must indeed, in its application, be based upon that in which He was alone—the atoning work which He wrought for them as for us. Psalm 16 shews this association. All their sorrow was His, and He enters into and associates Himself with it. He had that which was His own, whether bearing or feeling and anticipating the curse and the sin of others. But the means of falling into the error, though important as a guard to the saints are nothing to the error itself, because the person, relation with God, and condition and work of Christ Himself, are concerned in it, and have been lightly sacrificed to these notions. The paper in the “Witness” shews that the principle has long been adopted by the writer of the tract.
4 Irvingism taught that there was no personal sin in Christ, but that there was in the nature He took, so that He was exposed and liable to death.
Mr. N. teaches that there was no personal sin in Christ; and not that there was in His nature, but that He was liable to the consequences of it from His position in relation to God from the time He was born into die world. Both alike set aside the atonement.
5 So he speaks of filling up that which was behind of the sufferings of Christ for His body’s sake, which is the church j the fruit of devoted love which brought him into them, not the effect of his relation to God inflicted by God upon him.
6 This is the word chosen by Mr. N. to apply to Christ—wrath of chastisement, not of vengeance.
7 Alas! I have discovered, since sending this to the press, that the true account of this is quite different. The matter containing this doctrine was not at all in the first edition, superintended by Mr. Harris. It was introduced into the second edition issued from the tract shop under the control of Mr. N., so that the “Witness “was made to accredit the doctrine unknown to the person originally responsible. The fact of the long time Mr. N. has held the doctrine remains unaffected, proving its systematised character.
8 Note particularly here, that it is expressly stated that what Christ incurred as born was the curse of the exiled family, which He had to abide, as making atonement, when He was Himself risen out of it.
9 This teaches that He saved Himself from the curse of the broken law, to which He was subject, by keeping it Himself.