Cloud Taken off the Tabernacle

John Webster

John Webster was born on the 3rd of February, 1610, in Thornton-in-Craven, North Yorkshire. Very little is known of his personal history, but from scattered remarks from his works and elsewhere, it appears that he studied divinity and medicine at Cambridge, {though there is no official record of his actual attendance there,} and was ordained a minister of the Gospel about the year 1634, becoming minister of Kildwick. Apparently he soon thereafter left the Established Church, embracing the essential principles of Puritanism. During the Civil War he became a chaplain and surgeon in the Parliamentarian Army. Sometime in 1654 he became the officiating minister at All Hallows, Lombard-Street, London. During his life he associated himself with the radical Welshman William Erbery, {COLLECTED WRITINGS, 1658,} also the mystic John Everard, {GOSPEL TREASURY OPENED, 1657,} adding his personal endorsement to the writings of both. On October 12th, 1653, Webster, accompanied by William Erbery debated two London ministers at All Hallows, upon which some disorder resulted on account that Erbery took a such a hostile position against the established clergy. Anthony Wood, in his ATHENAE OXONIENSES, has this fascinating account regarding this debate, “Mr. Erbery and Mr. John Webster endeavored,” says Wood, “to knock down learning and the ministry together, in a disputation they had with two ministers in a church in Lombard-Street. Erbery declared that the wisest ministers and purest churches were at that time befooled, confounded, and defiled by learning. Also, that the ministers were monsters, beasts, asses, greedy dogs, and false prophets; that they are the beast with seven heads and ten horns; that Babylon is the church in her ministers; and that the great Whore is the church in her worship. So that with him,” Wood adds, “there was an end of ministers, and churches, and ordinances altogether. While these things were babbled to and fro, the multitude being of various opinions, began to mutter, and many to cry out, and immediately there was a tumult, wherein the women bore away the bell, but some of them lost their kerchiefs; and the dispute was so hot, that there was more danger of pulling down the church than the ministry.” In his book entitled THE SAINTS GUIDE, 1653; and more particularly in his ACADEMIORUM EXAMEN, 1654, Webster attacked the university schools, like Oxford and Cambridge, being highly critical of their traditional scholasticism, by which they sought to train men for the ministry, arguing that worldly scholarship was essentially irrelevant to the training of a true minister of the Gospel, vehemently denouncing the notion that such achievements were of any value as a means towards the better understanding of Scripture, whilst asserting time and time again the essential work of the Holy Spirit in opening Gospel Truths. His arguments were much in sync with those of William Dell, who in like manner preached against the Universities involvement in the manufacturing of Gospel ministers. {STUMBLING STONE, 1653.} A few of his sermons were gathered together for print in the book entitled, JUDGEMENT SET AND THE BOOKS OPENED, 1654; most of these being preached at the height of his ministry at Lombard Street, and wonderfully illustrating the highest esteem for the Person & Work of Christ, especially his redemptive accomplishments in the light of fallen mans desperate & helpless condition. In these sermons, though specializing, {if one may so speak,} in dashing to oblivion every lofty conception & hopeless condition which man has invented to desperately recommend himself or his movements, {be they ever so religiously adorned,} to the Lord; one can also begin to discern Webster’s connections with such men as Erbery & Everard, which associations had an obvious effect upon his mindset concerning certain elements of Gospel truth, features that are readily discerned as one ponders his sermon messages, especially in relation to what one would term experimental truths, as there seemed to be a continual gravitation in his messages for directing his hearers to look within for things {evidences, signs, &c.} essentially only found in Christ, at least as far as a believers confidence and assurance goes. Nevertheless, these messages emit such a distinctive savor of Christ, that those who have been granted a spiritual appetite to relish all things relating to his Person & Work, will not go away dissatisfied! From various reports it would appear that by 1657 Webster was residing at Clitheroe; and that for some reason all his books were seized and taken away from him. By now he seems to have given up the ministry, to devote himself to the study of metals and the practice of medicine. Webster died on 18 June 1682, and was buried at Clitheroe. His writings would indicate that his highly impressionable mind passed through various phases of spiritual life and death, light and darkness, and that he possessed a high valuation of heavenly truths wherever he could find them, which impressionableness at times sadly seemed to lead him astray.

Extract: Christ alone is their covering, their righteousness, their wisdom, their redemption, their Saviour, their beauty; they have no shelter, no hiding place but in Him. Those that are ashamed thus to acknowledge and confess him before men, he will be ashamed to confess them, or own them before his Father. Matt.10:32. Those that are ashamed to bear their testimony of him, and to be witnesses and martyrs for him, he will be ashamed of them. He is not ashamed to own thee in thy blood and filthiness; and shall we be ashamed to own him and to ascribe that to him which alone is his due? But instead of giving testimony to the glory of his name, thou contrivest which way thou mayest be something, that thou mayest be esteemed, and that Christ may be nothing, and that he may be debased; but be assured in that day all these things shall be laid open. And God is a jealous God and will not suffer his honour to be polluted, nor will give his glory to any other. Isa.42:8.

Light cannot be made out in the light, and wisdom in wisdom, but light can be made out in darkness, and wisdom in folly, and strength in weakness, and fullness in emptiness, and riches by poverty, and grace by sin, all-sufficiency by insufficiency and nothingness; and even things that are high in things that are low; one depth calls unto another depth, and the deepness of that glory and fullness that resides in our Lord Jesus Christ calls upon that deepness and emptiness, and nothingness that is in and upon the poor creature; and this is that cloud that is still covering and removing from over the tabernacle, that the glory of the Lord may be made out in and by that cloud, and that we may know and behold that glory that was hidden from us, and that we may know how precious it is, by the cloud that withholds and covers it from our view.

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Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle
and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. Hebrews 3:1