The Saints Perfect Freedom in Christ

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, JUDGMENT SET AND THE BOOKS OPENED, 1654; most of these being preached at the height of his ministry at Lombard Street. In these messages one needs not proceed far before coming to the realization that in every one of these sermons Webster {by engaging the sword of the Spirit, and the marked self-ruin that every believer is brought into} is exceptionally zealous to shred every aspect of self-glory to the full extent that man, whatever his pretensions may be, and in whatever state he may find himself, is brought to a deluge of complete destruction, with every basis of self-worth or self-glorying ground to powder, whilst Christ alone is lifted up; and though every child of God will find himself in complete agreement with everything asserted along these lines, one may also sense a somewhat damaging tendency wherein the doctrinal foundations of the Gospel; in fact, the entire doctrinal structure of Divine revelation itself {though never compromised} is quite often given a subordinate or inferior role to those feelings and experiences a believer undergoes in this lifetime. In this one can begin to detect Webster’s connections with such men as Erbery & Everard, which associations had an obvious effect upon his own mindset, as many mystical features are scattered about his messages. Alongside these mystical propensities, there likewise is a continual gravitation in his messages to assign to man in all his religiosity, pretended holiness and feigned ability, &c., the absolute bleakest descriptions conceivable, accompanied with frequent directions for his hearers to look within for things {evidences, signs, &c.,} essentially only found in Christ, at least as far as a believer’s 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: The Apostle did so magnify, and set up, and adore Jesus Christ, and esteemed him so full, so rich, so large, so all in all; that he not only abhorred the rudiments and the inventions of men, but the Ordinances and the very Law of God as by man, to come in competition with Jesus Christ; for never any man observed the Law, in the least tittle. It was only Jesus Christ, and them whom he embodied, and in whom he works. For verily the Law was not given to tell man what he should do to get peace and life, but to condemn him, to disable him, to slay him, to convince him that he is miserable, and weak, and cursed. And therefore in vain did those false apostles, or any other in any generation put men upon doing this or that by way of condition, to enable man to act or do anything on his part by his own power so to please God. But every true believer is a man lost and destroyed in himself, and he is born anew of this divine seed, and he is settled not on himself by his own doings, but on the Rock of Ages, I Sam.2:2, and he harkens to the spiritual counsel given here by the apostle, to stand fast in this liberty, {whatever men say,} and will not suffer himself to be bewitched by the plausible teachings of men, tickling the flesh with acting and doing that by themselves which shall bring peace, but which tends to no other end but to keep men in bondage, and to hold them under the old Jerusalem, because that’s very pleasing to man; for there are many glorious forms and worships, and man showing out himself to be something, which things please the outward man and the flesh; and this is that which man esteems highly of, and much prides himself therein; and indeed, all this is nothing but to seek life in death, and for the living to seek to the dead, as the prophet speaks, Isa.8:19, for all tends to death, to bondage, and to remain under the curse, but that which the apostle here holds forth in the truth, the power, the life, the inheritance, the resurrection, the glory; and shows that there is no other power, life, glory, inheritance, peace, rest, but only here; there is no other spirit, no other baptism, no other breaking of bread, for Christ alone is the true bread which came down from heaven, Jn.6:51, and he alone can give it, and he alone is the means, the only ordinance by which we receive it; he is the way, and he is the door.

Go Back  Download PDF

Home Page

Index of Authors

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