The Judgment Set & the Books Opened

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. {Kildwick, or Kildwick-in-Craven – the parish in which John Wilson and Roger Brierley had preceded him as curate – is a village and civil parish of the district of Craven in North Yorkshire, England.} Apparently he soon thereafter {most likely due to the influence of Brierley} abandoned the Established Church, embracing the essential principles of Puritanism. Thus, being brought to a state of self-ruin, and the discovery that all external forms as severed from Christ were of no value, he elsewhere describes the reaction of other ministers to his findings, saying, “the Lord in his wonderful mercy brought me to the sad experience of mine own dead, sinful, lost and damnable condition in nature. This no sooner appeared but the power of Babel in the Ministers of Satan, transforming themselves into Ministers of Righteousness, then in the Episcopal and Prelatical form, pouring forth all their malice and spite against the truth and those in whom it appears, then throwing dirt upon us in and under the terms of Puritans, Separatists, Grindletonians and Antinomians.” 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 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. He says, “this is certain, that man’s misery and fall is so deep and so great, that nothing but infiniteness could recover and fetch him up again; he is fallen into an infiniteness of nothingness, from whence all the creatures, angels, or men could not redeem one soul, but it must be the infinite work of the Creator. Man by sin hath thrown himself into a worse condition than any other creature, and below the whole creation, and he that sees it not thus really, has never yet known what it was to be delivered; and he that thinks that less than infiniteness will redeem him, he undervalues and circumscribes the death and life of the Son of God, and counts it a poor thing, and has never yet been saved.” And again, “he that says that there is any good thing in man, any righteousness, wisdom, power, any endeavors after any good or the like, he is no other but a most abominable blasphemer. And this conceit and presumption the Lord hath cursed and will confound.” 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.

From the Preface: The author of these ensuing sermons, being cast by Divine Providence upon some employment in the Lord’s work, in this great city, was much carried forth in his ministration to set up the Lord Jesus Christ in the hearts of men, in opposition to all that is of the flesh, and all that is of man, which caused many out of an impatient spirit to distaste the things that were delivered. But many that heard him, being inwardly acquainted with what was being spoken by him, were very desirous to have that published for the benefit of all, which they themselves had the happiness to receive from his own mouth, apprehending it to be the Bridegroom’s voice in him, and therefore savory to them. He being now at a great distance from the Press, and not in a capacity of overseeing that which the transcriber may have failed in, the reader is therefore desired not to mind the manner of delivery, but the matter of that which is here presented, wherein {if single-hearted} he will doubtless find a lively discovery of many sweet breathings of the spirit of Jesus Christ, from one that appears to have been long inwardly taught of the Lord himself, and that wholly laid aside all those human advantages wherewith he was and is plentifully furnished, that he might commend his message unto the hearts and consciences of men, not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit, and of power. Upon which account and no other, what follows is recommended to the perusal of all that desire to benefit by what they read, by Him that teaches us to profit. Thine, in the service of our most holy faith, John Cardell, Joshua Sprigg, Robert Bacon.

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