Notice of the Statement and Acknowledgment of Error circulated by Mr. Newton.

J. N. Darby.

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Mr. Newton having addressed "A Statement and Acknowledgment" respecting certain doctrinal errors to very many brethren (so, indeed, as to have reached, directly or indirectly, almost all), I desire to make some remarks upon it. I do not doubt many are quite able to judge of its value. Still, as there are very many ignorant of the real point and bearing of the error, and on whom the idea of an acknowledgment would act so as to set their mind at ease, and that from a disposition (which every one would hail) to receive in grace the confession of error or fault, I feel it right, for the sake of the beloved church of God, to weigh its value. I am aware that I shall be considered relentless; but I think of the interest of the church of God in it, and even of Mr. Newton's own. If the Spirit of God be really working in his mind, the pointing out the deficiency of this will not hinder his going farther; and as the evil is confessedly very great, and specially as it is sought to be excused by the fact, that many brethren did not find it out, it is worth while, for the sake of simple and unsuspecting minds, to enquire seriously if it is really abandoned, and to what extent.

I proceed then at once to say (for I am satisfied that the plainest way is the most charitable here), that it is impossible that anything can be more unsatisfactory in every way; and I shall now say why. Mr. Newton has taught that Christ was, from the position He was in by birth as a man and an Israelite, under the curse of the exiled family, not vicariously on the cross, but in His own relation to God; that He was under the doom of death, under the curse of the law, and had to work His way up to a point where God could meet Him; that He had the experiences which an unconverted elect man, if he felt rightly, would have. These are not deductions, but the statements of Mr. Newton himself.

Besides this the "Christian Witness" furnished the evidence that this view of Christ's position has been originally based on an application of Romans 5, which subjected Christ to the imputation of Adam's guilt. This last, which gave so horrible a character to the doctrine itself as to shock everybody, is withdrawn, but the doctrine of the tracts is not withdrawn at all. The imputation of Adam's guilt was not the point taught in the tracts — was not presented as the basis of the doctrine taught in them. They were an attempt to maintain all that Mr. Newton taught as to Christ, the basis formerly laid in the "Christian Witness" being withdrawn.

118 The "Statement and Acknowledgment" now gives up professedly what was already given up silently in the tracts, the doctrine itself, as to what Christ was, being now based in the "Statement" on another and a new ground: but it does not give up the doctrine itself at all, but quite the contrary; it maintains it distinctly on a new ground, more subtle and less apparently offensive in its character, and most carefully limits the confession of error to what was made the ground of the doctrine in the "Christian Witness." Pages 3, 4, Mr. N. says, "It was this that first introduced Romans 5 into the controversy, as shewing that death of the body resulted from that which one man had done;* and if due care had been taken to discriminate between the mode in which the consequences of Adam's transgression reached mankind through federal headship, and the manner in which the Lord Jesus took certain of these consequences upon Himself, but not through federal headship — the error which I now have to confess would have been avoided. If I had watched this, I should have carefully avoided referring that part of Romans 5 to the Lord Jesus, and I should have stated, that His connection with these consequences was in virtue of His being made of a woman, and thus having brought Himself into association with a race on whom these penalties were resting." Now, here, Christ's connection with the consequences before attributed to the imputation of Adam's guilt is reaffirmed, and based on another ground. It is true, "certain consequences" leaves room enough to bring in anything, or leave out anything; but lower down we have "in virtue of such association He partook of these consequences, even all the consequences in which He could share unconnected with personal sin." Now, this is not retracting the doctrine as to the position Christ was in, but affirming it anew, and putting it on a new ground.

{*Every one owns that it resulted from what one man had done; but Mr. N.'s interpretation of Romans 5 is entirely wrong and unfounded. He reads, "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin," as being by one man's sin exclusively that death entered into the world, which is quite another thing; and the passage continues, "and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned."}

119 Further on Mr. N. says. "I have been led, as I have above stated, to see that I was distinctly in error, in holding that the Lord Jesus came by birth under any imputation of Adam's guilt, or the consequences of such imputation … And I hereby withdraw all statements of mine, whether in print, or in any other form, in which this error, or any of its fruits,* may be found." Now, mark here, that positive and necessary subjection to death is one of the consequences directly lying on Christ, according to the "Statement and Acknowledgment;" a necessity not arising, according to Mr. N., from one's own sin (for that, indeed, would make Christ a sinner), but solely from Adam's. So that Christ was born under the consequences of Adam's sin, as to the penalties pronounced by God, not merely the circumstances He was in, but the penalties judicially pronounced on man because of sin, though it was not by imputation of His guilt but by association of nature. In a word, though the tracts are withdrawn from circulation for reconsideration, the doctrine contained in them is carefully maintained.

{*The italics are Mr. Newton's.}

And here I beg, too, to draw attention to another point. Mr. Newton grounds his statement and new views on the distinction between the imputation of Adam's guilt and association with his penal condition by birth (a wonderfully narrow distinction, more fitted to save the credit of the doctrine than the glory of the person of the blessed Jesus): but there is another ground on which Christ's liability to condemnation — the horrible and frightful doctrine of His being Himself a condemned and lost man — exists in the tracts (not one atom of which is recalled), and that is, that He was born an Israelite under the curse of a broken law. This is the doctrine of the tracts. Now this, so far from being recalled, is really still maintained by confining retractations as to the law to the point of imputation of Adam's guilt. It is said, page 6, "Nor yet that He had by keeping the law, or by anything else, to deliver Himself from such* imputation or from its consequences." Now Mr. Newton declares in the tracts, that Christ was born under the curse of the broken law, according to Galatians 3, and that He found His way to a point where God could meet Him; all this remaining in its full force unretracted.

{*The imputation of Adam's guilt, with which in fact the law had nothing to do.}

120 In a word, I repeat, the "Christian Witness" is given up; the tracts are maintained, unless so far as the doctrine of the imputation of Adam's guilt may be found in them. The whole of the statements, so justly frightful to every one that honours the Lord Jesus Christ, remain untouched and unrecalled, though the ground laid for them in the "Christian Witness" in the application of Romans 5 is acknowledged to be error. And it is very well known that, when these things were first brought before Mr. N. a few weeks before the "Statement and Acknowledgment" appeared, he took this very ground: and that further retractations were proposed to him and refused. And here, I feel bound to add, that the way Christ is spoken of is to me really as frightful as the doctrine. Think of referring to the blessed Lord in such language as that, "if a faithful servant heavily burthened be set to walk up an ice mountain, if he slip I do not marvel," and such-like statements!

The only advance made is, that the tracts are withdrawn from circulation to reconsider. To reconsider what? Whether Christ was by birth in such association with Israel as to be under the curse of a broken law? All this, let it be noted, is connected, not with Romans 5, but with the interpretation of the Psalms and the Lamentations, and with the whole system of Mr. N.'s interpretation. But if Christ's honour be the thing in question, if that is what we have at heart, would not that be the very first point, and easily settled? But as to all this there is total silence. The doctrine is removed from an evidently assailable ground to a more abstruse one, as to Christ's connection with Adam, and the worst part of the evil is by the "Statement" endeavoured to be made more free from possibility of attack, while the second ground of it — connection with Israel, so as to be under the curse of the broken law not vicariously — is carefully reserved. It is not a confession of the evil of the doctrine in the tracts, but a direct maintaining of it. In the meanwhile, the tracts are withdrawn from circulation, which, while the doctrine is not, does more harm than good, because the plain evidences of the abominable evil are concealed from sight, and it seems to be unjust to appeal to them. But let the reader remember that the doctrine is maintained as to Christ's position, for in setting it on a new ground it is maintained, and as regards His connection with Israel all remains unretracted, as is all as to the effect of John's baptism in putting Jesus for the first time under grace.

And now mark the facts. Mr. N. for ten or twelve long years has been teaching, in his own circle, doctrines which, it is now confessed, subvert the person and work of the Lord Jesus altogether — make Him a guilty lost man. This has been spread farther by private communications. He has spread it, through the ignorance of the clergy of the establishment, in India: his defence is, that brethren themselves have propagated it; though I affirm them to have never thought of such a thing, save his own immediate disciples and helps.

121 The horrible dishonour done to Christ is brought to the notice of unsuspecting brethren, and is denounced; his own friends declare that they can have nothing more to say to such teaching, and acknowledgment becomes necessary. Now if Christ had been thought of, what would have been the effect if the soul had been touched with the sense of the subversion of His person and glory and work, and the harm done to souls? Even if some difficulties remained, would not there have been (is there not always when sin is judged by the person convinced of it?) the strongest sense of it, the greatest horror of it, the self-condemning reprobation of it, in the person who has been thus dishonouring Christ?

If Mr. N. had said, "Well, whatever I can understand of the Psalms, the devil has been deceiving me, and I have been deceiving others: what can I do enough to condemn and undo what I have been doing?" Would it have been a translating of the dishonour to safer ground — a statement that he had guarded and limited the teaching on it? How guarded and limited the teaching that Christ was a lost and condemned man by birth; that he was right in this, and right in that: only he overstepped the mark in seeking to do the wisest thing to meet another error twelve years ago! Would it be the practical claim to be still the person to make it clear, and to state the right extent to which, and guards under which, it is to be adopted? Is all this safely guarded reserve of the error humiliating or anything like it? He says he does not wish to extenuate the error by it. What does he wish, then? He desires this to be considered as an expression of deep and unfeigned grief and sorrow, especially by those who may have been grieved or injured. What is to be considered so? The placing the worst part of the error on new grounds as to one half, so as to re-establish it; and reserving the other, which was quite as bad?

I cannot see the deep sorrow in the tract. I write on christian grounds — for the sake of the church of God. The present statement is calculated to do more injury than the tracts withdrawn from circulation. They were too plain, though less so in terms than the "Christian Witness." If Christ was under the doom of death from His birth, by association with man as made of woman, coming under the penalty of God's judgment against sin not vicariously — under all its consequences, in which He could share unconnected with personal sin — and this is the doctrine of the "Statement" — the question of the imputation of Adam's guilt is only a nice distinction. If Christ was under the curse of the law, He could not be made a curse for others.

122 And now one word as to what is said as to the deductions I have drawn. Were I seeking myself, I might be content with the statement of their being legitimate; but I am not. Mr. N., and any of those who have erred, will find that, when the Spirit of God is to be seen working in them, I shall be the first to hail it with unfeigned joy. But I am perfectly satisfied that all this work is a work of Satan. This doctrine has proved it. T hat it is so is my hope as to the personal integrity of many; nay, it is now confessed even by themselves; for what is the preaching of error so gross and horrible, without finding it out for some ten years, but a delusion of Satan? Now that work I resist openly and everywhere for Christ and the brethren's sake, and shall expose, heeding very little the comments made, and looking for the Lord's approbation, and not man's. I say, then, that what was charged on Mr. N. was no deduction, legitimate or not. He stated, that the Lord Jesus was by birth, as a man and an Israelite, under the curse of the broken law; that He was under the imputation of Adam's guilt; that He was under the doom of death; that He had to work His own way up to life; that He was exposed to the danger of all the punishment due to Adam's guilt, and other like statements. Now there was no need of deductions from this. The meaning of the statements themselves is plain to all who know what guilt and a curse mean. It is not a doctrine deductions from which can be guarded against. The things complained of are the statements themselves. There is no guarding them. Nor are they retracted save one.

And here I beg leave to remark, that there are others who have to answer to the church of God as to these errors. Messrs. —  and  -  and  - * have all been fully involved in this doctrine, and committed themselves to it. Nor is a sudden casting it all over on Mr. N. any satisfaction to others, or likely to produce confidence in them. I am aware that Mr. —  has stated, at East Coker, that he repudiated it all; but I know that, but few days before it was detected and exposed, he had declared that for eight years back the doctrine had been fully canvassed in Ebrington Street, and that all were thoroughly made up in it. Mr. —  has declared, not that Adam's guilt was imputed indeed, but that the doctrine in general was necessarily true from the constitution of Christ's nature. I do not pretend to give the words, nor those in which Mr. Walker stated his judgment; but it is very well known that they held and taught these views (possibly without knowing what they were about), and that they approved and admired the tracts. They must explain themselves. If they do not, it is clear they are seeking something else than the glory of the Lord Jesus. Even if Mr. N. be the originator of the doctrine, it will not do to make him a scape-goat for their errors. With this I have no kind of sympathy. If Mr. N. were restored, it would be the joy of my heart. They have set up for teachers and guarders of sound doctrine, for holding "the truth." They have boasted of uniformity of doctrine and of its importance, gladly driving away others who would not submit to their yoke. Is this the doctrine, uniformity in which was essential?

{*It is rumoured that there is another retractation to be published by them, they not being satisfied with Mr. N.'s. If there be, my present remark is justified, and remains, of course, harmless to any.}

123 Do they hold the doctrine in the tracts or not? Is it wholly and definitely rejected by them? Are the souls they have been aiding to seduce into error delivered from it? Have they been humbled enough to call in question their path in other things and doctrines, while under this awful delusion of Satan? Their disciples were brought to believe and recommend as precious truth, that Christ was guilty of sins of ignorance in these very terms. Mr. N.'s constant teaching on the Psalms confirmed this. Are they restored? And are those who have been their leaders during this time, still professing to guide them?*

{*Are evils of this character to be made mere matters of human regard and a personal question?}

Further, the way in which the matter has been more than once put to me and others obliges me to refer to another point. I have been asked, "Well, now, if there has been a retractation of the errors, cannot there be a re-association?" Now I have opposed it as a work of Satan. It has been found to be so. I look for this being set aside. My answer then has been, I look for a work of God's Spirit, where this work of evil has been. It seems to me that when persons claiming to have been not only teachers but guardians of the truth have been teaching really that Christ was a lost man, and discover that they have been thus deluded for years, they would be in the dust, and, instead of pretending to teach or guide, hide themselves as dishonourers of the Lord, supposing even it were done ignorantly. It would lead them to distrust themselves. Were this so, it would go farther, and grace would surely soon settle all. Were the Holy Ghost beginning to work even, one would hope, surely, that He would go farther; yea, be certain of it. If He be working, it will do so — and I should with joy forget all, as I hope to be forgiven myself by Him who remembereth no more our sins and iniquities. Every part of the sorrow would be more than effaced: but the church and poor of the flock cannot be sacrificed meanwhile to the power of error and evil.

124 But a mere retractation of error cannot set aside the charges of untruth, which have forced so many to disown these persons before the heresy came out. Intercourse with those who have been recently delivered, and who, by various questions, brought my mind back to this part of the subject, many of the details of which I had forgotten, has recalled me to these details; and I can only say, not speaking now of Mr. Newton, but of Messrs. — ,  - , and  - , that I have never met with such wretched trickery, or such bold untruth, as in the printed documents they have circulated. I dare say Satan's delusion may be the cause; and that there may be various qualities in the evil, as misled and misleading, so that once delivered I might hail some as Christians as much as ever. But there the evil is: the proof that they were delivered from the delusion would be the confession of the sin.

I would further remark, that, as to this, there has been no question of investigation at all. It was proposed to them to meet brethren at the last London meeting, but they did not come; and, further, even as regards Mr. Newton, the alleged investigation did not apply to the great body of the charges. They had never been made when the investigation took place. The great bulk of them were made long after the alleged investigation at Plymouth; since then no investigation or pretence of one has taken place, save that many, forced to examine for themselves, have found out the truth of the matter. No retractation of subsequently discovered error can set aside this ground of action, which subsisted before and is unremoved. Men who set up to be teachers have been guilty of acts, which have led some to say they could not sit down in the same room with them. That remains where it was.

125 As to what Mr. —  has added, it does not call for a reply. If it does anything, it is to destroy the little hope we might have had of a commencement of breaking down. Supposing unsuspecting brethren circulated the tract, having very likely read it in its original form, free from error, or taking it on trust; how does that excuse the deliberate insisting on it when objected to, as the fact was as to Mr. N. three years since? If the error escaped the clergy of Madras, what then? As to Dublin, Mr. N. stated at Langport,* that it was a letter of Mr. — 's. Mr. —  is perfectly certain he never wrote any such letter, and had never read the tract. As to the work at Dublin, I was occupied in every detail of it. I remember the paper (in which the doctrines were not) serving me, as giving the extracts from Mr. Irving's works, as did Mr. — 's book; but I never heard of any reference to the article in the Dublin controversy. That some one may have written a letter as to the original article in the "Christian Witness" is possible: but what then? What paper was found useful then, supposing it were so? The paper in which not one particle of the statements objected to is found. Because this was found useful, the tract was then published, and the errors added. What has the Dublin recommendation to do with the matter? The only remark suggested by Mr. — 's note is, that it is a very poor sign of humiliation, seeking to prove that others did not detect the error, and that others were as bad, because they were deceived by it, if that were true, which it is not.

{*I have been also told Mr. —  did. It is possible, as both were present.}

There is one point of doctrine which I would desire to advert to in explanation. "Mortal" is a word used in two senses — being capable of dying, and being actually subject to death as a necessity. Now of course Christ was capable of dying, or He could not die. But the doctrine taught here is that He was mortal as we are. Now Mr. N. insists on everything being God and man unitedly. Now, if He gave Himself, this can be understood; but how, if it was the penal condition to which He was subjected necessarily as man made of a woman?

Note too here, in passing, that there is, in many minds, the same confusion as to 'immortal.' God only has immortality essentially; but other beings are in the condition of immortality actually. I do not discuss the doctrine further here, as it is not my object.