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J. C. Philpot and John H. Newman – A Vital Difference

Category Articles
Date September 14, 2010

In 1821 a young clergyman’s son matriculated at Worcester College, Oxford. Amongst the cleverest of his generation, he knew nothing of the wisdom which can only be imparted by the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. Just previously, another young man, of similar academic capabilities, had graduated with an unexpectedly low third-class degree. Yet, in contrast to the first, this man professed to have known something of the work of grace in his soul, having been ‘converted’ when he was 15 years old.

In time, both men, having been baptised and ordained as ministers in the Church of England, were forced by conscience to secede from it. Both cast in their lot with, at that time, minority churches. On the Lord’s Day both rose early, preaching and ministering to the poor of this world. Today, both are still esteemed; their works are still printed and read. Yet what a gulf between them! Today, the one is about to be beatified because of a supposed miracle he has performed; the other, whilst not regarded as a saint by the Lord’s people on this earth, is amongst the glorified spirits above, not because of any good in him, nor anything he wrote or said, but because of what the Lord accomplished in his soul, by free and sovereign grace alone!

Of these two men, the first was Joseph Charles Philpot, minister amongst the Gospel Standard Baptists; the second was John Henry Newman, a cardinal in the Church of Rome. What was the vital difference between these two men?

By 1821 Newman had confessed to a work of grace in his soul, but the Lord did not begin to move in Philpot’s soul until 1827, by which time Newman was clearly showing his apostasy. What separated these men at conversion? Why did the one become an apostate, while the other was ‘kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Pet. 1:5)?

It comes down to this: the reality of the work of grace in the soul. Newman describes his ‘conversion’ as a young 15 year old whilst reading a book by William Romaine, as being brought to rest ‘in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my creator’ (Newman (1909) Apologia, p. 5). Newman makes no mention of his sin or repenting of it, neither does he express any hope of salvation in the finished work of Jesus Christ; rather he seems to describe coming to an intellectual belief in the existence of God. In contrast, at a later date, Philpot was brought to feel his state as a sinner, his own inability to save himself in any way and his own hope of salvation as being in Jesus Christ alone. Of his conversion, Philpot says:

It was in 1827, now twenty-two years ago, that eternal things were first laid upon my mind, that I was made to know myself as a poor, lost sinner, and a spirit of grace and supplication poured out upon my soul. I may have had doubts and fears since as to the reality of the work of grace upon my soul; but I have never doubted, and shall never doubt, that if I possess grace in my heart, it was then first implanted. (The Gospel Pulpit, 218 p. 4).

In time Newman’s conversion experience was to prove itself nothing but imagination. We are not the best judges of the Lord’s work in our own souls, let alone in other people’s, but there are two principles which must, in measure, form the basis of every Holy Spirit-wrought work of grace in the soul. These are a knowledge of, and repentance over, personal sin, and, secondly, a knowledge of the Lord Jesus as our only hope of salvation. The latter may be only a ‘hope’, not necessarily a full assurance; but there must be a realisation that as sinners we cannot save ourselves. Newman’s conversion lacked both of these vital aspects. Consequently, his days were spent ‘ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (2 Tim. 3:7). In contrast, the work of grace in Philpot’s soul was to deepen with time, and he was to become an able minister of the Gospel.

In time the differences stemming from this vital difference between these two men became vividly apparent. The one held to biblical, ‘Reformed’ truths, the other to the apostate teachings of the Church of Rome.

First, while both considered the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, they differed on its sufficiency. For Philpot the Bible was the complete revelation of God. All questions of doctrine, experience and practice can only be settled by bringing them to the testimony of Holy Scripture alone – man’s opinion and historical reasoning has no place in such matters. Philpot’s teaching is best summed up in the Articles of Faith he wrote for his church at Stamford:

We believe in the Authenticity and Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and receive them as a gracious Revelation of the mind and will of God; and we believe that therein are revealed all the Doctrines and Truths which we here state. (Article 1).

On the contrary, Newman taught that although the Bible was complete in itself, doctrinal revelation is still occurring. Therefore the Bible is insufficient for the Church to draw all teaching from; instead, he placed church tradition and the creeds of the church above the authority of scripture. He taught that the Bible was to be interpreted in the light of the creeds rather than that the creeds should be interpreted in the light of Scripture. It is by such teaching that the Church of Rome explains her innovations which are extra-Biblical, e.g. the Immaculate Conception and the intercession of Mary. It was this teaching of Newman’s which resulted in his dismissal, on March 8, 1830, from the post of secretary to the Church Missionary Society – the vacant post was filled by none less than J.C. Philpot! (Stunt (1970) Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 30, pp. 65-74).

Secondly, the doctrines of grace. While Newman initially held the doctrines of grace, he quickly gave them up. Why did these truths sit so lightly with Newman that he was able to quickly discard them? The reason is he never experienced them; they were never made living realities to him. Philpot, on the other hand, was taught well his heart’s plague and as a consequence came to know and feel that salvation must be entirely of God’s free and sovereign grace. Thus Philpot wrote:

I admire and love the grace of God; and the longer I live, the more do I love and admire it. My sins, my corruptions, my infirmities make me feel my deep and daily need of it; and as its freeness, fullness, suitability and inexpressible blessedness are more and more opened up to my heart and conscience, so do I more and more cleave to and delight in it. What, in fact, is there which you can substitute for it? (Philpot (1987) Sin and Salvation p. 19).

Thirdly, the view of soul-saving faith. Newman held that faith is a product of probability or that probability is antecedent to faith. Simplified, Newman taught that man makes a rational judgement as to the fact of something on the basis of probability, but the outcome of this judgement is not faith, but faith is the act of the will in the final step of assent to the truth. Such that, ‘Faith, in other words, is “not a conclusion from premises [probabilities], but the result of an act of the will, following upon a conviction that to believe is a duty”‘ (Kerr and Merrigan (2009), p. 81).

In contrast, rather than having its origin with us, Philpot clearly held that faith is a gift of God implanted in the heart by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Of the origin of saving faith, Philpot says:

It is ‘not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead’ (Gal. 1:1). Are we not expressly told that those who received Christ (and how could they receive him but by faith?) ‘were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:13)? . . . Thus testifies also James – ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift’ (and is not faith both a good and perfect gift?) is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ (James 1:17). If faith, then, be of this divine origin we shall seek for it in vain among the children of this world. (The Gospel Pulpit, sermon 62)

What a contrast between the intellectual faith of Newman and the living faith of Philpot!

Fourthly, the doctrine of justification. In 1838, Newman published a book on justification which attacked the Reformation’s central teaching of justification by faith alone. However, at this stage Newman did not hold fully the Roman Catholic teaching of justification by baptism, instead teaching a middle road: that we are justified by both baptism and faith. Or as a recent writer has summarised his teaching for us: ‘That the work of salvation is begun in baptism, sustained by faith, hope and love, good works and sacraments, and transforms the believer in holiness and righteousness in the image of Christ from glory into glory’ (Cambridge Companion to John Henry Newman, p. 8). For Philpot there was no middle way! Justification is by Christ alone, through faith alone, precluding any work on the part of man.

Fifthly, the view of the church and its ordinances. On 22nd March 1835, Philpot hung his gown up for the final time in the vestry at Stadhampton and seceded from the ministry of the Church of England. Of the Church of England, Philpot said:

I secede from the Church of England because I can find in her scarcely one mark of a true church. She tramples upon one ordinance of Christ by sprinkling infants, and calling it regeneration . . . I am told . . . that she derives her sacraments and ministers in a direct, uninterrupted line from the apostles, and that to secede from her is to be guilty of schism. But where are the outward marks of this only true church? Where are the ‘signs’ of these successors of the apostles, the seals of their commission, whereby they ‘approve’ themselves ‘as the ministers of God . . .?’ (2 Cor. 6:4). (Philpot (1835), Letter to the Provost of Worcester College)

In contrast, Newman, in his first sermon, preached in June 1824, stated that only those that had been baptised were Christians, and all who had been baptised (that is, sprinkled as infants) were Christians. This argument he based on the falsehood of baptismal regeneration (the notion that the soul is regenerated or made spiritually alive by the administration of baptism, which of course in the Church of England is by infant sprinkling) (Early History, p. 17). Newman held the doctrine of Apostolic Succession (that is, that the chosen successors of the twelve apostles, from the days of the apostles to the present day, have the same authority, power, and responsibility as was conferred upon the apostles by Jesus, and that this is conferred on a priest by holy ordination). Similarly, Newman accepted the sacramental teaching of Rome, embracing the doctrine of the ‘Real Presence’ (transubstantiation – that the bread and wine become the real body and blood of the Lord Jesus when the priest blesses them during the mass).

For Philpot, secession was forced upon him because the Church of England continued to maintain vestiges of these Romish doctrines, while for Newman, secession was the only way to fully embrace the teachings of Rome.

In conclusion, the Lord’s people have held Philpot in high esteem, not for his sake, but for the Truth’s sake. Blessing still attends his sermons and writings today. But what of Newman today? Newman’s teaching remains central to the Church of Rome; indeed he was possibly the greatest ideological influence on the Second Vatican Council. Furthermore, during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK this year, the Vatican plans to beatify (declare blessed) Newman; the first step to sainthood. Lest any feels Newman can be forgotten, or that we need not concern ourselves with him, I leave you with these chilling words, in the biography of Newman published by the Catholic Truth Society:

Darwin, Marx and Freud were three men of the nineteenth century whose ideas shaped the course of events all through the twentieth, and all in the direction of atheism – disbelief in any creating Spirit beyond the world of sense. Newman’s influence may seem weak in comparison with theirs, but it is like the yeast in Christ’s similitude, slowly leavening the lump of human dough and still active a hundred years after his death. (Trevor and Caldecott (2001), p. 5)

It was only the work of grace in Philpot’s soul that brought about a difference between him and Newman, but what a vital difference! It is only a work of grace in the soul of the reader which will cause any difference between Newman’s position and theirs. How do we stand? Our walk and confession can only be judged in the light of Scripture:

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 John 2:18-19)

Does grace separate us to be one with the Lord’s people, or will a matter of time show us to be only one who followed the Lord because of the mere outward evidences?

Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. (John 6:26-27)

Taken with permission from Perception, Autumn 2010, edited by J.R.Broome

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