Mr. B. W. Newton’s Belief

George H. Fromow

“Teachers of the Faith and the Future”

Unkind and untrue things have been said about Mr. Benjamin Wills Newton, so that we thought our readers might like to see the following statement of belief, in the form of answers to questions, which was given by him on July 11th, 1848.

1. Whether the Athanasian, Nicene, and Apostles’ Creeds may be received as embodying the statements of Scripture on these subjects?

They must never be appealed to as if they had the authority of Scripture—for Holy Scripture is the alone standard in every controversy. But the statements of those Creeds are so excellent, and in such close accordance with Scripture, that every one who values the truth may well be thankful for them. I profess my cordial acquiescence in them.

2. Whether the body of Christ was mortal?

If it were not, He would not have needed food to preserve the vital union of His soul and body. Absence of nutrition, or the stroke of Herod’s sword would have destroyed that union (unless indeed a miracle had been wrought to prevent it), quite as much in Him as in us. But it must not be inferred from this, that mortality was in Him exactly the same thing as in us. Mortality—the cravings of hunger and all pain, are in our case, probably, always connected with indwelling sin. But the Lord Jesus had no sin. Therefore we must always add when speaking of His likeness to us in these things, “sin excepted.” For further remarks on the mortality of the Lord Jesus, I would refer to the excellent statements of Bishop Pearson on the Creed.

3. Whether the Lord Jesus was always sinless—and therefore fit from the moment of His birth for a spotless sacrifice?

He was from the moment of His birth a Lamb without blemish and without spot—always fit therefore for an unblemished sacrifice. Trial might manifest His perfections—but it could not give to Him perfections which He essentially had.

4. Whether it was possible for the Lord Jesus to have died otherwise than as the sacrifice?

It was impossible—for He was the Lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world. His object in coming into the world was to give His life a ransom for many. But this impossibility arose from the preordination of the Persons of the Godhead, not from any physical impossibility in Christ’s dying in case He had been smitten by the sword of Herod, or had been deprived of nutrition. In this sense He was always exposed to death, and therefore received both continual nourishment and protection from the rage of His enemies—but for the reason above stated it was impossible that He could die except as the sacrifice.

5. Whether mortality became connected with the Lord Jesus by means of His relation to Mary?

It did. It pleased Him of His own voluntary will to assume through her a body like to ours in every thing except sin. Mortality—weakness of body— the pains of hunger and the like were certain consequences of Adam’s sin, which were transmitted to the Lord Jesus through Mary—in virtue of His own voluntary determination to subject himself to such consequences—but He had no sin, nor any imputation of Adam’s sin.

6. Whether the Lord Jesus was exposed in consequence of being born, as man, to the damnation that is after death?

Never. It is surprising that such a question could have been raised or even thought of; He was exposed by the position He voluntarily assumed, both as man, and as an Israelite, only to those sufferings which the present governmental arrangements of God towards man in this world, had introduced, and to them, only so far as they could be received by One Who was essentially sinless. There is an infinitely important distinction to be drawn between the present governmental arrangements of God which bear afflictively on human life here, and yet are mingled with many a mercy, and the final damnation of the lost. After death cometh the judgment—and there long-suffering mercy never comes.

7. Whether the Lord Jesus when He was pleased to assume flesh received or sought to receive that which, was due to His own personal or individual position?

If He had, He would have received instant relief from every pain and sorrow, both in body and in spirit—for nothing was due to His individual position, both as man and as an Israelite, but perfection of blessing.

8. Whether it was His intention when He assumed flesh to associate Himself with the human and Israelitish families, so as to share as far as He sinlessly could their sufferings?

If this had not been His intention, He would have suffered nothing. All His sufferings were the consequence of His having assumed a relative position, i.e. one in which He consented to forego that which was due to His own individual position, and to subject Himself to sufferings due to the position of those to whom He stood related by voluntary association.

9. Whether the Lord Jesus was born as we, under the imputation of Adam’s sin?

If He had been, He would have needed redemption like ourselves; for this would be involved in the idea if fully carried out to results. He was pleased to subject Himself, through birth, as a means—to some of the consequences of Adam’s sin, which were transmitted to Him through Mary; but in our case there is no voluntary subjection. It is constrained subjection in virtue of federal imputation to all the consequences of Adam’s sin, which, unless removed by redemption, would end in final damnation.

10. Whether the Lord Jesus by being born an Israelite was born under the imputation of His nation’s guilt?

Not even an ordinary Israelite was—much less the Lord, for God said, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:20). Indeed the law, when originally given, proceeded on a principle entirely opposed to that of imputation.

11. Whether it was a blessing to the Lord Jesus personally to be born under law?

It was—for He was able to keep it, and did keep it in every jot and tittle—so that to Him it brought blessing and not curse.

12. Whether the Lord Jesus was ever in moral distance from God?

If He had been, He would have been personally a sinner—for moral distance is alienation of heart from God—enmity against Him. The Lord Jesus never did or could know moral distance from God, —no not even on the cross, though there He received the wrath that was due to such moral distance in His people.

13. Whether all the living sufferings of Christ were vicarious in the sense of being exclusively on behalf of others?

They were. He never suffered one sorrow except for others—none on His own account.

14. Whether the living sufferings of Christ were vicarious in the strict sense of “instead of”?

They were not—because if the Lord Jesus had suffered hunger, weariness, etc., instead of His people—in the same strict sense as He bore wrath in their stead on the cross—they never could have suffered hunger or weariness any more. All the sufferings of His life were for us exclusively, and go to make up that perfect obedience which is imputed to all who believe—but the sufferings of His death were so strictly in our stead, that we can never, in any sort whatsoever, suffer the like. This gives its proper preeminence to the cross.

This valuable statement shows Mr. Newton’s orthodoxy in the plainest terms.

A few words are necessary on statements 13 and 14. Mr. Darby and his friends consistently rejected the common doctrine of the Protestant Reformation that all Christ’s sufferings in life or death were one obedience and that the believer has the righteousness of the Lord’s perfect obedience imputed to him. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” In 1863 Dr. Tregelles had to answer these views in his “Five letters . . . on recent denials of our Lord’s Vicarious Life.”

In 1848, whilst holding to the truth that Christ’s life sufferings were vicarious Mr. Newton made a distinction between His sufferings in life and those He endured on the cross. In this he was following a position adopted by many Lutheran theologians.

After he had left the Brethren, Mr. Newton moved still further from Mr. Darby and his friends and adopted the full Reformation doctrine. The following is a quotation from pages 63-67 of his book “Christ our Suffering Surety” (1858), which is self explanatory.

It has been a question whether in speaking of the work of the Lord Jesus as the Surety . . . it would be better to use the words “instead of” only of His sufferings on the cross; and to use the words “on behalf of” or “for,” when we speak of His obedience, or of His resurrection, or of those sufferings, such as hunger, thirst, and the like, which His people also experience.

The reasons assigned for such a distinction are, firstly, lest if we say that our Surety obeyed “in our stead,” we should be understood to mean that we are ourselves no longer under the responsibility of rendering obedience to God. Secondly, lest we should supply an argument to the Romanist who might say, that if the Surety suffered hunger, thirst, and bodily death in His people’s stead, and yet they also experience the same things, why may He not have endured wrath in their stead, and yet they still be appointed to endure it measurably both here and in purgatory hereafter. And lastly, is it not desirable to maintain a strong distinction between those sufferings to which the Surety subjected Himself in association with the outward (not with the moral) circumstances in which His people were, and those other sufferings into the like of which His people never come?

These reasons so far weighed with me formerly, that (whilst strongly maintaining that all the sufferings of Christ were sacrificial and exclusively on behalf of others) I thought it best to appropriate the words “instead of” and “vicarious” in the strict sense of “instead of,” to the cross, and say that He obeyed, and suffered hunger, thirst, and the like, “for us,” or “on our behalf.” But this I should no longer do.

Firstly, Christ may strictly be said to have obeyed “in our stead,” because His was a meritorious obedience presented as such to God, in order that it might be imputed to His people. Such an obedience we never present. We cannot. We, as a duty and as a privilege, obey imperfectly for love’s sake, but we never obey meritoriously as a ground of life; nor seek to meet the full unabated claim of God’s righteous Law. This Christ did in our stead.

Secondly, Christ may be said to have borne the least as well as the greatest of His sufferings in our stead, because though we may in our measure suffer like things, yet we suffer them not for the same object. Christ suffered to make satisfaction to God, and to meet the full rigorous demand of justice. None of our sufferings are satisfactory. Consequently, it may rightly be said that He suffered every thing that He suffered “in His people’s stead.”

And as regards the argument of Romanism, it may be met by saying that Christ’s sufferings “instead of” His people, are so completely adequate to meet all the claim of God’s holy Law, that not only is there no legal necessity for their suffering anything, but they never do after having been once brought through faith under the shelter of redemption suffer anything, except what Love appoints for the perfecting of their faith and for the increase of their blessing; and further, the Scripture says that one certain result of the sufferings of Christ is, that the spirits of all His believing people go immediately to Him in heaven as soon as they quit the body. This is not purgatory, nor suffering of any kind for any reason.

Nor, lastly, is the high solitary position of the cross and Christ suffering there, detracted from by saying (what none can deny) that the path of the Great Surety was always a solitary one; and that even sufferings that came on Him instrumentally through association with any of the outward circumstances of His people, came on Him on a solitary ground and for an object which pertained to Himself alone—namely, to satisfy in their stead the demands of God’s holy government. Therefore, we may rightly say that all His obedience and all His sufferings in life and in death, were “instead of” His people—alike vicarious and substitutional, seeing that all His obedience and all His sufferings were meritorious and satisfactory.

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