“How can His chastisement make us whole?” by John Webster

“The chief task of Christian soteriology is to show how the bruising of the man Jesus, the servant of God, saves lost creatures and reconciles them to their creator.

In the matter of salvation, Christian theology tries to show that this servant—marred, Isaiah tells us, beyond human semblance, without form or comeliness or beauty—is the one in and as whom God’s purpose for creatures triumphs over their wickedness.

His oppression and affliction, His being put out of the land of the living, is in truth not His defeat at the hands of superior forces, but His own divine act in which He takes upon Himself, and so takes away from us, the iniquity of us all.

How can this be? How can His chastisement make us whole? How can others be healed by His stripes?

Because, Isaiah tells us, it was the will of the Lord to bruise Him; because God has put Him to grief; because it is God who makes the servant’s soul an offering for sin.

And just because this is so—just because He is smitten by God and afflicted—then the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand, and the servant Himself shall prosper and be exalted.

And not only this: the servant shall also see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; he shall see His offspring.

As it tries to explicate how God is savingly at work in the affliction of His servant, Christian soteriology stretches both backwards and forwards from this central event.

It traces the work of salvation back into the will of God, and forward into the life of the many who by it are made righteous. Soteriology thus participates in the double theme of all Christian theology, namely God and all things in God.

The matter of the Christian gospel is, first, the eternal God who has life in Himself, and then temporal creatures who have life in Him.

The gospel, that is, concerns the history of fellowship—covenant—between God and creatures; Christian soteriology follows this double theme as it is unfolded in time.

In following its theme, soteriology undertakes the task of displaying the identities of those who participate in this history and the material order of their relations.

The Lord who puts His servant to grief is this one, dogmatics tells us; this is his servant, these the transgressors who will be accounted righteous.

So conceived, soteriology pervades the entire corpus of Christian teaching, and its exposition necessarily entails sustained attention to trinitarian and incarnational dogma, as well as to the theology of creatures and their ends.

Indeed, no part of Christian teaching is unrelated to soteriology, whether immediately or indirectly.”

–John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, God and the Works of God, vol. I (London; Oxford; New York; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury T&T Clark: An Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2016), 143–144.

“Jesus is all to them who are nothing” by John Newton

“Your prayers and kind wishes for me and mine, I heartily thank you for, and hope we shall repay you (as we are enabled) in kind.

Many here have, indeed, reason to speak well of the Lord. He has been very gracious to us. But, alas! most of us may complain of ourselves.

But, unworthy as we are, He bears with us; He multiplies pardons, and He keeps us upon the whole in a persuasion that His loving kindness is better than life.

The workings of a corrupt nature, and the subtlety of our spiritual enemies, cause us much exercise; but we find One with us who is greater than our hearts, and greater than he that is in the world.

When I look at some of my people, I am filled both with joy and shame; joy to see that the Lord has not suffered my labour among them to be in vain; shame to think that I have preached so much more effectually to them than to my own heart.

It is my mercy that I am not under the law, but under grace. Were it not for this thought, I should sink.

But it is given me to know that Jesus is all to them who are nothing.

The promise whereon I trust, and the power of trusting in it, are both from Him, and therefore I am encouraged to plead, ‘Remember Thy word unto Thy servant, wherein Thou hast caused me to hope.’ (Psalm 119:49)

A sure promise, a complete atonement, a perfect righteousness, an Almighty Saviour, who is able to save to the uttermost, and has said, ‘I will in no wise cast out.’ (John 6:37)

These are the weapons with which I (alas, how feebly!) oppose the discouragements which arise from self and unbelief.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 265-266.

“Jesus alone is able to preserve us” by John Newton

“May we ever remember that not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.

I had no doubt but that you would love my dear friend; possibly I may overrate him; I own he is but a man, but I think him an uncommon one; an eminent instance of the true christian spirit. This is what is most taking with me.

Gifts are useful; but they are mere tinsel compared with the solid gold of grace. An eminency in gifts is specious and glittering; but unless grace is proportionable, very ensnaring likewise.

Gifts are like riches: if well improved, they give a man fairer opportunities of service; but if the Lord favours a man with great gifts, and in consequence thereof, considerable popularity, that man stands in a dangerous situation.

If he is not kept humble, great soon will be his fall; and to keep such a man humble, more than a common share of trials is usually needful.

My prayer for you and for myself, my dear friend, is, that we may never be suffered to infer grace from gifts, or to mistake the exercise of the one for the exercise of the other.

We have need to be saying continually, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” How else can we stand?

If we meet with opposition, it has hurt its thousands. If we are exposed to caresses and popularity, they have slain their ten thousands.

Jesus alone is able to preserve us, and He is able to preserve us fully; in the lion’s den, in the fiery furnace, in the swellings of Jordan, if He be with us, and maintain in us a sense of our unworthiness, and our entire dependence upon Him, we shall be safe.

I see that, beside the general lot of affliction in common with others, you are likely to have one peculiar trial, which might be lightly regarded by some, but not by me.

Indeed, I can sympathize with you; and, from what I have formerly felt, I am sure nothing but the grace of God can compose the mind under such a disappointment.

But remember, He has given you Himself. If He sees tit to overrule your desires, be sure it is best for you.

The Lord sees all consequences; if we could do so, we should acquiesce in His appointments the first moment.

If it is for your good and His glory, it shall yet take place; (you would not wish it otherwise;) if not, He can make it up, perhaps in kind; (for there is an old proverb, “That there is as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it;”).

But if not so, He can easily make it up in kindness, and give you such a taste of His love that you shall gladly forego all, and say as David, (Psalm 73:25).

Let other things turn out as He pleases, you must be happy, for the Lord Himself is your Guide, your Shield, and your Portion.

Keep your eye and heart, my friend, upon His work, and He will take care of your other affairs, and not withhold any good thing from you.

All hearts are in His hands. When His time is come, hard things are made easy, and mountains sink into plains.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 127-129.

“The old weather-beaten Christian” by John Newton

“I am almost continually a burden to myself, and find such a difference between what I seem to be in the pulpit and in public, and what I really feel myself to be before the Lord, that I am often amazed and confounded.

And was it not that the Lord has been pleased in some measure to establish me in the knowledge of my justifying righteousness, and the unalterable security of His covenant of grace, I should be ready to give all up.

I am kept at a great distance from the full possession of my privileges; but, through mercy, the evils I feel are confined within myself; the Lord keeps me from stumbling outwardly, and does not suffer Satan to distress me with those grievous temptations which he has always in readiness when permitted.

I trust my hope is founded upon a rock, and that He to whom I have been enabled to commit my soul, will keep it to the end. Yet surely I am a wonder to myself.

Exercises of mind are common to all who know any thing of themselves, and have some just views of their obligations to redeeming love.

But those who preach to others must expect a double portion of trials. We need them in order to keep us humble, upon which, as a means, our success and comfort especially depend.

We need them that we may know how to speak a word in season to weary souls.

Innumerable are the trials, fears, complaints, and temptations which the Lord’s people are beset with; some in one way, some in another: the minister must, as it were, have a taste of all, or it might happen a case might come before him to which he had nothing to say.

And we need them likewise to bring our hard hearts into a feeling disposition and sympathy with those who suffer, otherwise we should be too busy or too happy to attend unto their moans.

Surely much of that hasty and censorious spirit, too often observable in young converts, arises from their having, as yet, a very imperfect acquaintance with the deceitfulness of their own hearts.

But, the old weather-beaten Christian, who has learnt by sorrowful experience how weak he is in himself, and what powerful subtle enemies he has to grapple with, acquires a tenderness in dealing with bruises and broken bones, which greatly conduces to his acceptance and usefulness.

I desire, therefore, to be resigned and thankful, and to give myself up to the Lord to lead me in whatever way He sees best.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 129-130.

“I am a silly sheep, but I have a gracious, watchful Shepherd” by John Newton

“Many splendid houses are dungeons with respect to spiritual light.

A believer could not bear the thoughts of living in any situation, unless he enjoyed the light of the Sun of Righteousness; and with this any situation is tolerable.

You know the value of this light; and you are favoured with it. Therefore I doubt not your house is a good one.

May you enjoy it more and more, and now you are withdrawn from the noise of the town, and (as I suppose) in some measure from the hurry of business, may your leisure be sanctified, and a sense of the Lord’s presence brighten every hour of your future life.

And may you dwell, as Jacob lodged for one night, at the gate of heaven, till the appointed moment when the gate shall open and let you in, to be forever with the Lord.

In the mean time, you are happy that the Lord has favoured you with many opportunities and advantages of promoting His glory, and the good of His people, and given you a heart to improve them.

I would tell you how it is with me if I could; at the best, it would be an inconsistent account.

I am what I would not, and would what I cannot.

I rejoice and mourn; I stand fast, and am thrown down in the same moment.

I am both rich and poor; I can do nothing, yet I can do all things. I live by miracle.

I am opposed beyond my strength, yet I am not overpowered. I gain when I lose, and I often am a loser by my gains.

In a word, I am a sinner, a vile one; but a sinner believing in the name of Jesus.

I am a silly sheep, but I have a gracious, watchful Shepherd.

I am a dull scholar, but I have a Master who can make the dullest learn.

He still bears with me, He still employs me, He still enables me, He still owns me.

Oh, for a coal of heavenly fire to warm my heart, that I might praise Him as I ought!

As a people, we have much cause of complaint in ourselves, and much cause of thankfulness to Him.

In the main, I hope we are alive, though not as we could wish; our numbers rather increase from year to year, and some flourish. In the ordinances, we are favoured in a measure with his presence.

But, oh, for a day of His power; that His work may run broader and deeper, and the fire of grace spread from heart to heart, till the whole town be in a flame!

To this I hope you will give a hearty Amen, and often remember us in your prayers.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 104-105.

“A sight of the glory, beauty, and love of King Jesus” by John Newton

“I hope your souls prosper, and that the Lord hears from you and you from Him often.

And I hope that you both live a life of faith in the Son of God, are strong in His might, and comforted by refreshing views of His glory.

The great secret of our profession, (oh, that I could learn it better!) is to be looking at Jesus.

I am a stranger to the court; but I am told that those who wait there form themselves into little parties, have their own conversation, or make their remarks upon what passes, till the king appears; then every thing is hushed and dropped, and their attention is fixed upon him alone.

Oh, that thus by the eye of faith we might obtain such a sight of the glory, beauty, and love of King Jesus, as might unite our scattered thoughts, and attract all our powers and affections to Himself.

But, alas! we are prone (at least I may speak for myself) to forsake the fountain of living waters, and to hew out broken cisterns.

Instead of receiving Him, I am often looking in myself for something to enable me to do without Him, or at least for something to strengthen the warrant He has given me in His word to come to Him.

The Lord be merciful to my unbelief and slowness of heart; though taught and warned again and again, I am frequently repeating the old mistake, and seeking the living among the dead.

I have some faint idea of the life of faith, and can talk a little about it; but to experience myself the power of what I preach to others, this is too often what I find not.

Yet I must praise Him. If I did not, might not the very stones cry out and shame me?

For surely He hath dealt marvelously with me.

He found me in a waste howling wilderness, in more than the prodigal’s distress, with my heart full of madness and rebellion, and beset with horror on every side.

In this state I was when He first passed by me, and bid me live.

He sent from on high, and delivered me out of deep waters. And, oh, what has He not done for me since!

Given me to know, yea, to preach, His Gospel, cast my lot in a pleasant place, filled and surrounded me with mercies on every side.

And He has spoken good concerning me for a great while to come, even forever and ever. Praise the Lord, O my soul!

Come, my dear friends, and magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 74-75.

“The infinite love of the Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners” by J.C. Ryle

We see, fifthly, in this parable, the penitent man received readily, pardoned freely, and completely accepted with God.

Our Lord shows us this, in this part of the younger son’s history, in the most touching manner. We read:

“When he was yet a long way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.”

More deeply affecting words than these, perhaps, were never written. To comment on them seems almost needless.

It is like gilding refined gold, and painting the lily. They show us in great broad letters the infinite love of the Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners.

They teach how infinitely willing He is to receive all who come to Him, and how complete, and full, and immediate is the pardon which He is ready to bestow.

“By Him all that believe are justified from all things.”—“He is plenteous in mercy.” (Acts 13:39; Psalm 86:5)

Let this boundless mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ be graven deeply in our memories, and sink into our minds. Let us never forget that He is One “that receiveth sinners.”

With Him and His mercy sinners ought to begin, when they first begin to desire salvation. On Him and His mercy saints must live, when they have been taught to repent and believe.

‘The life which I live in the flesh,’ says St. Paul, ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ (Gal. 2:20)”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, Vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1879/2012), 2: 138. Ryle is commenting on Luke 15:11-24.

“Atonement is at the top” by Herman Bavinck

“The benefits Christ obtained for us through His perfect obedience are so rich that they seem almost impossible to enumerate and are never fully appreciated.

They include no less than the whole and complete work of salvation; they consist in redemption from the greatest evil– sin– with all its consequences of misery and death, and include the gift of the highest good– communion with God and all His blessings.

Among all these benefits, atonement is at the top. This is expressed in the New Testament by two words, which unfortunately have been translated as the same word in our translation.

The one word (or rather different words but from the same stem) appears in Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 4:10: it is the (147] translation of a Hebrew word that originally means “to cover” and then indicates the propitiation (verzoening) brought about by the sacrifice to God.

Just like now, in the Old Testament worship the sacrificial blood was an actual means for atoning for (Lev. 11:17; Heb. 9:12) the sin (guilt, impurity) of the sacrificer before God, and so deprived sin of its power to provoke God to anger.

Likewise in the New Testament, Christ is the high priest who through His sacrificial blood, through His perfect obedience unto death, covers our sins before God, turns away His wrath, and makes us partakers of His grace and favor.

He is the means of propitiation (Rom. 3:25), the atonement (de verzoening) (1 John 2:2; 4:10), the high priest, who is working with God to atone for the sins of the people.

Distinct from this objective atonement (verzoening), which Christ has brought about on our behalf before God, is now another kind [of atonement], which in the New Testament is indicated by a second, specific word.

This word appears in Romans 5:10-11 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; it originally has the meaning of reversal, exchanging, reckoning, settling, and denoting– in the places where it occurs– that new, gracious disposition God has toward the world on the basis of the sacrifice made by Christ.

As Christ covers our sin by His death and has averted God’s wrath, God sets Himself in another reconciled relationship to the world and says this to us in his gospel, which is thus called the word of reconciliation (verzoening).

This reconciliation (verzoening) is also an object; it is not something that comes about first through our faith and our conversion, but it rests on the atonement (satisfaction) that Christ has already made, consists of the reconciled, merciful relationship of God to us, and is received and accepted by us in faith (Rom. 5:11).

Since God has cast off His hostile [148] disposition on the basis of the death of Christ, we are exhorted to also put off our enmity and to be reconciled to God and to enter into the new, reconciled relationship God Himself sets before us.

Everything is finished; there is nothing left for us to do.

We may rest with all our soul and for all of time in the perfect work of redemption that Christ has accomplished; we may accept by faith that God has renounced His wrath and we have been reconciled (verzoend) in Christ to God, and that He is God and Father to guilty and unholy sinners.

Whoever wholeheartedly believes this gospel of reconciliation immediately receives all the other benefits acquired by Christ. For in the relationship of peace in which God places Himself to the world in Christ, all other goods of the covenant of grace are contained.

Christ is one and cannot be divided nor accepted in part; the chain of salvation is unbreakable.

‘Those whom God has predestined, these He has called, and those whom He called, these He has also justified, and those whom He has justified, these He has also glorified (Rom. 8:30).

Thus all who are reconciled to God through the death of His Son receive the forgiveness of sins, adoption as His children, peace with God, the right to eternal life, and the heavenly inheritance (Rom. 5:1; 8:17; Gal. 4:5).

They are in union with Christ, having been crucified with Him, buried, and raised, seated in heaven, and are increasingly conformed to His image (Rom. 6:3; 8:29; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:22-24).

They receive the Holy Spirit who renews them, guides them into the truth, testifies of their sonship, and seals them until the day of redemption (John 3:6; 16:13; Rom. 8:15; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 4:30).

In this fellowship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, believers are free from the [149] law (Rom. 7:1; Gal. 2:19; 3:13, 25; 4:5; 5:1), and they are exalted above all power of the world and death, hell and Satan (John 16:33; Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 15:55; 1 John 3:8; Rev. 12:10).

God is for them, so who then will be against them (Rom. 8:31)?”

–Herman Bavinck, Guidebook for Instruction in the Christian Religion, translated and edited by Gregory Parker Jr. and Cameron Clausing (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Academic, 2022), 123-124.

“Ravished with wonder” by John Calvin

“David shows how it is that the heavens proclaim to us the glory of God, namely, by openly bearing testimony that they have not been put together by chance, but were wonderfully created by the supreme Architect.

When we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated, by the contemplation of them, to Him who is their great Creator; and the beautiful arrangement and wonderful variety which distinguish the courses and station of the heavenly bodies, together with the beauty and splendour which are manifest in them, cannot but furnish us with an evident proof of His providence.

Scripture, indeed, makes known to us the time and manner of the creation; but the heavens themselves, although God should say nothing on the subject, proclaim loudly and distinctly enough that they have been fashioned by His hands: and this of itself abundantly suffices to bear testimony to men of His glory.

As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at His infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.”

–John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 1: 309. Calvin is commenting on Psalm 19:1.

“His works preach His existence all the time and in every place” by William Plumer

“Everything God has made and everything God has spoken, with all the relations and uses of each, may teach us some valuable lesson, (Psalm 19:1–6).

His works declare, preach, show, publish His existence all the time and in every place.

Tholuck: “Though all the preachers on earth should grow silent, and every human mouth cease from publishing the glory of God, the heavens above will never cease to declare and proclaim his majesty.”

The smallest piece of granite or of old red sandstone, the least shell or insect as truly requires a Creator as the heavens above us.

Morison: “It is impossible to direct even a cursory glance to the greater and lesser lights which rule by day and night, without being compelled to think with reverential awe of that incomprehensible Being who kindles up all their fires, directs all their courses, and impresses upon them all laws, which contribute alike to the order, beauty and happiness of the universe.”

Well did the apostle say that all men, even the heathen, are without excuse. Even one day or one night proves that there is a God, as there is but one being that could cause either.

Everett: “I had occasion, a few weeks since, to take the early train from Providence to Boston; and for this purpose rose at two o’clock in the morning. Everything around was wrapt in darkness and hushed in silence, broken only by what seemed at that hour the unearthly clank and rush of the train.

It was a mild, serene, midsummer’s night—the sky was without a cloud—the winds were whist. The moon, then in the last quarter, had just risen, and the stars shone with a spectral lustre but little affected by her presence.

Jupiter, two hours high, was the herald of the day; the Pleiades just above the horizon shed their sweet influence in the east; Lyra sparkled near the zenith; Andromeda veiled her newly-discovered glories from the naked eye in the South; the steady pointers far beneath the pole looked meekly up from the depths of the north to their sovereign.

Such was the glorious spectacle as I entered the train. As we proceeded, the timid approach of twilight became more perceptible; the intense blue of the sky began to soften; the smaller stars, like little children went first to rest; the sister-beams of the Pleiades soon melted together; but the bright constellations of the west and north remained unchanged.

Steadily the wondrous transfiguration went on. Hands of angels hidden from mortal eyes shifted the scenery of the heavens; the glories of night dissolved into the glories of the dawn. The blue sky now turned more softly gray; the great watch-stars shut up their holy eyes; the east began to kindle.

Faint streaks of purple soon blushed along the sky; the whole celestial concave was filled with the inflowing tides of the morning light, which came pouring down from above in one great ocean of radiance: till at length as we reached the Blue Hills, a flash of purple fire blazed out from above the horizon, and turned the dewy tear-drops of flower and leaf into rubies and diamonds. In a few seconds, the everlasting gates of the morning were thrown wide open, and the lord of day, arrayed in glories too severe for the gaze of man, began his state…

I am filled with amazement, when I am told that in this enlightened age, and in the heart of the Christian world, there are persons who can witness this daily manifestation of the power and wisdom of the Creator, and yet say in their hearts, ‘there is no God.’ (Psalm 14:1)”

–William Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary With Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1867/2016), 262–263. Plumer is commenting on Psalm 19:1-6.