Was J.C. Philpot a Mystic who taught Pietism?!
It has ever been the tactic and practice of the haters of Truth to malign God’s servants by falsely affiliating them with those who teach error. This is what is sometimes known as ‘guilt by association’.
A classic example of this is the labeling of Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches as ‘Hyper-Calvinists’ by Hypo-Calvinists such as Ian Murray and the Banner of Truth! These Hypo-Calvinists hated the truth that the Gospel is not an ‘offer’ and that God in the preaching of it is not sincerely trying to save the reprobate whom He hath afore ordained to destruction, that they conveniently maligned those who reject this ‘Well-meant offer’ as Hyper-Calvinists! In fact The Banner of Truth is so set against the denial of the ‘well-meant offer’ that they would dare to rewrite history to make one of the best Calvinist’s book on God’s sovereignty by A.W. Pink look as if it accommodated the Hypo-Calvinist heresy!
Who is Joseph Charles (J C ) Philpot?
Joseph Charles Philpot (1802 – 1869) was known as “The Seceder”. He resigned from the Church of England in 1835 and became a Strict & Particular Baptist. While with the Church of England he was a Fellow of Worchester College, Oxford. After becoming a Strict and Particular Baptist he became the Editor of the Gospel Standard magazine and served in that capacity for twenty years.
His preaching was marked by clear views of gospel truth; an ability to set forth the deepest truths in a simple manner; a wealth of similies from nature to open up and explain the things of God; and a clear discernment of the vital distinctions between a mere profession of Christ and a true saving knowledge of Him.
Having seceded from the Apostate ‘Church of England’ [Babylon as he called it], Mr. Philpot knew first hand what nominal Christianity was all about. Neither did he mince words in his preaching against a dead profession as opposed to vital godliness and true religion! Of these dead religionists he said- “‘If your religion is only in the Bible, and has no existence out of the Bible in your own soul, which is the case with thousands who are considered great Christians, the same fire that will at the last day burn up the Bible will burn up your religion with it”!
Such a man must necessarily have enemies! And history proves that when haters of the truth cannot find anything with which to accuse the true servants of God, they conveniently malign them by false charges. Our own Lord and Saviour was accused of being a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. [Mat 11:19]
There has been a charge that J.C. Philpot was a Mystic who taught Pietism. This brief article is to counter that charge and set forth the truth of Brother Philpot’s preaching. If there ever was a preacher who had a clear discernment of the vital distinctions between a mere profession of Christ and a true saving knowledge of Him, it was J.C. Philpot!
He confessed: “My desire is to exalt the grace of God; to proclaim salvation alone through Jesus Christ; to declare the sinfulness, helplessness and hopelessness of man in a state of nature; to describe the living experience of the children of God in their trials, temptations, sorrows, consolations and blessings.” Of this ‘living experience’ which he speaks of, his writings abound and have been a confirmation of the operations of the Divine hand in the lives of many saints since.
But was he a Mystic who taught a form of Reformed Pietism? To answer this question one must first understand what the term Pietism actually means.
Question: “What is Pietism?”
Here is one definition – “Pietism is a movement within Christianity that attempts to focus on individual holiness and a consistent Christian life. It is typically led by laymen or local pastors who are frustrated with the perceived hypocrisy or inconsistency within the larger church”. [S. Michael Houdmann]
Here is another – “Any teaching that promises something extra to make someone an “elite” Christian is rightly called “pietism”. The essence of pietism is this: It is a practice designed to lead to an experience that purports to give one an elite or special status compared to ordinary Christians. [Bob Dewaay]
Lastly – “Pietism (from the word piety) was a movement within Lutheranism, lasting from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century and later. It proved to be very influential throughout Protestantism and Anabaptism, inspiring not only Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement, but also Alexander Mack to begin the Brethren movement. The Pietist movement combined the Lutheranism of the time with the Reformed, and especially Puritan, emphasis on individual piety, and a vigorous Christian life”. [Wikipedia].
Some famous Christian Pietists are Madame Guyon, Thomas A. Kempis, John Wesley and even the popular Watchman Nee.
Did J.C. Philpot teach Pietism?
To be sure Brother Philpot spoke of ‘Dry Doctrinal Calvinists’, dead Calvinists, heady notional Calvinists and ‘Graceless Calvinist’s! These were not set in contrast to some elite Calvinists who possessed a deeper experience and understood some deeper ‘mystery’, but just plain regenerated Christians with vital godliness. In other words, according to Philpot you were either a Christian or you were not!
He did not categorize Christians into two groups of those with the ‘second-blessing’ or ‘higher-life’ and those who were just Carnal Christians like the Pietists do. Unlike Pietists such as John Wesley, Finney and the holiness people who taught that ‘the higher life’ could be attained through sincere desire, prolonged prayer and patient waiting, Philpot blasted all forms of human ability and put man in the dust where he belongs! Philpot’s God was obligated to no man, not even the regenerated Calvinist!
Philpot had seen the fruits of dry notional Calvinism first hand, for he was once a part of the ‘Church of England’ from which he resigned! He wrote in his letter of Resignation to Mr. Provost concerning the dead religionists of that Church –
“Who among them can give a clear and decisive account of his call by grace, or of his call to the ministry? What description can they give of the entrance of the law into their conscience, bringing with it guilt, condemnation, and death, and of a deliverance by the inward revelation of Christ and the application of the ‘blood of sprinkling’? The greater part are violently opposed to the fundamental doctrines of unconditional election, particular redemption, imputed righteousness, and man’s helplessness. And those who do set forth the doctrines of free and sovereign grace preach them with such dryness and deadness as clearly show that they were never wrought into their experience by the blessed Spirit. Under their ministry the ‘spiritual children’ of God will not sit; for knowing little or nothing of the work of regeneration, and the trials, temptations, or consolations of the people of Christ, they cannot approve themselves to the consciences of the spiritual, either as called by grace or as sent to preach the gospel”.
Like many who come out of the established Church (Babylon) Mr. Philpot found to his grief that these dry, notional Calvinists were present wherever there was a Church of considerable membership. This burdened him much to preach and constantly set forth the difference between true and false religion in the majority of his sermons.
He even discovered the cause for the existence of such dry and dead Church membership, i.e. a dry doctrinal preaching with the exclusion of the precepts!
He wrote –
“Consider this point, ye ministers, who Lord’s day after Lord’s day preach nothing but doctrine, doctrine, doctrine; and ask yourselves whether the same Holy Spirit who revealed the first three chapters of the epistle to the Ephesians did not also reveal the last three? Is not the whole epistle equally inspired, a part of that Scripture of which we read, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)?
“To despise, then, the precept, to call it legal and burdensome, is to despise not man, but God, who hath given unto us His Holy Spirit in the inspired Scriptures for our faith and obedience…. Nothing more detects hypocrites, purges out loose professors, and fans away that chaff and dust which now so thickly covers our barn floors than an experimental handling of the precept. A dry doctrinal ministry disturbs no consciences. The loosest professors may sit under it, nay, be highly delighted with it, for it gives them a hope, if not a dead confidence, that salvation being wholly of grace they shall be saved whatever be their walk of life. But the experimental handling of the precept cuts down all this and exposes their hypocrisy and deception”
To summarize: Brother Philpot’s burden in his method of preaching was to detect hypocrites and purge out loose professors from the assembly. He knew full well the vanity and utter uselessness of a dry doctrinal ministry to save anyone and thus laid emphasis on doctrinally sound experimental/experiential preaching. As one old, well-tried Christian exclaimed of this kind of preaching, “It is not a new doctrine – but the old, preached with life and power.”
Mr. Philpot said, “Many ministers preach gospel truths, but are not blessed. Why not? Because, they have not preached them under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit! Their thunders are mimic thunders—their preaching is rather ‘acting’ than preaching. The secret of all preaching is the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. If that is denied, the tongue is merely that of the actor on the stage”!
Was J.C. Philpot a Mystic?
Now what or who is a ‘Mystic’? “A Mystic is a person who claims to attain, or believes in the possibility of attaining, insight into mysteries transcending ordinary human knowledge, as by direct communication with the divine or immediate intuition in a state of spiritual ecstasy”.
Mr. Philpot never claimed to have any direct communication with God and thereby have an insight into any ‘divine mysteries’. He ever maintained that the only mode of our communing with God was through prayer and the only way God spoke to us was through His Word the Bible!
Notwithstanding, he maintained that, “Christ in the mere letter of the word cannot satisfy their keen appetite. They must feed upon him internally, or their famine still continues. To these hungry, famishing souls, to have Christ in the letter is like a starving beggar standing outside a shop where there are plenty of provisions, and not having a farthing to buy them with”.
“There are many times and seasons when the word of God is to us a dead letter; we see and feel no sweetness in it. But there are other times, through mercy, when the word of God is made sweet and precious to us; when we can say, with the prophet of old, “Your words were found, and I did eat them; and your word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. 15:16).
Now dear reader, is this not the experience of even true Christians? Unless the Word is quickened by the Holy Spirit, it is just a dead letter! If just reading the Bible alone could ‘save’ then many Roman Catholic’s and other cultists who use the Bible as their spiritual guide would be saved. It was not until the Spirit sovereignly opened Romans 1:17 to Luther that he saw the truth!
The Psalmist was not physically blind! Yet he prays – “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous thins out of Thy law”! [Psa 119:18] The disciples on the road to Emmaus knew the Old Testament well. But it was not until the Master opened their understanding that they understood it. [see Luk 24:45]. The Apostle wrote to the Thessalonians- “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance”! [1Thes 1:5] To the majority the Word of God preached is ‘word only’, without any power, assurance or operation of the Holy Spirit!
Philpot’s description of the true Christian and his experience will very quickly expose those who have a dead religion! And this one of the main reasons why he is hated so much.
Here is an excerpt from him on the experience of a truly regenerated soul –
The Christian thus learns that if he stands, God must hold him up; if he knows anything aright, God must teach him; if he walks in the way to heaven, God must first put, and afterwards keep him in it; if he has anything, God must give it to him; and that if he does anything, God must work it in him. He now “through the law”-that is, through his experience of its killing sentence-”is become dead to the law, that he may live unto God”. He can no longer take a killing letter for a living rule, but is deeply conscious that it is only by being “married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that he can bring forth fruit unto God” Ro 7:4. Thus by the presence of God going with him, he becomes separated “from all the people that are upon the face of the earth” Ex 33:16.
Whilst others boast of what they have done for God, he is glad to feel that God has done something for him; whilst others are handling the shell, he is eating the kernel; whilst others are talking of Christ, he is talking with Him; whilst others are looking through the park palings, he is enjoying the estate; and whilst others are haranguing about the treasure in the Bank of England, he is pleased to find a few coins in his own pocket, stamped with the king’s image and superscription. But he finds the truth of that text, “In much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increases sorrow” Ec 1:18. As his inward religion separates him from those who have only an outward one, he becomes a butt for empty professors to shoot at. Those whom he once would have disdained to set with the dogs of his flock, now spare not to spit in his face Job 30:1 Job 30:10.
A constant acquaintance with his own vileness preserves him from a self-righteous holiness in the flesh; a daily cross and a rankling thorn keep him from careless presumption. His path is indeed a mysterious one, full of harmonious contradictions and heavenly paradoxes. He is never easy when at ease, nor without a burden when he has none. He is never satisfied without doing something, and yet is never satisfied with anything that he does. He is never so strong as when he sits still Isa 30:7, never so fruitful as when he does nothing, and never so active as when he makes the least haste Isa 28:16. All outstrip him in the race, yet he alone gains the goal, and wins the prize. All are sure of heaven but himself, yet he enters into the kingdom, whilst they are thrust out. He wins pardon through guilt, hope through despair, deliverance through temptation, comfort through affliction, and a robe of righteousness through filthy rags. Though a worm and no man, he overcomes Omnipotence itself through violence; and though less than vanity and nothing Isa 40:17 2Co 12:11, he takes heaven itself by force Mt 11:12.
Thus amidst the strange contradictions which meet in a believing heart, he is never so prayerful as when he says nothing; never so wise as when he is the greatest fool; never so much alone as when most in company; and never so much under the power of an inward religion as when most separated from an outward one. Strange mysterious creature! He cannot live without sinning, yet cannot live in sin; cannot live without prayer, and yet for days together cannot pray; continually finds religion a burden, yet would not part with it for the world; lusts after sin as a delicious morsel, yet hates it with a perfect hatred; esteems Christ the Chiefest among ten thousand, and yet is at times tried with doubts whether He is a Saviour at all.
Such, then, is the path, however feebly or imperfectly described, in which the redeemed walk Isa 35:9, a path trodden by them alone, and that too, often sorely contrary to their own inclinations. To walk in this path is not the product of wisdom Dan 2:30, the effect of talent 1Co 2:6, nor the fruit of study. We neither placed ourselves in it at first, nor have kept ourselves in it afterwards. If we have done either, we are not in the way at all, but are walking in a side path, and shall end at that door which Bunyan saw to open into hell from the very gates of heaven.
Who are these who charge Mr, Phipot of being a Pietist Mystic?
Why they are the same ones whom Mr. Philpot exposes as being dead Calvinists, heady notional Calvinists and ‘Graceless Calvinist’s! Oh they are Reformed ‘theologians’ all right! But it is all in their head, and has not reached their heart!
They can debate on all the five points of Calvinism and tell you the difference between Infra and Supra-lapsarianism and everything in between! They have hosted large websites with ‘Reformed’ writings that would keep you occupied for a lifetime! But try telling them to come out of Apostate Babylon, the denominational ‘Church’ that they are a part of and they will show their true colours! Tell them that Christmas is Roman Catholic and Pagan and should be shunned by Christians and they will manifest the character of goats by justifying it!
Let me say this in closing: that the preaching of Brother Philpot stands out against the moderate and general Calvinism which, along with the infusion of a dry and legal spirit, is prevalent in most Baptist, Presbyterian and ‘Reformed’ Churches of our day! None can cherish and appreciate his preaching except those who have a valid experimental religion in their hearts and are willing and daring enough to bare their bosom to every arrow that flies from the pulpit!
These and these alone will cherish and praise God for a ministry such as Brother Philpot’s! The rest will trample them under their feet and turn again and rend you!
Mr. Philpot in his own words as to why men hate his preaching –
From J. C. Philpot’s Daily Portions April 29
“Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” –Lamentations 3:39, 40
I believe in my conscience there are thousands of professors who have never known in the whole course of their religious profession what it is to have “examined and tested their ways;” to have been put into the balances and weighed in the scales of divine justice; or to have stood cast down and condemned in their own feelings before God as the heart-searching Jehovah. From such a trying test, from such an unerring touchstone they have ever shrunk. And why? Because they have an inward consciousness that their religion will not bear a strict and scrutinizing examination.
Like the deceitful tradesman, who allures his customers into a dark corner of his shop, in order to elude detection when he spreads his flimsy, made-up goods before them, so those who have an inward consciousness that their religion is not of heavenly origin, shun the light. As the Lord says, “Every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved; but he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.”
Now if you know nothing of having from time to time your ways searched and tested by God’s word, or if you rise up with bitterness against an experimental, heart-searching ministry that would test them for you, it shows that there is some rotten spot in you–something that you dare not bring to the light. The candle of the Lord has not searched the hidden secrets of your heart; nor have you cried with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
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