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THEOLOGICAL WRITINGS OF NEWTON — THEIR IMPORTANCE TO CHRISTIANITY — MOTIVES TO WHICH THEY HAVE BEEN ASCRIBED — BIOT'S OPINION DISPROVED — THE DATE OF NEWTON'S THEOLOGICAL WRITINGS FIXED — HIS LETTERS TO LOCKE ON THESE SUBJECTS — HISTORY OF HIS ACCOUNT OF TWO CORRUPTIONS OF THE SCRIPTURES — HIS OBSERVATIONS ON THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL, AND ON THE APOCALYPSE — ABSTRACT OF HIS HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF TWO CORRUPTIONS OF SCRIPTURE — HIS VIEWS ADOPTED BY THE ABLEST BIBLICAL CRITICS OF MODERN TIMES — HIS UNPUBLISHED THEOLOGICAL WRITINGS — PARADOXICAL QUESTIONS CONCERNING ATHANASIUS — HIS IRENICUM OR ECCLESIASTICAL POLITY TENDING TO PEACE — HIS VIEWS ON POINTS OF TRINITARIAN DOCTRINE — HIS ARTICLES OF FAITH — HIS PLAN FOR CORRECTING THE ROMISH TENDENCIES OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND — COINCIDENCE OF HIS OPINIONS WITH THOSE OF LOCKE — HIS VIEWS ON THE FUTURE RESIDENCE OF THE BLEST — OPINIONS OF VOLTAIRE AND OTHERS — NAPIER, BOYLE, MILTON, AND LOCKE, STUDENTS OF THE SCRIPTURES — ANALOGY BETWEEN THE BOOK OF NATURE AND THAT OF REVELATION — LETTER OF DR. MORLAND TO NEWTON.
IF Sir Isaac Newton had not been distinguished as a mathematician and a natural philosopher, he would have enjoyed a high reputation as a theologian. The occupation of his time, however, with those profound studies, for which his genius was so peculiarly adapted, and in the prosecution of which he was so eminently successful, prevented him from preparing for the press the theological works which he had begun at a very early period of life, and to which he devoted much of his time even when he mixed with the world, and was occupied with the affairs of the Mint. The history of Sir Isaac's theological writings cannot fail to be regarded as an interesting portionof his life, and much anxiety has been expressed for a more precise account than has yet been given of his religious opinions. That the greatest philosopher of which any age can boast was a sincere and humble believer in the leading doctrines of our religion, and lived conformably to its precepts, has been justly regarded as a proud triumph of the Christian faith. Had he exhibited only an outward respect for the forms and duties of religion, or left merely in his dying words an acknowledgment of his belief, his piety might have been regarded as a prudent submission to popular feeling, or as a proof of the decay or the extinction of his transcendent powers; but he had been a searcher of the Scriptures from his youth, and he found it no abrupt transition to pass from the study of the material universe to an investigation of the profoundest truths, and the most obscure predictions, of holy writ.
The religious opinions of great men, — of those especially who, by force of genius and patient thought, have discovered new and commanding truths — possess an interest of various kinds. The apostle of infidelity cowers beneath the implied rebuke. The timid and the wavering stand firmer in the faith, and the man of the world treats the institutions of religion with more respect and forbearance. Nor are such opinions less influential when they emanate from men who follow truth through her labyrinth, neither impelled by professional ambition, nor alarmed by articles which they have to sign, or creeds which they have to believe. Though often solicited by its highest dignitaries, Newton never thought of entering the Church. He had, therefore, no beacons to dread, and no false lights to mislead him. He was free to range through the volume of inspiration, and to gather from the Sibylline pages of its prophets and apostles, its historians and its poets, the insulated truths which they reveal, and to combine them into a broader faith, and embalm them in a higher toleration.
To the friends and countrymen of Newton, it has been no inconsiderable source of pain that some foreign writers have referred to extraordinary causes his religious opinions and theological writings. While some have ascribed them to the habits of the age in which he lived, and to a desire of promoting civil liberty by turning against the abettors of irresponsible power the sharp weapons which the Scriptures supply, others have endeavoured to show that they were composed at a late period of life when his mind was in its dotage, or had suffered from that supposed mental aberration to which so many acts of his life have been erroneously ascribed. In answer to such allegations, we may adduce the testimony of one of his most distinguished friends, John Craig, an eminent mathematician, who, in the very year in which Newton died, gave the following account of his theological writings.
"I shall not tell you what great improvements he made in geometry and algebra, but it is proper to acquaint you that his great application in his inquiries into nature did not make him unmindful of the Great Author of nature. They were little acquainted with him who imagine that he was so intent upon his studies of geometry and philosophy as to neglect that of religion and other things subservient to it. And this I know, that he was much more solicitous in his inquiries into religion than into natural philosophy, and that the reason of his shewing the errors of Cartes' philosophy was, because he thought it was made on purpose to be the foundation ofinfidelity. And Sir Isaac Newton, to make his inquiries into the Christian religion more successful, had read the ancient writers and ecclesiastical historians with great exactness, and had drawn up in writing great collections out of both; and to show how earnest he was in religion, he had written a long explication of remarkable parts of the Old and New Testament, while his understanding was in its greatest perfection, lest the infidels might pretend that his applying himself to the study of religion was the effect of dotage. That he would not publish these writings in his own time, because they showed that his thoughts were sometimes different from those which are commonly received, which would engage him in disputes; and this was a thing which he avoided as much as possible. But now it's hoped that the worthy and ingenious Mr. Conduitt will take care that they be published, that the world may see that Sir Isaac Newton was as good a Christian as he was a mathematician and philosopher."
The anxiety to refer the religious writings of Newton to a late period of his life, seems to have been particularly felt by M. Biot, who goes so far as to fix the date of one of his most important works, and to associate his religious tendencies with the effects of what he calls "the fatal epoch of 1693."
"From the nature of the subject," says he, "and from certain indications which Newton seems to give at the beginning of his dissertation, we may conjecture with probability that he composed it at the time when the errors of Whiston and a work of Clarke on the same subject, drew upon them the attacks of all the theologians of England, which would place the date between the years 1712 and 1719. It would then be a prodigy to remark,that a man of from seventy-two to seventy-five years of age was able to compose, rapidly as he leads us to believe, so extensive a piece of sacred criticism, of literary history, and even of bibliography, where an erudition the most vast, the most varied, and the most ready, always supports an argument well arranged and powerfully combined. . . . . At this epoch of the life of Newton, the reading of religious books had become one of his most habitual occupations; and after he had performed the duties of his office, they formed, along with the conversation of his friends, his only amusement. He had then almost ceased to care for the sciences, and, as we have already remarked, since the fatal epoch of 1693, he gave to the world only three really new scientific productions, of which one had probably been long ready, while the others required from him only a very little time."
Notwithstanding the prodigy which it involves, M. Biot has adopted 1712-1719 as the date of this critical dissertation; — it is regarded as the composition of a man of seventy-two or seventy-five; — the reading of religious works is stated to have become one of his most habitual occupations, and such reading is said to have been his only amusements; and all this is associated with "the fatal epoch of 1693," as if his illness at that time had been the cause of his abandoning science and betaking himself to theology.
The incorrectness of these opinions we are fortunately able to prove. It appears from Mr. Pryme's manuscript, that previous to 1692, when a shade is supposed to have passed over his gifted mind, Newton was wellknown by the appellation of an "excellent divine," — a character which could not have been acquired without the devotion of many years to theological researches; but, important as this argument would have been, we are not left to so general a defence. The correspondence of Newton with Locke, places it beyond a doubt that he had begun his researches respecting the prophecies before the year 1691, — before the forty-ninth year of his age, and before the "fatal epoch of 1693." The following letter shews that he had previously discussed this subject with his friend.
"CAMBRIDGE, Feb. 7, 1690-1.
"SIR, — I am sorry your journey proved to so little purpose, though it delivered you from the trouble of the company the day after. You have obliged me by mentioning me to my friends at London, and I must thank both you and my Lady Masham for your civilities at Oates, and for not thinking that I made a long stay there. I hope we shall meet again in due time, and then I should be glad to have your judgment upon some of my mystical fancies. The Son of Man (Dan. vii.) I take to be the same with the Word of God upon the White Horse in Heaven, (Apoc. xii.) for both are to rule the nations with a rod of iron; but whence are you certain that the Ancient of Days is Christ? Does Christ anywhere sit upon the throne? — If Sir Francis Masham be at Oates, present, I pray, my service to him, with his lady, Mrs. Cudworth, and Mrs. Masham. Dr. Covel is not in Cambridge. — I am, your affectionate and humble servant, "IS. NEWTON.
"Know you the meaning of Dan. x. 21? There is none that holdeth with me in these things but Mich., your Prince."<319>
In replying to this letter, Locke does not seem to have distinctly noticed Newton's question, why he thought that Christ was the Ancient of Days, for in another letter addressed to Locke, he says, "Concerning the Ancient of Days, Dan. vii., there seems to be a mistake either in my last letter or in yours, because you wrote in your former letter that the Ancient of Days is Christ; and in my last I either did, or should have asked how you knew that. But these discourses may be done with more freedom at our next meeting."
It is obvious from these facts, that Locke and Newton had corresponded on the prophecies of Daniel so early as 1691, and that these subjects were discussed by them when they met. In replying to some questions of Locke on the subject of miracles, Newton tells him that "miracles of good credit continued in the Church for about two or three hundred years. Gregorius Thaumaturgus had his name from them, and was one of the latest who was eminent for that gift, but of their number and frequency I am not able to give you a just account;" and he resumes the subject in the following interesting letter: —
"CAMBRIDGE, May 3, 1692.
"SIR, — Now the churlish weather is almost over, I was thinking within a post or two, to put you in mind of my desire to see you here, where you shall be as welcome as I can make you. I am glad you have prevented me, because I hope now to see you the sooner. You may lodge conveniently either at the Rose Tavern or Queen's Arms Inn. I am glad the edition is stopped, but do not perceive that you had mine, and therefore have sent you a transcript of what concerned miracles, if it come not now too late; for it happens that I have a copy of it by me.Concerning miracles, there is a notable passage or two in Irenæus, L. 22, c. 56, recited by Eusebius, I. 5, c. 17. The miraculous refection of the Roman army by rain, at the prayers of a Christian legion, (thence called fulminatrix), is mentioned by Ziphilina apud Dionam. in Marco Imp., and by Tertullian, Apolog. c. 5, and ad Scap. c. 4, and by Eusebius, I. 5, c. 5, Hist. Eccl., and in Chronico, and acknowledged by the Emperor Marcus in a letter, as Tertullian mentions. The same Tertullian somewhere challenges the heathens to produce a demoniac, and he shall produce a man who shall cast out the demon. For this was the language of the ancients for curing lunatics. I am told that Sir Henry Yelverton, in a book about the truth of Christianity, has writ well of the ancient miracles, but the book I never saw. Concerning Gregory Thaumaturgus, see Gregory Nystra in ejus vita, and Basil, de Spiritu Sancto, c. 29. My humble service to Sir Francis and his lady. I am, your most humble servant,
"I know of nothing that will call me from home this month."
In the early part of 1703, Locke sent to Newton the manuscript of his Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Corinthians, which have been published among his posthumous works, and in the following letter he gave him his opinion of the work, with a criticism upon his interpretation of a particular passage.
"LONDON, May 15, 1703.
"SIR, — Upon my first receiving your papers, I read over those concerning the First Epistle of the Corinthians, riage. The believing wife must not separate from the unbelieving husband as unholy or unclean, nor the believing husband from the unbelieving wife; for the unbeliever is sanctified or cleansed by marriage with the believer, the law of avoiding the company of unbelievers being, in this case, dispensed with. I should therefore interpret St. Paul's words after the following manner: —but by so many intermissions, that I resolved to go over them again, so soon as I could get leisure to do it with more attention. I have now read it over a second time, and gone over also your papers on the Second Epistle. Some faults, which seemed to be faults of the scribe, I mended with my pen as I read the papers; some others I have noted in the enclosed papers. In your paraphrase on 1 Cor. vii. 14, you say, 'the unbelieving husband is sanctified or made a Christian in his wife.' I doubt this interpretation, because the unbelieving is not capable of baptism, as all Christians are. The Jews looked upon themselves as clean, holy, or separate to Cod, and other nations as unclean, unholy, or common, and accordingly it was unlawful for a man that was a Jew to keep company with, or come unto one of another nation; Acts x. 28. But when the propagation of the gospel made it necessary for the Jews, who preached the gospel, to go unto and keep company with the Gentiles, God showed Peter by a vision, in the case of Cornelius, that he had cleansed those of other nations, so that Peter should not any longer call any man common or unclean, and on that account forbear their company: and thereupon Peter went in unto Cornelius and his companions, who were uncircumcised, and did eat with them; Acts x. 27, 28, and xi. 3. Sanctifying, therefore, and cleansing, signify here, not the making a man a Jew or Christian, but the dispensing with the law whereby the people of God were to avoid the company of the rest of the world as unholy or unclean. And if this sense be applied to St. Paul's words, they will signify, that although believers are a people holy to God, and ought to avoid the company of unbelievers as unholy or unclean, yet this law is dispensed with in some cases, and particularly in the case of mar
"'For the unbelieving husband is sanctified or cleansed by the believing wife, so that it is lawful to keep him company, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else were the children of such parents to be separated from you, and avoided as unclean, but now by nursing and educating them in your families, you allow that they are holy.'
"This interpretation I propose as easy and suiting well to the words and design of St. Paul, but submit it wholly to your judgment.
"I had thoughts of going to Cambridge this summer, and calling at Oates in my way, but am now uncertain of this journey. Present, I pray, my humble service to Sir Francis Masham and his lady. I think your paraphrase and commentary on these two Epistles is done with very great care and judgment. — I am, your most humble and obedient servant,
It is obvious from these letters that Newton had carried on his theological studies, and particularly those relating to the Prophecies, long before the epoch of 1693, and there is no reason to believe that any part of his principal theological work on the Prophecies and the Apocalypse was composed after that date. If any farther evidence were required for this fact, it may be derivedfrom his folio Commonplace Book, written in his early hand, and containing copious extracts and observations on theological subjects of every kind.
The other work of Newton, entitled Historical Account of two Notable Corruptions of the Scriptures, in a Letter to a Friend, is certainly an early production. In 1690, or perhaps earlier, he had corresponded on the subject of it with Locke, who requested a sight of the manuscript. In reply to this request, Newton writes to him, "that he would have answered his letter sooner, but that he stayed to revise and send the papers which he desired; but the consulting of authors, proving more tedious than he expected, made him defer sending them till next week." In the following letter to Locke, which accompanies the manuscript, he mentions part of it as something that he "had by him," and it was therefore in all probability written long before 1690: —
"November 14, 1690.
"SIR, — I send you now by the carrier, Martin, the papers I promised. I fear I have not only made you stay too long for them, but also made them too long by an addition; for, upon the receipt of your letter reviewing what I had by me concerning the text of 1 John v. 7, and examining authors a little further about it, I met with something new concerning that other of 1 Tim. iii. 16, which I thought would be as acceptable to inquisitive men, and might be set down in a little room; but by searching farther into authors to find out the bottom of it, is swelled to the bigness you see. I fear the length of what I say on both texts may occasion you too much trouble, and therefore if at present you get only whatconcerns the first done into French, that of the other may stay till we see what success the first will have. I have no entire copy besides that I send you, and therefore would not have it lost, because I may, perhaps, after it has gone abroad long enough in French, put it forth in English. What charge you are at about it (for I am sure it will put you to some) you must let me know, for the trouble alone is enough for you. Pray present my most humble service and thanks to my Lord and Lady Monmouth, for their so kind remembrance of me, for their favour is such that I can never sufficiently acknowledge it. If your voyage hold, I wish you a prosperous one, and happy return. I should be glad of a line from you to know that you have these papers, and how far you have recovered your health, for you told me nothing of that. — I am, Sir, your most faithful and most humble servant,
When this correspondence was going on, Mr. Locke meditated a journey to Holland, and undertook, in compliance with the wishes of his friend, to have the Historical Account, &c., translated into French, and published in Holland. Dreading the intolerance of the divines of his own country, he was anxious to have the opinions of foreign biblical writers before he "put it forth in English." Having abandoned his design of visiting Holland, Locke transmitted the manuscript, in his own handwriting, and without Newton's name, to his friend M. Le Clerc in Holland, with a request to have it translated into French and published. Sir Isaac was not aware of the step that Locke had taken, and knowing that he hadnot left England, he believed that the manuscript was still in his possession. It had reached M. Le Clerc, however, previous to the 11th April 1691, for, in a letter to Locke of that date, he tells him that he will translate, either into Latin or French, the small Historical Account, &c., which deserves to be published. "I believe, however," he adds, "that it would be better if the author had read with care what M. Simon has said on the subject, of which he speaks in his Criticism of the New Testament." In a subsequent letter, Le Clerc tells Locke that he has been prevented, by various occupations, from doing anything with the manuscript, but that he hopes to have an opportunity of publishing it along with some other dissertations, as it is too small to appear alone. In reply to a letter which he had received from Locke, Le Clerc says, "that he will take care to insert in the dissertation on the passage in St. John, the addition which he had sent him, and translate the other, to publish both in Latin."
Locke seems to have intimated the intentions of Le Clerc to Sir Isaac, who lost no time in addressing to him the following letter: —
"Cambridge, Feb. 16, 1691-2.
"SIR, — Your former letters came not to my hand, but this I have. I was of opinion my papers had lain still, and am sorry to hear there is news about them. Let me entreat you to stop their translation and impression so soon as you can, for I design to suppress them. If your friend hath been at any pains and charge, I will repay it and gratify him. . . . .
"Your most affectionate and humble servant,
From these facts it is obvious that this celebrated treatise, which Biot alleges to have been written between 1712 and 1719, was actually written in 1690, or probably much earlier, and was in the hands of Le Clerc on the 11th April 1691, previous to the time of the supposed insanity of its author. Locke lost no time in communicating to his friend the wishes of Newton, and the publication of the Historical Account was therefore stopped.
Although we are not acquainted with the reasons which induced Newton to take this step, they may to a certain extent be inferred from Le Clerc's answer to Locke. "It is a pity," he says, "that these two dissertations should be suppressed. I do not think that any person could find out that they were translated, unless it were said so. In a matter of this kind, where I would not fail to seize the meaning of the author, I would have given it an original air which would not have savoured of a translation." And, in another letter, he says, "I will keep carefully the two dissertations, till you tell me what the author wishes me to do with them."
No information concerning these dissertations is contained either in the correspondence of Locke with Newton, or with Le Clerc. We are told by the editor of the edition of 1754, that Le Clerc deposited the manuscript in the Library of the Remonstrants, and that he received, through a friend, the copy of it which he published, under the title of Two Letters from Sir Isaac Newton to M. Le Clerc, the former containing a Dissertation upon the Reading of the Greek Testament, 1 John v. 7, the latter upon 1 Timothy iii. 16; — a form which had never been given to it by its author. The copy thus publishedwas a very imperfect one, wanting both the beginning and the end, and erroneous in many places; but Dr. Horsley has published a genuine edition, which has the form of a single letter to a friend, and was copied from a manuscript in Sir Isaac Newton's handwriting, now in the possession of the Reverend Jeffrey Ekins, Rector of Sampford.
Having thus determined, as accurately as possible, the dates of the principal theological writings of Sir Isaac, we shall now proceed to give some account of their contents.
The work entitled Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, is divided into two parts, the first of which treats of the Prophecies of Daniel, and the second of the Apocalypse of St. John. It begins with an account of the different books which compose the Old Testament; and, as the author considers Daniel to be the most distinct in the order of time, and the easiest to be understood, he makes him the key to all the prophetic books in those matters which relate to the "last time." He next considers the figurative language of the prophets, which he regards as taken "from the analogy between the world natural, and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic;" the heavens, and the things therein, representing thrones and dynasties; the earth, with the things therein, the inferior people; and the lowest parts of the earth the most miserable of the people. The sun is put for the whole race of kings, the moon for the body of the common people, and the stars for subordinate princes and rulers. In the earth, the dry land and the waters are put for the people of several nations. Animals and vegetables are also put for the people of several regions. When a beast or man is put for a kingdom, his parts and qualities are put for the analogous parts and qualities of the kingdom; and when a man is taken in a mystical sense, his qualities are often signified by his actions, and by the circumstances and things about him. In applying these principles he begins with the vision of the image composed of four different metals. This image he considers as representing a body of four great nations which should reign in succession over the earth, viz., the people of Babylonia, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, while the stone cut out without hands is a new kingdom which should arise after the four, conquer all those nations, become very great, and endure to the end of time.
The vision of the four beasts is the prophecy of the four empires repeated, with several new additions. The lion with eagles' wings was the kingdom of Babylon and Media, which overthrew the Assyrian power. The, beast like a bear was the Persian empire, and its three ribs were the kingdoms of Sardis, Babylon, and Egypt. The third beast, like a leopard, was the Greek empire, and its four heads and four wings were the kingdoms of Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus. The fourth beast, with its great iron teeth, was the Roman empire, and its ten horns were the ten kingdoms into which it was broken in the reign of Theodosius the Great.
In the fifth chapter Sir Isaac treats of the kingdoms represented by the feet of the image composed of ironand clay which did not stick to one another, and which were of different strength. These were the Gothic tribes called Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Gepidæ, Lombards, Burgundians, Alans, &c., all of whom had the same manners and customs, and spoke the same language, and who, about the year 416 A.C., were all quietly settled in several kingdoms within the empire, not only by conquest, but by grants of the Emperor.
In the sixth chapter he treats of the ten kingdoms represented by the ten horns of the fourth beast, into which the Western empire became divided about the time when Rome was besieged and taken by the Goths. These kingdoms were, —
1. The kingdom of the Vandals and Alans in Spain and Africa.
2. The kingdom of Suevians in Spain.
3. The kingdom of the Visigoths.
4. The kingdom of the Alans in Gaul.
5. The kingdom of the Burgundians.
6. The kingdom of the Franks.
7. The kingdom of the Britains.
8. The kingdom of the Huns.
9. The kingdom of the Lombards.
10. The kingdom of Ravenna.
Some of these kingdoms at length fell, and new ones sprung up; but whatever was their subsequent number, they still retain the name of the ten kings from their first number.
The eleventh horn of Daniel's fourth beast is shown in chapter vii. to be the Church of Rome in its triple character of a seer, a prophet, and a king, and its power to change times and laws is copiously illustrated in chapter viii.<330>
In the ninth chapter our author treats of the kingdom represented in Daniel by the ram and he-goat, the ram indicating the kingdom of the Medes and Persians from the beginning of the four empires, and the he-goat the kingdom of the Greeks to the end of them.
The prophecy of the seventy weeks, which had hitherto been restricted to the first coming of our Saviour, is shown to be a prediction of all the main periods relating to the coming of the Messiah, the times of his birth and death, the time of his rejection by the Jews, the duration of the Jewish war, by which he caused the city and sanctuary to be destroyed, and the time of his second coming.
In the eleventh chapter Sir Isaac treats with great sagacity and acuteness of the time of our Saviour's birth and passion, — a subject which had perplexed all preceding commentators.
After explaining in the twelfth chapter the last prophecy of Daniel, namely, that of the scripture of truth, which he considers as a commentary on the vision of the ram and he-goat, he proceeds, in the thirteenth chapter to the prophecy of the king who did according to his will, and magnified himself above every god, and honoured Mahuzzims, and regarded not the desire of women. He shows that the Greek empire, after the division of the Roman empire into the Greek and Latin empires, became the king who, in matters of religion, did according to his will, and in legislation exalted and magnified himself above every god.
In the second part of his work, entitled Observations on the Apocalypse of St. John, consisting of three chapters, Sir Isaac treats in the first or introductory chapter, "concerning the time when the Apocalypse was written," which he conceives to have been during John's exile in Patmos,and before the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistles of Peter were written, which in his opinion have a reference to the Apocalypse. In the second he treats "of the relation which the Apocalypse has to the book of the law of Moses, and to the worship of God in the temple;" and in the Third, "of the relation which the prophecy of John hath to those of Daniel, and of the subject of the prophecy."
Sir Isaac regards the prophecies of the Old and New Testament not as given to gratify men's curiosities, by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled, they might be interpreted by the event, and afford convincing arguments that the world is governed by Providence. He considers that there is so much of this prophecy already fulfilled, as to afford to the diligent student sufficient instances of God's Providence; and he adds, that "amongst the interpreters of the last age, there is scarce one of note who hath not made some discovery worth knowing, and thence it seems one may gather that God is about opening these mysteries. The success of others," he continues, "put me upon considering it, and if I have done anything which may be useful to following writers, I have my design." Such is a brief notice of this ingenious work, which is characterized by great learning, and marked with the sagacity of its distinguished author.
The same qualities of Sir Isaac's mind are equally conspicuous in his Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. This celebrated treatise relates to two texts in the Epistles of St. John and St. Paul. Thefirst of these is in 1 John v. 7, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one." This text he considers as a gross corruption of Scripture, which had its origin among the Latins, who interpreted the Spirit, Water, and Blood, to be the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in order to prove them one. With the same view Jerome inserted the Trinity in express words in his version. The Latins marked his variations in the margins of their books; and in the twelfth and following centuries, when the disputations of the schoolmen were at their height, the variation began to creep into the text in transcribing. After the invention of printing, it crept out of the Latin into the printed Greek, contrary to the authority of all the Greek manuscripts and ancient versions; and from the Venetian press it went soon after into Greece. After proving these positions, Sir Isaac gives the following paraphrase of this remarkable passage, which is printed in italics.
"Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God, that Son spoken of in the Psalms, where he saith, 'thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.' This is he that, after the Jews had long expected him, came, first in a mortal body, by baptism of water, and then in an immortal one, by shedding his blood upon the cross, and rising again from the dead; not by water only, but by water and blood; being the Son of God, as well by his resurrection from the dead (Acts xiii. 33) as by his supernatural birth of the virgin, (Luke i, 35.) And it is the Spirit also that, together with the water and blood, beareth witness of the truth of his coming; because the Spirit is truth; and so a fit and unexceptionable witness. For there are three that bear record of his coming; the Spirit which he promised to send, and whichwas since shed forth upon us in the form of cloven tongues, and in various gifts; the baptism of water, wherein God testified 'this is my beloved Son;' and the shedding of his blood, accompanied with his resurrection, whereby he became the most faithful martyr, or witness, of this truth. And these three, the spirit, the baptism, and passion of Christ, agree in witnessing one and the same thing, (namely, that the Son of God is come;) and, therefore, their evidence is strong; for the law requires but two consenting witnesses, and here we have three: and if we receive the witness of men, the threefold witness of God, which he bare of his Son, by declaring at his baptism, 'this is my beloved Son,' by raising him from the dead, and by pouring out his Spirit on us, is greater; and, therefore, ought to be more readily received."
It appears from the introduction to this letter, that Locke, to whom it was addressed, had been reading the "discourses of some late writers on the subject," and had expressed to Newton a desire "to know the truth of that text of Scripture concerning the testimony of the three in heaven." Without noticing the views of his predecessors, Sir Isaac contents himself with referring to Luther, Erasmus, Bullinger, and Grotius, and some others, as "the more learned and quick-sighted men, who would not dissemble their knowledge," (of the corruption of this text,) and to "the generality who were fond of the place for its making against heresy." In the last edition of his Bible, published by himself, Luther had expunged the text as spurious, but in deference to popular opinion, it wasrestored by his followers. Erasmus too, omitted it in his edition of the New Testament, published in 1516 and 1519, but, as Porson informs us, having promised Lee that he would insert the passage in his text if it was found in a single Greek MS., he accordingly inserted it in his edition of 1522, after learning that it existed in a MS. which is now in Trinity College, Dublin. Dr. Clarke came to the conclusion, "that much stress ought not to be laid upon the passage in any question, because the sense of the Epistle was complete without it," and because it was not found in any MS. before the invention of printing, nor cited by any of the numerous writers in the Arian controversy; and Dr. Bentley read a public lecture to prove that the verse in question was spurious. Gibbon in the third volume of his History, expressed the general opinion of biblical critics upon the subject; and Wetstein and Griesbach adopted the same views. In reply to these authors, Archdeacon Travis entered the field by attacking Gibbon in 1782, and subsequently Newton and Griesbach in 1786. Michaelis considered it a sufficient answer to the English divine to say, that "he was indisputably half a century behindhand in critical knowledge;" and Porson, indignant at the presumption of his countryman, exposed his ignorance and errors in the celebrated letters, which he addressed to him in 1788, 1789, and 1790. In referring to these able letters, Sir Charles Lyell remarks, that "by them the question was for ever set at rest." Had it been a question in science, it might have been expected that presumptuous error, when once sternly refuted, would not dare to reappear; but theological questions are never set at rest, and the very corruption of the sacred text which Sir Charles characterizes as having been "given up by every one who has the least pretension to scholarship and candour," has been defended in our own day by Dr. Burgess, Bishop of St. David's, and afterwards of Salisbury, with a boldness of assumption, and a severity of intolerance, unworthy of a Christian divine.
The other notable corruption of Scripture discussed by Sir Isaac, is that which he charges the Greeks with having perpetrated in the text of St. Paul, Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. According to him this reading was effected "by changing ὁ into Θc, the abbreviation of Θεος, . . . . whereas all the churches for the first four or five hundred years, and the authors of all the ancient versions, Jerome as well as the rest, read, 'Great is the mystery of godliness which was manifested in the flesh.' For this is the common reading of the Ethiopic, Syriac, and Latin versions to this day, Jerome's manuscripts having given him no occasion to correct the old vulgar Latin in this place."
After showing that the corruption in question took place in the sixth century, Sir Isaac thus sums up his arguments: — "The difference between the Greek andthe ancient version puts it past dispute that either the Greeks have corrupted their MSS., or the Latins, Syrians, and Ethiopians their versions; and it is more reasonable to lay the fault upon the Greeks than upon the other three, for these considerations: — It was easier for one nation to do it than for three to conspire, — it was easier to change a letter or two in the Greek than six words in the Latin. In the Greek the sense is obscure, — in the versions clear. It was agreeable to the interest of the Greeks to make the change, but against the interest of other nations to do it, and men are never false to their own interest. The Greek reading was unknown in the times of the Arian controversy, but that of the versions was then in use both among Greeks and Latins. Some Greek MSS. render the Greek reading dubious, but those of the versions, hitherto collated, agree. There are no signs of corruption in the versions, hitherto discovered, but in the Greek we have showed you particularly when, on what occasion, and by whom the text was corrupted."
The view taken of this text by Sir Isaac has been defended by Dr. Clarke, Whiston, Semler, Griesbach, Wetstein, and others. In our own day it has been controverted, with much ability and learning, in an elaborate dissertation by Dr. Henderson, who has not justified its retention as a portion of revealed truth.<337>
As the tendency of the Historical Account, &c., was to deprive the defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity of the aid of two leading texts. Sir Isaac Newton has been regarded by the Socinians and Arians, and even by some orthodox divines, as an Antitrinitarian; but this opinion is not warranted by anything which he has published. "In the Eastern nations," he says, "and for a long time in the Western, the faith subsisted without this text, and it is rather a danger to religion than an advantage to make it now lean upon a bruised reed. There cannot be better service done to the truth than to purge it of things spurious; and, therefore, knowing your prudence and calmness of temper, I am confident I shall not offend you by telling you my mind plainly, especially since it is no article of faith, no point of discipline, nothing but a criticism concerning a text of Scripture, which I am going to write about."
Although it is obvious that, in allowing his Dissertation to be published in Holland, Sir Isaac did not consider himself as supporting the Socinians or the Arians, yet it cannot be doubted that he was afraid of being known as the author of the work, and of holding the opinions which it advocates. The name of the author was never communicated to Le Clerc, but he no doubt learned it from the writings of Whiston, who, after Newton's death, mentioned the Dissertation as his production. After the death of Le Clerc, Wetstein placed Locke's copy of itin the Library of the Remonstrants, and endeavoured in vain to procure, from Newton's heirs, the parts that were deficient in the original.
It does not appear that Newton was charged with being an Arian during his lifetime. Whiston indeed tells us, that he "afterwards found that Sir Isaac Newton was so hearty for the Baptists, as well as for the Eusebians or Arians, that he sometimes suspected these two were the two witnesses in the Revelations;" and Hopton Haynes, who was employed in the Mint, and who was himself a Humanitarian, mentioned to Richard Baron, that Newton held the same doctrine as himself. In so far as the opinions of Newton, Locke, and Clarke, all of whom were suspected of Arian tendencies, were hostile to the doctrine of the Trinity, they had substantial reasons for keeping them secret. In the Toleration Act passed in 1688, before Newton had sent his Dissertation to Locke, an exception was made of those who wrote against "the doctrine of the blessed Trinity;" and in the Act for the Suppression of Blasphemy and Profaneness, it was provided, that whoever "by printing, teaching, or advisedly speaking, denied any one of the persons of the Holy Trinity to be God," should, "for the first offence, be disabled to have any office or employment, or any profit appertaining thereunto." The expulsion of Whiston from the University of Cambridge in 1711, for holding Arian tenets, though the Queen did not confirm the censure passed by the Convocation, was yet a warning to Antitrinitarians of every class who either held office, or were desirous of holding it, to refrain from the public expression of their opinions; and we have no doubt that Newton was influenced by motives of this kind when he desired Locke "to stop the translation and impression of his papers," and mentioned "his design to suppress them."
Although a traditionary belief has long prevailed that Newton was an Arian, yet the Trinitarians claimed him as a friend, while the Socinians, by republishing his Historical Account, &c., under the title of "Sir Isaac Newton on the Trinitarian Corruptions of Scripture," wished it to be believed that he was a supporter of their views. That he was not a Socinian is proved by his avowed belief thatour Saviour was the object of "worship among the primitive Christians," and that he was "the Son of God, as well by his Resurrection from the dead, as by his supernatural birth of the Virgin." "He animadverts, indeed," as Dr. Henderson observes, "with great freedom, and sometimes with considerable asperity, on the orthodox; but it does not appear that this arose from any hostility to their views respecting the doctrine of the Trinity, or that it was opposed to any thing beside the unfair mode in which he conceived they had treated one or two passages of Scripture, with a view to the support of that doctrine."
Influenced by similar views, and in the absence of all direct evidence, I had no hesitation, when writing the Life of Sir Isaac Newton in 1830, in coming to the conclusion that he was a believer in the Trinity; and in giving this opinion on the creed of so great a man, and so indefatigable a student of Scripture, I was well aware that there are various forms of Trinitarian truth, and various modes of expressing it, which have been received as orthodox in the purest societies of the Christian Church. It may be an ecclesiastical privilege to burrow for heresy among the obscurities of thought, and the ambiguities of language, but in the charity which thinketh no evil, we are bound to believe that our neighbour is not a heretic till the charge against him has been distinctly proved. Truth has no greater enemy than its unwise defenders, and no warmer friends than those who, receiving it in a meek and tolerant spirit, respect the conscientious convictions of others, and seek, in study and in prayer, for the best solution of mysterious and incomprehensible revelations. If the HIGHEST authority has assured us "that no man knoweth the Son but the Father," the pretenders to such knowledge impiously presume to be more than man.
When I examined in 1836 the manuscripts of Sir Isaac Newton at Hurtsbourne Park, I found various theological papers, some of which were so carefully written, and others so frequently copied, that they must have been intended for publication. We have already seen that Craig, the friend of Newton, urged Conduitt to give these writings to the world. His own niece, Mrs. Conduitt, resolved to publish them herself, "if God granted her life," but "as she might be snatched away before she had leisure to undertake so great a work," she made a codicil to her will,charging her executor to submit "them to Dr. Sykes, in hopes that he will prepare them for the press." The manuscripts referred to are —
1. The Historical Account, &c., already published.
2. Paradoxical Questions concerning Athanasius.
3. A History of the Creed.
4. A Church History complete.
5. Many Divinity Tracts.
Mr. Conduitt died a few months after the date of this codicil, and Mrs. Conduitt in January 1739, and there is reason to believe that the papers were never put into the hands of Dr. Sykes. After the marriage of Miss Conduitt to Mr. Wallop, afterwards Lord Lymington, the manuscripts went into their possession, and some of them, including the Historical Account, were given by Lady Lymington to her executor, Mr. Jeffery Ekins, from whom they passed successively into the hands of the Dean of Carlisle, the Rector of Morpeth, and the Rev. Jeffery Ekins, Rector of Sampford, who now possesses them.
The most complete of the manuscripts above enumerated, is the one entitled Paradoxical Questions concerning the morals and actions of Athanasius and his Followers. It consists of sixteen questions, and possesses a very considerable interest.
"QUEST. 1. Whether the ignominious death of Arius ina boghouse was not a story feigned and put about by Athanasius above twenty years after his death?"
In answer to this question, Newton shows that though Athanasius pretended to have received this account of Arius's death, and of his dying out of communion, from Macarius, yet he invented it himself and circulated it, "that the miracle of his death being known, it will no longer be doubted whether the Arian heresy be odious to God or not."
"QUEST. 2. Whether the Meletians deserved that ill character which Athanasius gave them?"
The charge against the Meletians that they were excommunicated for crimes, Sir Isaac considers to be a fiction invented by Athanasius in retaliation for his having been tried at the instance of Inschyras, a Meletian presbyter, and condemned by the Council of Tyre for having broken the communion cup of Inschyras, demolished his church, and afterwards killed Arsenius, the successor of Meletus.
"QUEST. 3. Whether the Council of Tyre and Jerusalem was not an orthodox authentic council bigger than that of Nice?"
Although this council received Arius into communion after he had "disowned the things for which he had been condemned at Nice, and excommunicated Athanasius," Sir Isaac endeavours to show with great ingenuity and force of argument, that it was not an Arian council — that it did not profess Arianism, and that it was a full council, and "as authentic as any Greek council ever was or could be since the Apostles' days, they being in communion with the Church Catholic, and legally convened by the letters of Constantine the Great."
"QUEST. 4. Whether it was a dead man's hand in a bag, or the dead body of Arsenius, which was laid before the Council at Tyre to prove that Arsenius was dead?"<344>
"QUEST. 5. Whether it was Arsenius alive, or only his letter which Athanasius produced in the Council of Tyre, to prove that he was not dead?"
"QUEST. 6. Whether the story of producing the dead man's hand, and the living Arsenius, in the council of Tyre, was not feigned by Athanasius about twenty-five years after the time of the council?"
In answering these three questions together, Sir Isaac shews that the dead body of Arsenius was, after exhumation, produced before the Council of Tyre, to prove that he was murdered by Athanasius, who was found guilty and banished as the murderer. In defence of himself Athanasius invented the story that it was only a dead man's hand that was produced before the council, and that he refuted the charge by producing Arsenius alive.
"QUEST. 7. Whether the letter of Pinnes for proving Arsenius to be alive was not feigned by Athanasius at the same time with the story of the dead man's hand?"
In order to defend Athanasius, a monk confessed that Arsenius had been concealed at Hypseles, and had been sent out of the way to the lower parts of Egypt. Sir Isaac endeavours to show the incorrectness of this story.
"QUEST. 8. Whether the letter of Arsenius was not feigned by Athanasius before the convening of the Council of Tyre?"
After an ingenious criticism on Arsenius' letter, Sir Isaac concludes that it is a forgery.
"QUEST. 9. Whether the letter of Inschyras was not feigned by Athanasius?"
This penitential letter, for having prosecuted Athanasius, addressed to the Blessed Pope Athanasius, is suspected, on very ingenious grounds, to be a forgery.<345>
" QUEST. 10. Whether the recantation of Valens and Ursatius was not feigned by the friends of Athanasius?"
These recantations are supposed with good reason to be forgeries.
"QUEST. 11. Whether Athanasius was falsely accused, or did falsely accuse Eusebius of adultery before the Council of Tyre?"
Athanasius is said to have sent a woman to accuse Eusebius of adultery, in the hope of such a tumult being raised that he might escape being tried. But when Eusebius asked her if she knew the man, she answered that she would not be so senseless as to accuse such men. The friends of Athanasius afterwards inverted this story, as if the woman had been hired by the Eusebians to accuse Athanasius.
"QUEST. 12. Whether Athanasius did sincerely acquit himself of the crime of breaking the communion cup of Inschyras?"
This question is answered in the negative, and Athanasius' ingenious artifice to explain away the charge is well exposed.
"QUEST. 13. Whether Athanasius was not made Bishop of Alexandria by sedition and violence against the Canons of that Church?"
The Bishops who ordained him, after resisting his importunities "for many days together," and having been kept prisoner in a church by a mob of Athanasius' s party, were obliged to ordain him. He was only twenty-five years of age, so that "the Meletians used to cry, O wickedness! he a bishop or he a boy?"
"QUEST. 14. Whether Athanasius was not justly deposed by the Council of Tyre?"
The justice of the sentence is proved by seven different arguments.<346>
"QUEST. 15. Whether Athanasius was not seditious?"
This question is answered in the affirmative by an examination of his "Epistle to the Orthodox of all Regions," and a letter entitled "The People of Alexandria to the Catholic Church, which is under Athanasius the most reverend Bishop."
"QUEST. 16. Whether Constantius persecuted the Athanasians for religion, or only punished them for immorality?"
In answering this question, Sir Isaac shows that Constantius and his Bishops, in place of persecuting the Athanasians, treated them with the greatest moderation, and that their martyrs "perished by the sword in resisting the higher powers." He shows that Hilary, who courted martyrdom by insulting Constantius, and was thus guilty of the capital crime of Lœsa Majestas, was released from banishment by the Emperor, and allowed to return to his own country. After quoting the favourable opinions of the Emperor given by his enemies, he concludes with the following character of him: — "In short, the virtues of this Emperor were so illustrious, that I do not find a better character given of any Prince for clemency, temperance, chastity, contempt of popular fame, affection to Christianity, justice, prudence, princely carriage, and good government, than is given to him even by his very enemies. He kept up the imperial dignity of his person to the height, and yet reigned in the hearts of his people, and swayed the world by their love to him, so that no Prince could be farther from deserving the name of a persecutor."
Among the other theological manuscripts of Sir Isaac, there are none so distinctly written as the Paradoxical Questions; but there are so many copies of some of them,that it can scarcely be doubted that they were thus repeatedly corrected for publication. The fact, indeed, of Sir Isaac having, previous to his death, burned many of his letters and papers, and left these theological writings behind him, makes it more than probable that he had no desire to suppress his opinions.
The most remarkable of these MSS. is one entitled Irenicum, or Ecclesiastical Polity tending to Peace. It consists of twenty Positions, or Theses, in which the doctrines of Christianity, the government of the Church, and its relations to the State, are described in a few brief and intelligible paragraphs. As the production of a great and good man who had studied the Scriptures and the history of the Church without any sectarian predilections, it cannot but be interesting to the Christian student.
In a paper of a few pages, entitled A Short Scheme of the True Religion, in which religion is described as partly fundamental and immutable, and partly circumstantial and mutable, he treats of Godliness, Atheism, Idolatry, and Humanity, or our duty to man. "Opposite to godliness," he says, "is Atheism in profession, and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind, that it never had many professors. Can it be by accident that all birds, beasts, and men have their right side and left side alike shaped, (except in their bowels,) and just two eyes, and no more, on either side of the face; and just two ears on either side the head, and a nose with two holes; and either two fore-legs, or two wings, or two arms on the shoulders, and two legs on the hips, and no more? Whence arises this uniformity in all their outward shapes but from the counsel and contrivance of an Author? Whence is it that the eyes of all sorts of living creatures are transparent to the very bottom, and the only transparent members in the body, having on the outside a hard transparent skin, and within transparent humours, with a crystalline lens in the middle, and a pupil before the lens, all of them so finely shaped and fitted for vision, that no artist can mend them? Did blind chance know that there was light, and what was its refraction, and fit the eyes of all creatures, after the most curious manner, to make use of it? These, and suchlike considerations, always have, and ever will prevail with mankind, to believe that there is a Being who made all things, and has all things in his power, and who is therefore to be feared."
The section on idolatry is concluded with the following summary: — "We are, therefore, to acknowledge one God, infinite, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, the Creator of all things, most wise, most just, most good, most holy. We must love him, fear him, honour him, trust in him, pray to him, give him thanks, praise him, hallow his name, obey his commandments, and set times apart for his service, as we are directed in the Third and Fourth Commandments, for this is the love of God that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous, 1 John v. 3. And these things we must do not to any mediators between him and us, but to him alone, that he may give his angels charge over us, who, being our fellow-servants, are pleased with the worship which we give to their God. And this is the first and the principal part of religion. This always was, and always will be the religion of all God's people, from the beginning to the end of the world."<349>
In another manuscript, On our Religion to God, to Christ, and the Church, he treats more fully of some of the theses in the Irenicum, but his doctrinal opinions are more conspicuous in the following twelve articles, which have no title: —
ART. 1. There is one God the Father, ever living, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
ART. 2. The Father is the invisible God whom no eye hath seen, or can see. All other beings are sometimes visible.
ART. 3. The Father hath life in himself, and hath given the Son to have life in himself.
ART. 4. The Father is omniscient, and hath all knowledge originally in his own breast, and communicates knowledge of future things to Jesus Christ; and none in heaven or earth, or under the earth, is worthy to receive knowledge of future things immediately from the Father but the Lamb. And, therefore, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, and Jesus is the Word or prophet of God.
ART. 5. The Father is immovable, no place being capable of becoming emptier or fuller of him than it is by the eternal necessity of nature. All other beings are movable from place to place.
ART. 6. All the worship (whether of prayer, praise, or thanksgiving) which was due to the Father before thecoming of Christ, is still due to him. Christ came not to diminish the worship of his Father.
ART. 7. Prayers are most prevalent when directed to the Father in the name of the Son.
ART. 8. We are to return thanks to the Father alone for creating us, and giving us food and raiment and other blessings of this life, and whatsoever we are to thank him for, or desire that he would do for us, we ask of him immediately in the name of Christ.
ART. 9. We need not pray to Christ to intercede for us. If we pray the Father aright, he will intercede.
ART. 10. It is not necessary to salvation to direct our prayers to any other than the Father in the name of the Son.
ART. 11. To give the name of God to angels or kings, is not against the First Commandment. To give the worship of the God of the Jews to angels or kings, is against it. The meaning of the commandment is. Thou shalt worship no other God but me.
ART. 12. To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. — That is, we are to worship the Father alone as God Almighty, and Jesus alone as the Lord, the Messiah, the Great King, the Lamb of God who was slain, and hath redeemed us with his blood, and made us kings and priests.
On the subject of the Trinitarian controversy, I have found a manuscript of fourteen queries, which may throw some light on the opinions of its author, and which I have, therefore, given in the Appendix.
Although Sir Isaac, in his observations on the Prophecies of Daniel, has shown how the Church of Rome, as the eleventh horn of the fourth beast, rooted up three of his first horns, the Exarchate of Ravenna, the kingdom of the Lombards, and the dukedom of Rome, and thus rose up as a temporal power, he has not given any account of the steps by which the Bishop of Rome obtained the rank of the Universal Bishop. In a paper of eight queries, containing his views on this subject, he states, that after the death of Constantius in A.D. 341, he began to usurp the universal Bishopric; that the Emperor Constantius abolished Popery in A.D. 361; and that the Emperor Gratian, in 379, restored, by his edict, the universal Bishopric of Rome over all the West.
The tendency of the Church of England to relapse into Romish superstition seems to have shown itself in the time of Newton, and to have induced him to take steps to counteract it. It is probable that he had been requested by influential persons, both in the Church and in the State, to suggest a legislative measure for correcting an evil which at that time was as dangerous to the State as it was hostile to the articles of the Church and the fundamental truths of Christianity. This proceeding must have taken place at the accession of the House of Hanover in 1714, as will appear from the following draught of an Act of Parliament drawn up by Sir Isaac, and in his own handwriting: —
"Whereas of late years, some opinions have been propagated by superstitious men among the Christians of the Church of England, to break all communion and friendship with the Protestant churches abroad, and to return into the communion of the Church of Rome; such as are the opinions, that the Church of Rome is a true church, without allowing her to be a false church in any respect, and thatthe Protestant churches abroad are false churches, and that they have no baptism, and by consequence are no Christians, and that the Church of England is in danger, meaning, by the succession of the House of Hanover. For preventing the mischiefs which may ensue upon such dangerous, uncharitable, and unchristian principles, be it enacted, —
"That the following declaration shall be made and subscribed in open court in the Quarter Sessions next after . . . . . by all persons.
"We, whose names are underwritten, do solemnly, and without all equivocation or mental reservation, acknowledge and declare that we do sincerely believe that the Church of Rome is, in doctrine and worship, a false, uncharitable, and idolatrous church, with whom it is not lawful to communicate; and that the churches of the Lutherans and Calvinists abroad are true churches, with whom we may lawfully communicate, and that their baptism is valid and authentic; and that the Church of England is in no danger by the succession of the House of Hanover in the throne of the kingdom of Great Britain."
It is interesting to observe the coincidence of the religious views of Sir Isaac Newton with those of John Locke, his illustrious contemporary and friend. Though, like Newton, he lived in communion with the Church of England, "yet it is obvious," as Lord King says, "from an unpublished reply to a work of Dr. Stillingfleet's, that he entertained a strong opinion that the exclusive doctrines of the Church of England were very objectionable — that he thought them much too narrow and confined, and that he wished for a much larger and easier comprehension of Protestants." In a paper dated 1688, and apparently drawn up for the guidance of a religious society when hewas in Holland, we find the following noble article, which Newton would have countersigned, and which, without having adopted the peculiar opinions of these distinguished men, we regard as at once the essence and the bulwark of Protestant truth.
"If any one find any doctrinal parts of Scripture difficult to be understood, we recommend him, 1st, The study of the Scriptures in humility and singleness of heart. 2d, Prayer to the Father of lights to enlighten him. 3d, Obedience to what is already revealed to him, remembering that the practice of what we do know is the surest way to more knowledge; our infallible guide having told us, if any man will do the will of him that sent me [his will,] he shall know of the doctrine, John vii. 17. 4th, We leave him to the advice and assistance of those whom he thinks best able to instruct him; no men, or society of men, having any authority to impose their opinions or interpretations on any other, the meanest Christian; since, in matters of religion, every man must know and believe and give an account for himself."
Interesting as any opinion of Newton's must be, on every subject to which he has directed his transcendent powers, there is one prophetic of the future destiny of man which has a peculiar value, and with which we may appropriately close our notice of his theological writings. Although Sir Isaac believed in a plurality of worlds, hehas nowhere given it as his opinion that the worlds beyond our own are to be the residence of the blessed. This opinion, however, resting on Scripture and science, and combining what is revealed with what is demonstrated, he has distinctly developed in the following passage: —
"God made and governs the world invisibly, and hath commanded us to love and worship him, and no other God; to honour our parents and masters, and love our neighbours as ourselves; and to be temperate, just, and peaceable, and to be merciful even to brute beasts. And by the same power by which he gave life at first to every species of animals, he is able to revive the dead, and hath revived Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who hath gone into the heavens to receive a kingdom, and prepare a place for us, and is next in dignity to God, and may be worshipped as the Lamb of God, and hath sent the Holy Ghost to comfort us in his absence, and will at length return and reign over us, invisibly to mortals, till he hath raised up and judged all the dead, and then he will give up his kingdom to the Father, and carry the blessed to the place he is now preparing for them, and send the rest to other places suitable to their merits. For in God's house (which is the universe,) are many mansions, and he governs them by agents which can pass through the heavens from one mansion to another. For if all places to which we have access are filled with living creatures, why should all these immense spaces of the heavens above the clouds be incapable of inhabitants?"
Such is a brief view of the theological manuscripts of Sir Isaac Newton. With the exception of the "Paradoxical Questions concerning Athanasius," none of them were prepared for the press, and there can be no doubt that his representatives, and also Dr. Horsley, exercised a wise discretion in not giving them formally to the world. Had Sir Isaac found leisure to complete the works of which we have but imperfect fragments, they would have displayed his sagacity and varied erudition, and would have exhibited more correctly and fully than the specimens we have given, his opinions on the great questions of Christian doctrine and ecclesiastical polity.
It is scarcely a matter of surprise that sceptical writers should have spoken disrespectfully of the theological writings of a mathematician and philosopher, but it has surprised us that other authors should have regarded the study of the Scriptures as incompatible with scientific research. When Voltaire asserted that Sir Isaac explained the Prophecies in the same manner as those who went before him, he only exhibited his ignorance of what Newton wrote, and of what others had written; and when he stated that Newton composed his Commentaries on the Apocalypse to console mankind for the great superiority which he had over them, he but shewed the emptiness of the consolation to which scepticism aspires.
We have few examples, indeed, of truly great men pursuing simultaneously their own peculiar studies and the critical examination of the Scriptures. The most illustrious have been the ornaments of our own land, and England may well be proud of having had Napier, and Milton, and Locke, and Newton, for the champions both of its faith and its Protestantism. From the study of the material universe — the revelation of God's wisdom, to the study of his holy word — the revelation of his will, the transition is neither difficult nor startling. From thehomes of planetary life to the homes of its future destiny the mind passes with a firm and joyous step, and it is only when scepticism or intellectual pride has obstructed the path, that the pilgrim falters in his journey, or faints by the way.
When a philosopher like Newton first directs his energies to the study of the material universe, no indications of order attract his notice, and no proofs of design call forth his admiration. In the starry firmament he sees no bodies of stupendous magnitude, and no distances of immeasurable span. The two great luminaries appear vastly inferior in magnitude to many objects around him, and the greatest distances in the heavens seem even inferior to those which his own eye can embrace on the surface of the earth. The planets, when observed with care, are seen to have a motion among the fixed stars, and to vary in their magnitude and distances, but these changes appear to follow no law. Sometimes they move to the east, sometimes to the west, passing the meridian sometimes near and sometimes far from the horizon, while at other times they are absolutely stationary in their path. No system, in short, appears, and no general law seems to direct their motions. By the observations and inquiries of astronomers, however, during successive ages, a regular system has been recognised in this chaos of moving bodies, and the magnitudes, distances, and revolutions of every planet which composes it have been determined with the most extraordinary accuracy. Minds fitted and prepared for this species of inquiry are capable of appreciating the great variety of evidence by which the truths of the planetary system are established; but thousands of individuals, and many who are highly distinguished in other branches of knowledge, are incapable of understandingsuch researches, and view with a sceptical eye the great and irrefragable truths of astronomy.
That the sun is stationary in the centre of our system, — that the earth moves round the sun, and round its own axis, — that the diameter of the earth is 8000 miles, and that of the sun one hundred and ten times as great; that the earth's orbit is 190 millions of miles in breadth; and that, if this immense space were filled with light, it would appear only like a luminous point at the nearest fixed star, — are positions absolutely unintelligible and incredible to all who have not carefully studied the subject. To millions of our species, then, the Great Book of Nature is absolutely sealed, though it is in the power of all to unfold its pages, and to peruse those glowing passages which proclaim the power and wisdom of its Author.
The Book of Revelation exhibits to us the same peculiarities as that of Nature. To the ordinary eye it presents no immediate indications of its divine origin. Events apparently insignificant — supernatural interferences seemingly unnecessary — doctrines almost contradictory — and prophecies nearly unintelligible, occupy its pages. The history of the fall of man — of the introduction of moral and physical evil — the prediction of a Messiah — the advent of our Saviour — his precepts — his miracles — his death — his resurrection — the gift of tongues — and the subsequent propagation of his religion by the unlettered fishermen of Galilee, are each a stumbling-block to the wisdom of this world. The youthful and vigorous mind, when summoned from its early studies to the perusal of the Scriptures, turns from them with disappointment. It recognises in the sacred page no profound science — no secular wisdom — no disclosures of Nature's secrets — no palpable impress of an Almighty hand. But, though thesystem of revealed truth which the Scriptures contain is like that of the universe concealed from common observation, yet the labours of centuries have established its divine origin, and developed in all its order and beauty the great plan of human restoration. In the chaos of its incidents, we discover the whole history of our species, whether it is delineated in events that are past, or shadowed forth in those which are to come, — from the creation of man and the origin of evil, to the extinction of his earthly dynasty, and the commencement of his immortal career.
The antiquity and authenticity of the books which compose the sacred canon, — the fulfilment of its prophecies, — the miraculous propagation of the gospel, — have been demonstrated to all who are capable of appreciating the force of historical evidence; and in the poetical and prose compositions of the inspired authors, we discover a system of doctrine, and a code of morality, traced in characters as distinct and legible as the most unerring truths in the material world. — False systems of religion have indeed been deduced from the sacred record, — as false systems of the universe have sprung from the study of the book of nature; but the very prevalence of a false system proves the existence of one that is true; and though the two classes of facts necessarily depend on different kinds of evidence, yet we scruple not to say that the Copernican system is not more demonstrably true than the system of theological truth contained in the Bible. If men of high powers, then, are still found, who are insensible to the evidence which has established the system of the universe, need we wonder that there are others who resist the effulgent evidence which sustains the strongholds of our faith?
If such be the character of Christian truth, we neednot be surprised that it was embraced and expounded by such a genius as Sir Isaac Newton. Cherishing its doctrines, and leaning on its promises, he felt it his duty, as it was his delight, to apply to it that intellectual strength which had successfully surmounted the difficulties of the material universe. The fame which that success procured him he could not but feel to be the breath of popular applause, which administered only to his personal feelings; but the investigation of the sacred mysteries, while it prepared his own mind for its final destiny, was calculated to promote the spiritual interests of thousands. This noble impulse he did not hesitate to obey, and by thus uniting philosophy with religion, he dissolved the league which genius had formed with scepticism, and added to the cloud of witnesses the brightest name of ancient or of modern times.
What wonder then that his devotion swelled
Responsive to his knowledge! for could he,
Whose piercing mental eye diffusive saw
The finished university of things,
In all its order, magnitude, and parts,
Forbear incessant to adore that power
Who fills, sustains, and actuates the whole.
Letter to Conduitt, dated 7th April 1727. See vol. i. Appendix, p. 465.
Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of the Scriptures, 50 pp. quarto.
The papers here alluded to were one on the Scale of Heat, his Reflecting Sextant, and his Solution of the Problem of Quickest Descent. See Bibl. Univ., tom. xxxi. p. 190, and vol. i. pp. 239, and p. 19 of this volume.
See p. 137.
In a book called "Newton's Waste Book," containing his discoveries in mathematics in the years 1664 and 1665, there are many extracts which prove that he had in these years prosecuted the study of theology.
Lord King's Life of Locke, vol. i. p. 402, 2d edit. Lond. 1830.
Dated Cambridge, June 30, 1691.
Cambridge, Feb 16, 16391 2.
"The words of Locke," says Lord King, "stand unaltered in the printed copy," vol. ii. p. 420.
Cambridge, Sept. 28, 1690.
Edition of 1754, pp. 122, 123.
Hist. Critique du Texte du Nouveau Testament. Rotterdam, 1689.
April 11, 1692.
July 15, 1692.
The editor supplied the beginning down to the 13th page, where he mentions in a note, that "thus far is not Sir Isaac's."
I have not found any copy of this manuscript, or any letters relating to it, among the manuscripts of Newton. In his list of the MSS., Dr. Horsley mentions a Latin translation of the Historical Account, and a paper-book entitled Sancti Johannis Apostoli Vindiciæ contra Novaticos et Falcarios.
Lond. 1733. 4to. Pp. 323.
Voltaire, who probably never read this work, has erroneously stated that Sir Isaac explained the Revelations in the same manner as all those that went before him.
Among the writers here referred to, Father Simon was doubtless the most important. In his Hist. Crit. du Texte du Nouv. Test. chap. xviii. p. 203; and in his Hist. Crit. des Versions du Nouv. Test. chap. xiv., Rott. 1690, he has given the same opinion of the text as Newton.
In stating this fact, Sir Charles Lyell omits to mention the re-insertion of the text in the edition of 1522. He is mistaken in saying, after Porson, that Newton's Dissertation was written between 1690 and 1760, (a typographical error for 17OO,) as it was written in 1690, or much earlier, as we have shown.
Clarke's Works, vol. iv. p. 121.
In letters in the Gent. Magazine, re-printed and enlarged in 1784 and 1786.
Five of these letters appeared in the Gent. Magazine for 1788, and were reprinted with some others, and entitled "Letters to Mr. Archdeacon Travis," &c. By R. Porson. Lond. 1790. 8vo. Pp. 406.
Second Visit to the United States, vol. i. p. 122.
Tracts on the Divinity of Christ, pp. xc. 371, 372, Lond. 1820; and Introduction to the Controversy on the disputed verse in St. John, Salisbury, 1835, &c. An able reply to Dr. Burgess, said to be written by the Bishop of Ely, appeared in the Quarterly Review, March 1826, vol. xxxiii. p. 64. See Notes and Queries, vol. i. pp. 399 and 453.
1 Timothy iii. 16.
Historical Account, &c., Art. I. and XXIV., Newtoni Opera, tom. v. pp. 531, 548.
Works, vol. iv. p. 47.
Memoirs, p. 365.
Historical Collections cited by Michaelis, vol. iv. p. 425.
Symbolœ Criticœ, vol. i. p. 8.
The Great Mystery of Godliness incontrovertible, or Sir Isaac Newton and the Socinians Foiled, &c. By E. Henderson, Professor of Divinity in Highbury College. Lond. 1730.
The latest writers on the subject, although not Unitarian, namely, Dr. Davidson in his Treatise on Biblical Criticism, vol. ii. p. 382, Edin. 1852, and Dr. Tregillis in his Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament, p. 226, Lond. 1854, have adopted the views of Sir Isaac.
There are certainly, as Professor De Morgan has shown, two or three expressions in the Dissertation which a believer in the doctrine of the Trinity is not likely to have used; but while I freely make this admission, I think Mr. De Morgan will also admit that they would not justify us in considering Newton as an Antitrinitarian. They warrant us only to suspect his orthodoxy. See Professor De Morgan's Life of Newton, p. 113, note.
Authentic Records, p. 1077. Lond. 1728.
Prolegomena to his edition of the New Testament, p. 185. Amst. 1751.
After 1712. — Memoirs, &c., p. 206.
The Humanitarians believe in the humanity of our Saviour, and that he was not an object of prayer.
"The Unitarian minister, Richard Baron," says Professor De Morgan, "who was a friend of Haynes, states the preceding as having passed in conversation between him and Haynes. The statement is made in the preface of the first volume of his collection of tracts, called 'A Cordial for Low Spirits,' (three vols. Lond. 1763, edit. 3d, 12mo,) published under the name of Thomas Gordon. This is not primary evidence like that of Whiston, and it loses force by the circumstance, that in the posthumous work which Mr. Haynes left on the disputed points, (and which was twice printed,) there is no allusion to it." — Life of Newton, p. 110, note.
The author of the Life of Newton, in the Biographia Britannica, vol. v. p. 3241, says that Newton would not suffer Whiston to be a member of the Royal Society, because he had represented him as an Arian, and, as if to prove this, ho refers to Whiston's Memoirs, which contain no such statement. Whiston himself assigns another "reason of Sir Isaac Newton's unwillingness to have him a member," namely, "that he was afraid of him the last thirteen years of his life;" but the reason which Whiston assigned to Halley, who asked him, "Why he was not a member of the Society?" was, "because they durst not choose a heretick." — See Whiston's Memoirs, edit. 1749, pp. 206, 292, 293.
Act, 1 William and Mary, 1688, chap, xviii., sect. 17.
Act, 9 & 10 William III., 1698, chap. xxxii.
Burnet's History of his own Times, vol. vi. p. 53, 8vo. 1833.
In suppressing these papers, Sir Isaac certainly did not "deliberately suppress his opinions," as Dr. Burgess has stated. See Professor De Morgan's Life of Newton, p . 115. There is abundance of evidence that he never abandoned the opinions maintained in these papers.
"Newton's religious opinions," says Dr. Thomson, "were not orthodox; for example, he did not believe in the Trinity. This gives us the reason why Horsley, the champion of the Trinity, found Newton's papers unfit for publication; but it is much to be regretted that they have never seen the light." — Hist. Royal Society, p. 284.
Dr. Henderson's Great Mystery of Godliness, &c., p. 3.
The Great Mystery of Godliness, &c., p. 2.
M. Biot had previously arrived at the same opinion. "There is absolutely nothing," he says, "in the writings of Newton which can justify, or even authorize the conjecture that he was an Antitrinitarian." — Biog. Univ. tom. xxxi. p. 190.
In order to correct a very grave misrepresentation by Dr. Burgess, Bishop of Salisbury, of the way in which this subject was treated in my former Life of Newton, I am obliged to insert in APPENDIX, No. XXVIII. two letters from the Bishop.
See page 315 of this volume.
The following is a copy of the codicil which the Rev. Jeffery Ekins has been so kind as to communicate to me: — "I, Catherine Conduitt, do make and appoint this a Codicil to my last Will and Testament. Whereas, I have in my custody severall Tracts written by Sir Is. Newton, and which I propose to print if God grant me life; but as I may be snatched away before I can have leisure to undertake so great a work, towards publishing of which I design to ask the help of learned men, I will and appoint, and ordain, that my Executor do lay all the tracts relating to Divinity before Dr. Sykes, and in hopes he will prepare them for the press. There are two critical pieces, one on the three that bear Record in Heaven, and another upon the Text who thought it not robbery, &c., which I will have printed, and there's a piece called Paradoxical Questions concerning Athanasius, another the History of the Creed, or criticism on it, and a Church History compleat, and many more Divinity Tracts, all of them I ordain shall be printed and published, so as they be done with care and exactness; and whatever proffit may arise from the same, my dear Mr. Conduitt has given a bond of £2000, to be responsible to the seven nearest of kin to Sir Is. Newton. Therefore the papers must be carefully kept, that no copys may be taken and printed, and Dr. Sykes desired to peruse them here, otherways if any accident comes to them the penalty of the Bond will be levy'd. As the labour and sincere search of so good a Christian and so great a genius, may not be lost to the world, I do charge my Executor to do as I hereby ordain. Witness my hand and seal, the 26 of Jan. 1737."
In a "Catalogue taken of Sir Isaac Newton's MSS., October 15th and 16th, in the year 1777, by William Mann Godschall, Esq., and the Rev. Dr. Horsley," no such manuscript is mentioned. The only MS. of this kind is one of two pages distinctly written and entitled CHAP. VII. of the Rise of the Roman Catholic Church or Ecclesiastical Dominion.
The manuscript of this work, now before me, is beautifully written in Sir Isaac's own hand, and extends to sixty-two folio pages. It wants the last leaf. I have seen at Hurtsbourne Park a copy in another hand, distinctly written as if for publication. In the Catalogue above mentioned of Newton's MSS. two copies of this MS. are mentioned in one place, and in another part of the Catalogue another copy is mentioned as complete, showing that the other two were not so.
There are four copies of this MS. with the title Irenicum, but only one with the full title given in the text.
See APPENDIX, No. XXIX.
In the Catalogue of Newton's MSS. by Dr. Horsley, he mentions a paper "of twelve short paragraphs in English, which seems to have been the beginning of a treatise on the divinity of our Saviour." In the fourth paragraph he adds the Arian interpretation of the word Logos, in St. John's Gospel, is sustained, but the Socinian doctrine is denied." This was probably another copy of the articles given in the text.
See APPENDIX, No. XXX.
This paper, entitled Pacific Christians, and containing eleven articles, is published in King's Life of Locke, vol. ii. pp. 63-67. Edit. 1830.
The writer of the Life of Newton in the Biopraphia Britannica mentions an unfinished work entitled Lexicon Propheticum, to which was subjoined a Latin dissertation On the Sacred Cubit of the Jews, translated and printed in 1737, by Dr. Birch, in vol. ii. of the Miscellaneous Works of Mr. John Greaves. I have not seen any such MS., and it is not mentioned in Dr. Horsleys Catalogue. The paper on the Cubit may be included in "Latin Papers relating to the Jewish Temple," noticed by Dr. Horsley.
I have ventured to state and illustrate views similar to these in the last chapter "On the Future of the Universe," of a little volume entitled More Worlds than One. 1854.
The piety of Newton was so well known and appreciated by his friends, that he was occasionally consulted about their spiritual state. We have already seen, in page 37 of this volume, that an eminent mathematician "thanked God that his soul was extremely quiet, in which Newton had the chief share;" and, in the following letter from Dr. Morland, (the brother, we believe, of Sir Samuel,) who was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1703, we find him acting the same benevolent part: —
"SIR, — I have done, and will do my best while I live, to follow your advice, to repent and believe. I pray often as I am able, that God would make me sincere and change my heart. Pray write me your opinion whether, upon the whole, I may die with comfort. This can do you no harm — written without your name. God knows I am very low and uneasy, and have but little strength.
"Your most humble servant,
"Pray favour me with one line, because when I parted I had not your last word to me, you being in haste.
"Direct for Dr. MORLAND, in Epsom, Surrey."