VIEWS From Back of the Prayer Closet: Volume 2

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  1. 2. The Father
  2. VIEWS From Back of the Prayer Closet
  3. Newton’s Religious Life and Work
  4. ‎Closet Geek Studios on Apple Podcasts

Through sincere prayer we are brought into connection with the mind of the Infinite. We may have no remarkable evidence at the time that the face of our Redeemer is bending over us in compassion and love, but this is even so. We may not feel His visible touch, but His hand is upon us in love and pitying tenderness. When we come to ask mercy and blessing from God we should have a spirit of love and forgiveness in our own hearts. Matthew If we expect our own prayers to be heard we must forgive others in the same manner and to the same extent as we hope to be forgiven.

Perseverance in prayer has been made a condition of receiving. We must pray always if we would grow in faith and experience. Unceasing prayer is the unbroken union of the soul with God, so that life from God flows into our life; and from our life, purity and holiness flow back to God. There is necessity for diligence in prayer; let nothing hinder you. Make every effort to keep open the communion between Jesus and your own soul. Seek every opportunity to go where prayer is wont to be made.

Those who are really seeking for communion with God will be seen in the prayer meeting, faithful to do their duty and earnest and anxious to reap all the benefits they can gain. They will improve every opportunity of placing themselves where they can receive the rays of light from heaven. We should pray in the family circle, and above all we must not neglect secret prayer, for this is the life of the soul.

2. The Father

It is impossible for the soul to flourish while prayer is neglected. Family or public prayer alone is not sufficient. In solitude let the soul be laid open to the inspecting eye of God. Secret prayer is to be heard only by the prayer-hearing God. No curious ear is to receive the burden of such petitions. In secret prayer the soul is free from surrounding influences, free from excitement.

Calmly, yet fervently, will it reach out after God. Sweet and abiding will be the influence emanating from Him who seeth in secret, whose ear is open to hear the prayer arising from the heart. By calm, simple faith the soul holds communion with God and gathers to itself rays of divine light to strengthen and sustain it in the conflict with Satan. God is our tower of strength. Pray in your closet, and as you go about your daily labor let your heart be often uplifted to God. It was thus that Enoch walked with God.

These silent prayers rise like precious incense before the throne of grace. Satan cannot overcome him whose heart is thus stayed upon God. There is no time or place in which it is inappropriate to offer up a petition to God. There is nothing that can prevent us from lifting up our hearts in the spirit of earnest prayer. In the crowds of the street, in the midst of a business engagement, we may send up a petition to God and plead for divine guidance, as did Nehemiah when he made his request before King Artaxerxes.

A closet of communion may be found wherever we are. We should have the door of the heart open continually and our invitation going up that Jesus may come and abide as a heavenly guest in the soul. Although there may be a tainted, corrupted atmosphere around us, we need not breathe its miasma, but may live in the pure air of heaven.

We may close every door to impure imaginings and unholy thoughts by lifting the soul into the presence of God through sincere prayer. Those whose hearts are open to receive the support and blessing of God will walk in a holier atmosphere than that of earth and will have constant communion with heaven. We need to have more distinct views of Jesus and a fuller comprehension of the value of eternal realities. The beauty of holiness is to fill the hearts of God's children; and that this may be accomplished, we should seek for divine disclosures of heavenly things.

Let the soul be drawn out and upward, that God may grant us a breath of the heavenly atmosphere. We may keep so near to God that in every unexpected trial our thoughts will turn to Him as naturally as the flower turns to the sun. Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God.

You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. His heart of love is touched by our sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice.

There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. On the one hand, he remained a member of a college and of a university that were formally subject to a number of Anglican requirements. On the other, he was now in an identical situation to other laymen, who could use the same theological resources as professional divines to contribute to the cauldron of conflicting opinions in the Republic of Letters. By choosing to become a layman Newton gave himself a degree of latitude in his enquiries that was not available to ordained members of the church.

Indeed, his private religious researches, like those he conducted in other areas, were pursued according to a deeply felt ethic of independence that he believed lay at the core of the protestant religion. This independence is obvious from all of his writings but it is particularly striking in his theological researches where he was eclectic, drawing from any tradition that might provide evidence in his favour. He accepted testimony from Roman Catholic sources when it suited, and indeed he had to, since Catholic authors had provided the bulk of information for his endeavours.

When it was available, for example when he studied dubious Trinitarian proof-texts in the New Testament, he was more likely to take his cue from anti-Trinitarian authors. For Socinians and many others, most humans had been endowed with a natural reason that they were entitled and obliged to use in order to ascertain the meaning of words in Scripture. Anglicans feared that deists and anti-Trinitarians would make use of the right to use their understandings and the critical tools that were now in the public sphere, in order to corrode the authority of revealed religion.

By the s their views had been shown to be well founded, as many enemies of organised religion used their books and their reason to dismantle the arguments of the orthodox. Like many others, Newton argued that what was required to be believed in order to be saved was readily comprehensible to even the meanest capacity, and the number of such tenets was small.

More mature Christians like himself were required to study the Bible to ascertain the deeper but non-essential truths it contained, and were enjoined to discuss different opinions concerning them. As such men became increasingly emboldened to discuss doctrinal topics in the Republic of Letters, so many divines were forced to explain in print exactly how it was that mysteries and other difficult parts of Scripture were not unreasonable. Bound up with the new propensity of laymen to dispute publicly with professional clergy was the notion that there was a certain degree of liberty of expression that amounted to a right.

When in the Restoration the orthodox raged against deviant opinions they were often unsure on what basis they could clamp down on such views. Denying authors avenues of expression was another tactic in maintaining order, though the Church was unsure whether to do this by burning books or by threatening and prosecuting printers and authors. Save for those who sought martyrdom as a mark of their godliness, all radical critics of orthodoxy held that the fundamental right to a liberty of religious enquiry, if not freedom of religious opinion, required that a truly Christian state tolerate many different doctrines and forms of worship.

All anti-Trinitarians subscribed to this view, having been subjected throughout their history to serious persecution. Locke was in exile in the Netherlands from , and subsequently immersed himself in a number of different Socinian writings. On his return to England in he published immensely influential works on the human understanding, religious toleration, and on the constitution of a properly representative government.

In particular, he defended an empiricist account of the way that individuals acquired information, a consequence of which was that men were obliged as a duty to God to be self-critical and to undertake personal quests for truth. Truly Christian states were to tolerate and indeed promote this sort of enquiry since as secular institutions they had no right to exercise jurisdiction over the salvation of souls. He does not seem to have followed Locke and others in calling for a complete separation of church and state.

That said, he set the bar for being a truly Christian ecclesiastical polity very high, since any persecution carried out on religious grounds was a sign of an antichristianiam. By contrast, he claimed that those empires and groups that held anti-Trinitarian doctrines never persecuted people for their religious opinions, and thereby showed themselves to be truly Christian.

The was the opposite view from that adopted by orthodox church historians. As Stephen Snobelen has shown, in the early eighteenth century, Newton displayed a number of different tactics to deflect potentially damaging questions about his orthodoxy. However, there is no doubt that he held opinions that were formally heretical by the standards of the Church of England. Although he revealed some of his theological opinions to a select group of individuals in the early s, he may well have stated that his views were mere fancies, or that he was merely engaging in a piece of textual criticism.

In the early eighteenth century, his views on the Trinity became known to a small coterie, and he had to do much more to avoid public suspicion. In , he went as far as having his letter to Locke translated into Latin for printed publication but as usual this came to nothing.

As it was, he did what he had threatened to do half a century earlier, that is to only allow his writings to be published after his death. It is surely significant that when he came to burn a series of papers at the end of his life, among those he did not consign to flames are some of the most inflammatory theological productions of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

In the first place we would like to know how contemporary events informed his view of the past, and we would also like to know whether in writing about the early church, he was implicitly or explicitly reflecting on the present. He did not date his religious writings, and given his idiosyncratic use of paper, the analysis of watermarks and countermarks does not help historians locate the timing of these productions with any more precision than is available from internal evidence. This too, is often of little help.

In his expansive private tracts on prophecy or church history it is virtually impossible to find any specific reflections on current religious or political debates. Since the printed theological volumes he consulted were usually published decades earlier, they are also offer little support in dating his work. Against this tale of investigative woe stand the theological treatises that are in the hand of Humphrey Newton his amanuensis —9 , which allow us to definitively assert that his most important writings on prophecy and the most ancient religion were composed in the late s or s.

Basic interpretive procedures that make full use of the Newton Project texts make it relatively easy to show which texts precede and postdate these documents. For decades Newton immersed himself in a variety of patristic texts, to which he devoted vast amounts of time in the s and s. For Newton the content of these writings opened a window to the terrible events that had blighted Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Their content described the corruption of doctrine but also the immoral and seditious behaviour of numerous individuals who were now held up as saints by both Catholics and Anglicans. Those works that described the unchristian behaviour of anti-Trinitarians were highly suspect. Although they had lived over a millennium before him, Newton came to life when he engaged emotionally and intellectually with the subjects and creators of these documents.

The effects of these interactions must have spilled over into his personal dealings with others, and it must have been difficult to mix with his colleagues not to say Humphrey when he had spent the previous two days coming to grips with people he thought were some of most vile individuals that had ever lived. Although he only referred explicitly to the constitution of the Church of England at the end of his life, he believed much earlier in his career that a truly Christian state church should allow as broad a swathe of opinion as was consistent with social order.


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At the centre of his account was the relationship between idolatry and persecution. He thought that much of the human race was naturally prone to believe superstitious mysteries, but he believed that force was required both to convert people to incomprehensible opinions and also to keep people in an obnoxious religion. Although religious persecution was a key theme in his seventeenth century writings on the early church, we have no evidence of his views about the persecution of Quakers, Baptists and other nonconformists in the period.

He had no truck with individual claims to ecstatic inspiration or the ability to prophesy, although as private religious opinions these posed no threat to society. However, as public professions of inspiration, they may well have struck him as a threat to civil order and thus worthy of severe punishment. Newton did begin to reveal his religious views to others in the early s. He must have told Fatio de Duillier some time in that he believed that the Ancients worshipped according to a rational religion that was essentially Newtonian. In late he answered pertinent questions sent to him by the scholar Richard Bentley regarding the implications for natural theology of the doctrines in the Principia.

Bentley forced Newton to confront the fact that God was to all intents and purposes absent from the Principia , a tricky situation that Newton rectified to full effect in their correspondence. The direction of the planets revealed a divine hand, he claimed, as did the fact that the Earth was just the right distance from the Sun to support life.

The most significant religious relations enjoyed during his life were with three men who each harboured different, if serious doubts about the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. It was Optice rather than the Principia that was the springboard for promoting Newtonian philosophy in Europe, and Clarke remained exceptionally close to Newton for the following two decades. It was around or 5, according to Whiston, that he learned that Clarke had begun to suspect that the Athanasian version of the Trinity was not the same as the doctrine held by the early Church. As Whiston began to make his views known to more and more people, so Clarke became increasingly cautious.

In , he was made rector of St. James and although a number of divines suspected him of heresy on the grounds of his relationship with Whiston, his stock rose. However, he fell to earth as a result of his Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity of , which appeared as High Churchmen tried to promote their cause by pointing to the existence of heretics in the bosom of the monarchy. Critics saw him as a more insidious and thus a more dangerous heretic than Whiston, and they influenced his demotion from his position as chaplain to the Queen.

The third member of the trio was Hopton Haynes, a Mint employee whose anti-Trinitarian views somehow became known to Newton. The latter entrusted Haynes with a translation of his analysis of Trinitarian corruptions of Scripture, and Haynes later became a major promoter of the anti-Trinitarian cause in the s and 40s. He seems to have done a reasonable job in distancing himself from Whiston and his views, though Clarke was a different matter. Newton played an ambiguous role in the most famous philosophical correspondence of the century, namely the letters that passed between Clarke and Gottfried Leibniz in and In turn, Leibniz, who had access to a very early version of Query 20 in Optice , in which Newton had stated that the world was the sensorium of God, stated his own position on these topics and duly caricatured the Newtonian position.

Newton apparently kept few secrets from these two, and they cared for him diligently in the last few years of his life. On this occasion Newton was remarkably free with his views on the beginnings of civilisation and the potential role of the Great Comet of in bringing about the end of the world. In any case Newton was clearly concerned that his reputation and legacy should make clear that he was a deeply devout Christian whose life had been devoted to the study of the Bible. For various reasons, very little of the content of these works was revealed to the public until the late twentieth century.

He died intestate on 20 March and there followed a series of family squabbles over how best to dispose of his papers for financial benefit. Conduitt noted that Newton had studied all these subjects very thoroughly, and did the same when he came to London and had spare time away from Mint business. As for his character, Newton was mild and meek, and a sad story would often draw tears from him. His humility was such that he did not despise anyone for lack of ability, but was shocked at bad morals, and lack of respect for religion was the only thing that would make him rebuke a friend — even if they were otherwise men of exceptional eminence.

Indeed, he struggled to commit to paper what he knew of these views, which to some extent clashed with the vision of Newton he wished to portray. He compared this immaculate existence with that of Socrates, noting that while Socrates chose philosophy above morality, Newton was a more modest man who joined the two pursuits together. If Newton was somehow ordinary, he was also extraordinary. Having lauded Newton as a founder of liberty, he then backtracked on an earlier piece in which he had exulted in the fact that Newton had not been born under the sort of oppressive Catholic regime that had restricted the activities of Galileo and Descartes.

The Roman Church did not canonise anyone until they had been dead for a century, he noted, but just supposing that Newton had been born in a Catholic country, he would have been more deserving of canonisation than anyone who had received the honour. His virtues proved him a saint, Conduitt ventured, and his discoveries might well pass for miracles.

At the end of it all Conduitt searched to find the right comparison for a man who was more than merely human, but whose own religious beliefs were a standing testament to the dangers of turning a human into a god. Craig added that Newton had by no means neglected religion but had in fact devoted much more time to studying that subject rather than natural philosophy. Indeed, he had been motivated to attack the Cartesian philosophy precisely because he believed that it had been deliberately concocted to be the basis of atheism.

This would have engaged Newton in disputes, Craig averred, which he tried to avoid wherever possible. Aside from Conduitt and his wife, the most detailed information about Newton came from his friend William Stukeley, the antiquarian who had moved to Grantham in the summer of She told him that Newton always had a soft spot for her and she might have got married if it were not for the demands of his fellowship.

He recalled that although Newton frequented the university church Great St. Now he related that on days when he was obliged to put on his surplice, Newton would go to St. His knowledge of prophecy was also sound, Stukeley admitted, especially in his claim that God adumbrated his history of the world in his depiction of the rites and settings of the Jewish temple. Above all he was a pious man and.

Newton knew the necessity and expediency of the public profession of religion, and was aware that religion was nothing without public practice. This was particularly so in the case of the Church of England, which according to Stukeley, of all churches most strongly affected a rational learned and pious person. Arthur Young, Arthur Bedford and Daniel Waterland all spotted something theologically suspect about these publications, even though they contained nothing of the overt and vicious antipathy towards Trinitarian doctrines that marked his earlier writings. In , Hopton Haynes claimed that it was fear of persecution — and allegedly, his distaste of disputes — that had stopped Newton from doing the right thing, and from leading a return to the primitive Christianity demanded by Whiston.

In any case, Newton had his own reasons, derived from his analysis of prophecy, for believing that the great reformation of religion that would precede the second coming of Christ was hundreds of years in the future. Newton agreed with Whiston that infant baptism as practised by early Christians was not of babies but of those who had been catechised and trained up in Christian principles. He also apparently concurred that in the first ages of the church bishops had to be both elected by the people and ordained by other bishops in order to qualify for their office.

In the fourth century, once Christianity became the state religion under Constantine, churchmen became politicians and acquiesced in political designs in order to confirm their preferments. For Whiston, who had suffered more than most for speaking truth to power, the politicisation of religion was as outrageous as it evidently was for Newton.

Like Stukeley after him, Whiston was concerned to show that Newton had not simply turned to his religious studies once his scientific pursuits had ended and old age had set in. Indeed, he was the first to state publicly that Newton had spent a great deal of time examining the history of the fourth century church while still a young man. Whiston was well aware of the fact that Newton had sent his dissertation on two corruptions of Scripture to Locke, and also revealed that Haynes had translated the text into Latin.

Haynes had told Whiston that Newton had wanted them published, though what prompted this Whiston could not imagine. Now there was no need to have scruples about their publication. Whiston referred specifically to two unpublished works, and a third, anti-Athanasian work The True History of the Great St.

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Athanasius that was printed but which was probably not by Newton. Whiston may well have withdrawn the claim on the grounds that Pellet was not in fact the legal custodian of the papers, as Whiston thought, and had been tasked only with determining which texts could be published in their current state. The extraordinary survival of his work on theology, which is almost certainly due to the concern for their content displayed by the Conduitts, leaves the historian with a number of problems.

Secondly, their almost wholly private status puts them on a different footing from the productions of virtually any other major writer. In the vast majority of cases in which historians deal with the writings of a long dead person these are either printed texts, or are drafts of some printed work.

Since they are usually interested in texts that exercised some later influence, historians tend to concentrate on the published version of canonical works, while unpublished writings are scrutinised for what they say about the more polished forms of the same work. He feared the printed publication of his ideas, almost certainly because he believed that tiresome, endless disputes would inevitably follow. Nevertheless, he did write for a readership of sorts. One might consider both Newton and his God as intended readers of his work, and we have seen that he distributed some of his work to a select few.

The non-appearance in print of any of the non-scientific portion of the Portsmouth Papers was not due to fears about their content.

Ekins claimed in a letter of 27th March that none of the papers were ready for the press except one related to the text 1 John and another related to the Chronology. The papers remained in the care of the Ekins family until they were given to New College, Oxford at some point in the s. The reasons for this are unclear but it was almost certainly not because he feared that their content would invigorate anti-Trinitarians such as Joseph Priestley. Anti-Trinitarian scholars often complained that there was a conspiracy to prevent the papers from being made available to the public and indeed, only a handful of scholars were given permission to consult the papers at Hurstbourne.

In the early nineteenth century Henry Fellowes, the nephew of the third Earl of Portsmouth, granted J. Monk, Francis Baily and David Brewster permission to consult the archive in connection with their respective editions of the lives of Richard Bentley, John Flamsteed and Newton. Fellowes himself selected a group of texts for Brewster and the latter only examined a small portion of the archive at Hurstbourne.

Despite agreeing with Newton about the problematic status of 1 John and 1 Tim. He quite fairly justified his view by noting that there were many different species of orthodox belief on the Trinity, but asserted that the burden of proof was on anti-Trinitarians to show that Newton was unambiguously beyond the pale. This was difficult, since his selection of excerpts from the Athanasius document was partial.

Memphis, TN: Footstool, Bradford, John. The Writings of John Bradford, M. Two volumes, DJs. Brook, Benjamin. The Lives of the Puritans, in Three volumes. Almost mint. Paperback, crease to back cover. First published Some spotting to green cloth. Brown, John, D. Discourses and Sayings of our Lord. In Three volumes.

Newton’s Religious Life and Work

Bunyan , John. The Works of John Bunyan. In Three volumes, edited by George Offor. Ames, IA: International Outreach, Gospel Fear.

Delivered in Divers Lectures on the Beatitudes. Sticker on first page. Two Treatises of Mr. Carson, John L and David W.

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Hall, editors. First edition. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, Small tear to rear of DJ. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Paperback, price on title with corner cut off, toning to pages. Collinson, Patrick. The Elizabethan Puritan Movement. The Protector: A Vindication. On Oliver Cromwell. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Two volumes. Slight staining to margins of about 40 pages of volume one, occasional very neat light underlining and at least one instance of neat marginal writing.

Volume two very good. Ferguson, Sinclair B. John Owen on the Christian Life. The Mystery of Providence. New Haven: Yale, A Treatise on Sanctification. Revised, with biographical and critical introduction by the Rev. John MacPherson, M. Forward by Sinclair Ferguson. Fuller, Andrew. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller. Three volumes. Some spotting to covers.

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Gaustad , Edwin S. Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, Paperback, front cover split at joint almost half way down. Goodwin, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Goodwin. Eureka, CA: Tanski, Previously owned by Ernie Springer of Old Paths publications, with neat labels inside each volume; otherwise as new. Greaves , Richard L.

Gray , Andrew. With an introduction by Joel Beeke. London: Banner of Truth, Paperback, title page and last several pages worn at edges. New York: Harper, Hambrick-Stowe , Charles E. Harrison, Frank Mott. John Bunyan: A Story of his Life. Front top corner of cover and first several pages bent. The Complete Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, Light wear to spine of volume 1. The Young Christian. Ross-shire: Christian Focus, Hindson , Edward, ed. Introduction to Puritan Theology.