Thursday, June 18, 2015

Richard Heber Newton


by Jerome


Photograph from the Fitchburg Sentinel, Mass, for April 22, 1891

What links the Scopes monkey trial of 1925, this blog’s resident bad boy, Albert Royal Delmont Jones of the ill-fated Day Star, and Charles Taze Russell of Zion’s Watch Tower? The answer is Richard Heber Newton.

Your first reaction may be – who?                                       

To give a flavor of the man, check out first this newspaper item from the Aurora Daily Express for November 22, 1892. (The same story was also published in The Times, Trenton, N.J. November 19, 1892, and the Lincoln Evening News, Nebraska, November 25, 1892, and no doubt other papers of the day).



The clipping shows that Newton was widely known in his day. His “misfortunes” included being charged with heresy. In truth, he was to be charged with heresy on three separate occasions during his career, in 1883, 1884 and 1891, but as a sign of liberalizing theology the matter was always fudged so that he kept his position. The newspaper above, which relates to the 1891 episode, noted that Newton was “exonerated”, although dryly commented that “not proven” might be more accurate.

More than a decade after Newton’s death America was to be fascinated by what was popularly called the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. A substitute high school teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating the Butler Act which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school in Tennessee. Although the fundamentalists won the skirmish of the day and Scopes was found guilty, his conviction was overturned on a technicality. Long-term the fundamentalists lost ground as far as future legislation was concerned, although the Butler Act actually stayed on the books until 1967.

But in covering the case, most journalists highlighted past cases where an attack on a literal interpretation of the Bible had put people in the dock, including clergymen like Dr Richard Heber Newton. Several newspapers mentioned Newton being charged back in the 1890s with “broad churchmanship” - in other words heresy. The cutting below comes from the Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) for July 10, 1925:



The same story appeared in other papers such as the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, July 9, 1925, and the Lima News, Ohio, July 10, 1925. According to the small print, Newton had demanded a formal trial, but when this demand was met, the plaintiffs failed to appear. And Newton was viewed as a champion of liberal theology as opposed to literalists and fundamentalists.

So who was this man, and what was his connection with “truth history”?

Richard Heber Newton (1840-1914) was a prominent American Episcopalian clergyman and writer. From 1869 to 1902 he was rector of All Souls' Protestant Episcopal Church in New York City. He was a leader in the Social Gospel movement and as evidenced above, a firm supporter of Higher Criticism of the Bible. He came to prominence and notoriety in the early 1880s with a series of sermons later published in book form (copyright 1883) entitled “The Right and Wrong Uses of the Bible”. This work clearly nails his colors to the wall.

While commending the Bible as literature that could work on the emotions, Newton’s stance on inerrancy and inspiration was clear. His premise, bluntly and vigorously expressed, was that (in his own words):

It is wrong to accept its utterances indiscriminately as the words of God.
It is wrong to accept everything recorded therein as necessarily true.
It is wrong to consult it...for the determining of our judgements and the decision of our actions.
It is wrong to go to it for divination of the future.
And it is wrong to manufacture out of it any one uniform system of theology.

Preaching this material from the pulpit and publishing it for the masses outside of his own church drew strong criticism in certain quarters – hence the repeated charges of heresy and attendant newspaper notoriety.

These five key points of Newton’ theology would all be at obvious odds with the message found in CTR’s Zion’s Watch Tower of the day. But in the 1880s they would be manna from heaven for Albert Royal Delmont Jones.

 In the 1880s, after already having fended off two charges of heresy, Newton would write extensively (and sometimes exclusively) for Jones’ Day Star Paper.

The August 19, 1886 issue lists around 60 of Newton’s sermons being available in the Day Star pages. And some were exclusive to editor Jones at this point. For example: 


A similar advertisement for the same pamphlet showed that it was given away as a free gift to all new Day Star subscribers:


This clearly shows that in 1886 the most prominent theological voice in Albert Royal Delmont Jones’ Day Star was that of Richard Heber Newton.

Whether Charles Taze Russell ever knew of Newton’s connection with Jones is not known, but Newton was sufficiently famous (or infamous) to make him a specific target in Zion’s Watch Tower. ZWT for July 1, 1892, carried a lengthy article (including a cartoon) that took up 10 of the magazine’s 16 pages. (See reprints pages 1417-1420).

CTR started by laying into Protestant clergy in general who preached higher criticism, describing them as “men honoured with titles such as neither our Lord not any of his apostles ever owned...who receive salaries such as no apostle ever received...(and) who are recognized as among the best educated in all things pertaining to worldly wisdom...but which prefers to arraign that revelation before an inferior court of fallible human philosophers and incompetent judges who vainly overrate their own knowledge and wisdom.”

He continued, “What wonder that the pews are also sceptical... They are handing stones and serpents to those who look to them for food... As for the average nominal Christian...he is just ready to swallow these suggestions of unbelief.” The Towers had warned about these developments from the very early issues.

Having lambasted the clergy in general, CTR next turned his attention to the Rev. R. Heber Newton in the particular, mentioning him by name three times. After one lengthy quote from Newton, CTR derided his theology: (capitalization mine):

“Here is a REPUDIATION of all that Christ taught on the subject of the “things written” which “must be fulfilled,” a REPUDIATION of all his quotations from the Law and the Prophets; a REPUDIATION of his repeated statements of God’s choice of...the seed of Abraham as heirs of the promises that of these should come the predicted Messiah; (and) a REPUDIATION of his statement of the necessity of his death.”

The last point hit at the heart of CTR’s theology. His attack on Newton’s preaching continued: “But whilst showing Christ to have been a wonderful Jew, and the great exemplar for both Jews and Gentiles, he (Newton) utterly REPUDIATES him as a Savior in the sense that the Master taught – that he “gave his life a ransom for many” – “to save (recover) that which was lost.”

CTR applied Matthew 7:22 to Newton – “those who say Lord, Lord, yet follow not his teachings...It is the duty of every true disciple to rebuke them; for the outward opponents do far less harm than those who wear the Master’s name whilst denying his doctrine.”

CTR concluded his lengthy attack on Newton with the words:

“As a further element of this discussion the reader is referred to Chapters ii, iii, and x. of MILLENNIAL DAWN, Vol. 1. And thus we rest our argument for the present; urging all who have “laid hold upon the hope set before us in the gospel” to hold fast the confidence of their rejoicings firm unto the end – to hold fast to the Book, And how much more easy it is and will be for those who have learned the real plan of God and seen its beauty to stand firm upon the Bible than for others. To many, alas! It is a jumbled mass of doctrinal contradictions, but to us it is the foundation of a clear, definite, grand plan of the ages. So grandly clear and symmetrical is the wonderful plan that all who see it are convinced that only God could have been its author, and that the book whose teachings it harmonizes must indeed be God’s revelation.”

Albert D Jones’ reliance on Newton to fill his Day Star pages in the 1880s, and CTR’s lengthy and specific attack on Newton’s theology in the early 1890s, shows the gulf that now existed between CTR and his former co-worker. There were a number of people over the years who parted company with CTR and founded their own journals – Paton, Adams, von Zech, Henninges – but at least they retained a more or less fundamentalist approach to scripture, and could have a framework within which to debate their own proof texts. The same was true with other religious journals, One Faith, Adventist, and the like.

But the infidel Jones had gone one step further. In ZWT for May 1890 CTR reviewed the history of the developing “truth movement” in a lengthy article entitled Harvest Gatherings and Siftings. Concerning Jones’ paper (Zion’s) Day Star, he wrote that “within one year it had repudiated Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and within another year it had gone boldly into infidelity and totally repudiated all the rest of the Bible as well as those portions which teach the fall in Adam and the ransom therefrom in Christ.” He also noted that of that date (1890) the Day Star was “now for some years discontinued”. The whole article was reprinted with some amendments in the special 1894 issue of ZWT entitled A Conspiracy Exposed and Harvest Siftings.

The dates (“one year” then “another year”) line up perfectly with the first publication of Newton’s credo “The Right and Wrong Uses of the Bible”. To then allow Newton his weekly pulpit in the Day Star pages would make perfect sense to Albert D, but illustrates how just far (by CTR’s terms of reference) he had gone beyond the pale.


2 comments:

Chris G. said...

Jerome, I thank you for this most interesting article.
Christopher Gross

roberto said...

Jerome. Fantastic. Fantastic.
Thanks for your hard work. Grazie di cuore.