Reflections on the Life of Isaac Newton

Reflections on the Life of Isaac Newton

At a recent morning staff devotional at the DG offices, John Piper shared a biographical sketch of the brilliant scientist, Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). The talk was inspired by his recent reading of this 2005 biography by Gale Christianson.

The 37-minute talk was recorded, and although the audio quality is poorer than we prefer, the content is worth sharing.

"Isaac Newton was one of the most brilliant men who walked this planet, and, as far as I can tell, he ‘missed it’ profoundly,” said Piper. “The price of his ruthless focus on scientific observation was very high. He missed the true nature of Jesus. And he was in ceaseless war with other scientists, arguing endlessly about who discovered things first.”

It is a tragic story, but it is also a story that points to several spiritual principles. The biography can be listened to here.

Newton is remembered for many things, but especially for his theory of gravity, a discovery famously sparked by a falling apple. Yet the cause of gravity remains “a giant riddle still” (Christianson). In one of the more meditative sections of talk, Pastor John pondered the correlation between the cause of gravity in the natural realm and the cause of perseverance in the spiritual realm.

Nobody knows what gravity is — yet. All we know is the effects. Every entity in the universe that has mass is exerting a pull on every other entity in the universe. The earth is pulling on the moon, the moon is pulling on the earth, and since the waters in the sea are movable, the pull causes rising and falling tides.

The force of the moon's pull on the tides is enormous. I tried to compute in my head how much the water weighs that rises 20 feet in the middle of the Pacific, pulling out the water from all the coastlines. It must be trillions of tons of water getting pulled — by nothing. It's nothing!

Does anybody know what it [gravity] is? That the moon exists, means it is pulling. And scientists don't know what that is.

So I'm preparing my message for T4G and thinking: how does He keep me a Christian? He is Spirit. And I have a spirit. My spirit came alive when I was 6 years old. I have no idea what that means. Something came into being that wasn't there. Life. A spiritual life, and moment by moment that life is kept from degenerating into carnality and non-existence. And who can describe what force is exerted by this thing I have no idea what it is, called Spirit, on this thing, called spirit.

Therefore, who can define what power is necessary for that to happen? Is it a little power? Is it an easy thing for the Spirit to keep a spirit in being? Is it measured in pounds? Kilowatts? What is it? I have no idea what it is. All I have is the Bible to go on, and the Bible says: glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, to him who is able to keep me from stumbling (Jude 24–25).

Find the full biographical sketch here.

Tony Reinke is a content strategist and staff writer for Desiring God and the author of Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (2011) and John Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (2015). He hosts the Ask Pastor John and Authors on the Line podcasts, and lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and their three children. He also blogs at tonyreinke.com.