So if secular Enlightenment writers were not a primary force in shaping Jefferson’s thinking, then who was? Jefferson himself answered that question, declaring that “Bacon, Newton and Locke … [are] my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced.”30
Francis Bacon, a British philosopher, attorney, and statesman, called the“Father of Modern Science,”31 is known for developing the process of inductive thinking and creating the scientific method. Historians have declared that “[T]he intellect of Bacon was one of the most powerful and searching ever possessed by man.”32 Bacon was by no means secular; rather, he was quite the opposite. In his noted work De Interpretatione Naturae Prooemium (1603), he declared that his threefold goal was to discover truth, serve his country, and serve the church. He asserted that the vigorous pursuit of truth would always lead one directly to God:
[A] little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.33
Bacon was famous for penning many religious works, including Essays, Ten in Number, Combined with Sacred Meditations and the Colors of Good and Evil (1597); The Proficiencies and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human (1605); On the Unity in Religion (1612); On Atheism (1612); Of Praise (1612); as well as a translation of some of the psalms (1625). This outspoken and famous Christian writer and philosopher who never separated God or religion from science or government was the first of Jefferson’s triumvirate of the world’s greatest individuals.
The second in his list was Isaac Newton, an English statesman, mathematician, and scientist, credited with birthing modern calculus and discovering the laws of universal gravitation. Newton did extensive work in physics, astronomy, and optics and was the first scientist to be knighted for his work. Strikingly, however:
He spent more time on theology than on science; indeed, he wrote about 1.3 million words on Biblical subjects… . Newton’s understanding of God came primarily from the Bible, which he studied for days and weeks at a time… . Newton’s theology profoundly influenced his scientific method… . His God was not merely a philosopher’s impersonal First Cause; He was the God in the Bible Who freely creates and rules the world, Who speaks and acts in history.34
Among Newton’s many theological works were his Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John (1733) and Notes on Early Church History (c. 1680) among many others. And throughout his scientific works, Newton also maintained a distinctly Biblical Creationist view—such as in his 1687 Principia (considered “the greatest scientific book ever written”35) in which he stated:
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One.”36
This Christian theologian and philosopher was the second of Jefferson’s trinity of personal heroes.
The third was English philosopher and political theorist John Locke. Locke was intimately involved with politics in England and also played a large role in shaping America, including writing the 1669 constitution for the Carolina Colony.37 He also penned numerous works on education, philosophy, government, empiricism, and religion.
Today’s writers frequently describe Locke as a deist (or at least a follower of an early form of deism),38 but historians of earlier generations described him as a Christian theologian.39 After all, Locke wrote a verse-by-verse commentary on Paul’s Epistles40 and also compiled a topical Bible, called a Common Place-Book to the Holy Bible,41 that listed verses by subject for easy study reference. And when antireligionists attacked Christianity, Locke defended it in his book The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scriptures (1695).42 When attacks continued, Locke responded with A Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695)43 and then with A Second Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1697).44 Furthermore, in his Two Treatises of Government (1689)—the work specifically relied upon by Jefferson and the other Founders as they drafted the Declaration45—Locke invoked the Bible over 1,500 times.46
Jefferson studied not only Locke’s governmental and legal writings but also his theological texts. His own personal summation of Locke’s view of Christianity clearly shows that he definitely did not consider Locke to be a deist. According to Jefferson:
“Locke’s system of Christianity is this: Adam was created happy and immortal… . By sin he lost this so that he became subject to total death (like that of brutes [animals]) to the crosses and unhappiness of this life. At the intercession however of the Son of God this sentence was in part remitted… . And moreover to them who believed their faith was to be counted for righteousness [Romans 4:3, 5]. Not that faith without works was to save them; St. James, chapter 2 says expressly the contrary [v. 14–26]… . So that a reformation of life (included under repentance) was essential, and defects in this would be made up by their faith; i.e. their faith should be counted for righteousness [Romans 4:3, 5]… . [A]dding a faith in God and His attributes that on their repentance He would pardon them [1 John 1:9]; they also would be justified [Romans 3:24]. This then explains the text “there is no other name under heaven by which a man may be saved” [Acts 4:12], i.e., the defects in good works shall not be supplied by a faith in Mahomet, Fo [i.e., Buddha], or any other except Christ.47
Francis Bacon, Issac Newton, and John Locke—each an outspoken Christian thinker and philosopher—were described by Jefferson as “the three greatest men the world has ever produced.”48”
Jefferson Lies by David Barton - “Bacon, Newton and Locke … [are] my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced.” -Thomas Jefferson
“[A] little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.“-Francis Bacon
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One.” -Isaac Newton
I was going to split this into three posts, but meh.~