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REASON OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT
URGED AGAINST PRELATY.
IN TWO BOOKS.
[FIRST PUBLISHED 1641.)
EDITOR'S PRELIMINARY REMARKS.
RETURNING to England from his travels on the continent, Milton found the whole nation agitated by what has been called Charles the First's episcopal war against the Scots, the direct tendency of which was to render the government and the church of England unpopular. In the parliament, likewise, a feeling unfavourable to episcopacy was springing up; for, as Milton phrases it, “ they had begun to humble the pride of the bishops." He saw the public approaching his own views of government, both in church and state ; and to advance the “good cause” took up the defence of presbytery, as more consistent, in his opinion, with those popular political institutions which it was his earnest desire to see established. Of his con. duct and motives he has himself supplied the history in the Second Defence of the People of England ; and since no one can hope to better them, we shall give in his own words the origin of his controversial writings, of which this essay forms a part. “When the liberty of speech was no longer subject to control, all mouths began to be opened against the bishops, some complaining of the vices of the individuals, others of those of the order. They said it was unjust that they alone should differ from the model of other reformed churches ; that the government of the church should be according to the pattern of other churches, and particularly the word of God. This awakened all my attention and my zeal. I saw that a way was opening for the establishment of real liberty ; that the foundation was laying for che deliverance of man from the yoke of slavery and superstition; that the principles of religion, which were the first objects of our care, would exert a salutary influence on the manners and constitution of the republic ; and as I had froin my youth studied the distinction between religious and civil rights, I perceived that if I ever wished to be of use, I ought at least not to be wanting to my country, to the church, and to many of my fellow-Christians, in a crisis of so much danger ; therefore determined to relinquish the other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer the whole force of my talents and my industry to this one important object. I accordingly wrote two books to a friend concerning the reformation of the church of England. Afterwards, when two bishops of superior distinction vindicated their privileges against some principal ministers, I thought that on these topics, to the consideration of which I was led solely by my love of truth, and my reverence for Christianity, I should not probably write worse than those who were contending only for their own emolument and usurpations. I therefore answered the one in two books, of which the first is inscribed Concerning Prelatical Episcopacy, and the other, Concerning the Mode os Ecclesiastical Government; and I replied to the other in some Animadversions, and soon afterwards in an Apology. On this occasion it was supposed that I brought a timely succour to the ministers, who were hardly a match for the eloquence of their opponents ; and from that time I was actively employed in refuting any answers that appeared.”
Dr. Symmons classes this work with the one immediately preceding, on Prelatical Episcopacy, and disposes of the arguments of both together; and Toland, who took less interest in ecclesiastical affairs, observes—“ The elo, quence is masculine, the method natural, the sentiments are free, and the whole (God knows) appears to have a very different form from what the nonconformist divines wrote in those days, or since that time on the same subject. In the opening of the Second Book, Milton enters into some details on his own studies, which all true lovers of literature will read with delight. He expresses his intention of writing an epic poem ; but not having as yet thoroughly considered the idea, is uncertain what theme he shall select.”
THE REASON OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT,
THE FIRST BOOK.
THE PREFACE. In the publishing of human laws, which for the most part aim not beyond the good of civil society, to set them barely forth to the people without reason or preface, like a physical prescript, or only with threatenings, as it were a lordly command, in the judgment of Pluto was thought to be done neither generously nor wisely. His advice was, seeing that persuasion certainly is a more winning and more manlike way to keep men in obedience than fear, that to such laws as were of principal moment, there should be used as an induction some well-tempered discourse, shewing how good, how gainful, how happy it must needs be to live according to honesty and justice; which being uttered with those native colours and graces of speech, as true eloquence, the daughter of virtue, can best bestow upon her mother's praises, would so incite, and in a manner charm, the multitude into the love of that which is really good, as to embrace it ever after, not of custom and awe, which most men do, but of choice and purpose, with true and constant delight. But this practice we may learn from a better and more an. cient authority than any heathen writer hath to give us; and indeed being a point of so high wisdom and worth, how could it be but we should find it in that book, within whose sacred context all wisdom is unfolded? Moses, therefore, the only
lawgiver that we can believe to have been visibly taught of God, knowing how vain it was to write laws to men whose hearts were not first seasoned with the knowledge of God and of his works, began from the book of Genesis, as a prologue to his laws; which Josephus right well hath noted : that the nation of the Jews, reading therein the universal goodness of God to all creatures in the creation, and his peculiar favour to them in his election of Abraham, their ancestor, from whom they could derive so many blessings upon themselves, might be moved to obey sincerely, by knowing so good a reason of their obedience. If then, in the administration of civil justice, and under the obscurity of ceremonial rites, such care was had by the wisest of the heathen, and by Moses among the Jews, to instruct them at least in a general reason of that government to which their subjection was required; how much more ought the members of the church, under the gospel, seek to inform their understanding in the reason of that government which the church claims to have over them! Especially for that church hath in her immediate cure those inner parts and affections of the mind, where the seat of reason is having power to examine our spiritual knowledge, and to demand from us, in God's behalf, a service entirely reasonable. But because about the manner and order of this government, whether it ought to be presbyterial or prelatical, such endless question, or rather uproar, is arisen in this land, as may be justly termed what the fever is to the physicians, the eternal reproach of our divines, whilst other profound clerks of late, greatly, as they conceive, to the advancement of prelaty, are so earnestly meting out the Lydian proconsular Asia, to make good the prime metropolis of Ephesus, as if some of our prelates in all haste meant to change their soil, and become neighbours to the English bishop of Chalcedon; and whilst good Breerwood as busily bestirs himself in our vulgar tongue, to divide precisely the three patriarchates of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch; and whether to any of these England doth belong : I shall in the meanwhile not cease to hope through the mercy and grace of Christ, the head and husband of his church, that England shortly is to belong, neither to see patriarchal nor see prelatical, but to the faithful feeding and disciplining of that ministerial order, which the blessed apostles constituted throughout the churches ; and this, I shall essay to prove, can be no other
than that of presbyters and deacons. And if any man incline to think I undertake a task too difficult for my years, I trust through the supreme enlightening assistance far otherwise ; for my years, be they few or many, what imports it? So they bring reason, let that be looked on: and for the task, from hence that the question in hand is so needful to be known at this time, chiefly by every meaner capacity, and contains in it the explication of many admirable and heavenly privileges reached out to us by the gospel, I conclude the task must be easy : God having to this end ordained his gospel to be the revelation of his power and wisdom in Christ Jesus. And this is one depth of his wisdom, that he could so plainly reveal so great a measure of it to the gross distorted apprehension of decayed mankind. Let others, therefore, dread and shun the scriptures for their darkness; I shall wish I may deserve to be reckoned among those who admire and dwell upon them for their clearness, And this seems to be the cause why in those places of holy writ, wherein is treated of church government, the reasons thereof are not formally and professedly set down, because to him that heeds attentively the drift and scope of Christian profession, they easily imply themselves; which thing further to explain, having now prefaced enough, I shall no longer defer.
CHAPTER I. That Church Government is prescribed in the Gospel; and
that to say otherwise is unsound. THE first and greatest reason of church government we may securely, with the assent of many on the adverse part, affirm to be, because we find it so ordained and set out to us by the appointment of God in the scriptures; but whether this be presbyterial, or prelatical, it cannot be brought to the scanning, until I have said what is meet to some who do not think it for the ease of their inconsequent opinions, to grant that church discipline is platformed in the Bible, but that it is left to the discretion of men. To this conceit of theirs I answer, that it is both unsound and untrue; for there is not that thing in the world of more grave and urgent importance throughout the whole life of man, than is discipline. What need I instance! He that hath read with judgment of nations and commonwealths, of cities and camps, of peace and war, sea and land, will readily agree that the flourishing and decaying of all civil societies, all the moments and turnings of human occasions are moved to and fro as upon the axle of discipline. So that whatsoever power or sway in mortal things weaker men have attributed to fortune, I durst with more confidence (the honour of Divine Providence ever saved) ascribe either to the vigour or the slackness of discipline. Nor is there any sociable perfection in this life, civil or sacred, that can be above discipline; but she is that which with her musical cords preserves and holds all the parts thercof together. Hence in those perfect armies of Cyrus in Xenophon, and Scipio in the Roman stories, the excellence of military skill was esteemed, not by the not needing, but by the readiest submitting to the edicts of their commander. And certainly discipline is not only the removal of disorder; but if any visible shape can be given to divine things, the very visible shape and image of virtue, whereby she is not only seen in the regular gestures and motions of her heavenly paces as she walks, but also makes the harmony of her voice audible to mortal ears. Yea, the angels themselves, in whom no disorder is feared, as the apostle that saw them in his rapture describes, are distinguished and quaternioned into their celestial princedoms and satrapies, according as God himself has writ his imperial decrees through the great provinces of heaven. The state also of the blessed in paradise, though never so perfect, is not therefore left without discipline, whose golden surveying reed marks out and measures every quarter and circuit of New Jerusalem. Yet is it not to be conceived, that those eternal effluences of sanctity and love in the glorified saints should by this means be confined and cloyed with repetition of that which is prescribed, but that our happiness may orb itself into a thousand vagancies of glory and delight, and with a kind of eccentrical equation be, as it were, an invariable planet of joy and felicity; how much less can we believe that God would leave his frail and feeble, though not less beloved church here below, to the perpetual stumble of conjecture and disturbance in this our dark voyage, without the card and compass of discipline? Which is so hard to be of man's making, that we may see even in the guidance of a civil state to worldly happiness, it is not for every learned, or every wise man, though many of them con