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and design of the Christian religion; and the third, “that prelatical jurisdiction opposeth the reason and end of the gospel and of state.” On this last topic, Milton writes with the intensest fervour which the ecclesiastical corruption and infernal malice of persecution he witnessed in his own day, could kindle. He shows that no civil or magisterial jurisdiction was ever conferred on the church, but only the powers of spiritual censure, and describes the terrors of these functions as compared with the contemptible mockery of discipline exhibited by the prelates, in one of the most remarkable passages to be found in his writings. After supposing the case of a Christian who had not only fallen into sin, but shown himself insensible to the reproofs, entreaties, and prayers of his brethren, he adds: “But if neither the regard of himself, nor the reverence of his elders and friends prevail with him to leave his vicious appetite, then as the time urges, such engines of terror God hath given into the hand of his minster, as to search the tenderest angles of the heart: one while he shakes his stubbornness with racking convulsions nigh despair; otherwhiles with deadly corrosives he gripes the very roots of his faulty liver to bring him to life through the entry of death. Hereto the whole church beseech him, beg of him, deplore him, pray for him. After all this performed with what patience and attendance is possible, and no relenting on his part, having done the utmost of their cure, in the name of God and of the church they dissolve their fellowship with him, and holding forth the dreadful sponge of excommunication, pronounce him wiped out of the list of God's inheritance, and in the custody of Satan till he repent. Which horrid sentence though it touch neither life nor limb, nor any worldly possession, yet has it such a penetrating force, that swifter than any chemical sulphur, or that lightning which harms not the skin, and rifles the entrails, it scorches the inmost soul. Yet even this terrible denouncement is left to the church for no
other cause but to be as a rough and vehement cleansing medicine, where the malady is obdurate, a mortifying to life, a kind of saving by undoing. And it may be truly said, that as the mercies of wicked men are cruelties, so the cruelties of the church are mercies. For if repentance sent from heaven meet this lost wanderer, and draw him out of that steep journey wherein he was hasting towards destruction, to come and reconcile to the church, if he bring with him his bill of health, and that he is now clear of infection, and of no danger to the other sheep; then with incredible expres.sions of joy all his brethren receive him, and set before him those perfumed banquets of Christian consolation ; with precious ointments bathing and fomenting the old, and now to be forgotten stripes, which terror and shame had inflicted; and thus with heavenly solaces they cheer up his humble morse, till he regain his first health and felicity. This is the approved way, which the gospel prescribes, these are the
spiritual weapons of holy censure, and ministerial warfare, not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. What could be done more for the healing and reclaiming that divine particle of God's breathing, the soul ? and what could be done less ? he that would hide his faults from such a wholesome curing as this, and count it a twofold punishment, as some do, is like a man that having foul diseases about him, perishes for shame, and the fear he has of a rigorous incision to come upon his flesh. We shall be able by this time to discern whether prelatical jurisdiction be contrary to the gospel or no. First, therefore, the government of the gospel being economical and paternal, that is, of such a family where there be no servants, but all sons in obedience, not in servility, as cannot be denied by him that lives but within the sound of scripture; how can the prelates justify to have turned the fatherly orders of Christ's household, the
blessed meekness of his lowly roof, those ever-open and inviting doors of his dwelling-house, which delight to be frequented with only filial access; how can they justify to have turned these domestic privileges into the bar of a proud judicial court, where fees and clamours keep shop and drive a trade, where bribery and corruption solicits, paltering the free and moneyless power of discipline with a carnal satisfaction by the purse 2 Contrition, humiliation, confession, the very sighs of a repentant spirit, are there sold by the penny. That undeflowered and unblemishable simplicity of the gospel, not she herself, for that could never be, but a false-whited, a lawny resemblance of her, like that airborn Helena in the fables, made by the sorcery of prelates, instead of calling her disciples from the receipt of custom, is now turned publican herself; and gives up her body to a mercenary whoredom under those fornicated arches, which she calls God's house, and in the sight of those her altars, which she hath set up to be adored, makes merchandise of the bodies and souls of men. Rejecting purgatory for no other reason, as it seems, than because her greediness cannot defer, but had rather use the utmost extortion of redeemed penances in this life.”* In conclusion, Milton thus declares the enslaving and ruinous influence of prelacy on the state and the monarch, and pleads for its entire extinction. “I shall show briefly, ere I conclude, that the prelates, as they are to the subjects a calamity, so are they the greatest underminers and betrayers of the monarch, to whom they seem to be most favourable. I cannot better liken the state and person of a king than to that mighty Nazarite Samson; who being disciplined from his birth in the precepts and the practice of temperance and sobriety, without the strong drink of injurious and excessive desires, grows up to a noble strength and perfection with those his illustrious and sunny locks, the laws, waving and curling about his godlike shoulders. And while he keeps * Prose Works, vol. ii. pp. 498–500.
them about him undiminished and unshorn, he may with the jawbone of an ass, that is, with the word of his meanest officer, suppress and put to confusion thousands of those that rise against his just power. But laying down his head among the strumpet flatteries of prelates, while he sleeps and thinks no harm, they wickedly shaving off all those bright and weighty tresses of his law, and just prerogatives, which were his ornament and strength, deliver him over to indirect and violent counsels, which, as those Philistines, put out the fair and far-sighted eyes of his natural discerning, and make him grind in the prisonhouse of their sinister ends and practices upon him : till he, knowing this prelatical razor to have bereft him of his wonted might, nourish again his puissant hair, the golden beams of law and right; and they sternly shook, thunder with ruin upon the heads of those his evil counsellors, but not without great affliction to himself. . . . . For the which, and for all their former misdeeds, whereof this book and many volumes more cannot contain the moiety, I shall move ye, lords, in the behalf I dare say of many thousand good Christians, to let your justice and speedy sentence pass against this great malefactor, prelacy. And yet in the midst of rigour I would beseech ye to think of mercy; and such a mercy, (I fear I shall overshoot with a desire to save this falling prelacy,) such a mercy (if I may venture to say it) as may exceed that which for only ten righteous persons would have saved Sodom. Not that I dare advise ye to contend with God, whether he or you shall be more merciful, but in your wise esteems to balance the offences of those peccant cities with these enormous riots of ungodly misrule, that prelacy hath wrought both in the church of Christ, and in the state of this kingdom. And if ye think ye may with a pious presumption strive to go beyond God in mercy, I shall not be one now that would dissuade ye. Though God for less than ten just persons would not spare Sodom, yet if you can find, after due search, but only one good thing in prelacy, either to reli
gion or civil government, to king or parliament, to prince or people, to law, liberty, wealth, or learning, spare her, let her live, let her spread among ye, till with her shadow all your dignities and honours, and all the glory of the land be darkened and obscured. But, on the contrary, if she be found to be malignant, hostile, destructive to all these, as nothing can be surer, then let your severe and impartial doom imitate the divine vengeance; rain down your punishing force upon this godless and oppressing government, and bring such a dead sea of subversion upon her, that she may never in this land rise more to afflict the holy reformed church, and the elect people of God.”"
* Prose Works, vol. ii. pp. 506-508.