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MILTON PUBLISHES HIS" ANIMADVERSIONS ON THE REMONSTRANTS'
DEFENCE"-THE MOST STRIKING PASSAGE FROM THIS WORK-THE
It was, as has been mentioned before, a spiteful expression of Dr. Johnson, that Milton "vapoured away his patriotism in a private boarding-school.” So far is this from the truth, that, in the year 1641, immediately after his return to England, and in the thirty-third year of his age, he produced no fewer than five treatises on the most important subject that agitated the minds of that day. His two books of “Reformation in England,” his “ Treatise on Prelatical Episcopacy,” and that entitled the “Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy,” have already been considered. The fifth remains to be noticed. A pamphlet had been published, written by five presbyterian ministers, and entitled “Smectymnuus,” a word formed with the initial letters of the names of the authors, Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurston. This treatise excited no ordinary degree of attention, and elicited a reply from Bishop Hall, under the title of a “Defence of the Remonstrance.” This second appearance of Bishop Hall on the arena of controversy again summoned Milton from his more cherished pursuits : he replied in a work, entitled “ Animadversions on the Remonstrants' Defence." It was thrown into the form of a dialogue, one part of which is sustained by the author, while the other
is put into the mouth of his opponent, and drawn from his “ Defence of the Remonstrance."
This style of composition afforded an opportunity which Milton was not slow to embrace, of visiting his antagonist with that severity which, in too many instances, defaced the controversies of the day. Of his triumphant mastery over the Bishop, no unprejudiced reader can entertain a doubt; though it must be admitted that in this, as in some other of Milton's controversial writings, his asperity, occasionally descending to coarseness, was less consistent with his own dignity, than with the deserts of his antagonist. He, however, did not content himself with ebullitions of indignant satire, and with “scattering about him the instruments of pain.” The “ Animadversions" contain some majestic passages, the animation of which is inspired not by the malignity of the attack, but by the grandeur of the subject, and the magnitude of the interests imperilled. One of these is 'so characteristic of the genius of Milton, when led by the habit of his mind to vent its excitement in expatiating on the grandest subjects of human contemplation, that it cannot be omitted in this place.
“In this age, Britons, God hath reformed his church after many hundred years of popish corruption ; in this age he hath freed us from the intolerable yoke of prelates and papal discipline; in this age he hath renewed our protestation against all those yet remaining dregs of superstition. Let us all go, every true protested Briton, throughout the three kingdoms, and render thanks to God the Father of light, and Fountain of heavenly grace, and to his Son Christ our Lord, leaving this Remonstrant and his adherents to their own designs; and let us recount even here without delay, the patience and long-suffering that God hath used towards our blindness and hardness time after time. For he being equally near to his whole creation of mankind, and of free power to turn his beneficent and fatherly regard to what region or kingdom he pleases, hath yet ever had this
island under the special indulgent eye of his providence; and pitying us the first of all other nations, after he had decreed to purify and renew his church that lay wallowing in idolatrous pollutions, sent first to us a healing messenger to touch softly our sores, and carry a gentle hand over our wounds: he knocked once and twice, and came again opening our drowsy eyelids leisurely by that glimmering light which Wickliff and his followers dispersed; and still taking off by degrees the inveterate scales from our nigh-perished sight, purged also our deaf ears, and prepared them to attend his second warning trumpetin our grandsire's days. How else could they have been able to have received the sudden assault of his reforming Spirit, warring against human principles, and carnal sense, the pride of flesh, that still cried up antiquity, custom, canons, councils, and laws, and cried down the truth for novelty, schism, profaneness, and sacri, lege? whenas we that have lived so long in abundant light, besides the sunny reflection of all the neighbouring churches, have yet our hearts riveted with those old opinions, and so obstructed and benumbed with the same fleshly reasonings, which in our forefathers soon melted and gave way, against the morning beam of reformation. If God had left undone this whole work, so contrary to flesh and blood, till these times, how should we have yielded to his heavenly call had we been taken, as they were, in the starkness of our ignorance; that yet, after all these spiritual preparatives and purgations, have our earthly apprehensions so clammed and furred with the old leaven? O if we freeze at noon after their early thaw, let us fear lest the sun for ever hide himself and turn his orient steps from our ingrateful horizon, justly condemned to be eternally benighted! Which dreadful judgment, Othou the ever-begotten Light and perfect Image of the Father l intercede, may never come upon us, as we trust thou hast; for thou hast opened our difficult and sad times, and given us an unexpected breathing after our long (ppressions: thou hast done justice upon those that tyrannized over us, while some men wavered and admired a vain shadow of wisdom in a tongue nothing slow to utter guile, though thou hast taught us to admire only that which is good, and to count that only praiseworthy, which is grounded upon thy divine precepts. Thou hast discovered the plots, and frustrated the hopes, of all the wicked in the land, and put to shame the persecutors of thy church: thou hast made our false prophets to be found a lie in the sight of all the people, and chased them with sudden confusion and amazement before the redoubled brightness of thy descending cloud, that now covers thy tabernacle. Who is there that cannot trace thee now in thy beamy walk through the midst of thy sanctuary, amidst those golden candlesticks, which have long suffered a dimness amongst us through the violence of those that had seized them, and were more taken with the mention of their gold than of their starry light; teaching the doctrine of Balaam, to cast a stumbling-block before thy servants, . commanding them to eat things sacrificed to idols, and forcing them to fornication ? Come therefore, O thou that hast the seven stars in thy right hand, appoint thy chosen priests according to their orders and courses of old, to minister before thee, and duly to press and pour out the consecrated oil into thy holy and ever-burning lamps. Thou hast sent out the spirit of prayer upon thy servants over all the land to this effect, and stirred up their vows as the sound of many waters about thy throne. Every one can say, that now certainly thou hast visited this land, and hast not forgotten the utmost corners of the earth, in a time when men had thought that thou wast gone up from us to the furthest end of the heavens, and hadst left to do marvellously among the sons of these last ages! Operfect and accomplish thy glorious acts! for men may leave their works unfinished, but thou art a God, thy name is perfection: shouldst thou bring us thus far onward from Egypt, to destroy us in this wilderness, though we deserve, yet thy great name would suffer in the rejoicing of thine enemies, and the deluded hope of all thy
servants. When thou hast settled peace in the church, and righteous judgment in the kingdom, then shall all thy saints address their voices of joy and triumph to thee, standing on the shore of that Red Sea into which our enemies had almost driven us. And he that now for haste snatches up a plain ungarnished present as a thankoffering to thee, which could not be deferred in regard of thy so many late deliverances wrought for us one upon another, may then perhaps take up a harp, and sing thee an elaborate song to generations. In that day it shall no more be said as in scorn, this or that was never held so till this presentage, when men have better learnt that the times and seasons pass along under thy feet to go and come at thy bidding: and as thou didst dignify our fathers' days with many revelations above all the foregoing ages, since thou tookest the flesh; so thou canst vouchsafe to us (though unworthy) as large a portion of thy Spirit as thou pleasest: for who shall prejudice thy all-governing will? seeing the power of thy grace is not passed away with the primitive times, as fond and faithless men imagine, but thy kingdom is now at hand, and thou standing at the door. Come forth out of thy royal chambers, O Prince of all the kings of the earth ! put on the visible robes of thy imperial majesty, take up that unlimited sceptre which thy Almighty Father hath bequeathed thee; for now the voice of thy bride calls thee, and all creatures sigh to be renewed!” One other passage, written in a different vein, and disposing of the episcopalian claim to the right of ordination, must also be presented to the reader before dismissing the “Animadversions upon the Remonstrants' Defence.” “As for ordination, what is it, but the laying on of hands, an outward sign or symbol of admission? It creates nothing, itconfers nothing; it is the inward calling of God that makes a minister, and his own painful study and diligence that manures and improves his ministerial gifts. In the primitive times, many, before ever they had received ordination from the apostles, had done * Prose Works, vol. iii. pp. 70, 72.