Catalogue Entry: THEM00329

Book I: Chapter 29

Author: John Milton

Source: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, Compiled from the Holy Scriptures Alone, vol. 2 (Boston: 1825).

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


'It is God only who gives as well to believe aright, as to believe at all.' Considerations touching the likeliest Means to remove Hirelings out of the Church. Prose Works, III. 351.


..... Man over men

He made not lord; such title to himself

Reserving, human left from human free. Paradise Lost, XII. 69.

'Christ hath a government of his own, sufficient of itself to all his ends and purposes in governing his church.' Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes. Prose Works, III. 331.


'All Protestants hold that Christ in his church hath left no vicegerent of his power; but himself, without deputy, is the only head thereof, governing it from heaven: how then can any Christian man derive his Kingship from Christ, but with worse usurpation than the pope his headship over the church? since Christ not only hath not left the least shadow of a command for any such vicegerence from him in the state, as the pope pretends for his in the church' —. Ready Way to establish a Free Commonwealth. Prose Works, 111. 411.


Milton elsewhere, to ridicule the notion that Peter and his successors are specially entrusted with the keys of heaven, places him at the 'wicket,' while 'embryos and idiots, eremites and friars, white, black and gray, with all their trumpery,' are 'blown transverse' into the paradise of fools.

And now Saint Peter at heaven's wicket seems

To wait them with his keys —. Paradise Lost, III. 484.

In Lycidas, however, the allusion to the keys is introduced more seriously.

Last came, and last did go

The pilot of the Galilean lake;

Two massy keys he bore of metals twain,

The golden opes, the iron shuts amain. 108.


This is an important passage, because it discloses Milton's real views upon a point on which his opinions have been represented in a more unfavourable light than they seem to have deserved. Bishop Newton remarks that 'in the latter part of his life he was not a professed member of any particular sect of Christians, he frequented no public worship, nor used any religious rite in his family. Whether so many different forms of worship as he had seen had made him indifferent to all forms; or whether he thought that all Christians had in some things corrupted the purity and simplicity of the gospel; or whether he disliked their endless and uncharitable disputes, and that love of dominion and inclination to persecution which he said was a piece of popery inseparable from all churches; or whether he believed that a man might be a good Christian without joining in any communion; or whether he did not look upon himself as inspired, as wrapt up in God, and above all forms and ceremonies, it is not easy to determine: to his own master he standeth or falleth: but if he was of any denomination, he was a sort of Quietist, and was full of the interior of religion, though he so little regarded the exterior.' The note of Mr. Hawkins on this passage, (Hawkins's Edition of Milton's Poetical Works, Vol. I. p. 101.) deserves to be mentioned as containing the most candid and judicious estimate of Milton's character which has ever been taken. Many parts of the present treatise bear & remarkable testimony to the acuteness with which Mr. Hawkins has detected some of the errors of Milton's religious system, by the unprejudiced spirit in which he has examined the imperfect materials afforded him in the printed works. He observes as follows on Milton's alleged disuse of public worship, which is asserted on the authority of Toland. 'The reproach that has been thrown upon him of frequenting no place of public worship in his latter days, should be received, as Dr. Symmons observes, with some caution. His blindness and other infirmities might be in part his excuse; and it is certain that his daily employments were always ushered in by devout meditation and study of the Scriptures.'


'Let no man cavil, but take the church of God as meaning the whole consistence of orders and members, as St. Paul's epistles express.' Of Reformation in England. Prose Works, I. 11.


Titles of honour are spoken of in the same slighting manner in the prophetic view which Michael unfolds to Adam of the corruptions which should prevail in the latter times of the church.

Then shall they seek to avail themselves of names,

Places, and titles, and with these to join

Secular power. —Paradise Lost, XII. 515.


It is evident from many passages in the printed works of Milton, that even the presbyterian institutions did not accord with his notions of Christian liberty. He often attacks the presbyters, during the time when episcopacy was abolished, with as much severity as the bishops during their ascendency. Warton observes, that he contended for that sort of individual or personal religion, by which every man is to be his own priest. See his edition of Milton's smaller Poems, p.326. Edit. 1785. 'The third priesthood only remaining, is common to all the faithful.' Considerations, &c. Prose Works, III. 383. 'If all the faithful be now a holy and a royal priesthood, 1 Pet. ii. 5, 9. not excluded from the dispensation of things holiest, after free election of the church, and imposition of hands..... for the gospel makes no difference from the magistrate himself to the meanest artificer, if God evidently favour him with spiritual gifts, as he can easily, and oft hath done.' Ibid. 390. 'So is he by the same appointment (of God) ordained, and by the church's call admitted, to such offices of discipline in the church, to which his own spiritual gifts... have authorized him.' Reason of Church Government, &c. I. 138. See also p. 139. 'The functions of church government commend him.'


'Heretofore in the first evangelic times (and it were happy for Christendom if it were so again) ministers of the gospel were by nothing else distinguished from other Christians but by their spiritual knowledge and sanctity of life.' Considerations, &c. III. 390.


'In the beginning this authority seems to have been placed, as all both civil and religious rites once were, only in each father of a family.' Reason of Church Government, &c. Prose Works, I. 134. 'In those days was no priest, but the father, or the first-born of each family.' Considerations, &c. III. 359.


This all Christians ought to know, that the title of clergy St. Peter gave to all God's people, till Pope Hyginus and the succeeding prelates took it from them, appropriating that name to themselves and their priests only, and condemning the rest of God's inheritance to an injurious and alienate condition of laity.' Reasons of Church Government urged against Prelaty. Prose Works, I. 135. 'Ecclesiasticorum duntaxat bona fuere, qui hoc maxime senso clerici, vel etiam holoclerici, ut qui sortem totam invasissent, rectius nominari poterant.' Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano, V. 247.


'It is a foul error, though too much believed among us, to think that the university makes a minister of the gospel: what it may conduce to other arts and sciences, I dispute not now; but that which makes fit a minister, the Scripture can best inform us to be only from above, whence also we are bid to seek them. Matt. ix. 33. Acts xx, 28. Rom. x. 15. how shall they preach, unless they be sent? By whom sent? By the university, or the magistrate, or their belly? No surely, but sent from God only, and that God who is not their belly.' Considerations, &c. Prose Works, III. 386. 'Doubtless, if God only be he who gives ministers to his church till the world's end, and through the whole gospel never sent us for minister to the schools of philosophy —.' Ibid. 390.


'Burials and marriages are so little to be any part of their gain, that they who consider well, may find them to be no part of their function... As for marriages, that ministers should meddle with them, as not sanctified or legitimate without their celebration, I find no ground in Scripture either of precept or example.' Considerations, &c. Prose Works, III. 370.


Help us to save free conscience from the paw

Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw. Sonnet XVI. 13.

'Of which hireling crew... Christendom might soon rid herself and be happy, if Christians would but know their own dignity, their liberty, their adoption... and let it not be wondered if I say their spiritual priesthood, whereby they have all equal access to any ministerial function, whenever called by their own abilities and the church, though they never came near the university.' Considerations, &c. Prose Works, III. 391.

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