« ZurückWeiter »
If there was not, it is plain there was need of one to give us such a morality; such a law, which might be the sure guide of those who had a desire to go right; and, if they had a mind, need not mistake their duty ; but might be certain when they had performed, when failed in it. Such a law of morality Jesus Christ hath given, in the New Testament; but by the latter of these ways, by revelation, we have from him a full and sufficient rule for our direction, and conformable to that of reason. But the truth and obligation of its precepts have their force, and are put past doubt to us, by the evidence of his mission. He was sent by God : his miracles show it ; and the authority of God in his precepts cannot be questioned. Here morality has a sure standard, that revelation vouches, and reason cannot gainsay nor question ; but both together witness to come from God, the great Lawmaker. And such an one as this, out of the New Testament, I think the world never had, nor can any one say is anywhere else to be found. Let me ask any one who is forward to think that the doctrine of morality was full and clear in the world at our Saviour's birth—Whither would we have directed Brutus and Cassius (both men of parts and virtue, the one whereof believed, and the other disbelieved, a future being), to be satisfied in the rules and obligations of all the parts of their duties, if they should have asked him where they might find the law they were to live by, and by which they should be charged or acquitted, as guilty or innocent ? If to the sayings of the wise, and the declarations of philosophers, he sends them into a wild wood of uncertainty, to an endless maze, from which they should never get out ; if to the religions of the world, yet worse: and if to their own reason, he refers them to that which had some rule and certainty, but yet had hitherto failed all mankind in a perfect rule ; and, we see, resolved not the doubts that had arisen amongst the studious and thinking philosophers; nor had yet been able to convince the civilized parts of the world that they had not given, nor could without a crime take away, the lives of their children by exposing them.
If any one should think to excuse human nature, by laying blame on men's negligence, that they did not carry morality to a higher pitch, and make it out entire in every part, with that clearness of demonstration which some think it capable of, he helps not the matter. Be the cause what it will, our Saviour found mankind under a corruption of manners and principles, which ages after ages had prevailed, and, must be confessed, was not in a way or tendency to be mended. The rules of morality were, in different countries and sects, different. And natural reason nowhere had cured, nor was like to cure, the defects and errors in them. Those just measures of right and wrong, which necessity had anywhere introduced, the civil law prescribed, or philosophy recommended, stood not on their true foundations. They were looked on as bonds of society, and conveniences of common life, and laudable practices. But where was it that their obligation was thoroughly known and allowed, and they received as precepts of a law, the highest law, the law of nature ? That could not be, without a clear knowledge and acknowledgment of the lawmaker, and the great rewards and punishments for those that would or would not obey him.
A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of from our cradles, and are notions grown familiar, (and, as it were, natural to us under the gospel) we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily derionstrable, without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them had revelation been silent. And many are beholden to revelation who do not acknowledge it. It is no diminishing to revelation that reason gives its suffrage too to the truths revelation has discovered. But it is our mistake to think, that because reason confirms them to us, we had the first certain knowledge of them from thence, and in that clear evidence we now possess them. The contrary is manifest in the defective
morality of the Gentiles before our Saviour's time, and the want of reformation in the principles and measures of it as well as practice. Philosophy seemed to have spent its strength, and done its utmost ; or if it should have gone further, as we see it did not, and from undeniable principles given us ethics in a science like mathematics, in every part demonstrable, this yet would not have been so effectual to man in this imperfect state, nor proper for the cure. The greatest part of mankind want leisure or capacity for demonstration, nor can carry a train of proofs, which in that way they must always depend upon for conviction, and cannot be required to assent to till they see the demonstration. Whenever they stick, the teachers are always put upon truth, and must clear the doubt by a thread of coherent deductions from the first principle, how long or how intricate soever that be. And you may as soon hope to have all the day-labourers and tradesmen, the spinsters and dairymaids, perfect mathematicians, and to have them perfect in ethics this way : hearing plaiu comman:ls is the only course to bring them to obedience and practice : the greatest part cannot know, and therefore they must believe. And, I ask, whether one coming from heaven in the power of God, in full and clear evidence and demonstration of miracles, giving plain and direct rules of morality and obedience, be not likelier to enlighten the bulk of mankind, and set them right in their duties, and bring them to do them, than by reasoning with them from general notions and principles of human reason. And were all the duties of human life clearly demonstrated, yet I conclude, when well considered, that method of teaching men their duties would be thought proper only for a few who had much leisure, improved understandings, and were used to abstract reasonings : but the instruction of the people were best still to be left to the precepts and principles of the gospel. The healing of the sick, the restoring sight to the blind by a word, the raising and being raised from the dead, are matters of fact which they can without difficulty conceive ; and that he who does such things must do them by the assistance of a divine power, These things lie level to the ordinariest apprehension ; he that can distinguish between sick and well, lame and sound, dead and alive, is capable of this doctrine. To one who is once persuaded that Jesus Christ was sent by God to be a king, and a saviour of those who do believe in him, all his commands become principles ; there needs no other proof for the truth of what he says, but that he said it: and then there needs no more but to read the inspired books to be instructed ; all the duties of morality lie there clear and plain, and easy to be understood. And here I appeal, whether this be not the surest, the safest, and most effectual way of teaching ; especially if we add this further consideration, that, as it suits the lowest capacities of reasonable creatures, so it reaches and satisfies, nay, enlightens the highest. The mnost elevated understandings cannot but submit to the authority of this doctrine as divine ; which coming from the mouths of a company of illiterate men, hath not only the attestation of miracles, but reason to confirm it, since they delivered no precepts but such, as though reason of itself had not clearly made out, yet it could not but assent to when thus discovered, and think itself indebted for the discovery. The credit and authority our Saviour and his apostles had over the minds of men, by the miracles they did, tempted them not to mix (as we find in that of all the sects of philosophers and other religions) any conceits, any wrong rules, any thing tending to their own by interest, or that of a party, in their morality ; no tang of prepossession or fancy ; no footsteps of pride or vanity, no touch of ostentation or ambition appears to have a hand in it: it is all pure, all sincere ; nothing too much, nothing wanting ; but such a complete rule of life as the wisest men must acknowledge tends entirely to the good of mankind, and that all would be happy if all would practise it.
190.-THE LIBERTY OF UNLICENSED PRINTING.
ΜΙ.ΤΟΝ. . [It is not creditable to the present age that Milton is neglected as a poet, and that many persons approach the ‘Paradise Lost' and the Paradise Regained,' as if they were entering upon a hard and disagreeable task. This is one of the caprices of fashion which will not last. There is nothing in our language, with the exception perhaps of Shakspere, Spenser, and Wordsworth, that can so fill and satisfy the mind which conceives of poetry as possessing higher capacities than that of mere entertainment, as the poetry of Milton. We cannot expect that his prose works should be equally read, nor have they any just claim to the pre-eminence of his poems. They are formed upon Latin models; and, however eloquent and grand in occasional passages, are necessarily constrained and artificial. The extract which we give is from one of the most famous of his prose compositions, ‘Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of unlicensed Printing.' John Milton was the son of John and Sarah Milton. He was born on the 9th of December, 1608, in London. He was educated at St. Paul's School, and at Christ's College, Cambridge. He spent seven years in the university, and afterwards resided for five years in his father's bouse, during which time it is supposed he wrote Comus,' and his other minor poems. In 1637 he travelled into Italy; he returned after an absence of fifteen months, and, whilst devoting himself to the education of his nephews, became deeply interested in the great political questions of his day. In 1641 he published his first political tract on · Reformation. In 1643 he married Mary Powell; but repudiated her shortly afterwards, and in consequence published his four · Treatises on Divorce.' Milton and his wife became reunited after a brief separation. In 1644 he published his · Tractate on Education, and his Areopagitica.' After the execution of Charles I., appeared his tract on the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates;' and after his appointment as Latin secretary to Cromwell in 1649, his 'Eiconoclastes,' and other tracts. In 1654 he became blind, after his second marriage. He married for the third time in 1660. He published · Paradise Lost' in 1667, and “ Paradise Regained' and Samson Agonistes'in 1071. He died on the 8th of November, 1674, and was buried in St. Giles's, Cripplegate.]
Lords and Commons of England ! consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors ; a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit ; acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can soar to. Therefore the studies of learning in her deepest sciences have been so ancient, and so eminent among us, that writers of good antiquity, and able judgment, have been persuaded that even the school of Pythagoras, and the Persian wisdom, took beginning from the old philosophy of this island. And that wise and civil Roman, Julius Agricola, who governed once here for Cæsar, preferred the natural wits of Britain before the laboured studies of the French. Nor is it for nothing that the grave and frugal Transylvanian sends out yearly from as far as the mountainous borders of Russia, and beyond the Hercynian wilderness, not their youth, but their staid men, to learn our language, and our theologic arts. Yet that which is above all this, the favour and the love of heaven, we have great argument to think in a peculiar manner propitious and propending towards us. Why else was this nation chosen before any other, that out of her as out of Sion should be proclaimed and sounded forth the first tidings and trumpet of reformation to all Europe? And bad it not been the obstinate perverseness of our prelates against the divine and admirable spirit of Wickliff, to suppress him as a schismatic and innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Huss and Jerome, no nor the name of Luther, or of Calvin, had been ever known ; the glory of reforming all our neighbours had been completely ours. But now, as our obdurate clergy have with violence demeaned the matter, we are become hitherto the latest and the backwardest scholars, of whom God offered to have made us the teachers. Now once again by all concurrence of signs, and by the general instinct of holy and devout men, as they daily and solemnly express their thoughts, God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in his church, even to the reforming of reformation itself ; what does he then but reveal himself to his servants, and as his manner is, first to his English-men? I say as his manner is, first to us, though we mark not the method of his counsels, and are unworthy. Behold now this vast city ; a city of refuge, the mansion-house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with his protection ; the shop of war hath not there more anvils and hammers waking to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed justice in defence of beleaguered truth, than there be pens and heads there sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas wherewith to present as with their homage and their fealty the approaching reformation; others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement. What could a man require more from a nation so pliant and so prone to seek after knowledge ? What wants there to such a towardly and pregnant soil, but wise and faithful labourers, to make a knowing people, a nation of prophets, of sages, and of worthies? We reckon more than five months yet to harvest; there need not be five weeks, had we but eyes to lift up, the fields are white already. Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions ; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making. Under these fantastic terrors of sect and schism we wrong the earnest and zealous thirst after knowledge and understanding which God hath stirred up in this city. What some lament of, we rather should rejoice at, should rather praise this pious forwardness among men, to reassume the ill-deputed care of their religion into their own hands again. A little generous prudence, a little forbearance of one another, and some grains of charity might win all these diligences to join, and unite into one general and brotherly search after truth, could we but forego this prelatical tradition of crowding free consciences and Christian liberties into canons and precepts of men. I doubt not, if some great and worthy stranger should come among us, wise to discern the mould and temper of a people, and how to govern it, observing the high hopes and aims, the diligent alacrity of our extended thoughts and reasonings in the pursuance of truth and freedom, but that he would cry out as Pyrrhus did, admiring the Roman docility and courage ; if such were my Epirus, I would not despair the greatest design that could be attempted to make a church or kingdom happy. Yet these are the men cried out against for schismatics and sectaries, as if, while the temple of the Lord was building, some cutting, some squaring the marble, others hewing the cedars, there should be a sort of irrational men who could not consider there must be many schisms and many dissections made in the quarry and in the timber, ere the house of God can be built. And when every stone is laid artfully together, it cannot be united into a continuity, it can but be contiguous in this world; neither can every piece of the building be of form ; nay, rather the perfection consists in this, that out of many moderate
is and brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly disproportional, arises dly and the graceful symmetry that commends the whole pile and structure. therefore be more considerate builders, more wise in spiritual architecture, reat reformation is expected. For now the time seems come, wherein Moses the great prophet may sit in heaven rejoicing to see that memorable and glorious wish of his fulfilled, when not only our serenty elders but all the Lord's people are become prophets. No marvel then though some men, and some good men too, perhaps but young in goodness, as Joshua then was, cnry them. They fret, and out of their own weakness are in agony, lest these divisions and subdivisions will undo us. The adversary again applauds, and waits the hour ; when they have branched themselves out, saith he, small enough into parties and partitions, then will be our time. Fool ! he sees not the firm root, out of which we all grow, though into branches ; nor will beware until he sce our small divided maniples cutting through at every angle of his ill-united and unwieldy brigade. And that we are to hope better of all these supposch sects and schisms, and that we shall not need that solicitude, honest perhaps, though over timorous, of them that vex in this behalf; but shall laugh in the end at those malicious applauders of our differences, I have these reasons to persuade me.
First, when a city shall be as it were besieged and blocked about, her navigable river infested, inroads and incursions round. defiance and battle oft rumoured to be marching up even to her walls and suburb trenches ; that then the people, or the greater part, more than at other times, wholly taken up with the study of highest and most importaut matters to be reformed, should be disputing, reasoning, reading, inventing, discoursing, even to a rarity and admiration, things not before discoursed or written of, argues first a singular good will, contentedness, and confidence in your prudent foresight, and safe government, Lords and Commons; and from thence derives itself to a gallant bravery and well-grounded contempt of their enemies, as if there were no small number of as great spirits among us, as his was, who when Rome tvas nigh besieged by Hannibal, being in the city, bought that piece of ground at uo cheap rate whereon Hannibal himself encamped his own regiment. Next, it is a lively and cheerful presage of our happy success and victory. For as in a body, when the blood is fresh, the spirits pure and vigorous, not only to vital, but to rational faculties, and those in the acutest and the pertest operations of wit and subtilty, it argues in what good plight and constitution the body is ; so when the cheerfulness of the people is so sprightly up, as it has not only wherewith to guard well its own freedom and safety, but to spare, and to bestow upon the solidest and sublimest points of controversy, and new invention, it betokens us not degenerated, nor drooping to a fatal decay, by casting off the old and wrinkled skin of corruption to outlive these pangs, and wax young again, entering the glorious ways of truth and prosperous virtue, destined to become great and honourable in these latter ages. Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks ; methinks I see her as an eaglo nursing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam ; purging and unscaling her long abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, futter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.
What should ye do then, should ye suppress all this flowery crop of knowledge and new light sprung up and yet springing daily in this city? Should ye set an oligarchy of twenty ingrossers over it, to bring a famine upon our minds again, when we shall know nothing but what is measured to us by their bushel ? Believe it, Lords and Commons ! they who counsel you to such a suppressing, do as good as bid ye suppress yourselves ; and I will soon show how. if it be desired to know the immediate cause of all this free writing and free speaking, there cannot be assigned a truer than your own mild, and frec, and humane government; it is the liberty, Lords and Commons, which your own yalorous and happy counsels have