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- The Life of John Milton Vol. 3 1643-1649 - 30/128 -


kind was the vacation-employment of the members of that Assembly too, and especially of the Presbyterian majority. For they had been driven out of their previous calculations by the battle of Marston Moor (July 2). That battle had been won mainly by Cromwell, the head of the Army- Independents, and it went to the credit of Independency. All the more necessary was it for the Presbyterians of the Assembly to bethink themselves of indirect means of argument against the Independents. The means were not far to seek. Let this horrible Hydra of Sects, all bred out of Independency, be dragged into light; and would not respectable Independency itself stand aghast at her offspring? The word _Toleration_ had been mumbled cautiously within the Assembly, and had made itself heard with some larger liking in Parliament, and still greater applause among the hasty thousands of the Parliamentary soldiers and the populace! Let it be shown what this monstrous notion really meant, what herds of strange creatures and shoals even of vermin it would permit in England; and would England ratify the monstrosity, or the Independency consociated with it, even for twenty Cromwells, or ten Marston Moors? So, in the fort-night's vacation, reasoned Messrs. Marshall, Lightfoot, Calamy, Palmer, Vines, Spurstow, Newcomen, Herle, Burges, and other English Presbyterians, incited rather than repressed by the Scottish anxiety of Rutherford, Gillespie, Baillie, and (I am afraid) Henderson.

Accordingly, when the Assembly resumed its sittings (Wednesday, Aug. 7, 1644), its first work was to fall passionately on the Sects and the arch- heresy of Toleration. "The first day of our sitting, after our vacance," says Baillie, "a number of complaints were given in against the Anabaptists' and Antinomians' huge increase and insolencies intolerable. Notwithstanding Mr. Nye's and others' opposition, it was carried that the Assembly should remonstrate it to the Parliament." [Footnote: Baillie's Letters, II. 218; corroborated by Lightfoot's Notes on the very day (p. 299).] And they did remonstrate it, without a day's delay. Friday, May 9, as we learn from the Lords Journals, it was represented to the House of Lords, through Mr. Marshall, by order of the Assembly, "That they have been informed of the great growth and increase of Anabaptists and Antinomians and other Sects; and that some Anabaptists have delivered in private houses some blasphemous passages and dangerous opinions: They have acquainted the House of Commons therewith; and, &c." [Footnote: Lords Journals, Aug. 9, 1644.] Turning to the Commons Journals of the same day we find, accordingly, a column and a half on the same subject, with many details. Dr. Burges and Mr. Marshall had appeared before the Commons on the same errand from the Assembly: had told the Honourable House that many ministers and gentry all through England had long desired to petition it "to prevent the spreading opinions of Anabaptism and Antinomianism;" that they had been persuaded to forbear; but that now "these men have cast off all affection and are so imbitterated" that farther forbearance would be wrong, and the Assembly cannot but represent to the House that "it is high time to suppress them." That the Commons might not be left in the vague, a Mr. Picot in Guernsey, and a Mr. Knolles, recently in Cornwall (Hanserd Knollys?), of the Anabaptist sort, with a Mr. Randall, a Mr. Penrose, and a Mr. Simson, as of a worse sort still (see Randall among the Antinomians and Familists in our synopsis), were denounced by name as proper culprits to begin with. What could the poor House of Commons do? Agreeing with the Lords, they promised to do what they could. They would take the whole subject into their grave consideration; they empowered the Committee for Plundered Ministers, with a certain addition to their number, to arrest and examine the particular culprits named; and, to prove their heartiness meanwhile, they resolved, on that very day, "That Mr. White do give order for the public burning of one Mr. Williams his book, intituled, &c., concerning the Tolerating of all sorts of Religion." [Footnote: Commons Journals, Aug. 9, 1644.] This "one Mr. Williams," as the reader will be aware, was Roger Williams, then on his way back to America; and "his book" was _The Bloody Tenent_. There must have been much hypocrisy, and much cowardice, in the English House of Commons on that day. Where was the younger Sir Harry Vane? Probably he was in the House while they passed the order, and wondering how far Roger Williams had got on his voyage, and meditatively twirling his thumbs.

A good stroke of business by the Westminster Assembly in two days after their vacation! But they followed it up. There were frequent Solemn Fasts, by Parliamentary order, in those days, when all London was expected to go to church and listen to sermons by divines from the Westminster Assembly. Tuesday, the 13th of August, 1644, was one of those Solemn Fast-days--an "Extraordinary Day of Humiliation;" and the ministers appointed by the Assembly to preach in chief--_i.e._ to preach before the two Houses of Parliament, and the Assembly itself, in St. Margaret's, Westminster--were Mr. Thomas Hill and Mr. Herbert Palmer. These two gentlemen, it seems, did their duty: They satisfied even Baillie. "Mr. Palmer and Mr. Hill," he says, "did preach that day to the Assembly two of the most Scottish and free sermons that ever I heard anywhere. The way here of all preachers, even the best, has been to speak before the Parliament with so profound a reverence as truly took all edge from their exhortations, and made all applications of them toothless and adulatorious. That style is much changed, however: these two good men laid well about them, and charged public and Parliamentary sins strictly on the backs of the guilty." [Footnote: Baillie's Letters, II. 220, 221.] As the sermons themselves remain in print, we have the means of verifying Baillie's description. It is quite correct. Not only in the "Epistle Dedicatory" to his sermon when it was printed did Mr. Hill denounce the Toleration doctrine, and make a marginal reference to Roger Williams's "_Bloody Tenent_" as a book not too soon burnt; but in the sermon itself, the subject of which was the duty of "advancing Temple-work" (Haggai i. 7, 8), he openly attacked two classes of persons as the chief "underminers of Temple-work." First, he said, there were those who would allow nothing to be _jure divino_ in the Church, but held that all matters of Church-constitution were to be settled by mere prudence and State-convenience--in other words, the Erastians, _They_ are lectured, but are let off more easily than the second sort of underminers: viz. "such who would have a toleration of all ways of Religion in this Church." Parliament is reminded that all tendency to this way of thinking is unfaithfulness to the Covenant, and is told that "to set the door so wide open as to tolerate all religions" would be to "make London an Amsterdam," and would lead to--in fact, would certainly lead to-- Amsterdamnation! So far Mr. Hill; but Mr. Palmer was even more bold. Preaching on Psalm xcix. 8, this delicate little creature laid about him most manfully. Parliament are rebuked for eluding the Covenant, for too great tenderness in their dealings with delinquents, and for remissness in the prevention and punishment of false doctrine. They are exhorted to extirpate heresy and schism, especially Antinomianism and Anabaptism, and, are warned at some length against the snare of Toleration. "Hearken not--I earnestly exhort every one that intends to have any regard at all to his solemn Covenant and oath in this second article--to those that offer to plead for Tolerations; which I wonder how any one dare write or speak for as they do that have themselves taken the Covenant, or know that _you_ have. The arguments that are used in some books, well worthy to be burnt, plead for Popery, Judaism, Turcism, Paganism, and all manner of false religions, under pretence of Liberty of Conscience." This is clearly an allusion to John Goodwin; and in the sequel Mr. Palmer makes another personal allusion of still greater interest. In order to show what a social chaos would result from toleration of error on the plea of Liberty of Conscience, he gives instances of some of the horrible opinions that would claim the benefit of the plea, and among these he names Milton's Divorce doctrine, then circulating in a book which the author had been shameless enough to dedicate openly to Parliament itself. The particulars will be given, and the passage quoted, in due time; the fact is enough at present. [Footnote: The title of Hill's sermon is "_The Season for England's Selfe-Reflection and Advancing Temple-work; discovered in a Sermon preached to the two Houses of Parliament at Margaret's, Westminster, Aug. 13, 1614; being an extraordinary day of Humiliation. By, &c., London: Printed by Richard Cotes, for John Bellamy and Philerion Stephens_ 1644."--The title of Palmer's is "_The Glasse of God's Providence towards his Faithful Ones; Held forth in a Sermon,_ &c. [occasion and date as in Hill's]; _wherein is discovered the great failings that the best are liable unto, upon which God is provoked sometimes to take vengeance. The whole is applyed specially to a more carefull observance of our late Convenant, and particularly against the ungodly Toleration pleaded for under pretence of Liberty of Conscience. By, &c., London: Printed by G.M. for Th. Underhill at the Bible in Wood Street,_ 1644." Neither sermon impresses one now very favourably in respect of either spirit or ability. I expected Palmer's to be better.]

Not content with direct remonstrance to Parliament on the subject of the increase of sects and heresies, nor with the power of exhorting it on the subject through the pulpit, the Presbyterians of the Assembly, I find, resorted to other agencies. They had great influence in the City, and it occurred to them, or to some of them, to stir up the Stationers' Company to activity in the matter. The Stationers, indeed, had a commercial interest, as well as a religious interest, in the suppression of the obnoxious books and pamphlets, most of which were published without the legal formalities of licence and registration. It is without surprise therefore that we find this entry in the Commons Journals for Saturday, Aug. 24, 1644: "_Ordered_ that the Petition from the Company of Stationers be read on Monday morning next," followed by this other as the minute of the first business (after prayers) at the next sitting, (Monday, Aug. 26): "The humble Petition of the Company of Stationers, consisting of Booksellers, Printers, and Bookbinders, was this day read, and ordered to be referred to the consideration of the Committee for Printing, to hear all parties and to state the business, and to prepare an Ordinance upon the whole matter and to bring it in with all convenient speed; and they are, to this purpose, to peruse the Bill formerly brought in concerning this matter. They are diligently to inquire out the authors, printers, and publishers of the Pamphlets against the Immortality of the Soul and _Concerning Divorce_." It had been determined, it seems, that Palmer's denunciation of Milton in his sermon a fortnight before should not be a _brutum fulmen_. To the incident, as it affected Milton himself, we shall have to refer again. Meanwhile it belongs to that stage of the action of the Westminster Assembly on English politics which we are now trying to illustrate.

The Assembly, we have shown, besides still carrying on within itself the main question between Presbyterianism and Congregationalism, had begun a wider war against Schism, Sectarianism, the whole miscellany of English heresies, and especially the all-including heresy of Toleration. They opened the campaign, by private agreement among themselves, in August 1644; and by the end of that month they had succeeded in rousing Parliament to some action on the subject, and had directed attention to at least nine special offenders, deserving to be punished first of all. These were--the Anabaptists, Picot and Hanserd Knollys; the Antinomians, Penrose and Simson; the Antinomian and Familist, Randall; the Seeker and Tolerationist, Roger Williams; the Independent, semi-Socinian, and Tolerationist, John Goodwin; the Anti-Scripturist and Mortalist, Clement Wrighter; and Mr. John Milton of Aldersgate Street, author of a Treatise on Divorce. For, though the Committee of Parliament had been instructed to inquire out the author of the Divorce Treatise, this was but a form. The second edition, dedicated to the Parliament and the Assembly, and with Milton's name to it in full, had been out more than six months. Of the nine persons mentioned, only Clement Wrighter, the Mortalist (if indeed the tract on _Man's Mortality_ was from his pen), had to be found out.

Was there to be no check to this Presbyterian inquisitorship? Whence could a check come? The few Independents in the Assembly, just because they were fighting their own particular battle, had to be cautious against too great an extension of their lines. Not from _them_, therefore, but from the freer Independency of the Army, which was in fact by this time a composition of all or many of the sects, could the check be expected. Thence, in fact, it did come. In short, while the Presbyterians in London were in the flush of their first success against the Sectaries and the Tolerationists, in walked Oliver Cromwell.


The Life of John Milton Vol. 3 1643-1649 - 30/128

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