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MILTON'S TREATISE ON CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.* The public expectation excited by the intelligence of this work having been discovered, has not been disappointed.
His Majesty having liberally ordered that it should be published, it has appeared within a reasonable time, and has been edited by a respectable translator.
Milton's biographers have successively stated, that about the time when he retired from public business, he entered on the composition of three great works, although the misfortune of his blindness had already befallen him. Those works were, Paradise Lost, a Latin Thesaurus, and a body of Divinity, compiled from the Holy Scriptures. His immortal epic was first published in 1667. Of his Latin Thesaurus Symmons says, that the materials which he amassed occupied in MS. the bulk of three large folios ; but they were left by him in too indigested a state to be fit for publication. It is said, however, that they were advantageously employed by the editors of the Cambridge Dictionary, to whom they were probably given by Philips. But neither Dr. Symmons, nor any other biographer of Milton, knew what had become of his System of Theology, which Wood, apparently by mistake or misinformation, entitles “ Idea Theologiæ,”— - nor even in what language it had been written. All that could be ascertained was, that it had been at one time in the hands of Cyriac Skinner, who, as every one in the least acquainted with Milton's history knows, was his favourite pupil and attached friend. It is in a sonnet to him that the poet has left recorded his heroic feelings of fortitude under the calamity of blindness. In another sonnet addressed to him, he alludes to Cyriac's descent from the Lord Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke.
In the latter part of the year 1823, a Latin manuscript, bearing the title “ Ioannis Miltoni Angli De Doctrina Christiana, ex Sacris duntaxat Libris petita," was discovered by Mr. Lemon, in the course of his researches in the old State Paper Office, situated in what is called the Middle Treasury Gallery, Whitehall. It was found in one of the presses, loosely wrapped in two or three sheets of printed paper, with a large number of original letters, and other curious papers, relative to the Popish plots in 1677 and 1678, and to the Rye-house plot in 1683. The same parcel likewise contained a complete and corrected copy of all the Latin letters to foreign Princes and States written by Milton while he officiated as Latin secretary; and the whole was enclosed in a envelope, superscribed “ To Mr. Skinner, Mercht.” By whom, or by what means, or at what time this interesting relic was deposited in the State Paper Office, can at present be only matter of conjecture, every trace of its existence having been lost for nearly a century and a half. But that it is, as it is entitled, a work of Milton, can admit of no rational
A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, compiled from the Holy Scriptures alone ; by John Milton. Translated from the original by Charles R. Sumner, M. A. Librarian and Historiographer to his Majesty, and Prebendary of Canterbury.
It has been ascertained by Robert Lemon, sen. Esq. deputy keeper of his Ma. jesty's state papers, the gentleman to whom we are indebted for the discovery of this MS. that Milton retired from active official employment as Secretary for Fo. reign Languages abcut the middle of the year 1655. His former salary of 288l. per annum was changed into a pension of 1501. to be paid to him for life out of his Highness's Exchequer. Vol. X. No. 56.-1825.
doubt. The idea of forgery being fairly to be put out of the question, its title and contents speak for its authenticity. The writer in one passage expressly identifies himself with Milion, in referring to one of his own works. The handwriting resembles that of persons known to have written for Milton. The opinions have a general Miltonic character. It is true that some of them exceed, in the latitude of their departure from popular belief, whatever Milton has directly expressed in his other writings; and there are tenets advanced which it may be doubted if any man could have promulgated in that age with personal salety. The work was not probably finished till Milton had seen the triumph of high-church principles restored; and even among religionists in general, he must have foreseen that his dogmas would excite animosity. His mind looked far into the future, and had a proud and prescient consciousness of being destined to be heard by posterity. Whether his religious opinions be right or wrong, it was doing no injustice to his contemporaries, if he believed that they had not temper sufficient to give the truth a fair hearing. For him to defer the promulgation of his sentiments, was not to suppress them; it was only preserving what he conceived to be the light of pure doctrine, till it could be revealed in the atmosphere of calmer times. We may easily imagine, then, that he intended this body of theology to be a posthumous work ; and among his friends there could not be a more likely or worthy depositary of his MS. than Cyriac Skinner. Mr. Lemon, the discoverer of the MS. satisfactorily conjectures, that the well-known republican principles of Cyriac exposed him to the suspicion of participating in some of the plots which prevailed during the last ten years of Charles the Second's reign, and that his papers were seized in consequence. On this supposition, the Milton MS. would come into the possession either of Sir Joseph Williamson or of Sir Joseph Jenkins, who were successively the principal Secretaries of State from 1674 to 1684, and who both bequeathed their manuscripts to his Majesty's State Paper Office.*
The MS. itself consists (as the Editor informs us) of 735 pages closely written on small quarto letter-paper. The first part is in a small and beautiful Italian hand, being evidently a corrected copy prepared for the press, and without interlineations of any kind. It was written, Mr. Lemon (who is well acquainted with the handwritings of that period) supposes, by Mary, the second daughter of Milton, and is full of such mistakes as would be natural to a copyist imperfectly acquainted with the learned languages. The remaining three-fifths of the MS. are evidently in a different hand, and are supposed by Mr. Lemon to be the penmanship of Edward Philips, Milton's nephew. This part of the volume is interspersed with numerous interlineations and corrections, and in several places with small slips of writing pasted in the margin. These corrections are in two distinct handwritings, different from the body of the MS., but the greater part of them un
* From further particulars stated by the translator, it appears probable that the work was seized in Holland by the agents of Charles's Government, and that it had previously passed into the possession of a brother of Cyriac Skinner. But the facts are involved in some obscurity, and instead of detailing them, we must refer the reader to the Preface itself.
doubtedly written by the same person who transcribed the first part of the volume. Hence it is probable, continues the Editor, that the latter part of the MS. is a copy transcribed by Philips, and finally revised and corrected by Mary and Deborah Milton from the dictation of their father, as many of the alterations bear a strong resemblance to the reputed hand writing of Deborah, the daughter of Milton, preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.
This work embraces all the principal points of Christian faith and duty.* It is pregnant with the biblical learning of Milton, but it has one peculiarity seldom to be found in his other prose works, namely, an exemption from any appearance of polemical indignation or asperity. Nowhere has the great author shewn himself more self-possessed and unruffled by the recollections of the world. He seems absorbed in the Scriptures, and in religious logic; and his style, as far as we can judge from the translation, is unusually unambitious and unlaboured. At the same time, if the splendid eloquence which me might expect from Milton be missing, we have his accustomed and pious deference to Scripture authority, blended with his wonted acuteness of controversial powers, and with the strength of his Scripture-clad memory. Even on the grounds of argument where we like him least, we recognize his characteristic independence; for, devoted as he was to Scripture authority, no man was so hardy in interpreting the Scriptures for himself.
The most striking heresies of Milton with regard to the established
* Book I.-Of the Knowledge of God. Of the Christian Doctrine, and the number of its Divisions. Of God. Of the Divine Decrees. Of Predestination. of the Son of God. Of the Holy Spirit. Of the Creation of the Providence of God, or of his General Government of the Universe. Of the Special Government of Angels. Of the Special Government of Man before the Fall; including the institutions of the Sabbath and of Marriage. Of the Fall of our first Parents, and of Sin. Of the Punishment of Sin. of the Death of the Body. Of Man's Restoration, and of Christ as Redeemer. Of the Functions of the Mediator, and of his threefold Office. Of the Ministry of Redemption. Of Man's Renovation, including his Calling. Of Regeneration. Of Repentance. Of Saving Faith. Of being planted in Christ, and its efects. Of Justification. Of Adoption. Of Union and Fellowship with Christ and his Members ; wherein is considered the Mystical or Invisible Church. Of imperfect Glorification ; whcrcin are considered the Doctrines of Assurance and Final Perseverance. Of the Manifestation of the Covenant of Grace, including the Law of God. Of the Gospel, and of Christian Liberty. Of the External Sealing of the Covenant of Grace. Of the Visible Church of the Holy Scriptures. Of particular Churches. Of Church Discipline. Of perfect Glorification ; including the Second Advent of Christ, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the General Conflagration.
Book II. Of the Serrice of God.-Or Good Works. Of the Proximate Causes of Good Works. Of the Virtues belonging to the Service of God. Of External Ser. vice. Of Oaths and the Lot. Of Zeal. Of the Time for Divine Worship ; wherein are considered the Sabbath, Lord's Day, and Festivals. Of our Duties towards Man, and the general Virtues belonging thereto. Of the first Class of Special Virtues connected with the Duty of Man towards himself. Of the second Class of Virtues connected with the Duty of Man towards himself. Of the Duties of Man towards his Neighbour, and the Virtues comprehended under those Duties. Of the Special Virtues or Duties which regard our Neighbour. Of the second Class of Special Duties towards our Neighbour. The second Class of Special Duties towards our Neighbour continued. Of the Reciprocal Duties of Man towards his Neighbour; and specially of Private Duties. 'of the remaining Class of Private Duties. Of Public Duties towards our Neighbour,
faith are concerning the doctrine of the Trinity-Church disciplinethe Sabbath, and Marriage.
In vain had the good Bishop Newton recommended Milton as in general very orthodox. Calton'affirmed, with more penetration, that the poet had said nothing about the Messias in Paradise Lost which an Arian might not have said ; and accordingly Milton denies in the present work, the generation of Christ from all eternity. On this mysterious point he discusses all the texts of Scripture that have ever been adduced in favour of Trinitarianism, concluding with that respecting the three witnesses, which he decidedly rejects as suppositious. On the subject of the Holy Spirit, he thus concludes:
“Lest however we should be altogether ignorant who or what the Holy Spirit is, although Scripture nowhere teaches us in express terms, it may be collected from the passages quoted above, that the holy spirit, inasmuch as he is a minister of God, and therefore a creature, was created or produced of the substance of God, not by a natural necessity, but by the free will of the agent, probably before the foundations of the world were laid, but later than the Son, and far inferior to him. It will be objected, that thus the holy Spirit is not sufficiently distinguished from the Son. I reply, that the Scriptural expressions themselves, lo come forth, to go out from the Father, to proceed from the Father which mean the same in the Greek, do not distinguish the Son from the Holy Spirit, inasmuch as these terins are used indiscrimivately with reference to both persons, and signify their mission, not their
There is however sufficient reason for placing the name as well as the nature of the Son above that of the Holy Spirit in the discussion of topics relative to the Deity ; inasmuch as the brightness of the glory of God, and the express image of his person, are said to have been impressed on the one, and not on the other."
On the subject of the Sabbath, Milton unhesitatingly contends that the Jewish law of the Sabbath having been repealed, no particular day of worship has been appointed by divine commandment in its place." It remains to be seen,” he says, “ on what they ground their opinion, who maintain that the first day of the week is to be observed as set apart for public worship by divine institution, in the nature of a new Sabbath. Whether the festival of the Lord's day (an expression which occurs only once in Scripture, Rev. i. 10) was weekly or annual, cannot be pronounced with certainty, inasmuch as there is not (as in the case of the Lord's supper) any account of its institution, or command for its celebration to be found in Scripture. If it was the day of his resurrection, why, we may ask, should this be considered as the Lord's day in any higher sense than that of his birth, or death, or ascension? why should it be held in higher consideration than the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit? and why should the celebration of the one recur weekly, whereas the commemoration of the others is not necessarily even annual, but remains at the discretion of each believer."
In noticing the text at Acts xx. 7. where it is related that the Disciples dwelling at Troas came together to break bread on the first day of the week: who, he says, shall determine with certainty whether this was a periodical meeting, or only held occasionally, and of their own accord ?
“ Hence we arrive at the following conclusions: first, that under the gospel
one day is appointed for divine worship in preference to another, except such as the church may set apart of its own authority for the voluntary assembling of its members, wherein, relinquishing all worldy affairs, we may dedicate ourselves wholly to religious services, so far as is consistent with the duties of charity; and secondly, that this may conveniently take place once every seven days, and particularly on the first day of the week; provided always that it be observed in compliance with the authority of the church, and not in obedience to the edicts of the magistrate ; and likewise that a spare be not laid for the conscience by the allegation of a divine commandment, borrowed from the decalogue; an error against which Paul diligently cautions us, Col. ii. 16. Let no man therefore judge you, &c. For if we under the gospel are to regulate the time of our public worship by the prescriptions of the decalogue, it will surely be far safer to observe the seventh day, according to the express commandment of God, than on the authority of mere human conjecture to adopt the first. I perceive also that several of the best divines, as Bucer, Calvin, Peter Martyr, Musculus, Ursinus, Gomarus, and others, concur in the opinion above expressed.”
No one acquainted with his prose works, is ignorant of Milton's notions respecting divorce.* It has been allowed, that in his tracts on that subject he makes out a strong case, and fights with arguments wbich are not easily to be repelled. The whole context of the Holy Scriptures, the laws of the first Christian Emperors, the opinions of some of the most eminent early reformers, and a projected statute of Edward VI. are adduced by him for the purpose of demonstrating, that by the laws of God, and by the inferences drawn from them by the most virtuous and enlightened men, the power of divorce ought not to be rigidly restricted to those causes which render the nuptial state unfruitful, or which taint it with a spurious offspring. It is singular that Napoleon, who had never heard of Milton's controversy, viewed the matter in the same light, and uttered expressions and arguments which remind us of those of Milton. At the hazard of giving offence by supporting an unpopular opinion, we hesitate not to say that we consider Milton's reasoning on the subject of divorce to be irrefragable ; and the present laws respecting the indissolubility of marriage to be founded neither in Scripture nor common sense, but to be hostile both to these and to human happiness. But we say this as no prelude of our assent to the doctrine which the reader will find, with some surprise, advanced by Milton in the present work, on the subject of Polygamy. On the contrary, we regret that the champion of what we consider the most rational doctrine respecting divorce, should have bequeathed the opinions which are found in the chapter on marriage in the present work
" It appears to me sufficiently established by the above arguments that polygamy is allowed by the law of God ; lest however any doubt should remain, I will subjoin abundant examples of men whose holiness renders them fit patterns for imitation, and who are among the lights of our faith. Foremost I place Abraham the father of all the faithful, and of the holy sced, Gen. xvi. 1, &c. Jacob, chap. xxx. and if I mistake not, Moses, Numb. xii. 1. for he had married (a Cushile, marginal translation, or) an Ethiopean woman. It is not likely that the wife of Moses, who had been so often spoken of before by her proper name of Zipporah, should now be called by the new title of a Cushite; or that the anger of Aaron and Miriam should at this time be suddenly kindled, because Moses forty years before had married Zipporah ; nor
Namely, the tracts entitled, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce; The Judgment of Martin Bucer, concerning Divorce; and the tracts called Tetrachordon and Colasterion.