Front Page Titles (by Subject) OF TRUE RELIGION, HERESY, SCHISM, TOLERATION; AND WHAT BEST MEANS MAY BE USED AGAINST THE GROWTH OF POPERY. - The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
OF TRUE RELIGION, HERESY, SCHISM, TOLERATION; AND WHAT BEST MEANS MAY BE USED AGAINST THE GROWTH OF POPERY. - John Milton, The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 2 
The Prose Works of John Milton, With a Biographical Introduction by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. In Two Volumes (Philadelphia: John W. Moore, 1847). Vol. 2.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
OF TRUE RELIGION, HERESY, SCHISM, TOLERATION;
[first published 1673.]
It is unknown to no man, who knows aught of concernment among us, that the increase of popery is at this day no small trouble and offence to greatest part of the nation; and the rejoicing of all good men that it is so: the more their rejoicing, that God hath given a heart to the people, to remember still their great and happy deliverance from popish thraldom, and to esteem so highly the precious benefit of his gospel, so freely and so peaceably enjoyed among them. Since, therefore, some have already in public with many considerable arguments exhorted the people, to beware the growth of this Romish weed; I thought it no less than a common duty, to lend my hand, how unable soever, to so good a purpose. I will not now enter into the labyrinth of councils and fathers, an entangled wood, which the papists love to fight in, not with hope of victory, but to obscure the shame of an open overthrow: which yet in that kind of combat, many heretofore, and one of late, hath eminently given them. And such manner of dispute with them to learned men is useful and very commendable. But I shall insist now on what is plainer to common apprehension, and what I have to say, without longer introduction.
True religion is the true worship and service of God, learnt and believed from the word of God only. No man or angel can know how God would be worshipped and served, unless God reveal it: he hath revealed and taught it us in the Holy Scriptures by inspired ministers, and in the gospel by his own Son and his apostles, with strictest command to reject all other traditions or additions whatsoever. According to that of St. Paul, “Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema, or accursed.” And Deuteronomy iv. 2: “Ye shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish aught from it.” Revelation xxii. 18, 19: “If any man shall add, &c. If any man shall take away from the words,” &c. With good and religious reason therefore all protestant churches with one consent, and particularly the church of England in her thirty-nine articles, art. 6th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and elsewhere, maintain these two points, as the main principles of true religion; that the rule of true religion is the word of God only; and that their faith ought not to be an implicit faith, that is to believe, though as the church believes, against or without express authority of Scripture. And if all protestants, as universally as they hold these two principles, so attentively and religiously would observe them, they would avoid and cut off many debates and contentions, schisms and persecutions, which too oft have been among them, and more firmly unite against the common adversary. For hence it directly follows, that no true protestant can persecute, or not tolerate, his fellow-protestant, though dissenting from him in some opinions, but he must flatly deny and renounce these two his own main principles, whereon true religion is founded; while he compels his brother from that which he believes as the manifest word of God, to an implicit faith (which he himself condemns) to the endangering of his brother’s soul, whether by rash belief, or outward conformity: for “whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.”
I will now as briefly show what is false religion or heresy, which will be done as easily: for of contraries the definitions must needs be contrary.—Heresy therefore is a religion taken up and believed from the traditions of men, and additions to the word of God. Whence also it follows clearly, that of all known sects, or pretended religions, at this day in Christendom, popery is the only or the greatest heresy: and he who is so forward to brand all others for heretics, the obstinate papist, the only heretic. Hence one of their own famous writers found just cause to style the Roman church, “Mother of error, school of heresy.” And whereas the papist boasts himself to be a Roman Catholic, it is a mere contradiction, one of the pope’s bulls, as if he should say, universal particular, a catholic schismatic. For catholic in Greek signifies universal: and the Christian church was so called, as consisting of all nations to whom the gospel was to be preached, in contradistinction to the Jewish church, which consisted for the most part of Jews only.
Sects may be in a true church as well as in a false, when men follow the doctrine too much for the teacher’s sake, whom they think almost infallible; and this becomes through infirmity, implicit faith; and the name sectary pertains to such a disciple.
Schism is a rent or division in the church, when it comes to the separating of congregations; and may also happen to a true church, as well as to a false; yet in the true needs not tend to the breaking of communion, if they can agree in the right administration of that wherein they communicate, keeping their other opinions to themselves, not being destructive to faith. The Pharisees and Sadducees were two sects, yet both met together in their common worship of God at Jerusalem. But here the papists will angrily demand, What! are Lutherans, Calvinists, anabaptists, Socinians, Arminians, no heretics? I answer, all these may have some errors, but are no heretics. Heresy is in the will and choice professedly against Scripture; error is against the will, in misunderstanding the scripture after all sincere endeavours to understand it rightly: hence it was said well by one of the ancients, “Err I may, but a heretic I will not be.” It is a human frailty to err, and no man is infallible here on earth. But so long as all these profess to set the word of God only before them as the rule of faith and obedience; and use all diligence and sincerity of heart, by reading, by learning, by study, by prayer for illumination of the Holy Spirit, to understand the rule and obey it, they have done what man can do: God will assuredly pardon them, as he did the friends of Job; good and pious men, though much mistaken, as there it appears, in some points of doctrine. But some will say, with Christians it is otherwise, whom God hath promised by his Spirit to teach all things. True, all things absolutely necessary to salvation: but the hottest disputes among protestants, calmly and charitably inquired into, will be found less than such. The Lutheran holds consubstantiation; an error indeed, but not mortal. The Calvinist is taxed with predestination, and to make God the author of sin; not with any dishonourable thought of God, but it may be over-zealously asserting his absolute power, not without plea of Scripture. The anabaptists is accused of denying infants their right to baptism; again they say, they deny nothing but what the Scripture denies them. The Arian and Socinian are charged to dispute against the Trinity: they affirm to believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, according to Scripture and the apostolic creed; as for terms of trinity, triniunity, coessentiallity, tripersonality, and the like, they reject them as scholastic notions, not to be found in Scripture, which by a general protestant maxim is plain and perspicuous abundantly to explain its own meaning in the properest words, belonging to so high a matter, and so necessary to be known; a mystery indeed in their sophistic subtilties, but in Scripture a plain doctrine. Their other opinions are of less moment. They dispute the satisfaction of Christ, or rather the word “satisfaction,” as not Scriptural: but they acknowledge him both God and their Saviour. The Arminian lastly is condemned for setting up free will against free grace; but that imputation he disclaims in all his writings, and grounds himself largely upon Scripture only. It cannot be denied, that the authors or late revivers of all these sects or opinions were learned, worthy, zealous, and religious men, as appears by their lives written, and the same of their many eminent and learned followers, perfect and powerful in the Scriptures, holy and unblameable in their lives: and it cannot be imagined, that God would desert such painful and zealous labourers in his church, and ofttimes great sufferers for their conscience, to damnable errors and a reprobate sense, who had so often implored the assistance of his Spirit; but rather, having made no man infallible, that he hath pardoned their errors, and accepts their pious endeavours, sincerely searching all things according to the rule of Scripture, with such guidance and direction as they can obtain of God by prayer. What protestant then, who himself maintains the same principles, and disavows all implicit faith, would persecute, and not rather charitably tolerate, such men as these, unless he mean to abjure the principles of his own religion? If it be asked, how far they should be tolerated: I answer, doubtless equally, as being all protestants; that is, on all occasions to give account of their faith, either by arguing, preaching in their several assemblies, public writing, and the freedom of printing. For if the French and Polonian protestants enjoy all this liberty among papists, much more may a protestant justly expect it among protestants: and yet sometimes here among us, the one persecutes the other upon every slight pretence.
But he is wont to say, he enjoins only things indifferent. Let them be so still; who gave him authority to change their nature by enjoining them? if by his own principles, as is proved, he ought to tolerate controverted points of doctrine not slightly grounded on Scripture, much more ought he not impose things indifferent without Scripture. In religion nothing is indifferent, but, if it come once to be imposed, is either a command or a prohibition, and so consequently an addition to the word of God, which he professes to disallow. Besides, how unequal, how uncharitable must it needs be, to impose that which his conscience cannot urge him to impose, upon him whose conscience forbids him to obey! What can it be but love of contention for things not necessary to be done, to molest the conscience of his brother, who holds them necessary to be not done? To conclude, let such a one but call to mind his own principles above mentioned, and he must necessarily grant, that neither he can impose, nor the other believe or obey, aught in religion, but from the word of God only. More amply to understand this, may be read the 14th and 15th chapters to the Romans, and the contents of the 14th, set forth no doubt but with full authority of the church of England: the gloss is this: “Men may not contemn or condemn one the other for things indifferent.” And in the 6th article above mentioned, “Whatsoever is not read in Holy Scripture, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man as an article of faith, or necessary to salvation.” And certainly what is not so, is not to be required at all; as being an addition to the word of God expressly forbidden.
Thus this long and hot contest, whether protestants ought to tolerate one another, if men will be but rational and not partial, may be ended without need of more words to compose it.
Let us now inquire whether popery be tolerable or no. Popery is a double thing to deal with, and claims a twofold power, ecclesiastical and political, both usurped, and the one supporting the other.
But ecclesiastical is ever pretended to political. The pope by this mixed faculty pretends right to kingdoms and states, especially to this of England, thrones and unthrones kings, and absolves the people from their obedience to them; sometimes interdicts to whole nations the public worship of God, shutting up their churches: and was wont to drain away greatest part of the wealth of this then miserable land, as part of his patrimony, to maintain the pride and luxury of his court and prelates: and now, since, through the infinite mercy and favour of God, we have shaken off his Babylonish yoke, hath not ceased by his spies and agents, bulls and emissaries, once to destroy both king and parliament: perpetually to seduce, corrupt, and pervert as many as they can of the people. Whether, therefore, it be fit or reasonable, to tolerate men thus principled in religion towards the state, I submit it to the consideration of all magistrates, who are best able to provide for their own and the public safety. As for tolerating the exercise of their religion, supposing their state-activities not to be dangerous, I answer, that toleration is either public or private; and the exercise of their religion, as far as it is idolatrous, can be tolerated neither way: not publicly, without grievous and unsufferable scandal given to all conscientious beholders; not privately, without great offence to God, declared against all kind of idolatry, though secret. Ezek. viii. 7, 8: “And he brought me to the door of the court, and when I looked, behold, a hole in the wall. Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged, behold a door; and he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here.” And ver. 12; “Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark?” &c. And it appears by the whole chapter, that God was no less offended with these secret idolatries, than with those in public; and no less provoked, than to bring on and hasten his judgments on the whole land for these also.
Having shown thus, that popery, as being idolatrous, is not to be tolerated either in public or private; it must be now thought how to remove it, and hinder the growth thereof, I mean in our natives, and not foreigners, privileged by the law of nations. Are we to punish them by corporal punishment, or fines in their estates, upon account of their religion? I suppose it stands not with the clemency of the gospel, more than what appertains to the security of the state: but first we must remove their idolatry, and all the furniture thereof, whether idols, or the mass wherein they adore their God under bread and wine: for the commandment forbids to adore, not only “any graven image, but the likeness of any thing in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them, for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” If they say, that by removing their idols we violate their consciences, we have no warrant to regard conscience which is not grounded on Scripture: and they themselves confess in their late defences, that they hold not their images necessary to salvation, but only as they are enjoined them by tradition.
Shall we condescend to dispute with them? The Scripture is our only principle in religion; and by that only they will not be judged, but will add other principles of their own, which, forbidden by the word of God, we cannot assent to. And [in several places of the gospel] the common maxim also in logic is, “against them who deny principles, we are not to dispute.” Let them bound their disputations on the Scripture only, and an ordinary protestant, well read in the Bible, may turn and wind their doctors. They will not go about to prove their idolatries by the word of God, but turn to shifts and evasions, and frivolous distinctions: idols, they say, are laymen’s books, and a great means to stir up pious thoughts and devotion in the learnedest. I say, they are no means of God’s appointing, but plainly the contrary; let them hear the prophets; Jer. x. 8; “The stock is a doctrine of vanities.” Hab. ii. 18; “What profiteth the graven image, that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image and a teacher of lies?” But they allege in their late answers, that the laws of Moses, given only to the Jews, concern not us under the gospel; and remember not that idolatry is forbidden as expressly: but with these wiles and fallacies “compassing sea and land, like the pharisees of old, to make one proselyte,” they lead away privily many simple and ignorant souls, men and women, “and make them twofold more the children of hell than themselves,” Matt. xxiii. 15. But the apostle hath well warned us, I may say, from such deceivers as these, for their mystery was then working. “I beseech you, brethren,” saith he, “mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them; for they that are such, serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the heart of the simple,” Rom. xvi. 17, 18.
The next means to hinder the growth of popery will be, to read duly and diligently the Holy Scriptures, which, as St. Paul saith to Timothy, who had known them from a child, “are able to make wise unto salvation.” And to the whole church of Colossi; “Let the word of Christ dwell in you plentifully, with all wisdom,” Col. iii. 16. The papal antichristian church permits not her laity to read the Bible in their own tongue: our church, on the contrary, hath proposed it to all men, and to this end translated it into English, with profitable notes on what is met with obscure, though what is most necessary to be known be still plainest; that all sorts and degrees of men, not understanding the original, may read it in their mother tongue. Neither let the countryman, the tradesman, the lawyer, the physician, the statesman, excuse himself by his much business from the studious reading thereof. Our Saviour saith, Luke x. 41, 42: “Thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful.” If they were asked, they would be loth to set earthly things, wealth or honour, before the wisdom of salvation. Yet most men in the course and practice of their lives are found to do so; and through unwillingness to take the pains of understanding their religion by their own diligent study, would fain be saved by a deputy. Hence comes implicit faith, ever learning and never taught, much hearing and small proficience, till want of fundamental knowledge easily turns to superstition or popery: therefore the apostle admonishes, Eph. iv. 14: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Every member of the church, at least of any breeding or capacity, so well ought to be grounded in spiritual knowledge, as, if need be, to examine their teachers themselves, Acts xvii. 11: “They searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Rev. ii. 2: “Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not.” How should any private Christian try his teachers, unless he be well grounded himself in the rule of Scripture, by which he is taught. As therefore among papists, their ignorance in Scripture chiefly upholds popery; so among protestant people, the frequent and serious reading thereof will soonest pull popery down.
Another means to abate popery arises from the constant reading of Scripture, wherein believers, who agree in the main, are every where exhorted to mutual forbearance and charity one towards the other, though dissenting in some opinions. It is written, that the coat of our Saviour was without seam; whence some would infer, that there should be no division in the church of Christ. It should be so indeed; yet seams in the same cloth neither hurt the garment, nor misbecome it; and not only seams, but schisms will be while men are fallible: but if they who dissent in matters not essential to belief, while the common adversary is in the field, shall stand jarring and pelting at one another, they will be soon routed and subdued. The papist with open mouth makes much advantage of our several opinions; not that he is able to confute the worst of them, but that we by our continual jangle among ourselves make them worse than they are indeed. To save ourselves therefore, and resist the common enemy, it concerns us mainly to agree within ourselves, that with joint forces we may not only hold our own, but get ground: and why should we not? The gospel commands us to tolerate one another, though of various opinions, and hath promised a good and happy event thereof; Phil. iii. 15: “Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded; and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” And we are bid, I. Thess. v. 21; “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” St. Paul judged, that not only to tolerate, but to examine and prove all things, was no danger to our holding fast that which is good. How shall we prove all things, which includes all opinions at least founded on Scripture, unless we not only tolerate them, but patiently hear them, and seriously read them? If he who thinks himself in the truth professes to have learnt it, not by implicit faith, but by attentive study of the Scriptures, and full persuasion of heart; with what equity can he refuse to hear or read him, who demonstrates to have gained his knowledge by the same way? Is it a fair course to assert truth, by arrogating to himself the only freedom of speech, and stopping the mouths of others equally gifted? This is the direct way to bring in that papistical implicit faith, which we all disclaim. They pretend it would unsettle the weaker sort; the same groundless fear is pretended by the Romish clergy. At least then let them have leave to write in Latin, which the common people understand not; that what they hold may be discussed among the learned only. We suffer the idolatrous books of papists, without this fear, to be sold and read as common as our own: why not much rather of anabaptists, Arians, Arminians, and Socinians? There is no learned man but will confess he hath much profited by reading controversies, his senses awakened, his judgment sharpened, and the truth which he holds more firmly established. If then it be profitable for him to read, why should it not at least be tolerable and free for his adversary to write? In logic they teach, that contraries laid together more evidently appear: it follows then, that all controversy being permitted, falsehood will appear more false, and truth the more true; which must needs conduce much, not only to the confounding of popery, but to the general confirmation of unimplicit truth.
The last means to avoid popery is, to amend our lives: it is a general complaint, that this nation of late years is grown more numerously and excessively vicious than heretofore; pride, luxury, drunkenness, whoredom, cursing, swearing, bold and open atheism every where abounding: where these grow, no wonder if popery also grow apace. There is no man so wicked, but at some times his conscience will wring him with thoughts of another world, and the peril of his soul; the trouble and melancholy, which he conceives of true repentance and amendment, he endures not, but inclines rather to some carnal superstition, which may pacify and lull his conscience with some more pleasing doctrine. None more ready and officious to offer herself than the Romish, and opens wide her office, with all her faculties, to receive him; easy confession, easy absolution, pardons, indulgences, masses for him both quick and dead, Agnus Dei’s, relics, and the like: and he, instead of “working out his salvation with fear and trembling,” straight thinks in his heart, (like another kind of fool than he in the Psalms,) to bribe God as a corrupt judge; and by his proctor, some priest, or friar, to buy out his peace with money, which he cannot with his repentance. For God, when men sin outrageously, and will not be admonished, gives over chastising them, perhaps by pestilence, fire, sword, or famine, which may all turn to their good, and takes up his severest punishments, hardness, besottedness of heart, and idolatry, to their final perdition. Idolatry brought the heathen to heinous transgressions, Rom. ii. And heinous transgressions ofttimes bring the slight professors of true religion to gross idolatry: 1 Thess. ii. 11, 12: “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” And Isaiah xliv. 18, speaking of idolaters, “They have not known nor understood, for he hath shut their eyes that they cannot see, and their hearts that they cannot understand.” Let us, therefore, using this last means, last here spoken of, but first to be done, amend our lives with all speed; lest through impenitency we run into that stupidity which we now seek all means so warily to avoid, the worst of superstitions, and the heaviest of all God’s judgments, popery.”