Front Page Titles (by Subject) Milton on Christian Liberty - Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents
Return to Title Page for Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Milton on Christian Liberty - Arthur Sutherland Pigott Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents 
Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction A.S.P. Woodhouse, foreword by A.D. Lindsay (University of Chicago Press, 1951).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Milton on Christian Liberty
From Of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes (1659)
Many are the ministers of God, and their offices no less many. None more different than state and church government. * * *
The main plea [of those who assert the contrary] is . . . that of the kings of Judah. . . .
But to this I return . . .: that the state of religion under the Gospel is far differing from what it was under the Law. Then was the state of rigour, childhood, bondage, and works; to all which force was not unbefitting. Now is the state of grace, manhood, freedom, and faith; to all which belongs willingness and reason, not force. The Law was then written on tables of stone, and to be performed according to the letter, willingly or unwillingly; the Gospel, our new covenant, upon the heart of every believer, to be interpreted only by the sense of charity and inward persuasion. The Law had no distinct government or governors of church and commonwealth, but the priests and Levites judged in all causes, not ecclesiastical only, but civil (Deut. 17. 8, &c.); which under the Gospel is forbidden to all church ministers, as a thing which Christ their master in his ministry disclaimed (Luke 12. 14), as a thing beneath them (1 Cor. 6. 4), and by many other statutes, as to them who have a peculiar and far-differing government of their own. * * *
I have shown that the civil power neither hath right nor can do right by forcing religious things. I will now show the wrong it doth by violating the fundamental privilege of the Gospel, the new birthright of every true believer, Christian liberty. 2 Cor. 3. 17: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Gal. 4. 26: Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all; and [verse] 31: We are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. It will be sufficient in this place to say no more of Christian liberty than that it sets us free not only from the bondage of those ceremonies, but also from the forcible imposition of those circumstances, place and time in the worship of God, which though by him commanded in the old Law, yet in respect of that verity and freedom which is evangelical, St. Paul comprehends—both kinds alike, that is to say, both ceremony and circumstance—under one and the same contemptuous name of weak and beggarly rudiments (Gal. 4. 3, 9, 10; Col. 2. 8 with 16), conformable to what our Saviour himself taught (John 4. 21, 23): Neither in this mountain,nor yet at Jerusalem. In spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him. * * *
They who would seem more knowing, confess that these things are indifferent, but for that very cause by the magistrate may be commanded. As if God of his special grace in the Gospel had to this end freed us from his own commandments in these things, that our freedom should subject us to a more grievous yoke, the commandments of men! As well may the magistrate call that common or unclean which God hath cleansed . . .; as well may he loosen that which God hath straitened or straiten that which God hath loosened, as he may enjoin those things in religion which God hath left free, and lay on that yoke which God hath taken off. For he hath not only given us this gift as a special privilege and excellence of the free Gospel above the servile Law, but strictly also hath commanded us to keep it and enjoy it. Gal. 5. 13: You are called to liberty. 1 Cor. 7. 23: Be not made the servants of men. Gal. 5. 1: Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Neither is this a mere command, but for the most part in these forecited places, accompanied with the very weightiest and inmost reasons of Christian religion. Rom. 14. 9, 10: For to this end Christ both died and rose and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? &c. How presumest thou to be his lord, to be whose only Lord, at least in these things, Christ both died and rose and lived again? We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. Why then dost thou not only judge, but persecute in these things for which we are to be accountable to the tribunal of Christ only, our Lord and law-giver? 1 Cor. 7. 23: Ye are bought with a price: be not made the servants of men. Some trivial price belike, and for some frivolous pretences paid in their opinion, if—bought and by him redeemed, who is God, from what was once the service of God—we shall be enthralled again and forced by men to what now is but the service of men! Gal. 4. 31, with 5. 1: We are not children of the bondwoman, &c. Stand fast therefore, &c. Col. 2. 8: Beware lest any man spoil you, &c., after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Solid reasons whereof are continued through the whole chapter. Verse 10: Ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power. Not completed therefore, or made the more religious, by those ordinances of civil power from which Christ their head hath discharged us, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (verse 14). Blotting out ordinances written by God himself, much more those so boldly written over again by men! Ordinances which were against us, that is, against our frailty, much more those which are against our conscience! Let no man therefore judge you in respect of, &c. (verse 16). Gal. 4. 3, &c.: Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the rudiments of the world. But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, &c., to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons, &c. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son, &c. But now, &c., how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, &c. Hence it plainly appears, that if we be not free, we are not sons, but still servants unadopted; and if we turn again to those weak and beggarly rudiments, we are not free—yea, though willingly, and with a misguided conscience, we desire to be in bondage to them. How much more then, if unwillingly and against our conscience?
Ill was our condition changed from legal to evangelical, and small advantage gotten by the Gospel, if for the spirit of adoption to freedom promised us, we receive again the spirit of bondage to fear; if our fear, which was then servile towards God only, must be now servile in religion towards men. Strange also and preposterous fear, if when and wherein it hath attained by the redemption of our Saviour to be filial only towards God, it must be now servile towards the magistrate. Who, by subjecting us to his punishment in these things, brings back into religion that law of terror and satisfaction belonging now only to civil crimes; and thereby in effect abolishes the Gospel, by establishing again the Law to a far worse yoke of servitude upon us than before. It will therefore not misbecome the meanest Christian to put in mind Christian magistrates, and so much the more freely by how much the more they desire to be thought Christian—for they will be thereby, as they ought to be in these things, the more our brethren and the less our lords—that they meddle not rashly with Christian liberty, the birthright and outward testimony of our adoption; lest while they little think it—nay, think they do God service—they themselves, like the sons of that bondwoman, be found persecuting them who are freeborn of the Spirit, and by a sacrilege of not the least aggravation, bereaving them of that sacred liberty which our Saviour with his own blood purchased for them. * * *
From Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio (1651)a
Having proved sufficiently, that the kings of the Jews were subjected to the same laws that the people were; that there are no exceptions made in their favour in scripture; that it is a most false assertion, grounded upon no reason, nor warranted by any authority, to say . . . that God has exempted them from punishment by the people, and reserved them to his own tribunal only; let us now consider whether the Gospel preach up any such doctrine, and enjoin that blind obedience which the Law was so far from doing, that it commanded the contrary. Let us consider whether or no the Gospel, that heavenly promulgation, as it were, of Christian liberty, reduce us to a condition of slavery to kings and tyrants, from whose imperious rule even the old Law, that mistress of slavery, discharged the people of God, when it obtained. Your first argument you take from the person of Christ himself. But, alas! who does not know, that he put himself into the condition, not of a subject only, but even of a servant, that we might be free? Nor is this to be understood of some internal liberty only, as opposed to civil liberty; how inconsistent else would that song of his mother’s be with the design of his coming into the world: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek! How ill-suited to their occasion would these expressions be, if the coming of Christ rather established and strengthened a tyrannical government, and made a blind subjection the duty of all Christians! He himself having been born, and lived, and died under a tyrannical government, has purchased all due liberty for us. And as he gives us his grace to submit patiently to a condition of slavery, if there be a necessity of it, so if by any honest ways and means we can rid ourselves, and obtain our liberty, he is so far from restraining us, that he encourages us so to do. Hence it is that St. Paul not only of an evangelical, but also of a civil liberty, pronounces (1 Cor. 7. 21): Art thou called, being a servant? Care not for it; but if thou mayst be made free, use it rather. You are bought with a price; be not ye servants of men. So that you are very impertinent in endeavouring to argue us into slavery by the example of our Saviour, who, by submitting to such a condition himself, has confirmed even our civil liberties. He took upon him indeed in our stead the form of a servant, but he always retained his purpose of being a deliverer; and thence it was, that he taught us a quite different notion of the right of kings than this that you endeavour to make good: you, I say, that preach up not kingship, but tyranny, and that in a commonwealth, by enjoining not only a necessary, but a religious subjection to whatever tyrant gets into the chair, whether he come to it by succession or by conquest, or chance, or anyhow. * * * It is evident that our Saviour’s principles concerning government were not agreeable to the humour of princes. * * * He asked for the tribute-money. ‘Whose image and superscription is it?’ says he. They tell him it was Caesar’s. Give then to Caesar, says he, the things that are Caesar’s. * * * Our liberty is not Caesar’s. It is a blessing we have received from God himself. It is what we are born to. To lay this down at Caesar’s feet, which we derive not from him, which we are not beholden to him for, were an unworthy action, and a degrading of our very nature. If one should consider attentively the countenance of a man, and inquire after whose image so noble a creature were framed, would not any one that did so presently make answer that he was made after the image of God himself? Being therefore peculiarly God’s own, that is, truly free, we are consequently to be subjected to him alone, and cannot, without the greatest sacrilege imaginable, be reduced into a condition of slavery to any man, especially to a wicked, unjust, cruel tyrant. * * * Absolute lordship and Christianity are inconsistent. * * *
From Defensio Secunda (1654)a
To these men,1 whose talents are so splendid, and whose worth has been so thoroughly tried, you would without doubt do right to commit the protection of our liberties. * * * Then I trust that you will leave the Church to its own government . . . and no longer suffer two powers (so different as the civil and the ecclesiastical) . . . by their mutual and delusive aids in appearance to strengthen, but in reality to weaken and finally to subvert each other. * * * Then, since there are often in a state men who have the same itch for making a multiplicity of laws as some poetasters have for making many verses, and since laws are usually worse in proportion as they are more numerous, I trust that you will not enact so many new laws as you abrogate old ones which do not operate so much as warnings against evil but rather as impediments in the way of good; and that you will retain only those which are necessary, which do not confound the distinctions of good and evil, and which, while they prevent the frauds of the wicked, do not prohibit the innocent freedoms of the good, which punish crimes without interdicting those things which are lawful, only on account of the abuses to which they may occasionally be exposed. For the intention of laws is to check the commission of vice; but liberty is the best school of virtue, and affords the strongest encouragements to its practice. Then, I trust that you will make a better provision for the education of our youth . . .; that you will prevent the promiscuous instruction of the docile and the indocile, of the idle and the diligent, at the public cost, and reserve the rewards of learning for the learned, and of merit for the meritorious. I trust that you will permit the free discussion of truth without any hazard to the author, or any subjection to the caprice of an individual, which is the best way to make truth flourish and knowledge abound. * * * If there be any one who thinks that this is not liberty enough, he appears to me to be rather inflamed with the lust of ambition, or of anarchy, than with the love of a genuine and well-regulated liberty. . . .
It is of no little consequence, O citizens, by what principles you are governed, either in acquiring liberty or in retaining it when acquired. * * * For who would vindicate your right of unrestrained suffrage, or of choosing what representatives you liked best, merely that you might elect the creatures of your own faction whoever they might be, or him, however small might be his worth, who would give you the most lavish feasts, and enable you to drink to the greatest excess? Thus not wisdom and authority, but turbulence and gluttony, would soon exalt the vilest miscreants from our taverns and our brothels, from our towns and villages, to the rank and dignity of senators. * * * Who could believe that the masters and the patrons of a banditti could be the proper guardians of liberty? * * * Among such persons, who would be willing either to fight for liberty or to encounter the least peril in its defence? It is not agreeable to the nature of things that such persons ever should be free. However much they may brawl about liberty, they are slaves both at home and abroad, but without perceiving it; and when they do perceive it, like unruly horses that are impatient of the bit, they will endeavour to throw off the yoke, not from the love of genuine liberty (which a good man only loves and knows how to obtain), but from the impulses of pride and little passions. But though they often attempt it by arms, they will make no advances to the execution; they may change their masters, but will never be able to get rid of their servitude. * * * Instead of resentment, or thinking that you can lay the blame on anyone but yourselves, know that to be free is the same as to be pious, to be wise, to be temperate and just, to be frugal with your own goods, and abstinent from another’s, and, lastly, to be magnanimous and brave; so to be the opposite of all these is the same as to be a slave. * * *
You, therefore, who wish to remain free, either instantly be wise, or as soon as possible cease to be fools; if you think slavery an intolerable evil, learn obedience to right reason and the rule of yourselves; and finally bid adieu to your dissensions, your jealousies, your superstitions, your outrages, your rapine, your lusts. Unless you will spare no pains to effect this, you must be judged, by God, man, and your very deliverers, unfit to be entrusted with the possession of liberty and the administration of the government. * * *
THE PRIVILEGES OF THE SAINTS
 Milton is here addressing Cromwell and urging him to rely upon the leaders of the Independent party.
[228. (a)] Translation is from Milton, Prose Works (Bohn edition), vol. 1, but has been somewhat revised by comparison with the Latin text printed in the Columbia Milton and the accompanying translation.
[230. (a)] Translation is from Milton, Prose Works, vol. 1, but has been somewhat revised by comparison with the Latin and the improved translation in the Columbia Milton.