Front Page Titles (by Subject) VI.: The Presbyterian Divines. - The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates
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VI.: The Presbyterian Divines. - John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates 
The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, edited with Introduction and Notes by William Talbot Allison (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1911).
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The Presbyterian Divines.
When we turn to his attack on the Presbyterian party, we are also constrained to admit that Queen Truth was on his side. Alluding to their sins in general, he accuses them of intolerance to other sects (41. 19), of rendering assistance to the Royalists whom they themselves had called reprobates and enemies to God and his church (41. 25), and of opposing the Independents, who are, he declares, their best friends and associates (41. 32).
In his criticism of the life and conduct of the Presbyterian divines, however, we realize that Milton is prejudiced and unfair. His severest accusation is that these men, who formerly denounced the prelatists for being pluralists, are guilty of the same offence. He charges that ‘pluralities greas’d them thick and deep’ (7. 26); it would be good if they ‘hated pluralities and all kind of Simony’ (43. 28); they have gorged themselves ‘like Harpy’s on those simonious places and preferments of their outed predecessors, . . . not to pluralitie onely but to multiplicitie’ (51. 18 ff.); they have followed ‘the hot sent of double livings and Pluralities,’ etc. (56. 31 ff.). In his History of England, a work begun at this time, Milton roundly declared that the Presbyterian ministers did not scruple ‘to seize into their hands, or not unwillingly to accept (besides one, sometimes two or more, of the best livings), collegiate masterships in the universities, rich lectures in the city, setting sail to all winds that might blow gain into their covetous bosoms.’1 Neal, in his History of the Puritans, is silent on this question, nor does Shaw in the latest and most complete work on the history of the English church during this period1 mention any instances of Presbyterian pluralism. Marsden resents these charges with asperity. They are, he says, simply the result of Milton’s harsh and vindictive mood, his attempt to avenge himself upon the Westminster Assembly.2 Masson, while he criticizes Milton for his ‘somewhat ungenerous summary (43. 26 ff.) of the history of the Westminster Assembly,’3 adduces several instances where leading Presbyterian divines accepted lectureships at the universities or in the city,4 but makes no mention of ordinary cases, where two or more benefices were held by Presbyterian ministers. Owing to his prejudices, Milton may have unduly magnified a few cases of this kind, yet, in spite of exaggeration, there was some ground for his repeated accusations. Attached to a proclamation of Sir Thomas Fairfax in 1647,5 there is a statement that according to ‘the petition of many thousands of the poore sequestered clergie of England and Wales,’ ‘those who are put into our places [Presbyterian divines] labour by all means to stir up the people, and to involve this kingdom in a new war, and are generally men ignorant and unable to instruct the people, and many of them are scandalous in their practices, if impartially examined; and divers of them hold three or four of the best benefices, whilst divers other churches are void and without any constant preachers.’ In a tract published in 1646, Thomas Tookey, M. A., charges Mr. John Yaxley with exacting ‘the worldly sweet of two distinct congregations.’ Yaxley, he says, ‘had peeped into much logic, so that, tho once he could not,’ now ‘he can account both nonresidency and sacred thievery dearly lawful, gainful, hopeful, and needful.’1 In another pamphlet, specific instances are not given, but the general charge is boldly made. ‘I could instance in many places,’ says this anonymous foe of the Presbyterian clergy, ‘where superstitious and blind buzzards were put out of their livings, and some of the orthodox men [Presbyterians] put in their roomes, and when they had got good livings were they, or are they contented? Some hold livings in the country, and some in London, hardly ever coming to the flock but to take the fleece. Some hold two or three livings apiece: some leave one and run to another when they can find a greater, nay, they will fight for a better living rather than lose it.’2 In view of this contemporary evidence, however prejudiced some of it may be, we must agree that it bears out Milton’s general assertion that the Presbyterian ministers were not altogether free from the pleasant vice of pluralism.
When Milton calls these clergymen ‘mutinous ministers’ (56. 28), ‘dancing divines’ (7. 15), ‘doubling divines’ (9. 17), ‘prevaricating divines’ (35. 27), ‘a covetous and ambitious generation’ (51. 9), ‘disturbers of the civil affairs’ (43. 9), he may also be well within the truth, but when he denounces them as being ‘clov’n tongues of falshood and dissention’ (38. 15), ‘ministers of sedition’ (38. 28) ‘firebrands’ (39. 2), it must be said that he is descending to coarse abuse. In the most scandalous passage of this treatise (43. 8 ff.) he accuses them of meddlesomeness, of neglecting their studies, of laziness, of being tyrants over other men’s consciences, of covetousness, of simony, of pride, of gluttony, of hypocrisy, of being pulpit firebrands. Not content with saying all these things, he returns to the charge in the second edition of his book, repeats his accusation of pluralism (51. 18 ff.) and formulates a new indictment in the amusing passage (55. 7 ff.) in which the ministers are called ‘nimble motionists,’ time-servers, careless of all considerations except their own material advantage. In the year which elapsed between the publication of the first and the second edition, he also happened upon a Presbyterian pamphlet written as far back as 1643, which he used as a postscript text for further abuse of his clerical foes.1 The title of this tract, Scripture and Reason, is a fitting introduction to our next topic, Milton’s Use of Scripture.
[1 ]Hist. of Eng. (Bohn 5. 238, 239).
[1 ]W. A. Shaw, Hist. of Eng. Church.
[2 ]Hist. of Later Puritans, p. 86.
[3 ]Masson, Life of Milton 4. 72.
[4 ]Masson, Life 3. 469.
[5 ]King’s Pamphlets, Br. Museum, 325, 420 cat. 5.
[1 ]An Inspection for Spiritual Improvement, etc., p. 5.
[2 ]The Clergy in their Colors, etc., p. 41.
[1 ]See note on 51. 25.