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I HAVE prepared, Supreme Council! against the much-member to have heard often for several years, at a council next in authority to your own, so well joining religion with civil prudence, and yet so well distinguishing the different power of either; and this not only voting, but frequently reasoning why it should be so, that if any there present had been before of an opinion contrary, he might doubtless have departed thence a convert in that point, and have confessed, that then both common wealth and religion will at length, if ever, govern flourish in christendom, when either they who discern between civil and religious, or they only who so discern shall be admitted to govern. Till then, nothing but troubles, persecutions, commotions can be expected; the inward decay of true religion among ourselves, and the utter overthrow at last by a common enemy. Of civil liberty I have written heretofore, by the appointment, and not without the approbation, of civil power: of christian liberty I write now, which others long since having done with all freedom under heathen emperors, I should do wrong to suspect, that I now shall with less under christian governors, and such especially as profess openly their defence of christian liberty; although I write this, not otherwise appointed or induced, than by an inward persuasion of the christian duty, which I may usefully discharge herein to the common Lord and Master of us all, and the certain hope of his approbation, first and chiefest to be sought: the hand of whose providence I remain, praying all success and good event on your public councils, to the defence of true religion and our civil rights. JOHN MILTON,


expected time of your sitting, this treatise; which, though to all christian magistrates equally belonging, and therefore to have been written in the common language of christendom, natural duty and affection hath confined and dedicated first to my own nation; and in a season wherein the timely reading thereof, to the easier accomplishment of your great work, may save you much labour and interruption: of two parts usually proposed, civil and ecclesiastical, recom ommending civil only to your proper care, ecclesiastical to them only from whom it takes both that name and nature. Yet not for this cause only do I require or trust to find acceptance, but in a twofold respect besides: first, as bringing clear evidence of scripture and protestant maxims to the parliament of England, who in all their late acts, upon occasion, have professed to assert only the true protestant christian religion, as it is contained in the Holy Scriptures: next, in regard that your power being but for a time, and having in yourselves a christian liberty of your own, which at one time or other may be oppressed, thereof truly sensible, it will concern you while you are in power, so to regard other men's consciences, as you would your own should be regarded in the power of others; and to consider that any law against conscience is alike in force against any conscience, and so may one way or other justly redound upon yourselves. One advantage I make no doubt of, that I shall write to many eminent persons of your number, already perfect and resolved in this important article of Christianity. Some of whom I re

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Two things there be, which have been ever found
working much mischief to the church of God, and the
advancement of truth; force on one side restraining,
and hire on the other side corrupting, the teachers there-
of. Few ages have been since the ascension of our
Saviour, wherein the one of these two, or both toge-
ther, have not prevailed. It can be at no time, there-
fore, unseasonable to speak of these things; since by
them the church is either in continual detriment and
oppression, or in continual danger. The former shall be
at this time my argument; the latter as I shall find God
disposing me, and opportunity inviting. What I argue,
shall be drawn from the Scripture only; and therein
from true fundamental principles of the gospel, to all
knowing Christians undeniable. And if the governors
of this commonwealth, since the rooting out of prelates,
have made least use of force in religion, and most have
favoured christian liberty of any in this island before
them since the first preaching of the gospel, for which
we are not to forget our thanks to God, and their due
praise; they may, I doubt not, in this treatise, find
that which not only will confirm them to defend still
the christian liberty which we enjoy, but will incite
them also to enlarge it, if in aught they yet straiten
it. To them who perhaps hereafter, less experienced
in religion, may come to govern or give us laws, this
or other such, if they please, may be a timely instruc-
tion: however, to the truth it will be at all times no
unneedful testimony, at least some discharge of that
general duty, which no Christian, but according to what
he hath received, knows is required of him, if he have
aught more conducing to the advancement of religion,
than what is usually endeavoured, freely to impart it.
It will require no great labour of exposition, to
fold what is here meant by matters of religion; being
as soon apprehended as defined, such things as belong
chiefly to the knowledge and service of God; and are
either above the reach and light of nature without re-
velation from above, and therefore liable to be variously
understood by human reason, or such things as are en-
joined or forbidden by divine precept, which else by
the light of reason would seem indifferent to be done
or not done; and so likewise must needs appear to
every man as the precept is understood. Whence I
here mean by conscience or religion that full per-
suasion, whereby we are assured, that our belief and
practice, as far as we are able to apprehend and pro-


bably make appear, is according to the will of God and his Holy Spirit within us, which we ought to follow much rather than any law of man, as not only his word every where bids us, but the very dictate of reason tells us. Acts iv. 19. "Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken to you more than to God, judge ye." That for belief or practice in religion, according to this conscientious persuasion, no man ought to be punished or molested by any outward force on earth whatsoever, I distrust not, through God's implored assistance, to make plain by these following arguments.

First, it cannot be denied, being the main foundation of our protestant religion, that we of these ages, having no other divine rule or authority from without us, warrantable to one another as a common ground, but the Holy Scripture, and no other within us but the illumination of the Holy Spirit so interpreting that scripture as warrantable only to ourselves, and to such whose consciences we can so persuade, can have no other ground in matters of religion but only from the Scriptures. And these being not possible to be understood without this divine illumination, which no man can know at all times to be in himself, much less to be at any time for certain in any other, it follows clearly, that no man or body of men in these times can be the infallible judges or determiners in matters of religion to any other men's consciences but their own. And therefore those Bereans are commended, Acts xvii. 11, who after the preaching even of St. Paul, "searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Nor did they more than what God himself in many places commands us by the same apostle, to search, to try, to un-judge of these things ourselves: and gives us reason also, Gal. vi. 4, 5, "Let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another: for every man shall bear his own burden." If then we count it so ignorant and irreligious in the papist, to think himself discharged in God's account, believing only as the church believes, how much greater condemnation will it be to the protestant his condemner, to think himself justified, believing only as the state believes? With good cause, therefore, it is the general consent of all sound protestant writers, that neither traditions, councils, nor canons of any visible church, much less edicts of any magistrate or civil session, but the Scripture only, can

be the final judge or rule in matters of religion, and themselves as a civil papacy assuming unaccountable that only in the conscience of every christian to him-supremacy to themselves, not in civil only, but in ecclesiastical causes. Seeing then that in matters of reli gion, as hath been proved, none can judge or determine here on earth, no not church-governors themselves, against the consciences of other believers, my inference is, or rather not mine but our Saviour's own, that in those matters they neither can command nor use con


preter of itself to the conscience. For if the church be
not sufficient to be implicitly believed, as we hold it is
not, what can there else be named of more authority
than the church but the conscience, than which God
only is greater, 1 John iii. 20? But if any man shall
pretend that the Scripture judges to his conscience for
other men, he makes himself greater not only than the
church, but also than the Scripture, than the consciences
of other men: a presumption too high for any mortal,
since every true Christian, able to give a reason of his
faith, hath the word of God before him, the promised
Holy Spirit, and the mind of Christ within him, 1 Cor.
ii. 16; a much better and safer guide of conscience,
which as far as concerns himself he may far more cer-
tainly know, than any outward rule imposed upon him
by others, whom he inwardly neither knows nor can
know; at least knows nothing of them more sure than
this one thing, that they cannot be his judges in reli-
gion. 1 Cor. ii. 15, The spiritual man judgeth all
things, but he himself is judged of no man." Chiefly
for this cause do all true protestants account the pope
Antichrist, for that he assumes to himself this infalli-
bility over both the conscience and the Scripture; "sit-
ting in the temple of God," as it were opposite to God,
“and exalting himself above all that is called God, or
is worshipped," 2 Thess. ii. 4. That is to say, not only
above all judges and magistrates, who though they be
called gods, are far beneath infallible; but also above
God himself, by giving law both to the Scripture, to the
conscience, and to the Spirit itself of God within us.
Whenas we find, James iv. 12, “There is one lawgiver,
who is able to save and to destroy: Who art thou that
judgest another?" That Christ is the only lawgiver of
his church, and that it is here meant in religious mat-
ters, no well-grounded Christian will deny. Thus also
St. Paul, Rom. xiv. 4, " Who art thou that judgest the
servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or
falleth but he shall stand; for God is able to make
him stand." As therefore of one beyond expression
bold and presumptuous, both these apostles demand,
“Who art thou," that presumest to impose other law
or judgment in religion than the only lawgiver and
judge Christ, who only can save and destroy, gives to
the conscience? And the forecited place to the Thes-
salonians, by compared effects, resolves us, that be he
or they who or wherever they be or can be, they are of
far less authority than the church, whom in these things
as protestants they receive not, and yet no less Anti-force
christ in this main point of Antichristianism, no less a
pope or popedom than he at Rome, if not much more,
by setting up supreme interpreters of Scripture either
those doctors whom they follow, or, which is far worse,

self. Which protestation made by the first public re-
formers of our religion against the imperial edicts of
Charles the fifth, imposing church-traditions without
Scripture, gave first beginning to the name of Protes-
tant; and with that name hath ever been received this
doctrine, which prefers the Scripture before the church,
and acknowledges none but the Scripture sole inter-straint, lest they run rashly on a pernicious consequence,
forewarned in that parable, Matt. xiii. from the 29th to
the 31st verse: “
"Lest while ye gather up the tares, ye
root up also the wheat with them.
Let both grow to-
gether until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I
will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the
tares," &c. Whereby he declares, that this work
neither his own ministers nor any else can discern-
ingly enough or judgingly perform without his own
immediate direction, in his own fit season, and that
they ought till then not to attempt it. Which is
further confirmed, 2 Cor. i. 24, "Not that we have
dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your
joy." If apostles had no dominion or constraining
power over faith or conscience, much less have ordinary
ministers, 1 Pet. v. 2, 3, "Feed the flock of God &c.
not by constraint, neither as being lords over God's
heritage." But some will object, that this overthrows
all church-discipline, all censure of errours, if no man
can determine. My answer is, that what they hear is
plain Scripture, which forbids not church-sentence or
determining, but as it ends in violence upon the con-
science unconvinced. Let whoso will interpret or de-
termine, so it be according to true church-discipline,
which is exercised on them only who have willingly
joined themselves in that covenant of union, and pro-
ceeds only to a separation from the rest, proceeds never
to any corporal inforcement or forfeiture of money,
which in all spiritual things are the two arms of Anti-
christ, not of the true church; the one being an inqui-
sition, the other no better than a temporal indulgence
of sin for money, whether by the church exacted or
by the magistrate; both the one and the other a
temporal satisfaction for what Christ hath satisfied
eternally; a popish commuting of penalty, corporal
for spiritual; satisfaction to man, especially to the
magistrate, for what and to whom we owe none: these
and more are the injustices of force and fiuing in
religion, besides what I most insist on, the violation of
God's express commandment in the gospel, as bath
been shewn.) Thus then, if church-governors cannot
use force in religion, though but for this reason, be-
cause they cannot infallibly determine to the conscience
without convincement, much less have civil magis-
trates authority to use force where they can much less
judge; unless they mean only to be the civil execu-
tioners of them who have no civil power to give them
such commission, no, or yet ecclesiastical, to any

or violence in religion. To sum up all in brief, if we must believe as the magistrate appoints, why not rather as the church? If not as either without convincement, how can force be lawful? But some are ready to cry out, what shall then be done to blas

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phemy? Them I would first exhort, not thus to terrify | ture? They will answer, doubtless, that the Scripand pose the people with a Greek word; but to teach them better what it is, being a most usual and common word in that language to signify any slander, any malicious or evil speaking, whether against God or mau, or any thing to good belonging: Blasphemy or evil speaking against God maliciously, is far from conscience in religion, according to that of Mark ix. 39, "There is none who doth a powerful work in my name, and can lightly speak evil of me." If this suffice not, I refer them to that prudent and well deliberated act, August 9, 1650, where the parliament defines blasphemy against God, as far as it is a crime belonging to civil judicature, plenius ac melius Chrysippo et Crantore; in plain English, more warily, more judiciously, more orthodoxally than twice their number of divines have done in many a prolix volume: although in all likelihood they whose whole study and profession these things are, should be most intelligent and authentic therein, as they are for the most part, yet neither they nor these unerring always, or infallible. But we shall not carry it thus; another Greek apparition stands in our way, Heresy and Heretic; in like manner also railed at to the people as in a tongue unknown. They should first interpret to them, that heresy, by what it signifies in that language, is no word of evil note, meaning only the choice or following of any opinion good or bad in religion, or any other learning and thus not only in heathen authors, but in the New Testament itself, without censure or blame; Acts xv. 5, "Certain of the heresy of the Pharisees which believed;" and xxvi. 5, "After the exactest heresy of our religion I lived a Pharisee." In which tense presbyterian or independent may without proach be called a heresy. Where it is mentioned with blame, it seems to differ little from schism; 1 Cor. xi. 18, 19, "I hear that there be schisms among you," &c. for there must also heresies be among you, &c. Though some, who write of heresy after their own heads, would make it far worse than schism; whenas on the contrary, schism signifies division, and in the worst sense; heresy, choice only of one opinion before another, which may be without discord. In apostolic times, therefore, ere the Scripture was written, heresy was a doctrine maintained against the doctrine by them delivered; which in these times can be no otherwise defined than a doctrine maintained against the light which we now only have, of the Scripture. Seeing therefore, that no man, no synod, no session o men, though called the Church, can judge definitively the sense of Scripture to another man's conscience, which is well known to be a general maxim of the protestant religion; it follows plainly, that he who holds in religion that belief, or those opinions, which to his conscience and utmost understanding appear with most evidence or probability in the Scripture, though to others he seem erroneous, can no more be justly censured for a heretic than his censurers; who do but the same thing themselves, while they censure him for so doing. For ask them, or any protestant, which hath most authority, the church or the Scrip

ture: and what hath most authority, that no doubt but they will confess is to be followed. He then, who to his best apprehension follows the Scripture, though against any point of doctrine by the whole church received, is not the heretic; but he who follows the church against his conscience and persuasion grounded on the Scripture. To make this yet more undeniable, I shall only borrow a plain simile, the same which our own writers, when they would demonstrate plainest, that we rightly prefer the Scripture before the church, use frequently against the papist in this manner. As the Samaritans believed Christ, first for the woman's word, but next and much rather for his own, so we the Scripture: first on the church's word, but afterwards and much more for its own, as the word of God ; yea, the church itself we believe then for the Scripture. The inference of itself follows: if by the protestant doctrine we believe the Scripture, not for the church's saying, but for its own, as the word of God, then ought we to believe what in our conscience we apprehend the Scripture to say, though the visible church, with all her doctors, gainsay: and being taught to believe them only for the Scripture, they who so do are not heretics, but the best protestants: (and by their opinions, whatever they be, can no protestant, whose rule is not to receive them but from the Scripture: which to interpret convincingly to his own conscience, none is able but himself guided by the Holy Spirit; and not so guided, none than he to himself can be a worse deceiver. To protestants, therefore, whose common rule and touchstone is the Scripture, nothing can with more conscience, more equity, nothing more protestantly can be permitre-ted, than a free and lawful debate at all times by writing, conference, or disputation of what opinion soever, disputable by Scripture: concluding, that no man in religion is properly a heretic at this day, but he who maintains traditions or opinions not probable by Scripture, who, for aught I know, is the papist only; he the only heretic, who counts all heretics but himself. Such as these, indeed, were capitally punished by the law of Moses, as the only true heretics, idolaters, plain and open deserters of God and his known law but in the gospel such are punished by excommunion only. Tit. iii. 10, "An beretic, after the first and second admonition, reject." But they who think not this heavy enough, and understand not that dreadful awe and spiritual efficacy, which the apostle hath expressed so highly to be in church-discipline, 2 Cor. x. of which anon, and think weakly that the church of God cannot long subsist but in a bodily fear, for want of other proof will needs wrest that place of St. Paul, Rom. xiii. to set up civil inquisition, and give power to the magistrate both of civil judgment, and punishment in causes ecclesiastical. But let us see with what strength of argument; "let every soul be subject to the higher powers." First, how prove they that the apostle means other powers, than such as they to whom he writes were then under; who meddled not at all in ecclesiastical causes, unless as tyrants and persecutors? And from them, I hope, they will not derive either the right of



revenger to execute wrath on him that doth evil.”
But we must first know who it is that doth evil: the
heretic they say among the first. Let it be known
then certainly who is a heretic; and that he who holds
opinions in religion professedly from tradition, or his
own inventions, and not from Scripture, but rather
against it, is the only heretic: and yet though such,
not always punishable by the magistrate, unless he do
evil against a civil law, properly so called, hath been
already proved, without need of repetition. But if
thou do that which is evil, be afraid." To do by
Scripture and the gospel, according to conscience, is
not to do evil; if we thereof ought not to be afraid, he
ought not by his judging to give cause: causes there-
fore of religion are not here meant. "For he beareth
not the sword in vain." Yes, altogether in vain, if it
smite he knows not what; if that for heresy, which
not the church itself, much less he, can determine ab-
solutely to be so; if truth for errour, being himself so
often fallible, he bears the sword not in vain only, but
unjustly and to evil. "Be subject not only for wrath,
but for conscience sake:" How for conscience sake,
against conscience? By all these reasons it appears
plainly, that the apostle in this place gives no judg
ment or coercive power to magistrates, neither to
those then, nor these now, in matters of religion; and
exhorts us no otherwise than he exhorted those
Romans. It hath now twice befallen me to assert,
through God's assistance, this most wrested and vexed
place of Scripture; heretofore against Salmasius, and
regal tyranny over the state; now against Erastus,
and state tyranny over the church. If from such un-
certain, or rather such improbable, grounds as these,
they endue magistracy with spiritual judgment,
they may as well invest him in the same spiritual
kind with power of utmost punishment, excommu-
nication; and then turn spiritual into corporal, as no
worse authors did than Chrysostom, Jerome, and
Austin, whom Erasmus and others in their notes on
the New Testament have cited, to interpret that cut-
ting off which St. Paul wished to them who had brought
back the Galatians to circumcision, no less than the
amercement of their whole virility: and Grotius adds,
that this concising punishment of circumcisers became
a penal law thereupon among the Visigoths: a dan-
gerous example of beginning in the spirit to end so in
the flesh; whereas that cutting off much likelier seetus
meant a cutting off from the church, not unusually so
termed in Scripture, and a zealous imprecation, not a
command. But I have mentioned this passage to shew
how absurd they often prove, who have not learned to
distinguish rightly between civil power and ecclesias-
tical. How many persecutions then, imprisonments,
banishments, penalties, and stripes; how much blood-
shed have the forcers of conscience to answer for, and
protestants rather than papists! For the papist, judg-
ing by his principles, punishes them who believe not
as the church believes, though against the Scripture;
but the protestant, teaching every one to believe the
Scripture, though against the church, counts heretical,
and persecutes against his own principles, them who


magistrates to judge in spiritual things, or the duty of
such our obedience. How prove they next, that he
entitles them here to spiritual causes, from whom he
withheld, as much as in him lay, the judging of civil?
1 Cor. vi. 1, &c. If he himself appealed to Cæsar, it
was to judge his innocence, not his religion. "For
rulers are not a terrour to good works, but to the evil:"
then are they not a terrour to conscience, which is the
rule or judge of good works grounded on the Scripture.
But heresy, they say, is reckoned among evil works,
Gal. v. 20, as if all evil works were to be punished by
the magistrate; whereof this place, their own citation,
reckons up besides heresy a sufficient number to con-
fute them; "uncleanness, wantonness, enmity, strife,
emulations, animosities, contentions, envyings;" all
which are far more manifest to be judged by him than
heresy, as they define it; and yet I suppose they will
not subject these evil works, nor many more suchlike,
to his cognizance and punishment. "Wilt thou then
not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good,
and thou shalt have praise of the same." This shews
that religious matters are not here meant; wherein
from the power here spoken of, they could have no
praise: "For he is the minister of God to thee for
good:" True; but in that office, and to that end, and
by those means, which in this place must be clearly
found, if from this place they intend to argue. And
how, for thy good by forcing, oppressing, and ensnar-
ing thy conscience? Many are the ministers of God,
and their offices no less different than many; none
more different than state and church government.
Who seeks to govern both, must needs be worse than
any lord prelate, or church pluralist: for he in his own
faculty and profession, the other not in his own, and
for the most part not thoroughly understood, makes
himself supreme lord or pope of the church, as far as
his civil jurisdiction stretches; and all the ministers of
God therein, his ministers, or his curates rather in the
function only, not in the government; while he him-
self assumes to rule by civil power things to be ruled
only by spiritual: whenas this very chapter, verse 6,
appointing him his peculiar office, which requires ut-
most attendance, forbids him this worse than church
plurality from that full and weighty charge, wherein
alone he is "the minister of God, attending continually
on this very thing." To little purpose will they here
instance Moses, who did all by immediate divine di-
rection; no nor yet Asa, Jehosaphat, or Josiah, who
both might, when they pleased, receive answer from
God, and had a commonwealth by him delivered them,
incorporated with a national church, exercised more in
bodily than in spiritual worship: so as that the church
might be called a commonwealth, and the whole com-
monwealth a church: nothing of which can be said of
Christianity, delivered without the help of magistrates,
yea, in the midst of their opposition; how little then
with any reference to them, or mention of them, save
only of our obedience to their civil laws, as they coun-
tenance good, and deter evil? which is the proper work
of the magistrate, following in the same verse, and
shews distinctly wherein he is the minister of God," a

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