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open enemies and invaders ? or if the law be not present or too weak, what doth it warrant us to less than single defence or civil war? and from that time forward the law of civil defensive war differs nothing from the law of foreign hostility. Nor is it distance of place that makes enmity, but enmity that makes distance. He, therefore, that keeps peace with me, near or remote, of whatsoever nation, is to me, as far as all civil and human offices, an Englishman and a neighbour : but if an Englishman, forgetting all laws, human, civil, and religious, offend against life and liberty, to him offended, and to the law in his behalf, though born in the same womb, he is no better than a Turk, a Saracen, a heathen."
This position Milton proceeds to fortify by the Old Testament examples of Ehud, Samuel, and David; and then, passing from example to precept, descends to the principles of the New Testament dispensation. He comments on the contrast established between the “princes of the Gentiles." and his servants; and emphatically notices that he speaks of them as they that seem to rule” (in the common version, “ they which are accounted to rule”), “ either slighting or accounting them no lawful rulers;" adding, “and although he himself were the meekest, and came on earth to be so, yet to a tyrant we hear him not vouchsafe an humble word; but, • Tell that fox,' Luke xiii. 32. So far we ought to be from thinking that Christ and his gospel should be made a sanctuary from justice for tyrants, to whom his law before never gave such protection."
Pursuing the course of this argument, from the times of Christ through the history of nominally Christian states, he thus applies it to our own country:-“ Gildas, the most ancient of all our historians, speaking of those times wherein the Roman empire decaying, quitted and relinquished what right they had by conquest to this island, and resigned it all into the people's hands, testifies that the people thus
* Prose Works, vol. ii., pp. 17, 18.
reinvested with their own original right, about the year 446, both elected them kings, whom they thought best, (the first Christian British kings that ever reigned here since the Romans,) and by the same right, when they apprehended cause, usually deposed and put them to death. This is the most fundamental and ancient tenure that any king of England can produce or pretend to; in comparison of which, all other titles and pleas are but of yesterday. If any object, that Gildas condemns the Britons for so doing, the answer is as ready—that he condemns them no more for so doing than he did before for choosing such; for, saith he, .They anointed them kings not of God, but such as were more bloody than the rest.' Next, he condemns them not at all for deposing or putting them to death, but for doing it over hastily, without trial or well examining the cause, and for electing others worse in their room. Thus we have here both domestic and most ancient examples, that the people of Britain have deposed and put to death their kings in those primitive Christian times. And to couple reason with example, if the church in all ages, primitive, Romish, or Protestant, held it ever no less their duty than the power of their keys, though without express warrant of Scripture, to bring indifferently both king and peasant under the utmost rigour of their canons and censures ecclesiastical, even to the smiting him with a final excommunion, if he persist impenitent; what hinders but that the temporal law both may and ought, though without a special text or precedent, extend with like indifference to the civil sword, to the cutting off, without exemption, him that capitally offends, seeing that justice and religion are from the same God, and works of justice ofttimes more acceptable ?”*
After tracing the thread of his argument through more modern history, he closes with his main opponents by citing John Knox, the head of the presbyterian branch of the Reformation, who “ maintained openly, at a general assem
* Prose Works, vol. ii., pp. 23, 24.
bly, in a dispute against Lethington, the secretary of state, that subjects might and ought to execute God's judgments upon their king;
that the fact of Jehu and others against their king, having the ground of God's ordinary command to put such and such offenders to death, was not extraordinary, but to be imitated of all that preferred the honour of God to the affection of flesh and wicked princes; that kings, if they offend, have no privilege to be exempted from the punishments of law, more than any other subject: so that if the king be a murderer, adulterer, or idolater, he should suffer, not as a king, but as an offender; and this position he repeats again and again before them.” This judgment he further shows to be in accordance with the principles of the Reformers generally. “ And Knox,” he adds, being commanded by the nobility to write to Calvin and other learned men for their judgments in that question, refused, alleging that both himself was fully resolved in conscience, and had heard their judgments, and had the same opinion under handwriting of many the most godly and most learned that he knew in Europe; that if he should move the question to them again, what should he do but show his own forgetfulness or inconstancy ?” To this he adds the embassy of the Scots to Queen Elizabeth, with reference to the deposition of Mary, in which they openly assumed the right of making and deposing monarchs, maintaining that regal power was nothing else but a mutual covenant or stipulation between king and people, and proceeds to prove that the presbyterians had in Parliament acted on this constitutional principle. “ There is nothing,"
“ that so actually makes a king of England, as rightful possession and supremacy in all causes both civil and ecclesiastical: and nothing that so actually makes a subject of England as those two oaths of allegiance and supremacy observed without equivocating, or any mental reservation. Out of doubt, then, when the king shall command things already constituted in church or state,
obedience is the true essence of a subject, either to do, if it be lawful, or if he hold the thing unlawful, to submit to that penalty which the law imposes, so long as he intends to remain a subject. Therefore when the people, or any part of them, shall rise against the king and his authority, executing the law in anything established, civil or ecclesiastical, I do not say it is rebellion, if the thing commanded though established be unlawful, and that they sought first all due means of redress (and no man is further bound to law); but I it is an absolute renouncing both of supremacy and allegiance, which, in one word, is an actual and total deposing of the king, and the setting up of another supreme authority over them. And whether the Presbyterians have not done all this and much more, they will not put me, I suppose, to reckon up a seven years' story, fresh in the memory of all men.”
After detailing their political course, he concludes : “ To speak more in brief, they have deposed him, not only by depriving him of the execution of his authority, but by conferring it upon others." It is singular that Milton should not have adopted the more direct argument used by the latest editor of his prose works. Mr. St. John places them in the following simple dilemma: The Presbyterians having taken up arms against the king, and fought with him in the field, had necessarily been often in a position where they might have slain him. If they were now right, therefore, they had then been wrong; and vice versâ.
He next lays down that covenants, of whatever description, including that between a king and a people, are absolutely voided by the violation of their conditions, and that from this must arise an appeal to the original principles of justice, as if such covenant had never existed; and having shown that these conditions had been repeatedly violated by the deposed monarch, he vindicates the course which had been pursued towards him. “It is not,” he says, '“ neither ought to be, the glory of a protestant state never to have
put their king to death ; it is the glory of a protestant king never to have deserved death. And if the parliament and military council do what they do without precedent, if it appear their duty, it argues the more wisdom, virtue, and magnanimity that they know themselves able to be a precedent to others, who perhaps in future, ages, if they prove not too degenerate, will look up with honour, and aspire towards these exemplary and matchless deeds of their ancestors, as to the highest top of their civil glory and emulation ; which heretofore, in the pursuance of fame and foreign dominion, spent itself vaingloriously abroad, but henceforth may learn a better fortitude, to dare execute highest justice on them that shall by force of arms endeavour the oppressing and bereaving of religion and their liberty at home. That no unbridled potentate or tyrant, but to his sorrow, for the future may presume such high and irresponsible licence over mankind, to havoc and turn upside down whole kingdoms of men, as though they were no more in respect of his perverse will than a nation of pismires.”
This he further justifies, in conclusion, by citing the authority of Luther, Calvin, Zwinglius, Bucer, Paræus, Knox, and several other authorities, from among the earliest and best of the Reformers. Unhappily his arguments and his eloquence were alike addressed to the ears of the deaf. The Presbyterians still maintained the spirit of prelacy, under the guise of Nonconformity, and to them must be attri'buted the extinction of the fairest prospect of religious freedom that ever shone upon this nation, and the gloomy darkness in which it sunk, and which the efforts of succeeding centuries have not prevailed to disperse.
* Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 34.