Milton: Christ and His Gospel on Kings and the Rights of the People

Daily Dabble in the Classics, John Milton

Having proved sufficiently that the kings of the Jews were subject 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 kings may do what they list with impunity ; that God has exempted them from all human jurisdiction, 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 private person only, but even of a servant, that we might be made free ? Nor is this to be understood of some internal spiritual liberty only; 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 thereby purchased liberty for us. 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, says thus, 1 Cor. vii. 21. “Art thou called, being a servant ? care not for it; but if thou mayest 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 other 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 any how. And now I will turn your own weapons against you ; and oppose you, as I use to do, with your own authorities. When the collectors of the tribute money came to Christ for tribute in Galilee, he asked Peter, Matt. xvii. ” Of whom the kings of the earth took custom or tribute, of their own children, or of strangers?” Peter saith unto him, ” Of strangers.” Jesus saith unto him, ” Then are the children free; notwithsanding, lest we should offend them, &c. give unto them for thee and for me.” Expositors differ upon this place, whom this tribute was paid to; some say it was paid to the priests, for the use of the sanctuary; others, that it was paid to the emperor. I am of opinion, that it was the revenue of the sanctuary, but paid to Herod, who perverted the institution of it, and took it to himself. Josephus mentions divers sorts of tribute, which he and his sons exacted, all which Agrippa afterwards remitted. And this very tribute, though small in itself, yet being accompanied with many more, was a heavy burden. The Jews, even the poorest of them, in the time of their commonwealth, paid a poll; so that it was some considerable oppression that our Saviour spoke of: and from hence he took occasion to tax Herod’s injustice (under whose government, and within whose jurisdiction he then was) in that, whereas the kings of the earth, who affect usually the title of fathers of their country, do not use to oppress their own children, that is, their own natural-born subjects, with heavy and unreasonable exactions, but lay such burdens upon strangers and conquered enemies; he, quite contrary, oppressed not strangers, but his own people. But let what will be here meant by children, either natural-born subjects, or the children of God, and those of the elect only, or Christians in general, as St. Augustine understands the place ; this is certain that if Peter was a child, and therefore free, then by consequence we are so too, by our Saviour’s own testimony, either as Englishmen or as Christians, and that it therefore is not the right of kings to exact heavy tributes from their own countrymen and those freeborn subjects. Christ himself professes, that he paid not this tribute as a thing that was due, but that he might not bring trouble upon himself by offending those that demanded it. The work that he came into this world to do, was quite of another nature. But if our Saviour deny, that it is the right of kings to burden their freeborn subjects with grievous exactions; he would certainly much less allow it to be their right to spoil, massacre, and torture their own countrymen, and those Christians too. He discoursed after such a manner of the right of kings, that those to whom he spoke suspected his principles as laying too great a restraint upon sovereignty, and not allowing the license that tyrants assume to themselves to be the rights of kings. It was not for nothing, that the Pharisees put such questions to him, tempting him; and that at the same time they told him, that he regarded not the person of any man: nor was it for nothing that he was angry when such questions were proposed to him, Matt. xxii. If one should endeavour to ensnare you with little questions, and catch at your answers, to ground an accusation against you upon your own principles concerning the right of kings, and all this under a monarchy, would you be angry with him? You would have but very little reason.

It is evident, that our Saviour’s principles concerning government were not agreeable to the humour of princes. His answer too implies as much ; by which he rather turned them away, than instructed them. 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 ; and to God, the things that are God’s.” And how comes it to pass, that the people should not have given to them the things that are theirs ? ” Render to all men their dues,” says St. Paul, Rom. xiii. So that Caesar must not engross all to himself. 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 i our very nature. If one should consider attentively the countenance of a man, and not inquire after whose image so noble a creature were framed ; would not any one that heard him presently make answer, That he was made after the image of God himself? Being therefore peculiarly God’s own, and consequently things that are to be given to him, we are entirely free by nature, and cannot without the greatest sacrilege imaginable be reduced into a condition of slavery to any man, especially to a wicked, unjust cruel tyrant. Our Saviour does not take upon him to determine what things are God’s and what Caesar’s ; he leaves that as he found it. If the piece of money, which they showed him, was the same that was paid to God, as in Vespasin’s time it was; then our Saviour is so far from having put an end to the controversy, that he has but entangled it, and made it more perplexed than it was before : for it is impossible the same thing should be given both to God and to Caesar. But, you say, he intimates to them what things were Caesar’s; to wit, that piece of money, because it bore the emperor’s stamp: and what of all that? How does this advantage your cause? You get not the emperor, or yourself a penny by this conclusion. Either Christ allowed nothing at all to be Caesar’s, but that piece of money that he then had in his hand, and thereby asserted the people’s interest in every thing else: or else, if (as you would have us understand him) he afRrms all money that has the emperor’s stamp upon it, to be the emperor’s own, he contradicts himself, and indeed gives the magistrate a property in every man’s estate, whenas he himself paid his tribute-money with a protestation, that it was more than what either Peter or he were bound to do. The ground you rely on is very weak ; for money bears the prince’s image, not as a token of its being his, but of its being good metal, and that none may presume to counterfeit it. If the writing princes’ names or setting their stamps upon a thing, vest the property of it in them, it were a good ready way for them to invade all property. Or rather, if whatever subjects have been absolutely at their prince’s disposal, which is your assertion, that piece of money was not Caesar’s because his image was stamped on it, but because of right it belonged to him before it was coined. So that nothing can be more manifest, than that our Saviour in this place never intended to teach us our duty to magistrates, (he would have spoken more plainly if he had,) but to reprehend the malice and wickedness of the hypocritical Pharisees. When they told him that Herod laid wait to kill him ; did he return an humble, submissive answer? “Go, tell that fox,” says he, &c. intimating, that kings have no other right to destroy their subjects, than foxes have to devour the things they prey upon. Say you, ” he suffered death under a tyrant.” How could he possibly under any other ? But from hence you conclude, that he asserted it to be the right of kings to commit murder and act injustice. You would make an excellent moralist. But our Saviour, though he became a servant, not to make us so but that we might be free; yet carried he himself so with relation to the magistracy, as not to ascribe any more to them than their due. Now, let us come at last to inquire what his doctrine was upon this subject. The sons of Zebedee were ambitious of honour and power in the kingdom of Christ, which they persuaded themselves he would shortly set up in the world ; he reproves them Bo, as withal to let all Christians know what form of civil government he desires they should settle amongst themselves. ” Ye know,” says he, ” that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them ; and they that are great exercise authority upon them; but it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Unless you had been distracted, you could never have imagined, that this place makes for you: and yet you urge it, and think it furnishes you with an argument to prove, that our kings are absolute lords and masters over us and ours. May it be our fortune to have to do with such enemies in war, as will fall blindfold and naked into our camp instead of their own : as you constantly do, who allege that for yourself, that of all things in the world makes most against you. The Israelites asked God for a king, such a king as other nations round about them had. God dissuaded them by many arguments, whereof our Saviour here gives us an epitome ; ” You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them.” But yet, because the Israelites persisted in their desire of a king, God gave them one, though in his wrath. Our Saviour, lest Christians should desire a king, such a one at least as might rule, as he says the princes of the Gentiles did, prevents them with an injunction to the contrary; ” but it shall not be so among you.” What can be said plainer than this ? That stalely, imperious sway and dominion, that kings use to exercise, shall not be amongst you; what specious titles soever they may assume to themselves, as that of benefactors or the like. ” But he that will be great amongst you,” (and who is greater than the prince ?) ” let him be your servant.” So that the lawyer, whoever he be, that you are so smart upon, was not so much out of the way, but had our Saviour’s own authority to back him, when he said, that Christian princes were indeed no other than the people’s servants; it is very certain that all good magistrates are so. Insomuch that Christians either must have no king at all, or if they have, that king must be the people’s servant. Absolute lordship and Christianity are inconsistent. Moses himself, by whose ministry that servile economy of the old law was instituted, did not exercise an arbitrary, haughty power and authority, but bore the burden of the people, and carried them in his bosom, as a nursing father does a sucking child, Numb. xi. and what is that of a nursing father but a ministerial employment? Plato would not have the magistrates called lords, but servants and helpers of the people; nor the people servants, but maintainers of their magistrates, because they give meat, drink, and wages to their kings themselves. Aristotle calls the magistrates, keepers and ministers of the laws. Plato, ministers and servants. The apostle calls them ministers of God ; but they are ministers and servants of the people, and of the laws, nevertheless for all that; the laws and the magistrates were both created for the good of the people: and yet this is it, that you call ” the opinion of the fanatic mastiffs in England.” I should not have thought the people of England were mastiff dogs, if such a mongrel cur as thou art did not bark at them so currishly. The master, if it shall please ye, of St. Lupus,* complains it seems, that the mastiffs are mad (fanatics). Germanus heretofore, whose colleague that Lupus of Triers was, deposed our incestuous king Vortigern by his own authority. And therefore St. Lupus despises thee, the master not of a Holy Wolf, but of some hunger-starved thieving little wolf or other, as being more contemptible than that master of vipers, of whom Martial makes
mention, who hast by relation a barking she-wolf at home too, that domineers over thee most wretchedly; at whose instigations, as I am informed, thou hast wrote this stuff. And therefore it is the less wonder, that thou shouldst endeavour to obtrude an absolute regal government upon others, who hast been accustomed to bear a female rule so servilely at home thyself. Be therefore, in the name of God, the master of a wolf, lest a she-wolf be thy mistress; be a wolf thyself, be a monster made up of a man and a wolf; whatever thou art, the English mastiffs will but make a laughing-stock of thee. But I am not now at leisure to hunt for wolves, and will put an end therefore to this digression. You that but a while ago wrote a book against all manner of superiority in the church, now call St. Peter the prince of the apostles. How inconstant you are in your principles! But what says Peter? “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme, or to governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and the praise of them that do well: for so is the will ofGod,”&c. This epistle Peter wrote, not only to private persons, but those strangers scattered and dispersed through Asia; who, in those places where they sojourned, had no other right, than what the laws of hospitality entitled them to. Do you think such men’s case to be the same with that of natives, freeborn subjects, nobility, senates, assemblies of estates, parliaments ? nay, is not the case far different of private persons, though in their own country; and senators, or magistrates, without whom kings themselves cannot possibly subsist ? But let us suppose, that St. Peter had directed his epistle to the natural-born subjects, and those not private persons neither ; suppose he had writ to the senate of Rome ; what then ? No law that is grounded upon a reason, expressly set down in the law itself, obligeth further than the reason of it extends. ” Be subject,” says he, ixota-mtt -. that is, according to the genuine sense and import of the word, ” be subordinate, or legally subject.” For the law, Aristotle says, is order. ” Submit for the Lord’s sake.” Why so ? Because a king is an officer ” appointed by God for the punishment of evil-doers, and the praise of them that do well; for so is the will of God:” to wit, that we should submit and yield obedience to such as are here described. There is not a word spoken of any other. You see the ground of this precept, and how well it is laid. The apostle adds in the 16th verse, as free; therefore not as slaves. What now ? if princes pervert the design of magistracy, and use the power that is put into their hands to the ruin and destruction of good men, and the praise and encouragement of evil-doers; must we all be condemned to perpetual slavery, not private persons only, but our nobility, all our inferior magistrates, our very parliament itself? Is not temporal government called a human ordinance? How comes it to pass then, that mankind should have power to appoint and constitute what may be good and profitable for one another; and want power to restrain or suppress things that are universally mischievous and destructive? That prince, you say, to whom St. Peter enjoins subjection, was Nero the tyrant: and from thence you infer, that it is our duty to submit and yield obedience to such. But it is not certain, that this epistle was writ in Nero’s reign: it is as likely to have been writ in Claudius’s time. And they that are commanded to submit, were private persons and strangers; they were no consuls, no magistrates : it was not the Roman senate, that St. Peter directed his epistle to. Now let us hear what use you make of St. Paul, (for you take a freedom with the apostles, I find, that you will not allow us to take with princes; you make St. Peter the chief of them to-day, and to-morrow put another in his place.)

  • Lupus in Latin signifies a wolf. Vol. II. 6 2d

St. Paul in his 13th chap. to the Romans, has these words: ” Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God; the powers that be, are ordained of God.” I confess he writes this to the Romans, not to strangers dispersed, as Peter did; but, however, he writes to private persons, and those of the meaner rank ; and yet he gives us a true and clear account of the reason, the original, and the design of government ; and shows us the true and proper ground of our obedience, that it is far from imposing a necessity upon us of being slaves. ” Let every soul, says he, that is, let every man, submit.” Chrysostom tells us, ” that St. Paul’s design in this discourse, was to make it appear, that our Saviour did not go about to introduce principles inconsistent with the civil government, but such as strengthened it, and settled it upon the surest foundations.” He never intended then by setting Nero or any other tyrant out of the reach of all laws, to enslave mankind under his lust and cruelty. ” He intended too, (says the same author,) to dissuade from unnecessary and causeless wars.” But he does not condemn a war taken up against a tyrant, a bosom enemy of his own country, and consequently the most dangerous that may be. ” It was commonly said in those days, that the doctrine of the apostles was seditious, themselves persons that endeavoured to shake the settled laws and government of the world ; that this was what they aimed at in all they said and did.” The apostle in this chapter stops the mouths of such gainsayers: so that the apostles did not write in defence of tyrants as you do; but they asserted such things as made them suspected to be enemies to the government they lived under, things that stood in need of being explained and interpreted, and having another sense put upon them than was generally received. St. Chrysostom has now taught us what the apostle’s design was in this discourse; let us now examine his words: ” Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” He tells us not what those higher powers are, nor who they are; for he never intended to overthrow all governments, and the several constitutions of nations, and subject all to some one man’s will. Every good emperor acknowledged, that the laws of the empire, and the authority of the senate, was above himself; and the same principle and notion of government has obtained all along in civilized nations. Pindar, as he is cited by Herodotus, calls the law ttartuv pauyJa, king over all. Orpheus in his hymns calls it the king both of gods and men: and he gives the reason why it is so ; because, says he, it is that that sits at the helm of all human affairs. Plato in his book de Legibus, calls it *b zfntovv h tij xiKti: that that ought to have the greatest sway in the commonwealth. In his epistles he commends that form of government, in which the law is made lord and master, and no scope given to any man to tyrannize over the laws. Aristotle is of the same opinion in his Politicks ; and so is Cicero in his book de Legibus, that the laws ought to govern the magistrates, as they do the people. The law therefore having always been accounted the highest power on earth, by the judgment of the most learned and wise men that ever were, and by the constitutions of the best-ordered states ; and it being very certain that the doctrine of the gospel is neither contrary to reason, nor the law of nations, that man is truly and properly subject to the higher powers, who obeys the law and the magistrates, so far as they govern according to law. So that St. Paul does not only command the people, but princes themselves, to be in subjection ; who are not above the laws, but bound by them, ” for there is no power but of God:” that is, no form, no lawful constitution of any government. The most ancient laws that are known to us were formerly ascribed to God as their author. For the law, says Cicero in his Philippics, is no other than a rule of well-grounded reason, derived from God himself, enjoining whatever is just and right, and forbidding the contrary. So that the institution of magistracy is Jure Divino, and the end of it is, that mankind might live under certain laws, and be governed by them. But what particular form of government each nation would live under, and what persons should be intrusted with the magistracy, without doubt, was left to the choice of each nation. Hence St. Peter calls kings and deputies, human ordinances. And Hosea, in the 8th chapter of his prophecy, ” they have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not.” For in the commonwealth of the Hebrews, where upon matters of great and weighty importance, they could have access to God himself, and consult with him, they could not choose a king themselves by Jaw, but were to refer the matter to him. Other nations have received no such command. Sometimes the very form of government, if it be amiss, or at least those persons that have the power in their hands, are not of God, but of men, or of the devil, Luke iv. ” All this power will I give unto thee, for it is delivered unto me, and I give it to whom I will.” Hence the devil is called the prince of this world; and in the 12th of the Revelations, the dragon gave to the beast his power, and his throne, and great authority. So that we must not understand St. Paul, as if he spoke of all sorts of magistrates in general, but of lawful magistrates; and so they are described in what follows. We must also understand him of the powers themselves; not of those men, always, in whose hands they are lodged. St. Chrysostom speaks very well and clearly upon this occasion. ” What ?” says he, ” is every prince then appointed by God to be so? I say no such thing,” says he. ” St. Paul speaks not of the person of the magistrate, but of the magistracy itself. He does not say, there is no prince but who is of God. He says there is no power but of God.” Thus far St. Chrysostom; for what powers are, are ordained of God: so that Paul speaks only of a lawful magistracy. For what is evil and amiss cannot be said to be ordained, because it is disorderly; order and disorder cannot consist together in the same subject. The apostle says, ” the powers that be ;” and you interpret his words Ss if he had said, ” the powers that now be;” that you may prove, that the Romans ought in conscience to obey Nero, who you take for granted was then emperor. I am very well content you should read the words so, and draw that conclusion from them. The consequence will be, that Englishmen ought to yield obedience to the present government, as it is now established according to a new model; because you must needs acknowledge, that it is the present government, and ordained of God, as much at least as Nero’s was. And lest you should object, that Nero came to the empire by a lawful succession, it is apparent from the Roman history, that both he and Tiberius got into the chair by the tricks and artifices of their mothers, and had no right at all to the succession. So that you are inconsistent with yourself, and retract from your own principles, in affirming that the Romans owed subjection to the government that then was; and yet denying that Englishmen owe subjection to the government that now is. But it is no wonder, to hear you contradict yourself. There are no two things in the world more directly opposite and contrary to one another, than you are to yourself. But what will become of you, poor wretch? You have quite undone the young king with your witticisms, and ruined his fortunes utterly; for according to your own doctrine you must needs confess, that this present government in England is ordained of God, and that all Englishmen are bound in conscience to submit to it. Take notice, all ye critics and textuaries; do not you presume to meddle with this text. Thus Salmasius corrects that passage in the epistle to the Romans: he has made a discovery, that the words ought not to be read, ” the powers that are ; but, the powers that now are :” and all this to prove, that all men owed subjection and obedience to Nero the tyrant, whom he supposed to have been then emperor. This
Epistle, which you say was writ in Nero’s time, was writ in his predecessor’s time, who was an honest well-meaning man: and this learned men evince by undeniable arguments. But besides, the five first years of Nero’s reign were without exception. So that this threadbare argument, which so many men have at their tongues’ end, and have been deceived by, to wit, that tyrants are to be obeyed, because St. Paul enjoins a subjection to Nero, is evident to have been but a cunning invention of some ignorant parson. He that resists the powers, to wit, a lawful power, resists the ordinance of God. Kings themselves come under the penalty of this law, when they resist the senate, and act contrary to the laws. But do they resist the ordinance of God, that resist an unlawful power, or a person that goes about to overthrow and destroy a lawful one ? No man living in his right wits can maintain such an assertion. The words immediately after make it as clear as the sun, that the apostle speaks only of a lawful power; for he gives us in them a definition of magistrates, and thereby explains to us who are the persons thus authorized, and upon what account we are to yield obedience, lest we should be apt to mistake and ground extravagant notions upon his discourse. ” The magistrates,” says he, ” are not a terror to good works, but to evil: Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power ? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same : for he is the minister of God to thee for good. He beareth not the sword in vain ; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.” What honest man would not willingly submit to such a magistracy as is here described ? And that not only to avoid wrath, and for fear of punishment, but for conscience sake. Without magistrates, and some form or other of civil government, no commonwealth, no human society, can subsist, there were no living in the world. But whatever power enables a man, or whatsoever magistrate takes upon him, to act contrary to what St. Paul makes the duty of those that are in authority ; neither is that power nor that magistrate ordained of God. And consequently to such a magistracy no subjection is commanded, nor is any due, nor are the people forbidden to resist such authority ; for in so doing they do not resist the power, nor the magistracy, as they are here excellently well described ; but they resist a robber, a tyrant, an enemy ; who if he may notwithstanding in some sense be called a magistrate, upon this account only, because he has power in his hands, which perhaps God may have invested • him with for our punishment ; by the same reason the devil may be called a magistrate. This is most certain, that there can be but one true definition of one and the same thing. So that if St. Paul in this place define what a magistrate is, which he certainly does, and that accurately well; he cannot possibly define a tyrant, the most contrary thing imaginable, in the same words. Hence I infer, that he commands us to submit to such magistrates only as he himself defines and describes, and not to tyrants, which are quite other things. ” For this cause you pay tribute also:” he gives a reason together with a command. Hence St. Chrysostom; ” why do we pay tribute to princes ? Do we not,” adds he, ” thereby reward them for the care they take of our safety ? We should not have paid them any tribute, if we had not been convinced, that it was good for us to live under a government.” So that I must here repeat what 1 have said already, that since subjection is not absolutely enjoined, but on a particular reason, that reason must be the rule of our subjection: where that reason holds, we are rebels if we submit not; where it holds not, we are cowards and slaves if we do. ” But,” say you, ” the English are far from being freemen; for they are wicked and flagitious.” I will not reckon up here the vices of the French, though they live under a kingly government: neither will I excuse my own countrymen too far: but this I may safely say, whatever vices they have, they have learnt them under a kingly government; as the Israelites learnt a great deal of wickedness in Egypt. And as they, when they were brought into the wilderness, and lived under the immediate government of God himself, could hardly reform, just so it is with us. But there are good hopes of many amongst us; that I may not here celebrate those men who are eminent for their piety and virtue and love of the truth; of which sort I persuade myself we have as S;reat a number, as where you think there are most such. ” But they have aid a heavy yoke upon the English nation :” what if they have, upon those of them that endeavoured to lay a heavy yoke upon all the rest ? upon those that have deserved to be put under the hatches? As for the rest, I question not but they are very well content to be at the expense of maintaining their own liberty, the public treasury being exhausted by the civil wars. Now he betakes himself to the fabulous rabbins again : he asserts frequently, that kings are bound by no laws; and yet he proves, that according to the sense of the rabbins, ” a king may be guilty of treason, by suffering an invasion upon the rights of his crown.” So kings are bound by laws, and they are not bound by them; they may be criminals, and yet they may not be so. – ‘ This man contradicts himself so perpetually, that contradiction and he i seem to be of kin to one another. You say that God himself put many kingdoms under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. I confess he did so for a time, Jer. xxvii. 7, but do you make appear, if you can, that he put the English nation into a condition of slavery to Charles Stuart for a minute. I confess he suffered them to be enslaved by him for some time; but I never yet heard, that himself appointed it so to be. Or if you will have it so, that God shall be said to put a nation under slavery, when a tyrant prevails ; why may he not as well be said to deliver them from his \ tyranny, when the people prevail and get the upper hand ? Shall his tyranny be said to be of God, and not our liberty ? There is no evil in the city that the Lord hath not done, Amos iii. So that famine, pestilence, sedition, war, all of them are of God; and is it therefore unlawful for a people afflicted with any of these plagues, to endeavour to get rid of them ? Certainly they would do their utmost, though they know them to be sent by God, unless himself miraculously from heaven should command the contrary : and why may they not by the same reason rid themselves of a tyrant, if they are stronger than he ? Why should we suppose his weakness to be appointed by God for the ruin and destruction of the commonwealth, rather than the power and strength of all the people for the good of the state ? Far be it from all commonwealths, from all societies of freeborn men, to maintain not only such pernicious, but such stupid and senseless principles; principles that subvert all civil society, that to gratify a few tyrants, level all mankind with brutes; and by setting princes out of the reach of human laws, give them an equal power over both. I pass by those foolish dilemmas that you now make, which that you might take occasion to propose, you feign some or other to assert, that the ” superlative power of princes is derived from the people ;” though for my own part I do not at all doubt, but that all the power that any magistrates have is so. Hence Cicero, in his Orat. pro Flacco, ” Our wise and holy ancestors,” says he, “appointed those things to obtain for laws, that the people enacted.” And hence it is, that Lucius Crassus, an excellent Roman orator, and at that time president of the senate, when in a controversy betwixt them and the common people, he asserted their rights, ” I beseech you, says he, suffer not us to live in subjection to any, but yourselves, to the entire body of whom we can and ought to submit.” For though the Roman senate governed the people, the people themselves had appointed them to be their governors, and had put that power into their hands. We read the term of Majesty more frequently applied to
the people of Rome, than to their kings. Tully in Orat. pro Flancio, ” it is the condition of all free people, (says he,) and especially of this people, the lord of all nations, by their votes to give or take away, to or from any, as themselves see cause. It is the duty of the magistrates patiently to submit to what the body of the people enact. Those that are not ambitious of honour, have the less obligation upon them to court the people : those that affect preferment, must not be weary of entreating them.” Should I scruple to call a king the servant of his people, when I hear the Roman senate, that reigned over so many kings, profess themselves to be but the people’s servants ? You will object perhaps, and say, that all this is very true in a popular state; but the case was altered afterwards, when the regal law transferred all the people’s right unto Augustus and his successors. But what think you then of Tiberius, whom yourself confess to have been a very great tyrant, as he certainly was? Suetonius says of him, that when he was once called Lord or Master, though after the enacting of that Lex Regia, he desired the person that gave him that appellation, to forbear abusing him. How does this sound in your ears? a tyrant thinks one of his subjects abuses him in calling him Lord. The same emperor in one of his speeches to the senate, ” I have said,” says he, ” frequently, heretofore, and now I say it again, that a good prince, whom you have invested with so great a power as I am intrusted with, ought to serve the senate and the body of the people, and sometimes even particular persons; nor do I repent of having said so: I confess that you have been good, and just, and indulgent masters to me, and that you are yet so.” You may say, that he dissembled in all this, as he was a great proficient in the art of hypocrisy; but that is all one. No man endeavours to appear otherwise than he ought to be. Hence Tacitus tells us, that it was the custom in Rome for the emperors in the Circus, to worship the people; and that both Nero and other emperors practised it. Claudian in his panegyric upon Honorius mentions the same custom. By which sort of adoration what could possibly be meant, but that the emperors of Rome, even after the enacting of the Lex Regia, confessed the whole body of the people to be their superiors ? But I find, as I suspected at first, and so I told ye, that you have spent more time and pains in turning over glossaries, and criticising upon texts, and propagating such like laborious trifles, than in reading sound authors so as to improve your knowledge by them. For had you been never so little versed in the writings of learned men in former ages, you would not have accounted an opinion new, and the product of some enthusiastic heads, which has been asserted and maintained by the greatest philosophers, and most famous politicians in the world. You endeavour to expose one Martin, who you tell us was a tailor, and one William a tanner ; but if they are such as you describe them, I think they and you may very well go together; though they themselves would be able to instruct you, and unfold those mysterious riddles that you propose: as, ” Whether or no they that in a monarchy would have the king but a servant to the commonwealth, will say the same thing of the whole body of the people in a popular state ? Ana whether all the people serve in a democracy, or only some part or other serve the rest?” And when they have been an CEdipus to you, by my consent you shall be a sphinx to them in good earnest, and throw yourself headlong from some precipice or other, and break your neck ; for else I am afraid you will never have done with your riddles and fooleries. You ask, ” Whether or no, when St. Paul names kings, he meant the people ?” I confess St. Paul commands us to pray for kings, but he had commanded us to pray for the people before, ver. 1. But there are some for all that, both among kings and common people, that we are forbidden to pray for ; and if a man may not so much as be prayed for, may he not be punished ? What should hinder ? But, ” when Paul wrote this epistle, he that reigned was the most profligate person in the world.” That is false. For Ludovicus Capellus makes it evident, that this epistle likewise was writ in Claudius’s time. When St. Paul has occasion to speak of Nero, he calls him not a king, but a lion; that is, a wild, savage beast, from whose jaws he is glad he was delivered, 2 Tim. iv. So that it is for kings, not for beasts, that we are to pray, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty. Kings and their interest are not the things here intended to be advanced and secured ; it is the public peace, godliness, and honesty, whose establishment we are commanded to endeavour after, and to pray for. But is there any people in the world, that would not choose rather to live an honest and careful life, though never free from war and troubles, in the defence of themselves and their families, whether against tyrants or enemies, (for I make no difference,) than under the power of a tyrant or an enemy, to spin out a life equally troublesome, accompanied with slavery and ignominy ? That the latter is the more desirable of the two, I will prove by a testimony of your own; not because I think your authority worth quoting, but that all men may observe how double-tongued you are, and how mercenary your pen is. ” Who would not rather,” say you, ” bear with those dissensions, that through the emulation of great men often happen in an aristocratical government, than live under the tyrannical government of one, where nothing but certain misery and ruin is to be looked for ? The people of Rome preferred their commonwealth, though never so much shattered with civil broils, before the intolerable yoke of their emperors. When a people, to avoid sedition, submits to a monarchy, and finds by experience, that this is the worst evil of the two, they often desire to return to their former government again.” These are your own words, and more you have to this purpose in that discourse concerning bishops, which under a feigned name you wrote against Petavius the Jesuit; though yourself are more a Jesuit than he, nay worse than any of that crew. We have already heard the sense of the Scripture upon this subject; and it has been worth our while to take some pains to find it out. But perhaps it will not be so to inquire into the judgment of the fathers, and to ransack their volumes: for if they assert any thing, which is not warranted by the word of God, we may safely reject their authority, be it never so great; and particularly that expression that you allege out of Irenaeus, ” that God in his providence orders it so, that such kings reign as are suitable to and proper for the people they are to govern, all circumstances considered.” That expression, I say, is directly contrary to Scripture. For though God himself declared openly, that it was better for his own people to be governed by judges, than by kings, yet he left it to them to change that form of government for a worse, if they would themselves. And we read frequently, that when the body of the people has been good, they have had a wicked king, and contrariwise that a good king has sometimes reigned, when the people have been wicked. So that wise and prudent men are to consider and see what is profitable and fit for the people in general; for it is very certain, that the same form of government is not equally convenient for all nations, nor for the same nation at all times ; but sometimes one, sometimes another may be more proper, according as the industry and valour of the people may increase or decay. But if you deprive the people of this liberty of setting up what government they like best among themselves, you take that from them, in which the life of all civil liberty consists. Then you tell us of Justin Martyr, of his humble and submissive behaviour to the Antonines, those best of emperors; as if any body would not do the like to princes of such moderation as they were. “How much worse Christians are we in these days, than those were! The
y were content to live under a prince of another religion.” Alas! they were private persons, and infinitely inferior to the contrary party in strength and number. ” But now papists will not endure a protestant prince, nor protestants one that is popish.” You do well and discreetly in showing yourself to be neither papist nor protestant. And you are very liberal in your concessions; for now you confess, that all sorts of Christians agree in that very thing, that you alone take upon you with so much impudence and wickedness, to cry down and oppose. And how unlike those fathers that you commend, do you show yourself: they wrote apologies for the Christians to heathen princes; you in defence of a wicked popish king, against Christians and protestants. Then you entertain us with a number of impertinent quotations out of Athenagoras and Tertullian : things that we have already heard out of the writings of the apostles, much more clearly and intelligibly exprest. But Tertullian was quite of a different opinion from yours, of a king’s being a lord and master over his subjects: which you either knew not, or wickedly dissembled. For he, though he were a Christian, and directed his discourse to a heathen emperor, had the confidence to tell him, that an emperor ought not to be called Lord. ” Augustus himself, says he, that formed this empire, refused that appellation ; it is a title proper to God only. Not but that the title of Lord and Master may in some sense be ascribed to the emperor: but there is a peculiar sense of that word, which is proper to God only ; and in that sense, I will not ascribe itj to the emperor. I am the emperor’s freeman. God alone is my Lord and I Master.” And the same author, in the same discourse; ” how inconsistent,” says he, ” are those two appellations, Father of his country, and Lord and Master!”

And now I wish you much joy of Tertullian’s authority, whom it had been a great deal better you had let alone. But Tertullian calls them parricides that slew Domitian. And he does well, for so they were, his wife and servants conspired against him. And they set one Parthenius and Stephanus, who were accused for concealing part of the public treasure, to make him away. If the senate and the people of Rome had proceeded against him according to the custom of their ancestors ; had given judgment of death against him, as they did once against Nero ; and had made search for him to put him to death ; do ye think Tertullian would have called them parricides? If he had, he would have deserved to be hanged, as you do. I give the same answer to your quotation out of Origen, that I have given already to what you have cited out of Irenaeus. Athanasius indeed says, that kings are not accountable before human tribunals. But I wonder who told Athanasius this! I do not hear, that he produces any authority from Scripture, to confirm this assertion. And I will rather believe kings and emperors themselves, who deny that they themselves have any such privilege, than I will Athanasius. Then you quote Ambrosius, who after he had been a proconsul, and after that became a catechumen, at last got into a bishopric: but for his authority, I say, that his interpretation of those words of David, “against thee only I have sinned,” is both ignorant and adulatory. He was willing all others should be enthralled to the emperor, that he might enthral the emperor to himself. We all know with what a papal pride and arrogancy he treated Theodosius the emperor, how he took upon him to declare him guilty of that massacre at Thessalonica, and to forbid him coming into the church: how miserably raw in divinity, and unacquainted with the doctrine of the gospel, he showed himself upon that occasion ; when the emperor fell down at his feet, he commanded him lo get him out of the porch. At last, when he was received again into the communion of the church, and had offered, because he continued standing near to the altar, the magisterial prelate commanded him out of the rails: ” O Emperor,” says he, “these inner places are for the priests only, it is not lawful for others to come within them!” Does this sound like the behaviour of a minister of the gospel, or like that of a Jewish high-priest ? And yet this man, such as we hear he was, would have the emperor ride other people, that himself might ride him, which is a common trick of almost all ecclesiastics. With words to this purpose, he put back the emperor as inferior to himself; ” You rule over men,” saith he, ” that are partakers of the same nature, and fellow-servants with yourself: for there is only one Lord and King over all, to wit, the Creator of all.” This is very pretty ! This piece of truth, which the craft and flattery of clergymen has all along endeavoured to suppress and obscure, was then brought to light by the furious passion, or to speak more mildly, by the ignorant indiscreet zeal, of one of them. After you have displayed Ambrose’s ignorance, you show your own, or rather, vent a heresy in affirming point blank, that ” under the Old Testament, there was no such thing as forgiveness of sins upon the account of Christ’s sufferings, since David confessed his transgression, saying, against thee only have I sinned,” Psal. lviii. It is the /orthodox tenet, that there never was any remission of sins, but by the blood / of the Lamb that was slain from the beginning of the world. I know not ‘ whose disciple you are, that set up for a broacher of new heresies: but certain I am, that that great divine’s disciple, whom you are so angry with, did not mistake himself, when he said, that any one of David’s subjects might have said, “Against thee only have I sinned,” as properly, and with as much right, as David himself. Then you quote St. Austin, and produce a company of Hipponensian divines. What you allege out of St. Austin makes not at all against us. We confess that as the prophet Daniel has it, it is God that changeth times, sets up one kingdom, and pulls down another; we only desire to have it allowed us, that he makes use of men ( as his instruments. If God alone gave a kingdom to King Charles, God ‘ alone has taken it from him again, and given it to the parliament, and to the people. If therefore our allegiance was due to King Charles, because God had given him a kingdom ; for the same reason it is now due to the present magistracy. For yourself confess, that God has given our magistrates such power as he uses to give to wicked princes, for the punishment of the nation. And the consequence of this will be, that according to your own opinion, our present magistrates being raised and appointed by God, cannot lawfully be deposed by any, but God himself. Thus you overthrow the opinion you pretend to maintain, which is a thing very frequent with you ; your apology for the king carries its death wound in it. You have attained to such a prodigious degree of madness and stupidity, as to prove it unlawful upon any account whatsoever, to lift up one’s finger against magistrates, and with the very next breath to affirm, that is the duty of their subjects to rise up in rebellion against them.

You tell us, that St. Jerom calls Ishmael, that slew Gedaliah, a parricide or traitor: and it is very true, that he was so: for Gedaliah was deputy governor of Judaea, a good man, and slain by Ishmael without any cause. The same author in his comment upon the book of Ecclesiastes, says, that Solomon’s command to keep the king’s commandment, is the same with St. Paul’s doctrine upon the same subject; and deserves commendation for having made a more moderate construction of that text, than most of his contemporaries. You say, you will forbear inquiring into the sentiments of learned men that lived since St. Austin’s time: but to show that you had rather dispense with a lie, than not quote any author that you think makes for you, in the very next period but one you produce the authorities of Isidore, Gregory, and Otho, Spanish and Dutch authors, that lived in the most barbarous and ignorant ages of all; whose authorities, if you knew how much we despise, you would not have told a lie to have quoted them. But would you know the reason why he dares not come so low as to the present times ? why he does as it were hide himself, and disappear, when he comes towards our own times ? The reason is, because he knows full well, that as many eminent divines as there are of the reformed churches, so many adversaries he would have to encounter. Let him take up the cudgels, if he thinks fit; he will quickly find himself run down with innumerable authorities out of Luther, Zuinglius, Calvin, Bucer, Martyr, Paraeus, and the rest. I could oppose you with testimonies out of divines, that have flourished even in Leyden. Though that famous university and renowned commonwealth, which has been as it were a sanctuary for liberty, those fountains and streams of all polite learning, have not yet been able to wash away that slavish rust that sticks to you, and infuse a little humanity into you. Finding yourself destitute of any assistance or help from orthodox protestant divines, you have the impudence to betake yourself to the Sorbonists, whose college you know is devoted to the Romish religion, and consequently but of very weak authority amongst protestants. We are willing to deliver so wicked an assertor of tyranny as you, to be drowned in the Sorbonne, as being ashamed to own so despicable a slave as you show yourself to be, by maintaining that the whole body of a nation is not equal in power to the most slothful degenerate prince that may be. You labour in vain to lay that upon the pope, which all free nations, and all orthodox divines, own and assert. But the pope and his clergy, when they were in a low condition, and but of small account in the world, were the first authors of this pernicious absurd doctrine of yours; and when by preaching such doctrine they had gotten power into their own hands, they became the worst of tyrants themselves. Yet they engaged all princes to them by the closest tie imaginable, persuading the world, that was now besotted with their superstition, that it was unlawful to depose princes, though never so bad, unless the pope dispensed with their allegiance to them, by absolving them from their oaths. But you avoid orthodox writers, and endeavour to burden the truth with prejudice and calumny, by making the pope the first assertor of what is a known and a common received opinion amongst them ; which if you did not do it cunningly, you would make yourself appear to be neither papist nor protestant, but a kind of mongrel idumean Herodian. For as they of old adored one most inhuman bloody tyrant for the Messias, so you would have the world fall down and worship all. You boast, that ” you have confirmed your opinion by the testimonies of the fathers that flourished in the four first centuries; whose writings only are evangelical, and according to the truth of the Christian religion.” This man is past all shame! how many things did they preach, how many things have they published, which Christ and his apostles never taught! How many things are there in their writings, in which all protestant divines differ from them! But what is that opinion that you have confirmed by their authorities5 ” Why, that evil princes are appointed by God.” Allow that, as all other pernicious and destructive things are. What then ? why, ” that therefore they have no judge but God alone, that they are above all human laws; that there is no law, written or unwritten, no law of nature, nor of God, to call them to account before their own subjects.” But how comes that to pass ? Certain I am that there is no law against it: no penal law excepts kings. And all reason and justice requires, that those that offend, should be punished according to their deserts, without respect of persons. Nor have you hitherto produced any one law, either written or unwritten, of God or of nature, by which this is forbidden. What stands in the way then ? Why may not kings be proceeded against? Why, ” because they are appointed by God, be they never so bad.” I do not know whether I had best call you a knave, or a fool, or ignorant, unlearned barbarian. You show yourself a vile wretch, by propagating a doctrine so destructive and pernicious ; and you are a fool for backing it with such silly arguments. God says in Isa. liv. I have created the slayer to destroy.” Then by your reason a murderer is above the laws. Turn this topsyturvy, and consider it as long as you will, you will find the consequence to be the same with your own. For the pope is appointed by God, just as tyrants are, and set up for the punishment of the church, which I have already demonstrated out of your own writings. ” And yet,” say you, Wal. Mes. pag. 412, ” because he has raised his primacy to an insufferable height of power so as that he has made it neither better nor worse than plain downright tyranny, both he and his bishops may be put down more lawfully, than they were at first set up.” You tell us, that the pope and the bishops (though God in his wrath appointed them) may yet lawfully be rooted out of the church, because they are tyrants; and yet you deny that it is lawful to depose a tyrant in the commonwealth, and that for no other reason, than because God appointed him, though he did it in his anger. What ridiculous stuff is this! for whereas the pope cannot hurt a man’s conscience against his own will, for in the consciences of men it is that his kingdom consists, yet you are for deposing him as a grievous tyrant, in whose own power it is not to be a tyrant; and yet you maintain, that a tyrant properly and truly so called, a tyrant that has all our lives and estates within his reach, without whose assistance the pope himself could not exercise his tyranny in the church, ought for conscience sake to be borne withal and submitted to. These assertions compared with one another betray your childishness to that degree, that no man can read your books, but must of necessity take notice of your ignorance, rashness, and incogitancy. But you allege another reason, ” human affairs would be turned upside down.” They would so, and be changed for the better. Human affairs would certainly be in a deplorable condition, if being once troubled and disordered, there was a necessity of their continuing always so. I say, they would be changed for the belter, for the king’s power would revert to the people, from whom it was first derived, and conferred upon one of themselves; and the power would be transferred from him that abused it, to them that were prejudiced and injured by the abuse of it; than which nothing can be more just, for there could not well be an umpire in such a case; who would stand to the judgment of a foreigner ? all mankind would equally be subject to the laws; there would be no gods of flesh and blood : which kind of deities whoever goes about to set up in the world, they are equally injurious to church and commonwealth. Now I must turn your own weapons upon you again. You say, ” there can be no greater heresy than this, to set up one man in Christ’s seat. These two are infallible marks of Antichrist, infallibility in spirituals, and omnipotence in temporals.” Apparat. ad Prim, page 171. Do you pretend that ki
ngs are infallible ? If you do not, why do you make them omnipotent ? And how comes it to pass, that an unlimited power in one man should be accounted less destructive to temporal things, than it is to ecclesiastical ? Or do you think, that God takes no care at all of civil affairs ? If he takes none himself, I am sure he does not forbid us to take care which way they go. If he does take any care about them, certainly he would have the same reformation made in the commonwealth, that he would have made in the church, especially it being obvious to every man’s experience, that infallibility and omnipotency being arrogated to one man, are equally mischievous in both. God has not so modelled the government of the world as to make it the duty of any civil community to submit to the cruelties of tyrants, and yet to leave the church at liberty to free themselves from slavery and tyranny; nay, rather quite contrary, he has put no arms into the church’s hand but those of patience and innocence, prayer and ecclesiastical discipline; but in the commonwealth, all the magistracy are by him entrusted with the preservation and execution of the laws, with the power of punishing and revenging; he has put the sword into their hands. I cannot but smile at this man’s preposterous whimsies; in ecclesiastics he is Helvidius, Thraseas, a perfect tyrannicide. In politics no man more a lackey and slave to tyrants than he. If his doctrine hold, not we only that have deposed our king, but the protestants in general, who against the minds of their princes have rejected the pope, are all rebels alike. But I have confounded him long enough with his own arguments. Such is the nature of the beast, lest his adversary should be unprovided, he himself furnishes him with weapons. Never did any man give his antagonist greater advantages against himself than he does. They that he has to do withal, will be sooner weary of pursuing him, than he of flying.

Source: John Milton (1608-1674). This is an excerpt from Milton’s “A Defence of the People of England in Answer to Salmasiuss’s Defense of the King.” Copyright is held in the Public Domain.

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The Moral Liberal recommends: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek)


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