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On the subject of oaths, his decisions are very rational and judicious. He asserts their lawfulness, and that they are to be kept, even contrary to our interest; but in the vexed question of whether an oath extorted by a robber should be observed or not, he decides in the negative, on the strongest grounds. The prohibition (Matt. v. 33) “ does not apply to serious subjects, but to our daily conversation, in which nothing can occur of such importance as to be worthy the attestation of God.”
Relying, as usual, chiefly on the Old Testament, he sanctions the casting of lots as a means of learning the will of God; but it is not to be used in jest, or with a superstitious or fraudulent purpose.
On the subject of the Sabbath, he reverts to what he had already stated respecting the abrogation of the entire Law, the Decalogue included. He shows that the Sabbath was peculiar to the Israelites, and gives various reasons for its institution. He then argues from Rom. xiv. 5, that no particular day of worship had been appointed in its place, and replies to the arguments of those who deduced the obligation to observe a particular day, from the Fourth Commandment, and some other places of Scripture.
Hence (he says] we arrive at the following conclusions :-first, that under the Gospel no one day is appointed for divine worship in preference to another, except such as the Church may set apart of its own authority for the voluntary assembling of its members, wherein, relinquishing all worldly affairs, we may dedicate ourselves wholly to religious services, as far as is consistent with the duties of charity; and secondly, that this may conveniently take place once every seven days, and particularly on the first day of the week, provided always that it be observed in compliance with the authority of the Church, and not in obedience to the edicts of the magistrate; and likewise that a snare be not laid for the conscience by the allegation of a divine commandment, borrowed from the Decalogue; an error against which Paul diligently cautions us, Col. ii. 16: “Let no man therefore judge you,” etc. For if we, under the Gospel, are to regulate the time of our public worship by the prescriptions of the Decalogue, it will surely be far safer to observe the seventh day, according to the express commandment of God, than on the authority of mere human conjecture, to adopt the first. I perceive, also, that several of the best divines, as Bucer, Calvin, Peter Martyr, Musculus, Ursinus, Gomarus, and others, concur in the opinions above expressed.*
To this it may be added, that such also is the opinion of Paley and many other distinguished men in the Church of England. All however seem to be agreed that, both in a social and in a religious view, the devoting of one day in seven to a cessation from worldly toil is a most excellent institution, and one which should never be let go out of use on any account whatever.
* He might have included Luther, who said, “ As for the Sabbath, or Sunday, there is no necessity for its observance ; and if we do so, the reason ought to be, not because Moses commanded it, but because human nature likewise teaches us to give ourselves, from time to time, a day's rest, in order that man and beast may recruit their strength, and that we may go and hear the word of God preached.”
Milton, as we may see from various passages of his Christian Doctrine and other writings, held that the Holy Spirit aided sincere inquirers after the truth, however unfurnished with human aids to understand the Scriptures, which, in his view, were not to be understood without this aid:
6. Those written records pure, Though not but by the Spirit understood."
Par. Lost, xii. 513. But he went still further, and he seems to have believed that the aid of the Spirit was also given to those who sought, especially by writings, to promote the glory of God. Thus, in his Reason of Church Government, he says of himself, “ And if any man incline to think I undertake a task too difficult for my years, I trust, through the supreme enlightening assistance, far otherwise.” Again, “For public preaching indeed is the gift of the Spirit, working as best seems to his secret will.” When, in the same piece, he hints at his design of writing a great poem, he says, that the requisite powers were to be obtained only“ by devout prayer to that eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases."
Milton's invocation of the Holy Spirit in the commencement of Paradise Lost is not therefore to be regarded as a mere form of words. He believed that the Divine Spirit would illuminate the mind of one whose object was to
"Assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men." In addressing the Divine Light, which he seems to have held to be the same as, or equivalent to, the Spirit,
“So much the rather Thou, celestial Light,
And still stronger in the invocation of the Spirit in Paradise Regained, where he says
“ Inspire, As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute.” It is therefore not an improbable supposition that Milton regarded his descriptions of Heaven and Hell, and other “ things invisible to mortal sight,” as having their foundations in reality, being the secret dictation of the Holy Spirit to his unconscious mind.
Newton tells us that Milton's widow, being asked whether he did not often read Homer and Virgil, she un
derstood it as an imputation on him for stealing from 20 those authors, and answered with eagerness, that “ he
stole from nobody but the Muse who inspired him.” And being asked by a lady present, who the Muse was, replied, “It was God's grace and the Holy Spirit that visited him nightly."
In astronomy it is, we think, quite clear that Milton, like almost every scholar of his time,* held fast to what is called the Ptolemaic system, which regarded the earth as the centre of the universe. Thus in the Areopagitica we meet the following passage : “Who can discern those planets that are often combust, and those stars of brightest magnitude that rise and set with the sun, until the opposite motion of their orbs bring them to such a place in the firmament where they may be seen evening or morning ?” We also meet, in the Reason of Church Government, with the following :—“But that our happi
_ ness may orb itself into a thousand vagaries of glory and delight, and with a kind of eccentrical equation be, as it were, an invariable planet of joy and felicity.” In the following passage, from the Christian Doctrine, we think also that Ptolemaic ideas may be discerned :—"But even if it filled with its presence the whole circle of the earth
* “In the middle of the seventeenth century, and long after, there were mathematicians of no small reputation, who struggled staunchly for the immobility of the earth ; and except so far as Cartesian theories might have come in vogue, we have no reason to believe that any persons unacquainted with astronomy, either in this country or on the Continent, had embraced the system of Copernicus. Hume has censured Bacon for rejecting it ; but if Bacon had not done so, he would have anticipated the rest of his countrymen by a full quarter of a century.”— Hallam, Lit. of Europe, iii. 192.