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THE BURDEN OF THE LORD.
The Burden of the Lord.
[Milton's prose is too poetical, and in the spacious sweep and manifold windings and regurgitations of its tidal current, a feeble pinnace is apt to be helplessly borne away, till the navigator loses sight of land and loses himself. Still it is
very magnificent; and in a work of this nature, we perhaps render a greater service by quoting from the less known prose than from the familiar poetry.
The great drawback is, that the prose writings are all polemical. The second of the following extracts possesses uncommon literary interest, from indicating, as early as 1642, his lofty aspirations in authorship; but, like our first extract, it occurs in a treatise against Episcopacy, and some of its language is abundantly bitter. If, however, such a passage is to be given at all, there is no alternative but to present it entire.]
How happy were it for this frail and, as it may be called, mortal life of man, since all earthly things which have the name of good and convenient in our daily use are withal so cumbersome and full of trouble, if knowledge, yet which is the best and lightsomest possession of the mind, were, as the common saying is, no burden; and that what it wanted of being a load to any part of the body, it did not with a heavy advantage overlay upon the spirit! For not to speak of that knowledge that rests in the contemplation of natural causes and dimensions, which must needs be a lower wisdom, as the object is low, certain it is, that he who hath obtained in more than the scantiest measure to know anything distinctly of God and of His true worship, and what is infallibly good and happy in the state of man's life, what in itself evil and miserable, though vulgarly not so esteemed; he that hath obtained to
know this, the only high valuable wisdom indeed, remembering also that God, even to a strictness, requires the improvement of these His intrusted gifts, cannot but sustain a sorer burden of mind and more pressing than any supportable toil or weight which the body can labour under, how and in what manner he shall dispose and employ those sums of knowledge and illumination which God hath sent him into this world to trade with. And that which aggravates the burden more is, that, having received amongst his allotted parcels certain precious truths, of such an orient lustre as no diamond can equal — which, nevertheless, he has in charge to put off at any cheap rate, yea, for nothing to them that will—the great merchants of this world, fearing that this course would soon discover and disgrace the false glitter of their deceitful wares, wherewith they abuse the people, like poor Indians with beads and glasses, practise by all means how they may suppress the vending of such rarities, and at such a cheapness as would undo them, and turn their trash upon their hands. Therefore, by gratifying the corrupt desires of men in fleshly doctrines, they stir them up to persecute with hatred and contempt all those that seek to bear themselves uprightly in this their spiritual factory; which they foreseeing, though they cannot but testify of truth, and the excellency of that heavenly traffic which they bring, against what opposition or danger soever, yet needs must it sit heavily upon their spirits, that, being in God's prime intention, and their own, selected heralds of peace, and dispensers of treasure inestimable, without price to them that have no peace, they find in the discharge of their commission that they are made the greatest variance and offencea very sword and fire both in house and city over the whole earth. This is that which the sad prophet Jeremiah laments: “Wo is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me, a man of strife and contention !” And although Divine inspiration must certainly have been sweet to those ancient prophets,
THE BURDEN OF THE LORD.
yet the irksomeness of that truth which they brought was so unpleasant unto them that everywhere they call it a burden. Yea, that mysterious book of Revelation, which the great evangelist was bid to eat, as it had been some eyebrightening electuary of knowledge and foresight, though it were sweet in his mouth and in the learning, it was bitter in his belly, bitter in the denouncing. Nor was this hid from the wise poet Sophocles, who in that place of his tragedy where Tiresias is called to resolve king Edipus in a matter which he knew would be grievous, brings him in bemoaning his lot that he knew more than other men. For surely to every good and peaceable man, it must in nature needs be a hateful thing to be the displeaser and molester of thousands; much better would it like him doubtless to be the messenger of gladness and contentment, which is his chief intended business to all mankind, but that they resist and oppose their own true happiness. But when God commands to take the trumpet, and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in man's will what he shall say or what he shall conceal. If he shall think to be silent, as Jeremiah did, because of the reproach and derision he met with daily, "and all his familiar friends watched for his halting," to be revenged on him for speaking the truth, he would be forced to confess as he confessed : “His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary with forbearing, and could not stay.” Which might teach these times not suddenly to condemn all things that are sharply spoken or vehemently written as proceeding out of stomach, virulence, and ill-nature ; but to consider rather, that if the prelates have leave to say the worst that can be said, or do the worst that can be done, while they strive to keep to themselves, to their great pleasure and commodity, those things which they ought to render up, no man can be justly offended with him that shall endeavour to impart and bestow, without any gain to himself, those sharp but
saving words which would be a terror and a torment in him to keep back. For me, I have determined to lay up as the best treasure and solace of a good old age, if God vouchsafe it me, the honest liberty of free speech from my youth, where I shall think it available in so dear a concernment as the Church's good. For if I be, either by disposition or what other cause, too inquisitive, or suspicious of myself and mine own doings, who can help it? But this I foresee, that should the Church be brought under heavy oppression, and God have given me ability the while to reason against that man that should be the author of so foul a deed; or should she, by blessing from above on the industry and courage of faithful men, change this her distracted estate into better days, without the least furtherance or contribution of those few talents which God at that present had lent me; I foresee what stories I should hear within myself, all my life after, of discourage and reproach. “Timorous and ungrateful, the Church of God is now again at the foot of her insulting enemies, and thou bewailest; what matters it for thee, or thy bewailing? When time was, thou couldst not find a syllable of all that thou hast read or studied to utter in her behalf. Yet ease and leisure was given thee for thy retired thoughts, out of the sweat of other men. Thou hast the diligence, the parts, the language of a man, if a vain subject were to be adorned or beautified; but when the cause of God and His Church was to be pleaded, for which purpose that tongue was given thee which thou hast, God listened if He could hear thy voice among His zealous servants, but thou wert dumb as a beast. From henceforward be that which thine own brutish silence hath made thee.' Or else I should have heard on the other ear— Slothful, and ever to be set light by, the Church hath now overcome her late distresses after the unwearied labours of many her true servants that stood up in her defence ; thou also wouldst take upon thee to share amongst them of their
joy : but wherefore thou? Where canst thou shew
word or deed of thine which might have hastened her peace? Whatever thou dost now talk, or write, or look, is the alms of other men's active prudence and zeal. Dare not now to say or do anything better than thy former sloth and infancy; or, if thou darest, thou dost impudently to make a thrifty purchase of boldness to thyself out of the painful merits of other men. What before was thy sin is now thy duty, to be abject and worthless.' These, and such like lessons as these, I know would have been my matins duly and my even song. But now by this little diligence, mark what a privilege I have gained with good men and saints, to claim my right of lamenting the tribulations of the Church, if she should suffer, when others, that have ventured nothing for her sake, have not the honour to be admitted mourners. But if she lift up her drooping head and prosper, among those that have something more than wished her welfare, I have my charter and freehold of rejoicing to me and my heirs.
Literary Longings and Aspirations.
Lastly, I should not choose this manner of writing, wherein knowing myself inferior to myself, led by the genial power of nature to another task, I have the use, as I may account, but of my left hand. And though I shall be foolish in saying more to this purpose, yet, since it will be such a folly as wisest men go about to commit, having only confessed and so committed, I may trust with more reason, because with more folly, to have courteous pardon. For although a poet, soaring in the high region of his fancies, with his garland and singing robes about him, might, without apology, speak more of himself than I mean to do; yet for me sitting here below in the cool element of prose, a mortal thing among many readers of no empyreal conceit, to venture and divulge unusual