with the ASSEMBLY

If it were seriously askt, and it would be no untimely question, Renowned Parlament, select Assembly, who of all Teachers and Maisters that have ever taught, hath drawn the most Disciples after him, both in Religion, and in manners, it might bee not untruly answer'd, Custome. Though vertue be commended for the most perswasive in her Theory; and Conscience in the plain demonstration of the spirit, finds most evincing, yet whether it be the secret of divine will, or the originall blindnesse we are born in, so it happ'ns for the most part, that Custome still is silently receiv'd for the best instructer. Except it be, because her method is so glib and easie, in some manner like to that vision of Ezekiel, rowling up her sudden book of implicit knowledge, for him that will, to take and swallow down at pleasure; which proving but of bad nourishment in the concoction, as it was heedlesse in the devouring, puffs up unhealthily, a certaine big face of pretended learning, mistaken among credulous men, for the wholsome habit of soundnesse and good constitution; but is indeed no other, then that sworn visage of counterfeit knowledge and literature, which not onely in private marrs our education, but also in publick is the common climer into every chaire, where either Religion is preach't, or Law reported: filling each estate of life and profession, with abject and servil principles; depressing the high and Heaven-born spirit of Man, farre beneath the condition wherein either God created him or sin hath sunke him. To persue the Allegory, Custome being but a meer face, as Eccho is a meere voice, rests not in her unaccomplishment, untill by secret inclination, she accorporat her selfe with error, who being a blind and Serpentine body without a head, willingly accepts what he wants, and supplies what her incompleatnesse went seeking. Hence it is, that Error supports Custome, Custome count'nances Error. And these two betweene them would persecute and chase away all truth and solid wisdome out of humane life, were it not that God, rather then man, once in many ages, cals together the prudent and Religious counsels of Men, deputed to represse the encroachments, and to worke off the inveterate blots and obscurities wrought upon our mindes by the suttle insinuating of Error and Custome: Who with the numerous and vulgar train of their followers make it their chiefe designe to envie and cry-down the industry of free reasoning, under the terms of humor, and innovation; as if the womb of teeming Truth were to be clos'd up, if shee presume to bring forth ought, that sorts not with their unchew'd notions and suppositions. Against which notorious injury and abuse of mans free soul to testifie and oppose the utmost that study and true labour can attaine, heretofore the incitement of men reputed grave hath led me among others; and now the duty and the right of an instructed Christian cals me through the chance of good or evill report, to be the sole advocate of a discount'nanct truth: a high enterprise Lords and Commons; a high enterprise and a hard, and such as every seventh Son of a seventh Son does not venture on. Nor have I amidst the clamor of so much envie and impertinence, whether to appeal, but to the concourse of so much piety and wisdome heer assembl'd. Bringing in my hands an ancient and most necessary, most charitable, and yet most injur'd Statute of Moses: not repeald ever by him who only had the authority, but thrown aside with much inconsiderat neglect, under the rubbish of Canonicall ignorance: as once the whole law was by some such like conveyance in Iosiahs time. And hee who shall indeavour the amendment of any old neglected grievance in Church or State, or in the daily course of life, if he be gifted with abilities of mind that may raise him to so high an undertaking, I grant he hath already much whereof not to repent him; yet let mee arreed him, not to be the foreman of any mis-judgd opinion, unlesse his resolutions be firmly seated in a square and constant mind, not conscious to it self of any deserved blame, and regardles of ungrounded suspicions. For this let him be sure he shall be boorded presently by the ruder sort, but not by discreet and well nurtur'd men, with a thousand idle descants and surmises. Who when they cannot confute the least joynt or sinew of any passage in the book; yet God forbid that truth should be truth, because they have a boistrous conceit of some pretences in the Writer. But were they not more busie and inquisitive then the Apostle commends, they would heare him at least, rejoycing, so the Truth be preacht, whether of envie or other pretence whatsoever: For Truth is as impossible to be soil'd by any outward touch, as the Sun beam. Though this ill hap wait on her nativity, that shee never comes into the world, but like a Bastard, to the ignominy of him that brought her forth: till Time the Midwife rather then the mother of Truth, have washt and salted the Infant, declar'd her legitimat, and Churcht the father of his young Minerva, from the needlesse causes of his purgation. Your selves can best witnesse this, worthy Patriots, and better will, no doubt, hereafter: for who among ye of the formost that have travail'd in her behalfe to the good of Church, or State, hath not been often traduc't to be the agent of his owne by-ends, under pretext of Reformation. So much the more I shall not be unjust to hope, that however Infamy, or Envy may work in other men to doe her fretfull will against this discourse, yet that the experience of your owne uprightnesse mis-interpreted, will put ye in mind to give it free audience and generous construction. What though the brood of Belial, the draffe of men, to whom no liberty is pleasing, but unbridl'd and vagabond lust without pale or partition, will laugh broad perhaps, to see so great a strength of Scripture mustering up in favour, as they suppose, of their debaucheries; they will know better, when they shall hence learne, that honest liberty is the greatest foe to dishonest licence. And what though others out of a waterish and queasy conscience because ever crasy, and never yet sound, will rail and fancy to themselves, that injury and licence is the best of this Book? Did not the distemper of their own stomacks affect them with a dizzy megrim, they would soon tie up their tongues, and discern themselves like that Assyrian blasphemer all this while reproaching not man but the Almighty, the holy one of Israel, whom they doe not deny to have belawgiv'n his owne sacred people with this very allowance, which they now call injury and licence, and dare cry shame on, and will doe yet a while, till they get a little cordiall sobriety to settle their qualming zeale. But this question concerns not us perhaps: Indeed mans disposition though prone to search after vain curiosities, yet when points of difficulty are to be discusst, appertaining to the removall of unreasonable wrong and burden from the perplext life of our brother, it is incredible how cold, how dull, and farre from all fellow feeling we are, without the spurre of self-concernment. Yet if the wisdome, the justice, the purity of God be to be cleer'd from foulest imputations which are not yet avoided, if charity be not to be degraded and trodd'n down under a civil Ordinance, if Matrimony be not to be advanc't like that exalted perdition, writt'n of to the Thessalonians, above all that is called God, or goodnesse, nay, against them both, then I dare affirm there will be found in the Contents of this Booke, that which may concern us all. You it concerns chiefly, Worthies in Parlament, on whom, as on our deliverers, all our grievances and cares, by the merit of your eminence and fortitude are devolv'd: Me it concerns next, having with much labour and faithfull diligence first found out, or at least with a fearlesse and communicative candor first publisht to the manifest good of Christendome, that which calling to witnesse every thing mortall and immortall, I beleeve unfainedly to be true. Let not other men thinke their conscience bound to search continually after truth, to pray for enlightning from above to publish what they think they have so obtaind & debarr me from conceiving my self ty'd by the same duties. Yee have now, doubtlesse by the savour and appointment of God, Yee have now in your hands a great and populous Nation to Reform; from what corruption, what blindnes in Religion yee know well; in what a degenerat and fal'n spirit from the apprehension of native liberty, and true manlines, I'am sure ye find: with what unbounded licence rushing to whordoms and adulteries needs not long enquiry: insomuch that the fears which men have of too strict a discipline, perhaps exceed the hopes that can bee in others, of ever introducing it with any great successe. What if I should tell yee now of dispensations and indulgences, to give a little the rains, to let them play and nibble with the bait a while; a people as hard of heart as that Egyptian Colony that went to Canaan. This is the common doctrine that adulterous and injurious divorces were not conniv'd only, but with eye open allow'd of old for hardnesse of heart. But that opinion, I trust, by then this following argument hath been well read, will be left for one of the mysteries of an indulgent Antichrist, to farm out incest by, and those his other tributary pollutions. What middle way can be tak'n then, may some interrupt, if we must neither turne to the right nor to the left, and that the people hate to be reform'd: Mark then, Judges and Lawgivers, and yee whose Office is to be our teachers, for I will utter now a doctrine, if ever any other, though neglected or not understood, yet of great and powerfull importance to the governing of mankind. He who wisely would restrain the reasonable Soul of man within due bounds, must first know himself perfectly, how far the territory and dominion extends of just and honest liberty. As little must he offer to bind that which God hath loos'n'd, as to loos'n that which he hath bound. The ignorance and mistake of this high point, hath heapt up one huge half of all the misery that hath bin since Adam. In the Gospel we shall read a supercilious crew of masters, whose holinesse, or rather whose evill eye, grieving that God should be so facil to man, was to set straiter limits to obedience, then God had set; to inslave the dignity of man, to put a garrison upon his neck of empty, and overdignifi'd precepts. And we shall read our Saviour never more greev'd and troubl'd, then to meet with such a peevish madnesse among men against their own freedome. How can we expect him to be lesse offended with us, when much of the same folly shall be found yet remaining where it lest ought, to the perishing of thousands. The greatest burden in the world is superstition; not onely of Ceremonies in the Church, but of imaginary and scarcrow sins at home. What greater weakning, what more suttle stratagem against our Christian warfare, when besides the grosse body of real transgressions to encounter; wee shall bee terrify'd by a vain and shadowy meanacing of faults that are not: When things indifferent shall be set to over-front us, under the banners of sin, what wonder if wee bee routed, and by this art of our Adversary, fall into the subjection of worst and deadliest offences. The superstition of the Papist is, touch not, taste not, when God bids both: and ours is, part not, separat not, when God and charity both permits and commands. Let all your things be done with charity, saith St. Paul: and his Master saith, shee is the fulfilling of the Law. Yet now a civil, an indifferent, a somtime diswaded Law of mariage, must be forc't upon us to fulfill, not onely without charity but against her. No place in Heav'n or Earth, except Hell, where charity may not enter: yet mariage the Ordinance of our solace and contentments, the remedy of our lonelinesse will not admit now either of charity or mercy to come in and mediate or pacifie the fiercenes of this gentle Ordinance, the unremedied lonelinesse of this remedy. Advise yee well, supreme Senat, if charity be thus excluded and expulst, how yee will defend the untainted honour of your own actions and proceedings: He who marries intends as little to conspire his own ruine, as he that swears Allegiance: and as a whole people is in proportion to an ill Government, so is one man to an ill mariage. If they against any authority, Covnant, or Statute, may by the sovereign edict of charity, save not only their lives but honest liberties from unworthy bondage, as well may he against any private Covnant, which hee never enter'd to his mischief, redeem himself from unsupportable disturbances to honest peace, and just contentment: And much the rather, for that to resist the highest Magistrat though tyrannizing God never gave us expresse allowance, only he gave us reason, charity, nature and good example to bear us out; but in this economical misfortune, thus to demean our selves, besides the warrant of those foure great directors, which doth as justly belong hither, we have an expresse law of God, and such a law, as wherof our Saviour with a solemn threat forbid the abrogating. For no effect of tyranny can sit more heavy on the Common-wealth, then this houshold unhappines on the family. And farewell all hope of true Reformation in the state, while such an evill as this lies undiscern'd or unregarded in the house. On the redresse wherof depends, not only the spiritfull and orderly life of our grown men, but the willing, and carefull education of our children. Let this therefore be new examin'd, this tenure and free-hold of mankind, this native and domestick Charter giv'n us by a greater Lord then that Saxon king the Confessor. Let the statutes of God be turn'd over, be scann'd a new, and consider'd; not altogether by the narrow intellectuals of quotationists and common placers, but (as was the ancient right of Counsels) by men of what liberall profession soever, of eminent spirit and breeding joyn'd with a diffuse and various knowledge of divine and human things; able to ballance and define good and evill, right and wrong, throughout every state of life; able to shew us the waies of the Lord, strait and faithfull as they are, not full of cranks and contradictions, and pit falling dispences, but with divine insight and benignity measur'd out to the proportion of each mind and spirit, each temper and disposition, created so different each from other, and yet by the skill of wise conducting, all to become uniform in vertue. To expedite these knots were worthy a learned and memorable Synod; while our enemies expect to see the expectation of the Church tir'd out with dependencies and independencies how they will compound, and in what Calends. Doubt not, worthy Senators, to vindicate the sacred honour and judgment of Moses your predecessor, from the shallow commenting of Scholasticks and Canonists. Doubt not after him to reach out your steddy hands to the mis-inform'd and wearied life of man; to restore this his lost heritage, into the houshold state; wherwith be sure that peace and love the best subsistence of a Christian family will return home from whence they are now banisht; places of prostitution wil be lesse haunted, the neighbours bed less attempted, the yoke of prudent and manly discipline will be generally submitted to, sober and well order'd living will soon spring up in the Common-wealth. Ye have an author great beyond exception, Moses; and one yet greater, he who hedg'd in from abolishing, every smallest jot and tittle of precious equity contain'd in that Law, with a more accurat and lasting Masoreth, then either the Synagogue of Ezra, or the Galilean School at Tiberias hath left us. Whatever els ye can enact, will scarce concern a third part of the Brittish name: but the benefit and good of this your magnanimous example, will easily spread far beyond the banks of Tweed and the Norman Iles. It would not be the first, or second time, since our ancient Druides, by whom this Island was the Cathedrall of Philosophy to France, left off their pagan rites, that England hath had this honour vouchsaft from Heav'n, to give out reformation to the World. Who was it but our English Constantine that baptiz'd the Roman Empire? who but the Northumbrian Willibrode, and Winifrede of Devon with their followers, were the first Apostles of Germany? Who but Alcuin and Wicklef our Country men open'd the eyes of Europe, the one in arts, the other in Religion. Let not England, forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live.

Know, Worthies, know and exercise the privilege of your honour'd Country. A greater title I heer bring ye, then is either in the power or in the policy of Rome to give her Monarchs; this glorious act will stile ye the defenders of Charity. Nor is this yet the highest inscription that will adorne so religious and so holy a defence as this; behold heer the pure and sacred Law of God, and his yet purer and more sacred name offring themselvs to you first, of all Christian reformers to be acquitted from the long suffer'd ungodly attribute of patronizing Adultery. Deferre not to wipe off instantly these imputative blurrs and stains cast by rude fancies upon the throne and beauty it selfe of inviolable holines: lest some other people more devout and wise then wee, bereav us this offer'd immortal glory, our wonted prerogative, of being the first asserters in every great vindication. For me, as farre as my part leads me, I have already my greatest gain, assurance and inward satisfaction to have don in this nothing unworthy of an honest life, and studies well employ'd. With what event among the wise and right understanding handfull of men, I am secure. But how among the drove of Custom and Prejudice this will be relisht, by such whose capacity, since their youth run ahead into the easie creek of a System or a Medulla, sayls there at will under the blown physiognomy of their unlabour'd rudiments, for them what their tast will be, I have also surety sufficient, from the entire league that hath bin ever between formal ignorance and grave obstinacie. Yet when I remember the little that our Saviour could prevail about this doctrine of Charity against the crabbed textuists of his time, I make no wonder, but rest confident that who so preferrs either Matrimony, or other Ordinance before the good of man and the plain exigence of Charity, let him professe Papist, or Protestant, or what he will, he is no better then a Pharise, And understands not the Gospel: whom as a misinterpreter of Christ I openly protest against; and provoke him to the trial of this truth before all the world: and let him bethink him withall how he will soder up the shifting flaws of his ungirt permissions, his venial and unvenial dispences, wherwith the Law of God pardoning and unpardoning hath bin shamefully branded, for want of heed in glossing, to have eluded and baffl'd out all Faith and chastity from the mariagebed of that holy seed, with politick and judicial adulteries. I seek not to seduce the simple and illiterat; my errand is to find out the choicest and the learnedest, who have this high gift of wisdom to answer solidly, or to be convinc't. I crave it from the piety, the learning and the prudence which is hous'd in this place. It might perhaps more fitly have bin writt'n in another tongue; and I had don so, but that the esteem I have of my Countries judgement, and the love I beare to my native language to serv it first with what I endeavour, made me speak it thus, ere I assay the verdit of outlandish readers. And perhaps also heer I might have ended nameles, but that the addresse of these lines chiefly to the Parlament of England might have seem'd ingratefull not to acknowledge by whose Religious care, unwearied watchfulnes, couragious and heroick resolutions, I enjoy the peace and studious leisure to remain,

The Honourer and Attendant of their Noble worth and vertues,

John Milton