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 Nearly half a century has elapsed since Tillyard complained that Milton's prose works have "far too often . . . been treated as static, an alien mass, a kind of obstructing rock in the stream; which can be commented on as a whole and without reference to dates or developments".1 The intervening decades have done much to correct this situation. A number of scholars have demonstrated that important relationships exist between the products of the left and right hands, and they have stressed the continuity of purpose and outlook which underpins Milton's activities both as poet and pamphleteer. An even greater scholarly energy has been devoted to examining the artistry and rhetorical technique in individual pamphlets and has shown that many of them are works of considerable technical accomplishment. And yet, apart from studies like Arthur Barker's Milton and the Puritan Dilemma or Michael Fixler's Milton and the Kingdoms of God, little attention has been paid to the evolving self-awareness and deepening vocational tone in the prose works.
Milton's prose marks a crucial phase in his development because, as I suggested in the preceding chapter, his involvement in political and ecclesiastical controversy provided the school in which he was first taught to justify the ways of God to men. In the years 1641-60 Milton's relationship with his God grew closer than it had ever been, and through the prose there reigns the deepening conviction that he has been marked for special service as God's spokesman to the nation--like Isaiah and Jeremiah he has been called as a prophet of the Lord. As William Kerrigan observes, "Milton believed himself a prophet. The traditional idea became inseparable from the self who had received that tradition. He spoke as a prophet, rarely of the prophet, and this belief in intimate impulse and divine favor sustained him through most of his life."2 It must be emphasised, however, that this conviction of prophetic vocation did not come all at once and in a blinding flash. It evolved gradually over a considerable period of time. A longing for the "prophetic strain" in the early poetry and the  carefully nurtured belief in the immortality of fame to be achieved through his poetic priesthood are the convictions of a largely unfocused idealism. He had been called to serve God, but he was still uncertain as to how precisely he was to fulfil this high calling. The solution of this problem--or at least the first stage of it--came in 1641 when Milton was prompted to join the controversy over episcopacy.
Convinced that England was a covenanted nation and that the prelates were wilfully thwarting the divinely ordained national mission, Milton took up his pen to defend the cause of continuing reformation. In Of Reformation and the pamphlets which followed he became a spokesman pleading God's own cause and, for the first time in his career, his visionary idealism found a firm centre of focus. More significantly still, his sense of a personal calling was both directed and defined by its conjunction with the calling of the nation at large; and this concurrence of vocations carried with it important implications for Milton's poetic destiny, for it gave him a theme (if not a precise subject) for the great poem which he hoped to write. Believing that the bishops would be disposed of quickly and that their fall would usher in the reign of the saints and ultimately the Parousia itself, he took occasion throughout the antiprelatical tracts to promise his readers that polemics were but the prelude to poetry. The jarring blast of prophecy would shortly give place to a fitting poetic tribute for God's great mercies to His English nation--an elaborate song of thanksgiving to grace the lips of generations yet unborn. Whether based on scriptural or on English history, the poem was intended to glorify the establishment of the English New Jerusalem, a paradise far more tangible and immediate than that which Michael is able to offer Adam in the closing book of Paradise Lost. In the first flush of his reforming ardour, when the consummation seemed perhaps only months away, it was natural for Milton to construe his poetic calling as an extension of his prophetic vocation.
The visionary optimism of 1642, however, was qualified by a more sober realism in the years which followed. Domestic and civil strife, coupled with the slackening zeal and finally the defection of his Presbyterian allies, forced upon Milton the recognition that the national regeneration which God had willed for England might well be frustrated. The ship of reformation found herself in heavy seas battling cross-winds and contrary currents; if she were not to founder, then strong and able voices must be heard  above the tempest guiding her to her appointed haven. Milton believed that he was one of these voices and that God had called him to this task. In the pamphlets of 1644-60 he proclaimed again and again the essential truth as he perceived it; however, as the barbarous dissonance of the recalcitrants and backsliders grew louder and greater with the passage of time, there were fewer and fewer of his countrymen willing to heed his words.
Milton's divergence from the religious and political mood of the majority in the nation, his gradual isolation as he continued to meditate the divine will to a progressively dwindling band of the elect, manifested itself in an increasing self-identification with the Old Testament prophets. The nature and extent of this deepening identification from 1642 to 1660 may be quickly and accurately gauged in his use of two passages from Jeremiah. In The Reason of Church-Government (1642), the first of the antiprelatical tracts to which he signed his name, Milton opens the preface to the second book by discussing at some length the onerous responsibilities of the prophetic office:
though they cannot but testify of Truth and the excellence of that heavenly traffick which they bring against what opposition, or danger soever, yet needs must it sit heavily upon their spirits, that being in Gods prime intention and their own, select heralds of peace, and dispensers of treasure inestimable without price to them that have no pence, they finde in the discharge of their commission that they are made the greatest variance and offence, a very sword and fire 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 born me a man of strife, and contention [Jer. 15: 10]. And although divine inspiration must certainly have been sweet to those ancient profets, yet the irksomnesse of that truth which they brought was so unpleasant to them, that every where they call it a burden. (YP, I, pp. 802-3)
This anatomy of the prophet's duty, which is extended well beyond the canonical prophets to include the figure of Tiresias from Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, serves as much more than an abstract analysis of the unhappy burden imposed on the humanity of those called to labour as God's spokesmen. It is, in fact, intended as an affirmation of Milton's own calling and a  justification of his speaking out against the bishops. His conviction that he has been entrusted with a divine commission is sincere if somewhat self-conscious. Nevertheless, it is important to see that he does not align himself directly with Jeremiah; rather, the parallel is established by implication and he treats the prophet's vocation as a distant analogue of his own experience. He is also careful to distinguish the plenary inspiration of the Old Testament prophet from the indirect prompting by which he has been summoned: "neither envy nor gall hath enterd me upon this controversy, but the enforcement of conscience only." (YP, I, p. 806)3 By the spring of 1660, however, when Milton sent forth the second edition of The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, his identification with the prophetic tradition is complete. He speaks as a prophet rather than of the prophets. Secure in his calling, he makes no attempt to explain or defend his stance; and drawing on Jeremiah 22: 29, he addresses "the last words of our expiring libertie" to a nation rushing headlong into the betrayal of her holy mission: "What I have spoken, is the language of that which is not call'd amiss the good Old Cause--if it seem strange to any, it will not seem more strange, I hope, then convincing to backsliders. Thus much I should perhaps have said though I were sure I should have spoken only to trees and stones; and had none to cry to, but with the Prophet, O earth, earth, earth! to tell the very soil it self, what her perverse inhabitants are deaf to." (YP, VI I, pp. 462-3) The language and cadence of this moving peroration, the tone combining exhortation with resignation, echo the prophetic tradition within which Milton locates himself. Like Jeremiah before him, God's English prophet stands alone, unmoved and undismayed by the howling and the fury round about him. Careless of personal safety and wrapped in the mantle of divine authority, he proclaims God's will with a just and timely fear of that "precipice of destruction" toward which the covenanted nation is being propelled "through the general defection of a misguided and abus'd multitude" (ibid., p. 463). The Restoration was by then inevitable, and it is a measure of the depth of Milton's vocational conviction that he continued to speak out when all purely rational hope was lost.
It may be added that the twenty years of polemics and the sad course of political events greatly affected Milton's view of his poetic calling. The plan for a great poem to celebrate the founding of the English New Jerusalem had to be abandoned, and after the  unfettered idealism of 1642 the conjunction between poetry and prophecy began to erode. He wrote little poetry during these years and the few allusions to his poetic destiny in the later prose works are veiled and cautious. The Restoration necessitated a time of revaluation and reassessment, and this is reflected in the later poetry. Indeed, as I shall argue in the remaining chapters, the last poems are very largely concerned with the theme of divine vocation. Poetry for Milton often served a cathartic function. In the Nativity Ode, Sonnet 7 and Lycidas, for example, he turned to verse at critical moments in his intellectual or religious life; and in each case the imposition of an aesthetic pattern on his own experience enabled him either to resolve a personal crisis or to transcend a private difficulty by transposing its solution from the realm of nature to that of grace.4 I have elsewhere argued that this same principle may be applied to Sonnet 23, where art imposes form and control on biography while at the same time biography imparts emotional force to the patterns of art.5 It seems to me equally true that biographical considerations play an important role in the last poems as well. After the Restoration Milton found it necessary to reassess his prophetic vocation and to reaffirm his personal covenant with God within the altered context of a society that had wilfully rejected its divinely ordained mission of civil, ecclesiastic and domestic reformation. I believe that Samson Agonistes, which I would place in 1660-1 (see Appendix), records the crucial phase of this vocational revaluation. Not only does Samson's physical plight in a Philistian prison recall that of God's blind poet-prophet in enforced concealment in Bartholomew Close, but the Hebrew warrior's vocational concerns--his fear that God had perhaps finished with him and withdrawn His favour, his anxiety that he had acted presumptuously in executing what he supposed to be the promptings of the divine will, and so on--parallel the misgivings which Milton must have experienced in 1660. Since the composition of Paradise Lost straddles the Restoration, it may also be the case that Adam's bipartite education under the tutelage of Raphael (prelapsarian) and Michael (postlapsarian) reflects Milton's own preoccupation with a contrast between the life that would have been possible in the theocracy which he had fought so hard to establish and the life now necessary in a fallen and monarchical England where the kingdom of God is a promise and Eden a state of mind. Such speculation--and I claim no more for it--may well not be  convincing to readers of Paradise Lost, since we know little for certain about the composition of the epic; and I have no desire to push it beyond decorous limits. The case for Samson Agonistes is much stronger, but I shall defer the detailed study of the poem's vocational implications to its appropriate place in later chapters.
It is impossible in a single chapter to do anything like justice to the range and complexity of Milton's view of his prophetic vocation in the prose works. There are, however, two points which merit special consideration. The most important aspect of Milton's prophetic vocation is his conviction that his own calling is only meaningful within the context of the national mission, and this belief places him firmly in the tradition of Old Testament prophecy. It will be useful, therefore, to clarify his relation to this tradition by sketching its development in the Bible and its later naturalisation in Milton's England. The second point which requires some elaboration is Milton's view of prophetic inspiration and the significance of his attitude in terms both of the prose and the later poetry.
(i) A COVENANTED NATION
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. (Psalm 33: 12)
The traditional origin of the Hebrew conviction of racial destiny is found in Genesis 12: 1-3 where Abraham is promised that in his seed all the nations of earth will be blessed. Maturing during the time of the later patriarchs Isaac and Jacob, this original berîth or covenant leads ultimately to the central event in Jewish history, the Sinai covenant mediated by Moses between Yahweh and His chosen people. The precise terms of the Sinai covenant are important and bear repetition: "if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." (Exodus 19: 5-6) The significant fact is that the Hebrews are not chosen for their own sake, for God's favour carries with it a heavy load of responsibility. Israel is not simply a chosen nation, but is a holy  people--'am kadôsh--charged with the priestly mission of spreading the knowledge and worship of Yahweh to the Gentiles.
By the time of the rhapsodist prophets in the eighth century B.C.--Amos and Hosea in Northern Israel, and Isaiah in Judah--the Hebrews had come to appreciate how far short of their calling as a "kingdom of priests" they had fallen. Not only had they failed to promote Yahwism among the Gentiles, but more grievously they had, by a process of religious syncretism, permitted Canaanite ritual and belief to defile the purity of the Law handed down on Sinai. In the most stirring terms the prophets warned that nothing short of complete reformation could save the nation from condign punishment. Since these prophets, like their successors over the next two centuries, saw their individual calling as meaningful only in the context of Israel's election, it is not surprising that their pleas and comminations as well as their eschatology should be based firmly on the centrality of covenant theology in the Hebrew consciousness. As the spokesmen of national destiny, their voice was that of Israel and her God. They pandered to the special interests neither of class nor dynasty, and indeed, were often driven to speak against their own wills in a way that endangered personal safety.
The prophetic interpretation of history is enunciated with great clarity and power in the writings of Deutero-Isaiah, the last of the major Hebrew prophets. This anonymous poet, who arose among the Judaean exiles in Babylon in the middle of the sixth century B.C., composed chapters 40-55 of the Book of Isaiah, and, apart from the covenants made with Abraham and Moses, his writings constitute the most important statement of national vocation in the Old Testament. According to Deutero-Isaiah, Israel remains an elect nation despite her apostasy and despite the Lord's present anger with her: "Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a thick cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee." (Isaiah 44: 21- 2) The prophet then goes on to tell his fellow-exiles that Yahweh has appointed Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, to redeem Israel by freeing the captives and restoring the temple in Jerusalem; once reunified, the nation can resume her priestly mission, her ordained role of serving as "a light to the Gentiles". Again and again he reminds the Hebrews of their special status in accents of  ringing triumph and exultation; his voice is the voice of Israel herself: "Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified." (49: 1-3) After surveying the election-covenant faith of Israel from the time of Abraham, the eschatological vision reaches its climax in an intensely imagined promise of imminent deliverance, coupled with an urgent call for regeneration and sanctification.
Deutero-Isaiah is pre-eminently the prophet of redemption. His constant theme is the national covenant with Yahweh and his abiding concern is that Israel should cleanse and prepare herself spiritually to fulfil her divine mission. With variations of emphasis, the other prophets share this theme. Thus, although Amos and Micah with their stern theologies of doom stress divine justice rather than mercy, their prophecies are nevertheless grounded in a conviction of covenant solidarity; it is because Israel has violated the covenant that they pronounce her doom: "Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3: 1-3) While he called for repentance and extended hope on that condition, Amos saw too deeply into the hearts of his countrymen to believe that his pleas and warnings would have much effect: "Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph." (5: 14-15) Amos's pessimism, although more pronounced than that of other prophets, leads to an important qualification of national election which is shared by all the prophets--namely, the realisation that there is an election within the election. Since even the more sanguine prophets. perceived clearly that only a handful of the "chosen people" would heed the call to repentance, the duty of fulfilling the covenant passed from the nation at large into the hands of a godly and regenerate kernel within it, a "holy seed"  representing the true Israel.6 Although the doctine of the remnant is found throughout the Old Testament, it is particularly prominent in the prophetic books where it becomes, for the first time, a definite and coherent doctrine closely allied with the covenant theology that we have been examining. Israel has failed in her response to election and has been punished accordingly, but still God's redemptive purpose will not be frustrated, for the inheritance is to be preserved in a divinely chosen remnant. Without the merciful intervention of grace, however, the covenant would have been abrogated, with disatrous results for the Hebrew people: "Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah." (Isaiah 1: 9) The doctrine of the remnant, largely developed by Isaiah, is a theme taken up by other prophets (e.g., Jeremiah 44: 14 and Micah 7: 18) and functions as a bridge between the threat of punishment and the promise of restoration. Zephaniah sums up the hope of the remnant with a truly pastoral simplicity: "The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid." (Zeph. 3: 13) They are the new flock, regenerate and pure, in whom the inheritance promised to Abraham and Moses shall be brought to perfection.
In conclusion, then, it may be said that the essential feature of Old Testament election is that it is primarily national.7 Personal calling is invariably contingent on the national mission. As individuals, Abraham and Moses are the special servants of Yahweh, but their importance as providential agents is subsumed under the broader object of their election, namely, that they should bring Israel to an understanding of her vocational role in the divine scheme of things and that they should mediate the terms of the national covenant with the Lord. In a similar way the personal charisma of military leaders like Saul and David is second in importance to their function as warrior-princes consolidating the strength and extending the boundaries of God's chosen nation. The prophets of the divided monarchy and the Babylonian captivity likewise demonstrate the dependence of private calling upon the national vocation. The prophetic office requires a devaluing of individual personality, and its function is the didactic one of bringing errant Israel to strict observance of the Mosaic covenant. It is for this reason, as W. F. Albright notes,  that "from David's time on, the prophetic mission was closely associated with moral and political as well as purely religious revival".8 In the Old Testament, then, individual election is subordinated to national election and is meaningful only within that wider context.
In later centuries the concept of a covenanted people with a divine mission passed into European consciousness and was vigorously adopted (and adapted) by various groups as a sure foundation for emergent nationalism. Frequently the idea is pressed into the service of a radical millenarianism and is symptomatic of frenzied, deflected spirituality;9 but this is not always the case. In Tudor and Stuart England, for example, while the Puritan left provides ample evidence that the theme of national vocation was a common fantasy in the tradition of popular eschatology, it is important to see that the idea is prominent in the thinking of conservative reformers as well--indeed, even Matthew Parker, the scholarly Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-75), felt strongly enough on the subject of national and ecclesiastical election to counsel Lord Burghley in these terms: "The comfort that these puritans have, and their continuance, is marvellous; and therefore if her Highness with her council (I mean some of them) step not to it, I see the likelihood of a pitiful commonwealth to follow; Deus misereatur nostri. Where Almighty God is so much English as he is, should not we requite his mercy with some earnesty to prefer his honour and true religion?"10 During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was widely believed that England was a covenanted nation and that God had special plans for His English church. The accession of Elizabeth, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the discovery and foiling of the Gunpowder Treason, the parliamentary victory in the civil wars, and the establishment of the Protectorate were all interpreted--though for different reasons and by different groups--as manifest evidence of divine care and favour shown to an elect nation.
The early years of Elizabeth's reign were fraught with dangers, both real and imagined, from the powerful Catholic nations to the south; and the Protestant exiles, returning to England after the bloody interlude of Marian repression, were well aware that the success--indeed the very existence--of their cause depended on the religious and political solidarity of the nation. It was clear to the reformers that the Babylonian captivity of the church11 had come to an end and that Elizabeth had been appointed to restore  the true church and bring to perfection the reformation that God had ordained. All the signs indicated unequivocally that England was the new Israel; and for this reason, as William Haller points out, the English people had to be made "to understand the whole pattern of events from the beginning to the present in order that they should realise their own place as a nation in that process, their immediate responsibility, the destiny to which they were called. Only thus could they rightly grasp the meaning of the current struggle with alien powers threatening their destruction and the necessity of supporting the queen and her government."12
The English reformers, therefore, undertook to educate both sovereign and people in their duties and responsibilities. As interpreters of the divine will the prophet-reformers drew the parallels between England and Israel, exhorting the nation to consummate her destiny. With an eye on the frailty of human nature and the subtlety of the Roman Antichrist, William Whittingham and his fellow-translators reminded the queen of her divine vocation in the epistle prefixed to the Geneva Bible and likened her task to that of Zerubbabel whom the prophet Zechariah had admonished on divine command to rebuild the Temple after the return from Babylon (Zech. 4: 6-10):
Which thing when we weigh aright, and consider earnestly how muche greater charge God hath laid vpon you in making you a builder of his spiritual Temple, we can not but partely feare, knowing the crafte and force of Satan our spiritual enemie, and the weakness and vnabilitie of this our nature: and partely be feruent in our prayers toward God that he wolde bring to perfection this noble worke which he hath begon by you: and therefore we indeuour our selues by all means to ayde, & to bestowe our whole force vnder your graces standard, whome God hath made as our Zerubbabel for the erecting of this most excellent Temple . . . . 13
The prophetic stance of the Geneva translators is no rhetorical feint; their conviction of inner prompting is as sincere as is Zechariah's belief in the angel who declares that "the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you" (4: 9). Although their inspiration is indirect, it is nonetheless actual. They are impelled to speak because they, too, are God's instruments in the work of rebuilding the English temple.
 Undoubtedly the most important assertion of national vocation in Elizabethan England is John Foxe's Acts and Monuments of the Church (1563), which was written expressly to proclaim "the acts and proceedings of the whole Church of Christ, namely the Church of England".14 According to Foxe, scripture and history alike declared that the divine purpose was about to be fulfilled in the chosen people of England--a point which is repeatedly driven home in stake-side apophthegms grafted onto the lips of insouciant martyrs. "Be of good comfort, Mr Ridley, and play the man," remarks Hugh Latimer to his fellow sufferer as the fire is kindled at his feet; "we shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out."15 There is even an oblique but pointed reminder to Elizabeth of her covenantal obligation, in the form of a death-bed prayer (based on Psalm 33: 12) put into the mouth of her saintly brother, Edward VI: "O Lord, thou knowest how happy it were for me to be with thee; yet for thy chosen [ones'] sake send me life and health that I may truly serve thee. O my Lord God, bless thy people and save thine inheritance. O Lord God, save thy chosen people of England."16 Published early in the new reign, Foxe's martyrology was a source of hope and consolation at a time when the nation's future was far from secure. The unflinching faith of the Marian victims, narrated in dilated tales of persecution heightened by lurid woodcuts, inspired Protestant readers with a conviction of election and a willingness to endure no less in the national cause than their martyred predecessors. And by 1578, although the Catholic threat had not disappeared, the national covenant was secure enough for Edwin Sandys, the Archbishop of York, to praise Elizabeth ("a right Samuel, . . . a prince mild as Moses, just as Samuel, peaceful as Solomon, zealous as David") for her work in weeding the ecclesiastical garden of its "popish trash", and to describe the English church as de facto inheritrix of all the pledges of election and divine favour: "This is the flourishing vineyard of the Lord; the beautiful ark of covenant, wherein are reposed the treasures of God, the golden pot with manna, the rod of Aaron, and the tables of Moses. No church under heaven is more enriched with treasures and gifts of God . . . . The Lord may justly say to us, as to his people of old, 'What might I do for my vine, which I have not done?'" 17
The theme of England's special status in Jacobean times is perhaps nowhere more forcefully articulated than in the ten  sermons which Lancelot Andrewes delivered at Whitehall between 1606 and 1618 on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Treason. The message is, in each case, essentially the same: there can be no doubt that England is the new Israel and James a providential agent, for never, not even in sacred history, had God effected a more spectacular deliverance or manifested His favour more conspicuously than in saving England on this occasion. In Sermon II (1607), for example, Andrewes confesses that, although his text (Psalm 126) celebrates Israel's deliverance from Babylon and the restoration of Zion, yet still "this Delivery of theirs (such as it were) falls short of that of ours as on this day, wherewith yet I shall be faine to match it".18 He proceeds almost immediately to drive home the vocational significance of England's recent redemption by proposing a hypothetical emendation of his text: "If we might but change that one word, and instead of reading, When the Lord turned away the captivity of Sion, we might thus read, When the Lord turned away the blowing up of Sion, every word else [of Psalm 126], would suit well and keep perfect correspondency" with England's experiences.19 So remakable, indeed is this instance of prevenient deliverance that "I may safely say, Quae regio in terris, What land is there, whether the fame of it is not gone, where it is not spoken of? and we by means of it renowned and made famous over all the earth; even to Turks and Infidels (for, thither also it is come, how GOD hath dealt with us)." 20
With the Parliamentary ascendancy in the 1640s the doctrine of national election became the political cornerstone of Puritan covenant theology. In the very first sermon delivered before the Long Parliament in November 1640, Cornelius Burges picked up the theme where Andrewes had left it two decades earlier and he adapted it to a specifically Puritan context. Taking as his subject the history of the covenants between Israel and the Lord, he lost no time in underlining the contemporary application of the theme, for recent history indicated plainly that England, as the new Israel, should bind herself to God by covenant: "Consider . . . how many, great, admirable, and even miraculous deliverances God hath given us; what great things hee hath done for us. No Nation under heaven can say more to his praise, in this kinde, than we have cause to do. Our great deliverances out of Babylon, from the Spanish Invasion, from the Gun-powder Treason, and from many other evils and feares, do all call upon you for a Covenant." 21
When the House of Commons inaugurated a series of monthly  fast days early in 1642,22 the preachers of the Puritan brotherhood were provided with a regular opportunity to influence policy by propounding their interpretation of history directly to the governing body itself. On these occasions the staples of Puritan propaganda were patriotism and prophetism. Wholly committed to the belief that England was an object of divine intention, the preachers never tired of reminding the members of Commons that they were the representatives of a people in covenant with God, and they repeatedly admonished Parliament of its covenantal responsibility to perfect the work of reformation. "Surely God hath a good will to England," declared one such preacher in 1641, "he hath done great and will doe greater things for England, and you Right Honourable [Members of Commons] hath he raised up to be instrumentall in these waies of his glorious mercies towards us." 23 The close correspondence between England and Israel as elect nations made comparison inevitable; and, in fact, it became a cardinal assumption of the Puritans that the Old Testament contained the blueprint for the required reconstruction of the English church and state. Israel's experience of election provided an invaluable guide and pattern for the nascent English theocracy--a conviction which is reflected even in the short titles of many of the sermons delivered to the Long Parliament between 1642 and 1647. The following can serve as a representative sample: Thomas Goodwin's Zervbbabels Encovragement to Finish the Temple (1642), William Sedgwick's Zions Deliverance and her Friends Duty (1642), John Strickland's Gods Work of Mercy, in Sions Misery (1643), John Durye's Israel's Call to March out of Babylon unto Jerusalem (1645), and Simeon Ash's Gods Incomparable Goodness unto Israel (1647). In the language of Canaan itself the Puritan prophet-preachers called upon their countrymen to obey the divine will and to succeed where Israel had failed.
At the formal inauguration of the monthly fast programme on 23 February 1642, members of Commons gathered in St Margaret's, Westminster, to hear sermons delivered by two of Milton's Smectymnuan friends. In the morning Edmund Calamy exhorted them in Gods free Mercy to England, and later the same day Stephen Marshall addressed them in a sermon entitled Meroz Cursed. The fundamental conviction of both preachers was that the English were a covenanted people lacking only the full presence of God's church in their midst and that the whole nation, symbolically represented in Westminster, was engaged in a corporate act of repentance and humiliation appropriate to the  nascent people of God. The close relationship of Milton with the Smectymnuans in 1642 lends a particular interest to these two sermons, and a brief look at Calamy's Gods free Mercy to England will be useful for the light it sheds both on the nature and concerns of Puritan apologetics and on Milton's place in the tradition.
In his preamble Calamy states his theme and defines his own role as a prophetic messenger conveying the word of God to His chosen people. England, he warns the Long Parliament, is in grave danger of forfeiting her election through disobedience and sins against the national covenant. There is, of course, no doubt of England's elect status: "Now God hath brought England into the schoole of mercy, and hath placed it in the highest forme, and hath made it Captaine of the schoole." However, since it "cannot bee denied but that . . . England hath done much against God", Calamy's intention on the present occasion is to recall the nation to her divine mission by laying "the sins of England against God in one scale, and the mercies of God to England in the other scale, and [calling] upon you this day to bee humbled". And he assures the Honourable Members that his right to interpret the divine will to them springs from his calling as lingua Dei; for, as the Lord once sent an angelic messenger from Gilgal to the people of Israel (Judges 2: 1-5), so "God hath sent me hither this day as his Angell upon the same Embassage, I am to reminde you of Gods mercies to us: And of our ingratitude against him".24
Like most Puritan preachers in Stuart England, Calamy divides his subject into "doctrines" from which follow numerous "reasons" and "uses" demonstrating the contemporary relevance of the"doctrines". Gods free Mercy to England contains four "doctrines". The first, "That God doth sometimes shew mercy to a Nation when it least deserves, and least expects it", is used to establish the fact that England has received an abundance of unmerited grace; it is indeed wonderful that God should do all that He has "for such a Nation, and not for other Nations: Not for Germany, not for Ireland. Although we drinke as deep of the cup of sinne as they, yet that God should give us no cup, but a cup full of mercy to drink off; to make us like Goshen when all other Protestant Nations are plagued as Egypt, O what a rare Circumstance is this!" 25
Calamy's second doctrine is that "Englands mercies come from the God of England", and it elicits the following observation:
. . . we may truly say with David, If the Lord had not beene on our side, if the Lord had not beene on our side when men rose up against us,  they had swallowed us up quick, and the streames had gone over our soules: There is not onely the finger of God, but the hand, even the right hand; the arme, even the strong arme of Jehovah, the onely wonder-working God in Englands mercies.26
But God's great mercy implies an active responsibility on the part of those who have received it. It is not enough simply to praise Him for such blessings: "We must", Calamy asserts, "improve Englands mercies to the glory of the God of England." Since the Lord "hath made England a miracle of mercy", then "let England bee a miracle of obedience: A Christian in England must not onely servire Deo, sed & adulari, as Tertullian saith: Hee must bee rich in good works as God hath been rich in mercy."27 And this call for active duty leads, in the third doctrine, to the corollary that the election is contingent rather than absolute, that its object and purpose are extrinsic, not intrinsic: "Be it known unto you, O house of England, It is not for your sakes, for you are a stiff-necked people, but for my holy names sake." 28
The fourth doctrine, which follows naturally from the third, restates the "generall doctrine" of God's mercies with a call to repentance and a warning about the inevitable punishment for disobedience: "The great God hath freed this Nation from Egypt, and Babylon, from the Gun-powder treason, and from many slaveries. Now if we prove unthankfull after all these mercies, wee may justly expect to be re-inslaved." 29 In spite of the many sins of which the nation is guilty, the Lord has nevertheless chosen to preserve and even bless her, for "God hath dealt with England not according to his ordinary rule, but according to his Prerogative. England (if I may so speake with reverence) is a Paradox to the Bible." 30 However, if the nation is to reap the fruits of this superabundance of grace, she must not continue in sin: "If the beginnings of hope that now appeare, and these inclings of better dayes will not work upon us to humble us for, and from sinne: God will take away all our hopes, and all his mercies from us, and give them to a Nation that will make better use of them." 31 By way of conclusion Calamy sets out some of England's particular sins. Of these, the gravest is her reticence to accept the offer of grace by refusing to carry forward the divinely ordained reformation of the church. As many of the captive Israelites had grown fond of life in Babylon and refused to return to Jerusalem when the Lord sent King Cyrus to deliver them, so now in England "there are many that like their former  condition under the innovations so well, that they had rather continue in Babylon still, than accept of the reformation offered".32 And thinking both of himself and, as well, of such parliamentary agents of reform as Pym and Essex, Calamy closes his peroration with a warning to the Honourable Members--some of whom were hostile to his message--neither to harm nor hinder the instruments whom God has chosen as bearers of His word or prosecutors of His will: "Be ashamed to injure the instruments by which God conveies these mercies unto us. When Corah and his company rebelled against Moses and Aaron, then came the plague. As wee must not idolize, so wee must not injure the golden pipes, through which these mercies flow unto us." 33
Since Milton was closely associated with the Smectymnuans in 1641-2, it is not surprising that his tone and attitude in the antiprelatical tracts should parallel those we have just examined in Calamy's sermon. Throughout the controversy over episcopacy, Milton's faith in the special calling that "Brittains God" had settled upon England remained firm and unshaken. The evidence of divine favour was everywhere apparent: "the present age", as he remarked in Animadversions (July 1641), "is to us an age of ages wherein God is manifestly come downe among us, to doe some remarkable good to our Church or state." (YP, I, p. 703) However, while the Lord has "ever had this Iland under the speciall indulgent eye of his providence", the danger is that now, when this favour is at its zenith, Englishmen might shrink from the task of perfecting the reformation and prefer to follow the prelates. If this were to happen, if the nation were to obey voices other than the Lord's, then there was every reason to believe that God would withdraw His favour: "O if we freeze at noone after their34 earely thaw, let us feare lest the Sunne for ever hide himselfe, and turne his orient steps from our ingratefull Horizon justly condemn'd to be eternally benighted." (Ibid., p. 705) Although he had little faith in the ability and covenantal conviction of the average Englishman, Milton was convinced that "a full and perfect reformation" of the church was the divinely appointed task of the Long Parliament, which he lauded in An Apology for Smectymnuus (April 1642) as "some divine commission from heav'n . . . to take into hearing and commiseration the long remedilesse affliction of this kingdom". It was observed, indeed, that God was with them and blessed their proceedings, that He "hath bin pleas'd to make himselfe the agent, and immediat perfomer of their desires;  dissolving their difficulties when they are thought inexplicable, cutting out wayes for them where no passage could be seene" (YP, I, p. 927). And in the closing sentence of The Reason of Church-Government (January or February 1642), the English prophet called upon Parliament to let its "severe and impartial doom imitate the divine vengeance" by bringing "such a dead Sea of subversion upon [the Laudian church], that she may never in this Land rise more to afflict the holy reformed Church, and the elect people of God" (YP, I, p. 861).
Milton construed his calling as a prophet of reformation in terms of a divine commission and, like Calamy, interpreted his personal vocation in the light of what he conceived to be the sacred mission of his nation. Despite youth and inexperience he believed himself guided by "the supreme inlightning assistance" (YP, I, p. 749) of God when he entered the polemical fray and penned replies against learned opponents like Joseph Hall. The employment of "those few talents which God had . . . lent me" was determined by the national covenant, for the "ease and leasure" that he had enjoyed since his Cambridge days was a period of intellectual and spiritual preparation for that time "when the cause of God and his Church was to be pleaded" (ibid., pp. 804-5). The office of spokesman, he informed his Anglican opponents in An Apology for Smectymnuus, "goes not by age, or youth, but to whomsoever God shall give apparently the will, the Spirit, and the utterance" (ibid., p. 875). And, like the Old Testament prophets on whose experience his own was patterned, the author of The Reason of Church-Government knew from personal knowledge that, "when God commands to take the trumpet and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in mans will what he shall say, or what he shall conceal" (ibid., p. 803).
The doctrine of national election is a cardinal assumption throughout the antiprelatical tracts; its presence is everywhere felt, but its truth is too apparent to require detailed explication or defence. By the time Milton wrote Areopagitica (November 1644), however, the situation had begun to change, and this pamphlet contains the most sustained and passionate expression in all of his prose of the conviction that the English were the nascent people of God:
Lords and Commons of England, consider what Nation it is wherof ye are, and wherof ye are the governours: a Nation not  slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit, acute to invent, suttle and sinewy to discourse not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can soar to . . . . Yet that which is above all this, the favour and the love of heav'n we have great argument to think in a peculiar manner propitious and propending towards us. Why else was this Nation chos'n before any other, that out of her as out of Sion should be proclam'd and sounded forth the first tidings and trumpet of Reformation to all Europ.35 And had it not bin the obstinat perversnes of our Prelats against the divine and admirable spirit of Wicklef, to suppresse him as a schismatic and innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Husse and Jerom, no nor the name of Luther, or of Calvin had bin ever known: the glory of reforming all our neighbours had bin completely ours. But now, as our obdurat Clergy have with violence demean'd the matter, we are become hitherto the latest and backwardest Schollers, of whom God offer'd to have made us the teachers. Now once again by all concurrence of signs, and by the generall instinct of holy and devout men, as they daily and solemnly expresse their thoughts, God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in his Church, ev'n to the reforming of Reformation it self: what does he then but reveal Himself to his servants, and as his manner is, first to his Englishmen; I say as his manner is, first to us, though we mark not the method of his counsels, and are unworthy. (YP, II, pp. 551-3)
The passionate intensity of this passage, the earnest combination of exhortation and admonition, is to be explained by the ideological rift between Milton and the Presbyterian divines of the Westminster Assembly.
In August 1643 Milton had dedicated The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce to the "Parliament of England, with the Assembly" and had reminded both bodies that "Yee have now, doubtlesse by the favour and appointment of God, yee have now in your hands a great and populous Nation to Reform" (YP, II, p. 226). But by 1643 Milton's idea of the course of reformation had begun to undergo a significant alteration, with profound implications for his alliance with the Presbyterians. In the antiprelatical tracts his assumption had been that the final end of reformation would be quickly achieved once the bishops had been removed; he had called for a "speedy and vehement" reformation in the belief that  the Kingdom of God was at the door and that the English New Jerusalem would be established immediately upon the destruction of the Laudian Babylon. Time and experience, however, taught him otherwise. Continuing abuses at all levels of society pointed clearly to the necessity of continuing reformation, and he began to appreciate that national regeneration would be a protracted undertaking, a task requiring the best efforts of the best men. Since "Good and evill . . . in the field of this World grow up together almost inseparably", reconstruction must take the form of a progressive search for truth rather than, as the Presbyterians maintained, that of rebuilding according to a clearly revealed pattern: "To be still searching what we know not, by what we know, still closing up truth to truth as we find it (for all her body is homogeneal, and proportionall) this is the golden rule in Theology as well as in Arithmetick." (YP, II, p. 551)
Prompted by the failure of his marriage to Mary Powell, Milton's first attempt to close up to truth centred on the question of divorce; and he published his findings in a pamphlet which, as we have seen, he dedicated to Parliament and the Westminster Assembly together. His idealism, however, blinded him still to the repressive implications of the Presbyterian cause that he had supported with such headlong enthusiasm since 1641. His Smectymnuan friends and their fellows had at heart only the reform of church government along rigid and preconceived lines, and, that achieved, they proposed to shut the gates firmly against the stream of reformation. They were, therefore, not prepared to entertain innovations on divorce, and Milton's pamphlet was received by members of the Assembly with a mixture of asperity and patronising humour. The hostile reception accorded The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce convinced Milton that the Assembly was a serious impediment to further reformation. And since it was clear that truth could have no impartial hearing from the Presbyterian Assembly, he addressed his next pamphlet--The Judgement of Martin Bucer (July 1644)--to the Long Parliament alone.
By the time Areopagitica was published five months later the rift was complete, for Milton was convinced that in instigation if not in very deed the Licensing Order was the work of the Assembly attempting to suppress points of view inconsistent with its own dogma. Themselves recently victims of oppression, the Presbyterians had now resorted to repression in an effort to force the  consciences of their countrymen: "But now the Bishops abrogated and voided out of the Church, as if our Reformation sought no more, but to make room for others into their seats under another name, the Episcopall arts begin to bud again." (YP, II, p. 541) If England were to resume her "wonted prerogative, of being the first asserters in every vindication" of God's glory, then Parliament must be ready to use "their wholesome and preventive shears" to cut off the Assembly together with its abettors the Scottish commissioners like Robert Baillie ("Scotch What-d'ye-call").36 And, as Ernest Sirluck has noted, it was to convince Parliament of the gravity of the Presbyterian threat to the national covenant that Milton in Areopagitica distinguished firmly between the Assembly and the nation, and in order to "reveal the dimensions of the gap, he [portrayed] the character of the nation"--a nation that history had shown to be "the peculiar favorite of heaven" (YP, II, p. 175).
Like St Paul, Milton was coming to see that "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel". The national mission depended on an elect remnant smaller than he had expected; for, with the defection of the Assembly, the task of renovation was transferred wholly to the safekeeping of the "wise and faithful labourers" sitting in Parliament. Upon them alone devolved the onerous responsibility of transforming a "knowing" and divinely favoured people into "a Nation of Prophets, of Sages, and of Worthies" (YP, II, p. 554). There was, however, a real apprehension on Milton's part that Parliament, like the Assembly, might prove unequal to its commission; and there is a note of strained and fearful optimism in his vision of that time--now close at hand he dared hope--"wherein Moses the great Prophet may sit in heav'n rejoycing to see that memorable and glorious wish of his fulfill'd, when not only our sev'nty Elders, but all the Lords people are become Prophets" (ibid., pp. 555-6). The rhetoric is designed to serve a definite purpose. It is a prophetic vision offered in order to confirm the "sev'nty Elders" of the English Sanhedrin in their covenantal duty. Led by Parliament, the nation must imitate a rejuvenated Samson; she must become like a mighty eagle soaring in heaven and deaf to the timorous cries of the Westminster Assembly:
Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant Nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible  locks: Methinks I see her as an Eagle muing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazl'd eyes at the full midday beam; purging and scaling her long abused sight at the fountain it self of heav'nly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amaz'd at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticat a year of sects and schisms. (YP, II, pp. 557-8)
He implores Parliament to transform these similes into metaphors, to translate vision into reality. And yet, as the exhortations of Israel's prophets often fell on deaf ears because the rulers had been seduced by evil counsel, so he fears that Parliament may disregard prophetic utterance and be led astray by the impious advice of the Presbyterian Assembly.
Milton's fears were, in fact, justified by the event. The Assembly continued to sit until 1649 and remained an important influence in decision-making until well into 1647; moreover, the Presbyterian members in Commons successfully resisted the call for further reformation from the growing Independent faction in Parliament and the Army. Milton's anguish over the obstruction of reformation and subversion of the national mission by the reactionary Presbyterian majority reached its nadir in the spring of 1648 with his composition of a Character of the Long Parliament and his translation of Psalms 80 to 88. As a group these nine psalms deal with the disobedience of the chosen people and the Lord's righteous anger, and they stress the need for a national renewal which can be achieved only by divine intervention. These themes are well illustrated in Milton's rendering of verses five to eight of Psalm 82:
- They know not nor will understand,
- In darkness they walk on,
- The earth's foundations all are moved
- And out of order gone.
- I said that ye were gods, yea all
- The sons of God most high
- But ye shall die like men, and fall
- As other princes die.
-  Rise God, judge thou the earth in might,
- This wicked earth redress,
- For thou art he who shalt by right
- The nations all possess.
The prayer for renewal and divine guidance was eventually answered in a swift-moving series of events which began with Colonel Pride's ejection of the Presbyterian members from Commons in December 1648 and ended with the decisive action of the Army and Rump in bringing Charles Stuart to trial and execution in January 1649. "The sum is", Milton declared of this latter event in Eikonoklastes (October 1649), "they thought to limit or take away the Remora of his negative voice, which like to that little pest at Sea, took upon it to arrest and stopp the Common-wealth stearing under full saile to a Reformation." (YP, III, p. 501) The new Israel had been given a second chance. And God's English prophet was not slow to warn the new rulers of their responsibilities and tell them that, although they had received manifest tokens of divine favour, that grace would be withdrawn for failure to carry forward the work of reformation. Even when addressing himself to a European audience in Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio (February 1651), he was not adverse to admonishing the Rump directly: "should you, . . . after having found the divine power so favourable to yourselves and so stern towards your foes, fail to learn . . . that you must fear God and love justice, then . . . you shall soon find that God's hatred of you will be greater than was his anger towards your foes or his kindly grace towards you above all people now on earth." (YP, IV, i, p. 536)
By the time the Defensio Secunda appeared in May 1654 the longed-for consummation of reformation, the establishment of the English New Jerusalem, seemed almost within grasp. Despite the misgivings he must have felt at the abrupt dissolution of the Rump and institution of the Protectorate, Milton--unlike Hutchinson and Vane who retired from active political life--continued to serve the Council of State. And with a buoyant idealism recalling the tone of Areopagitica ten years earlier, he took up his pen to praise his nation: "I was born at a time in the history of my country when her citizens, with pre-eminent virtue and nobility and steadfastness surpassing all the glory of their ancestors, invoked the Lord, followed his manifest guidance, and after accomplishing  the most heroic and exemplary achievements since the foundation of the world, freed the state from grievous tyranny and the church from unworthy servitude." (YP, IV, i, pp. 548-9) By 1654, however, "the whole burden of affairs" had fallen on Oliver Cromwell. And for Milton, who had been disappointed by the Westminster Assembly and the Long Parliament, the Lord Protector represented the last refuge of a dream. Yet Cromwell was the instrument of Providence, an elect remnant of one; the signs were unmistakable, and England need have no fear while her destiny lay in his hands: "For while you, Cromwell, are safe, he does not have sufficient faith even in God himself who would fear for the safety of England, when he sees God everywhere so favorable to you, so unmistakably at your side." (Ibid., p. 670)
Like Cicero, Cromwell is pater patriae, the father of his country; and he is of all Englishmen "the man most fit to rule" (ibid., p. 672). There is, however, a note of apprehension in this last phrase. In 1652 Milton had counselled this man, who had been "Guided by faith and matchless Fortitude" on the battlefield, that "peace hath her victories / No less renownd then warr" (Sonnet 16). Would God's warrior, now king in all but name, be as adept in the arts of government and peace as he had been on the field at Marston Moor and Naseby? The task is not an easy one, and Milton turns aside from his encomium to warn the Lord Protector of the heavy burden he has assumed: "These trials will buffet you and shake you; they require a man supported by divine help, advised and instructed by all-but-divine inspiration." (YP, IV, i, p. 674) The tone is less assured here than it was only four pages earlier. Cromwell is the indispensable man, "the man most fit to rule"--but will he prove equal to "this most exalted rank" to which he has been "raised by the power of God beyond all other men"? Only the issue will decide. And what if Cromwell and the nation should prove unfaithful to their election and their covenanted mission? Then, "be sure that posterity will speak out and pass judgment":
It will seem to posterity that a mighty harvest of glory was at hand, together with the opportunity for doing the greatest deeds, but that to this opportunity men were wanting. Yet there was not wanting one who could rightly counsel, encourage, and inspire, who could honor the noble deeds and those who had done them, and make both deeds and doers illustrious with praises that will never die. (Ibid., pp. 685-6)
 This statement is far more than an expression of "the abiding faith of genius".37 It is a prophet's self-vindication and an acknowledgement of inspired duty accomplished.
When Cromwell died in September 1658, the task of rebuilding was still far from complete; but the death of the Lord Protector was, effectively, that also of the Puritan experiment. Discord and indecision in a series of ineffectual Parliaments declared only too clearly that men were indeed wanting for the "mighty harvest of glory". For Milton, as Arthur Barker says, "the tiriumphant vindication of divine justice in 1649 had been the achievement of the remnant in whom God's grace had worked effectively; but such was the wilful degeneracy of the many, and the weakness of those who should have been God's champions, that the triumph was short-lived. The disintegration of the Commonwealth when the goal was within reach followed from a corrupt repudiation of divine grace and a wilful rejection of England's glorious destiny."38 Milton himself bore his prophetic burden to the end. Sustained and prompted by God, he took up the trumpet to blow several sharp and jarring blasts in the pamphlets of 1659-60, warning his countrymen that if they were to desert God and prove unfaithful to election they would never "be voutsaf't heerafter the like mercies and signal assistances from heaven in our cause" (YP, VII, p. 423).
On 29 May 1660 Charles II made his triumphal entry into the capital; and the good Old Cause, to which Milton had given two decades of selfless labour and on whose altar he had sacrificed his eyesight, went down to the pealing of churchbells and shouts of joyous Londoners. Milton took sanctuary in the house of an unknown friend in Bartholomew Close. Never again, either in prose or verse, did he speak of his nation's providential destiny. The hopes of the Lord and his blind prophet for the renovation of a covenanted English church and state were seeds cast on stony ground and had sprouted only to wither and perish.
(ii) PROPHETIC INSPIRATION
Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said
unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. (Jeremiah 1: 9)
 Like Abraham and Moses, the prophets of ancient Israel were the "friends of God" and interpreters of the divine will. They were not in any sense, however, mere marionettes who jerked and babbled when God pulled the strings. The canonical prophets were, as E. W. Heaton observes,
servants in God's household, and not mere tools in his hands. Their personalities were neither dissolved by fusion with the divine in any sort of "mystic union", nor yet swept aside by the violence of any non-moral ecstatic afflatus. When they were commissioned as "men of God", they remained men--and that is why they can so powerfully mediate to human persons the self-disclosure of the personal God.39
And William Kerrigan summarises the same position in this way: "Christianity tends to equate freedom with obedience: to become truly free, a man chooses to obey his God and assumes the yoke of the Gospels. Christian liberty is serving the Lord. Thus Origen wrote that the prophets 'voluntarily and consciously . . . collaborated with the Word that came to them' . . . . Though chosen, the free man chose to be so. Prophecy was at once the record of the Spirit and the autobiography of His free instrument." 40 Since Kerrigan in The Prophetic Milton (1974) has examined in considerable detail Milton's indebtedness to the theological tradition of defining and categorising prophetic inspiration, there could be little point in rehearsing the evidence again here and I shall therefore confine the discussion to Milton's view of his own inspiration in the prose works.41
Milton's prophetic inspiration is the natural concomitant of his poetic inspiration. Indeed, both in the Nativity Ode and The Reason of Church-Government he discusses his poetic vocation in prophetic terms, and it is therefore not surprising to find that in the prose works he readily transfers his sense of election and inspiration from a call to serve as God's poet-priest to a call to serve as His prophet of reformation. Arthur Barker is almost certainly right in arguing that it was an "enthusiastic belief that the completion of England's reformation would bring with it the long-sought release of his poetical powers [that] swept Milton into the ecclesiastical controversy".42 Yet it must be added that his experience as prophet effectively transformed his view of his poetic role, for it not only focused his sense of vocation but channelled it in new directions  and deepened his belief in inspiration. Prophecy may have initially been subservient to poetry in 1642, but by 1660 poetry had become the servant of prophecy. And the distance travelled over these two decades may be measured by comparing the qualified and unformed statements of inspiration in the early poetry and prose with the declarations of divine guidance in the invocations in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Milton never experienced the sudden, blinding infusion of divine grace described by so many of his Puritan contemporaries in their spiritual autobiographies and records of religious conversion. Rather, his sense of divine prompting and guidance developed gradually, becoming stronger and more intense as he passed from experience to experience. He came to political and ecclesiastical controversy already equipped with an idealist's conviction of calling and mission. During the twenty years of polemical warfare, however, that faith was tested in the arena of Realpolitik, where theory was transformed into fact and aspiration into actuality. The task of justifying God's ways to men requires speaking not simply of God but for God--and it is precisely this development from priest to prophet that lies at the heart of Milton's vocational education in the prose works and accounts for the fact that his view of inspiration deepens appreciably from the early to the later poetry.
Following in the tradition of Sidney and Jonson, Milton's early theoretic statements about poetry and poetic inspiration are moderate and well-balanced, combining a modified Platonic view of inspiration with an Aristotelian conviction that poetry is a mimetic art. As I suggested in Chapter 2 (pp. 58-61), he regarded poetic genius as a divinely implanted talent nurtured and perfected by human study and endeavour. The position is happily summarised by Sidney in An Apologie for Poetrie (1595):
A Poet no industrie can make, if his owne Genius bee not carried vnto it: and therefore it is an old Prouerbe, Orator fit, Poeta nascitur. Yet confesse I alwayes that as the firtilest ground must bee manured, so must the highest flying wit haue a Dedalus to guide him. That Dedalus, they say, both in this and in other, hath three wings to beare it selfe vp into the ayre of due commendation: that is, Arte, Imitation, and Exercise.43
Without denying the legitimate claims of either nature or grace this account of poetic "making" steers a middle course between the  Scylla of mere empirical intellection and the Charybdis of irrational afflatus. It rejects, on the one hand, the extreme rationalism of theorists like Thomas Hobbes, who flatly denied the possibility of divine aid and scoffed at poets who wished "to be thought to speak by inspiration, like a Bagpipe".44 And it tempers, on the other hand, the excesses of the furor poeticus tradition in which the poet loses all rational control over his work and functions merely as the amanuensis of deity:
- We are kindled in such fashion
- With heat of the Holy Ghost
- (Which is God of mightes most),
- That he our pen doth lead,
- And maketh in us such speed
- That forthwith we must need
- With pen and ink proceed . . . . 45
Like Sidney, Milton avoided both of these extremes. Although there are several sonorous descriptions of inspiration in the early poetry (Vacation Exercise and Elegies 5 and 6), they are largely conventional. Apart from the Nativity Ode, the claims to inspiration in the early verse are theoretical rather than practical, a yearning for visionary experience rather than an acknowledgement of it. And from Il Penseroso to Lycidas, as I have argued in Chapter 2, the hoped-for "prophetic strain" remains only an aspiration.
After Milton's return from Italy, however, the "inward prompting" of God-- experienced hitherto only occasionally--became more frequent and "grew daily upon me" (YP, I, p. 810). The conviction of divine guidance deepened still further in the period of the antiprelatical tracts and issued, for the first time since the Nativity Ode, in concrete claims to inspiration, imparted through the medium of conscience or reason: "And if any man incline to thinke I undertake a taske too difficult for my yeares, I trust through the supreme inlightning assistance farre otherwise; for my yeares, be they few or many, what imports it? so they bring reason, let that be lookt on." (Ibid., p. 749) The prompting is indirect, but it is actual--a fact rather than a hope. And it may be added that Milton's belief in divine direction was certainly encouraged-- perhaps even directly influenced "by the views expressed by his Smectymnuan friends and many other  Presbyterian divines in the early 1640s. Customarily these men construed their invitations to preach before the members of Commons as a divine mandate. Stephen Marshall, for example, bluntly declared to the House in 1640 that "the speciall errand I have to deliver from the Lord, is to assure you . . . That God will be with you, while you be with him"; a year later Edmund Calamy informed them that "God hath sent me hither this day as his Angell"; and in April 1642 Thomas Goodwin likewise interpreted his invitation as a call to serve as God's spokesman: "You were pleased so far to owne me, as to betrust me with this service, to be God's mouth in publique unto you."46 These assertions are grounded in a firm conviction of inspired duty and there is no reason to doubt their sincerity.
Milton's view of inspiration in 1641-2 is expressed most clearly in the autobiographical preface in The Reason of Church-Government, where he compares his calling to that of the Old Testament prophets. Like Jeremiah, he sees himself as "a man of strife and contention", a man prompted to speak against his own will. What he feels compelled to say will be unpopular and ill-received by many, but "when God commands to take the trumpet and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in mans will what he shall say, or what he shall conceal". Moreover, since poetry rather than prose is his preferred medium, "the genial power of nature" calls him in another direction. But "these tumultuous times" demand obedience to the inward call of God and not the leisurely indulgence of one's natural inclinations. Even if he has only "the use, as I may account it, but of my left hand" in a prose controversy, he must speak as God commands; and the spectre of divine reproach is a spur to action:
Thou hadst the diligence, the parts, the language of a man, if a vain subject were to be adorn'd or beautifi'd, 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 listen'd if he could heare thy voice among his zealous servants, but thou wert domb as a beast. (YP, I, pp. 804-5)
Although there is nothing formulaic or insincere in these assertions of divinely ordained duty, they do not represent a full and unqualified identification of the speaker with the tradition of Old Testament prophecy.47 Anxious to justify his intrusion into  ecclesiastical controversy and to declare the genuine nature of his prompting, he draws an analogy between his own experience and that of Jeremiah (cf. above, pp. 79-80)--and then quickly passes on to a long and eloquent discussion of his poetic plans and aspirations. He thinks of himself as a poet rather than a prophet.
The next stage of Milton's confirmation in his prophetic vocation comes in the divorce tracts. In The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (August 1643) he left the beaten track of controversy and set off on his own, acknowledging, however, that divine grace had sustained him on this journey into a new realm of polemical endeavour: "I trust, through the help of that illuminating Spirit which hath favor'd me, to have done no every daies work." (YP, II, p. 340) Whereas his involvement in the "wayward subject against prelaty" had been against his will, the problem of divorce was much nearer to home and he was strongly motivated to employ his left hand in rescuing this neglected truth when called upon to do so. And his belief both in his own ability and in the immediacy of divine prompting was correspondingly deeper and stronger. This faith was severely tested, however, by the hostile reception of the pamphlet. Yet adversity served a constructive purpose, for it further confirmed his sense of calling and supernatural guidance. References to inspiration increase in number in the prose works of 1644, and the discovery that Martin Bucer had anticipated Milton's own views on divorce led to the most uncompromising declaration of divine direction that he had so far claimed:
If therefore God in the former age found out a servant, and by whom he had converted and reform'd many a citie, by him thought good to restore the most needfull doctrine of divorce from rigorous and harmfull mistakes on the right hand, it can be no strange thing if in this age he stirre up by whatsoever means whom it pleases him, to take in hand & maintain the same assertion. Certainly if it be in mans discerning to sever providence from chance, I could allege many instances, wherein there would appear cause to esteem of me no other then a passive instrument under some power and counsel higher and better then human, working to a general good in the whole cours of this matter. For that I ow no light, or leading receav'd from any man in the discovery of this truth, . . . he who tries the  inmost heart, and saw with what severe industry and examination of my self, I set down every period, will be my witnes. (The Judgement of Martin Bucer, July 1644; YP, II, p. 433)
Although the statement is cautiously hedged with conditionals--"if", "could", "would appear"--it claims a more profound and direct supernatural prompting than anything in the antiprelatical tracts. Urged by God's secretary Conscience and directed by His gift of recta ratio, Milton had singlehandedly defended an unpopular truth, and the Lord had rewarded his faith and obedience by showing him that Bucer had served as a divine instrument in the same cause: "at length it hath pleas'd God, who had already giv'n me satisfaction in my self, to afford me means wherby I may be fully justify'd also in the eyes of men." (Ibid., p. 435) The significance of Bucer's treatise was that it provided Milton with documentary evidence that he had supported God's own cause; it verified both his authority in speaking and the divine source of the inspiration to which he laid claim. Indeed, he was certain that the divorce issue had been a trial of his prophetic vocation: "For God, it seems, intended to prove me, whether I durst alone take up a rightful cause against a world of disesteem, & found I durst." (Ibid., p. 434) He emerged from the experience with the unshakable conviction that he was not only God's servant but also His spokesman. He could claim with Jeremiah that "the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth" (Jer. 1: 9).
After 1643 Milton's sense that he was "God's mouth in publique" is assumed as an axiom. There is, however, a noticeable deepening of emotional commitment to his prophetic calling in the years following the onset of total blindness in February 1652. The loss of his sight--a traumatic counterpoint to his recent grand victory over Salmasius and the acclaim of all Europe--emphasised his isolation from his fellow men and his utter dependence on God. It was, moreover, an event that demanded vocational redefinition. And his reassessment of his calling and his usefulness to God in these altered circumstances issued both in Sonnet 19 ("When I consider how my light is spent") and in the Defensio Secunda in magnificent reaffirmations of election and divine support:
 although by no means exempt from the disasters common to humanity, I and my interests are nevertheless under the protection of God . . . . When I speak, not on behalf on one people nor yet one defendant, but rather for the entire human race against the foes of human liberty, amid the common and well-frequented assembly (so to speak) of all nations, I have been aided and enriched by the favor and assistance of God. Anything greater or more glorious than this I neither can, nor wish to, claim. (YP, IV, i, pp. 557-8)
His identification with the prophets of Israel is here complete. And speaking of the special grace and illumination accorded to blind men in general, he assumes his prophetic stance to deliver the following inspired defensio pro se:
To be sure, we blind men are not the least of God's concerns, for the less able we are to perceive anything other than himself, the more mercifully and graciously does he deign to look upon us. Woe to him who mocks us, woe to him who injures us. He deserves to be cursed with a public malediction. Divine law and divine favor have rendered us not only safe from the injuries of men, but almost sacred, nor do these shadows around us seem to have been created so much by the dullness of our eyes as by the shade of angels' wings. And divine favor not infrequently is wont to lighten these shadows again, once made, by an inner and far more enduring light. (Ibid., p. 590)
The style and tone are those of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and so, too, is the confident assurance of divine aid and protection. Indeed, the passage might well have been written by any one of the canonical prophets as a defence of his personal sanctity and prophetic calling.48
It is against the background of Milton's sense of prophetic vocation in the later prose that we must approach the claims to inspiration in the invocations in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. These invocations have often been discussed by other readers with such acuity and sensitivity that I shall content myself with making only one or two points.
The invocation with which Paradise Lost opens is addressed to two quite separate "deities"--the poet's Muse and the Holy  Spirit. By convention, epic poetry always begins with an appeal to supernatural authority for guidance and support. Characteristically, however, Milton adapts conventions to suit his own particular situation--as he does, for example, by transforming the traditional pastoral elegy in Lycidas. The same is true in Paradise Lost, for the Muse whom he invokes to inspire his song is not an accredited "sister of the sacred well" on Mount Helicon. She is, rather, a "heavenly Muse" whose affinities are with other pools and other mountains:
- Sing heavenly Muse, that on the secret top
- Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
- That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
- In the beginning how the heavens and earth
- Rose out of chaos: or if Sion hill
- Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed
- Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
- Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song . . . . (I, 6-13)
She is, in fact, the inner voice that led Moses as he composed the Pentateuch and guided the prophets as they set down their inspired visions. But why is she distinguished from the Spirit, and why does the poet appeal "chiefly" to the latter? First, it needs to be noted that their functions are separate: while the Muse is asked to "inspire" the poet, the Spirit is asked to teach him ("Instruct me, for thou know'st", 19) and to render him a vessel fit to reveal holy things:
- what in me is dark
- Illumine, what is low raise and support;
- That to the highth of this great argument
- I may assert eternal providence,
- And justify the ways of God to men. (23-6)
Moreover, they are addressed in different terms and represented by different symbols: the Muse who is asked to "sing" is defined largely in terms of speech and sound, whereas the didactic Spirit is described as imparting light and illumination. Nor is this all. The  tone of the "two" invocations is quite distinct. The request to the Muse is confident and full of daring, anticipating an "adventurous song" that
- with no middle flight intends to soar
- Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
- Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme. (14-16; italics mine)
The prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is a humble petition, in which the speaker is well aware of his human frailty and in which his prospective success in the undertaking is expressed in the subjunctive:
- That to the highth of this great argument
- I may assert eternal providence . . . . (24-5; italics mine)
The distinction between the Muse who sings and the Spirit that justifies is crucial to Milton's conception of inspiration in Paradise Lost. I find irresistible Helen Gardner's suggestion that the heavenly Muse represents "the poetic embodiment of Milton's belief in his vocation".49 I should prefer to state the case in this way: the Muse is the divinely implanted poetic talent--that "inspired guift of God rarely bestow'd," as he had called it in The Reason of Church-Government (YP, I, p. 816)--which Milton has possessed from birth and which he has nurtured and improved over a long life of study and severe application. On the threshold of the great poem for which his life has been a preparation, he personifies his own creative energy and calls upon it to fulfil the end for which it was given, by pursuing "Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme".50 And he can afford to be confident, to speak of a flight that "intends to soar", because he is now ready to begin and has done all in his power to cultivate the poetic gift entrusted to him. But neither the original talent nor that talent as improved by human industry and study is wholly adequate for the great enterprise upon which he is embarking; and so Milton turns in the second section of the invocation to the Holy Spirit, humbly beseeching that, through the operation of His Spirit, God will provide him with the subsequent or supporting grace needed to bring the work successfully to completion. The work of the Spirit  is to purify the vessel and enlighten the poet with knowledge that is unattainable except by direct revelation, knowledge that no amount of human industry can acquire unaided. The same theme is restated at the climax of the invocation to Light in Book III:
- So much the rather thou celestial Light
- Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
- Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
- Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
- Of things invisible to mortal sight. (III, 51-5)
Whether or not the "celestial Light" here invoked is synonymous with the Holy Spirit is a question too vexed and complex to allow brief analysis in the present discussion. However, given the place of the Spirit in Puritan theology generally51 and, as well, the parallels between the invocation here and that to the Spirit in Book I, I am inclined to see them as identical. But perhaps rigid identification is unnecessary; for, as Ronsard notes in his Abbregé de l'art poétique françois (1565), "les Muses . . . ne nous representent autre chose que les puissances de Dieu, auquel les premiers hommes avoyent donné plusieurs noms pour les divers effectz de son incomprehensible majesté."52 It may be enough to know that the "celestial Light" is an aspect of God's providence, without seeking to pin the symbol onto a collector's display-board with its precise identity subscribed.
To return for a moment to Book I: what is the significance of this bipartite invocation shared between Muse and Spirit in terms of Milton's view of inspiration? If the argument about these two figures outlined above is accepted, then it seems to me that the question is easily answered. Milton's experience as God's spokesman in the prose works taught him to place himself in the tradition of Old Testament prophecy. And in that tradition, as I pointed out at the beginning of this section, inspiration is distinct from irrational afflatus and, in fact, bears no relation to it. The prophets are men, free men, who voluntarily co-operate with God and consciously accept the service "imposed" on them. They will to relax the will, in order to declare God's will. In the same way Paradise Lost is the record of the collaboration between the Poet and God, that is, between a free speaker and the divine word. In  the opening invocation these two figures are invoked separately: through the "heavenly Muse" Milton declares his own readiness to begin, and through the invocation to the Spirit he calls upon God to sustain and direct the work.
In later invocations the two functions are fused, as is natural since there is no distinction between instrument and Word once the request for inspiration has been granted. Indeed, in succeeding invocations the emphasis shifts from requests for inspiration to acknowledgements of its receipt. This change is particularly evident in Book IX, where the course of the narrative constrains the poet to change his note from pastoral to tragic,
- If answerable style I can obtain
- Of my celestial patroness, who deigns
- Her nightly visitation unimplored,
- And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
- Easy my unpremeditated verse:
- Since first this subject for heroic song
- Pleased me long choosing, and beginning late . . . . (IX, 20-6)
This is a remarkable blending of free choice and blind dictation. "He reminds us", Kerrigan comments on these lines, "of those mystics who hit the target by not aiming, of those biblical prophets who wrote the words of God in books that bear their own names. Milton is both author and amanuensis. He has both everything and nothing to do with Paradise Lost."53
And it may be said in conclusion that Paradise Regained takes up the theme of inspiration from the point reached in Book IX of Paradise Lost. The invocation with which Paradise Regained begins brings together the contributions of both the author who "sings" and the Spirit who "inspires"; and it stresses the necessary co-operation between the human instrument and the divine prompter, between the poet as free speaker and the poet as an inspired medium of God's continuing self-revelation:
- I who erewhile the happy garden sung,
- By one man's disobedience lost, now sing
- Recovered Paradise to all mankind,
- By one man's firm obedience fully tried
- Through all temptation, and the tempter foiled
-  In all his wiles, defeated and repulsed,
- And Eden raised in the waste wilderness.
- Thou spirit who led'st this glorious eremite
- Into the desert, his victorious field
- Against the spiritual foe, and brought'st him thence
- By proof the undoubted Son of God, inspire,
- As thou art wont, my prompted song else mute,
- And bear through highth or depth of nature's bounds
- With prosperous wing full summed to tell of deeds
- Above heroic, though in secret done,
- And unrecorded left through many an age,
- Worthy t' have not remained so long unsung. (1, 1-17)
[Click on asterisk (*) at the end of a note to return to the point you left in the text]
Against this practice of these false teachers the zeal of the Lord had flamed in my breast for some time; and now the burthen of the word of the Lord against them fell heavily upon me, with command to proclaim his controversy against them. Fain would I have been excused from this service, which I judged too heavy for me . . . . But the Lord would not be entreated but continued the burden upon me with greater weight; requiring obedience from me, and promising to assist me therein. Whereupon I arose from my bed, and in the fear and dread of the Lord committed to writing what He, in the motion of His divine Spirit, dictated to me to write. (The History of Thomas Ellwood, Written by Himself, ed. Henry Morley [London, 1885], pp. 81-2.) *
The Heavenly Muse has no status within the epic itself. She is inseparable from the poet, and is no part of the universe he presents to us. She has another kind of reality. In his invocation to her Milton has summed up all his feeling about the sacredness of his vocation, the reality of his calling, and the truth of his subject, all his awe at his own temerity and his sense that through him great things are to be said. In invoking her aid he expresses also his sense that although he goes forward alone "in darkness, and with dangers compast round", he is not alone; he has great allies, others before him and others who will come after him "smit with the love of sacred song". Through his invocation of her he declares that inspiration is a reality, not a subjective fancy. She is the poetic embodiment of Milton's belief in his vocation. *