John Milton: Poet, Priest and Prophet

A Study of Divine Vocation in Milton's Poetry and Prose


©   John Spencer Hill


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[1]   In the seventeenth century the term vocation, like its cognate calling, commanded a wide variety of meaning.   For present purposes, however, this multiplicity may be reduced to two denotations which are particularly important in terms of Milton's understanding of vocation:

1.   The action of God in calling persons or mankind to a state of salvation or union with Himself;
2.   The action of God in calling a person to exercise some special (especially spiritual) function, or to fill a certain position; the particular function or station to which a person is called by God.1

The difference between these meanings is essentially that between a call to faith and a call to works, and the origin of the distinction may be traced to biblical usage.   In the Old Testament, where personal election is invariably subordinate to the idea of service, vocation is never an end in itself but is rather seen as a means to a wider end; that is, men are called to extra-personal duties and functions, and their vocations are contingent rather than absolute.   Old Testament election is primarily national, and individual calling is meaningful only within the context of Israel's election as "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation" (Exodus 19: 6).   The patriarchs, monarchs and prophets of ancient Israel were marked out for active service, for works; the object of their election was not personal salvation but non-personal ministration to a covenanted people, and their function was to serve as divinely motivated instruments of the national mission.2   In the New Testament, on the other hand, the vocational emphasis is reversed.   Election is primarily personal and individual, and attention is focused on personal election to eternal salvation.   The noun klÍsis, "calling" is reserved almost exclusively for a call to faith and salvation,3 and the same is true of the verbal adjective klÍtos--e.g., "For many are called (polloi gar eisin klÍtoi) but few are chosen" [2] (Matthew 22: 14).   Nevertheless, while the aspect of calling as active service in this world falls into the background in the New Testament, it does not in any sense disappear, for the believer is continually reminded of the necessity of performing good works:   "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5: 16).   Yet still, the New Testament emphasis is on election as an end in itself; a man is called to faith and salvation, and good works are then enjoined as a seal and pledge of that calling.
      Both the Old Testament stress on vocation to extra-personal service and the New Testament emphasis on vocation to personal election are important features of Reformed thought in general and Milton's theology in particular.


Be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.
                                (2 Timothy 1: 8-9)

In Reformed dogmatics the term vocation is used to describe the calling of sinful mankind to salvation.   Thus, Leonardus Riissenius in Compendium Theologiae didactico-elencticae (1695) asserts that "Vocatio, which broadly is derived from vox, is the act of God by which through the preaching of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit He brings man from the state of sin to the state of grace" (xiii, 3); and similarly Samuel Maresius declares in his Collegium theologicum (1662) that "calling" is the divine act "by which we are transferred from the first Adam to the second, from death, darkness and the state of sin to life, light and the covenant of grace, in order that being planted in Christ the Head and Root we may live and bring forth good fruits" (xi, 2).4   The definitions given by these two continental theologians are in harmony with Milton's statement in De Doctrina Christiana, I, xvii: "VOCATION is that natural method of renovation by which GOD THE FATHER,   [3]   ACCORDING TO HIS PRECONCEIVED PURPOSE IN CHRIST, INVITES FALLEN MEN TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE WAY TO PLACATE AND WORSHIP HIS GODHEAD AND, OUT OF GRATUITOUS KINDNESS, INVITES BELIEVERS TO SALVATION SO THAT THOSE WHO DO NOT BELIEVE ARE DEPRIVED OF ALL EXCUSE." (YP, VI, pp. 453-4)
      This general doctrine of vocation, however, is subdivided in Reformed theology into a vocatio universalis and a vocatio specialis.   Universal or "natural" calling is held, in the words of the Leiden Synopsis purioris Theologiae (1581), to be that "by which men one and all are invited by the common proofs of nature to the knowledge and worship of God their Creator". The "common proofs of nature" are either internal since they are "inscribed on the hearts of all men" or external since they are "graven on the things created by God"; that is, they manifest themselves either through the operation of conscience and recta ratio5 or through God's self-revelation in the natura naturata.   Special or "supernatural" calling, on the other hand, is defined (still in the words of the Leiden Synopsis) as being that "by which God calls some out of the entire human race from the defilements of this world to supernatural knowledge of Jesus Christ our Redeemer and to saving participation in his benefits by the ministry of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit".6   Milton also makes a distinction between universal and special calling in his chapter on Vocation in De Doctrina Christiana:

Vocation, then, is either general or special.   It is by general vocation that God invites all men to a knowledge of his true godhead.   He does this in various ways, but all of them are sufficient to his purpose:   [cites John 1:9, Acts 14:17, Romans 1:19 and 2:15]   . . . .   Special vocation means that God, whenever he chooses, invites certain selected individuals, either from the so-called elect7 or from the reprobate, more clearly and more insistently than is normal. (YP, VI, p. 455)

God reiterates the same distinction in Paradise Lost, III, 183- 90:

Some I have chosen of peculiar grace
Elect above the rest; so is my will:
The rest shall hear me call, and oft be warned
Their sinful state, and to appease betimes
[4]   The incensed Deity, while offered grace
Invites; for I will clear their senses dark,
What may suffice, and soften stony hearts
To pray, repent, and bring obedience due.

Since both general and special calling are closely associated with renovation,8 Milton goes on in De Doctrina Christiana to discuss the immediate effects of the call:  "The change in man which follows his vocation is that whereby the mind and will of the natural man are partially renewed and are divinely moved towards knowledge of God, and undergo a change for the better, at any rate for the time being." (YP, VI, p. 457) This change for the better manifests itself in penitence and faith.
      There is one further point about Milton's understanding of vocation that requires brief comment--namely, the relationship between vocation and renovation.   Renovation, which is the state of grace into which fallen and condemned mankind is brought by God's free mercy (cf. note 8), takes place either naturally or supernaturally. Vocation is an aspect of natural renovation only:   "When I say that [renovation] takes place naturally I mean that it affects only the natural man.   This includes vocation, and the alteration in the natural man which follows it.   VOCATION is [a] natural method of renovation . . . ." (Ibid., p. 453)   On the other hand, supernatural renovation is the divine operation which "restores man's natural faculties of faultless understanding and of free will more completely than before" and, in addition, "makes the inner man like new and infuses by divine means new and supernatural faculties into the minds of those who are made new." (Ibid., p. 461 )   The distinction between natural and supernatural renovation is this:   the former depends upon a human response to a divine call, the latter is the work of God alone.   This difference will be clearer if it is set within the Miltonic concept of salvation.   Depraved as a result of the Fall, man cannot work or even contribute to the work of his own salvation.   Salvation depends on God alone.   The first stage of the work of restoring man to divine favour is renovation, which is bipartite.   On the one hand, by an act of prevenient grace God calls upon the sinner to repent and to have faith in the promise of salvation as set out in the Gospel; and man, who has free will, may respond either positively or negatively to this vocation or calling--or, an initially positive response may be followed later by rejection.9   Natural renovation, then, [5] depends upon the sinner's response to a divine initiative--a vocation and an answer to that vocation.   Supernatural renovation, on the other hand, is the work of God alone.   Even if a man responds positively to his vocation, he is incapable of effecting his own regeneration, for the weight of original and subsequent sin renders him spiritually impotent.   He may indicate his desire for regeneration by accepting his vocation to faith and repentance, but he cannot achieve it for himself.   The work of transforming the old Adam into the image of the new Adam is accomplished only because God restores and improves the "natural faculties" of postlapsarian man by means of supernatural renovation.10
      So far I have concentrated on the specific terms of Milton's concept of vocation.   It remains now to place that doctrine in the context of his theology generally and to show how his formulation restates in its essentials the Arminian position and diverges from Calvinist teaching.   This requires a longer perspective, and Milton's position can perhaps best be established by examining his interpretation of Romans 8:28-30.   This difficult text was regarded by Reformed theologians as the central scriptural statement of the mechanics of salvation, although their interpretations of it were various and divergent.   The passage reads as follows:

28   And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called (tois klÍtois) according to his purpose.
29   For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30   Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called (toutous kai ekalesen): and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The stages, then, by which "the called" are led to salvation are (1) foreknowledge, (2) predestination, (3) calling, (4) justification, and finally (5) glorification.


In De Doctrina Christiana Milton treats the doctrines of foreknowledge and free will together:

[6]   By virtue of his wisdom God decreed the creation of angels and men as beings gifted with reason and thus with free will.11   At the same time he foresaw the direction in which they would tend when they used this absolutely unimpaired freedom.   What then? Shall we say that God's providence or foreknowledge imposes any necessity upon them?   Certainly not:   no more than if some human being possessed the same foresight . . . .   Nothing happens because God has foreseen it, but rather he has foreseen each event because each is the result of particular causes which, by his decree, work quite freely and with which he is thoroughly familiar.   So the outcome does not rest with God who foresees it, but only with the man whose action God foresees . . . .   Divine foreknowledge definitely cannot itself impose any necessity, nor can it be set up as a cause, in any sense, of free actions . . . .   A thing which is going to happen quite freely in the course of events is not then produced as a result of God's foreknowledge, but arises from the free action of its own causes, and God knows in what direction these will, of their own accord, tend.   In this way he knew that Adam would, of his own accord, fall.   Thus it was certain that he would fall, but it was not necessary, because he fell of his own accord and that is irreconcilable with necessity. (DDC, I, iii; YP, VI, pp. 164-5)

Prescience, then, does not compel occurrence; for, if it did, God would be the author of evil and the cause of the Fall.   The link between God's foreknowledge of an event and the event itself is a necessary link, since God is omniscient, but it is not a necessitating link.   This same position is set out in Paradise Lost, III, 98-119 in a way that will lead us on naturally to an examination of predestination:

                    I made [Man] just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Such I created all the ethereal powers
And spirits, both them who stood and them who failed;
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
. . . . . . . .
            They therefore as to right belonged,
So were created, nor can justly accuse
Their maker, or their making, or their fate,
As if predestination overruled
[7]   Their will, disposed by absolute decree
Or high foreknowledge:   they themselves decreed
Their own revolt, not I:   if I foreknew,
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,
Which had no less proved certain unforeknown.


The problem of predestination has been a topic of fundamental concern since the earliest centuries of the Christian era.   So complex is the subject and its development, indeed, that a casual commentator wishing merely to outline Milton's position on the matter may be excused for trembling inwardly at the prospect of sharing the sad lot of those fallen spirits in Book II of Paradise Lost who "sat on a hill retired" and

                              reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.

      Although presupposed in the Gospels, the doctrine of predestination is (as we have seen) explicitly set out in the Pauline epistles, especially Romans 8: 28-30 and Ephesians 1: 3-14.   The earliest full-scale controversy on the topic erupted in the first quarter of the fifth century in the bitter polemical war waged between Augustine and the Pelagians.   Reacting against Pelagian emphasis on free will and denial of the transmission of original sin, Augustine undertook to expound the doctrines of the Fall, original sin, and predestination.   As the controversy grew more fierce, he became progressively more uncompromising; and by the time he composed De Praedestinatione Sanctorum (428), his position had become inflexibly severe:   postlapsarian man, he argues, having inherited liability for Adam's transgression, is a massa peccati whose supernatural gifts of liberty and free will have been utterly lost through sin; yet, in His inscrutable wisdom, God has determined by eternal decree to predestinate certain individual sinners to restoration and election, although they have done nothing to merit this free mercy.   [8]   This Augustinian view of predestination was later adopted by Calvin, who maintained that the saving benefits of Christ's atoning sacrifice apply only to the gratuitously chosen band of the elect.   But Calvin went a step beyond Augustine in expressing as dogma a doctrine of "double predestination"--that is, predestination to reprobation as well as to election:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man.   All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life and death.12

Although this forbidding doctrine is a corner-stone of his soteriology, Calvin himself did not rashly abstract it from his general theology and insist upon it as the sine qua non of his system.   His disciples, however, were less moderate.   In the works of Theodore Beza, for example, who was Calvin's epigone at Geneva, one comes face to face with the rigid determinism characteristic of derivative Calvinism.   For Beza, predestination became virtually an end in itself, and his dogmatic intransigence on the subject asserts itself clearly in A Booke of Christian Questions and Answers (translated by Arthur Golding in 1574) where he defines Predestination as

God's everlasting and unchangeable ordinance, going in order before all the causes of salvation and damnation, whereby God has determined to be glorified, in some by saving them of his own mere grace in Christ, and others by damning them through his rightful justice in Adam and in themselves.   And after the custom of scripture we call the former the vessels of glory and the elect or chosen, that is to say, those appointed to salvation from before all worlds through mercy; and the other sort we call reprobates and castaways, and vessels of wrath, that is to say, appointed likewise to rightful damnation from everlasting:   both of which God has known severally from time without beginning.13

Beza's supralapsarian14 theology transmitted itself to England in [9] the natural course of things, and there it found such able and influential exponents as the Puritan theologian William Perkins, whose De Praedestinationis Modo et Ordine (1598) provoked a reply from Jacobus Arminius with far-reaching implications for predestinarian doctrine.
      Before we come to Arminius, however, it may be helpful to summarise the salient features of the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination.   First, Calvinist supralapsarianism asserts that the divine decree concerning election and reprobation has priority over all other decrees and that, since it was ordained before the Fall, its establishment was not occasioned by Adam's transgression.   Second, God's election and reprobation of individual sinners--demonstrations of unmerited mercy and merited justice, respectively--is wholly gratuitous and is not in any way contingent upon divine foreknowledge of those who would and those who would not respond positively to an offer of saving faith.   Third, the gifts of grace and faith are given only to the elect; Christ's atoning sacrifice applies only to those whom God has, from all eternity, marked out for salvation.   Fourth, grace is irresistible:   the elect cannot decline election and salvation.   Fifth, the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace precludes the possibility of human free will.
      This harsh doctrine of double predestination found an accomplished opponent in the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, who sought to steer a middle course between Calvinist determinism and Pelagian insistence on human merit and absolute free will.   Having studied theology under Beza at Geneva, Arminius returned to his native Holland in 1587 and was called to a pastorate in Amsterdam.   In the early 1590s he undertook a close study of Romans, Chapters 7 and 9, and his concentrated investigation of the Pauline doctrines of sin, grace, predestination and free will led him to doubt the necessitarianism of high≠Calvinist teaching.   He began to see that predestination applies only to believers, that God has predestined to salvation all who believe in Christ.   At the same time, however, he kept his soteriology rooted firmly in the Reformed doctrine of solifidianism; and, while Calvinist adversaries repeatedly accused him of Pelagianism, he vigorously and consistently insisted that salvation is by grace alone and that human merit is inadmissible as a cause of salvation.
    [10]   As an admirer of William Perkins, Arminius acquired a copy of De Praedestinationis when it appeared in 1598.   Yet he read the work with dismay--for, "while Perkins wanted to make the doctrine of predestination more 'reasonable' than it is in Calvin, his logical rigor drove him to a supralapsarian point of view in which the creation and fall become means for carrying out the prior decree of election or damnation".15   Fired by his recent discoveries in the Epistle to the Romans, Arminius set about the task of composing a reply--the Examination of Perkins' Pamphlet which is, as Carl Bangs has said, "the basic document of Arminianism".16   On the question of free will Arminius argues for a via media between Calvinist denial and Pelagian affirmation, by maintaining that grace (gratia gratis) transforms potential free will into actual free will.   In other words, divine grace restores the postlapsarian will, which is sufficient only for evil choices, to the position where it is truly and actually free to choose between good and evil.   By a further act of grace God has decreed that He will show mercy to those only who believe in the promise that they are saved in Christ, whose merit is imputed to them.   The choice confronting the restored free will, then, is that between belief and non-belief.   But, since the will is free, grace is defectible:   although the gift of salvation in Christ is offered universally, each individual human being uses his free will either to accept or to reject the proffered grace.   Carl Bangs summarises Arminius's view of the interrelation of grace and free will in this way:   "The part man plays in salvation is believing.   Evangelical belief is the free choice to receive offered grace, which offered grace makes the free choice possible.   In all of this man does nothing apart from grace:   he earns nothing; he contributes nothing; but he chooses freely, and it is a choice which he can refuse to make, for grace is not an irresistible force."17   In asserting the freedom of the will and the amissibility of grace, Arminius diverges fundamentally from the Calvinist teaching he learned under Beza and found again in Perkins' De Praedestinationis.   On the other hand, however, by denying the efficacy of human merit and attributing salvation to the operation of grace alone, he separates himself from Pelagian doctrine, which declares "that a man bi his fre wil mai deserue heuen withoute grace".18
      With an understanding of the place of grace and free will in Arminius's soteriology one is in a position to consider his view of predestination in the Examination of Perkins' Pamphlet.   In the first place, he rejects the Calvinist doctrine that the decree [11] concerning predestination has priority over all other divine decrees.   He maintains, rather, that predestination is subordinate to the decree appointing Christ as intercessor; and this decretal posteriority is of fundamental importance.   Since evangelical grace is extended to man as sinner and since the believer is predestined in Christ, it follows that Christ's establishment as mediator has logical priority over the decree ordaining the election of sinners in Christ.19   Secondly, he argues that, although sufficient grace is universal, saving grace is given only to believers--that is, all men receive the prevenient grace which permits a sinner to use his free will to accept the divine offer of faith, but subsequent grace which issues in salvation is restricted to those who do, in fact, respond positively to the divine initiative and who persevere in their decision.   And finally, Arminius discriminates between absolute and contingent predestination.   By absolute predestination--which is without respect to foreknowledge--God decrees that those who believe shall be saved and those who do not believe shall be damned.   By contingent or conditional predestination, He ordains that those individuals whom He foresees as believing shall be saved, whereas those whom He foresees as disobedient shall be damned.   In other words, "predestination of classes is absolute or without qualification; predestination of individuals is with respect to foreseen faith".20   Six years after his reply to Perkins, Arminius offered the following definitions of election and reprobation in a public disputation (February 1604) with Franciscus Gomarus:   "Predestination . . . is the decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ by which he resolved within himself from all eternity to justify, adopt, and endow with eternal life, to the praise of his own glorious grace, believers on whom he had decreed to bestow faith."   Reprobation, on the other hand, is "a decree of the wrath, or of the severe will, of God by which he resolved from all eternity to condemn to eternal death unbelievers who, by their own fault and the just judgment of God, would not believe . . . ."21
      Milton devotes Book I, Chapter iv of De Doctrina Christiana to a discussion of predestination.   Here is his definition:


      Arminian influence is unmistakeable here.   However, before we look at the similarities between the positions of Arminius and Milton, there is one point of radical difference that must be mentioned.   Whereas Arminius and his followers retained-- albeit in greatly altered form--the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, Milton applies the term predestination only to election and argues that foreordination to damnation, whether as a general decree or in the case of individual men, is unscriptural. "PREDESTINATION, then," he declares, "must always be taken to refer to election, and it seems often to be used instead of that term"; and later he concludes that "Reprobation . . . is no part of divine predestination." (YP, VI, pp. 171, I73)22   Damnation is the result of the wilful repudiation of predestination; man damns himself as the inevitable consequence of refusing to accept the offer of divine grace.   As evil in the Augustinian tradition is seen to be the absence of good rather than anything positive in itself, so reprobation becomes for Milton the absence of election.   The effect of the Miltonic doctrine of predestination is to stress God's mercy rather at the expense of His justice and, as well, to give great prominence to human free will and the defectibility of grace.   Since damnation is the result of a human act rather than a divine decree, the emphasis--poetically at least--falls clearly on the operation of free will in response to divine grace.   In Paradise Lost, for example, both election and reprobation are the end products of a series of choices, and the poem may be read as a study in the use of free will.   The education of Adam in the tutorial sessions conducted by Raphael and Michael is a progressive schooling in the use of reason, which "is but choosing".   Conversely, Satan's damnation results from a series of refusals to accept offered grace and repent:

Which way I fly is hell; my self am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.
0 then at last relent; is there no place
Left for repentance, none for pardon left?
[13]   None left but by submission; and that word
Disdain forbids me . . . .
                                        (IV, 75-82)

In short, Satan damns himself.   While Adam's free will grows and strengthens as he responds to grace, Satan's will becomes less free as it becomes more and more chained to evil and the self.   Satan is a study in the progressive self-abrogation of freedom of the will.
      Apart from the question of double predestination, Milton's doctrine is reasonably close to that of Arminius.   Both agree that evangelical grace is offered to man as sinner, that it is offered freely to all men and not merely to a preordained group of "elect" men, that God restores to the individual sufficient free will to respond to the call to salvation, and that He has "predestined to salvation all who shall believe." (YP, VI, p. 183)   Commenting on Romans 8: 28-30 (above, p. 5), Milton sets out the order of events in this way:   "God foreknew those who would believe; that is, he decided or approved that it should be those alone upon whom, through Christ, he would look kindly:   in fact, then, that it should be all men, if they believed.   He predestined these to salvation, and, in various ways, he called all men to believe, that is, truly to acknowledge God.   He justified those who believed in this way, and finally glorified those who persevered in their belief." (Ibid., pp. 181-2)   Thus, like Arminius, Milton held that men are predestined on condition of belief23 (rather than being predestined to belief, as Calvinists maintained) and that salvation is achieved by the co-operation of restored free will with God's offer of grace.24


Vocation is inseparably linked with predestination, for it is the means by which the decree of election is accomplished.   As we have seen (pp. 4-5), Milton considers the doctrine of vocation within the context of a bipartite tenet of renovation.   By "natural renovation" or vocation, God invites all men to use their free will to accept salvation, which is promised on condition of faith and repentance.   By "supernatural renovation", God restores fallen man's faculties of reason and free will so that he may respond to this invitation, and on those who respond He bestows increasing powers.   Thus, supernatural renovation depends upon grace [14] alone, but natural renovation depends on co-operation between grace and restored free will.   Like Arminius, Milton eschews Pelagian self-sufficiency by insisting that salvation is sola gratia and modifies Augustinian and Calvinistic determinism by insisting on the collaboration of human free will and divine grace.
      Milton also aligns himself with Arminius in his view of the nature and extent of grace.   First, in contradistinction to the Calvinist doctrines that saving grace is available only to those foreordained to election and that such grace is inamissible, Milton adopts the Arminian position that grace is initially offered to all men but that it is defectible and may fail of its purpose since it depends on human co-operation.25   Second, while Milton's distinction between general and special vocation echoes the usual Reformed division of vocatio universalis and vocatio specialis, the resemblance is verbal rather than substantive--for again his debt is to Arminius and not to Calvin.   In the Leiden Synopsis (above, p. 3), which represents the Calvinist point of view, the phrase vocatio universalis refers simply to a general call to recognise and worship God; it is a call which comes alike to elect and reprobate, but it does not and cannot lead to salvation.   Vocatio specialis, on the other hand, is that imposition on the elect of irresistible saving grace, by which means "God calls some out of the entire human race   . . . to supernatural knowledge of Jesus Christ our Redeemer and to saving participation in his benefits".   For Milton, however, both general and special vocation lead to salvation if a man perseveres in his calling by co-operating with proffered grace. His distinction is between degrees of grace rather than kinds of grace, and the division seems to originate in Arminius's doctrine of "unequal" grace.26   In his chapter on predestination (DDC, I, iv) Milton declares that "sufficient grace" is universally extended but that God, in His inscrutable wisdom, retains the right to give more grace to some than to others:

If, then, God rejects none except the disobedient and the unbeliever, he undoubtedly bestows grace on all, and if not equally upon each, at least sufficient to enable everyone to attain knowledge of the truth and salvation.   I say not equally upon each, because he has not distributed grace equally, even among the reprobate, as they are called . . . .   For like anyone else, where his own possessions are concerned, God claims for himself the right of making decrees about them as he thinks [15] fit, without being obliged to give a reason for his decree, though he could give a very good one if he wished . . . .   So God does not consider everyone worthy of equal grace, and the cause of this is his supreme will. But he considers all worthy of sufficient grace, and the cause is his justice. (YP, VI, pp. 192-3)

Out of this distinction between sufficient and unequal grace grows the distinction between general and special vocation.   All men are called to faith and repentance by a general vocation, but "certain selected individuals" are called "more clearly and more insistently than is normal." (Ibid., p. 455)
      As Milton's examples testify, special vocation embraces not only the New Testament emphasis on personal election to salvation but also the Old Testament emphasis on service.   In clarifying the phrase "certain selected individuals", Milton cites the examples of Abraham, whose vocation to sire the Chosen People was national as much as personal, and of the Israelites themselves, whom God called "for the sake of his name and of the promises he had made to their forbears." (Ibid., p. 456)   Special vocation, then, seems also to involve special responsibility, a calling to divine service as well as to individual election--although, of course, the person called is free to decline even the clear and insistent prompting of a vocatio specialis, as many Hebrews had refused the convenantal obligation to serve Yahweh as "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation".
      It is with special vocation in its aspect of extra-personal service that I am primarily concerned in the present study.   Perhaps Milton's firmest conviction was that he had been called to serve as an instrument of the divine will.   Like the Nazarite Samson, into whose characterisation he poured a good deal of his own spiritual and intellectual biography, Milton thought of himself as "a person separate to God,/Designed for great exploits" (SA, 31-2), and his sense of special vocation provides a firm conceptual framework which unifies the whole of his literary production.   The early years are devoted largely to preparation and vocational definition:   called to serve God from the pulpit and through his poetry, he concentrates on the improvement of his divinely implanted talents and on defining the requirements expected of him as God's poet-priest.   In the prose works of 1641-60 the vocational emphasis shifts from his role as poet-priest to his role as poet-prophet:   all the signs declare that England has been marked out [16] as the new Israel, and Milton's divinely appointed role, his special vocation, is to serve both in poetry and prose as the prophet of national rebirth and the providential instrument called to exhort his countrymen to fulfil their divine mission of carrying reformation to the world.   The failure of the Puritan experiment, however, necessitated a period of vocational reassessment--a theme which is central in the last poems of 1667 and 1671.   Each of Milton's protagonists--Adam, Samson and Christ--is educated in the limits of power and the vocational expectations imposed on him by divine service; each learns, as Milton himself had learned, what is involved in serving as the special instrument of God.   Adam is instructed in his responsibilities as the father of mankind, first in a state of prelapsarian perfection and later in a fallen world of his own making; Samson, fallen from favour and close to despair, redefines his special status and with divine aid resolves the vocational tension between prophecy and fact in his promised role as Israel's deliverer; and in Paradise Regained Christ is led through temptation to a precise understanding of his messianic vocation.   Each of these poems, I believe, performed a cathartic function for Milton; in Samson Agonistes and Paradise Regained, and in the case of the postlapsarian Adam in Paradise Lost as well, I find below the narrative surface an extrapoetic source of imaginative power in Milton's own attempt to redefine his role as God's servant after the collapse of the Puritan New Jerusalem in 1660.   By imposing an aesthetic pattern on private experience in these last poems, he was enabled to achieve both emotional calm and vocational redefinition.
      I shall return in a moment to the question of special calling by examining another tradition in Reformation thought, in which the idea of vocation is seen as a divine call to specific secular occupations.   Before doing so, however, a brief word is needed about the ultimate purpose of theological vocation in Milton's soteriology.


The terminus a quo of vocation is fallen man in a state of guilt and condemnation; the terminus ad quem is regenerate man in a state of grace, that is, justified and glorified.   The object of vocation, then, is regeneration, which Milton defines as the process by which "THE OLD MAN IS DESTROYED AND . . . THE INNER MAN IS   [17]   REGENERATED BY GOD THROUGH THE WORD AND THE SPIRIT SO THAT HIS WHOLE MIND IS RESTORED TO THE IMAGE OF GOD, AS IF HE WERE A NEW CREATURE.   MOREOVER THE WHOLE MAN, BOTH SOUL AND BODY, IS SANCTIFIED TO GOD'S SERVICE AND TO GOOD WORKS." (YP, VI, p. 461)   For Milton as for all other Reformed theologians, however, the work of transforming the old man of sin into the new man of faith belongs to God alone:   "The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God:   wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will."27   By prevenient grace God calls the sinner to faith and repentance, and by subsequent grace He makes it possible for him to persist in his calling to faith and repentance.   Man's only part in his regeneration is to use his free will to co-operate with divine grace in this task of spiritual reconstruction.
      The proximate ends of regeneration are justification and sanctification .28   The Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone (solifidianism), which originates with Luther,29 holds that the believer is accounted righteous in God's sight by virtue of his faith in Christ; where salvation is concerned, there is no room for human merit or righteousness--sinful man remains guilty in fact, but by a legal fiction God graciously agrees to treat him as though he were innocent, because, through his faith, Christ's righteousness and merit are imputed to him.30   The doctrine is proclaimed by God (speaking to the Son) in Paradise Lost, III, 285-94.31

                   be thou in Adam's room
The head of all mankind, though Adam's son.
As in him perish all men, so in thee
As from a second root shall be restored,
As many as are restored, without thee none.
His crime makes guilty all his sons, thy merit
Imputed shall absolve them who renounce
Their own both righteous and unrighteous deeds,
And live in thee transplanted, and from thee
Receive new life.

      Vocation and justification are followed by sanctification or holiness.   Although good deeds and holy living do not contribute [18] to salvation, they are enjoined as the pledge and seal of a man's election--a good tree must bring forth good fruit.   Heinrich Heppe summarises the Reformed doctrine of sanctification in this way:   "sanctification is to be distinguished as well from justification as from vocation; for vocation is the beginning of regeneration, whereas sanctification is the continuation of it to gradual completion . . . .   [Justification] rests directly upon the sacrificial death and merit of Christ; [sanctification] on the contrary is an effect which the death and life of Christ produce in the person called.   The former is a once-for-all act of God imparted in the same way; the latter is a gradual process variously completed according to the varying measure of the Spirit which the individual receives.   In the former man's relation to the grace that sanctifies him is purely passive; in the latter he co-operates with it."32   An even better definition is provided in a sermon of Archbishop Edwin Sandys:

Holiness is the end of our election . . . . Unto holiness we are not only constrained by His commandment, but allured also by His example:   "Be holy, because I am holy." [1 Peter 1: 1]   Unto this we are called:   "For God did not call us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness" [1 Thess. 4: 7].   So that, unless we esteem vilely of our own election, unless we refuse to satisfy the will, to obey the commandment, to follow the example, and to answer the vocation in which God hath called us, we must be holy.33

      Finally, if justification and sanctification may be said to be the proximate ends of regeneration, then glorification may be said to be its ultimate end.   "Since the glorification of God is the purpose of all things, and since as the original source of all blessedness God wills to be glorified in the faithful, the latter are called by the Father not only to the enjoyment of Christ's grace but also to Christ's glory, which however, is not imparted to the elect in its entire perfection until after death."34   In De Doctrina Christiana Milton follows the lead of other Reformed theologians by distinguishing between incomplete and complete glorification.   Incomplete glorification is the adumbration of eternal bliss vouchsafed to the elect while they are still alive:   "WE . . . ARE FILLED WITH A CERTAIN AWARENESS BOTH OF PRESENT GRACE AND DIGNITY AND OF FUTURE GLORY, SO THAT WE HAVE ALREADY BEGUN TO BE BLESSED." (YP, VI, p. 502)   Complete glorification, on the [19] other hand, is achieved by believers only after death and "consists in eternal and utterly happy life, arising chiefly from the sight of God." (Ibid., p. 630)   Glorification, then, is applied salvation; and the relationship between vocation and glorification is happily and succinctly expressed by William Ames in his Medulla Theologica (1627) when he describes glorification as the moment when "the end of their calling will be present to all the called; for we are called to the eternal glory of God." (I xli 2)35


Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.                   (1 Corinthians 7: 20)

When Richard Steele wrote in 1684 that "God doth call every man and woman . . . to serve him in some peculiar employment in this world, both for their own and the common good",36 his words had behind them the authority of a long and important tradition in Reformation thought.   Over a century earlier Calvin had put his imprimatur on the doctrine in Institutes of the Christian Religion:

. . . the Lord enjoins every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our own calling.   He knows the boiling restlessness of the human mind, the fickleness with which it is borne hither and thither, its eagerness to hold opposites at one time in its grasp, its ambition.   Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life.   And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by the name of callings.   Every man's mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random.37

The conviction that secular obligations were imposed on individuals by divine will was a staple of English Puritanism from its earliest days;38 and it became even more prominent in Puritan thought during the seventeenth century because of its connection with covenant theology.   The idea, however, was popular with [20] Anglicans as well, although they were generally more restrained in their expression of it.   So popular, indeed, was the doctrine in England by the 1590s that Falstaff in 1 Henry IV could use it in waggish defence of his addiction to larceny:

Prince     I see a good amendment of life in thee--from praying to purse-taking.
Falstaff     Why, Hal, 'tis my vocation, Hal.   'Tis no sin for a man to labour in his vocation. (I, ii, 103-6)

      In addition to the spiritual vocation examined in the preceding section, then, there is a temporal vocation as well.   Yet these two sorts of calling are intimately connected.   As we have seen, spiritual vocation leads to justification and sanctification, that is, to adoption through Christ's imputed merit and to good works performed with the aid of the Holy Spirit as the pledge of that election.   Temporal calling is an aspect of sanctification:   a man is called not simply to good works but to good works performed within the context of the specific office assigned to him by the government of heaven.   In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, doing the work that lay nearest one was not, as it became later for Thomas Carlyle, merely a matter of therapy for religious despair; it was enjoined as a religious duty, for God expected contentment and obedience of those whom He had appointed to their particular trade or profession-- laborare est orare.   The sociological and economic implications of this concept have been much discussed by historians and theologians.39   However, since a good deal of this scholarly debate is devoted to historical and economic issues, its relevance to this present study of Milton is tangential and there is no need to rehearse it here.   In order to understand Milton's relation to the doctrine of secular vocation as divine calling it will be enough to glance briefly at the source of the idea in Luther and then to consider in somewhat greater detail its exposition in an important English tractate, William Perkins' Treatise of Vocations.
      For medieval Christianity "vocation" meant "religious vocation".   An individual was called out of the world to exercise a special function as priest, nun, friar, monk, or anchorite.   The religious life conferred a special status on those who submitted themselves to it and was regarded as the highest form of Christian obedience; the performance of secular duties and one's daily [21] work, on the other hand, were occupations rather than "callings", pursuits occasioned by the penalty of Adam rather than responses to an inner summons to the rigours of the imitatio Christi.   The medieval barriers between religious and secular service, however, were broken down by Luther who, in refuting the spiritual pretensions of the monastic ideal, taught that all lawful vocations were divine callings.   The Christian body comprises many members, and although the work of each is different, they are all members of the same body; and so Luther "presents man's vocation as something positive, saying that man, by labor and prayer, can serve as a mask for God, a coworker with him, through which God effects his will in external affairs".40   The essence of vocation is extra-personal service; a man is called to obedience in his secular vocation, not for personal gains (either temporal or spiritual), but so that he may serve as the vehicle of God's continuing care for mankind.   Secular vocations may vary greatly in importance and glory, but each is nevertheless a medium for transmitting God's love to man.   By conscientiously discharging the duties of the office to which he has been appointed, an individual demonstrates his obedience to God and at the same time becomes a useful member of the Christian community.   But it must be added that the good works which a man performs in the pursuit of his vocation do not in any way contribute to his election.   Salvation is sola gratia and sola fide; and therefore, in his Kirchenpostille (1522) and elsewhere, Luther firmly separates vocation from any notion of merit:   "In heaven, before God, vocation has as little to contribute as do good works.   Good works and vocation (love) exist for the earth and one's neighbour, not for eternity and God.   God does not need our good works, but our neighbour does.   It is faith that God wants.   Faith ascends to heaven."41   Vocation, then, expresses itself in terms of selfless service; it is, as I said a moment ago, an aspect of sanctification.
      The Reformed attitude to secular vocation is fully and clearly set out in William Perkins' A Treatise of Vocations, or Callings of men (1603).42  Not surprisingly, the tract's major premise is that all lawful43 callings, however menial, are ordained by God and that one must acquiesce humbly and obediently in His determinations:

. . . a vocation or calling, is a certaine kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God, for the common good . . . .   For example, the life of a [22] king is to spend his time in the gouerning of his subiects, and that is his calling:  and the life of a subiect is to liue in obedience to the Magistrate, and that is his calling.   The state and condition of a Minister is, to leade his life in preaching of the Gospell and word of God, and that is his calling.   A master of a family is to leade his life in the gouernment of his family, and that is his calling.   In a word, that particular and honest manner of conuersation, whereunto euery man is called and set apart, that is (I say) his calling . . . .   The author of euery calling, is God himselfe:   and therefore Paul saith; As God hath called euery man, let him walke, [1 Cor. 7,] vers. 17.   And for this cause, the order and maner of liuing in this world, is called a Vocation; because euery man is to liue as he is called of God.   For looke as in the campe, the Generall appointeth to euery man his place and standing; one place for the horseman, & another for the footman, and to euery particular souldier likewise, his office and standing, in which he is able to abide against the enemie, and therein to liue and die:  euen so is it in humane societies:   God is the Generall, appointing euery man his particular calling, and as it were his standing:   and in that calling, he assigns vnto him his particular office; of performance whereof he is to liue and die.   And as in a campe, no souldier can depart his standing, without the leaue of the Generall; no more may any man leaue his calling, except he receiue liberty from God. (p. 727)

Committed to the view that disorders in the temporal world were the result of a general failure on the part of men to obey the divine ordinance of vocation, Perkins insists that a man "must keepe himselfe within the compasse, limits, or precincts" of his own proper calling:

when any man is without the cűpasse of his calling, he is out of the way, and by this means he bereaues himself of the protection of the Almighty; and lies open and naked to all the punishments and plagues of God.   And if we marke it well, the word of God shews euidently to what dangers they are subiect, that do any thing either without or against their callings.   Sampsons strength lay not in his haire (as men commonly think) but because he went out of his calling, by breaking the vow of a Nazarite, when he gaue occasion to Dalilah to cut off his haire, therefore he lost his strength; for God promised [23]   strength but with a commandement that he should be a Nazarite to the end, Iud. 13-5 (pp. 728-9)

If this account of Samson's fall lacks the psychological sophistication of Samson Agonistes, it is nevertheless true--as I shall argue in Chapter 5--that Milton follows Perkins in treating Samson's failure to keep within the limits of his appointed vocation as the theological and thematic centre of the story.   In the Miltonic version, however, Samson's vocation as the saviour of Israel takes precedence over his calling as a Nazarite.
      Perkins goes on to say that vocation must be divided into general calling and particular calling.   "The generall calling", he explains, is common to all Christians and is that "whereby a man is called out of the world to be a child of God, a member of Christ, and heire of the kingdom of heauen.   This Calling belongs to euery one within the compasse of the Church, not any one excepted" (p. 729).   Particular or personal calling, on the other hand, "is that speciall calling that belongs to some particular men:   as the calling of a Magistrate, the calling of a Minister, the calling of a Master, of a father, of a child, of a seruant, of a subiect, or any other calling that is common to all" (ibid.).   By general calling, then, he refers to that vocatio universalis described in the preceding section of this Introduction; but, since his subject is primarily secular walks of life in A Treatise of Vocations, he reserves the term "particular calling" to describe, not a theological vocatio specialis, but rather "the execution of some particular office, arising out of that distinction which God makes between man and man in euery societie" (p. 731).  Yet, while he distinguishes between general and particular calling, Perkins would not divorce them; on the contrary, he insists that the latter must be firmly rooted in the former:   "Euery man", he declares, "must ioyne the practise of his personall calling, with the practise of the generall calling of Christianitie . . . .   More plainely:   Euery particular calling must be practised in, and with the generall calling of a Christian.   It is not sufficient for a man in the congregation, and in common conuersation, to be a Christian, but in his very personall calling, he must shew himseffe to be so". (p. 733)   These two vocations must be joined with an indivisible bond, as body and soul are joined--and, he continues, "if thou wouldest haue signs and tokens of thy election and saluation, thou must fetch them from the constant practise of thy two callings jointlie togither" (ibid.).   This statement brings us to the very heart [24] of Perkins' argument, for it is clear that he is concerned to have vocation serve as a bridge between justification (faith) and sanctification (works).   The Christian receives a general calling to embrace the faith by which he is justified, and he is called also to a specific secular occupation or vocation in which he is to serve God by serving man and by performing works that symbolise his regenerate status.   However, since faith has precedence over works, "a particular calling must giue place to the gencrall calling of a Christian, when they cannot both stand togither" (p. 734).
      Having established the theological basis of his doctrine of vocation, Perkins passes on to the more pragmatic aspects of the concept.   One of the first problems to which he addresses himself is the question of how a man may know for certain that he has been called by God into his particular station and function in life:

Now, that euery man may certenly know himselfe to be called of God, to this or that calling, he must haue two things:   Gifts for the calling of God, and Allowance from men.   For the first, whom God calleth, to them he giueth competent and conuenient gifts, as knowledge, understanding, dexterity to this or that, and such like; and thereby makes them able for the performance of the duties of their callings.   Contrariwise, they that enter into any calling, beeing vtterly vnable to performe the duties thereof, were neuer called of God.   For the second, men are to be set apart to their particular callings by the appointment of men, whom God hath left on earth as his instruments, for the ordering and disposing of vocations.   For God has his deputies to allot men their offices in euery society:   . . . for ecclesiasticall callings, the Gouernours of the Church; for ciuill, the Magistrate, and men of authoritie in the Common-wealth. (p. 737)

No one, then, may lawfully enter a vocation unless he knows himself to possess the necessary aptitude and skills (which are the gifts of God) and, as well, unless he has the approval of those men whom God has set in authority to judge the fitness of aspirants for their callings.   This notion of a dual proof of vocational qualification goes far toward explaining Milton's early desire to have his inner conviction of poetic ability corroborated by external authority.   It helps to account, for instance, for the abrupt self-revelations offered in Prolusion 6 (see below, Chap 2, pp. 52-4) or, more significantly, [25] for the great emphasis that he placed on the enthusiastic reception accorded his nascent Muse by the intellectual elite of Italy:   "perceiving that some trifles which I had in memory", he wrote in The Reason of Church-Government, "met with acceptance above what was lookt for . . . [and] were receiv'd with written Encomiums, which the Italian is not forward to bestow on men of this side the Alps, I began thus farre to assent both to them and divers of my friends here at home, and not lesse to an inward prompting which now grew daily upon me, that by labour and intent study . . . I might perhaps leave something so written to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die." (YP, I, pp. 809-10; see below, Chap 2, pp. 69-70).
      Perkins devotes much of the remainder of his Treatise of Vocations to such topics as the virtues requisite for a vocation and a closely argued inquiry into the lawful occasions and means of changing one's vocation, and these matters need not detain us here.   The central points have been made:   all lawful vocations are divine callings; in performing the duties of his vocation a man serves his neighbour and demonstrates his obedience to God; a man must keep himself within the limits of his appointed office and must be sanctioned in his calling both by internal authority and external approval; and finally, a man must recognise that vocation binds together justification and sanctification, that is, that his secular calling functions as an adjunct to the work of grace renovating the inner man of faith.
      Milton seldom deals in a direct and discursive way with the doctrine of secular vocation.   Indeed, the only clear statement of the concept that I have been able to discover in his writings occurs in a brief comment (Milton's own) in his Commonplace Book:   "The nature of each person should be especially observed and not bent in another direction; for God does not intend all people for one thing, but for each one his own work." (YP, I, p. 405)   Nevertheless, as the chapters which follow will show, a firm belief in divine imminence and providential direction underpins all of his thinking about vocation.   Both as poet and polemicist he believed that he was called and sustained in his calling by God.   As a poet he would heartily have assented to Boccaccio's declaration in Book 15 of the Genealogia Deorum Gentilium:   "Whatever the vocation of others, mine, as experience from my mother's womb has shown, is clearly the study of poetry.   For this, I believe, I was born . . . .   Wherefore, since I believe that I am called to this profession by [26] God's will, it is my purpose to stand fast in the same.'44   As a polemicist, having "the use, as I may account it, but of my left hand", he showed initial reluctance; but an inward prompting convinced him that obedience was required of those whom God has appointed to serve Him as special instruments and, by 1654, as he told Leonard Philaras, God "himself looks out for me   . . . and takes me as if by the hand and leads me throughout life" (YP, IV, ii, p. 870).   Milton believed, then, that his own secular careers were divine vocations,45 and he knew also that, while "God doth not need/ Either man's work or his own gifts" (Sonnet 19), it is death to hide those talents divinely implanted for the service of God and man.


[Click on asterisk (*) at the end of a note to return to the point you left in the text]

  1. [205]

  2. Based on The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., revised (Oxford, 1975), s.v. *

  3. Old Testament vocation is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3:   cf. below, pp. 82-6. *

  4. See, for example, the following:   Romans 11: 29; Ephesians 1: 18 and 4:4; Philippians 3: 14; 2 Thessalonians 1: 11; 2 Timothy 1: 9; Hebrews 3: 1; 2 Peter 1: 10.   Indeed, the only exception in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 7: 20. *

  5. Quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmaties Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources, trans. G. T. Thomson (London, 1950), p. 510. *

  6. Robert Greville, Lord Brooke, in A Discourse opening the Nature of Episcopacie (1641; 2nd ed., 1642) defines recta ratio or "right reason" as being "the candle of God, which he hath lighted in man, lest man groping in the darkness should stumble and fall" (p. 25).   See also Douglas Bush, "Paradise Lost"in Our Time (Ithaca, N.Y., 1945), p. 37:   "Right reason is not merely reason in our sense of the word; it is not a dry light, a nonmoral instrument of inquiry.   Neither is it simply the religious conscience.   It is a kind of rational and philosophic conscience which distinguishes man from the beasts and which links man with man and with God.   This faculty was implanted by God in all men, Christian and heathen alike, as a guide to truth and conduct.   Though its effectual workings may be obscured by sin, it makes man, in his degree, like God; it enables him, within limits, to understand the purposes of a God who is perfect reason as well as perfect justice, goodness, and love." *

  7. Quoted in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 510-11. *

  8. By the phrase "so-called elect" Milton wishes to distinguish his own Arminian view of predestination from both Calvinistic supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.   (Cf. n 14 below.) *


  10. "But vocation, and the consequent change which occurs in the natural man, are parts only of a natural mode of renovation.   As a result, if they fall short of regeneration they do not lead to salvation. Matt. xxii. 14:   many are called, few are chosen." (YP, VI, p. 460) *

  11. Although Milton discusses natural renovation first (Chapter xvii) and then moves on to supernatural renovation in Chapter xviii, it would seem that in at least one sense supernatural must precede natural renovation, for free will must be restored before the sinner is in a position to respond to his [206] vocation.   Cf. DDC, I, iv:   "when God determined to restore mankind, he also decided unquestionably (and what could be more just?) to restore some part at least of man's lost freedom of will." (YP, VI, p. 187) *

  12. Cf. Paradise Lost, IX, 351-2:   "But God left free the will, for what obeys/ Reason, is free . . . ."   Cf. also Areopagitica (YP, II, p. 527):   "when God gave [Adam] reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had bin else a meer artificiall Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions." *

  13. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), III, xxi, 5; trans. Henry Beveridge, 2 vols (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1970), II, p. 206. *

  14. Quoted in Carl Bangs, Arminius. A Study in the Dutch Reformation (New York, 1971), pp. 66-7. *

  15. Supralapsarianism is "the form of the Calvinistic doctrine of Predestination which maintains that God decreed the election and non-election of individual men before the Fall of Adam.   Calvin himself regarded Divine Predestination as an inscrutable mystery . . . [and] did not presume to elaborate the whole subject.   It was his followers who boldly asserted such doctrines as supralapsarianism.   Though logical consistency may appear to favour the supralapsarian position, the milder sublapsarian doctrine has been generally dominant among Calvinists, esp. since the Synod of Dort (1618)." (ODCC, p. 1324)   Sub- or infralapsarianism holds that the divine decree relative to election and non-election of individuals was enacted only after the Fall. *

  16. Bangs, Arminius, p. 208. *

  17. Ibid., p. 209.   Bangs discusses the theology of Arminius's reply to Perkins on pp. 209-21, and my own summary is much indebted to his thorough examination of the issues.   (The Examination of Perkins' Pamphlet was published posthumously in 1612.) *

  18. Ibid., p. 216. *

  19. Quoted in SOED (1975) s.v. Pelagian, and dated 1449; no source given. Not quoted in OED. *

  20. In the Examination of Perkins' Pamphlet, Arminius "emphasises . . . that evangelical grace has to do with man as sinner . . . .   [He argues] that 'the predestination of which the Scriptures treat is of men as they are sinners'.   It includes the means by which those who are predestined will be 'certainly and infallibly' saved, 'but those means are the remission of sins and the renewing of the Holy Ghost and his perpetual assistance even to the end, which means are necessary and communicable to none but sinners'.   Predestination must then refer to sinners, and it has its ground only in Christ.   'Since God can love to salvation (ad salutem amate possit) no one who is a sinner unless he be reconciled to himself in Christ, it follows that predestination cannot have had place except in Christ.'   But Christ was given for sinners, so that 'it is certain that predestination and its opposite, reprobation, could not have had place before the sin of man,--I mean, foreseen by God--and before the appointment of Christ as Mediator, and moreover before his discharging, in the foreknowledge of God, the office of Mediator, which appertains to reconciliation.'" (Bangs, Arminius, pp. 209-10) *

  21. Bangs, Arminius p. 219. *

  22. The Works of James Arminius, trans. James Nichols and W.R. Bagnall, 3 vols. [207] (Buffalo, N.Y., 1853), I, pp. 565, 568.   For a similar statement, see Arminius's Declaration of Sentiments (1608), in ibid., I, pp. 247-8.   See also Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols (New York, 1919), III, pp. 545-9.   There is a helpful bibliography in YP, VI, p. 80, n 30. *

  23. Cf. also the following statement:   "It is quite clear, then, that God has predestined from eternity all who would believe and persist in their belief.   It follows, therefore, that there is no reprobation except for those who do not believe or do not persist, and that this is rather a matter of consequence than of an express decree by God.   Thus there is no reprobation from eternity of particular men.   For God has predestined to salvation all who use their free will, on one condition, which applies to all.   None are predestined to destruction except through their own fault, and, in a sense, per accidens." (YP, VI, p. 190) *

  24. While Arminius distinguishes between God's absolute and contingent decrees of predestination, Milton argues for a single decree which is a conflation of Arminius's two decrees:   "It seems, then, that predestination and election are not particular but only general: that is, they belong to all who believe in their hearts and persist in their belief.   Peter is not predestined or elected as Peter, or John as John, but each only insofar as he believes and persists in his belief.   Thus the general decree of election is individually applicable to each believer, and is firmly established for those who persevere." (YP, VI p. 176; italics mine.)   On Arminius's two decrees, see above, p. 11. *

  25. Cf. YP, VI, pp. 188-9. *

  26. Cf. above, n 9. *

  27. Arminius's doctrine of "unequal grace" is set out in his public disputation On the Vocation of Men to Salvation (1609):   "Here Arminius proposes a doctrine of 'unequal grace'.   In implied response to his enemies who had accused him of teaching that God's grace is given equally to all, Arminius turns the tables on them by denying the same. God reserves for himself, says Arminius, the 'full and free power . . . of bestowing unequal grace on those who are equals, and equal grace on those who are unequal, nay, of employing greater grace on those who are more wicked.'" (Bangs, Arminius, p. 323) *

  28. The Thirty-Nine Articles (Church of England), Article x, 'Of Free Will'. *

  29. On the Reformed doctrines of justification and sanctification, see Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 543-80, and Philip E. Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1965), pp. 47-118. *

  30. The doctrine is based on Romans 3: 28 ("Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith [dikaiousthai pistei anthrŰpon] without the deeds of the law"), where Luther translates pistei, as allein durch den Glauben "by faith alone".   Luther developed the doctrine of solifidianism, which is the corner-stone of Reformed theology as a whole, in his early tract on Christian liberty, Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (1520). *

  31. "By the justification of man Holy Scripture thinks not of an inpouring of God's righteousness into him (i.e. not of an actus physicus), but of a judicial declaratory act (actus forensis) by which God declares man righteous, i.e. to be an object of His good pleasure.   Hence justification is an exterior but not an interior change in man." (Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 543-4) *

  32. See also De Doctrina Christiana, I, xxii (YP, VI, pp. 485-94), and Paradise Lost, XII, 293-6:
    [208]   Some blood more precious must be paid for man,
    Just for unjust, that in such righteousness
    To them by faith imputed, they may find
    Justification towards God . . . .*

  33. Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 565-6. *

  34. Quoted in Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers, p. 81. *

  35. Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 695. *

  36. Quoted in ibid., p. 695. *

  37. Steele, The Tradesman's Calling (London, 1684), p. 1 *

  38. Calvin, Institutes, III, x, 6; trans. Beveridge, II, p. 34. *

  39. See M. M. Knappen, Tudor Puritanism: A Chapter in the History of Idealism (Chicago, 1939; reprt. 1970), pp. 397-8.   For examples of the idea in seventeenth-century Puritanism, see R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (London,1926; reprt. 1966), esp. pp. 239-44. *

  40. The literature on the topic is enormous.   The first major treatment of it was Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-5), trans. Talcott Parsons (London, 1930; reprt. 1974); Weber's seminal study was followed by Tawney's Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (above, n 38) which examines the theme in relation to English Puritanism.   The religious aspects of the subject are examined in Georgia Harkness, John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics (Nashville, 1963), pp. 178-220, and Ian Breward (ed.), The Works of William Perkins (Abingdon, Berks., 1970), pp. 72-6; there are select bibliographies both in Harkness (p. 178, n 2) and Breward (p. 125, nn 28-9). *

  41. Gustaf Wingren, The Christian's Calling: Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Edinburgh and London, 1958), p. 180. *

  42. Ibid., p. 10. *

  43. The treatise, probably written about the turn of the century, was first published at Cambridge in 1603.   It subsequently appeared in the first volume of The Workes of that Famous and VVoorthie Minister of Christ, in the Vniversitie of Cambridge, M[r]. W. Perkins, 3 vols (London, 1608-9); page references for quotations used in my text are to volume one of this edition.   An abbreviated and normalised version of A Trealise of Vocations is available in Works, ed. Breward (above, n 39), pp. 446- 76. *

  44. Certain occupations explicitly forbidden in Scripture or contrary to the spirit of God's Word are not lawful:   "we learn, that many perswading themselues of their callings, haue for all this, no calling at all.   As for ex„ple, such as liue by usury, by carding and dicing, by maintaining houses of gaming, by plaies, and such like:   for God is the authour of euery lawfull calling; but these and such miserable courses of liuing, are either against the word of God, or else they are not grounded thereupon.   And therefore, are no callings or vocations, but auocations from God and his waies." (p. 727) *

  45. Boccaccio, Genealogia, XV, x; in Boccaccio on Poetry, trans. C. G. Osgood, 2nd ed. (New York, 1956), pp. 131,133. *

  46. It may be added that Milton frequently applied this view of vocation to other men.   In Of Education, for example, he says that Samuel Hartlib's "extraordinary pains and diligence" in educational reform had been occasioned "either by the definite will of God so ruling, or the peculiar sway of [209] nature, which is also Gods working" (YP, II, p. 363); similarly, in Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio, he maintains that the regicides had acted "according to the will of God whether manifest or innate" (YP, IV, i, p. 346). *

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Document Completed:   9:13 PM on 30/03/96