Wednesday, November 2, 2011

John Milton on Idolatry

Note to the reader: John Milton was a skilled writer and may have started off Reformed, but he ended up denying the doctrine of the Trinity and so was himself an idolater. Nevertheless, the selection from his study of idolatry below references many important Scripture-texts which may be of some use to the reader.

IDOLATRY consists in THE MAKING, WORSHIPPING, OR TRUSTING IN IDOLS, WHETHER CONSIDERED AS REPRESENTATIONS OF THE TRUE GOD, OR OF A FALSE ONE. Exod. xx. 4,5. thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. See also Lev. xxvi. 1. Deut. xvi. 21, 22. thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of Jehovah neither shalt thou set thee up any image, which Jehovah thy God hateth. xxvii. 15. cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image. Isai. ii. 8. their land also is full of idols, xvii. 8. he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands—. Acts xvii. 16. his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 1 Cor. viii. 4. we know that an idol is nothing in the world, x. 6, 7, 14. neither be ye idolaters, &c. 2 Cor. v. 16. though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Gal. v. 19, 20. the works of the flesh are these, adultery .... idolatry, witchcraft .... they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. See also 1 John v. 21. Rev. ix. 20. that they should not worship devils and idols of gold. Idolatry is described, Isai. lvii. 5. enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree. Jer. vii. 31. they have built the high places of Tophet. xi. 13. according to the number of thy cities were thy gods—. xxxii. 29. they shall burn it with the houses upon whose roofs they have offered incense unto Baal. Ezek. viii. 5, &c. behold northward at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy—. Hos. iv. 13. they sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains.

WHETHER OF THE TRUE GOD—. Exod. xxxii. 5. when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it, and Aaron made proclamation, and said. To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah; compared with Psal. cvi. 19, 20. they made a calf in Horeb,....thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox. Deut. iv. 15, 16. take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that Jehovah spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire; lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female. It is indeed said, Exod. xxiv. 10. that Moses and the elders saw the God of Israel, and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness; and v. 11. they saw God; and v. 17. the sight of the glory of Jehovah was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel; but it is clear, from the passage of Deuteronomy quoted above, that they saw the likeness of no living thing whatever. So Ezek. i. 27, 28. I saw...from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward; where no mention is made of his face. Judges xvii. 4. the founder made thereof a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah; compared with v. 13. then said Micah, Now know I that Jehovah will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest. 2 Kings xvii. 28. then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria, came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear Jehovah. Isai. xl. 18. to whom then will ye liken God, or what likeness will ye compare unto him? xliv. 10. who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing? xlvi. 5, 6. to whom will ye liken me, and make me equal? they hire a goldsmith, and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship. Jer. ii. 11, &c. hath a nation changed their gods which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Acts xvii. 29. forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. Rom. i. 23, 24. they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man. Hence to worship the true God under the form of an idol was considered as criminal as to worship devils. 2 Chron. xi. 15. he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves that he had made; although Jeroboam doubtless imagined that he was appointing priests to Jehovah, while he was in reality officiating in the rites of those which were not Gods.

OR OF A FALSE GOD. Num. xxxiii. 52. then shall ye destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places. See also Deut. vii. 5, 25. xii. 2, 3. In pursuance of these injunctions, pious rulers in all ages have opposed idolatry ;* Moses, Asa, 2 Chron. xiv. 3. xv. 8, &c. Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, 2 Kings xxiii. 1—25. 2 Chron. xxxiv. 4, &c. the whole people, 2 Chron. xxiii. 17. and xxxi. 1.

The cherubic images over the ark are not to be accounted idols; first, as being representations not of false gods, but of the ministering spirits of Jehovah, and consequently not objects of worship; secondly, as being made by the special command of God himself.

Even the brazen serpent, the type of Christ, was commanded to be demolished, as soon as it became an object of religious worship, 2 Kings xviii. 4. he brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made.

Hence the Papists err in calling idols the laymen's books; their real nature whether considered as books or teachers, appears from Psal. cxv. 5, &c. they have mouths, but they speak not.... they that make them are like unto them, so is every one that trusteth in them. Isai. xliv. 18. they have not known nor understood, for he hath shut their eyes—. Jer. x. 8, 14, 15. every man is brutish in his knowledge; every founder is confounded by the graven image; for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them; they are vanity and the work of errors; in the time of their visitation they shall perish. Habak. ii. 18, 19. what profiteth the graven image, that the graver thereof hath graven it; the molten image and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach; behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.

We are commanded to abstain, not only from idolatrous worship itself, but from all things and persons connected with it. Acts xv. 20. that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication. v. 29. from meats offered to idols and from fornication. Rev. ii. 14. who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. v. 20. to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. From a comparison of these passages, it would appear that the fornication here prohibited was a part of idolatrous worship. 1 Cor. viii. 10. if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idols temple, shall not the conscience of him that is weak be emboldened to eat, &c. x. 14. flee from idolatry. v. 20, &c. they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 2 Cor. vi. 16. what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? 1 Thess. i. 9. ye turned to God front idols, to serve the living and true God. 1 Pet. iv. 3. we walked in lasciviousness...and abominable idolatries. 1 John v. 21. little children, keep yourselves from idols.

A question here arises, whether it be lawful for a professor of the true religion to be present at idol-worship, in cases where his attendance is necessary for the discharge of some civil duty. The affirmative seems to be established by the example of Naaman the Syrian, 2 Kings v. 17—19. who was permitted, as an additional mark of the divine approbation, to construct for himself a private altar of Israelitish earth, although, as a Gentile, he was uncircumcised. It is however safer and more consistent with the fear of God, to avoid, as far as possible, duties of this kind, even of a civil nature, or to relinquish them altogether.
—John Milton, A treatise on Christian doctrine: compiled from the Holy Scriptures alone

True Religion is the true Worship and Service of God, learnt and believed from the Word of God only.
Let us now enquire whether Popery be tolerable or no. Popery is a double thing to deal with, and claims a twofold Power, Ecclesiastical, and Political, both usurpt, and the one supporting the other.

But Ecclesiastical is ever pretended to Political. The Pope by this mixt faculty, pretends right to Kingdoms and States, and especially to this of England, Thrones and Unthrones Kings, and absolves the people from their obedience to them; sometimes interdicts to whole Nations the Public worship of God, shutting up their Churches: and was wont to dreign away greatest part of the wealth of this then miserable Land, as part of his Patrimony, to maintain the Pride and Luxury of his Court and Prelates: and now since, through the infinite mercy and savour of God, we have shaken off this Babylonish yoke, hath not ceas'd by his Spyes and Agents, Bulls and Emissaries, once to destroy both King and Parliament; perpetually to seduce, corrupt, and pervert as many as they can of the People. Whether therefore it be fit or reasonable, to tolerate men thus principl'd in Religion towards the State, I submit it to the consideration of all Magistrates, who are best able to provide for their own and the public safety. As for tolerating the exercise of their Religion, supposing their State activities not to be dangerous, I answer, that Toleration is either public or private; and the exercise of their Religion, as far as it is Idolatrous, can be tolerated neither way: not publicly, without grievous and unsufferable scandal giv'n to all conscientious Beholders; nor privately, without great offence to God, declar'd against all kind of Idolatry, though secret. Ezekiel 8. 7, 8. And he brought me to the door of the Court, and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall. Then said he unto me, Son of Man, dig now in the wall; and when I had digged, behold a Door, and he said unto me, go in, and behold the wicked Abominations that they do here. And verse 12. Then said he unto me, Son of Man, hast thou seen what the Ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark? &c. And it appears by the whole Chapter, that God was no less offended with these secret Idolatries, then with those in public; and no less provokt, then to bring on and hasten his Judgments on the whole Land for these also. 
Having shown thus, that Popery, as being Idolatrous, is not to be tolerated either in Public or in Private; it must be now thought how to remove it and hinder the growth thereof, I mean in our Natives, and to Foreigners, Privileg'd by the Law of Nations. Are to punish them by corporal punishment, or fines in their Estates, upon account of their Religion? I suppose it stands not with the Clemency of the Gospel, more then what appertains to the security of the State: but first we must remove their Idolatry, and all the furniture thereof, whether Idols, or the Mass wherein they adore their God under Bread and Wine: for the Commandment forbids to adore, not only any Graven Image, but the likeness of any thing in Heaven above, or in the Earth beneath, or in the Water under the Earth, thou shalt not bow down to them nor worship them, for I the Lord thy God am a Jealous God. If they say that by removing their Idols we violate their Consciences, we have no warrant to regard Conscience which is not grounded on Scripture: and they themselves confess in their late defences, that they hold not their Images necessary to salvation, but only as they are enjoyn'd them by tradition.

Shall we condescend to dispute with them? The Scripture is our only Principle in Religion; and by that only they will not be Judg'd, but will add other Principles of their own, which, forbidden by the Word of God, we cannot assent to. And the common Maxim also is Logic is, against them who deny Principles, we are not to dispute. Let them bound their disputations on the Scripture only, and an ordinary Protestant, well read in the Bible, may turn and wind their Doctors. They will not god about to prove their Idolatries by the Word of God, but run to shifts and evasions, and frivolous distinctions: Idols they say are Laymen's Books, and a great means to stir up pious thoughts and Devotion in the Learnedst. I say they are no means of God's appointing, but plainly the contrary: Let them hear the Prophets; Jer. 10. 8. The stock is a Doctrine of Vanities. Habakkuk 2. 18. What profiteth the graven Image that the maker thereof hath graven it: The Molten Image and a teacher of Lies? But they allege in their late answers, that the Laws of Moses giv'n only to the Jews, concern not us under the Gospel: and remember not that Idolatry is forbidden as expressly, [in several places of the Gospel,] But with these wiles and fallacies compassing Sea and Land, like the Pharisees of old, to make on Proselyte, they lead away privily many simple and ignorant Souls, men or women, and make them twofold more the Children of Hell then themselves, Matt. 23. 15. But the Apostle hath well warn'd us, I may say, from such Deceivers as these, for their mystery was then working. I beseech you Brethren, saith he, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them; for they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the heart of the simple, Rom. 16. 17, 18.
—John Milton, Of True Religion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration.

Again and again in the polemics of the 1640s (and as late as the 1670s, in his final tract, Of True Religion)Milton batters away at the "grossenesse, and blindnesse" of those who would return to the "new vomited Paganisme of sensuall Idolatry,"
that they might bring the indward acts of the Spirit to the outward, and customary ey-Service of the body, as if they could make God earthly, and fleshly, because they could not make themselves heavenly, and Spirituall: they began to draw downe all the Divine intercours, betwixt God, and the Soule, yea, the very shape of God himselfe, into an exterior, and bodily forme. (3:2)
Here and elsewhere Milton inveighs against the "Idolatrous erection of Temples beautified exquisitely to out-vie the Papists," against the "snares of Images, Pictures, rich coaps, [and] gorgeous Altar-clothes" (3:54), and against those who, like the impious Jews of Ezekiel 23, "go a whooring after all the heathenish inventions" because they crave a "religion gorgeously attir'd and desirable to the eye" (3:355).
—Ernest B. Gilman, Down Went Dagon, pp. 152-153

The opposition of Christ and Satan in Paradise Lost is in the same way, as John Steadman has argued, the difference between image and idol, the "eikon and the eidolon of heroic virtue." The Son is the image of the Father's glory; Satan, in his "Sun-bright chariot," is the false appearance or phantasm of that image, the "idol of Majesty Divine" (6:100-1). His fallen legions, left free to wander the earth after the Fall, will inaugurate the history of idolatry in the shape of "various Idols through the Heathen World" (1:375), and their polluted rites will become the type of Catholic mis-devotion of the political idolatry of the Stuart court.
—Ernest B. Gilman, Down Went Dagon, p. 162

The Fall, Adam learns, was the original iconoclastic act, by which men defaced their "Maker's Image" in themselves (11:510-25). It will have to be repaired by the destruction of those idolatrous images they have put in its place.
—Ernest B. Gilman, Down Went Dagon, p. 166

[Samson Agonistes]

To waver, or fall off and join with idols;
Which is my chief affliction, shame and sorrow,
The anguish of my soul, that suffers not
Mine eye to harbour sleep, or thoughts to rest.
This only hope relieves me, that the strife
With me hath end; all the contest is now
'Twixt God and Dagon; Dagon hath presum'd,
Me overthrown, to enter lists with God,
His deity comparing and preferring
Before the God of Abraham. He, be sure,
Will not connive, or linger, thus provok'd,
But will arise and his great name assert:
Dagon must stoop, and shall ere long receive
Such a discomfit, as shall quite despoil him
Of all these boasted trophies won on me,
And with confusion blank his worshippers.
—John Milton, Samson Agonistes