The Theology of “Paradise Lost” -- By: Earle E. Cairns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 106:422 (Apr 1949)
Article: The Theology of “Paradise Lost”
Author: Earle E. Cairns

The Theology of “Paradise Lost”

Earle E. Cairns

(Concluded from the January-March Number, 1949)

{Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original printed edition were numbered 62–72, but in this electronic edition are numbered 1–11 respectively.}

Paradise Lost reveals little as to Milton’s conception of the church. As far as I can gather his position would be similar to that of the many who believe that there is an invisible church composed of those who are truly Christian and that, for purposes of fellowship, members of this invisible church associate in visible churches. The only condition of membership in the visible church apart from faith in Christ is baptism by immersion.

…Them who shall believe
Baptizing in the profluent stream…. 12:441–42

Milton rejected infant baptism. Though this is not indicated in the poem, he says in the Christian Doctrine: “Hence it follows that infants are not to be baptized.”1 Unlike many, Milton held that the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—both of which he recommended as aids to faith—are not indispensable and that one may get along quite well without them.2 He also, in a manner similar to the Quakers, makes much of the Holy Spirit as the one who will illumine the Scriptures and guide the believer. This is so apparent in the poem that Sampson feels that Paradise Lost is an expression of Milton’s creed and based upon Quaker principles.3 Neither in the poem nor in the Christian Doctrine is Milton very well-disposed to a paid and ordained ministry, for he feels that they engage in their ministry for the most part just to make money, and try to control the people by setting up laws in order to determine their salvation and conduct or to mislead them by mere rites and forms.4 In these

criticisms he seems to be referring more particularly to the Roman and the Anglican churches.

A consideration of Milton’s eschatology or doctrine of the future would include his view of death, the second coming of Christ, and the final judgment. Milton’s view of death is based upon his view of the relation of soul to body and of them both to matter. Holding as he did that matter is indestructible and that body and soul are one, he taught that at death the body and soul do not part but both “sleep” on until the final resurrection, when they shall be raised together.5 Thus, between death...

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