John Milton Applies His Talents to His Faith

John Milton died on November 8, 1674. He is described as “the greatest poet of Christian themes England has produced”.

Born to a family of means in London on 9 December, 1608, his Christian convictions were most probably invoked through his mother, Sarah, who is described as a very religious person. His genius for poetry revealed itself at an early age. His paraphrase of Psalm 136 was written when he was 15 years of age …
Let us with a gladsome mind
praise the Lord for He is kind …

Originally it had 24 stanzas.

Milton considered himself destined for ministry, and was first taught languages by his father, then was schooled at St Paul’s School and Christ’s College Cambridge. After a year at Cambridge he was suspended for a fist fight with his tutor. Milton held his beliefs firmly. He was not particularly liked by the other students. At Cambridge he composed “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” on Christmas Day 1629.

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After graduation he spent time at home, engaged in literature, and then went to the Continent where he met many notables, including Galileo (then under house arrest by the church), the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Barberini and Calvinist theologian Giovanni Diodati.

Milton returned to London and was then caught up in the English Civil War. He became secretary to Oliver Cromwell writing political treatises to counter critical works originating on the Continent. He also wrote several prose works from a Puritan perspective including pamphlets against the episcopy.

At the age of 44 he became totally blind – but continued to write political treatises.

Then – in later life – he turned back to poetry.

His epic work, Paradise Lost, in which he “sought to justify the ways of God to man” was published in ten volumes in 1667. The copyright was sold for 5 pounds Sterling at a time when Milton’s finances had taken a turn for the worse.

Milton’s blindness made huge demands on his creativity. He would compose verses at night and commit them to memory, then dictate them to his daughters or other assistants in the morning.

Many of Milton’s religious views were at variance to Puritan theology, including his disbelief in the divine birth.

His domestic life was sad. His first wife, 17 year old Mary Powell, who married him when he was twice her age, left him after “a few weeks” then returned two years later (1645) and bore him three daughters.

After her death he re-married (1656), but his second wife died two years later.

At the age of 58 he married again to a much younger woman, despite the opposition of his daughters, and this third wife seemed to bring him peace in his last eight years.

His last manuscript, A Treatise of Christian Doctrine, in Latin, was not found until about 150 years after his death. It reveals Arian views – and a willingness to tolerate polygamy … (Chambers Biographical Dictionary).

Paradise Lost is controversial in its Christian message, subtly presenting Satan as the real hero of the poem. Romantic poet William Blake stated that Milton is “a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

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This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Thomas Charles Births a Bible Society

This is the day that Thomas Charles was born in Wales. It was 1756.

Despite a Christian upbringing, it was not until the age of 17, when he heard Daniel Rowlands expounding Hebrews 4:15, that “he was conscious of a real conversion of heart”. It was 20 January, 1773.

It is interesting to note that there seems to be a ‘time’ for certain things, as Solomon tells us. Thomas Charles lived at a ‘time’ of evangelism, Sunday Schools and the birth of Bible Societies.

Ordained as a Church of England curate (21 May, 1780), he soon fell foul of his parishioners for “giving free instruction to children after Vespers. His rector considered this to be such a shocking innovation that he was at once dismissed” (Sweet Singers of Wales, by H. Lewis, page 55). It is probably true to say that his evangelical preaching had something to do with the dismissal also!

He joined the Calvinistic Methodist and commenced ministering in the town of Bala. From henceforth he would be known as “Charles of Bala”.

He travelled extensively around Wales, giving birth to the first Sunday-Schools Wales had ever known. It was a time of extensive revival in Wales, but there was a shortage of Bibles. Rev Charles sold Welsh language Bibles to meet the need.

Rev Charles was visited by a 15 year-old lass who had walked 27 miles to obtain a Bible from him. Mary Jones had saved her own money to buy the Bible and then walked the miles to obtain it. Charles had just sold his last copy, but was so impressed with Mary’s diligence that he gave it to her anyway, telling her the other buyer would just have to wait.

Charles visited the Religious Tract Society in London in 1802 and pleaded with them for Scriptures. The Society had to turn him away. Providing bibles just was not in their job description. As the members discussed the request, the Rev. Joseph Hughes said, “a society might be formed for the purpose–and if for Wales, why not for the Kingdom; why not for the whole world?”

Mary Jones’ devotion to possess a copy of God’s Word prompted the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society on March 7, 1804, spearheaded by the Rev. Thomas Charles.

This was the first of many Bible Societies which took the Word of God to the nations. 69 other Bible organizations formed in just ten years. The British and Foreign Bible Society funded such diverse translation work as William Carey, Morrison’s Chinese Bible, Henry Martyn’s Persian translation, a Mohawk gospel of John and a translation for the Pacific islands of Rarotonga.

Rev Thomas Charles continued his evangelistic work. During one of his itinerant preaching tours he nearly lost his life in the intense cold. Frostbitten and racked with fever his life was in imminent danger. One old Christian – thinking apparently of Hezekiah – prayed that 15 years would be added to Brother Charles’ life (II Kings 20:6).

Remarkably, it was just 15 years later, on 5 October, 1814, that Thomas Charles said, “There is refuge,” and passed into his Saviour’s presence.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.