On 'Thomas Young, M.A. (St Andrews)'

by Paula Jansen

Morgan dedicates the sonnet to "J.C.B", that is, John Bryce, who was professor of English at Glasgow University and a specialist on the seventeenth century; hence the connection to Milton.
Although the sonnet is about Milton, Morgan does not give us his perspective directly, but instead gives us the perspective of Thomas Young, who was tutor of John Milton from 1618 to 1621. Young continued to be a close friend of Milton during his life and he was known to be an ardent Puritan. So Young was clearly a big influence on Milton's Puritanism. This sonnet also links in with that idea, but establishes certain important differences as well.
In line 2 Young refers to Milton's inability to understand predestination. Predestination is also referred to in Paradise Lost. Mankind is saved before they actually sin. Does this make them free to sin or not? To Milton, human freedom is important and this makes him disagree with certain aspects of predestination and Presbyterianism. This can be read in the following quotation:

By virtue of his wisdom God decreed the creation of angels and men as being gifted with reason and thus with free will. 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. For an occurrence foreseen with absolute certainty by a human being will no less certainly take place than one foretold by God. For example, Elisha foresaw what evils King Hazael would bring upon the Israelites in a few years' time: 2 Kings 8: 12. But no one would claim that these happened inevitably as a result of Elisha's foreknowledge: for these events, no less than any others, clearly arose from man's will, which is always free. Similarly, 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 hae is thoroughly familiar. So the outcome does not rest with God who foresees it, but only with the man whose action God foresees. As I have demonstrated above, there can be no absolute divine decree about the action of free agents.(1)

According to Calvinism, God predetermines whether you are saved or damned, and good works you do when you are alive cannot influence this. Many people are damned; just a few elect ones are saved. The question that can be asked is if God damns all these people then is not Creation flawed? If God indeed creates true sinners, then heaven cannot be as perfect as it is shown to be. This idea was also present in Milton.

Young explains in this sonnet that you need both heaven and hell. The reason why heaven cannot be decreated is because of the presence of hell. "[The] fair percentage" (line 7) stands for the sinners who are in abundance and Young says that this percentage "does not decreate / heaven" (line 8-9) - where "decreating Heaven" would stand for a "flawed Creation" - but instead it "gives all the angels the elation / they are justly decreed to have deserved" (line 9-10). Thus, according to the point of view of Young the sinners cheer the angels up.
"Auchterarder" (line 10) is a Scottish town that played an important role in Puritanism. As the sonnet says "where there are strong sound sergeants of the creed", this town gave its name to the Auchterarder Creed. It was an attempt to make sure that licentiates-to-be would be free of sin. A part of the Presbytery wanted an "avowal from would-be licentiates that sinners as such are called upon to come to the Son of God if they would forsake sin and flee from wrath".(2) However, this creed was not very well formulated: "what was aimed or struck at was the teaching that one has to qualify for coming by faith to Christ by first forsaking sin, as though the coming to Him was not itself a forsaking of sin".(3) After much discussion, the Assembly condemned the Creed. It is clear to see that it went in against the whole idea of predestination: that God determines whether you will be saved or whether you are damned and thus a sinner, while the idea behind the Creed was that you could swear of sin and as a result would not be a sinner and you could go to heaven.
The Creed of Auchterarder dates from around 1830 and is thus before Milton's time. A reason why Morgan put this reference in is probably to strengthen Young's viewpoint that English do not understand predestination (line 3). Also, when we look at John's reply, it is clear that he warns the 'sergeants of the creed' (line 11) not to think of the power struggle that is going on, but tells them that they have to remember that their first and most important goal is to serve God.
Again, what Morgan is doing in this sonnet is switch from a historical and factual point of view to the imagination, for instance by imagining what Milton would have said in reaction to the Auchterarder Creed that was established after Milton died.

 

(1) http://www.wwnorton.com/nael/NTO/17thC/paradise/doctrinefrm.htm

(2) The Neonomians and the Marrow Controversy,

http://www.freechurch.org/st5.html

(3) The Neonomians and the Marrow Controversy,

http://www.freechurch.org/st5.html

 

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