ON THE NEW FORCERS OF CONSCIENCE UNDER THE LONG PARLIAMENT

John Milton (1646)

Because you have thrown off your Prelate Lord,
And with stiff vows renounced his liturgy
To seize the widowed whore Plurality
From them whose sin ye envied, not abhorred,
Dare ye for this adjure the civil sword
To force our consciences that Christ set free,
And ride us with a classic hierarchy
Taught ye by mere A. S. and Rutherford?
Men whose life, learning, faith and pure intent
Would have been held in high esteem with Paul
Must now be named and printed heretics
By shallow Edwards and Scotch what d'ye call:
But we do hope to find out all your tricks,
Your plots and packing worse than those of Trent,
That so the Parliament
May with their wholesome and preventive shears
Clip your phylacteries, though balk your ears,
And succor our just fears
When they shall read this clearly in your charge:
New presbyter is but old priest writ large.

[spelling modernized].

 

 

Some of the obscurer references are explained below:

 

Because you have thrown off your Prelate Lord, Abolished the government of the Church of England by bishops
And with stiff vows renounced his liturgy The Solemn League and Covenant obliged men to swear to end "superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found to be contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness".
To seize the widowed whore Plurality
From them whose sin ye envied, not abhorred
Because many parishes provided only a poor income, clergymen before the Civil War sometimes held a number of benefices simultaneously. Puritans strongly condemned this practice - called "pluralism" - since it meant that parishioners might never see their pastor from one year's end to the next. Condemning the practice was easier than abolishing it, as long as some parishes could not afford to support a graduate in the style to which he felt entitled.
Dare ye for this adjure the civil sword
To force our consciences that Christ set free,
Civil sword = secular power i.e. Parliament
Galatians 5:1 "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
And ride us with a classic hierarchy The Presbyterian system of church government was based on synods or classes [hence classic], elected from below, but with authority over individual congregations. Milton believed that each congregation should be autonomous.
Taught ye by mere A. S. and Rutherford? A.S. = Adam Stewart(or Steuart), a Scottish Presbyterian, author under the initials A.S. of Some observations and Annotations upon the Apologetical Narration (1644). Samuel Rutherford was another Scottish Presbyterian, author of The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644). Both attacked the Independents whose views on Church Government Milton largely shared
Men whose life, learning, faith and pure intent
Would have been held in high esteem with Paul
Must now be named and printed heretics
By shallow Edwards and Scotch what d'ye call:
Thomas Edwards also wrote an Antapologia (1644) against the Independents, but was more famous for his The first and second part of Gangraena, or, A catalogue and discovery of many of the errors, heresies, blasphemies and pernicious practices of the sectaries of this time, (1646).
"Scotch What d'ye call" is probably Robert Baillie another Presbyterian controversialist.
But we do hope to find out all your tricks,
Your plots and packing worse than those of Trent,
The Council of Trent (1545-63) was the Roman Catholic's church's institutional response to the Reformation. It rejected all the Protestant demands and re-asserted traditional Catholic doctrine and practices. Protestants regarded the Council as "packed" since none holding Protestant views were permitted to attend.
That so the Parliament
May with their wholesome and preventive shears
Clip your phylacteries, though balk your Ears,
A "phylactery" was a small leather box containing texts of Scripture,  worn by Jews as a reminder of the obligation to keep the law. Milton uses the term to denote pharisaical hypocrisy and legalism
Archbishop William Laud in a very unpopular attack on certain leading puritans had their ears publicly cut off by the hangman. Milton encourages Parliament to intentionally stop short of physical violence against the Presbyterians, whilst still frustrating their oppressive schemes.
And succor our just fears
When they shall read this clearly in your charge:
New presbyter is but old priest writ large.
The English word 'priest' is a contracted form of the Latin 'presbyter' - to write priest in its long form would be to write presbyter. More generally, Milton means that the Presbyterians pretend to reform old abuses but are just as tyrannical as the Catholic hierarchy they replace.

 

 

[adjure = solemnly request]
[packing = Private or underhand arrangement; fraudulent dealing or contriving, plotting, especially so as to decide the outcome of an assembly]