Mercy First and Last Shall Brightest Shine

I’m making my way through John Milton’s epic (literally) poem Paradise Lost, and was blown away by the third book (of twelve). After spending the first two books with recently-fallen Satan and his scheming minions in hell, Milton finally introduces the reader to heaven in the third book. Here, he recounts God the Father and God the Son seeing Satan’s journey to earth to deceive Adam and Eve, and their plan to redeem soon-to-be fallen man from their judgment of sin and death. It’s a sublime portrayal of God’s infinite mercy and pity on His creatures, as well as a poetic glimpse into the question of man’s free will. Since it’s in the public domain, I have no qualms about liberally sharing a passage here (though it is but a glimpse into Milton’s poetic genius in this section). This section is a lengthy monologue of God the Father, and starts off by referring to Satan on his journey to earth (Satan is the “he” mentioned first). Enjoy!

Through all restraint broke loose he wings his way
Not far off heaven, in the precincts of light,
Directly towards the new created world,
And man there placed, with purpose to assay
If him by force he can destroy, or worse,
By some false guile pervert; and shall pervert;
For man will hearken to his glozing lies,
And easily transgress the sole command,
Sole pledge of his obedience: so will fall
He and his faithless progeny: whose fault?
Whose but his own? ingrate, he had of me
All he could have; I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Such I created all the ethereal powers
And spirits, both them who stood and them who failed;
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Not free, what proof could they have given sincere
Of true allegiance, constant faith or love,
Where only what they needs must do, appeared,
Not what they would? what praise could they receive?
What pleasure I from such obedience paid,
When will and reason (reason also is choice)
Useless and vain, of freedom both despoiled,
Made passive both, had served necessity,
Not me. They therefore as to right belonged,
So were created, nor can justly accuse
Their maker, or their making, or their fate;
As if predestination overruled
Their will, disposed by absolute decree
Or high foreknowledge; they themselves decreed
Their own revolt, not I: if I foreknew,
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,
Which had no less proved certain unforeknown.
So without least impulse or shadow of fate,
Or aught by me immutably foreseen,
They trespass, authors to themselves in all
Both what they judge and what they choose; for so
I formed them free, and free they must remain,
Till they enthrall themselves: I else must change
Their nature, and revoke the high decree
Unchangeable, eternal, which ordained
Their freedom, they themselves ordained their fall.
The first sort by their own suggestion fell,
Self-tempted, self-depraved: Man falls deceived
By the other first: Man therefore shall find grace,
The other none: in mercy and justice both,
Through heaven and earth, so shall my glory excel,
But mercy first and last shall brightest shine.

Gustave Dore, Angels on Guard, from Illustrations to Paradise Lost, 1866


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