Summary: What has been lost through sin has been reclaimed by our Glorious Savior!
Something has gone wrong. We know in our hearts that things are not right. There is an emptiness that we cannot fill. We know that there is a sadness that cannot be escaped. We know that there is an anxiety that cannot be stilled. We are drinking from the cup of chaos and confusion that our forefathers have handed down to us and the water is bitter.
We find the sweetheart we've longed for only to find out that he is not so sweet. We find the job that we've prayed for only to find out, after the new has worn off, that it is just another job. We have the children we've always dreamed of holding in our arms only to find out that they no longer want us to hold us. We finally get the toys and trinkets that we've always known would bring us happiness only to find out that they don't satisfy for long.
What is the problem? Why are we so restless? Why are we still longing after all of these years of searching and striving for just a little more? Why do our hearts continue to sing that old song, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for?" when we have so much that we can't take care of it all?
John Milton knew the longing and restlessness that so many of us feel this morning. He was born in 1609 in an age that many of us idealize. Yet, Milton knew the woes of life like those of us living in the year 2000. His father, who was a prosperous merchant and composer, gave John Milton the best that life had to offer. He gave John the best education that money could buy. After John graduated from college with a Master's degree He was allowed to take over the family's estate near Windsor and pursue a quiet life of study. He spent six years doing nothing more than reading the classics. That is a leisurely lifestyle that sounds appealing to many of us doesn't it? Relaxing and reading. Reading and relaxing. Can you imagine the thoughts that raced through Milton's mind each morning? "What will I do today? Should I read or should I relax?" Wow! What a life.
Even though John was given a life of leisure by his father, he could not shield John from heartache and sorrow. His best college buddy died shortly after the two of them graduated from college. His grief was great, but he clung to his faith as he wrote about his hope in the resurrection in what he called, Lycidas.
John fell in love and was married to his sweetheart, Mary Powell. He had hopes of a long marriage and many children, but Mary left him and John's heart was broken. In reaction to these events, Milton wrote a series of pamphlets calling for more leniency in the church's position on divorce. This brought him much notoriety and angry criticism from throughout the religious establishment in England.
When the Second Civil War ended in 1648, with King Charles dethroned and executed, Milton welcomed the new parliament and wrote pamphlets in its support. After serving for a few years in a civil position, he retired briefly to his house in Westminster, for his eyesight was failing. By 1652 he was completely blind.
Despite his disability, Milton reentered civil service under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, the military general who ruled the British Isles from 1653 to 1658. Two years after Cromwell's death, Milton's worst fears were realized--the Restoration brought Charles II back to the throne, and the poet had to go into hiding to escape execution. He had served his country faithfully, but now he was an outlaw, hiding for his life.
Milton was a man of great faith and yet he saw his church splintering and acting in ways that made him bitter. In Milton's time, the Anglican Church (or Church of England) had split into the high Anglican, moderate Anglican, and Puritan (Presbyterian) sects. Milton was a Presbyterian, but differences with the Presbyterians brought about his break with his church in 1650.
After experiencing the demise of his eyesight, dejection from his wife, dishonor as a civil servant, and the discord of his church Milton wrote his greatest work Paradise Lost. The opening lines of Paradise Lost share with us the deep sense of loss, sorrow, and pain that Milton and all of humanity share in common. Milton writes,
Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe...
Milton's epic poem is a long story about the Fall, the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, that brought about the loss of Paradise for all of humanity and the battle that Satan and his angels wage against the people of God. The long poem is hard to read for those of us whose language is much more in line with modern American slang than the King's English, but regardless of whether we can understand Milton's words or not, we can certainly understand his sorrow and the restlessness of his soul.