Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION V.: MR. Robinson, his character and writings. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1
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SECTION V.: MR. Robinson, his character and writings. - John Robinson, The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1 
The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols.
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MR. Robinson, his character and writings.
No records of Mr. Robinson's private history or religious experience are extant. His character and attainments must, therefore, be judged of by his writings, and the few testimonies that were borne respecting them by his friends and his foes. Those who knew him intimately speak of his character in terms of admiration. His deep piety and extensive erudition, his amiable, affectionate, and catholic spirit, his exemplary conduct and his unspotted reputation, are themes of their eulogy and praise.
He was “a man not easily to be paralleled for all things, whose singular virtues we shall not take upon us here to describe. Neither need we, for they so well are known both by friends and enemies. As he was a man learned and of solid judgment, and of a quick and sharp wit, so was he also of a tender conscience and very sincere in all his ways; a hater of hypocrisy and dissimulation, and would be very plain with his best friends. He was very courteous, affable, and sociable in his conversation, and towards his own people especially. He was an acute and expert disputant, very quick and ready, and had much bickering with the Arminians, who stood more in fear of him than of any in the university. He was never satisfied in himself until he had searched any cause or argument he had to deal in, thoroughly and to the bottom; and we have heard him sometimes say to his familiars ‘ that many times both in writing and disputation, he knew he had sufficiently answered others, but many times not himself:’ and was ever desirous of any light, and the more able, learned, and holy the persons were, the more he desired to confer and reason with them. He was very profitable in his ministry and comfortable to his people. He was much beloved of them, and as loving was he unto them, and entirely sought their good for soul and body.”*
“Yea, such was the mutual love and reciprocal respect that this worthy man had to his flock and his flock to him, that it might be said of them, as it was once said of that famous emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and the people of Rome, that it was hard to judge whether he delighted more in having such a people, or they in having such a pastor. His love was great towards them, and his care was always bent for their best good, both for soul and body. For, besides his singular abilities in divine things, wherein he excelled, he was able also to give direction in civil affairs, and to foresee dangers and inconveniences; by which means he was very helpful to their outward estates; and so was every way, as a common father unto them. And none did more offend him than those that were close and cleaving to themselves, and retired from the common good: as also such as would be stiff and rigid in matters of outward order, and inveigh against the evils of others, and yet be remiss in themselves, and not so careful to express a virtuous conversation. They, in like manner, had ever a reverent regard unto him, and had him in precious estimation as his worth and wisdom did deserve; and although they esteemed him highly whilst he lived and laboured among them, yet much more after his death, when they came to feel the want of his help, and saw by woful experience, what a treasure they had lost, to the grief of their hearts and wounding of their souls; yea, such a loss as they saw could not be repaired.”*
Hoornbeck, in his “Summa Controversarium,” already referred to, says, “John Robinson was most dear to us while he lived, was on familiar terms with the Leyden theologians, and was greatly esteemed by them. He wrote, moreover, in a variety of ways against the Arminians; and was the frequent opponent and bold antagonist of Episcopius himself in the university.”
Even Baylie, the opponent of the Independents, while denouncing in no measured terms the whole denomination in his “Dissuasives against the Errors of the Times,” acknowledges that “Robinson was a man of excellent parts, and the most learned, polished, and modest spirit that ever separated from the Church of England.”
Similar incidental testimonies might be collected and transcribed; but these may suffice to prove the great respect in which he was held, as a man, a scholar, and a Christian.
His writings demonstrate that he was pre-eminently a man of God, and a most conscientious and devoted minister of Jesus Christ.
His love to the Divine Word was supreme, and conformity to it was his intense desire. Only the “most sound and unresistible convictions of conscience by the Word of God,” could satisfy him as to the course he should pursue either as a Christian or a pastor. “It is unto me a matter of great scruple and conscience, to depart one hair-breadth (extraordinary accidents ever excepted,) from their (the Apostles') practice and institution, in anything truly ecclesiastical, though never so small in itself, whatsoever, by whomsoever, and with what colour soever is invented and imposed, touching the government of the church, which is the house and tabernacle of the living God. And a partner in this faith I do hope to live and die; and to appear before Jesus Christ with boldness in that great and fearful day of his coming.”*
Mr. Robinson's docility and candour are transparent. He was ever ready to receive instruction from friends or foes. Though decided in his convictions, he did not deem himself infallible. Hence the advice he gave, both in his Farewell Address, and in his Letter of Instructions to his Church, when about to proceed on their voyage, “to receive whatsoever light or truth should be made known to them from the written Word.” The same sentiment repeatedly occurs in his various treatises, as particularly in the close of his preface to his “Religious Communion.” “Had my persuasion in it (the truth) been fuller than ever it was, I profess myself always one of them, who still desire to learn further or better what the good will of God is.”
Though a firm believer in the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures, he was not a believer in the finality of human interpretations of the Bible. Hence his lamentation, that many Protestants had come to “a period in religion,” and would proceed no farther than their respective masters, Luther or Calvin, had led them. He was persuaded that a fuller development of the truth would be made, as men proceeded in the prayerful investigation of the Holy Oracles.*
He became a Puritan, a Separatist, and an Exile, on purely conscientious grounds. His dissent he always represents as his necessity and his cross. “Whereupon we (the weakest of all others) have been persuaded of this truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, though in great and manifold afflictions, and to hold out his testimony as we do, though without approbation of our sovereign, knowing that, as his approbation in such points of God's worship, as his Word warranteth not, cannot make them lawful: so neither can his disallowance make unlawful such duties of religion as the Word of God approveth, nor can he give dispensation to any person to forbear the same. Dan. iii. 18; Acts v. 29.*
“Accounting it a cross that I am in any particular compelled to dissent from them (his Christian countrymen) to whom God hath tied me in so many inviolable bonds, but a benefit and a matter of rejoicing, when I can in any thing, with good conscience, unite with them in matter, if not in manner, or where it may be, in both. And this affection, the Lord and my conscience are my witnesses, I have always nourished in my breast, even when I seemed furthest drawn from them, and have opposed in others and repressed in mine own (to my power) all sour zeal against, and peremptory rejection of such, as whose holy graces challenged better use and respect from all Christians.†
There are some shades of difference between the opinions and practices of Mr. Robinson respecting church government and ordinances, and those of the modern congregationalists.
He maintained the spirituality and self-government of the church of Christ, but allowed the interference of the magistrate to compel attendance on public worship, though not to dictate opinion. More light has certainly been revealed to his descendants on this subject: and doubtless, had he lived much longer, he would have renounced his notions respecting magisterial interference in religious affairs. He was not singular in his opinion. His immediate contemporaries, Johnson, Jacob, and Ainsworth, sympathized with his views. Robert Browne was greatly in advance of him and these eminent men. They pleaded for “toleration and liberty,” Mr. Browne for liberty entire, Mr. Robinson's Baptist contemporaries, but whose publications were subsequent to Browne's, had more clear and definite views on liberty of conscience than Mr. Robinson's. Some of their tracts have been recently published,* and contain both vigorous and earnest appeals on behalf of unqualified and perfect liberty of conscience and worship. The celebrated Roger Williams was originally an Independent, and studied and wrote his elaborate treatise on the “Bloudy Tenent of Persecution” while an Independent, but did not publish it till a few years afterwards. In the meanwhile he had joined the Baptist community, but had now changed his opinion respecting the ordinances altogether.
Mr. Robinson's opinions on all points respecting church officers, and government, and worship, are briefly stated in his Catechism, in the third volume of this work, but are amplified and detailed in various parts of his writings. Convinced of the truth of his principles, he desired their extension through the world, and uttered his belief of their ultimate triumph, in these remarkable words: “Religion is not always sown and reaped in one age. One soweth and another reapeth. The many that are already gathered, by the mercy of God, unto the kingdom of his Son Jesus, and the nearness of many more through the whole land, for the regions are ‘ white unto harvest,’ do promise, within less than a hundred years, if our sins and theirs make not us and them unworthy of his mercy, a very plenteous harvest.”†
The prediction was verified. One hundred years passed, and the great principles Mr. Robinson contended for had spread throughout England, and a considerable portion of America. A second century has gone, exhibiting the power and triumph of the truth; and the third is fraught with still more hopeful indications of the universal spread of the gospel, and of the establishment of spiritual and voluntary churches of Christ throughout the world.
“Many a man,” says Milton, “lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, imbalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”
As Mr. Robinson did not live a burden to the earth, but a benefactor of the world; so it is a great satisfaction to witness now a reviviscence of his valuable but long forgotten writings, and to perceive, that they are to be accessible to a great multitude of his Puritan followers.
It is but the truth to say, that many tens of thousands of Christian men hold his name in honourable remembrance. He yet lives by his example, and by the influence of his sacrifices and toils; and in the third century after his death, he enjoys the singular distinction of being equally honoured in the east and the west,—in two countries separated by a mighty ocean.
Doubtless the natural inquiry will now spring up in many minds—Has Robinson “a life beyond life” in a different sense from being the author of “a good book ?” Does his “life-blood” still flow in the veins of descendants who are the imitators of his virtues ?
In answer to such inquiries I am happy to be able to say, that I have recently conversed with several of his descendants, who bear his name, ministers of the gospel, who receive and love the same truths which commended themselves to his intellect and heart, and who, by reason of their descent from him, feel an incitement to preach faithfully the same pure, uncorrupted gospel of salvation, which he announced to his fellow-men, and in the maintenance of which he was constrained to flee from his beloved native land, finding, as an exile, his grave among strangers. Useful and distinguished men, now deceased, have been also among his descendants, of whom the following is a brief account.
It was four or five years after the death of Mr. Robinson, before provision could be made for the removal of his wife and children to Plymouth. In 1629, thirty-five families were transported from Leyden to New England, at the heavy expense of five hundred pounds, paid by the brethren in the colony: another company came over the next year at a still greater expense—” a rare example of brotherly love and Christian care in performing their promises to their brethren, even beyond their power.” In one of these companies were the wife and children of Mr. Robinson.
We have the names of but two of his children, John and Isaac. John settled at or near Cape Ann, and had a son Abraham, who died at the age of one hundred and two years. Of others in this line nothing is known.
Isaac settled near Plymouth, at Scituate, where he was a freeman in 1633: probably he was born about 1610. He removed in 1639 to Barnstable. Such was his reputation in the colony, that in the years 1646 and 1651, he was chosen one of the assistants to the Governor. Two explanations have been given of the fact that he failed to be re-elected, and was dismissed from civil employment: the first is, that during the disturbance occasioned by the Quakers, being appointed by the court, with J. Smith, J. Chipman, and J. Cooke, to attend their meetings, “to endeavour to reduce them from the error of their ways,” he himself became infected with the poison of their doctrines, and therefore was obnoxious to the people. The other account of the matter is more likely to be true— that he opposed the severe laws against the Quakers and the persecuting spirit of the times, and therefore was left out of office and disfranchised, as was also J, Cudworth, the assistant from Scituate; but that to both were restored their rights, as freemen, by Governor Winslow, in 1673.* He died at Barnstable, more than ninety years of age; “a venerable man,” says Prince, in his Annals, “whom I have often seen.” As Prince was born in the adjoining town of Sandwich, in 1687, he might, while a boy, have often seen Mr. Robinson, supposing that he died about the year 1700.
Rev. John Robinson, of Duxbury, was the son of James, and the grandson of William Robinson, of Dorchester, near Boston. William was a member of the church in 1636, and died in July, 1668. While many of his descendants maintain that he was the son of John Robinson, of Leyden, there are others who have doubts on this point. It is remarkable, that there are no historical records to settle the question absolutely. As his name does not appear among the' first settlers of Dorchester, he might have emigrated to that town in early life, from Scituate, only a few miles distant, where Isaac Robinson lived, the undoubted son of Rev. John Robinson. Two of William's grandsons were named John, which may be a circumstance of some value.
Rev. John Robinson, the son of James, was born in Dorchester, April 17, 1675, and was graduated at Harvard College, in Cambridge, in 1695. As early as September 2, 1700, he was invited to settle in Duxbury, but was not ordained until June 15, 1702, or soon afterwards. He married, January 31, 1705, Hannah Wiswall, the daughter of his predecessor in the ministry. He was dismissed in 1739, and soon removed to Lebanon, in Connecticut, where several of his children lived, and where he died, November 14, 1745, in the seventy-first year of his age. His daughter Mary, aged sixteen, and his wife, were drowned in a passage to Boston, September 22, 1722. His other children were as follows:—
Hannah, who married Nathaniel Thomas, of Kingston, and died in 1731.
Alethia, who married Rev. Abel Stiles, of Woodstock, Connecticut.
Betsey, or Elizabeth, who married Rev, Jacob Elliott, of the parish of Goshen, in the town of Lebanon, Connecticut, and who died in 1758.
John, the son of Rev. John Robinson, of Duxbury, was born April 16, 1715, and married a Miss Hinckley, of Lebanon, Jan. 17, 1743. He removed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he was a teacher. He died at his son Samuel's, in New Concord parish, in the town of Norwich, August 21, 1784.
Samuel, the son of John Robinson, jun., was born June 7, 1753, and died at Oxford, State of New York, March 2, 1815.
John W. Robinson, the son of Samuel, was born April 5, 1779, and died at Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, about 1840: his brother Andrew now lives at Norwich, Connecticut, and two brothers at Oxford, New York.
Ichabod, born December 13, 1720. His son William, born at Lebanon, August 15, 1754, graduated at Yale College, in 1773, was ordained as the minister of Southington, in Connecticut, in 1780, and died on his birthday, August 15, 1825, aged 71 years. He was the father of a distinguished son, now living, Rev. Edward Robinson, D.D., Professor of Sacred Literature in the Union Theological Seminary, New York City, author of Biblical Researches in Palestine, 3 vols., Taylor's Calmet revised, Grammars, Lexicons, &c.
It may be added, that Catharine Holbrook, the wife of Dr. T. W. Harris, the librarian of Harvard College, is a descendant of Samuel, the brother of Rev. John Robinson, of Duxbury; and that Dr. Harris is persuaded, from the investigations he has made, that she is descended from Rev. John Robinson, of Leyden.
Faith, the daughter of Rev. John Robinson, was born 1718, married, in 1735, Jonathan Trumbull, for many years the distinguished Governor of Connecticut, the friend and coadjutor of Washington during the revolutionary struggle, who died in 1785. Mrs. Trumbull died in 1780. Their son Jonathan was afterwards the Governor of Connecticut for eleven years, and died in 1809.
Faith Trumbull's daughter, Faith, married General Jedidiah Huntington, of Norwich, a distinguished officer in the army of the revolution, whose grand-daughter was the late Mrs. Sarah Lanman Huntington Smith, wife of the learned and faithful missionary, Rev. Dr. Eli Smith, of Syria. Thus the pure gospel, which Robinson was the means of sending to America, this admirable woman, a descendant of Robinson, assisted her husband to convey to the shores of Asia. She died near Smyrna, September 30, 1836. Her memoir was written by Rev. Dr. E. W. Hooker.
Another daughter of Faith Trumbull, Hope, married General William Williams, of Lebanon, a patriot and soldier of the Revolution, who died in 1811, aged eighty. Her son, David Trumbull, of Lebanon, who died in 1822, was the father of Abigail Trumbull, who married Peter Lanman, of Norwich; of Joseph Trumbull, of Hartford; of John Trumbull, of Colchester; and of Jonathan George W. Trumbull, of Norwich, who has in his possession a silver cup, with a handsome handle, bearing engraved on it the initials of his ancestor, John Robinson. As, probably, having been his, and brought from Leyden by his widow, it is deemed a treasure. Thus it is seen that the distinguished families of Huntington, Trumbull, and Williams, in Connecticut, are descended from the pastor of the Plymouth pilgrims.
Peter Robinson was also the son of Isaac; perhaps his eldest son. His descendants are very numerous. He was one of the original members of the church in Scotland parish, in the town of Windham, Connecticut, in 1735, as was also his son Peter. His children (the great grandchildren of John Robinson), were nine in number—Peter, Israel, Thomas, Simeon, Isaac, Benjamin, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Martha.
Elizabeth married Josiah Smith, and Martha married Barnabas Allen, of Canterbury.
The children of Peter Robinson, the second, were twelve in number, born from 1726 to 1748,—Samuel, Experience, Peter, Elizabeth (who married John French), Jacob, Nathan, Abner, Ruth (who married William Cushman, of Brooklyn, Connecticut), Eliab, Rachel (who married Cornelius Coburn), Bathsheba, and Joshua.
The children of Samuel, the eldest son of Peter the second, were eleven,—Dorcas, Jemima, Asher, Claghorn, Sybil, Samuel, Ephraim, Abel, Richard, Oliver, and Sarah; Ephraim, Abel, and Richard removed to Pawlet, Vermont.
Peter Robinson, the third, died at Windham, of the small pox, July 17, 1778: his son Arad, of the same disease, July 16. His other children were Rosamond, who married Nathaniel Wales, and died at Windham, March, 1849, aged ninety-two; Rhoda, Peter, Patrick, and Abigail.
Peter Robinson, the fourth, died in 1830, and had children—Arad, Olive, Polly, Lucy, Betsey, and Abigail. Arad lives in Franklin, Connecticut.
Jacob Robinson, the son of Peter the second, had nine children, among whom were Vine, late judge of Windham county, and Solon, who was living in 1850, at Crown Point, Lake county, Indiana.
Nathan, the son of Peter the second, had children— Salome, Vienna, Newell, Rowena, Adrian, Nathan, Rufus, and Roswell.
Abner, the son of Peter the second, had children— Philena, Lois, Mehetabel, Abner, Mary, Elizabeth, Septimius, Polly.
Eliab, the son of Peter the second, died in Pittsford, Vermont, in April, 1836, aged ninety-three. His children were Lucy Williams, who married Joshua Kingsley of Pittsford; Rev. Ralph Robinson, living, in 1850, in New-Haven, near Oswego, New York; John Williams; Albigence Waldo Robinson, M.D., also of New Haven, and Rev. Septimius Robinson, of Morrisville, Vermont.
The children of Rev. Ralph Robinson, who is of the sixth generation, reckoning John Robinson as the first, are—Rev. Ebenezer Weeks Robinson, of Lisbon, New London County, Connecticut; Jonathan Edwards Robinson, of Richland, New York; and Rev. Samuel Newell Robinson, of Truxton, New York.
The children of the Rev. Septimius Robinson are Betsey Ann; Henry Wright Robinson, of Johnson, Vermont; Leroy Holmes Robinson, Editor of the Stanstead Journal, Stanstead, Canada East; James Caswell Robinson, of Hartford; Septimius Dwight Robinson of West Springfield; and William Allent Robinson.
The children of Joshua, son of Peter the second, were Erastus, Betsey, Ruth, Gurdon, and Dolly.
The children of Experience, son of Peter the second, were James, Tryphena, Elias, Alethia, Lydia, and Andrew, who died at Windham in 1849, aged eighty-six.
The children of James, the son of Experience, were James Robinson, of Boston, and Deacon Gurdon Robinson, late of Lebanon; Lucy, who married James Smith; Bela, Sophia, Fanny, and Marcus Tullius.
The children of Gurdon Robinson, who are of the eighth generation, are—Luther Robinson, teacher, Boston, and Asa Aspinnall Robinson.
From this very imperfect and incomplete account of the descendants of Robinson, it will be concluded that they are very numerous, scattered over New England and other States of the Union: it will be seen that they are in various respectable and useful stations in life.
The pride of ancestry is not a very commendable emotion; but the consciousness of being descended from the excellent of the earth—the servants and friends of God— whose example lives in faithful history, and the benefit of whose prayers, long since uttered, may descend even to us, should be an incitement to the imitation of their virtues, and to strenuous efforts in the cause to which they were devoted.
After surveying the life of the illustrious Robinson, in respect to whom we are assured, that he has passed away from the toils of the earth to the paradise of God, how can the words of the great Head of the Church fail to come with new force upon our heart—“ Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life !”
IN framing these mine Observations, Christian Reader, I have had, as is meet, first and most regard to the Holy Scriptures; in which respect, I call them divine: next, to the memorable sayings of wise and learned men, which I have read or heard, and carefully stored up as a precious treasure, for mine own, and others' benefit; and lastly, to the great volume of men's manners, which I have diligently observed, and from them gathered no small part thereof; having also had, in the days of my pilgrimage, special opportunity of conversing with persons of divers nations, estates and dispositions, in great variety. The names of the authors, specially known, out of whom gathered anything, I have, for the most part, expressed: partly to give them their due; and partly, that the authority of their persons might procure freer passage for their worthy and wise sayings, with others: and make the deeper impression of them in the reader's heart: in the method I have been neither curious, nor altogether negligent, as the reader may observe. Now as this kind of study and meditation hath been unto me full sweet, and delightful, and that wherein I have often refreshed my soul, and spirit, amidst many sad and sorrowful thoughts, unto which God hath called me, so, if it may find answerable acceptance with the Christian Reader, and a blessing from the Lord, it is that which I humbly crave, specially at His hands, who both ministereth seed to the sower, and fruit to the reaper. Amen.
[*]Vide Governor Bradford's Dialogues, in Young's Chronicles, pages 451, 452.
[*]Bradford's History, in Young's Chronicles, pages 36—38.
[*]Vide vol. iii., Apology, pages 40, 41,
[*]The editor having understood that some American Unitarians were anxious to claim Mr. Robinson as one of their party, made inquiries respecting the grounds on which such a claim was attempted to be founded. He was gratified to learn, for the sake of the honesty of the claimants, that it was not because they sympathized with the doctrinal sentiments of Mr. Robinson, he being a strenuous advocate for the “doctrines of grace,” especially for those of the Trinity and of the Atonement, but because he was, according to modern parlance, “a man of progress.” They imagine he would sympathize with themselves, who, discarding not only all “creeds,” but the peculiar doctrines of the gospel, and retaining only a few elementary truths of revelation, are striving to form thereon a basis of catholic unity and charity among all Christians! Such an amalgamation of heterogeneous parties, Mr. Robinson would most surely have denounced. He contended earnestly “for the faith once delivered to the saints,” as his “Defence of the Synod of Dort” abundantly proves; and while he believed that “still more light would break out from the Scriptures,” he could never suppose that the truths already discovered would be eclipsed by any additional illumination to be vouchsaed from heaven.
[*]Vide vol. ii., “Justification,” &c., page 13.
[†]Vide vol. iii., “Treatise on Lawfulness of Hearing,” page 353.
[*]Vide Tracts on Liberty of Conscience, published by Hanserd Knollys Society.
[†]Vol. ii., “On Justification,” page 66.
[*]Moore's Lives of the Governors, &c., page 178.